Every semester, I get one. And I suppose I should be happy that it's only one. I should be happy about more, actually; for instance, I very seldom get the student who wants to argue about their end-of semester grade. Full disclosure here: a few years ago I moved to a spreadsheet model for student grades, which I now distribute early on in the semester so that students get a sense of how they're overall grades stack up. I've found that this really cuts down on the squabbling. But apparently, the unintended effect is that one student a semester (and please Lord, let it only be one) wants to argue with me about a discussion grade. And often, it's not the entire semester discussion grade, it's one or two days of it. Math is not my strong point, but it does shock me, I have to say, that they're focused on something that represents .03% of the final grade as opposed to the assignments worth, say 20%...
I thought that I was meeting with, hmmm, let's call her Marcia, for reasons that all you Brady Bunch fans will recognize. Right, so I thought
I was meeting with Marcia to discuss the upcoming assignments. Which we did, in detail. We chatted amiably about the class, the readings thus far, about particular ways of approaching the assignment, etc. And then after about 2o minutes, she whips out a spreadsheet from a month ago, informs me she's unhappy with the grade and that she's already seen the dean about it. Hello, ambush!
I'll spare you the details here that are specific to Marcia's case, because they're utterly cliched. One of the things that shocked me about the Marcias of the last few semesters (other than their fixation on the detail) is the refusal to admit any form of wrongdoing whatsoever. At all. In the slightest bit. Marcia 2009 is, to my mind, a particularly egregious example of this: when I made it clear that her grade for the day reflected the fact that she had caused someone else to get a bad discussion grade because she prevented her from participating, she looked me dead in the eye and said she
would never penalize another student for someone else's behavior. Whoa.
The Marcias, I find, are consistently good students. They pay attention, they participate, they do the work, they work hard. They scrutinize the f'ing syllabus. At Askesis, they all happen to be from the exact same major, which really makes me wonder what goes on in that department. And they share this singularly unattractive quality of refusing to acknowlege that there might be the slightest bit of responsiblity that accrues to them.
Right before the waterworks started with Marcia 2009, she made the defeatist (and to my mind, manipulative) comment that in the end, I was the teacher, and thus what could she do? My initial internal reaction was to contradict her, but I said nothing. And an hour after our tear-laden ambush meeting, I really considered compromising between the grade I thought was fair and the one she wanted.
After a night of fitful sleep, however, I've revised my view. Of my many afflictions, two are at war here: my deep, visceral need for justice, which manifests in the "just say you were wrong!!!"; and the namby-pamby desire to have everyone agree. The spirit of compromise is clearly rooted in the latter, while it deeply offends the former.
But what I realized at 4:28 this morning is that Marcia is right: I am the teacher, and with that role comes the need to exercise power, as much as I want to deny it. Trying to compromise is about, I think, wanting to pretend that the student-teacher power dynamic doesn't exist, or that somehow it would represent the acknowledgment of wrong-doing on her part, which would ease my guilt at applying power. But there's just no reason for it, other than to make me feel better, and to fool myself into believing that we've seen eye to eye, in some way. If I had to guess, Marcia feels empowered to have these kinds of "conversations" because they've been effective for her in the past, and I'm not down with reinforcing that lesson.
So, thanks, Marcias past, present, and future, for reminding me that sometimes I need to acknowlege, question, and apply the power of my station, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. [And everyone keep your fingers crossed that there's only a really ugly course evaluation to come out of this, and not an official grievance lodged. K Thax Bai.]
Labels: grading; peda-dema-goguery