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Front-loading the Fourth Quarter

Anne Silva

As a rookie teacher, I had the INCREDIBLE good fortune to have a simply amazing principal take me under her wing and mentor me for my first few years of teaching. She was fantastic in so many ways, but that’s material for a whole ‘nother post. (Yeah, that’s right, I used the word ‘nother. You know you’re jealous.)

One of the lessons that she taught me was to “always front-load the fourth quarter.” I’m afraid I may have learned this the hard way my first year, but with my principal’s help, I survived that train wreck and turned things around the next year.

So what is this “front-loading” all about? Wellll…. you know how each quarter of the school year technically has the same number of weeks? And you know how, according to the laws of quantum physics or Quantum Leap or Neil deGrasse Tyson or someone like that, every week has 7 days and every day has 24 hours?

Well, in the fourth quarter of the school year, that’s all baloney. HOGWASH.

Because first comes Spring Break, and then you have a whole week where the Spring Break sunburn has apparently damaged everyone’s neurons and nobody’s sure where they are or what they’re doing there. And then comes basketball championships, and prom, and baseball pep rallies, and state tests, and SAT/ACT preparation and testing. And then come the AP tests and Memorial Day. And the entire month of May, it’s as though someone has snuck in and stolen about 9 solid hours out of every day, usually from the “Sleeping” or “Getting My Stuff Done” time slots. And somewhere along the way, you’re wishing for the February doldrums to please come back, just for one week of NORMALCY.

And then, the real kick in the pants… you are expected to GRADE students on REAL WORK that they have done in the 42 nanoseconds that they have actually spent in your classroom this quarter.


In my first year, my middle school Spanish students only had class twice a week for 30 minutes. I thought it would be a snazzy idea to assign a project as a kind of Cumulative, Differentiated-Instruction, Project-Based Assessment Grade. Sounds schmancy, right?


Between the gazillion interruptions to those measly instructional hours and my own idiocy, I ended up facing down the last week of school with exactly ONE grade in the gradebook, 50 projects that would need to be graded overnight, and one student who had been out for health reasons enough times that she had ZERO grades for my class.

Have you been there? Do you know how many gray hairs of mine are dedicated solely to that 9-week grading period?

So this is what I’m offering: some advice to new teachers (or sleep-deprived veteran teachers who could use a little boost): FRONT-LOAD THE FOURTH QUARTER!

If you can, schedule that last quiz of the 3rd quarter just a day or two later so that it can count for the 4th quarter! If you can help it, don’t schedule big projects or long essays to be due the last day of school, if you know that half the class will probably be out and your grades will be due the following morning! Nobody wins there, man! Yes, by all means, maintain your rigorous expectations and your system for grading things—after all, you did spend the last 3 quarters getting everyone to understand it! But take more grades at the beginning of the 4th quarter, and also whenever it’s humanly possible, so that the inevitable, unforeseen circumstances that are probably headed your way won’t throw you for such a loop.

Now, take this with a grain of salt if it doesn’t apply to you: if your school has a set policy on not interrupting class time (oh, the envy!), or if you have a nice system for making sure there are enough grades in the system that Pepito Pérez doesn’t fail the quarter just because he got a 3/5 on a single homework assignment. (And in that case, please do share!) And a little disclaimer: this is not meant to be a very profound Professional Development-y lesson; it’s more of a practical thing. But it’s valuable advice, nonetheless, as anyone who has tried to conjure up grades in the home stretch of the school year can attest to.

Ok, now it’s your turn! Do you front-load the fourth quarter? All the quarters? How do you build in “wiggle room” so that you’re sure there are enough grades in the bank to give an accurate portrayal of students’ progress—but without dedicating every waking moment to doing nothing but grading papers? Please share any tidbits of wisdom with us; new teachers and veteran teachers alike have everyday concerns like this, and it would be great to share what we know—and what we DON’T know—with each other.

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