The Terrible Trio

Meetings with the three students who participated in the mini-outburst in class the other night were mixed.

One student was very reasonable, asked me to reconsider the grade on a paper she’d submitted a long time before, and said that she felt the emotional hysterics of the evening before were out of line.

The second student, once she saw that the main reason her grade had tanked, and that a higher grade on her final paper wouldn’t make a difference, acquiesced quickly and left.

The third student, however, decided to make things as uncomfortable as she could. She questioned my grading system for absences and for the blog, tried to reason that by virtue of relatively good grades on submitted homework, and looked for everything else she could criticize while ignoring the fact that she hadn’t worked on a term-long cumulative assignment that she knew very well had been assigned, and which she didn’t even sign up to begin working on until the last month of the course. After being told repeatedly to do so, and ignoring my repeated instructions for weeks on end, she had the gall to complain that she deserved a better grade.

The amusing, aw-cute thing I can add is the story I was told this evening in the office. I heard that the other students in the class all felt quite embarrassed about the outburst, some of them so taken aback that they were discussing how to make it up to me. Even people who aren’t in the class were shocked about the outburst, and discussing how to make it up to me! (The secretary in the department told me that she heard some students she knows discussing the whole situation, in tones of mortification at the disrespect these students showed me.) This goes to show you how downright nice most of the students I teach are, though personally I would prefer they spent the time right now preparing for all their other exams.

There’s another interesting story I can relate about the third student, who I really would prefer never to teach again (though I will try to give her a clean slate if she enrolls in one of my classes again). It seems that in the past, she was a member of the student government, and a favorite student of a previous professor who’s no longer with us. The professor once mentioned in conversation that he tended to give her slightly preferential treatment because, after all, she was doing such hard work in student government. But it turns out that in fact she did a hatchet job in student government, and that one of the professors I work with had to do most of the job for her, in fact. So it seems this student got the benefits of being in student government, without having to do much of the work, and now she thinks that she is entitled to an easy ride through her last year because she is “preparing to get a job”.

That brings to mind how she really didn’t like when I noted that one student already has a job, works at the airport, but that he more than fulfilled the expectations of that assignment by working hard at it through the whole semester. Man, she had nothing to say to that except to take potshots — rather idiotic ones, I might add — at how I evaluate the attendance grade: she figured since there are 48 hours in a semester, each absence should be worth around 2% of the attendance grade, which makes no sense since students get an FA — a failure-by-attendance — for missing a mere 12 hours of class. Oh, and the complaint that citation is not important in an essay, and that it was a mistake — when, in class, after I asked her, “Where’s the citation?” she showed me the Works Cited page, and when I asked again, “Where is the citation in your text? Where does your paraphrase begin and end?” she neither knew what I meant, not could pinpoint the beginning or end of the paraphrase. She claimed that a sentence that ran, “Scientists have recently announced that French fries cause cancer,” as common knowledge, and implied I was being unfair for penalizing her the same way I did other students who failed to use citations properly. She even complained, with tears in her eyes, when I offered to change her grade on the essay to a slightly higher grade, because she knew very well it wouldn’t increase her grade significantly… because it was the simple, straightforward fact she hadn’t done the blogging homework that had dragged her grade from an A to a C+.

Ah well. The hard part is banishing this crap from my mind, and remembering how the other eleven students in the class worked hard, accepted their very fair grades with grace and dignity and respect, and how they felt mortified at this silliness in the class. Drama Princesses flipping because suddenly things aren’t handed to them on a silver platter is not even worth the energy it takes to watch till the end of the outburst. Such a lesson I learn, whilst running about frantically preparing to leave town.

3 thoughts on “The Terrible Trio

  1. Hope you’re having a good time at the conference.

    For what it’s worth, I had my first student flip-out, though for very different reasons, this past semester. It was done in a rather cowardly manner, too: through a series of angry text messages (lots of exclamation points!!!!!!). I haven’t blogged about this yet, but probably will at some point.

    I suspect that such outbursts are going to become more frequent because South Korean kids are increasingly pampered, increasingly disrespectful, and increasingly forgetful of recent history. I have, on several occasions, been tempted to point out that this generation knows very little about pressure.

    My mother lost two of her brothers in the Korean War. Her family was shattered. She still, at age 63, has nightmares. Asking yourself, “Will I live to see tomorrow?” –that’s pressure. By that measure, even the monumental stress of getting into a decent college is nothing.

    It’s all well and good to be understanding and compassionate, but I agree: zero sympathy for the overprivileged drama queens. Glad you stuck to your guns.


  2. Kevin,

    I’m thinking Korean writers haven’t found a way of hammering that into the minds of young people. The writing about the separation of the nations, and the horror of the war, has been–from what I’ve read in translation–mainly so loaded with ideology and agenda that I can see people not “getting it” viscerally how this shit mattered. When I left for the Workshop, I was of the opinion that the War and the North/South division didn’t matter literarily because young people didn’t care about it.

    Now I think it matters all the more that people find new, inventive ways of hammering this shit into the brains of the young — that this shit matters, that people need to be reminded that things matter, that alternatives to the present matter. SF — whether it’s libertarian, anarchist, or even the crypto-fascism of the Golden Age — is fundamentally disastrous to the status quo, and I wish there was something like it working on the Korean mind as it has on the Western mind. Reminders of how fucking evil and awful war and totalitarianism can be, how total the loss of a culture or society can be by a simply choice.

    And I’m of the opinion that young South Koreans would probably not last a day in North Korea; that having even the faintest idea about that might illuminate what pressure really means. (Nor would I, but I’m glaringly aware of it.) This fretting about grades and an optimal number of A-pluses and what rank of job one can get, and whether one’s wife is prettiest or one can afford two kimchi fridges, all of this is nothing. Hell, if the young had their eyes opened, they might realize that even Seoul University isn’t the mecca of education, that the concentration on the top 3 or 5 unis is merely an elitist manipulation; but what would these soft kids do to tear it apart? They’re so soft, so soft.

    Ah well, as Orson Scott Card points out reviewing Bruce Sterling, the key is not revolution, but transformation. It can take time, it takes vision, it takes imagination. There’ll just have to be a few people who take it upon themselves to imagine a new world, and make it real.

    Next time an overprivileged drama queen freaks out about a grade, I’m going to remind her of how millions of people are starving to death only a few hundred kilometers away, and ask her how getting an A+ in this class will help her help them. Hell, if she can give me a credible answer, I may even give her an A+. :)

    By the way, it’s not a conference, it’s a 6-week workshop, and it’s VERY intense. But so far (3rd day done) it’s amazing.

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