Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mercy.

Well, they've started to trickle in. The end-of-term mercy requests.

One student emailed me four times already. 

At 5:03 pm, he asked if there was any extra work he could do to raise his C to a B (receiving a C would "destroy" his GPA).

At 5:15 pm, he complained how his lateness ("why should my coming in a few minutes late here and there effect my grade?") was holding him back from a summer internship, which he did not want to "loose." (We covered frequently confused words several times.)

At 5:37 pm, he informed me that his younger brother had been sick all semester ("in an out of the hospital") and that yes, he should have told me earlier, but still, "(I)t is ruining my dreams for pharmacy school."

At 6:01, he asked, again, if there was any extra work he could possibly do to receive a B.

I received these at 9 pm; I am actually out of town, which I announced to the students weeks ago and reminded them last week and again this week. I'm not sure what to say to this young man except to quote my syllabus: "Lates count for half an absence" and "Students who miss more than four classes will have their final grade reduced by a full letter grade. Remember, lates count as a half of an absence." 

I might also point out that I emailed him and messaged him in Canvas three times over the course of the semester reminding him of these policies and tabulating his absences and lates for him (2 absences, 9 lates). 

I could also point out that he was more than "a few minutes" late on many occasions and that each time, it was disruptive. 

I will definitely point out that his final paper (which he called "pretty good") was not enough to bring up his average (73%) to an 80%. Yet I think I do need to address his revisionist history.

I'm not sure what I'll do. I'll be diplomatic and to the point.

My real point is that it is disheartening--nay, depressing--to know that he thinks this will work on me. Or that he deserves it. Or . . .  something.

- Potter Filius in Potters Field

50 comments:

  1. Here's your two-step solution:

    1. Use text from your syllabus to state the rules which the student broke. State that there is no extra credit work. No need to be mean or snarky. Don't explain the rules, just stsate them. I've found this approach will make the student go away faster.

    2. Granted, it's not emotionally satisfying to quote your syllabus (YMMV, maybe your syllabus is a masterpiece). That's why I have a second step. Write what you'd
    ike to say to the student and send it to the RGM instead. The feedback from this site will be more positive than what the student, his parents, and the deN will give you, I'm certain.

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    1. deN?! WTF. I meant "dean". Stupid ipad, with your dumb shift key next to the idiotic "A" key.

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  2. Perplexed PeterMay 7, 2016 at 9:02 AM

    As Ben notes, refer to the syllabus. Tell the student it's a contract where we tell them what deliverables will determine their grade and what the appropriate weights are.

    Try to refrain from telling the student that we call them final papers or final exams for a reason. And try to refrain from saying "extra credit?" You couldn't even do what I asked you to do well so why would I give you extra work?

    I did have a student once tell me that the grade I gave him brought shame to his family. I work at a Catholic university so maybe he was trying to give me a guilt trip. It didn't work.

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  3. The student is working through Kubler-Ross' 5 stages, which are not all-or-nothing. Here we have bargaining mixed with anger and a bit of denial.

    The copy/paste from existing sources (e.g. syllabus, emails, LMS messages) is my way to go, too. This is not a situation wherein you should defend or explain yourself or your standards, as you would to your boss. So the less said, the better.

    In the cool accounting of his grade, the disruptiveness of his latenesses doesn't matter; mention of same could leave him room to open debate on the subjectiveness and emotionality of the characterisation, as if you are somehow deducting more points because you were upset. And definitely do not engage his rhetorical demand for explanation of how his attendance should "effect" his grade any further than to preface your quoting the syllabus with, "Here are the relevant grading standards and policies from the syllabus, which were applied to all students in the course."

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    1. I should have refreshed my screen before commenting, as I see others have already done so. I see we are in reasonable agreement.

      I'll add here that the student's bargaining for more points is just his coping strategy. He doesn't necessarily think it will work on you, so you don't have to take it personally. In fact, what he thinks about you or this situation doesn't matter at all. Free yourself from that worry, and the result of your fairness here and beyond will be that long term, on average, your students will respect you. And you'll respect yourself.

      My cross-town collaborator is on a board that handles academic and professionalism issues for a pharmacy school. From what she's told me of her program, tardiness and absence can lead to reduced grades, enough of which can lead to dismissal. So this student is encountering a lesson better learned now. A single C now won't keep him out of pharmacy school---a string of C's, maybe, but his transcript is all on him, not you.

      And you don't need to address that or ANY of the red herrings he's thrown at you. You can see that he's starting to realize that his decisions have consequences. The trough is right there before him; all he has to do is bow his head and drink. As helpful or tempting as you might feel it to do so, you don't need to push his head under.

      I echo what Ben said: the stuff you want to say, the emails you want to send, write them up and send them here. This was a good one.

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  4. Yes, a snark-free to-the-point referral to the syllabus is all that is needed. A response I have used several times in the last week:
    "No, there is no extra credit work available.
    As per the course syllabus, if you fail the final exam you fail the course.
    No, I will not be entertaining any requests for a final grade change. The final grade you earned will remain unless there was an arithmetic error in the compilation of your course work.
    regards,
    Prof Poopiehead"

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    1. Perplexed PeterMay 7, 2016 at 6:36 PM

      For a few years, I'd put a sign on my office door reading "Car payments are negotiable. Grades, alas, are not."

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    2. That's awesome, Peter.

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    3. Car payments are negotiable? My bank doesn't seem to think so. (But still a good line; car prices certainly are negotiable).

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  6. Dear Snowflake,

    Your concern about your grade and your GPA is with regards to factors that are out of my control. While I am the individual who calculates your grade, at the end of the day I can only report the facts. Thank you in advance for understanding that your requests for extra-credit and special treatment are inappropriate and as such can not be accommodated at this time.

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    1. Do not say "at this time" when you mean "never". It invites the question "when?" or "at what other time?".

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    2. Here's a case where I agree with Monica.

      ....can not be accommodated, period (or full stop, as the Brits say).

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    3. "At this time" and "please be advised" are creeping into the lexicon as throw-away lines to connote "I want this to sound official."

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  7. I think it would actually make sense to let him have the B and see what would happen. Maybe he wouldn't get that internship or wouldn't do well. After all, if he was late 9 times and absent twice, maybe his attendance wouldn't be very good there either. The experience of failing in a work environment would probably teach him a better lesson than the experience of getting a C instead of a B and being "unfairly" denied a "deserved" opportunity (the internship).

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    1. So, essentially, don't have integrity? That's your advice?

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    2. I don't see it that way. After all, the student lost one letter grade just because of lateness and absences, not because he didn't learn the material. With better punctuality, he would have gotten a B. But don't worry: whoever is in charge of the internship would have shown plenty of integrity by refusing to tolerate his lateness and absences there.

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    3. But Monica, you are advocating passing the problem down the line instead of dealing with it at the source.

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    4. Monica, here's why I worry: late-dude got an internship (which he'll crash and burn in, you say, so don't worry) based on a grade bump, which means that it didn't instead go to a not-late-dude(tte) who had a non-bumped grade they actually earned. So, I'll stick to giving students the grade they earned, thankyouverymuch.

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    5. Some quick responses because I've already dealt with things like this many times in the past.

      "I think it would actually make sense to let him have the B and see what would happen."

      I'll tell you what would happen: your institution's transcripts and diplomas would come to be regarded as toilet paper, except not as absorbent and the wrong texture for actual ass-wiping.

      "the student lost one letter grade just because of lateness and absences"

      The student failed to earn full credit because he failed to live up to the standards set forth at the beginning of the course. Full stop.

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    6. Are you seriously a professor? With that kind of professional ethics? Man. No wonder.

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    7. You have to put yourself in the place of the internship director, who is expecting that a student's earning a B indicates ability to participate as required and to turn in reasonably competent work reasonably on time. You would be right pissed to take on a B student and find instead that the student got that grade for "learning" but not for having demonstrated the corequisite "soft skills" that are also needed to succeed in the workplace. A few more bad experiences like that and you would stop taking interns from that school. See my above comment about the toilet paper.

      Again, the student failed to earn full credit because he failed to live up to the standards set forth at the beginning of the course. If from that experience he is unable to learn to get his ass where it needs to be when it needs to be there, that's his problem. You don't pass the problem down the line with the justification that "failing in a work environment would probably teach him a better lesson". Those places that accept your students as interns are doing your school a favor. You don't repay that favor by sending them a bunch of fuck-ups.

      How about we just hand out pieces of paper that say "diploma"? Why have standards at all?

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    8. Monica, another aspect to consider is that you'd be setting the student up for a bigger opportunity for failure. For better or worse, we are gatekeepers. Our evaluations should prevent students from advancing to a point at which they will be a disaster. Prof. Pottah keeps the student grounded for now by giving him a C. That's better than letting the student slide by so that he can crash and burn later.

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    9. Excellent point, Ben.

      Compare the Peter Principle. Once incompetence is demonstrated, advancement should stop.

      It's hard to believe some of this needs to be said, but on the flipside, each time I say it I get better at it.

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    10. I don't know why this needs to be pointed out, but Monica is a contrarian. It's just part of what she does on this page. You can go back years and see this pattern.

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    11. Yes, but she brings up points which are worth refuting. I like her, even if I don't usually agree with her.

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    12. Since you seem unsure, a good reason to have pointed that out is to help newer readers who might not have been aware of that information. Thanks.

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    13. In case it wasn't clear, my "since you seem unsure..." was in response to Anonymous two comments up, not Ben.

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    14. Anonymous, Ben, and anyone else who is interested:

      We've been down a very similar path before.

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  8. Thank you, all! I appreciate your wisdom! My cup now overfloweth.

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    1. Hey, don't let it spill. You paid a lot for it!

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  9. This poor guy being denied his chance at becoming the next Martin Shkreli. Clearly more cookies and pizza parties are required.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. At the advice of my attorney, I am cleaning the coffee from my monitor screen.

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    3. I don’t always diss millennials, but when I do…

      Personally, I wouldn’t be unhappy if this guy were to do time, and – just in his cell – the cost of toilet paper went up to $750 per single ply sheet.

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    4. I read up on him a bit beyond the pill pricing thing, which was of course the most notorious thing till it was replaced by those other things. If they get any of the charges to stick, he's in for a world of hurt.

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  10. My own dean-of-the-faculty is on record as stating that every student should be given as many second chances as needed, and that they should also be sought out and begged to take those second (second hundredth) chances. I never know how to explain this to the students who abide by the course standards, but are aware of friends who didn't but demanded off-syllabus opportunities: "Yes, you're getting the same grade as a peer who didn't actually do the work/cheated/plagiarized/never took the test, but asked for a second chance. That's how it works. Forget it, Jake."

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    1. I think your faculty should have as many second chances as needed to remove your idiot dean from office. Zhe is doing real damage to your institution.

      I'll say this much for my dean: he has collaborated with faculty to make it harder for students to expect (or receive) unwarranted second chances, and he has at least dispensed second chances very sparingly himself. The latter has allowed some of us to be quite Zen about being over-ridden.

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    2. When a student brings up the spectre of another student having received a second chance, I have a fairly canned response:

      "I won't discuss another student's situation with you, even to help you see that I am not treating you unfairly; for one thing, it would be illegal for me to do so. Therefore, you'll have to assume that you don't know all the facts of any such alleged case."

      I can live with that because I have the privilege of it being true.

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  11. I'm not a big fan of making attendance alone count for a significant part of a course grade (either percentage-wise or penalty-wise). That might be in part because I've taught for a long time at an institution that once upon a time had a policy against grading on attendance alone (though not on participation that could only be accomplished in class -- a fine, perhaps even meaningless, distinction). Still, as I watch my students parade in and out of class at irregular hours, and often fail to show up at all (well, I don't get to watch that, except to notice the unoccupied space in the room), and note the consequences of such behavior to student's success in other aspects of the class (a few can manage it; most can't), I have some sympathy for such policies.

    All that said, once a policy is in place, yes, one needs to enforce it as fairly and consistently as possible (and to rethink any policy that one consistently finds oneself *not* enforcing fairly and consistently, whether due to internal or external resistance; otherwise, as Ego in Arcadia points out, those who abide by the rules suffer, or at least feel that their efforts to abide by the rules bring no reward). And broken-record repetition of syllabus language, combined if necessary with the phrase "in fairness to all students in the class," seems to work pretty well, at least with my student population.

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  12. Yes, the end-of-term pleas. I've had very nice students come to my office and ask "Is there anything I can do to get that last 5% bump up to the next letter grade?"

    My thoughts usually run to "I dunno, wash my car? Paint my fence?" What I really want to ask is "Does that ever work?"

    Thankfully no one was 0.75% away from the next letter grade but when it happens and they email begging, I just have to tell them "I have to set the line somewhere."

    As we have all seem (and I am quickly learning) the phrases that appear are:

    "I will lose my (position in program)."
    "I was going through a lot this semester."
    "I learned so much."
    "Can you find it in your heart?"

    A student told my office mate "It would be the end of the world for me."

    These days if I get an email, I just ignore it unless I see a red flag in between the lines. If they come to my office, I just tell them there is nothing I can do. So far they have not wigged out on me which is good, because I can turn into Mr. Hyde faster than you can say "judo chop to the adams apple."

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    1. "Does that ever work?" Sadly, with some of my colleagues, it probably does. We have plenty of faculty who just mindlessly cave in and the students surely write them good evals and all is right with the world.

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    2. Well, not quite right, or not this world.

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    3. A student made a compelling case for me bumping up his 89.5% to a 90%. I said I would do it if he debated me in front of our class recording system so that I could use it for future classes.

      I have done this before and forced my students to defend untenable, unpopular positions or positions they disagreed with. This time I wanted to prove another point so I made him debate that dogs are better than cats while I argued that cats were better than dogs.

      The point being that you can have a rational, source-based argument about something silly and trivial.

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    4. I generally just make all the 89.x%s A-s, and so on (my syllabus already says I'll round up from .5 on up). I may grade just a bit harder to compensate. Being just a bit generous saves a lot of quibbling over tenths of points, and I'm all about not spending time on stuff that doesn't really have a pedagogical purpose, especially at this time of year.

      This may work better (and be more justifiable) in fields like mine where grading is, realistically more subjective (though not as subjective as students often think).

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    5. I used to state on my syllabus that I would round up on the 0.5%, but I had to take that statement out after I started to get more and more emails consisting of "...but I got a 79.3%, only 0.2% away from an A- with the 0.5% rounding, THIS ISN'T FAIR IT IS ONLY 0.2%!!" and they were wholly unsatisfied with my reply that they were actually 0.7% away from an A-, which is quite a substantive proportion given that the B+ grade only has a range of 5%.

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    6. Rounding from 79.5 to 80 is mathematically sound. You are essentially saying that the score is only good to 2 significant digits, and 8.0 x 10^1 (not 80.0) is the cutoff. But if you TELL the flakes you'll round 79.5 to 80, what they hear is 79.5 is the cutoff, and they'll whine about the 79.3 (which rounds to 79) being "only 0.2 away" as you've seen.

      They are also wholly unsatisfied with my answer, which often has been, if they'd come in 0.2 ABOVE the cutoff, we wouldn't be having the conversation.

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  13. Not a new phenomenon, if that's any comfort. See Kurt Wiesenfeld, "Making the Grade," Newsweek, June 17, 1996.

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    1. That's a classic. I've posted a copy on my office door. For the first couple of years I had it, kids stole it 3 times.

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  14. As an evil mad scientist, I enjoy this time of year, as I cackle:

    "MUUUAAAA-HAAA-HAAA!!!! I've got you NOW, my little pretties!

    "And your LITTLE DOG, TOO!!!"

    I especially think this after reading negative reviews of me on the-site-that-shall-not-be-named.

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