Saturday, August 2, 2014

sometimes you earn the minus

art courtesy of openclipart.org
My grandmother became ill during my first year in grad school. She was (and fortunately, still is) a funny, generous and wickedly smart woman who had been partly responsible for not only showing me what was "out in the world" but for convincing me that I could be in any part of it I chose. I was devastated when I received the call saying she was undergoing emergency surgery. I had never missed class, but couldn't imagine sitting through a discussion about financing American higher education while my family's matriach was holding on by a thread. So, I left my faculty member a voicemail and headed to the hospital. It was the first time I earned an A- in grad school.

A few years ago I was sitting with one of my students, let's call her "Lisa." She was in tears. It was the end of her sophomore year in college and she was looking at her first "A-" on an otherwise pristine transcript. Lisa was the perfect student on paper: stellar college exam scores, flawless homework, spotless attendance record, but she was the lab partner from hell. I knew this because I had been talking with her classmates all semsester. The problem was, Lisa's strive for perfection made it impossible for her to give up control. She not only micromanaged her team-mates but became rude and condescending during times of stress. And finally one of her instructor's grading policies reflected this aspect of her work. Students in the class underwent a peer evaluation; an evaluation which Lisa failed. As a result her overal grade dropped from an A to an A-. Lisa was furious and I imagine, even years later, would still say the grade was unfair. But I might disagree because I'm hard on students who say, "I got a 'C' in the class." Or worse, "Dr. so and so gave me a 'C'." In my mind class grades, with few exceptions, are earned not received.