Answering "What Grade Are You In?"

Answering What Grade Are You In


Recently during my 7 year olds annual check-up at the pediatrician’s, the nurse was asking him to answer a list of prescribed questions prior to the doctor coming in. It went something like this — Nurse: “What’s the name of your school?” My son: Blank stare. Somewhat impatiently, the nurse repeats: “The name? of your school?” I was giving him a chance to answer himself, but when I saw him unsure what to say I said with a smile, “We homeschool.” Nurse: “Oh, okay. So what grade is he in?” My son: “First grade.” Me: “Yeah, first grade. Wait, aren’t you in second grade this year?” Now, it was the nurse’s turn to give a blank stare. Haha.


I honestly stumble over this question a lot, because I don’t really keep track. Imagine my encouragement when I read this little bit of Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield aloud to my littles today. I was secretly hoping my littles heard something familiar in the way Betsy was learning and were encouraged. I’m not sure they did, but I was encouraged & I hope you are too! See the snippet below, where you’ll find Betsy, who was accustomed to a large town school, at her first day at a small, country school.




After the lesson the teacher said, smiling, “Well, Betsy, you were right about arithmetic. I guess you’d better recite with Eliza for a while. She’s doing second-grade work. I shouldn’t be surprised if, after a good review with her, you’d be able to go on with the third-grade work.”


Elizabeth Ann fell back on the bench with her mouth open. She felt really dizzy. What crazy things the teacher said! She felt as though she was being pulled limb from limb.


“What’s the matter?” asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.


“Why—why,” said Elizabeth Ann, “I don’t know what I am at all. If I’m second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade AM I?”


The teacher laughed at the turn of her phrase. “YOU aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re in! And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?”


“Well, for goodness’ sakes!” ejaculated Elizabeth Ann, feeling very much as though somebody had stood her suddenly on her head.


“Why, what’s the matter?” asked the teacher again.


This time Elizabeth Ann didn’t answer, because she herself didn’t know what the matter was. But I do, and I’ll tell you. The matter was that never before had she known what she was doing in school. She had always thought she was there to pass from one grade to another, and she was ever so startled to get a glimpse of the fact that she was there to learn how to read and write and cipher and generally use her mind, so she could take care of herself when she came to be grown up. Of course, she didn’t really know that till she did come to be grown up, but she had her first dim notion of it in that moment, and it made her feel the way you do when you’re learning to skate and somebody pulls away the chair you’ve been leaning on and says, “Now, go it alone!”



Tell me you love it just as much as I do! As far as I can tell, that’s the best answer to “What grade are you in?” that I’ve ever heard.


  1. Jessica says

    That book is on our shelf waiting to be read, and you’ve just inspired me to make it next in the read-aloud rotation. Thank you for sharing this inspiring post!

    • Beth Watson says

      Oh good, Jessica! We’re really enjoying it. I’ve been surprised to see my littles catch the humor in the book. 🙂

  2. mlduffy54 says

    They have the child’s age… why the stupid question about grade? Seems to me the adults could use more schooling!

  3. TerriW says

    I have a half baked theory that part of the reason that people think homeschoolers are weird and unsocialized is because the first thing they ask the kid is “What grade are you in?” and and they get the dumb look/blank stare in response.

    Why don’t they try a different question? Might I suggest, “Which bones make up the axial skeleton?”

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