Saturday, January 19, 2013

Leona from Loveland Reporting on the First 2 Weeks of Spring Misery.

It's only week two at Expensive Small University, but I can already tell that I'm going to have some doozies in my Survey of Hamsters for Non-Rodentologists. Thankfully, there are twice as many attentive, smiling students in the class, which almost makes up for these specimens:

Entitled Esther:
She emailed me minutes after I returned her writing assignment, shocked that she received a B for an essay full of grammatical errors and misused words. In her email, she asked / demanded that I explain "what you can do for me next time" and "how I can get points back." She informed me that she will be attending law school / medical school / whatever grad program next year, and that I am hurting her GPA.

I wanted to respond: Well, sugarplum, you can write with proper grammar and try not to sound smarter than you are by using words that sound fancy but that you don't understand. Shut up and be glad I didn't give you a lower grade. Apparently you are not very good at common sense, because if you've already applied for law school / med school / whatever, then they're not going to see this grade until they've already accepted you. Plus, if I gave you an A for a crappy paper, you'd keep writing crappy papers. Here's a little incentive!

I did respond: I understand that you're frustrated. Because these are personal reflection essays, grammar and style are as important as content because each essay has different content. Writing style is important, and as a future lawyer / med student / whatever, I'm sure you can appreciate how important attention to detail is. I am happy to help you with your writing if you come to my office hours. The writing center is also available for students who need help with writing.
Entitled Esther shot back with a sarcastic, rude response promising a "clearly written paper on an insipid topic" next time. Further, she claimed she will not perform well on the quizzes in the class and wants to "save points wherever I can."

Well, Esther, as the kids would say, "Save ALL the points." Or just be competent, accept that you made mistakes, and work a little harder next time.

Angry Alphonse:
He, too, was upset about his writing assignment grade but chose to confront me about it after class. I don't mean discuss rationally as adults - I mean, confront. He was visibly shaken and on the verge of tears, so I initially had some sympathy. Of course, I was the type of student who cried about a grade and then worked my ass off to fix the problems. Not so with Alphonse.

Alphonse: I don't see how I could get a C on this. I didn't think grammar was that important.

Professor Leona: As I said in class, these essays will be graded on grammar and style rather than content.

Alphonse: I didn't make that many mistakes.

Professor Leona: There were several misspellings that any spell-checker would have underlined for you, and you obviously chose to ignore them. You did not capitalize several proper nouns, including the name of the city where you live. You used grammatical errors such as, "Me and my friends like hamsters." All of these contributed to your grade.

Alphonse: But you shouldn't count off so much. You took off four letter grades!

Professor Leona: Actually, four letter grades would be an F. This is two letter grades from an A, which is what I think you mean. [sidebar: Alphonse is in a major that requires a lot of math. This worries me greatly.]

Alphonse: I looked at the girl's paper next to me, and you wrote on her paper as much as mine and she only got a B.

Professor Leona: Did this student hand you her paper to look at?

Alphonse: Well, no, she just had it out on her desk so I looked at it.

Professor Leona: O_o FERPA R@##IV Y$@nfo3

Alphonse: It's just not fair.

Professor Leona: If you recall, I require all papers to be submitted electronically. You did not read the syllabus and follow directions, and you submitted a hard copy. I accepted it this time, but next time I will not. You could have received an F on this assignment for not submitting it in the proper format.

Alphonse: Well, I can see you're not going to change your mind about the grade.

And he stomped off angrily.

Let's hope that by taking a hard line with these two right away, they don't pull these shenanigans after every graded assignment. Otherwise, it's going to be a long semester because there's a graded assignment every week.

And then there's Space Cadet Sandy.

We all have Space Cadet Sandy, who sits in the back, stars in my general direction with eyes glazed over, and doesn't open a single book all semester. As I reminded them about the quiz next week, Sandy raised hir hand.

Prof. Leona: Yes, Sandy?

Sandy: How do we know which hamsters will be on the quiz?

Prof. Leona: We have talked about each hamster in class. They are all listed on the syllabus.

Sandy: Okay, but can you just give us a list?

Prof. Leona: I already did. It's on the syllabus.

Sandy: Okay, but we need to know the colors of the hamsters?

Prof. Leona: Yes. The hamsters' colors are in the textbook, and I have also given them to you during lectures.

Sandy: Okay, but can you just give them to us again?

At this point, the responsible students in the class jumped in, chastised Sandy, and steered us to a more useful topic. Thank Spaghetti Monster for those students. They alone will make this class tolerable.


  1. Regarding students such as Esther and Alphonse, I tell students that they must wait 24 hours after assignments are returned to speak with me. I explain that we can't have a constructive conversation about their work if they are overly emotional or in angry-reaction mode.

    Online students who send me anything even remotely inappropriate get a stern warning about our online campus' policy on electronic communication. I also tell them that if it happens again, I'll report them to the online campus for policy violation.

    The bottom line is I ruthlessly stomp the bejeebus out of that adolescent bullshit before it has time to gain traction. I'd love it if my college students arrived in campus with an awareness of the basic standards of human civility. Until then, I'll keep going all Samuel Jackson on their rude little asses until they get the point.

    1. For some reason when I read "ruthlessly stomp the bejeebus out of that adolescent bullshit" I pictured "Glove" from "Yellow Submarine" and smiled...

    2. Nice work, Surly!

      p.s. Love the username.

    3. I have adopted a similar measure and it has made my life SOOOO much easier. The emotions cool down and all that remains is a genuine question about where they went wrong.

    4. I, too, adopted the 24-hour policy five years ago when something similar happened with a student confronting me in class about a grade. Now I get maybe one a year who wants to still be angry enough to let me know 24 hours later. The others just hold a grudge until it's time for evals.

  2. OK, I'm stealing..I mean ADOPTING that 24 hour policy.

    I already take care of the other end of the timeline by having a one-week-and-then-it's-final grade policy. This, after a student sat with me three times for 2 hours each, arguing EVERY TEA PARTYING POINT from an entire semester's worth of work (Yes, I was an idiot, I am less so now).

    Maybe I can eventually shrink the window for contesting grades to, I dunno, 7:00 - 7:30 am two days after work is returned. >>I'M<< awake and in the office then, even if >>THEY'RE<< sleeping off their previous night's drunk.

  3. I added the 24 hour cooling off period to my syllabi after reading about it here last year. It has nearly eliminated all grade appeals. The typical flake doesn't seem to have a long enough attention span to remember to follow up.

    Or this window of time ensures my flakes carefully read my comments and now they all understand their grades and what they need to improve upon.

    Gigglesnort. Yeah, right.

  4. I like the 24-hour cooling-off period. I may implement that. For the moment, I mostly just wait a while to answer emails about grades, which seems to have a similar effect.

    Don't tell me; let me guess: Esther should have taken this class semesters ago, but she put it off, telling herself it would be easy (but secretly fearing it, because she knows that writing isn't her greatest strength).

  5. I know I love the smart students who jump in to castigate the slow ones way more than I should, but it's so rare now that when I have someone do that, I want to give the an A right then and there.

  6. Well writ, Leona. Hang in there. We're all in it together.

  7. I do so love the students who apologize for turning in a late assignment, as if that somehow excuses them.

    For whatever reason, students rarely contest their grades in my classes. Maybe because I do what I refer to as "grading defensively".

  8. I liked grading things in front of people, because by the time I was done they were usually glad they didn't get a much lower grade by how many mistakes I would point out in real time. The ones who tried to grade grub I would go out of my way to give 0 slack the next time around, so they'd be grade grubbing to get back to where they would have been without grade grubbing.