Every Time A Student Complains About Their Grade

Every time a student complains about their grade via email, my tiny bat like brain does the following things:

First reaction:

When Students Complain About Their Grades {New Faculty}

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Second reaction:

When Students Complain About Their Grades {New Faculty}

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While I’d really like to send back the honey badger or the bear, I am finding myself annoyed on the last day of the semester. My (grad) students were given rubrics, outlines, and have been able to track their grades religiously all semester. I’ve been a studious reader/grader each week on purpose. DO NOT think I’m going to change your grade because you failed to show up for the final paper (also worth the most points).

I was pleased with my class all semester. Many were able to synthesize and analyze their professional lives. As graduate students, the work becomes more reflective and I push them to drill deep and think about how to enhance their professional careers. I have to say, I am disappointed in the group of final papers I received. Many students “softballed” the assignment, doing the bare minimum and then expecting maximum credit. Half of me thinks, “what could I have done better?” and the other half thinks, “hell no.” Yes, I can always improve as a professor, I’m aware of this. However, I also know that your sense of entitlement and the way you communicate are NOT HELPING your cause. Using phrases like “my friends and I think” and “you didn’t do enough” are NOT ways to get me to respond positively to you. If you wanted more than once a week feedback, you probably need a therapist, not a graduate level professor.

Grade grubbing isn’t a new thing and it’s not my first rodeo but I’m a little disgruntled at the number of emails I’ve received from graduate students who think they’re entitled to a better grade. I can always do better as a professor, but I implore my GRADUATE students to STOP GRADE GRUBBING. Stop complaining because you LOST POINTS and change the conversation into “HOW CAN I DO BETTER NEXT TIME?” You will have a thesis, dissertation, or final project of some sort and instead of putting the blame back on ME, change the conversation to IMPROVE for next time.

 

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Coffee Time!

Are your grades submitted yet??????

 

MINE ARE!!!!!

 

Finishing the work I abandon during grading.

 

Saying the phrase, “I’ll do that over break” too many times. Setting myself up for the crash of 2015 already…..
Coffee Time {New Faculty}

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Stressed Out & Grading

Stressed Out & Grading {New Faculty}

‘Tis the season to be grading, fa la la la la, la la la laaaaa. While consuming copious amounts of coffee and tea, I’ve also been grading through the caffeine jitters. (stop drinking caffeine and get it together).

Alas, the end of the semester is here. And by here, I mean in my calendar and in my course management system the final papers I assigned are staring back at me. Like that creeper in the grocery store that keeps ogling at you in the produce department.

There will be a flurry of ‘end-of-semester’ things to look after this year and my semester is going much the same way. On top of research, now there’s final grading, final grade submissions, final meetings with undergrads and graduate students, and faculty “things.” I’ve been in a new faculty professional development group now all fall and have been really pleased with it. It’s more time, but it’s time well spent. It’s already helping me plan my undergraduate research course for the spring and I’m so thankful for the time, space, and permission to plan. I’ll be attending a ‘syllabi bootcamp’ in January to get it tightened up and again, offer me the time, space, and permission to do nothing but think about teaching about research.

As we speed skate to our coveted winter break, it’s important to think about how our winter ‘break’ will ultimately shape up. Final grades will be dropped, December commencement will happen, and then there will be a deserved lull. Some of our universities now offer “winter-mester,” a full blown marathon over 2-3 weeks for students to pay for credit and someone (like you) to teach these fast paced courses. Those don’t offer a lot of flexibility in terms of down time, but for those of us who are not offering ‘winter-mester’ courses, what can we do to maximize our time to get ready for January?

  • Take time off. Nothing is as precious as giving ourselves permission to relax. Step away from your computer, turn off the dings and dongs your phone makes for a few weeks. You’ll stop panicking after about 24 hours and it will be heavenly.
  • Block off your personal/family schedule first. Making time for what’s truly important will be key. Whether married, partnered, with or without children, or whatever your situation may be, plan some time to yourself. Rotting on your couch binge watching Netflix is a perfectly good reason during that delightful week between Christmas and New Year’s and if anyone is wondering, that’s on my calendar.
  • Make a point to do something enjoyable and just for you. Massage? Long session at a coffee shop with a friend? Alone time with no other “humans” present? Whatever your cup of tea is, make sure you plan that time for yourself. It can be a luxurious privilege to do something we want, for an hour, for 12, for several days.
  • Ease back in. If you assign yourself an insurmountable task your first day back, you’ll likely fall off your own productivity wagon. Take care of ‘little things’ first. Mundane and mindless type things–deleting all emails before answering the ones you need to attend to, cleaning up your office space to make room for spring, or simply getting back on a regular schedule. Those with kids will find that is much easier when they go back to school.
  • Respect your circadian clock. If you’re on a roll, keep rolling. If you need a few minutes to take a walk to clear your head, head outside for a brisk stroll. It’s a few weeks where your calendar is hopefully not ruling your life so you can enjoy it. If you’re smart, you do this during the semester as well, but it doesn’t always work out so neatly.

Enjoy yourself. Whatever you do, however you do it, and wherever you place yourself, enjoy it. I wish you a festive and complete grading season.

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Thankful 2014

Thankful 2014 {New Faculty}

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As I draft this post, I’m sitting in my quiet office on a dreary Sunday afternoon. I’ve recently moved and have an office to myself that has furniture in it that is only for me and not a shared space. Don’t get me wrong, I really haven’t had too many issues the past six months, renovations took longer than expected (duh) and I’m finally in a quiet space realizing how loud my voice is, how loudly I laugh, and just how thankful I am to be sitting in silence. My colleague is next door to me likely doing the same. You could call us the “singles club” since neither of us are married and doing the Sunday dance in our offices. And no, don’t get ahead of yourself, we’re not getting together because we’re the “last two single people” in the department faculty list. Get that thought out of your head before it pitches a tent and asks for a snack. :P

I had avoided the office on Sunday’s until recently and I’m patting myself on the back for avoiding it for so long. I have made a concentrated effort to NOT just dawdle on the Internet at home, answering emails, looking at my online course, doing work, etc…. to try and keep home separate. Besides, the introduction of an apple tv into my life at my birthday has made home time much more pleasant (AKA: full of tv again). But, like everything, avoiding Sunday’s was only going to last for so long. The grading, research, and trying to cut the proverbial “to do” list was just too much after a point and here I am. I give myself a couple hours on Sunday and at least try and get myself in a better direction for Monday morning.

As the semester begins to wind down and the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us, I’m continually thankful to be in a field that I love, in a beautiful place in the world, with unwavering support from a dozen or more places and people, and this year: an office to myself again.

I think about those less fortunate every day now and it’s sometimes a struggle to think about their lives on less than $1 a day and here I am, swigging a $3 coffee from starbucks. The past six months have been busy with a changing research focus and realigning my expectations for research and publishing. I’ve also taken on the task of teaching, advising students, and adding more service. All-in-all, it’s been a total 180 for me. I’m hard on myself more than anyone else would dream of being and one of the administrative assistants said to me this week, “tiffany, you’re so hard on yourself, it will be fine.”

While this post could be full of useful bits of information, I’ll leave it at this:

be thankful for what you have right now. 

It won’t ever be perfect. It won’t ever look like you thought it should. Being a young faculty is a huge struggle and unfortunately, not a very glamorous one. I’ll have a ‘year end’ type post and set myself some goals for 2015, but for today, amidst my Sunday schedule of writing and getting ahead for tomorrow, I just wanted to let each of you know that I’m thankful for my work, thankful to have the privilege to communicate it, and awfully thankful to have food in my kitchen, fuel in my car, and a roof over my head.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I’m not taking career advice from old white dudes anymore.

Originally posted on Tenure, She Wrote:

Recently, a senior emeritus professor called me out because he hadn’t seen me at a talk in a different department (let’s say it’s Astronomy). “I’ve never seen you at a single Astronomy talk,” he admonished. “You really need to go to those.” I patiently explained that I typically have a teaching conflict, which he brushed off, and repeated his imperative that I really needed “to go to those talks.” He was angry at my laziness in failing to attend these critical seminars in a tangentially related field, and didn’t respect my explanations that 1) I couldn’t, and 2) even if I could, I have to make hard choices and don’t always have the luxury of doing everything I’d like to.

Now, I’m an interdisciplinary scientist– in fact, my position is split between a departmental home and an interdisciplinary institute, which means I go to twice as many faculty meetings and probably four times as many…

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Mental Health in Academia

Originally posted on Tenure, She Wrote:

The academic life is a never-ending stream of new challenges that can trigger or exacerbate anxiety and depression. We’ve talked about some of those stresses here at TSW, from dealing with toxic mentors, to the job hunt (which could trigger Job Market PTSD), to the timing of starting a family, to feeling like you are falling behind even once you have your dream job. Mental health issues seem to be rising in academia and can seriously affect academics’ productivity and success – an insidious negative feedback loop.

The only way to break a ‘hidden epidemic’ out into the open is to talk about our experiences and acknowledge the pervasiveness of the problem. We are starting to talk more openly about mental illness in academia – even if there is a culture of acceptance around those issues. I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or any other kind…

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The Grading Grind

The Grading Grind {New Faculty}

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How do you grade?

I had the best intentions in August when syllabi planning. I had my weeks laid out nicely, my readings selected (with the exception of three I added in the latter half of the semester), and gosh darn it, I had my due date calendar up to speed. Delivering an online course means I had to be super organized about things since I’d never actually “see” my students in person, but 100% online.

Inevitably, I made a few mistakes and **gasp** over assigned some work, taking away a few assignments and giving the points to everyone. No one seemed to mind.

As I head to the latter portion of my semester, I’ve accounted for all the things I’d hoped to engage with my students about and I worked hard to design a MANAGEABLE course for ME. Yes, ME. I’ve learned a few things and quickly tried to compensate. I’ve also changed how I do things in many cases to help streamline the process for my students and for me each week.

  • I front loaded assignments to ensure that all of us (students and instructor alike) would have time to complete the final paper for the course. It has long been a point of discussion to professors everywhere of how to load a course.
  • I took an “every other” route with this course. There was work due every week, but every other week was a bit lighter in the amount of writing expected and the assignment expectations. One week, a personal reflection would be due of about 500 words and a ‘group chat’ among teams in the course. There would also be a reading and/or another reading or a guest lecture in the form of video or audio. On the opposite week, there would often be an article critique due (1000 words) and sometimes nothing or sometimes a reflection on a documentary pertaining to their chosen industry. With such a broad course topic, my course attracts a wide variety for an audience and it’s important to me as the instructor to try and understand what is important to each student.
  • I stopped making comments in document (unless there were a LOT) and instead, started emailing students directly with my comments. If there were gross APA, syntax, and grammar errors, I simply said, “this document had more than three errors in the first few paragraphs, please check.”
  • I set aside one day a week (barring any schedule issues) to grade. In a set amount of time, blocked off my calendar, and didn’t come to campus until it was done.
  • I tried not to “over grade” or make so many comments/make the email so long, that the student wouldn’t care. Usually a short paragraph, less than three sentences to drive home a point or pose questions. Nothing too verbose. My students all work full time to, they don’t have time to read short novels.
  • Set clear expectations up front. I told my students what I expected early on. I let them know they’d struggle week one and two and then we’d get into a rhythm. Only a few panicked.
  • I sent out rubrics to help manage expectations.
  • I accepted drafts on the final paper during ONE WEEK of a set length for review. I reviewed each one I sent.
  • I sent a mid-semester survey to give students a voice if they had feedback for me. Only four answered.

What can I work on?

  • My online organization of the course materials. Some things didn’t get organized as well for every student. Their folders for assignments also got jumbled halfway through the semester and I had to make a folder in each folder. Arrggghhh!
  • Grading hiccups. Technology wasn’t always my friend in terms of the CMS our university uses.
  • I worked hard and sometimes struggled engaging all learners. I also am learning to accept that not all of my students care about authentic learning, some just want the bare minimum for the degree.
  • Time. I still think I can be more efficient with my time. I’m still figuring out how to do that.

What advice would you offer a new faculty member who’s teaching, researching, serving, and not sleeping? :)

 

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