You know what they say about hard work? Well….it works!

As a teacher of a NC state-tested course (Biology), there is tremendous pressure to have perfect test scores.  Therefore, I put stress on my students to perform their best in my class each & every day.   In NC,  End of Course (EOC) state test scores are on a scale of I- IV.  If you ask my students what they want to get on their EOC tests, they’ll all say, “Level IV, duh.”  However, if you ask some of these same students what they want to get on their quiz tomorrow, you’ll get a variety of answers:  ”I don’t care.”  “Just want to pass.”  “Wait…what quiz?”

I have to remind my students each day – you must do well on this quiz to do well on the test.  You must do well on the test to do well on the midterm.  You must do well on the midterm to do well on the EOC.   It sounds like common sense, but students need this constant reminder and plenty of short term goals to help them get to their final destination.

The same is true for college.  Students may want to go to Davidson College.  They know that they need a 4.0 GPA and 2100 SAT score.   However, if you ask them when they plan to study for the SAT, or what their current algebra grade is, they are often times clueless.  Students need support systems in place to constantly remind them of their long term goals.  A student’s decision not to study or do their homework tonight is not just a short term consequence.  It will affect their overall grade in the class and their overall GPA.  To adults this seems obvious, but to high schoolers this is revolutionary.

As educators, it is our job to get students in the habit of monitoring their academic progress and breaking down these long term goals into manageable and comprehendible short term goals, not only in specific classes (i.e. “If you don’t pass the genetics quiz, how in the world do you expect to get genetics questions right on the biology final exam?”) but also throughout the high schooler’s career. (i.e. “If you don’t partake in any extracurriculars your sophomore year, how do you plan to look like the ideal well-rounded scholar when it is time to apply for college your senior year?”)

For now, the sticker chart in my classroom is doing the job, but every year stickers become a little lamer to my 15 year old babies.  We have to start using technology to help these high schoolers monitor their academic progress instead of antiquated paper checklists.  Not far from now, students won’t only be updating their Facebook status, but their academic progress online too!

By Erin Burns

Erin Burns is a North Carolina Teaching Fellow who teaches Biology at North Mecklenburg High School.  Erin graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Biology and minors in Education and Entrepreneurship.  A recent addition to the team, Erin looks to channel her creativity and passion for education-reform through the SKoolAide initiative.  Find her on LinkedIn, email her at, or follow @eburnsye on Twitter.

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