Throwback Thursday: Translating “The Dance” between professors and students over final grades

I was purposefully silent this week, as the Derek Chauvin murder trial reached its conclusion. I thought it better to let people far smarter than me, with much more life experience in the social and legal areas of this situation, speak and write about it. However, to write about anything else during that news cycle felt disingenuous at best.

Today, we get back into something I actually have a lot of experience with: The end of the semester arguments students present, as they start to realize time is short and their grades are subpar.

This year, I was exceptionally flexible, almost to the point of worrying that some students had taken advantage of me a bit here and there. Still, I didn’t really care, because we were all dealing with way more things that were way more difficult than usual (a long way of saying “unprecedented,” I guess…) so I was always open to the requests for help.

An extension for an assignment? Sure.

A need to miss a class or two? I understand.

A concern about work piling up? Let’s figure it out together.

However, even with the best of intentions and more help available than at  your average Apple Genius Bar, I still had the kind of students showing up who sap my will to live. They wait until the end of the semester in which they’ve been more radio silent than a Russian sub parked in the waters off of Nantucket, pour out some tale of woe that isn’t really that woeful and then say, “So, what are we going to do to get me my A?”

A couple years back, we looked at a collection of comments and questions students asked during their “grade negotiations.” That’s today’s post, but here are a few that came in more recently and my mental responses to them. Enjoy.


“How can I make up all my missing work at this point?”

Can you invent a time machine? If not, the options are limited.

“What do you mean I’m not passing? Do you know who my father is?”

Did HE invent a time machine? If not, I’m not seeing how this is relevant…

“Do you have any idea how much money we donate to this school each year?”

No, but I’m guessing the receipt didn’t come with a coupon for one unearned free “A” in the class of your kid’s choice.

“Our family knows the chancellor!”

That must be so cool!

“Your class is very important to me…”

All evidence points to the contrary, in that you missed so much time in this course, I honestly thought about having a missing poster put up for you at Walmart.

“You may think my work isn’t good, but I disagree. Clearly, we can each have our opinion on this!”

Sure, but not all opinions are equal, much in the same way that I can have an opinion that I should be dating Emma Watson, while she thinks otherwise…

“You were in my shoes once as a student majoring in media writing/journalism. Because of that, I don’t understand why you don’t understand my feelings/expressing frustration. And I’m not going to waste my time discussing it.”
The 10 or so paragraphs above belie the argument that you’re not going to waste time… Also, given what I’ve seen of your ability to research, fact check and write, I’m not sure how you know anything about me as a student, including if I even had shoes…
And now, our greatest hits album…

Translating “The Dance” between professors and students over final grades

As the term winds to a close, students and professors engage in what I refer to as “The Dance” over grades. It’s a tactical, nuanced discussion that involves trying to beg without it looking like begging, trying to answer an email without promising anything and basically engaging in nuclear-treaty-level diplomacy. If we were all trapped in a “Liar, Liar” world, it would essentially look like this:

Student: Pass me and stop being a jerk, you asshat.

Professor: Oh, now you care about this class, you little twerp? Go to hell and take a left.

However, since we have to “Eddie Haskell” it on both ends, here are the legendary begging statements I’ve gotten from students over the years or variations on those themes provided by the hivemind. I’ve added a few “internal thoughts” your professors have had over the years when it comes to responding to these pleas. Enjoy:

“Could you just add XX small points to my final grade?”

First, all points are created equal. Second, that figure has ranged from 1 to about 100, depending on the level of desperation. Third, when you kept doing the same stupid thing over and over again because instead of reading my comments, you just looked at the grade and thought, “Screw you, dude” you might not need those “small points.”


“I’m graduating this term…”

Not if you need to pass this class, you’re not.


“Is there anything I can do?”

Can you invent a time machine, go back in history and tell the earlier version of yourself to turn stuff in on time, not skip every third class and generally give a better overall performance than a disinterested Jay Cutler on a trick play? If not, no.


Prayer can help, although I’m not certain how strong God’s will is to help you out here.


Sign up for the next semester I teach this class and give a crap a little sooner in the term.


“Is there extra credit?”

Sure, because when the syllabus said, “There will be NO EXTRA CREDIT in this class, so plan accordingly,” I clearly included a loophole for people who didn’t care about anything until the very moment they realized they were screwed.


“Could I rewrite (half of the assignments) for additional credit?”

Sure, because nothing says, “I’m ready to do a good job,” like not doing a good job on anything all term and then expecting to make all of that up in 72 hours before grades are due with no real interest in learning anything other than how many points you need to slide by.


“Could you bump me up just this little bit?”

Sure, because I’m sure that won’t tick off the six other people in your class who sweated bullets to get a passing grade through hard work on that assignment you blew off to go to Cabo and party on the beach.


“Could you possibly round me up?”

I could. Now ask me if I will. Welcome to the grammar lesson you skipped.


“I had some issues this semester…”

Yeah. No kidding.


“Your class is very important to me…”

Um… I believe a lot of things people tell me to make me feel better about myself. This isn’t one of them.


“I don’t understand why you downgraded me…”

You mean the page and a half of comments I included in the body of your paper didn’t clue you in that this random series of unattributed content, fragmented sentence, shifted verb tenses, incorrect word choices and cripplingly bad structure didn’t help? This wasn’t a news story. It was a disaster movie filmed out of sequence.


“This isn’t fair that I should have to take your course over again.”

It isn’t fair I had to grade this pile of sheep dung you referred to as “completed assignments,” but we all have our crosses to bear, I suppose…


“I need (A/B/C grade) to (pass/maintain my scholarship/keep my ego afloat)…”

This is not Burger King. You don’t get it your way.

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