Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A mean student who cries in my office--and the many others who amaze and inspire me

I have some amazing students this semester.  One student is from Afghanistan; he brings such wonderful insights into the class, particularly through his written work.  Another student is a "Lost Girl" from Sudan.  She came to the U.S. only about 5 years ago, from an orphanage in Kenya.  She recently found out her mother is still alive and hopes to return home to see her this summer.  She is struggling with the work but will pass the class. I am excited to see she has signed up for a class with me next year as well. 

To say these students have experienced hardship doesn't quite capture it.  Both fled major wars as children. 

In this same class, I also have a student who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, a student who has a very scary eating disorder (she's been hospitalized; I worry about her), a student undergoing radiation for cancer, and a student with clinical depression (and a note from her psychologist).  And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

And then I have the student from a privileged family  in X country--a country with a GDP per capita that puts it in the middle-range on the UN scale, similar to Hungary and Poland.  She is a B/B- student who looks in the mirror and sees an A student.  It is my fault, apparently, that she is getting Bs.  Don't I know that English isn't her first language (no, I didn't--she speaks English flawlessly and without an accent--this part of her really is impressive)? 

She went to high school in the U.S. and before that attended a private foreign-language school in her home country.  She has writing problems, but not any worse than my other B students.  And my thought on this issue is that she has a wealth of resources on campus to help her with her writing if she feels she does not have the same level of preparation for English-language writing as other students. 

But do NOT ask me for a grade change on that basis.  Especially since I already told her that the main problems with her paper involved lack of a thesis and minimal critical engagement with the text.  Really, she deserved a B- on that paper, not a B.

She has come in to my office to question every grade she has ever received, including the quizzes that test on students' command of the facts.  She just came in to question her paper grade for the second time.  She is an angry student, but she tears up each time I tell her (fairly gently) that she got the grade she deserved, detailing what is missing from her paper or essay exam, etc.  She has full-on cried twice--but still with hostility.  So it isn't a situation in which I can feel much sympathy for her. 

Thankfully, such students have been few and far between.  And she will soon be gone.

Was it mean of me to ask her, after much back and forth about her grade, if she is getting As in all her other classes?  She thought that was a really mean question. 


  1. I often cry when I'm angry or frustrated - maybe that comes off as hostility? I dunno...sounds like you're doing everything right there.

    I don't think it's mean to ask about her other grades...but maybe irrelevant. The fact is she's doing B/B- work in your class, and that's that.

  2. 20 years from now, she will have a career, B's are better than C's and she will still succeed.