Saturday, December 18, 2004


I'm speaking of the perception that students feel entitled to good grades these days. Admittedly, this is my first semester teaching full time, but in one of my courses, I've had probably 10 students e-mail me about their grades (when they found out they weren't getting A's).

So the thing is, these students rarely (and in some cases never) participated in class. Participation was 10% of the grade. You don't talk all semester, you could lose up to 10 points. Is that hard to understand?

Apparently, they all think you just get the participation grade automatically. "I had an A going into the exam." Well, no, you didn't, because you never participated. But you didn't calculate that part, because you assumed you were getting it.

My favorite complaining student told me in his e-mail that he should get full participation because he came to class, paid attention, and etc. (and how is that "participation"?) He also said I was ruining a semester's worth of hard work with my ridiculous participation policy, and that it was the stupidest such policy in his four years in college. Oh, and he also said he shouldn't be penalized for being 'naturally quiet.'

Yes, and I suppose I shouldn't penalize people who get nervous and tank the exams. It's a natural tendency, after all. Why should they be penalized?

So when I quoted the syllabus to him and explained that he should have discussed his 'naturally quiet' tendencies with me BEFORE the end of the semester rather than assuming I would just give everyone credit, he went off on me (via e-mail), using some ample profanity and instructing me not to e-mail him back because he would just delete it because "just the idea of you pisses me off."

Man... I know people were disappointed that they lost so many points for particpation, but get a grip. Naturally quiet? Get over it. You need to be able to speak up. If you can't, you will get nowhere in life. And this assumption they all seem to have that the participation grade is a 'gimme'? Well, I guess I'm not surprised, but puh-leeze, people.

I have spent much of this week royally pissed off at this student (though I didn't even respond to his immature ranting) -- so pissed off that I didn't even want to blog about it. I shared the content of the e-mail with several colleagues at my school and other universities, and all were universally shocked at the vitriol (I got several of these: "I always get complaints, but never anything like THAT.") So I forwarded it to my department chair, who recommended I discuss the matter with the dean in charge of discipline.

The thing is -- I just don't think this kid should get away with talking to a professor like that. And the e-mail was so angry and out of control that I admit I felt midly threatened. One senior colleague told me a story about a similar angry response some years back and a slashed tire... so while I am not really worried too much, I think it's worth getting it on the record now.

Unfortunately, with Christmas holidays starting, the process kind of got stunted. I was finally able to get in touch with this discipline dean on Friday, and she wanted to read the e-mail exchange, which I forwarded. And I never heard back. But it was the Friday before Christmas break for the university, so I didn't expect to get too far with it. I just would have liked to hear back, even with a "let's talk as soon as break is over" so I could get some temporary closure for the holidays.

It ticks me off because the whole thing has made me gunshy. Every time a student in that class (or in any class, I guess, but only the ones in that one class have done this) writes to inquire about his or her grade, I expect some angry response. So here I am sweating my student responses, which is ludicrous.

I'll get over it. I've been spending time trying to get Christmas shopping done (finished today!) and get the house clean in anticipation of (1) my parents' visit and (2) my in-laws' visit, which is four days after my parents leave. I'm actually looking forward to the company (we moved pretty far from family to take this job) and the help with the kids. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I'm beat. I just want to sleep in late for a few mornings, which I will do starting on Tuesday!


At 7:15 PM, Blogger Manorama said...

I know what you mean about being gunshy because of one problem student (have been there myself this quarter), but you're completely in the right here. Hope the situation resolves itself as well as possible, with the student realizing his behavior is not going to be tolerated.

At 7:37 PM, Blogger bitchphd said...

God, that sucks. I never give participation grades b/c I do feel bad marking down the quiet but attentive students--that plus I hate keeping track of who's talking. So, the version of that complaint that I get is, "We don't get credit for participation?" To which I say, "No, it's *expected* in a seminar that you will talk. That's what "seminar" means."

I got two emails from students this semester complaining about their grades--which were an A- and a B+. I simply didn't bother to send a response.

At 7:59 PM, Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

Wow, and you're nicer than I am - I regularly count participation for 20% of the course grade. I'm glad you forwarded the mail along to the appropriate dean - a student definitely shouldn't get away with talking to a prof (or anyone!) like that. Funny thing is, too, that even though participation is a bigger chunk in my classes, I don't think I've *ever* had a student complain about that policy. (This semester I had a student challenge his midterm grade b/c someone else who "got the same on the paper" got a higher midterm grade, and I explained that where the student had fallen down was on participation. But even then, there was no objection to the idea of participation grades.) Don't know if the discipline makes a difference or what.

At 9:03 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

I've been told students here (it's a private school) tend to be a little spoiled and don't expect to have to earn their grades. I don't know what the other profs in my dept do about participation (I know what a few do), but it was spelled out in the syllabus, and I reminded them, after their lackluster performance on the midterm, that participation was an area they could avail themselves of to improve their grade. On THAT day, there was plenty of participation. But people sat there with their thumbs up their butts as I tried to coax them to talk and then somehow thought I wasn't going to care. Ludicrous. At least most of the questioners were respectful.

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Another Damned Medievalist said...

Like NK -- same discipline -- I assign 20% class participation. I'm very clear about it, and I also let them know that participation is based on class discussion (and being prepared for class discussion) and small group work. I also remind them that asking questions counts as much as answering them and that, if they prepare for class the way I've asked them to (they have to prep the primary source documents by answering several basic questions -- author, kind of source, etc.), they should always be able to just answer from their notes. I remind them thorughout the quarter, and have never had any problems with that part of the grade, although I do get complaints about the online discussion grades.

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