Defining “Success” at Latin

Hannah Davis It is no secret the Latin community deeply values grades — walk by the mailboxes on the third floor and you’ll likely see students clumped together, clutching old tests, asking one another in hushed voices what they got. With the end of first quarter and the release of progress reports, these conversations have only intensified. As Alice Bolandhemat wrote in her article on The Truth Behind the Private Tutoring Craze, “while every student is a member of the Latin community, each one of us is vastly different. However, students all share one common desire: success.” But what exactly does success mean to Latin students, and how do grades factor in to that definition? It turns out, for as much as Latin students emphasize grades, most understand that success is more than just a letter grade or percent. For freshman Phoebe Lembeck, “success is accomplishing a goal you set and being satisfied with the result. For each person, that’s different because everyone has different goals they want to achieve.” This sentiment has persisted, even among teachers. Mr. Sanchez, an Upper School mathematics teacher at Latin, encouraged his students to focus on their improvements: “take away the fact that you have improved your memorization, your decision making. I’m not trying to make all 68 of my students better mathematicians. I’m trying to make them better people.” Grades, however, still play a role in how Latin students define success, particularly in high school where parents, employers, and colleges use grades to reflect progress and comprehension of the material, not necessarily effort. Junior Lily Townsend echoed this statement, sharing “personally if I get a bad grade I’ll be like that was not a success for me even if I was working my hardest.” The pressure to succeed comes from everywhere: from parents, from fellow students, and from oneself. While too much emphasis on grades can be toxic, a little emphasis can compel a student to work harder. Comparing grades, for instance, can help a student know where they stand and where to improve — did they do poorly on a test because the test was hard or because they didn’t understand the material? According to one senior, “If it is a competitive vibe that makes people share grades then I think people need to look at themselves and ask why they want to share them, but I don’t think it is bad thing that people want to get good grades.” This competitive and grade sharing culture remains positive with the idea that both grades and success are relative — just because one person did better or worse than you should not change how you did or how you feel about it. While grades are a part of success, there is more to the picture that they are unable reflect.]]>