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I awoke at 5 AM on Tuesday morning to log into the College Board’s website and obtain this year’s AP results for my AP Government and Macroeconomics courses.

I spied the remains of a patriotic-looking Americana chocolate cake sitting on my kitchen counter, safely wrapped in aluminum foil. I grabbed a fork and took a titanic bite, hoping a magical and prodigious nexus between the AP American government test and the Americana chocolate cake would sprout successful test results.

It made absolutely no sense, I admit, but it was 5 AM and I was desperately trying to avoid a fantasia of failure waiting for me on the other side of this digital gateway.

I took a dramatic breath before clicking the appropriate icons, vaguely aware that any prognosis of great success was probably naively misplaced by overly confident high school seniors. Many of them had come back days later from their AP government test with smiling testimonies of grand triumph and cocksure conquest.

That test was the easiest AP test ever!

I knew almost EVERYTHING. No, really, like EVERYTHING!

I nailed it. 

If I didn’t pass that then you can hunt me down. 

But deep inside I knew the truth. Sadly, the sensation was familiar; I felt like a dieter deciding to step on the scale on Monday morning after a weekend binge of cheeseburgers and cheesecake.

The year had not gone exactly as planned. A new block schedule severely limited my ability to review for the exams. AP students are always busy but their absenteeism this year felt historic in its scope and, frankly, at times, lacking in its absolute necessity. Spring Break was so early it made the march towards graduation feel Homeric in length. A fatigued and hollow espirt de corps made the occasional appearance during the review process, but nothing resembling the mighty collective of year’s past.

And there it was on the screen: the results I had feared since mid-May. I quickly counted up the 3’s, the 4’s and the 5’s. The number of passing tests was more than disappointing—it teetered on demoralizing. Not quite embarrassing but close enough to justify spending the day meandering in an emotional basement of self-doubt and even a patina of pity.

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I had been on a successful run of AP results the past few years, buoyantly convinced I had finally solved the enigma of preparing teenagers for college-level exams. To quote Diderot, “an indescribably delicious and subtle sensation runs through me” when I received my scores, granting me that all-too-rare moment of unfettered joy as a teacher, knowing that I had done my craft well and true for the students I cared about so deeply.

But there is nothing “delicious and subtle “running through me as I type these words. Just the raw throb of disappointment and the temptation to lash out at everybody but myself.

But here’s the truth…

Vanity, pride, and ego have no business in the classroom. Sulking about a disappointing crop of tests is not only unhelpful to my students, but it damages the rightful orientation of the classroom away from the students and towards the wounded teacher.

I was at a teacher conference many summers ago where I sat next to a fellow AP teacher. He was much older, probably in the last decade of his career, with an air of pomposity that bordered on rudeness. I told him I was eagerly awaiting the results of my first year teaching AP students and he suddenly gave me his full attention, looking me in the eyes with all the seriousness of life and death.

“You have no business teaching advanced students if you think like that,” he haughtily declared.

“What do you mean by that,” I asked, rightly offended.

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“Teaching an AP class is a heavy responsibility and getting students ready for one test is about the least important thing you should be worried about. Teach the curriculum, by all means. Do the best you can. But nobody gives a damn in a decade if they passed an AP test. They care if you made the subject interesting and lively. They care if you made it relevant to their own lives. They will remember if you cared about them, not if they got a 2 or a 3.”                      

At the time I thought this was highfalutin sophistry posing as faux classroom wisdom.

But in the thirteen years since this exchange, I have come to realize just how right and true his words truly were.

I loved, truly loved the Class of 2016. They made me laugh every day. Together, we braved the torrential storms of the 2016 primary season. We had edifying discussions and a productive year that I will always treasure and remember.

A disappointing crop of scores is not the same thing as a disappointing crop of students. For the most part, they were an absolute delight and like so many other professions at so many intersections of life I have but a single choice come August.

Back to the drawing board!

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Jeremy S. Adams is the author of HOLLOWED OUT: A Warning About America's Next Generation (2021) as...

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing your honest and thoughtful reactions to this disappointment. I’m sure you’ll spend plenty more time reflecting and looking at possible adjustments you can make relating to whatever factors are in your control. APs give teachers and students a sometimes validating and sometimes sobering external metric for considering what has happened in the class, but as you’re right to point out, it’s not the only metric, and not even the most important one.

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