I Would Never Hurt an Elephant (but I Would Gently Lead It Away from My Classroom)

I love animals. I love them all, including elephants. Unfortunately, the title of this blog post does not actually have to do with real elephants, but rather the metaphorical phrase of “an elephant” being in the room. Particularly, in the classroom. I might only be 19, but as someone who has known they wanted to become an educator for quite some time I have been able to recognize the fact that the American education system is imperfect (to say the least). With this understanding, I have also been able to observe how educators react to this fact. What I have noticed is that most don’t react at all. They would rather leave the elephants in the room than help them. This phenomena is addressed in the article, 9 Elephants in the (Class)Room that Should “Unsettle” Us by Will Richardson.


This elephant looks like it is smiling. 😀 Probably because it is free to roam around outside instead of being cooped up in a classroom… or maybe it just found some good mud to bathe in. Photo CC by John Hilliard via Flickr.

I think it is important to quote how Richardson begins his article. He writes, “At a recent morning workshop for school leaders at a fairly small New England public school district, about an hour into a conversation focused on what they believed about how kids learn best, an assistant superintendent somewhat surprisingly said aloud what many in the room were no doubt feeling. “When I really try to square what I believe about how kids learn and what we practice in our classrooms, it unsettles me,” she said. “And it frustrates me.” As it should.” There is a disconnect in education. Many teachers know what learning looks like, and it is not what they see in the classroom. Richardson addresses nine of the issues that attribute to the disconnect in this article.

The first point of his that resonated with me was number five, “[Educators] know that grades, not learning, are the outcomes that students and parents are most interested in.” I can attest to this problem, because it is something I struggle with greatly. I have never not had a 4.0 GPA, I was co-valedictorian of my high school class, and I have been on the president’s list every semester of college thus far. These are all well and good accomplishments, but what is the point? I might earn A’s, but often I find it is at the risk of truly understanding material. This is because there isn’t enough time to both earn a good grade and fully take in, digest, and learn the subject at hand. It is so much more important for students to actually learn than to “learn” what will be measured on a test. This article by a sophomore in high school named Emily Mitchum also discusses the harm grading has done to education, and it echoes many of my sentiments. My belief is that the only way to fix this is to eradicate grades. You might initially think I’m crazy for saying that, but it is possible and has been done already. Alternative schools like Northstar are a testament to developing high-functioning learners without the use of grades or tests. It is my hope to one day see public education adopt a similar approach.

The second point that caught my eye was number four, “[Educators] know that [they’re] not assessing the things that really matter for future success.” Students learn how to solve for x, what a preposition is, and when World War I ended… but why don’t we teach them dispositions? Why don’t we prepare them to be patient, to be kind, to become a healthy citizen in this world? Why can’t we explicitly help them to hone their creative skills, to be curious, to thrive amongst diversity? To me, and many others, it makes no sense. I know there are excellent teachers in this world that are attempting to overcome the oppression of rigid structuring to help their students explore these questions, but until all teachers do it will not be enough. The only way to remedy this difficult elephant will be to overhaul the education system as we know it. Call me crazy again, but I hope I live to see this day.

The elephants are there, and everyone knows it, so why don’t we do something about it? Let’s grab some big leashes and get those gentle guys out of here. We can take them to a savanna, bring them some water to drink, some vegetation to eat, and let them trumpet their trunks in glee. The only thing we can’t do is let them stay in the classroom. It will be difficult, it will be arduous, but a change is possible. All of my fellow (future) educators, I challenge you to not let those elephants stay unacknowledged. We can be the ones to make a difference for future students, producing generations who love to learn instead of those who hate school. Together we can make it happen.


13 thoughts on “I Would Never Hurt an Elephant (but I Would Gently Lead It Away from My Classroom)

  1. I could not agree more with your thoughts. I have learned more this semester by focusing and working towards subjects I truly enjoy than I did throughout my entire high school career. If we did away with grades and testing, we would be able to better focus on the interests of children rather than meeting the requirements for the state on testing. My senior year of high school all our papers were strictly on what was interesting to us. Now that papers are needed to be written on pre-planned topics, I am struggling for I was not taught how to cite papers in high school. If all my college courses would be like my senior year, I would continue to be succeeding at an even higher level. In what ways will you try and minimize grades and tests in your classroom?


    • I would love to do something like this teacher over at My Own Genius Hour does. This year, she decided to introduce a system of feedback to replace grading throughout the semester. Here (http://geniushour.blogspot.com/2016/09/introducing-feedback-in-lieu-of-grading.html) is her original post, but she has also provided updates since then. Her 7th graders have reacted positively to the change. This system allows students to have the freedom to self-assess and then improve without the as much stress, and I like that a lot. I recommend checking it out! As for tests, I would love to implement more projects than testing. I want students to get creative, not simply utilize rote memorization. Great question!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I definately think that minimizing tests is key! I love this idea tho! She did a wonderful job being innovative to provide a new way of teaching to ensure that students succeed to the best of their ability. Thank you for the wonderful insight!! I think you have a wonderful understanding on your classroom and how to help the students achieve success.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great title and post! I also agree with your thoughts and love how you’re challenging the educators out there to not let those elephants stay unacknowledged! I’ve always wonder on how the education system would work if we didn’t have grades… What are your thoughts on that?


  3. Nice post! Love the title as well. I agree that even though earning good grades looks good on paper, it does not prove that students truly know the material. I can identify with this for every grade level and subject. There is so much content that I have forgot because I was just trying to pass the test instead of really learn and understand the material. I would love to go to Northstar to see how their school is run and how successful and prepared for life their students are. I completely agree that the elephants need to go.


    • I completely agree. I also find that I do not retain near as much information as I would like because I am more concerned with performance than learning. It is frustrating, and I wish I could sometimes do it over with the wisdom I now have concerning grades. Also, it would be totally fascinating to observe Northstar! Or Sudbury Valley, for that matter. I have a feeling it would be an enlightening experience, for better or worse. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this post. I liked how you stuck to the elephants so well as to say we need to guide them out with leashes. As for the content part of your post, it was brilliant. I had chosen the elephant on grades as well and agree that this is how we are trained to think about learning. How else are we to measure our learning? I am unsure but I too wish to see the day this elephant is no longer in the classroom.


    • You and I are definitely on the same page! I linked to a blog post above where one English teacher is measuring her students’ progress through feedback, leaving grades out of the classroom until the end of each semester. I think this is an awesome way to measure learning because it promotes mastery. Instead of doing something, receiving a grade, and then moving on whether a student actually understands the material or not, feedback allows students to identify where they went right and where they went wrong and then dive back into the assignment to learn more. It isn’t as drastic as the systems at Northstar or Sudbury Valley, but it is a step in the right direction. Thank you for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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