Sunday, July 18, 2010

Student Essay!

I came home tonight to a pile of final essays for a general ed course I teach. Three essays in, I began reading an essay 2/3 complete that began and ended like this:

"I would like to open this essay with a few statements. First, this is a [General Ed] class; this is not Research 101 or English Composition 101. I believe the work that I have submitted over the past few weeks has been graded inaccurately and unfairly. I can understand grading on grammer [sic] and punctuation, but I should not be confused on what class I am currently in. I do not believe it is a [General Ed] Instructors [sic] place to try and teach and correct introduction and conclusion paragraphs. If the correct format, grammer [sic], and punctuation are used, then the only thing that should be graded is the content.
"This essay will not be 4-6 pages long but I believe that I have covered the questions I was asked to cover. [lists paragraph by paragraph what s/he did] Despite the fact I have answered all of the questions I am supposed to, I will get docked points off this essay for errors that should not be graded in a [Gen Ed] class, and I am not talking about the length of the essay."

Oh Precious! Oh, you poor poor child. You complain here about my attempt to teach you basic writing skills and as you do so, you waste your highly important intro and conclusion paragraphs. And you skipped 1/3 of the essay question. And by being just short of the required 3-4 pages, you got a rather generous 78, which drew your overall grade to... 89.49!



In other cases, anyone over 89 would get a friendly bump from me. But Precious? Why should I? I could worry that a student challenge to the grade will result in my being interrogated and all that jazz, but lo! My Dean *just* sent us an email about the problems of artificially inflating grades during summer school. Precious here didn't show at any of my office hours or talk during class or send me a single email during the course. I take copious notes on my papers so I can justify any grade under challenge. Precious is totally, totally screwed.

And I'm totally, totally pleased about it.


  1. I once had a student tell me in an evaluation that, "This is a Math class, not an English class. Grades should not be docked for grammar and punctuation." I only docked the students for glaring mistakes and, when they had something that was technically right, but written in a way that was confusing or mathematically improper, I would mark it but not deduct any points. I would love to be a fly on the wall in the future when they tell their boss that they cannot compile a document because it contains numbers and words and the two should never be mixed.

  2. The University I went to in the UK had a policy of "all teachers are teachers of English" when it came to situations like this. What's the point of doing research (or the undergrad equivalent) if you can't clearly and cogently convey your thoughts?

  3. I had a student last spring who sent me a doozy of an email, basically along these lines. As an Upper Level Literature course, I shouldn't be discussing how to do research. Particularly since I am not a professor of (wait for it) ... "Creative Writing." He, as the Brilliant Creative Writing Senior, did not want to waste his time helping others figure out thesis statements. Even if they desperately did need it. He asked if I was going to change my syllabus to "correct" this, or if he'd "be forced" to drop my class. With an attitude like that, the rest of the class was *thrilled* when he dropped. And told me so. For two weeks straight.

  4. Obviously your students, just like mine, have failed to grasp the concept that language matters all the time, not just when it is being graded. Furthermore, a good part of any discipline is learning how to write in that discipline.

  5. I adjuncted at a crappy university for a year, teaching freshman composition/rhetoric and research, and we English teachers got all the usual flak from the other departments for "not teaching the students how to write." Stuff like this shows that it's really not OUR fault if the student doesn't think writing is important outside a basic English class. (I also had several tell me that they only had to worry about plagiarism in an English class.)

  6. My favorite math professor, the late W.R. Mann, who won teaching awards nearly every year, told his students: "Most math problems are 90% English and 10% math. Once you have stated the problem correctly, the solution is usually trivial." Our homework and exam answers had to be in complete, grammatically-correct "sentences," whether they were English words, mathematical equations, or computer code. (For example, "x = 5a + 4b" is a complete sentence, but "5a + 4b" is not.) He quoted Shakespeare and, of course, Lewis Carroll a lot, too.

  7. See? I guess I really do deserve my reputation for being an unmitigated, uncaring, horrible BITCH!

    I'd have given that essay no higher than a D based upon the errors you describe.

  8. Heh heh. You can't just say, "My class, my rules"? Sad.

    My fave was actually a foreign exchange student who wrote me to tell me that my points system was unfair. I wrote him back, "Dear X, due to your limited language skills I have purposefully not graded you on anything but content, and even then inflated your grades by a full grade in order to ensure you pass the class with a C. If you would care to have me re-grade all your materials to the standards I held your classmates, I will happily review my points system." I got no answer back, of course.

    What, pray tell, do all of you do with foreign exchange students whose money the university is happy to take but who arrive not being able to write to even minimal standards? This is different than regular ESF students, of whom I have many, because the foreign exchange ones can't be part of any long-term remediation. Do you give them their gentleman's C and send them home to maintain world peace, like I do? Or do you have better ideas?

  9. Marcia! That's an excellent post in itself!!!!

    Wanna post it up on the main page?

  10. Meany, you made my day: I actually wrote it up once for RYS and it was rejected.

    Which might mean it isn't worthy.

    It should be ESL students not ESF students, for one.

  11. Marcia, it's one of the issues NO ONE talks about. It's taboo. Insert picture of three monkeys here.

    I've never had a foreign-born student slam me in the way Academic Monkey's student did. The ones who didn't rise to meet my ever-lowering standards either disappeared, dropped, or took their lumps. Several actually improved and were grateful.

    The slams seemed to be reserved to all the entitle American students, a large portion (but by no means most) of which were African-American. Which is another issue NO ONE wants to discuss.

  12. I don't know about that last point, professor Meany. The kids most up in my grill are middle to upper class white kids. Considering the low proportion of African-American kids who make it to the college population, I'm surprised to hear your conclusion there. It's certainly not something I've noticed, even when I was attending the third most diverse campus in our great nation.

  13. Academic Monkey, if you re-read my post, that's what I said.

    In a way, you just proved my point: No one "hears" when you note this pattern that a large number of a small population have an issue with basic course policies.

    Considering the school I was at had students (of every ethnic and racial background) from mostly poor and working class families, that probably explains why you find my observation so unfathomable. We worked at drastically different schools.

    Or you're the monkey in the picture in my post above with its hands over its eyes. Maybe that's why you didn't see it while attending the third most diverse campus in our great nation. That, or that campus didn't recruit from at-risk schools. Gee, that couldn't be it, could it?

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. I deleted the above post after detecting a typo. I hope there are not more. Not to sound too much like a snowflake, but I have not had my coffee yet!


    I teach at an inner city community college, and I am being open eyed and honest when I say that I do NOT have more trouble (in the form of cheating, complaining, and just being intolerable snowflakes) from my African American or Hispanic students then I do from my white students. It's funny though, how often people ask me when I start complaining about the snowflakes if it is mostly the minority students. Then when I given them my answer, they look at me knowingly, probably thinking what you wrote in your post.

    My college is, of course, surrounded by middle to upper middle class towns. I have just as much or MORE trouble from the students from these towns as I do from my inner city students.

    We don't have Marica's problem with foreign students because we don't have those kinds of programs. No, the problem I have with foreign students is that they somehow believe that they will learn English more quickly if they take my Comp class than if they take their ESL classes. Or they just feel superior to the ESL students/professors. Then they come to me and expect me to pass them because they are working hard and are attempting something so difficult. Augh!!!

  16. The biggest thing to me here is that I don't see why Meanest has to make this an issue of race. It reveals more of Meanest than it does about these students. Contrary to Meanest's assumptions, I have a LOT of experience working with working class and "at-risk" students (being one myself). And I'm telling you, it isn't the at-risk minority kids who are demanding. It's the entitled wealthier kids.

    But that doesn't say anything about either demographic: Snowflakes are snowflakes are snowflakes. They can look like anything and come from anywhere.

  17. Let’s do math!

    Let’s say 40% of my students expressed verbal disgust at some course policy at least once during a given term. Not most of them, but enough to register on the snowflake alert meter.

    Let’s also assume that 60% of the complaints came from white students. That means that 24% of my students were "white complainers." Got that?

    Now let’s assume that 40% of the complaints (not most, but a large amount) were from black students. That means that 16% of my students were "black complainers." Got that too?

    Gee, if 70% of my students were white, then only a small portion of them complained. But, since 20% of my students were black, that 16% is a bit more of an issue, ain’t it?

    Again, if these are complaints about basic expectations -- page length, font size, attendance, punctuality, plagiarism, spelling, punctuation, etc. -- there’s something more going on with that one identifiable sub-group. I am not suggesting what because, quite frankly, no one even talks about it except in hushed whispers and hand-waves.

    So, Bella, my statement in my post above actually mirrors your experience too. It's not *more* minorities with complaints; it's the ratio that's troubling to me. Shouldn't it be? And considering lots of my colleagues had similar trouble (that of course we'd only talk about off-campus and in hushed whispers because of the taboo), isn't this at least a problem at that campus?

    {Which, btw, beat Monkey's "third most diverse campus in this great nation" at least one year out of the past 10...if not more. Not that I know why those factoids matter since this same phenomenon might happen everywhere with different distinct populations.}

    To Monkey:

    "The biggest thing to me here is that I don't see why Meanest has to make this an issue of race. It reveals more of Meanest than it does about these students."

    If you had followed the thread, my statement was a follow-up to Marcia's observation about foreign exchange students and my suggestion that discussing such a thing was a taboo topic. I chose my words carefully to avoid exactly the mischaracterization you made. You typify exactly why this conversation is taboo: You are over-generalizing your experience to counter my own personal experience. It's just dueling personal experiences, which only elides the issue that snowflakes come in all varieties (see, even you finally admit that above), but there are still problems that pop up that no one talks about.

    Oh, and your little sideways accusation of racism says more about you than me, Monkey. Different populations (whether based on region, school, race, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, etc.) have different issues. As someone who claims to deal with at-risk students, don't you think that to ignore or pretend those demographic differences do not impact their education is stupid, naive, and blind? Or is your past as an at-risk student blinding you to the experiences of your peers with those populations? *You* have no problem so of course everyone else is just making shit up! Right? Isn't that the logical leap you made?

    In fact, might that be why you earlier noted that "[t]he kids most up in [your] grill are middle to upper class white kids"? Why did you make such a racist and classist observation! Gee, maybe you made it because you had evidence? No, that can't be...because then you're a racist!

    To Marcia, see why RYS wouldn't post your observation? People like Monkey will read racism into any observation that discusses race. The 2 are separate but related issues and this "great nation" refuses to discuss it without cowing to race-baiting.

  18. Your math deals with anecdotes. So do your assertions. It only proves what you have decided is significant and memorable.

    Meanwhile, your phrasing is vague and your language overly aggressive. Calm down, Meanest. Seriously, calm down. It's just a stupid water cooler blog. No need to freak out and write long diatribes against imaginary enemies with incomprehensible flaws. We're all in the same boat here.

  19. Meanest,

    I have no idea what your campus is like, or what the problems may be there.

    I do know that I at my college, white students are the minority. 30% white, 70% minorities of different stripes and shades.

    I have been here seven years, and I have never seen a majority of minority (I couldn't resist the alliteration) snowflakes or complainers. It's actually about 50-50. So my experience, for what it's worth, does not support your apparent hypothesis, and my experience does not mirror yours.

    But really, as has already been said here, a snowflake is a snowflake is a snowflake. I love this blog for the opportunity to complain and get all snarky about snowflakes, regardless of their color, and I know you do too! If I were to pick a beef with you, it would be that I am certain that "I" am the meanest professor ever!!!!

  20. At my community college where I teach (I'm in class RIGHT NOW!) I get all sorts of irritating and wonderful students of all races. But honestly, I can't deny that I get a large number of hispanic females who had babies out of wedlock and have brains the size of peas. I do. I also get plenty of white bimbos who work at stip joints to support their own illegitimate offspring. I haven't done any statistical analysis of race-based slackitude, but if I did, I don't think it would turn up much. In my own experience, slackers and snowflakes come from all social groups, including spoiled white brats. That said, the unwed teen mother phenomenon seems to be VERY prevalent among the chicanas. It's the way it is, and me saying that has nothing to do with racism, but rather with counting using numbers, like we learned in elementary school.

  21. "That said, the unwed teen mother phenomenon seems to be VERY prevalent among the chicanas. It's the way it is, and me saying that has nothing to do with racism. . ."

    No, but using using the term "chicanas" unnecessarily, and in a belittling manner does.

    I'm not going to go into the history, culture or present day circumstances that lead to many unwed mothers in the hispanic community (and other communities), but I will say this: When one points out the consequences of a problem, and not the problem itself, it's usually done for malicious reasons.

    You also called the unwed white mothers "bimbos." In fact, I think the tone of your post is more revealing than the actual content.

  22. Also, John, you are changing the subject. There are so very many places online where you can go to discuss your feelings and observations about the way people of various ethnic groups behave (not that I am advocating such places).

    We are not here on this blog to do that.

  23. Can we get an "intro to racism" here? God.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.