Friday, May 8, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: The Case of the Why Did I Get the Grade I Got League

It's the end of the semester again and it is time for one of those inevitable rituals of life in the Pissant Swamp, students complaining about their grades. Recently, a student emailed me whinging about his or her grade. I did well on all the components of this class save one, the student wrote me. My response to students who email me this response again and again about their grade performance is almost always the same, your grade is the result of you not doing well in one of the five components of this class.

A little background. In all my undergraduate classes, as my syllabus makes crystal clear, I have five grade components, four papers or two papers and two examinations, and participation. Each of these five components are worth 20 points or 20% each again as the syllabus makes clear. By participation I mean not only participation in class, I also mean participation via email, participation by coming to my office to talk to me about what we saw or heard in class, participation by pop quizzes--I give several per term--and participation, and participation through extra-credit, which I provide opportunities for students to do each and every semester. I engage, in other words, in a healthy dose of grade welfare or grade inflation, something I have never had students complain to me about, by the way.

Now I understand that students do have other things that factor into their school lives. So do faculty particularly adjunct faculty who put in 10 hour days Sunday through Monday for little pay and sometimes no benefits. I know these broader contexts affect their work. At some point, however, students have to take responsibility for the choices they make and the choices they don't make within these contextual boundaries.

Speaking of syllabi, at some point, dear readers, I will have to tell you about one of the most interesting of my cases in the Pissant Swamp, the Case of the Syllabus Anxiety League.

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