Wednesday, September 4, 2013

RYS Flashback. 7 Years Ago Today.

This comes before my time at RYS, but it remains one of my all time favorite posts from the "goon old days."


September 4, 2006

This is the Kind of Posting That Makes Us Want To Chew On a Pistol and Create a New Tenure Track Position At Our College

So. Let's talk about this grade thing. First off, let's get one thing clear. I am a rock-star student. I am the person who understands allegory and allusion as well as computers and circuits. I am the person to whom you refer other students for help. I am the person who speaks up in class--better yet, I bring up other, related avenues of intellectual inquiry instead of going, "huh, when did you say the midterm was?"

I come to your office hours to continue our discussions, and what's more, I have a clue when I do. My papers are sparkling examples of intellect and wit, effortlessly mixing both the classics and pop-culture references. My writing makes you laugh! And occasionally cry! And then nod your head and say, "wow, great point!"

What's more, I work my adorable little tush off. I am finishing a double major baccalaureate degree in two and a half years. I average a load of 23 credits. I work 20-30 hours a week, depending on projects at work. When my cell phone goes off (on vibrate) in class and I leave to answer it (which has happened once in two years), it's my employer, and the shit has just hit one hell of a fan.

With very few exceptions, you all love me. Many of you want to adopt me, or at least give me a big, warm, fuzzy hug. Then you would like to clone me. Because in addition to all of the above, I smile and I learn your name and I show up to class and I talk to you about your day and your other interests instead of treating you as a faceless, unimportant professorimaton.

For most of you, I love you back. As a rule, I think you're a pretty awesome group of people. I definitely think you should get the hell out, because 1) you don't have tenure and you never will because of school policies, 2) the engineers just don't get your subjects, and 3) you can do way better than this midwestern city. With that said, I'm honestly grateful that you don't. At least not until I finish my degree. Then, hell, man, flee! Flee like the wind! I know I will.

But loving you and thinking that you're awesome doesn't mean that I won't ask about a grade if I can't understand why I got it. Will I be an asshole about it? No. Will I even argue for you to change it? No, I won't. But if I don't understand why I got that B, if there are no comments or feedback, or if what's there doesn't make sense to me, I will ask you. If you can back it up, then hey, awesome, no problem. I still love you. I'll take my lumps, learn from the experience, and knock you out on the next assignment.

However, there's a little principle I live by: if you can't explain why it's *not* an A, then it *is* an A. Now, I don't expect a comprehensive analysis. I know that you're busy, I know that you've got lots to do, and I know that a lot of an A is indeed that wow-factor. But the other eight professors I have this term say that my work does have that wow-factor, and suddenly you disagree? Yeah, I'd like to know why, and I'm going to find out. "This just didn't have the punch." "This just didn't have the insight." One of those are good enough.

But if you write "Excellent!!!" at the bottom, then put a B at the top, with no intervening comments, I will come and ask you, and you had best be prepared to defend your answer. If you can't defend your answer, and you don't do something about it, *then* the fangs come out. Yes, I care about learning. No, I'm not just here for the piece of paper. College has done a lot for me; it's opened my mind to several subjects I love, it's connected me with some really interesting people. But do I worry about GPA? Yes, I do, and for that I won't apologize. I'm most probably going to graduate school after this. My GPA is on my resume. As of the end of spring term, I was .01 point away from summa cum laude, and yes, I want to wear the honor cords when I walk across the stage. I think I've earned that. And 99% of my professors agree. If you don't? If you think that we're supposed to foster an air of intellectual discourse in the classroom, then *not* discuss the very assignments that are intended to further it? If you were grading late one night and transposed a quiz grade, making my curve-breaking A into a B? If you think that not being a "grade-grubber" demands that I silently accept any of the above? Then yes, you are wrong.

Or perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps, much like the hokey-pokey, shutting up and taking whatever mark you're handed back (even if you don't understand it) *is* what it's all about. But I don't think so. Not only that, but I think most of you will agree with me. We're not so far apart, you and I; we both want students to learn. Here, I wanted to write "so detach the hostility surrounding questions about grades"... but that's not really fair, is it?

I know I'm exceptional. I know that the vast majority of students who dispute their grades are not like me and do not act like me. I've seen it. I've heard it. I've been told about it by some of my current professors. And I have no doubt that if I do go to graduate school, I'll experience it first-hand. So given what you're asked to deal with, the hostility is fair and even apropos. Why am I writing this, then? Because there are always exceptions, and I am one of the exceptions. Rant all you want about the other 99% (Dog knows I do, too), but be open to said exceptions when they come along. Oh, and one last request.

Can you tell that guy simultaneously clicking his pen, tapping his foot, and chewing his gum to shut the bloody hell up?


  1. Do students this articulate even exist anymore? More the speed of nearly all my students in recent years has been something out of "Idiocracy," such as, "Asshole professors, huh-huh!"

  2. Assuming that this was a real student and not someone's sockpuppet:
    "You are right. I tend to be very spare with feedback because the 99% of brain-addled tequila-guzzling tea-partying students will never read the blasted thing. So, sure, come to my office. Have a cuppa and a cookie. I'll be happy to spend half hour explaining to you what was going on with your paper, and it'll probably be the best 30 minutes of my semester. Heck, I might end giving you the 'A' because you may learn something in that half hour.
    If, on the other hand, you are just feeding me bull, fear my boot".

  3. Dear Uncommonly Articulate,

    I'm sorry to disappoint you, but while I to some degree sympathize (if you're a freshman or soph), I am also underwhelmed; disappointed, even.

    I was that kind of freshman, too. Being accustomed to acing everything in HS, I looked forward to glowing in the same kind of adult adoration in college, too. And, for a little while, that was enough. Then something clicked (or broke), and I realized it made more sense to be "bad", to say: "fuck grades". Happened right around the time I started sitting in on grad courses I wasn't allowed to enroll in, taking the tests and talking to the profs about their research. The UG courses were trivial anyway.

    So from this point on, there are two possibilities: you could continue to be good, get your As, make Mom and Dad proud. Business schools, medical and law schools, investment banks, government: full of people like that, "overachieving mediocrities" who will never do anything remarkable, but will shine in class and family reunions (academia too, of course), and become highly desirable trophy spouses. could drop out of the rat race right now, stop trying so hard to impress and please others. Realize that academic subjects, as structured into a curriculum, are pale reflections of the real thing, which exists at a much more organic, fluid, hard to organize level. Pursue that kind of depth, which cannot be reflected by mere grades. Seek out the stuff you have a hard time understanding, and try to make something original out of it. It is not too early.

  4. This remains one of the RYS posts that I find most irritating, even after this much time. I'm not exactly sure what it is--the tone is unbelievably grating to me, for one thing, and there's a weaselly sort of entitlement to it that I simply find really unbearable.

    I guess this is what it is: these are the students that really cause you trouble. Not the dullards, oh no; they just exist in their own little bubble. But the overachieving, vicious, smarmy students who want to talk principles while I just want them to sign up for a damn composition class and get the hell out of my office.

    What I find most offensive about it is that it's putting the discourse surrounding grades above the actual achievement of the grades. I've been doing this for n years, and here in my n+1st year I definitely, definitely know what constitutes excellent work. No amount of talking about what you're "entitled" to will change that.

    (also, was that really seven years ago? that would mean that I'm OH GOD HOW MUCH OLDER NOW)

    1. Indeed, you are right on about it, Dr. Colossus. It was the first time I can remember hearing the "rock star student" line, and he's just such a smug bugger. It reminds me, however, of what we're sometimes up against.

    2. Oh, and I believe it would have been "the Professor," the founder of RYS, who would have come up with the title, which I often recall and modify when I'm explaining to outsiders what my career is like.

  5. That title is especially dark, but with that kind of student, what do you expect?