Long: GPA not representative of future teachers’ skill


Rear view of a female lecturer standing in front of a classroom

Craig Long

It’s the beginning of Finals Week. These exams, which comprise a disproportionate amount of our grade, also carry a large impact on our GPA. Depending on what you want to do in your life, your GPA may matter more or less than a student in another major. If you want to get into law school, med school or grad school, it needs to be on the up and up.

And, if Gov. Terry Branstad has his way, it will be vitally important if you want to teach.

If a proposal being formed by the governor passes, how K-12 education in Iowa is undertaken will change drastically. Though the final proposal isn’t public, it seems clear that the governor believes that in order to better educate students, teachers need to be better prepared and educated. Leaving aside the implication that teachers in the state are unsatisfactory, the goal for a better education system in the state is a noble one.

However, the method by which he is choosing to attain this goal will do just the opposite.

The governor is proposing that in order to teach K-12 classes in the state, a prospective teacher must have a 3.0 cumulative GPA from college to qualify. At first thought, it seems to be a reasonable requirement. One cannot pass on knowledge to students that they themselves do not possess.

However, a cumulative GPA cannot define how talented of a teacher one will be. To insinuate that teaching completely boils down to the knowledge that one possesses, or worse yet the grades that one has attained, completely removes the humanity of the situation.

Grades cannot be construed as a representative measure of talent or knowledge. Particularly when used in the formation of a cumulative GPA, grades misrepresent students all the time. Many people, myself included, come to college without any clue as to what they really want to do. If you’re unlucky, like me, you chose to put yourself in a subject you are emphatically not prepared to succeed in.

Although you can change majors, you cannot drop every class you’re in (withdrawal from the university not included). If you do poorly in those classes that you take before you find your true calling, it can have a disproportionate effect on your cumulative GPA.

Not to mention that many grades are simply a reflection of how skilled you are at test taking and paper writing, not of actual knowledge. If you are particularly skilled at taking exams, you can skate through classes without learning as much as someone who is knowledgeable, but is phobic of bubble sheets.

Attendance often factors into your grades, as well. While it can be a reflection of your dedication, attending a class doesn’t mean you understand what’s going on. I could attend organic chemistry for a semester; that doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to relay what was presented to me to a student of my own.

Homework is, in most cases, exemplary of nothing more than the ability to look up factoids and regurgitate them when prompted. Come to think of it, that’s what most grades boil down to. Now, there are exceptions, such as essay-based exams where the requirement to demonstrate actual knowledge of a subject is inescapable, but most classes I’ve had are not like that. That isn’t so much of an indictment on the classes I’ve had, but a representation of the difficulty to ascertain on a large scale actual knowledge, as opposed to the ability to recite facts.

The best teachers I’ve ever had didn’t just recite facts. They engaged me. They took an interest in who I was as a person, how I best learned and what interested me. They were enablers, in the best sense; they didn’t force me to learn, they enabled me to do it on my own. Teachers who were knowledgeable, but didn’t relate to me or the class well, caused an environment where learning was less attainable. When you feel like you are being forced to do something, you are less likely to succeed in it, as opposed to when you feel as though you’re doing something because you want to.

To exclude persons interested in the human side of teaching because they didn’t get good enough grades is to exclude some of the most capable teachers. If all that we are concerned about when it comes to teaching is the knowledge that is being passed along, we can remove teachers entirely, and place students in front of a PowerPoint that contains all of the knowledge we expect them to learn. I guarantee that if that happened, the effects on our state’s education system would be dire.