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Students Whining About Fairness


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As I try desperately to end this semester emotionally and mentally so that I can get on with relaxing activities during winter break, I get this email today from a student upset about her grade:

 

Hi Instructor
I had given u a verbal warning about missing a class and I participated every single class so I don't feel that I was graded fairly in that aspect. It really upsets me because I am getting marked down for things I did do throughout the semester.
Student

 

Having been a high school teacher for many years, I am not shocked that students think we grade unfairly. What shocks me is that they think we actually care about their feelings. So what if you're upset? My job is to assign you a grade based on your performance in the class. It's not my job to pamper you (perhaps as you have been all your life) and make you feel good about yourself, especially in college. While I support my students in many ways, I do not feel the need to cater to their whims.

 

Any stories about students like this that get on your nerves?

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I have, yet, never had a complaint about my grading but as a student - I always felt that the instructor was a complete moron if they failed to communicate the reasons behind a certain grade. You give me an A- then please do let me know why and how it should havebeen improved. That old assymetrical teacher-student power structure needs to be revised and updated. It would be nice if students could grade teachers - more than a couple faling grades as an instructor and one should be forced to revise one's whole onset.

Students not doing the assigned reading for seminars that however... deduct 10 points of any mark I say.

Edited by cherub
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wildviolet, happens to me all the time. I'm not sure why they think I/we care about how they feel about the grade but I always clearly communicate that grades are earned based on their work and that the grade they receive is a reflection of that work. But, I'm not sure at all if it actually helps.

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cherub--I agree that the teacher/student power dynamic is an issue. But, until we abandon the assigning of grades we will continue to have power dynamic issues. In a sense, they do grade our effectiveness as instructors on the final course evaluations--but, how trustworthy are those evaluations? I'm glad my faculty supervisor came in at least once during the semester to watch me teach rather than relying solely on course evaluations.

 

rising_star--yes! That's what I did in my first response but the student still didn't get it and sent me this email. Their attitude seems to be that they should receive 100% participation if they show up and speak once or twice during a 3-hour block. In my response to this email, (with the support of my faculty supervisor), I quoted the syllabus about the participation grade being based on the quality of participation. Hopefully that will end the discussion.

 

bamafan--yeah, my faculty supervisor thought it was rude, too.

 

Maybe it's a generational thing. When I was in college, I never would have sent an email to a professor/TA like this. Actually, we had email but no one really used it to communicate (I graduated from college in 2001). We attended professors' office hours and had to talk with them face-to-face! Maybe some kids today feel like they can talk to professors/TAs in this rude way in impersonal/detached emails.

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I think you're right about the technological paradigm shift; it has bred a sense of entitlement, which is exactly what that email reeks of.

 

I mean, it's clearly your fault here, after all, that student "gave u a verbal warning!!"

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I think you're right about the technological paradigm shift; it has bred a sense of entitlement, which is exactly what that email reeks of.

 

I mean, it's clearly your fault here, after all, that student "gave u a verbal warning!!"

 

LOL, I know!

 

One thing that gets me is students who think they start from 100%. What I've always told my students is that you start with nothing. Nothing is not zero. It is nothing! What you earn on your first assignment is what determines the starting point for your grade. Students' mentality that they start with 100% at the beginning of the term is injurious to their perceptions of grading and the teacher/student relationship.

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I also agree that the old power dynamic between instructor-student as presented by cherub needs to be updated but of course, it can never be removed as we are still responsible for evaluation of the student. So, I try to be as transparent as possible in my grading to avoid "confrontations" like this. I hand out a one-page sheet listing expectations and the prof and I usually work together to determine how we will handle some expected and unexpected circumstances (i.e. late assignments, non-attendance etc.). These policies are clearly spelled out in the first week and the students are reminded again before they hand in their first thing for grading. When I grade, I always try to write a comment next to any deductions!

 

But I still get students coming in to see me for various reasons about their grades. Sometimes they have a different view of "expectations" than we do (i.e. wildviolet's participation mark example). I have to make it clear that they are graded on the quality of their work, not how much effort they put in (although there is usually a correlation). What irks me the most is when they expect that the class policies (sometimes policies that were determined through a class discussion) should not apply to them for some reason. Especially if that reason is something that everyone else has to deal with in college (e.g. other assignments or midterms). Another trend I am noticing is students expect their grade to correlate with how much time/effort they spent on the work, instead of the quality of the work. They might say something like "but I worked for X hours on this!" Sometimes, I feel like the students believe that they are the "customer" and they are complaining to me in the same way they might complain to e.g. Best Buy about their purchase not working as advertised.

 

However, I almost always get these discussions in person, usually at office hours. Students would send me an email to let me know they want to see me, but I don't think I've ever gotten something like what wildviolet got! So I don't think the "sense of entitlement" is primarily caused by the technological paradigm shift (although email does allow one to be impersonal). I'm not sure what the difference is though, but I am pretty sure that our TAs probably said the same thing about us when we were undergrads!

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My comment omitted agreement to your basic idea since I felt that there was a certain tone/mood here that I do not agree with and see as a serious issue. If someone actually gets upset about a mark then yes they might be spoilt and silly but also they could be in doubt about the grading process as such. Like TakeruK states - some people actually voice that they put in hours into a project yet did not get a grade that they felt was proper. If people voice this then there must a lapse in communicationbetween the teacher and the student. To me - this is a failure on the part of the instructor rather than of the student.

"What shocks me is that they think we actually care about their feelings." is a very strange sentiment.

Just look at our forum here - neurotic beyond belief and I would clearly link that to the power structure of a colleges. Students lack trust in those at power and vice versa.

Edited by cherub
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I've been fortunate not to have any complaints about grades, but one of the things I did at both midterms and before the final was to provide a printout of my students' grade at that point in the semester.  I also verbally told them in our final conferences before their portfolios were due what the maximum grade possible they could get for the semester was.  Several of them told me they really appreciated this because they knew exactly where they stood and how well they had to do in order to get a grade they'd be happy with.  I know from first-hand experience that college grades sometimes can seem arbitrary, so I tried to cut that argument off at the pass.

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My comment omitted agreement to your basic idea since I felt that there was a certain tone/mood here that I do not agree with and see as a serious issue. If someone actually gets upset about a mark then yes they might be spoilt and silly but also they could be in doubt about the grading process as such. Like TakeruK states - some people actually voice that they put in hours into a project yet did not get a grade that they felt was proper. If people voice this then there must a lapse in communicationbetween the teacher and the student. To me - this is a failure on the part of the instructor rather than of the student.

 

I agree that communication between instructor and student about expectations is important (which is why I made the expectations handout etc.). But I don't (yet) understand the expected correlation between "hours (or effort) put in" and "grade received". I am glad they they might have put in X hours or worked really really hard, but if the end result does not meet the stated expectations for an A (for example), then they won't get the A. I was complaining about the sentiment that some students believe that they should get points simply for spending time on the work. I could understand the problem if the expectations were not clear so that students don't know how to use the time and energy to get the points. The cases I'm talking about though, are cases where we sit down together, go over their assignment and the expectations/criteria and the student shows that they understand where the marks were awarded (or not awarded) and after all that, they make a comment like "I spent 8 hours writing this, how can I get a B?" or "I wrote 10 pages! How did I not get an A?"

 

I am happy to spend all day ensuring that the students understand the material and help them in the right direction if they ask for it. I try to promote a learning environment where I am on the student's side (i.e. it's us against the course material), but it's frustrating when comments like the above are mentioned. What else can I say other than "grades are awarded based on quality not quantity of work?"

 

As for "not caring about feelings", I think that in order to grade objectively, I can't consider the students' feelings, so I don't. I can't/don't care that, for example, they worked really hard on the assignment, or that they spent X hours doing this instead of something else they'd rather do, or that they have 2 part-time jobs in order to pay tuition, etc. (although if they formally requested extensions on reasonable grounds, they would be granted in accordance with the class/school policies). I do care about my students' well-being and I am careful to not put down a student's work when correcting them (since I understand that even though they got it wrong, they might have worked really hard).

 

But when I assign a final grade to an assignment, or the course, I don't care about how they might feel about what they get. A statement like "What shocks me is that they think we actually care about their feelings" requires context. When I read it, I interpreted it as referring to the grading process, not the teaching/mentoring process.

 

I've been fortunate not to have any complaints about grades, but one of the things I did at both midterms and before the final was to provide a printout of my students' grade at that point in the semester.  I also verbally told them in our final conferences before their portfolios were due what the maximum grade possible they could get for the semester was.  Several of them told me they really appreciated this because they knew exactly where they stood and how well they had to do in order to get a grade they'd be happy with.  I know from first-hand experience that college grades sometimes can seem arbitrary, so I tried to cut that argument off at the pass.

 

I do this too since I remember appreciating it when my instructors did it for me. Since we are not allowed to post grades (even with names/IDs removed), I sit down with each student and let them know what they need to get an A, B, etc. Usually, near the end, some things will not be as effective in changing grades (i.e. after completing 7 quizzes, that 8th one next week will not have as much as an effect as scoring well in the final paper, for example). So, I also help them find a strategy to prioritize their efforts (as I understand they might have other final projects or exams) to get the maximum grade.

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If someone actually gets upset about a mark then yes they might be spoilt and silly but also they could be in doubt about the grading process as such. Like TakeruK states - some people actually voice that they put in hours into a project yet did not get a grade that they felt was proper. If people voice this then there must a lapse in communicationbetween the teacher and the student. To me - this is a failure on the part of the instructor rather than of the student.
I think it really depends. As an instructor, I provide clear grading rubrics for all written assignments AND I provide them to students before the assignment is due. So, when a student comes to me and says "I don't understand why I lost points for clarity of writing" when it already says clearly on the rubric how and why such points are deducted, it's hard to see them as doing anything other than whining. I use rubrics in an effort to head this off but, it doesn't always work. I still get the "I spent 12 hours on this, how could it only be a C?" even though the rubric specifies how.

 

As for "not caring about feelings", I think that in order to grade objectively, I can't consider the students' feelings, so I don't. I can't/don't care that, for example, they worked really hard on the assignment, or that they spent X hours doing this instead of something else they'd rather do, or that they have 2 part-time jobs in order to pay tuition, etc. (although if they formally requested extensions on reasonable grounds, they would be granted in accordance with the class/school policies). I do care about my students' well-being and I am careful to not put down a student's work when correcting them (since I understand that even though they got it wrong, they might have worked really hard).

Agreed. I'll often ask students to put their name only on the last page to ensure that I grade their work fairly and not based on any bias that may come from class, their previous assignments, etc. It doesn't always work because you get more familiar with their writing over the course of the semester. That said, they still accuse me of not caring about their feelings. If they want someone to care about their feelings, they should see a counselor or therapist. I'm there to teach them and grade them on their understanding of the course content, not to be their sympathetic ear.

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To me - this is a failure on the part of the instructor rather than of the student.

"What shocks me is that they think we actually care about their feelings." is a very strange sentiment.

Just look at our forum here - neurotic beyond belief and I would clearly link that to the power structure of a colleges. Students lack trust in those at power and vice versa.

 

First, teaching and learning is a two-way street. I teach one section of many in a well-established program--therefore, the course syllabus is common to all the sections and is extremely clear about expectations and grading for the course. I don't even have to modify the syllabus except for adding my name and contact information. Each written assignment includes a rubric, and they get feedback three separate times about their big assignment before it's due at the end of the semester. I admit that the "participation" and "reflections" grades are more subjective. But, I try my hardest to award points for demonstrated high-quality participation in class activities and discussions. Note that I said demonstrated--I can't read their minds, and I don't give quizzes to see if they've done the reading.

 

Second, I don't care how they "feel" about the course. What matters is that they learned what they were supposed to learn.

 

Third, "students lack trust in those at power"? Really? In my experience, students buy into the power structure--that's why they're in college in the first place (as compared to the Bill Gates' and Steve Jobs' of the world who don't buy into the power structure and drop out). Look at the terms we even use to describe those people--"drop out" as if it's a bad thing when college isn't a necessity for everyone.

 

As for "not caring about feelings", I think that in order to grade objectively, I can't consider the students' feelings, so I don't. I can't/don't care that, for example, they worked really hard on the assignment, or that they spent X hours doing this instead of something else they'd rather do, or that they have 2 part-time jobs in order to pay tuition, etc. (although if they formally requested extensions on reasonable grounds, they would be granted in accordance with the class/school policies). I do care about my students' well-being and I am careful to not put down a student's work when correcting them (since I understand that even though they got it wrong, they might have worked really hard).

 

But when I assign a final grade to an assignment, or the course, I don't care about how they might feel about what they get. A statement like "What shocks me is that they think we actually care about their feelings" requires context. When I read it, I interpreted it as referring to the grading process, not the teaching/mentoring process.

 

Yes, thank you! You understand what I meant and said it much better than I did.

 

Working really hard and spending lots of time does not necessarily equal an excellent grade in the course. Mind you, this student earned a 3.5 and wanted a 4.0. Sorry! The sad thing is that even if I awarded the student one more percentage point (which is all I took away for not providing quality responses during class discussions), it won't change the final grade. This student is at a solid 3.5. So why even bother letting me know about upset feelings? What is the student's purpose except to let me know that s/he disapproves of my grading?

 

Out of the 20+ students I had in this section, this is the only complaint I have received so far, and there were plenty of other 3.5s and even some 3.0s.

Edited by wildviolet
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 Agreed. I'll often ask students to put their name only on the last page to ensure that I grade their work fairly and not based on any bias that may come from class, their previous assignments, etc. It doesn't always work because you get more familiar with their writing over the course of the semester. That said, they still accuse me of not caring about their feelings. If they want someone to care about their feelings, they should see a counselor or therapist. I'm there to teach them and grade them on their understanding of the course content, not to be their sympathetic ear.

 

This is a good practice. You can be biased either for or against students. For example, for students that I personally like and enjoy having in the course, I have to be mindful of grading their work too easily. On the other hand, it's the opposite for students that I personally dislike. Because this is a project-based and discussion-based course (no exams) it's difficult to grade 100% objectively, even with rubrics.

 

I am not comfortable being a sympathetic ear to my students--in my view, it crosses the boundary of professionalism. I'm friendly, but I'm not their friend. I give extensions when they are needed (for example, this semester someone's father was ill, someone got married during the Thanksgiving break, someone's car broke down, etc.). But when it comes to grades, it's the quality of work that matters. Even though undergrads must apply to our program during their sophomore year (thus, potentially weeding out lesser quality students), we still get students performing at the 3.5 and 3.0 level, and there's nothing wrong with that. Why does everyone think they must get a 4.0?

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But when I assign a final grade to an assignment, or the course, I don't care about how they might feel about what they get. A statement like "What shocks me is that they think we actually care about their feelings" requires context. When I read it, I interpreted it as referring to the grading process, not the teaching/mentoring process.

I see absolutely no difference in the grading process and the teaching/mentoring process but I do understand your point. My reservation was merely about the use of words and the tone it communicated.

Regarding the hours put in - yet again I might be looking at things differently - if someone puts in 12 hours on a project which could take 6hrs yet still only recieves a poor grade then either one has failed in instructing them, teaching them or they just spend the time making nice graphs.. If the latter then it would be easy to let them know that they should be spending their time with the material rather than the production without dragging in feelings at all. If the former then I blame the teacher.

This may feel like a high horse to get up on but I do feel that I, myself, have these issues and that they must be addressed. For example - I teach a courses on welfare states where the syllabus states that an A requires thestudent to make a "significant contribution to the field of study" through their 12 page final essay. Obviously - the problems are many.

Edited by cherub
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Regarding the hours put in - yet again I might be looking at things differently - if someone puts in 12 hours on a project which could take 6hrs yet still only recieves a poor grade then either one has failed in instructing them, teaching them or they just spend the time making nice graphs.. If the latter then it would be easy to let them know that they should be spending their time with the material rather than the production without dragging in feelings at all. If the former then I blame the teacher.

Why do you blame the teacher? When I was in college, there was a guy that could write A papers in less than half the time it took me to write B+ papers for the same class. Is that the teacher's fault? Not really since we both knew the material and were capable of doing research. But, he was a better and faster writer than me. So what if it took me 12 hours and it only took him 6? I can't, won't, and don't grade students based on how long they work on a project since that's an ineffective way of assessing their understanding.

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Why do you blame the teacher? When I was in college, there was a guy that could write A papers in less than half the time it took me to write B+ papers for the same class. Is that the teacher's fault? Not really since we both knew the material and were capable of doing research. But, he was a better and faster writer than me. So what if it took me 12 hours and it only took him 6? I can't, won't, and don't grade students based on how long they work on a project since that's an ineffective way of assessing their understanding.

Note that I placed a baseline of 6 hours for the exercise exemplified. IF a student puts in double the time then I would expect a A-level grade in 90% of the cases. This might differ depending on how you assign grades (i.e. only 2As no matter what but still). If not then I think the teacher has failed and should think about why this is. I am not saying that you should grade a student on the amount of work put in but if the amount of work is not reflected in the quality of the work (for your perspective on understanding) then one must seriously question the quality of the teaching.

One should also remember that my discussion is based on the "why do students whine"-attitude in which people question the grade they receive despite feeling that they had reached a higher level...

Edited by cherub
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I see absolutely no difference in the grading process and the teaching/mentoring process but I do understand your point.

If the former then I blame the teacher.

 

I disagree that the processes of grading and teaching/mentoring are the same.

 

Why do you blame the teacher? I am not saying that 100% of the blame is on the student. My experiences as a secondary science teacher in a variety of public schools were vastly different depending on the student population. I have come to believe that the classroom is a complex social and intellectual environment in which the outcome--student learning--is influenced by the skill of the teacher and the attitudes of the students. In this case, the "whining" attitude is a detriment to the learning process because of the assumption that the teacher is to be blamed for poor grades.

 

Note that I placed a baseline of 6 hours for the exercise exemplified. IF a student puts in double the time then I would expect a A-level grade in 90% of the cases. This might differ depending on how you assign grades (i.e. only 2As no matter what but still). If not then I think the teacher has failed and should think about why this is. I am not saying that you should grade a student on the amount of work put in but if the amount of work is not reflected in the quality of the work (for your perspective on understanding) then one must seriously question the quality of the teaching.

One should also remember that my discussion is based on the "why do students whine"-attitude in which people question the grade they receive despite feeling that they had reached a higher level...

 

Again, the one-sided focus on the quality of teaching does not take into account the complexities of learning. Heck, we don't even really know how students learn! Look up the emerging field of the Learning Sciences if you don't believe me that we still have no idea what we're doing in the classroom.

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I agree that if, for example, the expected hours of work into a paper was 6 hours and a student put in 12, it would be a cause for concern. For example, if I handed back a C paper and the student said "but I put in 12 hours of work!!", I wouldn't say "too bad!". Things like this did happen and what I said was that we should sit down and discuss the paper and the material. In my example though, I had expected students to put in about 10 hours in this particular lab report. So what I meant was that the student was putting in as much work as anyone else, but the quality was drastically lower. However, this student believed that because he/she worked as hard as everyone else, they deserved the same grade. Even with this experience, I would never dismiss a student as being "substandard" if they had to work more hours than expected. I would always investigate/try to find out why my students were taking longer than expected and evaluate whether or not it was due to poor guidance by me.

 

I agree that it could be the teacher's problem for the reasons cherub states. And for some students, it was just misunderstanding the expectations (it's hard to know how to write a scientific report for the first time). Since it was a year-long course and there were actually 4 "final/formal lab reports", I decided to make the criteria more clear the second time around as well as changing the grading system to weigh each student's lowest report score a little less. One of the problems was, as cherub pointed out, mistaken priorities. Some students were spending a lot of time writing very fancy sentences or making really good graphs but all their writing did not communicate much science (i.e. mostly fluff). Other small things were mistaken emphasis on things that did not affect the experiment and not enough details on e.g. the methods. I saw this as a failure on my part to communicate the expectations, which I corrected. I also adjusted the grading scheme to not punish the students' grades for my mistake. 

 

I don't think teaching/mentor = grading. I think they form a feedback loop -- I teach/mentor, they submit work, I grade, I use the grades I see to adjust teaching/mentoring as needed, they submit more work, I grade some more etc. and keep adjusting my teaching until the term is over or we reach the point where the students are performing at the level I want them to. 

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That email totally ruined any sympathy I might have toward a student emailing about their grade.

 

What is that "given you a verbal warning" schtick?

 

You warned your instructor?

 

I've had students that try to negotiate me---but that is quite alright as long as they do in an appropriate matter.

 

I still shake my head at that email.

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OP, here's one of my more memorable confrontations:

 

Student comes into my lab where I'm working (distant cousin of the Saudi royal family), "I must have regrade!"

Me, "If I have to regrade one question, I regrade them all.  You will leave with 2 points less than when you entered."

Student (Striking a partial pose), "I know karate."

Me, (picking up a wrench I used to attach regulators to gas cylinders in the chem lab), "I know Crescent wrench." (( In perfect hindsight, I'd never say or do this now. ))

Student leaves.  A few minutes later, loud voice from down the hall (another TA's lab),"I must have regrade!"

 

It takes two to tango.  Withering into the truth of age, I'd do many things differently today.

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OP, your student has some serious entitlement issues.

 

I also don't think an instructor is a "complete moron" for "failing to communicate" (whatever that means) the reason behind an A-. I always give A- students some tips on improving, but often the difference between an A and an A- is rather abstract--style, for instance, or originality ... or the fact that other students simply wrote *better* papers with the same prompt. I do the best I can in trying to convey my reasoning behind a grade ... but seriously, an A- is not a grade that needs to be justified to the ends of the earth. To say that one needs to justify an A- is to assume that an A grade is the default--that everyone starts off as an A student until proven otherwise. And that's not the case.

 

Unfortunately, many of our students DO feel that an A is the default grade ... and that's why we get whiny emails over winter break.

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  • 3 weeks later...

What is that "given you a verbal warning" schtick?

 

You warned your instructor?

Indeed, that stands out to me too. "Boss, I gave you a verbal warning that I would not be at work on Friday. I participated every other day that I was there, so it really upsets me that you docked my pay for Friday."
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