Open Forum: The Autumn Semester 2009 Finals Week Edition
Grading exams is a lot like work, even though I've been doing it for almost 30 years, now, but the grading is not the part I dislike; it's the issuing of final grades. To some extent, I can make that part mechanical: just calculate final percentages, attach the grades, and be done with it. That's a little too easy for my taste, though.
I'll tell you a secret, but you cannot EVER tell anyone I told you this. In fact, I'm going to tell you more than one secret, tonight, and I expect you never to tell a living soul any of this.
Are we clear on that?
Okay, here goes, then.
I bump a grade every now and then.
That's right, a few times every semester, I'll edge a grade up a notch above where the numbers tell me. I do it if a student has been getting better and better grades as the course went along, and I'll do it if one test is way out of line from the rest.
I'll do it if I see past the foolish young person in front of me to the adult who will someday be more amazing than he or she knows. I've taught long enough to know how to see the future.
I see it every day. After all, I'm not just a writer; I'm a teacher.
I never cut slack because of a student's plea for a better grade, and those pleas are timeless, repetitive, and altogether tedious to me. Here's a sample, along with my thought-response to each, so you will first understand that I am most decidedly not a merciful professor:
"I just HAVE to get at LEAST a 'C' in this class."
(There's a way to do that: it's called studying, but by now it's too late. You cannot learn the body of an entire semester's coursework in a couple of all-nighters, especially considering you're not going to do that, anyway, are you?)
"I won't graduate unless I pass."
(You should have waited until you had graduated to slack off, then. That, or you shouldn't have waited until the last semester to take the course you knew was harder than anything in that fluff major of yours.)
"Can I meet with you to go over what I need to know to pass the final?"
(First, I reviewed for the final the last day of class. You weren't there. Second, I held a special review session. You weren't there. I have office hours. You've never been there. Now, you want extra special spoon-feeding through an entire course. I'm not there.)
"This is the ONLY class that's threatening my perfect GPA."
(Yes, I can see why many professors would be impressed with your intelligence, your go-to attitude, and your leadership qualities; unfortunately, none of those have worked in my class.)
"Do you have any extra-credit assignments I can do, like a paper or something?"
(I gave every student, including you, a syllabus on the first day, and I read the high points aloud in class. Recall that I emphatically noted both in that syllabus and orally that I do not give extra credit assignments. If I have a learning objective for you, it's the same learning objective I have for every student, and every student should have an equal chance of meeting it in the regular course of the class.)
"I study and study for your exams, but I still don't get good grades on your tests."
(In three decades of teaching, I have met only a handful of students who actually studied diligently but still couldn't do well on the exams. You are not one of those students. Either you aren't studying, which is most likely the case, or what you think qualifies as studying isn't even in the same universe with the real deal. This is college: we leave children behind.)
"I think you're a great teacher, and I just wish I could do better."
(Don't blow smoke up my butt and tell me it's a fancy barbecue you're hosting in my honor.)
"I need to know how many points I have to get on the final to pass this class."
(More points than are on the final.)
"What are you going to ask on the final?"
"Does anyone, like, actually PASS your class?"
(Quite a few; you're just special. Perhaps you should change you name to Ed.)
Okay, that's enough. No, I don't actually say those things I wrote parenthetically. Yes, all of those quotes, though, are things I hear all the time.
Now, I'll bet some of you are wondering if I held back.
No, I mean it: a few of you men (a few, and it's the men who would be thinking this) are wondering if I have ever been offered sex for a grade.
Just once. She had aced every exam I threw at her. She came in to my office late the evening after her final. It was storming outside, and I thought I had the night all to myself to get grades finished up. She walked into my office. She was wearing a raincoat and patent leather, calf-high boots. As it turned out, that was all.
Before things got out of hand, I told her that she had gotten a near-perfect score on the final, and I had already posted an "A" for her in the course.
Thank God, the door at the end of the hallway opened. It was one of the night security guards. He came into my office and started chatting. The girl left.
Here's the truth of the matter: students trading sex for grades are extraordinarily rare. It happens, but it's wildly unusual, especially anymore. Back until maybe 10 or 15 years ago, the college environment was different; but these days, most professors avoid interacting with students as much as possible, and students are carrying into their early adult years a general aversion to older men, even when the men are teachers.
For my part, I don't hold office hours in an isolated office. I do my student contact in the coffee shop on the lower level, or I hit another open, public place.
I take the caution thing further than most male professors, but that's because they're a little on the dense side. Most seem to think they're above reproach, which they're not.
Are there professors who would like to get it on with a student or two every now and then? Sure. They've always been around. Some get by with their weirdness for years and years; others are quietly removed. The last one with whom I had the misfortune of sharing faculty status was a woman at an elite, private college. Her target was freshmen coeds taking her Women's Studies class. Every Fall Semester, she would select a couple of the slender, pretty girls and call them after they'd turned in their first assignment. She would berate them; then, once they were in tears, she would invite them to meet with her so she could mentor them to better performance in her class. Her routine was so well-worn that it was a running, sick joke among the sorority girls on campus. She was tenured, and no administrator in his or her right mind was going to deal with the problem. To my knowledge, she's still at that school, and she's still doing her schtick.
Before that fairly nauseating piece of work, I had run into other prof-predators, almost always male, during my career. They were quite rare, at least the ones who were aggressive enough to get a reputation.
Interestingly, many of them were activists with public reputations for outspoken views and works. Leaders, if you will.
But, again, they've been rare in my experience.
Girls wanting to have sex with professors are rare, too. Believe it or not, and notwithstanding the Girls Gone Wild for Old Dudes myth, the reality is that the females who would get an active, expressed crush on a prof are almost always among the smartest, if maybe the most unusual, students on campus.
That's what I've seen in my personal experience, anyway. They're not looking for a grade or anything like that; they're just strange.
The last one who ever bothered me this was maybe four years ago was my best student that semester. She sent me e-mail messages telling me when she was going to get into her shower at her apartment. I didn't respond to any of her messages; but one night, out of the blue, she sent me a message demanding to know who I had told about "us."
I thought about killing myself right there, but my computer is a laptop, and beating myself to death with a lightweight machine that's mostly made of plastic wasn't appealing.
Before that, all the young coeds who conveyed to me an interest in a relationship every last one of them were extraordinarily smart and extraordinarily not ordinary.
There was this first-quarter freshman. She looked like a little girl, complete with the most cherubic face I had every seen on an 18-year-old. That young lady was Hell-bent on losing her virginity to the male authority figure who was not "boring" and "distant" like her dad.
There was the bisexual girl with genius-level IQ and an obsession for older men. As she, herself, got a few years of college under her belt, she went from 30-something profs to 60-something near-retirees.
You're not getting any more. You've read enough, and I've told you more than you needed to know.
Okay, one more story.
It's not just girls.
Back in the day, I'd meet with students at a local, somewhat up-scale bar after I'd submitted grades. I don't drink, but my students do, and I liked to have some kind of closure to a semester where everyone could loosen up a little.
At the end of the autumn semester (actually, they were on the quarter system at that big university), after a few nice hugs from students as they left the bar, one of my male students a muscular, gorgeous Black man came up to me to say he had to leave before the snow coming down got any worse.
I reached out to give him the manly-man hand shake. He took my hand firmly and pulled me right up to his face. As he shook my hand, in a low, rumbling voice he said into my ear, "Call me if you ever want a Black snowstorm to come right to your door."
Uncharacteristically, I was absolutely at a loss for verbosity. As I recall, I said, "K."
For hours after that, I ran the gamut of feelings. "Objectified" comes to mind as I think back. "Flattered" does, too. "Oh! Oh! JEEEZUS, I wasn't expecting anything like that tonight!" stands out in retrospect.
Life has been quiet for the past couple of years. Nothing unusual since the cute, skinny lady with the shower fetish and the voices in her head.
Okay, there was that leggy, beautiful blond coed with the South Beach tan from last semester who wanted to be my Facebook friend, but that was just random nonsense. She says the talk about her on Juicy Campus (now defunct for obvious reasons) all came from some bitch who doesn't like her.
I rarely accept friends on Facebook. It's just a thing of mine: I don't need friends. I have two cats.
That's enough writing. I have to grade final exams.
I'll bet you weren't expecting this article to take the turn it did. You promised to keep this a secret, and I'm holding you to that promise. I'm feeling fragile right now, so I'm sharing some pretty dark stuff with you.
I trust you. You're my friends.
Wait a minute. I don't have friends.
Forget what you read, above.
This is an open thread. Write what you want. Surely you have more interesting stuff than I do.
Rock on, fellow travelers. The Dark Wraith has pulled the night train out of the station.