‘Tis the Season

It’s not the holiday season I’m referring to. No, I’m referring to the season of student inquiries, lack of preparation, general disrespect, and teacher/professor burnout.

I give you “Did I Miss Anything?” by Tom Wayman.

Did I Miss Anything?

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

—Tom Wayman

Consider visiting “Poetry 180 / A Poem a Day for American High SchoolsHosted by Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003”, if you’re not too busy reading the syllabus two days before finals week.


Grade Hunting Season

Every semester, there is a magical time of the year when students start worrying about their performance in their college courses. This time is usually right before finals. Thus begins the yearly ritual of hunting down professors (even though said students have never visited or e-mailed the professor before) and begging, pleading, asking, or just down right rudely demanding that she or he be given a grade higher than the one earned. I myself, have had plenty of out-of-line run-ins.

I had a mother try everything in her power to have me reprimanded when I told her child that she needed to do her school work instead of her mother. I still remember the woman saying, “It’s my job to help my child with her schoolwork.” Maybe it is when she’s in third grade, but not when she’s in her third year of college. I had a student tell me that because of his profession, he was incapable of doing anything dishonest so my plagiarism claims about his coursework were without merit. I’ve even had a student literally fall to his knees, put his hands together, and beg me for a higher grade. For fifteen minutes, he moaned and pleaded and, quite frankly, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more uncomfortable with a student in my office, in my career. And then there was that experience with campus security. Multiple college staff were hiding in the offices and hallways near my office after a staff member feared for my safety when a student stormed out of a room seething after getting back a grade from me. The student snorted, “I’ll take care of this” and for over an hour I sat clueless in my office while my colleagues made sure I wasn’t harmed.

Now some students reading this will just think we professors make it all up, that it’s never really as bad as we make it sound– students don’t demand or pressure professors for grades. Those students would be wrong. This semester I’ve noticed more and more friends sharing their own tales of disrespect from Grade Hunting Season. Here is just a smattering from the end of the season hunt.

Professor No. 1, Illinois

Dearest Student:

in the interest of saving your precious time, as it is vitally important
a) that you know what your grades are before you go home (because, you know, they’re not posted online for you to see or anything), and
b) that your grade should be what you want it to be rather than a reflection of the quantity and quality of your work for the past three and a half months, let me provide a blanket answer to your questions. NO.

1. NO – a baboon did not fly overhead and drop extra credit points out of its rosy behind. Thus, I cannot raise your grade.
2. NO – I do not agree that cleaning up after your fraternity’s “hella rad” party last night counts as community service.
3. NO – I do not care that your roommate took a different section of the class, did no work, and will make a higher grade than you.
4. NO – I do not need to tell you that spelling and grammar matter, and thus you will be penalized for failing to have a working knowledge of either.
5. and NO – I do not intend to meet with you to discuss any of these matters further. That syllabus that I posted before the semester started? That you indicated that you had read? IT’S IN THERE.

Happy holidays.

Professor No. 2, North Carolina

No, I will not and cannot give you a last minute extra credit opportunity. Yes, this means you’ve failed my class. Yes, I’m aware this means you’ll need to find another major. No, I will not issue you a permit for next semester. Yes, I realize this is an upsetting situation. No, I will not and cannot give you a last minute extra credit opportunity. Yes, this means you’ve failed my class. Yes, I’m aware this means you’ll need to find another major. No, I will not issue you a permit for next semester. Yes, I realize this is an upsetting situation. No, I will not and cannot give you a last minute extra credit opportunity. Yes, this means you’ve failed my class. Yes, I’m aware this means you’ll need to find another major. No I will not issue you a permit for next semester. Repeat, repeat, repeat, all afternoon…

Professor No. 3, Pennsylvania

Dear student,
I feel it’s important to let you know that I am not new at this game you’re playing. I have offered you multiple opportunities for a make-up, and you’ve agreed to but not shown up for any of those opportunities. Please get your business together and give your final presentation this morning, or I will have to give up on you. I don’t like doing so, but I feel let down, hurt, and insulted when I try and try and try to no avail; it pains my heart when you don’t succeed.

Professor No. 4, Missouri

Long time since this sort of thing has come my way. I’ve received an email from a parent of a student, who tells me that said student is anxious about his/her course grade, and doesn’t want it to prevent him/her from following in father’s lawyerly footsteps. Ahem.

Professor No. 5, Illinois

OK, gang. Just gotta vent. I have a group of students I’m finding a real challenge. Aggravated at students who do not read, listen, follow directions, note the day of their presentations, or due dates of assignments. One just emailed me to ask for it all to be repeated again, because she went home early for Thanksgiving. (I referred her to the handout that I BOTH gave out in hard copy in SEPTEMBER, and attached to an email a week ago.) No, I don’t know when your group is presenting. Believe it or not, I did not take that information home with me over the weekend! It’s called self-responsibility. Look into it. ARGH!!!!!! I am counting the days till this semester is over. I welcome clicks to indicate empathy, but please– no advice. Thanks!!!

Professor No. 6, Missouri
I am entirely confident that I just spent more time pulling together the documentation for this plagiarism report than the student spent plagiarizing his essay.

My statements on this matter in the syllabus are getting more passionate by the semester. The latest line I’m adding: “…. If you fail to behave honorably in completing your assignments, then you fail the course IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY.” And, you know, life. You fail at life.


Professor No. 7, Minnesota

This is how today is going:



Dear Students… e-mail edition

Dear Students,

I feel compelled to remind you that I teach communication courses and pay close attention to the nuances of the various types of communication in which we engage. Our abilities to communicate are, in part, what makes us human beings. Too often in our professor-student communication, I find myself frustrated, put off, and generally discombobulated because our interaction isn’t as competent as it could be. Please consider this my request for you to reconsider your communication with me more carefully.
An increasing percentage of mishaps occur via e-mail. Please consider what e-mail stands for— electronic mail. If letters are an important form of written communication, e-mail is then an electronic form of important, written communication.

When writing e-mails, please familiarize yourself with the different parts of the e-mail.
• The subject line is the area that you can alert the recipient what your message will be about. Please make sure that this subject line is pertinent to the message you are writing. When you simply reply to previous e-mails I have sent you, you may send me a message the week of final exams that reads “Welcome to COMM 110.” I will undoubtedly scratch my head as to why you’re just now responding to a message I sent at the beginning of the semester and may not open it immediately since it’s not pertinent to the end of the semester.
• The salutation is the greeting of a message. Traditionally this would be: Dear Dr. Darnell, Dr. Darnell, or Professor Darnell. Hey! is not an appropriate salutation. I’m your professor, not your b.f.f..
• The next section of the e-mail is the body. This is where you address the subject with which you are concerned. Please make sure that in the body of your e-mail you are not showing that you either did not read the syllabus, grading philosophy, or honesty agreement, or simply chose to ignore those documents all together. For example, I do not ‘take doctor’s notes’ yet I get doctor’s ‘excuses’ e-mailed to me all the time.
• The ending of the e-mail includes a closing and a signature, or just a signature. A traditional closing is “Sincerely,” with your name as the signature. Given the medium of e-mail writing, a closing is not necessary in my opinion. When signing your name, make it your complete name. 🙂 S. is not an appropriate signature.

If you’re still confused by the format, consult this image of a traditional letter.

In general, please show common sense when you e-mail me.
• Do not ask “Did we do anything important while I was absent?” If you can’t figure out why you shouldn’t ask this, I’d be happy to explain this in person.
• If you want ‘my notes,’ come to class and listen to them. Ask your peers for their class notes. Class discussions are more than my lecture notes. Understand the difference.
• Spell words correctly. Proofread and then proofread again.
• Do not expect a response to your e-mail immediately. I’m not up at 2:30 a.m. checking my e-mail. You shouldn’t be either.
• Do not demand things of me or use your e-mail to angrily vent. Be careful of your tone. If you don’t mean to be aggressive and inappropriate then do not write an e-mail that can be interpreted that way.
• I do not need to know why you weren’t in class. Your personal life is yours, not mine. I don’t need to know that you were up all night throwing up, that your child had diarrhea all night, or that you’ve just felt really crummy with all your coughing and sinus infections and body aches. E-mailing me doesn’t mean you get ‘more’ excused absences. I understand that you may consider this a courtesy, but I don’t think you’re a bad person if you’re not in class.
• Don’t ask me to ‘look over’ your assignments, via e-mail, since you can’t make it to office hours because you’re too busy. If you can’t talk to me during office hours, then arrange a time to see me in person. You’re not the only person who is busy.
• When in doubt, come see me rather than e-mailing me from your Android/iPhone/smart phone/Segway/Whatever-you-call-the-technological-gadget-of-the-moment.

All of these things relate to our personal encounters as well. When you come to my office, do not walk in and say “I need you to sign this” while shoving a piece of paper in my face. Instead, let’s have a conversation after you have knocked and asked “May I come in?” You can choose to stand or sit while we talk about your speech, your desire to drop a course, or your travel plans that may affect class.

In this technological age where you may be used to communicating n shrt wrds w/no punct & less than 140 charactrs, you need to set yourself apart and show the world that you do indeed know how to communicate appropriately and effectively.

Please understand that I write this for you, not in retaliation against you. Please be mindful of your communication with all professors. We all want you to leave Columbia College with the best possible skills to help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Competent communication skills are key to achieving those goals.


Really We Don’t

This article from Forbes, “Dear Student: I Don’t Lie Awake At Night Thinking of Ways to Ruin Your Life,” highlights so many of the same things I have written in my own grading philosophy.  In a wonderful beginning, Art Carden cites 1 Corinthians 13:11 as a way of understanding the frustrating quicksand of professors, students, and grades.  Do yourself a favor and read Carden’s insights on the the topic.