Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ten Little Snowflakes

Snowflake #1: Listen here, you smug little fucker: I've been teaching writing since 1994 and I can fucking tell when you switch to a font that takes up more space and fuck with the margins to stretch your three and a quarter page piece of shit essay to the bare minimum of four pages after having a FUCKING MONTH TO WRITE IT. You didn't follow the fucking assignment directions anyway. Have fun with your D.

Snowflake #2: You haven't looked at feedback--which I damn near killed myself to turn around in less than two weeks for every major assignment--all semester long, but you're not sure why you're getting a D-? Oh, and you're already signed up to take the same course with me next semester? Great. Merry Christmas to me.

Snowflake#3: You flunked the second essay, but I took care to tell you that you'd have the opportunity to rewrite it for a new grade when you turned in the final portfolio. You turned in your third and final essay in a file format I can't open, and you still haven't checked your fucking email wherein I told you that you have til Monday 12/22 to turn in the work in a fucking format I can fucking open. I suppose the email you sent me in November (coincidentally on the last day to drop) where you said "I didn't go to college to learn how to write but if passing this class will get me to what I want to be learning then I'm going to try my hardest," should have clued me in that you weren't actually going to do the work to pass. You didn't bother with revision, either. Big fucking surprise.

Snowflake #4: This is your second fucking run through this class. Why is your shit late AGAIN? You are bright. What the fuck is your problem?

Snowflake #5: Just fucking forget it. I hate you.

Snowflake#6: You showed up on the first day of class, and you turned in the signature page from the syllabus for 5 points. Then you never came to another class. You ignored all the emails I sent you telling you to come to class, then telling you to drop by the drop date. You're fucking contesting your continued listing in the class? Fuck you. I don't have the power to drop non-performing students. Because we want to give every little precious snowflake the chance to pass. Not that you would have.

Snowflake#7: Enjoy your C. I never want to see you again, ever.

Snowflake #8: Why are you in college? Go work a terrible job like your classmate over there, who gets paid $8/hour to manage an entire fast-food restaurant and still comes to class every day with her work done, including the day after said restaurant burned to the ground (not her fault).

Snowflake #9: Why didn't you fucking drop this class when I sent out the warning in October? I told you, baldly, that you could not have a hope of passing my class because you didn't turn in the first 100 point assignment, and I don't take late work. You stayed in the class even when I sent the notice before the drop date. Then, just after the drop date, you stopped coming to class, but you didn't drop. You are stupid.

Snowflake #10: You came to class, mostly, and turned in work. Some of it was even B-level, which indicates your ability. But you didn't pass the class--because you thought you could just turn in some shit for a final essay (after turning in a straight list of sources in place of an annotated bibliography, for which you justly earned an F). You spent more than a little time texting while I was talking, so maybe that's why. Enjoy having to pay to take this fucking class again. And please don't take it with me. Because I will nail your ass to the wall if you do.

I think that about covers it. The rest of my 100 or so students were pretty cool, and because I like the material I teach, *I* had a good time in class.

I hope everyone is either a) done grading or b) getting close to done. I've quit for the day and I'm about to make myself a brandy old-fashioned (sweet).


  1. Man, they have you grading right into this holiday season? That's a War on Solstice.

    As for your rant, if you made a word cloud, I know which adverb would be the biggest. The Snowflake #3 rant, in particular, reminded me of the car-rental desk scene in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles". I thought you were going to end by telling all 10 snowflakes, "You're fucked."

  2. Man, I had a lot of #7s this year. It was a bad, bad semester.

  3. I just flunked a student for the 3d straight time, same class. The first time they just plain failed every exam. F. The second time they did manage some D's on tests, but plagiarized their paper. F. This semester they managed to earn a C+ before they just quit without turning in their paper or taking the final exam. F again.

  4. I'm lucky enough to have a good many like #8's classmate (and the rest of your "pretty cool" students) -- but also more than a few like #s 8, 1-4, 6, 9, and 10. I didn't hate anybody this semester, and I generally don't, but that might well be because hating requires energy, of which I seem to have less and less, and noticing an individual student enough to have strong feelings about hir, and my main problem at this point is that the great majority of them -- even the good ones I genuinely like, when I happen, momentarily, to notice them as individuals -- are becoming an indistinguishable blur.

    And I fear the cycle is feeding itself: it's precisely because they've encountered so many teachers who are completely overwhelmed (by the number of students they have to teach, the number of bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through, the number of jobs they have to hold down to survive, etc., etc.) that some students have learned that the "throw anything you've got at the teacher and hope to get enough credit to pass" strategy sometimes works. As a result, those of us who try to hold the line are spending more and more of our limited time and energy saying "no; that's an F; do it again, and follow the instructions this time" (at everything from the individual assignment to the course level), and dealing with the whining that results, rather than actually teaching the students who are genuinely trying -- especially the ones like #8's classmate, to whom I keep recurring, because she sounds like the students I most want to help succeed against the odds, and who I fear I sometimes don't give as much of my attention as I should, because they simply do the work without making a lot of noise about it, and/or tend to disappear quietly if they can't, even if they might succeed with just a little bit of the flexibility for which others are so loudly clamoring, and which I'd gladly extend to them if asked.

    Actually, it wasn't all that bad a semester for me (give or take). But the big picture is still discouraging (and I sometimes feel like the next hacking attack could scramble our email streams, so we were all corresponding with each others' students, and, at least at this time of year, it might take some time for any of us to notice).

    1. I just fielded an email from a student begging for a passing C (he's at 72.8% and a passing C is 73). Here's my response:

      "I made extra credit available (10 points) this semester but you did not do it. You did not do Writing Practice #5—if you had, you’d have passed the class. Your annotated bibliography was an incorrectly formatted straight list of 15 sources for which you earned 15/60 points—if you had done it as assigned, you would have passed the class with at least C. If you had done the revision that was offered to all of my students, you likely would have passed with a C. You could have done ANY ONE of these things and been able to pass. You were certainly capable of it, given the fact that you earned a B+ on the second essay. It also doesn’t help that you spent time in class on your phone when you should have been paying attention.

      Therefore, your grade will stand as it is. This is an unpleasant lesson. I can only grade you on the work you turn in, and I warned the class more than once about the ways in which holes in my gradebook translate to problems later on."

    2. Incidentally, the email was from Snowflake #10. I'm sure he's calling me all sorts of names right now, but I just don't care anymore.

    3. Brava! I have to admit that I grade individual assignments on the hard side, then round everything up to the next full number when actually assigning the letter grades, precisely to avoid such exchanges. I'm probably a coward, and it's doesn't entirely work, but I do it anyway.

      Also, I rather suspect that if #10 had earned a C, he'd be lobbying for a C+ or B-, and so on up the scale.

      Still, although he'll probably remember you as one of the meanest, most unreasonable teachers he ever had, I suspect he'll behave better in future classes (thanks to your words surfacing in his memory, at least occasionally, when he's tempted to pull out his phone in class, or half-ass something). So you've done the rest of the professoriate a favor. Thank you.

    4. Since the student got a B+ on an essay, he may simply think that he has the actual skills taught in the course and that he shouldn't have to go through the motions just to pass the course. To get a good grade, maybe, but not just to pass. Therefore, the lesson is that skills are not enough and a student needs to be a nice little conformist who jumps through all the hoops. It would have been different if that was a math course and the student didn't know the material, or even if the student was obviously unable to write in a writing course, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

    5. There's logic to that argument, and I have to admit I've bumped C- grades to Cs on that basis myself. But it ignores another important facet of college: employers and others expect a college degree to be a certification of hard skills, such as writing and numerical thinking, but also of soft ones, such as meeting deadlines and doing stuff for which you don't see the reason at the time (and may or may not ever see the reason).

      I'm all for questioning systems, and for non-conformity when it's worth the effort (usually when the system in question is counterproductive, toxic,or outright evil -- see Nazism, Jim Crow, et al.) But knee-jerk non-conformity/fighting the man is, in fact another form of conformity (one most common, I think, among the young, though you also see some of it in movements that skew older, such as the tea party); effective citizens (note I'm deliberately not saying employees here, though wise employers don't look for unquestioning conformists either) need to be able to decide when and where to to expend their limit energies to change what most needs changing (and that's rarely if ever the basic requirements of a college writing course).

    6. Monica: His skills indicate that he needs to take the class again. He flunked the annotated bibliography assignment because he didn't do it right. He fucked off on the final project, too. Yet he is unable to see why he should have to take the class again. Apparently so are you, and that's your prerogative. My learning outcomes are clear, and I don't feel bad for him at all. Why you do is beyond me. Your comment about him needing to be "a nice little conformist" who can jump through hoops is kind of bullshit. You call them hoops. I call the standards. If he'd done the work, he'd have passed. Quite simple.

    7. In particular, it sounds like he bombed some research-related assignments (and perhaps did well on earlier ones that required less research?) A student who can't research (and cite) not only isn't going to pass later classes; he's likely to end up with an honor charge on his record.

      Or, to cite a parallel case in math, I understood integration pretty well, but I never did master sequences and series, which was the subject of the second half of the class, and which explains the C in calculus II that begins my undergrad transcript. I was very surprised to pass at all, and am still not sure that I should have. I certainly would have needed to retake the class if I'd intended to do any later work that required calculus.

    8. Cassandra, I very much like your statements on conformity. They call to mind a related conversation of almost a month ago. I hope to retain some of your wisdom to better articulate the difference between mindless non-conformity and informed rule-bending/breaking in the real world.

      Apropos of that, BurntChrome, your distinction between hoops and standards helps greatly. In many cases, I would argue that the better position from which to debate the value of the hoop-jumping exercise is that of having actually done the exercise. I will much more readily accept Fox's opinion on the freshness of the grapes if Fox has actually tasted them.

  5. I've had students stare at me open-mouthed and say things like, "What can 1% matter to you? Why do you care what grade I get?"

    And I am of two minds. I really don't fucking care. But I do have to offer a level playing field to all students - that's what *I* believe - and so I do. And when the percentages don't work out, I just let it happen and do my best to explain.

    1. I've been known to say things like "Ask some students who got an 84.49% whether your 79.00% should count just as much as theirs. Your job is to be 1% above the cutoff and make this type of conversation un-necessary. If you wanted the B-, you should have shot for a solid B-, not the absolute lowest that would still make a B-. For as you see, you fell short; that's on you and no-one else."

  6. I had students like that while I was teaching. The worst cases were those who were in the "close but no cigar" category and who, when their whining and wailing failed to persuade me to give them the results they wanted, went past me to the department head.

    All that was needed was to claim some form of academic injustice, or use the tried and true phrase "but I *tried* so hard!", and any grade that I calculated, and subsequently submitted, would mysteriously be raised to something more favourable.

    Whenever something like that happened, I always asked myself why I bothered doing anything as it certainly didn't matter in the long run.

  7. I somehow missed this post until I saw it in the sidebar list. Loved it!