(End of term craziness is here! My last post involved students talking to their professors about grades before the end of a term. This post reflects the next stage of that conversation. I have to believe that some of this advice translates to workplace evaluations, too).
Can you feel an uprising afoot?
I’m not talking about lingering sourness from those dissatisfied with national or local election results.
I’m talking about students who are calculating/seeing their final grades and thinking (in a huge huff!), “I don’t deserve that!”
Yep! Floods of students around the country will e-mail and suddenly storm professors’ offices about grades that are Just. Not. Fair! It happens every single term.
There are many versions of this scenario, of course. Students who haven’t paid any attention to grades suddenly awaken from their hibernation and realize that things don’t look so great. Those students say to themselves, “My professor just has to rescue me. I need a U-Haul of extra credit or something…”
Let’s not forget about the students who believed they were doing everything they possibly could, but their work perpetually fell between “average” and “good.” They’ll stomp into a prof’s office and say, “But I worked soooooo hard! And I really need a 3.5 for my scholarship (degree program… whatever).”
Now let’s say you fall into a category above. Am I discounting my constant advice to talk to your prof? Am I telling you to stay home? No!
I still recommend that you see your prof. I mean, I wanted you to check on your grades all term, but if that didn’t happen, I have to deal with what’s real: Students flocking to professors’ offices or filling their in-boxes right now.
So in that spirit, I’m going to make a huge request. Students, before you have that talk with your prof, please run down my list of questions first. Take a hard look at yourself, a personal inventory of your actions this term. If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, don’t freak out. I’ll tell you at the end of this post how to prepare yourself for the conversation.
1. If I was confused about an assignment, did I see my professor during office hours, e-mail him/her, or request help?
2. Did I ever check in on my grades/progress prior to now and express concern?
3. Did I ever mention any grade goals that I had for myself?
4. If this course involved a topic that was challenging for me in some way, did I let my prof know in advance?
5. Did I engage myself in the class/class discussion?
6. Did I frequently leave early/come in late?
7. Did I miss class a lot?
8. Did I text? Use my laptop for things other than classwork?
9. Did I take advantage of early review opportunities, if my prof offered them?
10. If my prof gave feedback on an assignment, did I follow the suggestions given and apply them?
11. Did I make full use of the resources on campus i.e., the library, tutoring center, writing/math resource centers, etc.?
12. Did I check my e-mail to make sure I wasn’t missing critical information about the class?
13. If I was offered a chance to revise work (in other words, a gift worth gold!), did I embrace this opportunity or blow it off?
14. Did I utilize extra credit opportunities, if offered?
15. Did I have a textbook all term, if one was required?
16. Was I proactive about letting my prof know about any longer-term struggles that affected me during class?
Now you may be thinking, “Ohhhhh…. I get it. So you want me to blame myself for my grades?”
No. That’s not what I’m saying. This isn’t about blame. But when you go in and talk to your prof in these bitter final hours of the term, your prof may bring up one of these issues in the form of, “Well, why didn’t you…?” or “I noticed that you…” You need to be ready with an explanation.
I have had many conversations of this type and I know more are coming. When students challenge grades with me, my first mission is to ensure that we both have accurate information. Then, I look at the details of where things might have gone wrong.
If the student didn’t take advantage of benefits that I could have offered, such as early review, office hours, etc., then I definitely remind the student that those resources were available and I often ask why they weren’t taken advantage of.
And, yes, at times, when a student pops off with a, “But I needed a 4.0 in this course!” as if it’s totally my fault that the ‘A’ didn’t happen, I often respond with, “Why didn’t we have that conversation 10 weeks ago? Why am I just now hearing about this?”
What should you say in response to that? Tell the truth. Whatever it is. “I thought I had a handle on things.” “I was being lazy and now I’ve learned my lesson.” I don’t give a student a 4.0 based on that answer, but the rest of the conversation goes far better than the continued blame.
Here’s another hard truth: When you complain about your grade, your prof just might call you out for something that you didn’t realize he/she noticed, particularly if there is a policy or points surrounding that issue: “It seems like you were coming in at least 15 minutes late to class quite frequently. I didn’t dock points for that.” Or, “You know, class participation is part of your grade and you seemed really disengaged.”
Let’s not forget this: Some profs round up grades or make “qualitative” judgments about your work ethic when you are thisclose to one grade or another. This is when you really need to ask yourself if that work ethic, your behavior, etc. truly warrants whatever you are asking for. Sometimes it will. Sometimes it won’t.
Bottom line: Before you make demands for a grade that you are certain you deserve, look in the mirror. Be prepared for the reflection about your role/responsibility in that grade that may come back to you. Own up to places that you excelled or might have missed the mark.
The less defensive you are, the better of a chance you have to fully understand your situation. Whether or not you can resolve it just depends on the situation, itself.
I was a student, too… for a long time and not very long ago (I graduated with my last degree in 2000). Try as hard as you can to remember that your letter grade or numerical GPA is only one part of this college experience. The rest of it is about you and your journey of learning how you work.
As huffy as you may feel, if you can, take a breath and see the bigger picture. The grade is finite. If you find out something about your work ethic that you can fix, you just absolutely need to know this about yourself.
Your professor is actually doing you a favor, believe it or not.
(Pssst: You don’t have to send a thank-you note, but when you are employable and amazing, you will thank him/her someday).
Colleagues, what questions did I miss in the list above? Students, have questions about your final conversations with profs? I can try to help with advice. You are welcome to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.