Monday, December 10, 2007

Student Guilt Trips

It's the end of the semester and this student (a senior in a class of 15 underclassmen) only ever came to see me twice during the semester- both times *after* receiving his papers with grades he did not like (one a B, the other a B-).

In an e-mail sent this evening- a full 3 days after the final paper was due, and 4 days after I returned his paper on PL, which was a grown-up but hardly sophisticated summary of Book IV and which I knowingly inflated from the C it was to a genial B minus, quoth the Student:

"Dr. Muse-
I probably don't need to tell you that I am again disappointed with my paper writing. It's frustrating that I'm doing poorly in the type of class in which I typically thrive, but that happens I guess. I'm sure you have as little free time as I do at this point in the semester and I know that you already have two papers of mine to grade, but I figured I would at least ask if I should try to rewrite this Paradise Lost paper for a better grade or if it's too late and I need to just eat the B-. If there is anything I can do to try and improve my grade in the class, I would be happy to do it, as a poor grade in a class I took just out of interest will certainly raise questions on graduate school applications. Either way, thanks for an enjoyable class and have a good break-

My initial response:

"Are you trying to make me feel guilty for giving you a B in an intro-level English course and thus poisoning your grad school applications? Give it a f***king break!"

My second response:

"Yeah, you can rake my yard and give my cat a bath. And when you're done you can give me $500 for a ticket to Montreal."

I know, I know, I'm a meanie. But only in my imagination and on this blog.

In the end, I wrote him a kind, sympathetic e-mail telling him that yes, it was too late for a revision, that I still had his final paper and his revised other paper to mark, and that I'd be happy to sit down with him next semester and discuss where and how he could improve his argumentation.


Sancho said...

Why are American students so upset when they are awarded B grade? In the east atlantic, we are told that a B grade is equal to a mid range 2:1 (64), and that A grades should be reserved for borderline first-class work and above (68+). Now, students here would never throw a tantrum about getting a 2:1 mark, since they know only about 5% are awarded a higher degree class than that (outside the ivory towers). But without exception American students I've taught get really sour if such a thing happens. Is it just that US students have higher standards, are more ambitious, or a combination of both?

I liked your second response - will have to try it sometime (replacing the cat, of course, with my pet porcupine).

muse said...

I think the difference is that US college students are more concerned about the ends (grades) than the means (learning and performance):

They actually do need lots of As in order to get admitted to a top graduate program, be it in Law, Medicine or even a doctoral program. It's hard to get into these programs without distinguishing oneself academically.

The bright, motivated students do well in their classes because they enjoy the subject and take it seriously. For the less bright students, the ends (high grades) and not the means (scholarship) are the answer.

I was surprised when this student mentioned applying to "grad school" given that he doesn't appear to understand how to come up with an argument. (I don't think he's sure exactly what program of study or degree "grad school" means at this point either).