Monday, September 4, 2006

This is the Kind of Posting That Makes Us Want To Chew On a Pistol and Create a New Tenure Track Position At Our College

So. Let's talk about this grade thing. First off, let's get one thing clear. I am a rock-star student. I am the person who understands allegory and allusion as well as computers and circuits. I am the person to whom you refer other students for help. I am the person who speaks up in class--better yet, I bring up other, related avenues of intellectual inquiry instead of going, "huh, when did you say the midterm was?"

I come to your office hours to continue our discussions, and what's more, I have a clue when I do. My papers are sparkling examples of intellect and wit, effortlessly mixing both the classics and pop-culture references. My writing makes you laugh! And occasionally cry! And then nod your head and say, "wow, great point!"

What's more, I work my adorable little tush off. I am finishing a double major baccalaureate degree in two and a half years. I average a load of 23 credits. I work 20-30 hours a week, depending on projects at work. When my cell phone goes off (on vibrate) in class and I leave to answer it (which has happened once in two years), it's my employer, and the shit has just hit one hell of a fan.

With very few exceptions, you all love me. Many of you want to adopt me, or at least give me a big, warm, fuzzy hug. Then you would like to clone me. Because in addition to all of the above, I smile and I learn your name and I show up to class and I talk to you about your day and your other interests instead of treating you as a faceless, unimportant professorimaton.

For most of you, I love you back. As a rule, I think you're a pretty awesome group of people. I definitely think you should get the hell out, because 1) you don't have tenure and you never will because of school policies, 2) the engineers just don't get your subjects, and 3) you can do way better than this midwestern city. With that said, I'm honestly grateful that you don't. At least not until I finish my degree. Then, hell, man, flee! Flee like the wind! I know I will.

But loving you and thinking that you're awesome doesn't mean that I won't ask about a grade if I can't understand why I got it. Will I be an asshole about it? No. Will I even argue for you to change it? No, I won't. But if I don't understand why I got that B, if there are no comments or feedback, or if what's there doesn't make sense to me, I will ask you. If you can back it up, then hey, awesome, no problem. I still love you. I'll take my lumps, learn from the experience, and knock you out on the next assignment.

However, there's a little principle I live by: if you can't explain why it's *not* an A, then it *is* an A. Now, I don't expect a comprehensive analysis. I know that you're busy, I know that you've got lots to do, and I know that a lot of an A is indeed that wow-factor. But the other eight professors I have this term say that my work does have that wow-factor, and suddenly you disagree? Yeah, I'd like to know why, and I'm going to find out. "This just didn't have the punch." "This just didn't have the insight." One of those are good enough.

But if you write "Excellent!!!" at the bottom, then put a B at the top, with no intervening comments, I will come and ask you, and you had best be prepared to defend your answer. If you can't defend your answer, and you don't do something about it, *then* the fangs come out. Yes, I care about learning. No, I'm not just here for the piece of paper. College has done a lot for me; it's opened my mind to several subjects I love, it's connected me with some really interesting people. But do I worry about GPA? Yes, I do, and for that I won't apologize. I'm most probably going to graduate school after this. My GPA is on my resume. As of the end of spring term, I was .01 point away from summa cum laude, and yes, I want to wear the honor cords when I walk across the stage. I think I've earned that. And 99% of my professors agree. If you don't? If you think that we're supposed to foster an air of intellectual discourse in the classroom, then *not* discuss the very assignments that are intended to further it? If you were grading late one night and transposed a quiz grade, making my curve-breaking A into a B? If you think that not being a "grade-grubber" demands that I silently accept any of the above? Then yes, you are wrong.

Or perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps, much like the hokey-pokey, shutting up and taking whatever mark you're handed back (even if you don't understand it) *is* what it's all about. But I don't think so. Not only that, but I think most of you will agree with me. We're not so far apart, you and I; we both want students to learn. Here, I wanted to write "so detach the hostility surrounding questions about grades"... but that's not really fair, is it?

I know I'm exceptional. I know that the vast majority of students who dispute their grades are not like me and do not act like me. I've seen it. I've heard it. I've been told about it by some of my current professors. And I have no doubt that if I do go to graduate school, I'll experience it first-hand. So given what you're asked to deal with, the hostility is fair and even apropos. Why am I writing this, then? Because there are always exceptions, and I am one of the exceptions. Rant all you want about the other 99% (Dog knows I do, too), but be open to said exceptions when they come along. Oh, and one last request.

Can you tell that guy simultaneously clicking his pen, tapping his foot, and chewing his gum to shut the bloody hell up?

photo from