You’re discouraged. I know you are. Your heart sank when you saw the grades. But those letter grades don’t define you.

Last spring didn’t go like it was supposed to go. You missed out on activities. You missed seeing your friends at school every day. And this year isn’t normal either. It’s uncomfortable to wear a mask at school. Remaining “socially distanced” isn’t much fun either!

You are having to learn in ways you never learned before. All the technology and all the directions can be confusing. And you are having to be more responsible for your learning than ever before. You are being asked to learn independently and keep up with your own work in ways that many college students are not even able to handle.  

We might not know about all the distractions at your house or that your Wi-Fi keeps going out. We might not know about all the hours that you’re having to watch your siblings. We don’t know that your parents might not be able to help you figure out how to submit your assignment online or explain the project that doesn’t make sense to you. We don’t know about your part-time job or that you usually don’t get a full night’s sleep. You’re already a great employee—but you aren’t getting any points for that in the gradebook.

You’ve never made the honor roll, but you have worked hard for your C’s. You’re kind, but we don’t have a rubric for kindness. You smile every morning, but facial expressions don’t go in the gradebook. You’re always on time, and you’re never in trouble, but there wasn’t a question on the test about that.  

That letter grade does not represent the qualities that are most important about you. It certainly does not represent your hopes, goals, and dreams. You have potential that is not measured by that last test. You have gifts that were not assessed by that last quiz. You didn’t make the honor roll—but we still think you’re a neat kid.

You’re bored, and it’s hard for you to care about assignments when you don’t think they have anything to do with your life. You’re good at things that we don’t seem to care about. You’re passionate about things that aren’t on the syllabus. You’re tired of being compared to those around you. You feel like you don’t measure up—like you are inadequate. But your grade does not reflect your IQ or your worth. It is arbitrary.   

I’m sorry that the grade is so important to all the adults. Your future employers will care about other things too. They will care if you work hard; they will care how you work with other people; they will care that you don’t give up, even when the job gets really hard. You may not feel successful now—but please persevere. You will be a valuable employee. You will be a wonderful neighbor. You will be a great citizen.

You’re discouraged, but I want you to know we care. I want you to know we believe in you. We want you to know that you have a bright future. You have talents and gifts that we may not even know about yet. We haven’t found out how to measure them. But you have them!You are amazing, and your worth will never be measured by a letter grade. So please don’t give up. We want you to graduate. We need you to graduate, because you are our future. And your education will open so many doors for you. Your teachers care about you, and they care about your future. We might not know your whole story, but we care about your success, and we’re invested in you. I care about you—and I’m in your corner.

About the Author

Danny Steele is principal of Homewood Middle School in Homewood, AL., where his passion is building a school culture that values connections with kids, fosters collaboration among teachers, and focuses on raising student achievement. In 2005, Steele was recognized as Alabama’s Assistant Principal of the Year, and in 2016 he was named Alabama’s Secondary Principal of the Year. He has written two books with Todd Whitaker:Essential Truths for Teachers and Essential Truths for Principals. Follow him on Twitter (@SteeleThoughts) and check out his blog, Steele Thoughts.


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