She made the same mistakes that my other arrogant, self-absorbed, more-technical-than-thou students have made: She never turned in drafts of her essays. She posted topic proposals, but apparently didn't read my feedback that she needed to find information to back all of her claims and avoid using unsubstantiated personal opinions as the basis of an argument. Any feedback on her essays that she did happen to read she took as personal insult (likely because she was only putting forth her personal opinions rather than actual arguments), ignoring my actual words in favor of her emotional response to having her writing critiqued by someone more knowledgeable than she. She did the bare-ass minimum to slide by, rationalizing her poor performance by telling herself that this class was teaching her nothing anyway, so why should she waste her time trying? She was going to be an ENGINEER, goddamn it, a member of the hard sciences, the only field that matters in this world, and no writing teacher from the touchy-feely English Department could possibly have anything to teach her.
I didn't put these pieces together until the weekend after the summer term ended, though. She didn't contact me with questions or concerns. She didn't post anything obviously problematic to the discussion forums during the term. All I saw from her were poorly executed essays that just barely met the minimum requirements and lackluster participation elsewhere. Contrary to her engineering background, the elements of her essays that needed the most work were her logic and her use of evidence to back her claims. I wrote lots of comments and questions on the middle two essays of the course attempting to draw her attention to these problems, none of which appeared to have any impact on her writing or argument quality. She seemed to just grow more stubborn.
Anyway, we slogged through to the end of the term and arrived at the final day. I checked the submission folders, discussion boards, and my email throughout the night that last day, just to see how things were going. No major problems, so I went to bed.
When I woke up the morning after the final deadline to begin the last grading stint of the summer term, I found three discussion posts from Engineering Elise, posted about 9 hours after the final deadline.
One was her response to the final discussion prompt, which asks students to reflect on their learning and development as writers. I think this kind of exercise is worth the risks of students bashing me and/or the class, and I haven't had many students do this in the last six years that I've asked this question in one form or another. The vast majority of my students seem to take the prompt seriously and discover that the class helped them grow, even if they hated it during the semester. Engineering Elise, in her late response which would receive no credit, had the following lovely things to say:
- In the real world I would be able to make logical arguments not according to a rubric but according to fact. I know how to use conventions, keep a reader interested, and add fluff to fill rubric requirements.
- In this class I have learned that composition is still a vague subject with no definitive method. I have reassured my dislike for lack of a concrete answer and do not feel it is important in my future field. I was reassured I picked a fitting degree that does not pay attention to argumentative, opinionated composition but rather solving problems that exist in real life and presenting solutions in clear terms.
- Overall I was expecting to learn about more useful types of writing but I learned not to expect too much from non technical writing classes.
- I have concluded that writing will be in my future no matter what but it will not be open ended or opinionated. It will be factual and present real solutions to real problems in the world. I realize being direct and firm in writing was not what this specific professor was looking for based on comments, but this is an important lesson that applies to all real world disagreements. Change to please and get the grade in this situation, but this was not something I was willing to do.
She also responded to another student's post for the same prompt: "seems like you have grasped the cookie cutter concepts of this class . . . In my opinion you have learned an even more important lesson in this class, fine tuning the art of bulls******* while using persuasion skills :)"
At first, I was angry and sad -- reading these kinds of evaluations always makes me question my teaching and makes me feel like a loser, even when I know the student is a shithead.
Then, I grew concerned -- maybe she was right! Maybe I had graded her unfairly! I reviewed my comments on her essays and remembered how awful her argumentation was. For such a technically-minded, facts-based person, she couldn't argue her way out of a paper bag. Her entire research argument essay had been based on emotional manipulation and allusions to "tradition," without any evidence that tradition was actually better than contemporary practice. If I had to do it again, I would grade her terrible essays the exact same way. Even if she did make a complaint or appeal her grade, her work was well documented as being of low quality, so while it would be a hassle, I would probably not suffer.
Then I looked in the submissions folders: Engineering Elise had not turned in ANYTHING. She didn't submit the final essay or a revision, and she wouldn't receive credit for her discussion posts because they were late. I smiled to myself and resolved to respond professionally to her inevitable email requesting an extension. I would decline politely, citing unfairness to the other students, and I would not point out that she was a total asshole who deserved to bathe in the karma bath she had drawn for herself.
I set about grading and getting the gradebook ready for final review. When I had all the grades in and the final column displayed, I discovered that Engineering Elise had a big, fat F for the course. Ha! Still cautious, I checked for anything of hers that I may have missed, since I really don't enjoy going through the grade-challenge process, and there was nothing. She earned that F, fair and square. She could have gotten a C if she had turned in the final essay, or a D if she had done her final discussions on time, even if they were bitchy. But she didn't, and after her little tirade, I was not given to rounding up or accepting late work or anything that might help her out.
I never did hear from Engineering Elise, even after the email to the entire class asking them to check their grades. Even if she didn't learn to use up-to-date sources or how not to take critiques of one's writing personally, I hope against hope that she had the self-awareness to take stock of her situation and preserve a shred of dignity by not asking for an extension. She should be deeply embarrassed, and I hope that is the reason she didn't get in touch with me after the end of the term.
I also wonder how she'll go about retaking this course for a passing grade while avoiding me, as I would do if I were in her situation, since I'm the only one who teaches the online section of this course. Perhaps she'll have to suck it up for a whole 16 weeks in a classroom, all because she was too arrogant to suck it up for 8 weeks and do the work as assigned.