The Courage To Strive

Dianne - Kittery Point, Maine
Entered on March 29, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe that a B+ is good enough. I teach English at a community college, so I spend many hours grading student papers, as a running dialogue plays in my head.

What does “excellent” mean, for this assignment? For this student? Do I have an overly optimistic view that contributes to grade inflation? Or am I too picky, not mindful enough of the role grading plays in encouraging students to move forward?

Take Nancy’s paper, for example. Well-researched, thoughtful but, geez, why can’t Nancy figure out the apostrophe? And all those run-on sentences? I know she wants and expects an A — she’s a good student — but a paper in need of an editor isn’t an A paper. I slap down the B+ with my purple pen, and scribble a positive comment: I want Nancy to know that I regard a B+ paper as very good.

I’ve observed that once students have tasted academic success — success that often eluded them in high school — they become addicted to the letter A. For these students, an A is a judgment on their entire being. I’ve had grown men weep in my office because a perfect transcript was marred with an A-.

It’s to those students that I say: “You don’t have to be perfect. A B+ is good enough.” But they don’t buy it — they want the perfect transcript. Not getting it hurts like hell.

I began to understand that a B+ was good enough through my work as an administrator. At times I’ve managed up to 40 faculty, who collectively teach hundreds of students. Keeping everyone happy all the time is an impossible task. If a complaint-free, problem-free semester — an A+ — was the measure of my success, I would never sleep at night. A B+ is fine.

I’m also a B+ mother, sometimes putting my yoga class before my son’s wish to play trains; a B+ wife who gets annoyed with my husband for working too much; a B+ sister who has missed birthday parties and baptisms. I know I’m a B+ writer: wouldn’t I otherwise have achieved fame and fortune by now?

I don’t believe that mediocrity is acceptable. However, we often view anything less than perfect as mediocre. I believe that while striving for excellence is good, settling for less is okay. Knowing that a B+ is good enough gives me the courage to strive, to push my limits without fear of failing.

My husband, a civil engineer, says that in engineering, perfection is a necessity. “People die if I don’t get it right.” However, I point out to him, he often reminds that in engineering school, a C is considered a respectable grade.

Engineers don’t always it get it 100 percent right, and sometimes people die. Nobody figured in the possibility of a jet plane crashing into a 110-story building when they designed the World Trade Center with a steel core that collapsed in a heap of dust. But still they dreamed of touching the sky.