Monday, April 4, 2011

Are there "correct" responses?

It is midterm time, that means a dawning realization that there are consequences, both positive and negative" for applying the reading and doing the work - or not. I am sifting through the "not fairs", the " you grade too hards" and some of the typical stuff until I got to a student who does pretty good work but got a C+ on their last paper because they missed a major concept within the paper, other than that it was a pretty good paper.

Said student had. B+ and would have maintained a B+ even with said paper if they had bothered to take the midterm. Instead they skipped it and sent me an email which stated they were dropping the class because of the last paper. This puzzled menso inemailed the student back encouraging them to stay in the course and offered additional help because they had shown great improvement within the class. Boy was that a mistake.

Said student blasted me in a reply email, telling me they were calling me by my first name because I pontificated and postured within the class and didn't deserve respect. They then went on to say I was wrong to give them the grade I did because I did not specifically outline the specific concept I had expected them to discuss and they should not be expected to go in depth in their paper, just answer the questions asked. They then said what peeves me the most, "this is the FIRST class I have had this kind of trouble in, I have had PhD's look at my paper and they said it was fine." They gave me a nice closing of they were going to run and tell mom that I was so mean so I got grounded.

I reached out to this student initially because I thought they were worth helping only to have my hand bit. I then responded with the typical jargon of college level expectations, going in depth into the topic, and reiterating an already rebuffed offer for help. I get discouraged that this is the reaction I get when I push students to excel and offer help so they can do it. Does anyone have a way that DOES work so I can stop beating my head against the wall while maintaining some form of academic integrity?


  1. You held him to academic standards that exist to help him excel, and he pissed away an opportunity because he's petulant and immature. There's nothing you can do for him until he grows up a little.

  2. Student: I'm dropping out of the class because of my grade on the last paper.

    Me: Be sure you remember to do so or your grade will automatically revert to an F. Good luck in your future endeavors.

    Student: @(*#($&^%%!!#**$@(#* !!! ELEVENTY!

    Me: (cc to chair, advisor, dean, and campus security). I am sorry you feel this way. As your reply is disturbingly aggressive, I am forwarding it to the appropriate campus authorities. Please direct any further correspondence about this class to my chair.

    And I love it when students drop. Because the ratio of students that should have dropped and didn't to students that shouldn't have dropped and did is probably about 1000/1.

    Never encourage students not to drop your class after they've said they want to. You either get this shit, or they blame you when they don't eventually pass or get the grade they like.

  3. I'm pretty sure I read this advice here, but I don't remember who said it. Please take credit for it if you read this because I now play this in my head like a mantra:

    "Don't care more about your students' grades than they do."

    Words to live by -- even if I can't take credit for them :)

  4. I have had PhD's look at my paper and they said it was fine.

    I wonder if this is something we could monetize: cheaper than paper-writing or editing services, but still worth something and anyone could do it. We can all be "PhD's who look at papers and declare them fine" for grade-grubbing purposes. Extra charge if you want a Ph.D. in a relevant field.

    "Don't care more about your students' grades than they do."

    I like that. A lot. It's more or less what I already do, but having it articulated so well: thanks!

  5. I think Beaker Ben responded to one of my queries with "Don't care more about your students' grades than they do."

  6. FML,

    I agree with Stella and the "don't care..." choir...but I would also like to say that there may also be something in the way you're relaying your instructions / communicating with your students.

    I know I've posted on CM with typos or editing errors, or dashed off a quick comment without really proofing, but there are a few places where your above post is confusing and hard to follow. If I were commenting on it as a piece of student work (and, like many of us, I am in total grading mode right now), I'd say that it seems to me as a reader that there is information in your head that hasn't made it onto the page, and well, mind-reading is definitely a graduate level skill. ;)

    Just my $0.02.


    drunk in a midnight choir.

  7. We need to modify the "Don't care more about your students' grades than they do" mantra. My problem is that my students care VERY much about their grades...more than actually learning. This over-caring often leads them to plagiarize, grade-grub, and otherwise harass the instructor rather than direct their energies toward doing the actual WORK of the class.

  8. Thanks for the feedback. There may be info I am not conveying, after all I teach the course every term so it seems SO obvious to me :) I do try to make announcements, send emails etc. Maybe I need to revamp how and when I do them. Perhaps I am stuck in my own rut and expecting everyone to jump on my wagon.

    I also like the grade caring philosohy. I remember this often when working with clients, I don't work harder than they do on their treatment- I just lost this in the classroom. Thanks for the time to vent and reflect, but keep the advice and the smiles coming!

  9. So, are you, like, ever going to learn subject/pronoun agreement? If I were your student, I would totally call bullshit on any grading you did that commented on grammatical or expression issues in my paper.

  10. Ditto Ladder. FML, you must stop using "they" to refer to an individual. That's what made your post confusing to the reader, and that's what loses you credibility when talking about student writing.

  11. Learning to avoid comma splices would also be helpful.

  12. [soapbox]

    Other grammatical incongruities aside, "they" is commonly used as a indefinite third person pronoun. It is certainly better then s/he or shem or the other atrocities that agendered writing has attempted. It compares acceptably with switching between he and she as one switches examples, though that does not work well when one desires anonymity for one's subject, instead of neutrality.


  13. Alan, while you may consider "s/he" an atrocity, and be fine with the use of "they" as an indefinite third person pronoun, it is technically incorrect, and many readers find it not just awkward, but confusing. Personally, I find that error to be like fingernails on a blackboard.

    If one desires anonymity for one's subject, it is perfectly easy to make up a fake name like "Snowflake Sally" and to change the gender (OMG! Revolutionary!) of the student subject to confuse the internet detective.

  14. Seriously? You are all ridiculous. One the same vein maybe you should focus on the topic as you are not my teacher.

  15. It's not ridiculous, FML, to ask a college professor to convey meaning clearly, especially when you're asking about evaluating a student's writing. Some of us waded through your shitty grammar and sentence structure to try to parse out your point. We then offered constructive criticism on how to express yourself more clearly to your students. If you're looking only for feedback that serves to massage your ego and confirm your awesomeness, then get in line behind my 300 undergraduates.

  16. @Surly gee you sure told me! Check my previous post where I considered some of the constructive feedback regarding conveying information instead of insults and rudeness before you puff up your chest and climb on your high horse. Lol

  17. Using "they" as an indefinite third person pronoun is absolutely correct, not an "error". And I find it far less jolting than using "he or she" in the same context.

    As in: "Everyone needs to speak to their dean and tell them about this problem," rather than "Everyone needs to speak to his or her dean and tell him or her about this problem."

    And can we not nitpick posters about their grammar and punctuation? This is a fucking blog, for Chrissakes.

  18. I'm really shocked anyone cares about "they." It's not even "technically incorrect."

  19. Exactly, its a BLOG. In case you hadn't realized this is not a workplace or a classroom. Lighten up for chrissakes! I have many more pressing problems so your grammar is not that high of a concern to me.

    Also I doubt that I am in the minority in saying I don't come here to get confirmation on my professional abilities from anyone. I come here to be amused, gather advice, and let off some steam. Stop taking it so seriously. ;)

  20. @Stella, I have to take exception to your last sentence. It's an excuse I see too often. Whether in a blog or dissertation, I think educators should set an example. They don't have to be absolutely perfect. Sentence fragments when noting errors (i.e. - "Not a valid source") are fine.

    Just because it's a blog doesn't necessarily mean that clarity can be abandoned. From there, it's a short descent to Tweetspeak, and u hav no idea how hard it is 4 me 2 read that crap and get the gist of what ur tying to convey.

    I had no problem with the use of "they" or he/she, but other things like wrong or missing punctuation and not capitalizing are like potholes when I'm reading.

    In any case, I think that people should slow down when they are trying to communicate. Weighing the effect of words is paramount. Once, my starter wife asked my opinion about some earrings and I said I thought they looked stupid. Later I apologized and told her what I should have said was, "I don't think they suit you."

    Proffies are trying to dash off a quick response to a blog before class, so I think they can be allowed a little latitude. Snowflakes just want to get the paper done as quickly as possible, with minimal effort. If they want a good grade, they should do good work. If they want a superior grade, they should do superior work.

    FML's student has been getting by for years with this approach. so it's painful when he finally slams into the wall of reality. He has no idea how cheaply he's learned this lesson. On the job, it could be a lot more expensive.

  21. I started attaching grading criteria to my syllabuses (yes, that word is correct), hoping it would forestall complaints of this type. I hoped that if I articulated, in advance, that A papers must demonstrate original thinking, expressive clarity, and organizational fluidity, I would cease to get complaints from students who expected A grades on literature papers simply for doing the assignment and getting the plot right.

    No dice. I still get the same complaints from students who don't understand how they could have received a B+ on a paper when they "worked really hard on it" and "have a good understanding of the material," and "felt that all the repetition was necessary to prove my point." I've been tempted to respond with a simple "WTF," but have resisted the temptation.

    (Worse, these same students go on to say that they need those A grades because they're applying to grad school and B+s don't look good on transcripts.) So I, too, fall back on the "jargon," tell them to look back at the criteria, invite them to come talk with me, and move on.

    I have found the practice of posting sample A papers (anonymously, if the students wish) to be helpful in defusing some of this; the also-ran students can usually at least see that their writing was not up to those standards.

  22. Wow, how shocking that people are going ape-shit over grammar. I got through the post without a hitch. It wasn't that confusing. What is confusing is this student's craaaazy behavior.

    FML, I have to say you are dealing with some grade A bullshit, first with that student. My god! I can't imagine anyone telling me that I do not deserve respect. What a little fucker. My advice is to take the high road; when you respond with respectful language, it is a superior shaming effort that should get through to the little flake.

    And people, we don't need to devolve in the zomg grammar! crap, do we? They is much more preferable to the impersonal he that excludes 51% of the population. I'd much rather use they than the weird looking "s/he" or "he or she" any day.

    But that's just me.

  23. The idea that shitty grammar is acceptable on blogs is ridiculous and outdated. This isn't 2003. Blogging is (and should be) more and more looked upon as a "legitimate" form of writing, but it's being held back by people who go around saying stuff like "this is just a blog, so I should be allowed to make grammatical errors."

    No, it's a written medium, and correctness aids clarity.

  24. This blog continues to surprise me in the last few days, and not in a good way. What has gotten into people?

    A colleague writes in to ask advice and support about a student who has just been a real jerk after she went out of her way to help. And nearly half of the responses to her request for support follow the sensitive, kind-hearted and collegial model of "learn to write, you undereducated boob!" ? I haven't seen such a mean-spirited display since - well, yesterday, come to think of it.

    I'm sure she found that very helpful and will really want to come here for advice in future.

    I've reread FML's post several times. Aside from a problem with her spacebar (two "n"s for spaces), that is, typos, there aren't any grammatical errors. Some of you clearly have a problem with 3rd person singular "they", and find it so hard to cope with the horror of a gender-neutral third singular pronoun that you apparently didn't actually read the content of the post. However:

    1. Writers since Shakespeare and before have used the singular "they" when the situation called for it (when the gender of the referent is not specified, usually).

    2. The most recent translation of the New International Bible uses the singular "they" where the gender, in the original language, is not specified (here's an excerpt:'(The translators) commissioned an extensive study of the way modern English writers and speakers convey gender inclusiveness. According to the translators' notes on the Committee on Bible Translation's website, "The gender-neutral pronoun 'they' ('them'/'their') is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents such as 'whoever,' 'anyone,' 'somebody,' 'a person,' 'no one,' and the like."').

    3. Even the Chicago Manual of Style (15th and 16th edition) preserves a neutral position on the singular "they" - points out that some people find it unacceptable, and others find other circumlocutions unacceptable, so choose for yourself. The 14th edition actively endorsed the singular "they". (Look it up for yourself, don't take my word for it.)

    So. Some people use and like the singular "they"; some don't. It's a style thing, not a "right or wrong" thing. It is not "shitty grammar".

    All of you who decided to pile on FML instead of offering her support or advice on the question she actually asked need to think over your priorities. If you're going to pick on grammar, not that I recommend it, at least pick an issue you're actually right about.

    And FML - sorry about your moron student! The worst of it is that this will make you less likely to reach out to the next student along; but try not to let this one scar you. Dropping the course is her loss, not yours.

  25. I am not here set an exaple for anyone about anything, good writing included. And if blogging were as legitimate as a dissertation or a book or a column in the New York Times, my 12-year-old niece wouldn't have one.

    And if CM devolves into a place where people constantly hammer at each other about fucking comma splices, blather about "clarity," and subject every post to ridicule and self-important proofreading, I am SOOOOOO out of here.

    Can't we find something else to talk about? It's one thing to argue about parenting in the academy, but I am not going to subject myself to countless petty arguments and finger-pointing about fucking pronouns.

  26. Hmm, "fucking pronouns."

    That has ALL SORTS of possibilities.

    Especially if you leave out the gender specifiers.

  27. Thank you Stella. That was what I was afraid to say.

    Well what I really wanted to say was WTF? I used to ENJOY reading this blog.

  28. FML, I'm sorry! Your situation is a perfect example of "No good deed goes unpunished."

    Colleagues, lighten up on the grammar. We have much bigger problems to deal with, such as rafts of PhDs willing to read student papers and pronounce them "fine". Oh! The humanity!

  29. Thank you :) if I see this raft of willing PhD's I will be sure to sink it.

  30. I use to be a daily reader of RYS. I find myself coming to this site less as less since many of the regulars have gone and this site has degenerated into semi-literate nonsense. The main posts are not as interesting as they once were, and the comments section does nothing to enhance the site. Yeah, I know, I have a choice. One less bookmarked site to peruse. Christ.

  31. I just want to chime in on the new topic of this thread.

    Yes, I'm feeling more and more as if I'm at the Chronicle's Forums. And if that's the case, then "anonymous" is right; we're fucking doomed, and soon out of business.

    Please God, Fab, Leslie K, somebody, save us. Compound Cal? Wicked Walter? Yaro, for God's sake, Yaro.

  32. So, the response to all the "O waily waily" about trolling a couple weeks ago is that now, we are entirely at the mercy of the Nice Police? Supportive comments only allowed?

    I have a problem with the way FML writes, but I am not allowed to say so in the comments? Other people have a problem with me using the phrase "take it in the ass," but that's an okay problem, because I was being vulgar?

    Might as well go to the Chronicle forums all right. They don't even let you fart while posting.

  33. Unless you're a "regular" at the Chronicle, Whatladder. Then you get special dispensation to be a jerk. Just like on this site.

    On the actual topic of the post: The student is a jerk who cannot take criticism. Pray they (!) drop, but make hard copies of the nasty e-mails to file a formal complaint against the incivility if you have to.

    Let's face it: For a majority of us, there is open warfare in the classroom with our snowflakes. And they're winning (just like Charlie Sheen!).

  34. For the record, my first two responses to FML were supportive and polite. I only bristled when he called the three of us who urged him toward greater clarity in his writing "ridiculous" and said that we're "not his teachers" and so shouldn't be commenting on his grammar.

    We can all Google the "they as singular" issue and summarize the results, and yes, many people are fine with the use of "they." I'm fine with it in many contexts, as well. But in the case of FML's post, the use of "they" when discussing one particular student was awkward, and made his account unclear. The first couple of times I read over the pronoun, I kept wondering who the other students were in this story.

    Remember, FML explicitly asked for advice on how to communicate better with students. I think that those of us who commented on the writing style were trying to be constructive, not jerky.

    Regardless of who's right or wrong on the pronoun issue, it's never easy to have one's writing criticized, and maybe this little dust-up is a glimpse into why our students are so hypersensitive to criticism of their work. Even dreadful writing takes effort, and sometimes the dreadfulness is the student's best effort, and the kid has no idea how awful his writing is.

    This is not to say that FML's student wasn't a petulant jerk, just a recognition that when we give them their first negative grades, it can come as a very uncomfortable shock for them and sometimes we bear the full force of their wrath as a result. We'll never be able to avoid these occasions, but maybe if we remind ourselves how touchy we are about criticism, this will help us communicate more effectively and compassionately with our students.

    Anyway, just trying to "polish the turd" as Jon Stewart recently said.


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