Sunday, February 26, 2012

Please, Professor, Go Easy On Me!

For those of you who teach writing courses, which do you dread more:
  • the student who says, "I'm really not so good in writing. English is my worst subject, or 
  • the student who says, "I love English.  I love to write. I got A's in it all through school"?
Of course, they both want the same thing:  a high grade with minimal work.

While we're on the topic, I wonder whether those of you who are teaching intro or remedial courses in other subjects are faced with those students who say, "it's not my best subject" or "it's my favorite subject". (I can just imagine the look on my undergraduate Calculus prof's face if I'd said, "I'm not really good with math.")


  1. For me, it depends on what FOLLOWs this kind of exchange and what their intent is. Some are grade grubbing, and those are equally annoying. But I've had students who haven't enjoyed English in the past tell me so because they now genuinely WANT to be better at reading and writing. Those, I can work with.

    The ones who share that they hate English simply to get a rise out of me will be doing that to their next English professor 10 years from now after dropping out and re-entering college when they've grown up a bit.

  2. The second one is usually the worst by far. Most people tend to hate/say they're not good at English and/or math and won't hesitate to tell those of us who teach those disciplines exactly that. I take them at their word. If they say they're not good, I tell them that everyone can learn to be a competent writer with practice and studying. If they say they don't like it, I tell them they don't have to like it, but they do have to learn to appreciate it as a skill they'll need for the rest of their college work and for life.

    But the ones who tell say they've always made As are usually setting me up for the expectation that I, of course, will be equally dazzled by their brilliance. I'm tough but not impossible. I will not give a grade which means excellence if I don't see excellence is earned. About once a year, I become "that professor": the one who ruined the 4.0 GPA, the one who gave the first B ever on a paper, or the one who handed out the first B ever as the final grade in an English class. When that happens, either I become the object of contempt in ways I would never have dreamed possible or I have to talk them off the ledge because their egos just can't take not being told they're perfect.

  3. Ah, nice question!

    For me, both statements are irrelevant. If a person got As in high school, it is largely dependent on their high school experience. Anything can happen during the transition to college. Similarly, if someone hated the subject, it might be due to poor teaching, or enormous class size, or a distracting social life.

    So regardless of these two statements, I always answer "You know, I hated this discipline too in high school, but when I got to it at a college level I found it much more interesting" OR "I love your enthusiasm! I look forward to seeing that energy in our discussion!"

    Self-assessment is rarely accurate. So, Snowflake, let's see: I'll be the judge of that.

  4. I get a lot more of the first comment than the second. Students of the former group tend to do poorly but make some effort. Students in the second group tend to do poorly but put in no effort.

  5. "I got a 5 on the AP test": There is no phrase I dread more. It doesn't just mean I've got a snowflake coming through--it also means I've got someone who's been praised to the stars for writing reductive, formulaic essays, and they've got a letter from the College Board to back up their brilliance. Who am I compared to their brilliant high school teacher and the College Board?

    I've had a much better track record with students who say they're not good at English. Most have low expectations regarding their performance (and are therefore thrilled with a B), and they're pleasantly surprised to find that college English is nothing like high school English.

    1. English just plain sucks as a subject and I spent every lecture thinking to myself..."you know what would be more useful than me being here right now...ANYTHING!". But hey I love writing regurgitated analytical bullshit about "classic" novels as much as anyone else...

    2. Except, of course, learning to read and think critically are skills that will be more useful in the long term than anything you might learn in your "hard skill" classes (I'm guessing that your handle gives away your major).

      If bidness students would master critical reading and analytical thought the rest of us wouldn't have to suffer through successive economic bubbles (from tulips to housing), the CDO collapse (as Michael Lewis points out, reading was a critical skill in that whole mess that enabled a very small group to make some money once the ceiling fell in), and just about any ethical meltdown you'd care to name.

      How's that for suckage?

    3. Lucy, I feel your indignation on a daily basis. Know why? You're ALLOWED to say that kind of crap about math and science.

      So to Dona's question - yes. We get much more of the first comment than the second.

      But it's ok to say it about BASIC math, so many more people take the option to shrug it off. And you know what comes from that? When you get home today, peruse the junkmail in your home mailbox. 80% of it is someone trying to take advantage of you.

      I got a flier in my mailbox last week for someone offering to complete financial aid applications for a specific type of financial aid. The fee for the service was $249. The maximum amount given for this specific form of financial aid is a once yearly payment in an amount less than $600.

    4. People who are "good" at your subject are always scarier. The ones who profess to be "bad" at it will usually go away with a C but will sometimes even come with real questions and are teachable.
      The ones who are "good" at your subject and have always loved it, are not. Usually what they love about it is not at all related to the subject. Students love math because they can follow directions, imitate examples, and follow templates. When they actually have to solve a problem they haven't seen before, they complain, and I get the litany of, "but I am GOOD at math. Surely someone as brilliant as I would be able to solve this if I had been properly taught."

    5. WotC: "Know why? You're ALLOWED to say that kind of crap about math and science. "

      Actually, the snowflakes say it about grammar and writing (or, as they put it, "grammer" and "writting") all the time.

      OTOH, I have friends who teach accounting who've had students say "I just don't get math": these are ACCOUNTING students!

      *sigh* I suppose I just don't understand someone dismissing an entire area of thought without having first made a serious and sincere effort to grapple with the major concepts OR using "I don't get it" when "getting it" would simply be a matter of thought and application.

    6. @StockStalker -- Don'tcha be tarring everything that goes on in an English department with the literature brush. I, too, could give half a hamster turd about analyzing the themes present in a novel, but my discipline, applied hamster fur weaving, is usually housed in English departments and doesn't involve that sort of wankery.

  6. Guy B, especially if he is a girl, is FAR more likely to complain at some point in the semester that I have "ruined his life" and am "the worst professor ever, who ruined my love of my favourite subject". So, I am definitely going with B.

  7. I teach physics. Anytime anyone tells me "I hate physics," I tell them:


    Physics majors are all too socially maladjusted to be able to flatter me, so I don't get many comments of the opposite kind.


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