Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Angry Archie Theatre Company Presents: "My B+." A dialogue in 14 acts.

So here I am, enjoying the relative calm of the beginning of the beginning of the new semester. I escaped the lurid spectacle of the AHA and ran off to the exotic tourist destination where I do my research. Now I’m tanned, rested, and ready to rock out with my ... but I digress.

So I open my office door the tiniest of cracks for my first official office hour of the new semester confident that I’ll be able to catch a quick jet lag nap between classes, since it is way too early in the semester for snowflurries of any description. So I lean back in my Herman Miller chair, and prepare to snooze, when a knock at the door disturbs my frame of mind. In walks T, from last semester’s course, and I know my day, no, my entire semester is about to be ruined.

Me: Have a seat T. What can I do for you? [as if I didn’t already know]

T: I want to talk to you about my final grade for your course.

Me (with my best innocent look): Sure, mind if I pull up my spreadsheet and see what you earned? [as if I didn’t already know]

T: No need, I got a B+.

Me: Sounds like you did well to me. What’s the problem?

T: I don’t think I did that well. I mean, I worked really hard and all I got was a B+. I think I should get a higher grade, given how hard I worked.

Me: Well, unfortunately, your own assessment of how hard you worked is not one of the grading criteria in any of my classes, so there is not much I can do for you.

T: OK, but I also felt the grading was really inconsistent.

Me: Don’t you mean that your written work was inconsistent?

T (stammering): Uh, well, no, yes, I guess...

Me: So then I also assume that what you mean to say is that you wish your work had been consistent enough to earn you an A-, but unfortunately it was not and you are disappointed in yourself.

T: OK, I see where you are going with this, but I just can’t get a B+.

Me: Oh, and why is that? [as if I didn’t already know]

T: Because I want to go to law school.

Me: Oh, don’t worry. A law school will accept you.

T stares at me with her mouth open.

Me: Is there anything else?

T: Can I come see you next week?

Me: Sure, if it will make you feel better.

T leaves.

There are 13 weeks left in the semester, and I will bet the meager contents of my 403b that I am in for 13 more dances around the Maypole with little T. I also know that the gears in her overtaxed pea-brain are grinding away at maximum rpms to come up with a better strategy for next week. I predict the “but I really felt I learned so much in your class, which is why I was so devastated by the grade” gambit, with the “I got an A from Professor P, and everyone knows that she is a really tough grader” diversion to follow in act three, and the “if I can’t go to law school, I’ll figure out some other way to get rich” feint somewhere around act ten (and yes, a student really said that to me once).

And I also know that by the 14th act I will have destroyed her will to live and the tears will flow like warm sewage from the cloaca maxima in ancient Rome, and I will push the box of tissues I keep for just such occasions across the desk and smile pleasantly. How do I know? Because this will be the third time I've gone down this road in the last four semesters. And of course it is always over a B+. It is the curse of working at an institution where two-thirds of the undergrads are so unimaginative, that the only possible future they can dream of involves either law school or medical school. The other third used to imagine themselves in the broker training program at some investment bank, so I honestly don't know what the fuck they are thinking anymore. Maybe they are working out a panhandling strategy, or a "fries with that" strategy. I certainly could not care less.

But deep in the darkest corners of my soul I live in abject terror. Because I know that while T has no chance at the A- she so desperately covets, I secretly fear that a day will come when I will no longer have the energy to push back for 14 long and lonely office hours of pleading and protestations. The day will come when I too will embrace the University of Minnesota’s grading standards. Ooops, sorry, I forgot. They have gifted teachers who provide perfect syllabi for their hard-working little students.

Archie out.