The First B I Ever Got!

From my book The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA

…The First B I Ever Got!

In my second year of teaching at Duval, five students in the 9-5 physical science class could barely read and write. At the end of the first grading period, I gave the class higher grades than their academic abilities showed they deserved. The day after grades came out; the 9-5s were excited about their high grades. One student spoke up in class: “Mr. Martin, that was the first B I ever got in my whole life. How can I get another one?”

I told him and the class to participate in the hands-on activities and class discussions, work safely, try their best, respect the rights of other students, and not cause problems in class. If they did those things, they might not always get B’s, but they would get no lower than C’s. We had fun in that class, and there were few discipline problems. They were happy to be able to do something right.

I didn’t have the heart to give D’s or F’s to kids who gave it a good try. Students were tracked low because they were not considered to be very smart, so why should I have held them to the same high academic standard as the 9-1 class? Should I have flunked the entire class as their academic abilities showed?

After they had made decent efforts, I couldn’t punish kids with the same disappointing evaluations they had always received. What would be the point in convincing them that they should feel bad about themselves and could never hope for success? It was a self-fulfilling prophecy—put the academically low-performing students in one class together and flunk them because they are low-performing. Is that a catch-22?

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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