Sunday, May 04, 2008

Grades are not Pizzas

A student sent me an e-mail today asking me what his final grade is. He asks, he says (and not nearly as grammatically correctly as I recreate it here), because he needs a 3.0, which he says means he needs a B plus in my class to keep his car insurance discount.

Friends, he has not done B plus work.

The time for students to get the grade they "need" is the 16 weeks of the semester, not final-grading weekend.

This e-mail is typical of the pressure we get from some students who have decided what grade they want or need in our classes and continually push us in that direction, sometimes subtly and sometimes not. Well, I NEED an A, they insist. Despite the fact that I give class instruction in what the elements of an A, B, C, etc. are and I have posted samples of A papers, they think that because writing is (in their eyes) not as cut and dried in its grading as in many classes, where they are often asked multiple-choice questions and are graded by a scantron machine, grades are negotiable, or worse: orderable, like a pepperoni pizza. No anchovies, please.

But grades are not pizzas and are earned, not ordered.


Philip Barron said...

Note to student: prepare for higher rates, pal.

I had intended to add an imperious "apparently the discount wasn't as valuable to the student as he maintains, since he didn't apply himself to the degree necessary to maintain the required average"...but then I realized that I really have no idea of how hard this guy worked. Maybe he studied his ass off, really bore down, and a B or lower was the best he could manage despite that.

In that case, I might be more sympathetic, I guess...but I recall his appeal for an unearned grade, and ZAP, my heart returns to its usual stony state. Your point stands!

Bee said...

The sense of entitlement that some people feel boggles my mind.

I have heard of querying a grade, but actually requesting one? Is this a relatively new development in your world?

Bitty said...

Is this a relatively new development in your world?

No. Not even a little bit.

Maybe he studied his ass off, really bore down, and a B or lower was the best he could manage despite that.

No. Not even a little bit.

Seriously, here's how he could have earned the grade he "needed":

1. I have office hours every week. He could have come to talk to me about how he could improve his papers.

2. Several times during the semester, shortly before papers are due, I hold all-day office hours.

3. I make clear that I can be available other times by appointment.

4. I made comments on his papers, which he could have taken to heart instead of making the same mistakes over and over. If he didn't understand them, see 1, 2, and 3.

5. We have a tutoring center which, I'll freely admit, is not the best. However, had he received no counseling besides sitting down and reading the papers out loud, that should have been revelatory.

6. The D on the first paper should have been a hint. See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

This isn't widespread, but three students -- all males -- have requested grades here at the end of the semester. This student was actually reasonable about it. The other two ordered As.

And I blogged this because it occurred to me that while this is commonplace to me and my colleagues, it might come as a surprise to non-teachers. And commonplace though it may be, it still delivers a bit of a jolt to the heart when it happens.

Bitty said...

Let me amend that to "here's how he PROBABLY could have earned the grade he 'needed.'"

However, I did coach two D writers into Bs. They weren't stupid, as he probably is not. They were simply semi-clueless. They are no longer.

Brave Sir Robin said...

I was going to write a comment about how so many people just assume that their way of life is entitled to them because that's how their parents live.

They don't understand that their parents (and their parents entire generation) had to work to achieve that lifestyle.

Then I was going to say that those same parents who worked so hard to achieve what they have dropped the ball by not instilling that same work ethic into their children, and that problem seems to be endemic to American society.

But I won't.

Bitty said...

BSR: about what you didn't say -- maybe so.

I often wonder about some of the more affluent of my students. (My friend Alanna is more astute about recognizing them than I am. One day she and I were talking, and one of my students walked by and said hi. Alanna said, "Ah, Burberry." All I had seen was a plaid purse.)

Anyway, these affluent students are used to a certain lifestyle. I wonder what will become of some of them if Daddy or Mommy don't have a family business or a very great deal of money to pass on to them, because some of them don't seem qualified to manage a McDonald's.

(That sounds cruel -- most of my students are hard-working, intelligent, and ethical people. Just not all students, nor do all students have all three attributes.)

Brave Sir Robin said...

I know exactly what you mean.

Another lifetime ago, I was in retail management. My store was in a very affluent area of Houston. When I took over the store, it was in shambles. I turned about 4 entire crews before I could find kids that would actually work, kids who would actually show up on time, or bother to show up at all. I had manged stores for the same company all over metro Houston, I didn't have that problem in less affluent areas. In fact, the wealth of the area and the work ethic of the kids I employeed were for the most part, inversed. That of course is a general view of the situation, there were individual exceptions.

As an aside - The wealthy kids were much more likely to have an issue with drugs and alcohol as well. Presumably, because they could afford it.

Bitty said...

BSR -- very interesting and not surprising.

Two summers ago I had a charming and intellectually capable but flighty male student, O, who came from MONEY and let everyone know it. Earlier I said that I don't always know because really most students don't advertise it. (On the other hand, students themselves know who's in which group. One way they know is that the "rich kids" live in one set of dorms and the others live in the other dorms.) Anyway, I KNEW O had money because he talked about it all the time.

The second semester we were together, O's parents insisted he get a job. They were willing to give him spending money, but only if he was willing to earn some on his own, too. I have to say I respected them for that. Anyway, his bookstore job didn't last long. He started shutting down in class, being a disruptive goof-off and not turning in work. Clearly he didn't want to be in college. After that second semester, he moved to California because he knew someone there who was going to break him into the real estate business so he could earn Fabulous Money.

O started college and hung around with another student, J, but O rejected J during the first semester, saying that J was "too needy" and followed him around too much. Today O is wherever O is, but J is on track to graduate soon and move on to law school.

I think about these two a lot and the contrast between them (the rich kid in a hurry to make money and the middle-class kid taking the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race path), so thanks for giving me an opportunity to think about them in writing.

Bitty said...

Actually, now that I think about how close J is to graduation, I realize that was three summers ago. Wow.

Bad Bunni said...

Ahhh yes, the season of grade grubbing is upon us. This is why I tell my students that I leave the country right after I submit final grades whether it is true or not. Sure they have received over 15 writing assignments with grades and comments over the course of the semester, but suddenly they are shocked SHOCKED by what they received.

A pre-med student once came to my office complaining 3 days before a paper was due that there was no research. Sure the paper was assigned 2 months ago, and none of the other students seemed to have problems, but he was SURE there was no research on the topic. While he was in my office another one of my students passed by and heard the problem, so he stuck his head into the office and said "Oh Malcolm, there are books on that subject if you go to the 6th floor of the library and turn right-"

Malcolm, without flinching, cut off the other student, "Oh, I don't DO books."

Seeing the look on my face he tried to backtrack. "Oh Prof Speigelman, I mean I READ. I just don't believe in using books for research."

The classmate who tried to help him emailed me. He's graduating and wanted to invite me to the ceremony. He's already into graduate school to become an English teacher. There's a part of me that wants him to go into ANY other profession just to save himself the pain.

Which is my long winded way of saying, I'm right there with you.

Bad Bunni said...

Oh and while there are some fabulous students in the world, there are always 2 or 3 who in the words of Rowan Atkinson, I would trust to sit the right way on a toilet seat.