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Why Do I Have an F?

I got one of those e-mails I dread, the ones that come a few times a semester. “I thought I was doing great,” a student wrote, “but I see that I have an F. Can you explain?”

Sure I can explain, but students don’t seem to listen. Grades in my course, according to the nonnegotiable syllabus from the college, are made up of tests and essays. That’s it. All of the other things a student may be doing right will help them to get good grades on their tests and essays, but not always. A diligent student who reads the texts but refuses to turn in a full essay is out of luck.

I post grades quickly on our class Blackboard page. I always hated teachers who held on to assignments for weeks or months, so I try to get everything graded within a week. In the first part of the course, that means that anxious students see a lot of fluctuation in their grade — one low quiz grade when I’ve only given a few graded assignments can do a lot of damage.

After midterm grades I hear from another batch of students. Those who feel like giving up. “Is there any way I can get my grade higher?” comes the plaintive e-mailed complaint. Yes, I reply. Come to class every week and do every assignment.

That is not the answer many of them want to hear. They want extra credit, chances to make up tests, magic points that appear out of nowhere just because they asked.

I generally let students correct and improve their essays. I teach mainly low-level developmental English courses and the point is to get students’ skills to a place where they are able to complete regular college coursework. Students who don’t take advantage of the opportunity I offer to improve their essays, and thus their grade, have a hard time gaining my sympathy. I just gave a grade to a paper after the fourth set of revisions. I am sick to death of reading it. But the student was willing to keep trying so I figured I could only do the same.

I don’t want students to fail in my class, but there is a level of competence that must be reached. Part of learning to be a college student is learning to accept the consequences of your actions, especially those that hurt your grade.

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