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Doing Your Homework Helps…

I should have known, but of course I didn’t expect it.

Now, I should clarify: most of the students who have come and seen me about grade-modifications have done so on relatively understandable grounds. They admitted error, but expressed an opinion that perhaps I was a little too harsh in my grading. This I can swallow.

But there is a small group of students in one of my classes who basically spent the semester, to one degree or another, shirking a major assignment that I informed them many times, from the beginning of semester, would be worth 25% of their final grade. (One of them I even nagged repeatedly to get on it, as I knew she’d done absolutely no work on it for the first three months. I even told her that her grade would not be good because of it.) And worse still, it’s not graded work: it’s a case of accumulating checkmarks, in a sense, and getting the checkmarks was simple if one paced oneself over the semester. Now, they’re complaining. They feel that it’s unfair that I didn’t grade a sudden burst of writing at the end of semester the same as I did a slow and steady, concentrated kind of work over the last 4 months that many people did. They also feel it unfair that I graded their essays with the expectation that they would demonstrate having learned something in the last few weeks — they didn’t even know what I meant by “cite the author in the text”, something that several students with a much lower writing level managed to do without major difficulty. “So it’s because I didn’t have a bracket here?” one said incredulously, as if it’s a ridiculous thing to expect her to cite her sources only two weeks after we’ve studied how to do it.

But… but… but… they protest, they fulfilled my requirements! They blogged the requisite number of posts on the class website, after all!

Sure they did. One student posted 38 posts, the highest number in the class. She wrote nearly all of one evening and all of the next morning to post all of those posts. If she shows me her notebooks, with dated entries, I may reconsider her grade somewhat — but not as much as she wants, because, frankly, her excuses for not posting are just not creditable. “I didn’t have time!” she says, but plenty of other students who fulfilled my expectations arepart-time or even full-time working jobs. “I didn’t have a chance to use the computer!” she says, but several other students don’t even have computers at home, or have never written in English on a computer before. For goodness’ sakes, I have a student whose mother died this semester and she didn’t miss one damned assignment (or even ask for an extension, and turned one down when I offered her one). I think most excuses pale in that light, frankly.

“But our grades affect our future,” the response went tonight. “You don’t understand Korean culture,” one of them said to me. This, this absolutely burns me. If understanding Korean culture means giving an A+ to everyone in the class because there’s a grading curve, then no, I don’t understand it — though I honestly don’t think that is Korean culture, not universally anyway. If understanding Korean culture means giving the best writers an A+ and the worst writers in the class a C+ because of innate ability, when the worst writers are the ones who are making monstrous efforts and making monumental improvements, and the ones who are at least trying to integrate techniques discussed in class into their writing, and the best writers have no idea about something we discussed in class only two weeks before, then no, I don’t understand Korean culture. But I don’t think those things are Korean culture. I think this is the student’s argument to convince me her grade ought to be higher than it ought to be, and it sticks in my craw. I spent immense amounts of time trying to be fair about grading, and I do not take kindly to being told I am unfair, especially when someone could have gotten a score to be downright proud of if she’d only done her damned homework. If grades are life-and-death, I’d imagine homework-that-affects-grades is also life-and-death. For these three young women, it just doesn’t seem that way.

Maybe grade inflation is common in Korea. I don’t believe that this would make it “Korean culture”, really. It’s just bad academic practice. I frankly don’t believe in restrictive grading curves, since they impose a mathematical standard which can be unfair in a class full of hard workers and high achievers. But I certainly don’t think students should be getting A-pluses as a matter of course, or because they’re used to getting them and just expect it. Don’t do the homework, and you’re supposed to get a bad mark.

Sigh. Oh well, so this means I have meetings tomorrow afternoon, with those three people who really annoyed me today.

But there was a bright spot. A student who came and pleaded harshness on her final project, rightfully, explained (after I changed the grade and told her that the weighting of that assignment didn’t radically affect her grade) that she wanted me to know, despite pleading the grade, she enjoyed the class. I told her it was unnecessary to tell me that, but she said, “No, no, most students think so. Your class is very hard but I learned a lot in it. We wish we had more professors like you.” I told her I still wasn’t going to change her final grade, and she laughed and said she knew it, but wanted me to know that whatever the problems about marks, people enjoyed and appreciated the classes I taught.

It did help. Not enough to banish the other trio from my mind, but it did help to hear that from someone who seemed to mean it sincerely.

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