Monday, December 6, 2010

Lessons in Student Etiquette, part XXIV

Now that I have administered my final exams, graded my heart out, and submitted final grades, I can finally exhale a low, long sigh about one student who killed this semester for me.

I assign weekly single page "reading comprehension" assignments for my Intro to Basket Weaving. There is so much to cover, so much reading, in this intro course that these small assignments help them get through each week with some memory of what they glanced at. I barely skim through it, give a grade, and move on.

But this particular student wrote about fireworks in Week Two, back in September. I gave her a grade one point above an F and warned her to write future "reading comprehension" journals about, you know, comprehending the reading. This is Basket-Weaving. Not Fireworks. Not even History of Patriotic Holidays.

I received an email right after class (she must have bee-lined from the room to the computer). It was a thing of beauty. Not only was I "uneducated" about the facts but I had also proven to be a "poor" teacher. I had assigned reading that, she felt, didn't answer the question. She was forced -- Forced I tells ya! -- to go elsewhere for evidence because none of the 9 articles had enough to answer my reading comprehension question. A question on baskets that she answered about fireworks.

She alerted me to the point that she was a straight-A student with a Master's Degree. (In what?? I wondered) It was a very hostile email that closed with "I cannot wait for this class to be over."

Really, sweetcheeks? Because you know, I can't get enough of fucktards like you. I mean, I get harsh reviews from students who don't like to work at the end of the semester just like everyone else. But few people are stooooooooopid enough to tell me, from their edu-identifying emails, that they hate me and my class 2 weeks into a 15 week semester.

I bit the bullet and wrote the hardest reply ever: I slipped in some smack-down among my helpful tips. Encouragement. Support. Sorry she "cannot wait for this class to be over" but that basket-weaving was so exciting that I knew she'd be excited too. She obviously needed a lot of help with reading skills. Love and peaches and socialism. A note in passive-aggression that might have either convinced her that I was approachable or caused her to go to the Dean, depending on how careful I was.

The rest of the semester was a tense staring contest. Who would blink first? She began doing the work I assigned; I didn't fail her purposefully, but I didn't give her As that she did not deserve. Finally, she bombed her final exam and I just uploaded her C- into the program.

And now that she's gone and I've submitted her final grade, I feel a wonderful weight lifted off my shoulders. I just had to share.


  1. Bravo, AM. It is always good to know that in the end, we hold the grading pens. I worked for this power, dammit, and I intend to use it to give a bad grade where a bad grade is due.

    But is she going to turn up again like a bad penny, contesting her grade next quarter?

  2. Great graphic, too!

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  4. Yet ANOTHER example of the coarsening of American culture. Fifty years ago, in the era of in loco parentis, a written message like this from a student to a professor would have been grounds for expulsion. I'd ask why you didn't forward her e-mail to the Dean, but I can guess: you knew the Dean would side with Sweetcheeks? I know the feeling all too well.

    Whenever I get students tell me angrily that they're A students, I look up their transcripts. Never once have I discovered a genuine A student, when I do this.

    I wouldn't count on your being rid of Sweetcheeks yet, either. Does your university have a deadline for when a student may protest a grade? Mine does, it's Friday of the fourth week of classes of the next semester. I call it "Statute of Limitations Day": it's an occasion to go out for beers and hilarity with my best colleagues, off campus of course.

  5. This is where documentation and a clear standard is key - let the student's lack of demonstrated knowledge do its damage. That way, personality doesn't come into it.

  6. I've had something similar with two snowflakes (in two separate semesters) who wrote weekly essays that were unrelated to the readings.

    One knocked it off after I talked to her (and she saw her grade).

    The other? He persisted even after discussion and... I persisted with his poor grade. It took half-a-semester to break him of this. I kind of figured he was recycling essays from other classes and tried to shoehorn them in. He was a bit creepy, but that's another story for another time/thread.

  7. Sometimes I want to talk about "tone" at the start of class, showing examples of "proper" tone in an email and "improper tone," using both my own emails AND those of students.

    I generally don't send my "poor tone" emails...I just write them without "to" lines (to prevent accidental mailing) and then let them hang around in my drafts folder for a bit. The spleen-venting is helpful.

  8. It's one thing to hate a class; it's quite another to tell the instructor by some sort of savable medium that you hate the class two weeks in. The lack of self-awareness is staggering, and I would bet good money that this person is BSing about the master's degree as well.

  9. Fucktard about describes it all. We often do a 'let's review email etiquette' lesson on Day 2 in my class b/c otherwise, I get seriously pissed off the rest of the semester with emails like, "My high school teacher was way better than you," or "Hey, I need u 2 edit this 4 me," and "You didnt' put my grad online yet." (this one came two minutes after I graded the assignment IN class and returned it at the end of class and hadn't even returned to my office yet).

  10. I gave the final assignment for my comp classes today: revision portfolio with a reflection letter.

    I took the time to explain why I wanted the letter, why it is a useful exercise (meta-cognition), and why they should not take it as an opportunity to tell me that my class was a) boring, because they don't care about technology and society, b) a waste of time because they're quitting to go across the street to the tech school, or c) generally useless because they got Bs all semester without doing any of the process work.

    I have to explain that I am a human being. I have to explain the number of hours I have put into the design of this course in order to make it contemporary to their lives (content changes yearly, or even from semester to semester). I have to tell them that as much as I would like to be objective, it's flat out impossible if they insult me. I tell them to wait until the Student Surveys of Instruction are distributed at the end of the term, and they can be as honest/mean/ass-kissing as they'd like because I won't see the results until after I have submitted my grades. If they choose to insult me in the letter, they run the risk of ending up with a negative result, because (say it with me) I AM NOT AN ANIMAL! I AM A HUMAN BEING!

  11. The one thing that continues to sit on my shoulder is the little angel reminding me that I'm going to get a meany-pants "anonymous" evaluation sometime in about 6 months.

    Oh well. I did record this and shared it with my Chair. I did it under the guise of "let's commiserate" rather than "I want to file a complaint." That covered my ass in case of future Fucktard reports without having the confront the student back in week 3.

  12. Inspired by your comments, I looked up my student's transcript (which I can access until the official end of this term). Guess who got a B in English Composition I AND II?! Why didn't I look this up sooner?!

  13. I had a student like your firecracker. After her third submission, I thought she was mentally retarded. I even sent a document thing-a-mig-jig to some waste of space department.

    Nothing happened except my firecracker popped mid-term and fizzled out by the final.

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  15. man, do u guys even think that when u put a bad grade on a paper which u, in your own words "had barely skimmed through", potentially wounds a student's Career prospects?!

    Its actually kind of u to have been considerate of that retard when u gave her passing grades, but u guys seem to be flaunting your hostile and non-approving attitude and seemingly u are proud of ur habit of putting bad grades?


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