Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My Grandfather Died and All I Got Was This Lousy Grade

Please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your grandfather, which caused you to miss an entire month’s worth of class. I would have sent them when he actually died in February, but since the first I heard about it was last week in your grade grievance report, I was unable to do so.

You know, for a student who will receive a D- in a research course, you have become suddenly adept at locating the department office, the email address of the chair, and copies of months-old correspondence which I never received and therefore did not acknowledge. Well, hey. Perhaps you’ve learned something after all.

In your many emails, which as of today I am beginning to delete without even opening, you have addressed your utter shock that a rough draft was due while you were gone despite the fact that the turn-in date appeared on the syllabus I gave you on January and has been available online ever since; your sudden, deep concern over heinously low paper grades which have also been online since the day I handed them back in class; and your disbelief that I did not receive an email which you sent to the wrong address. However, no single aspect of this sudden burst of correspondence captures the source of your wonderful D- better than this sentence from your own hands: “I didn’t think attending your class was important that day because we were only talking about our paper topics.”

It’s really, hugely, mega-sad that this one grade might be “the deciding factor as to whether or not (you) return to college next year,” but seeing as holding to the evaluation you’ve earned will neither send you to a rice paddy nor necessarily doom you to a life of collecting used cigarette butts for a living, I think I can live with it.

I know it’s tough to lose a family member. My grandmother died when I was exactly your age. During finals week, as a matter of fact. My professors were generous and flexible, and made alternate arrangements with me to make up tests and papers.

You know why? Because for an entire semester, I had made it clear via showing up to class, turning in assignments on time that weren’t half-assed, and actively participating in discussions that I actually gave a rat’s ass about my own education. And when an emergency situation arose, I dealt with it like an adult. I went to my professors immediately, used their correct email address, apologized for the inconvenience I was creating instead of issuing orders, and then called them, spoke to them before or after class, or went to see them on their office hours to follow up. An amazing thing happened. They treated me like an adult in turn.

I’m sure that when you are forced to explain your grade to your parents and sniffle about this to your frat brothers which you once for three paragraphs described as “defining you,” you will no doubt announce that your English teacher gave you a D- because your grandfather died. But I will tell you this. Last week, when the department chair contacted me about your unhappiness with your grade on the day before I was scheduled to move across five states, I still, with an entire apartment to clean, my life packed into a car, and my Internet connection due to expire within hours, dug out my gradebook which detailed your many absences, and for an hour filled the chair in on a few facts which you conveniently left out of your description of the massive injustice you are suffering at my hands.

Wow. Those adult skills sure do still come in handy.

I might not return to teaching in my new hometown. Thanks for reminding me why.