Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wacky Student Time: I Demand an Explanation!

Since the semester ended, I've had the usual number of student emails about grades. One student in particular got his report card and saw that I had assigned him a failing grade, and wrote to demand an explanation. He literally said, "I demand an explanation."

So I looked at the gradebook and saw that he had failed every assignment. Every one.

I imagine a basketball coach angrily approaching the referee after having been declared the loser of the game. "I demand an explanation!" he says, and so the ref lets him know that his team was outscored in all four quarters. How do you earn a passing grade in the class when you fail everything your grade is based on? And then how do you muster the righteous indignation to demand an explanation? Does he really want me to go through all the assignments and for each one tell him how much of his grade was based on it and how much he failed it? Because that's what I did.

In fairness, I should mention that he hadn't picked up any of his exams, so he probably couldn't have been sure that he failed them all. But you have to figure that if you're not in class enough after the first exam to have heard that they had been returned, you're not going to do super awesome on the second one.

And, of course, I've been getting my annual allotment of "now that the semester is over and final grades have been submitted, what can I do to improve my grade" emails.

Happy solstice, everybody!

--Mr. Zero

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was going to write something slightly sexist. Instead I'll go over and post at Philosophers Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Does your university have an LMS (learning management system)? If so, put the grades on there and tell students to look there. Even if they don't pick stuff up, they can see the grades.

From there you can download it to Excel or what ever program you use to calculate grades (if the system doesn't do it for you), and you're done.

This is a stupid topic. Reply to the student with: "You failed every assignment. You didn't pick any assignments up. If you want to review your grades, go on Blackboard or Desire2Learn and review them. If I made a mistake, let me know. Otherwise, your grade is still an F."

From my lengthy experience of giving grades (over 10 years) I have never had an appeal and I don't inflate grades. Have a clear syllabus and made the grade available. Problems basically eliminated.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:25,

I've got an unfounded claim to make about how _hard_ it is to be a woman in philosophy.

It is precisely 68.7% harder than it is to be a man in philosophy.

Since the new policy doesn't prohibit _those_ kinds of claims, I get to post it here rather than at Philosophers Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:50 am,

It's 70.2% harder to be a woman in philosophy. I'm just saying.

Anonymous said...

No, Anon 1:03; it's actually 1.34% harder to be a _man_ than *CENSORED* in *CENSORED*

Anonymous said...

yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy0

(My cat--William Jefferson Kitten--commented. No kidding.)

wv: neword (Again, no kidding.)

Anonymous said...

Does he really want me to go through all the assignments and for each one tell him how much of his grade was based on it and how much he failed it? Because that's what I did.

I can't decide if you did too much or too little. Surely, you told this student that his "demand" (as opposed to a polite inquiry) was wholly unacceptable, didn't you? That's the starting point, as far as I'm concerned. If you simply answered his inquiry without addressing his attitude, then it appears you tolerated his approach.

Anonymous said...

Today, a student emailed me demanding that he get an A of 100% rather than an A of >100%. That's definitely the most absurd complaint I've ever received.

Anonymous said...

Is a demand really unacceptable? Certainly it's acceptable to assign a student a failing grade if he or she hasn't achieved the required minimum (set aside disability and other considerations), but isn't a student certainly also entitled to an exposition of the grounds upon which his or her failing grade is based?

This student may not have handled this request in keeping with standards of politeness, but that's another question.

Eric said...

Dear student-who-doesn't-pick-up-his-work: here's your explanation: you're an idiot. Pretty simple, when you think about it.

Seriously, though, I got a VERY angry email from a student from one of my classes who was on her way to a solid B or a low A but who no-showed for the final, which was on a Tuesday (the last day of finals) She emailed me two days later to say she was on campus (on Thursday...campus was mostly a ghost town) and wanted to know where everyone (myself included) was for the final.

I should point out that I made sure to mention AT LEAST once every class during the final three weeks about the date and time of the final for the class. It was on the syllabus AND I gave a handout with the info.

Student was nonplussed with my response (final was Tuesday...you missed it) and DEMANDED a makeup. I responded that a makeup would not be possible because grades were due on Monday (this was on Friday) and I would be unavailable to give a makeup before grades were due, and that, moreover, forgetting the date of the final was not grounds for a makeup.

At this point, the student got angry, played the pity card ("I need to get an A to keep my financial aid"), accused me of being unfair with my makeup policy, and then (the kicker), demanded to talk to my 'boss'. I gave her the Department Chair's name and email, and haven't heard from her since.

All because she could not remember what day the final exam was taking place. But somehow that's MY fault and MY problem...

Mr. Zero said...

Surely, you told this student that his "demand" (as opposed to a polite inquiry) was wholly unacceptable, didn't you?

I didn't do that. I worry that scolding an angry student who feels aggrieved about his tone will not be effective. I worry that it will cause the student to feel more aggrieved, and less likely to treat his professors (including me) with the proper respect in the future. I mean, you have to have a pretty warped view about what kind of treatment you're entitled to in order to take that tone with your professor in the first place.

So my general policy in these situations is to calmly explain to the student how I calculated the grade, and assure the student that the grade was calculated in accordance with the policies of the syllabus, just like everyone else.

Is a demand really unacceptable? ...isn't a student certainly also entitled to an exposition of the grounds upon which his or her failing grade is based?


Totally. But saying "I demand an explanation" is not acceptable.

Anonymous said...

As part of my "course policies" handout that I give out on the first day of class, I state explicitly that there is no extra credit in this class besides extra credit problems I specifically assign on the problem sets. (It's a logic class.) I still get people who want to complete extra assignments once they learn their final grades, but at least then I have something to point to when I say "no".