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serenade

going above a TA's head

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This has likely been asked already, but does it seriously bug anyone else when you as a TA have a student who is unhappy with their grade and goes straight to the professor, not you the TA, to complain/negotiate, when the professor himself does none of the grading? As if they think that they can get the professor to ally with them against you. Thankfully, in my case the professor told the student that if they had concerns about their grade, they should contact their TA and then forwarded me his response to the student. What I don't think a lot of undergrads understand is that if you're trying to garner mercy from your TA to change your grade, going above their head is not doing you any favors. 

Also, I hate having to write such firm emails and be the bad cop, but no, dear student, I'm not going to "just bump you up" a letter grade that you don't deserve. 

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I used to care. Now I don't. You should keep in mind that a lot of what is obvious to you simply isn't to an undergraduate. They often don't fully understand the power dynamic, and in particular what your place in the hierarchy is. Sometimes they don't really know who is doing the grading, or even if they know the TA does the bulk of the grading, they may assume that the professor is still very much on top of it and looks at some (or all) assignments to see how the class is doing and that the grading is going well. So some may mean well when they go to the professor. And some try to game the system, and they do it because it occasionally works, and it's hard to blame them. You're in luck that the professor did the right thing and told the student to go to you. (I try to have an explicit policy that any grade disputes should go to the TA first, and the TA has autonomy to make decisions about grade changes, (reasonable) extensions on deadlines, etc, and also the right to defer to me if they prefer that I be the bad guy). In any event, yeah, no, dear student, we will not raise your grade just because you want/need us to, but nice try. It makes me feel better to know that these students will have a rude awakening when they graduate and get a job where the boss could care less about their excuses and problems. A deadline is a deadline and results are results, and I don't like it when people try to mess with me. 

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Any professor worth their salt will stand up for their TAs and always delegate the first line of defense regarding grades to the TA.

So yes, it can be frustrating...but as fuzzy pointed out, it's not always cut and dry they are trying to 'game the system.' Don't worry about it, doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

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Yeah, some undergrads can be over-entitled and I would be annoyed in your position.

In fairness, I do sometimes invoke the authority of the prof is charge when students get really argumentative with me over scores I'm not going to change - "If you still have a problem after I've told you all this, you can go talk to Prof X." - since I know the professor will have my back and their word carries a bit more weight. It does tend to shut them up (most don't bother going above my head after I've invited them to).

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Like fuzzy, I used to care/be annoyed but now I just laugh about it. Some of my students used to think that my only purpose at the school was to be their TA and they were surprised that I am also a student and also taking classes! I hope your student is wise enough to take the hint from the professor that they shouldn't be doing this and will be smarter next time!

1 hour ago, St Andrews Lynx said:

In fairness, I do sometimes invoke the authority of the prof is charge when students get really argumentative with me over scores I'm not going to change - "If you still have a problem after I've told you all this, you can go talk to Prof X." - since I know the professor will have my back and their word carries a bit more weight. It does tend to shut them up (most don't bother going above my head after I've invited them to).

This is the relationship I have with my prof too (who is also my advisor). We set it up so that most of the times where we have to tell the student bad news (like denying a request, whether it's valid or not), it's the prof delivering the message. It works for us because students tend to argue with TAs but not profs, and this reduces the amount of conflict between TA and students, which increases my ability to help students. I wouldn't want a student who needed help to avoid coming to me because they didn't like how I denied their extension request. 

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I might be the only one here who thinks that the student should appeal to the professor. After all, the professor is ultimately responsible for the grading, not the TA. The professor has the final say and can choose to take it upon themselves or delegate. I think it is totally appropriate that the student, who is often oblivious as fuzzy said, to go to the one person they know they can appeal to. The TA might not be able to change it or clarify the way the prof can.

Think of it this way: in a court of appeals, sometimes it is best that the instructor of record is the mediator and first line of defense/advocacy if there is any discrepancy. Moreover, the professor, not the TA, has more experience with complaints, variations in grading, and university policy. It is totally fine, I will say, that the professor forward complaints to the TA. I just don't think it is at all in appropriate of the student automatically.

It would be in the case that the student refuses to interact with the TA, even when directed by the professor to interact.

Edited by Turretin

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2 hours ago, Turretin said:

I might be the only one here who thinks that the student should appeal to the professor. After all, the professor is ultimately responsible for the grading, not the TA. The professor has the final say and can choose to take it upon themselves or delegate. I think it is totally appropriate that the student, who is often oblivious as fuzzy said, to go to the one person they know they can appeal to. The TA might not be able to change it or clarify the way the prof can.

Think of it this way: in a court of appeals, sometimes it is best that the instructor of record is the mediator and first line of defense/advocacy if there is any discrepancy. Moreover, the professor, not the TA, has more experience with complaints, variations in grading, and university policy. It is totally fine, I will say, that the professor forward complaints to the TA. I just don't think it is at all in appropriate of the student automatically.

It would be in the case that the student refuses to interact with the TA, even when directed by the professor to interact.

I think we don't really have all of the information. I agree with you that in some specific circumstances, it makes sense for the student to go straight to the professor. 

However, in most cases, the grading is mostly done by the TA only. Hopefully this was communicated clearly at the start of the class and if so, it would be a mistake for the student to go straight to the prof. But this is not like the worst mistake ever or anything. Just a "something the student hopefully learns for next time" kind of mistake.

The two main reasons why I think it's not a good idea for students to go right to the prof is:

1. For lack of a better term, it would be skipping the "chain of command". I think if a student has an issue with the grading, they should talk to the TA first. If that conversation does not resolve their issue, then they should talk to the professor next. This is an important lesson in the academic world but also in most of the working world! If you have an issue with your coworker, you talk to them first, you don't go straight to their boss!

2. In all of my TAing experience, I have almost absolute grading authority. I've never had a professor give instructions to me on grading schemes before. At the start of the semester, we sit down and discuss what our mutual goals are for our students' assignments and then I create my own grading scheme, grade the problem sets and pass the graded homework to the prof for them to look at before they return it to the students. So, if a student was appealing for a change in grade from 6/10 to 8/10 on a particular problem, there's no way for the prof to approve this change without consulting me first because the prof doesn't know the grading scheme. 

I definitely agree with you that the prof does have the final say and has the right to delegate. In my experience, the prof almost always delegates 100% of the grading responsibility to the TA. In that case, it would be inappropriate for a student to go directly to the prof, but as you and others point out, perhaps this wasn't clearly explained! I think that because this is a frustrating occurrence for a TA, we might be a little hard on the student in this thread, but in reality, it's just a minor mistake!

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55 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

2. In all of my TAing experience, I have almost absolute grading authority. I've never had a professor give instructions to me on grading schemes before. At the start of the semester, we sit down and discuss what our mutual goals are for our students' assignments and then I create my own grading scheme, grade the problem sets and pass the graded homework to the prof for them to look at before they return it to the students. So, if a student was appealing for a change in grade from 6/10 to 8/10 on a particular problem, there's no way for the prof to approve this change without consulting me first because the prof doesn't know the grading scheme. 

I think this varies widely, TakeruK. In grad school, I had semesters where the prof I TA'd for let me have basically complete autonomy with grading, semesters where 3-5 TAs had to coordinate amongst themselves to standardize grading between their students/sections, and semesters where the prof would literally hand me a rubric and walk me through how to grade a paper with that rubric according to their expectations. Obviously these are vastly different experiences (and, to be honest, ones that seemed to have little to do with my familiarity with the material or length of time TAing/teaching since the last of those came after I'd solo taught three courses). So, I wouldn't assume that just because you've never had a professor give instructions on grading schemes that it isn't common, particularly depending on the department. It happened to me a lot more when I was one of several TAs each responsible for the grading for 70-80 students in an effort to ensure that some students weren't getting disproportionately higher or lower grades.

That said, I agree with the general sentiment on this thread that this isn't one of those things to get worked up about. Students don't always know that they're jumping the chain of command and many are quite apologetic when you tell them this. Think of it as yet another "teachable moment". If students are doing it on purpose though, that's something to have the professor address in class in front of everyone so that no one is singled out and everyone is put on notice.

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A lot of students neglect that you have things to do besides cater to their every whim. They are surprised to hear that you have other classes or obligations that require your attention, as well as that as a TA, you are typically bound by circumstances outside your control.

I had great support when I was a TA. What felt great was knowing that I could tell a student my decision, and know that the professor would back me no matter what I did. So in that sense, I did not mind if they went over my head. But I would not care, even if the professor went against my decision. I still get paid at the end of the day. 

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14 hours ago, rising_star said:

I think this varies widely, TakeruK. ... So, I wouldn't assume that just because you've never had a professor give instructions on grading schemes that it isn't common, particularly depending on the department. It happened to me a lot more when I was one of several TAs each responsible for the grading for 70-80 students in an effort to ensure that some students weren't getting disproportionately higher or lower grades.

Indeed, I was not trying to imply that my experience is what all TAing is like. I meant my experience to be a counter-example of what Turretin said, i.e. there are cases where going to the prof isn't correct, so I don't think Turretin's comments that students should appeal to the professor is the best "default" advice either. 

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On 12/24/2016 at 2:12 PM, TakeruK said:

Indeed, I was not trying to imply that my experience is what all TAing is like. I meant my experience to be a counter-example of what Turretin said, i.e. there are cases where going to the prof isn't correct, so I don't think Turretin's comments that students should appeal to the professor is the best "default" advice either. 

I got this notice: "You are only allowed to give reputation 5 times per day. You cannot give any more reputation today." That was for an up-vote, by the way.

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On December 23, 2016 at 10:24 PM, TakeruK said:

However, in most cases, the grading is mostly done by the TA only. Hopefully this was communicated clearly at the start of the class

^This might be part of the problem and is something I will address on the first day of this semester. It still bugs me that said student went above my head, but now I see something I can do in the future to reduce these kinds of problems. Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts! 

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I find it incredibly annoying when students go directly to the professor. I've had students previously try to get me in trouble for how they did on assignments. Thankfully, the professor has always backed me up. I find it funny that they think they're better off going to the professor for grading issues. I'm far more open to grade adjustments than the professor is.

Perhaps the worst experience I had was when a student went to the professor for every assignment they made less than an A on. The professor always backed me up and actually never told me the student was doing it until the next semester. 

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On March 2, 2017 at 7:07 PM, mav160 said:

I find it incredibly annoying when students go directly to the professor. I've had students previously try to get me in trouble for how they did on assignments. Thankfully, the professor has always backed me up. I find it funny that they think they're better off going to the professor for grading issues. I'm far more open to grade adjustments than the professor is.

Perhaps the worst experience I had was when a student went to the professor for every assignment they made less than an A on. The professor always backed me up and actually never told me the student was doing it until the next semester. 

Ah, yeah, that's annoying. Just curious, were you glad the prof didn't tell you until the next semester or do you wish he/she had told you while it was happening? Me personally, I think I'd want to know, but maybe the prof thought he/she was saving you a headache? 

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5 hours ago, serenade said:

Ah, yeah, that's annoying. Just curious, were you glad the prof didn't tell you until the next semester or do you wish he/she had told you while it was happening? Me personally, I think I'd want to know, but maybe the prof thought he/she was saving you a headache? 

I'm not the person that had this experience, but when I read this, I thought that it was good of the prof to not say anything until after the semester so that this information does not influence the TA's grading/perception of this student. 

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3 hours ago, TakeruK said:

I'm not the person that had this experience, but when I read this, I thought that it was good of the prof to not say anything until after the semester so that this information does not influence the TA's grading/perception of this student. 

Agreed. When I was in undergrad I was part of a group project and one member screwed us all over. She failed and had to retake the class. I was now the grader for that class, and some of the grading was subjective. I was so concerned ab out being fair to this girl because I sincerely did not want my personal feelings about being screwed over to impact my grading that I actually think I graded her too leniently on some assignments just to avoid seeming too harsh. Once you know, you can't unknow, and whether you want it to or not, it probably will impact your grading in some way.

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23 hours ago, serenade said:

Ah, yeah, that's annoying. Just curious, were you glad the prof didn't tell you until the next semester or do you wish he/she had told you while it was happening? Me personally, I think I'd want to know, but maybe the prof thought he/she was saving you a headache? 

I was actually pretty glad the professor didn't tell me because I would have become very anxious about my grading (especially as a new TA). It was a big class with a lot of written work which is particularly subjective. By finding out about it after the fact, I laugh it off and appreciate the professor for having my back. I'm sure had I been screwing up in the grading, she would have let me know.

17 hours ago, TakeruK said:

I'm not the person that had this experience, but when I read this, I thought that it was good of the prof to not say anything until after the semester so that this information does not influence the TA's grading/perception of this student. 

Absolutely my feelings. I hope it wouldn't have impacted my perception, but that isn't always something I can control. It is funny though because that particular professor is so over students' grading complaints. She won't answer emails (instead she forwards them to me). She's a stickler that way. IN contrast, I am far more open to discussing grades. If a student can point out a mistake to me, I'm to change it. Yet students never seem to want to go to me first.

14 hours ago, HiFiWiFi said:

Agreed. When I was in undergrad I was part of a group project and one member screwed us all over. She failed and had to retake the class. I was now the grader for that class, and some of the grading was subjective. I was so concerned ab out being fair to this girl because I sincerely did not want my personal feelings about being screwed over to impact my grading that I actually think I graded her too leniently on some assignments just to avoid seeming too harsh. Once you know, you can't unknow, and whether you want it to or not, it probably will impact your grading in some way.

That's rough. I haven't had an experience quite like that, but I didn't have a student write such inflammatory remarks in a paper that I felt uncomfortable grading it. I had to give it to the professor and ask her to grade it because my subjectivity had been ruined. The professor was cool with the whole thing, but I'm sure some professors would have been nearly as understanding.

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