• Colin Phelan

A Small Tweak That Could Go a Long Way: “Students give a test; teachers take a class.”


During my time teaching at Dexter Southfield, the visionary leader of the upper school frequently said, “Teachers don’t give students grades; students earn grades.” Of course, this logic was especially useful when explaining to students why their grade on an assignment, exam, or report card was what it was. To reiterate: I, the teacher, was not giving the students a grade; they, the student, earned the grade which they had received.


Having been teaching in India for several weeks while also improving my grasp on the Hindi language, I’ve recently revisited this leader’s statement in the context of these two translations:



In Hindi, students do not “take” tests, they “give” tests (the verb “dena” meaning “to give” is used, not the verb “lena” meaning “to take.”)


In addition, in Hindi, teachers do not, as the language translates, “give” or “teach” classes; instead, teachers “take” classes.


As a disclaimer, I’m not writing this post to sensationalize the Indian education system, Indian students, or Indian teachers. Although I’ve had a good experience thus far, I’m still evaluating the extent to which this language and its associated ideas holds true within India.






Top photo of school grounds


Bottom photo of the Hindu Goddess of Wisdom,

Saraswati, and a portrait of Rabindranath Tagore adorned

with flowers for his death anniversary on August 7th.


Instead, equipped with the head of my old upper school head's idea, I’m here to urge this kind of language in American schools:


So, instead of teachers “giving” the students a test, and instead of students “taking” a test, how useful would it be if students “gave” a test? In such a way, students would not be at the whim of the teacher – “taking” the teachers’ test – but instead “giving,” or, said otherwise, delivering, their grasp of the content and their skills to the teacher.


Thus, as opposed to teachers saying, “next week you will take an exam,” they might reword their statement to “next week you will give an exam.” It sounds awkward, but when explained, can make perfect sense to the students especially if the teacher consistently deploys such language.


Similarly, the language of a teacher “taking” a class seems preferrable to a teacher “giving” or even “teaching” a class. For teachers to “take a class” implies a teacher must receive their students, as they are, and thus work symbiotically with them. “Giving” or “teaching” a class reflects an old, lecture-based model.


While there are innovations in American education for classes to become more student-centered, reframing the class experience and the teacher-student relationship with this language might prove especially beneficial. I haven’t done this yet in America (as I’m not there right now), but I’m curious to see this language implemented.

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