As I was idly perusing on Facebook this Valentine’s Day eve, I found myself looking at this article https://chroniclevitae.com/news/908-dear-student-no-i-won-t-change-the-grade-you-deserve. (Images also from Chronicle Vitale)
Dear Professor X from Chronicle Vitale (see article linked above),
I don’t know if I have ever seen (in one article) something that so purely, unintentionally and correctly encapsulated the problems that I see in higher education at the collegiate level and the problems that students with disabilities face consistently and insipidly. I have worked with collegians with disabilities for over ten years, and although I have always (perhaps optimistically) assumed that professors are just THAT out of touch to the concerns of a changing population of students. I had assumed that the “ivory tower” insulation only covered so much and that at the core, academics craved to help a wide swath of students achieve a solid higher education.
Apparently my optimism was misplaced, at least in looking at this article. As I have grappled and struggled with administrations all over the world to more appropriately and adequately accommodate students with exceptionalities at the university level, I assume professors are on the side of the student. That they want the student to experience profound learning and equity and access to the materials being taught. Again, perhaps this article has plucked a few professors with what seems like deep resentment over “grade grubbing” (the practice of students pandering for better grades). I acknowledge that “grade grubbing” happens and it certainly isn’t the most effective way to get better grades, but professors must understand that asking for a better grade could be the beginning of a dialogue, a discussion on how to be a better student, thinker and citizen. What grade grubbing signifies, at least to this overly educated lawyer/teacher, is caring about the result perhaps a bit more than the process. The professor’s oner is to get the student to begin caring about the process of earning better grades.
The professors with their glib retorts to students illustrate what I think is a systemic divide between the students and the administration. How dare to ask the teacher to explain themselves, these “grade grubbers” “have the audacity to send me a sad, tired little email asking me to reward you for breathing in and out and taking up space in my classroom?”. No that is not hyperbole, that is a direct quote from a professor at Ball State University, and it is one of the kinder letters to a student questioning her grade. The horror. The audacity. The sadness. Not quite. Students who question are curious, they are the ones who push boundaries in life, they are the ones who don’t accept first offers and they are the ones who constantly strive for betterment. Oftentimes, in my experience, students who question are the ones who “struggle” with a learning disability and can’t quite figure out why their hard work does not translate to good grades. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful opportunity to help be an advocate for this student’s interest?
My humble request to academia is as follows, don’t be glib because you are frustrated by their lack of understanding of your grading policy. So what that they did not fully read your 32 page syllabus? Perhaps they are very lazy, too busy taking up their time “breathing” and “taking up space, but perhaps a more optimistic and kinder way of looking at these plucky students it that these are the ones who simply learn how to achieve differently. Maybe it is because of a learning difference or maybe it is because they are lazy, overwhelmed, anxious or sad. It is not your job to make assumptions about the intentions, instead, endeavor to use their questioning to help them excel. If their effort doesn’t align with their output, ask carefully crafted and kind questions that assures that you care about your methodology, pedagogy, their learning experience and your classroom.
If that does not motivate you, dear annoyed academe, perhaps endeavor to remember that your students can be your best clients, best audience and biggest fans.
A Former Student and Current Higher Education Advocate