I Will Not Fudge

images-11.jpegHere’s the scene: I met with my Tuesday class. We talked a little bit about the final, I handed back a huge pile of papers, I asked the students to write me the end-of-the-semester letters, then I called each of them up individually to show them their grades from my roster. One student – we’ll call her Lisa – received an 83.5 or, in the language of TCC, a pretty solid B-. This is not a bad grade, though I suspect that Lisa could have done much better; she seemed to have been slipping these last few weeks, and her last speech was less than what I expected from her. I even told her as much in the evaluation I wrote for her.

I let the class go early and hung out in the room for a bit, chatting with a couple of young men about their plans for the summer. Lisa was still in her usual seat in the very back corner of the room, writing with a fair bit of focus. Before I left, I asked her if she was alright, and the answer she gave me was less than convincing. I told her I didn’t believe her, and she assured me that she was “fine” and that she didn’t need anything from me.

I really didn’t believe her, but I couldn’t shake the boys and I suspected that she wouldn’t talk to me at all with them around. I left her alone in the room and ditched the young men at the teachers’ lounge. I hid out there for a little bit, just to be sure that I could make it back upstairs without notice, and poked my head back into the room. By this time, though, Lisa was crying. I asked her if she was upset by her grade and she told me that was “part of it,” but there were “a bunch of other things going on” and there was really nothing I could do. I told her to come and find me if she needed to talk, and left her alone like she asked me to do.

Back in the teachers’ lounge, I met up with a colleague – we’ll call her Beth – having trouble with the photocopier. As I cleared a few paper jams, she asked me how I was and I told her that I was fine, but that I was concerned about the student that I’d left crying upstairs. She asked me the student’s name and it turns out that she knows Lisa, so she decided to go upstairs to see if she could get to what was bothering her.

Beth came back about five minutes later and explained to me that Lisa was upset because her father is in the hospital in Lisa’s midwestern hometown, that no one is certain what’s wrong with him, and he may die. Lisa is terrified, and this is only compounding her feelings of not fitting in here in New England. Add to that the fact that I “gave” her a B- for the course – she needs to maintain at least a B average to keep her scholarships – and Lisa’s a basket case.

Here’s where I get to the point of my story; Beth came right out and asked me if there was anything I could do to help Lisa solve this problem. While she didn’t TELL me to fix the grade, the implication, since Beth is senior to me and gives off an attitude of being the de facto matriarch of the college, was that I should do this. I told her that I would have a conversation with Lisa and see what might be done, but by that point I was profoundly uncomfortable.

I went back upstairs (I was getting a pretty good workout this point) and back to the room. Lisa was good and red and wet by then, and I went to her and put my hands on her shoulders. I assured her that, had she come to me before she gave her rotten speech and told me about the situation with her dad, I’d have been willing to work out some arrangement with her. I wasn’t gentle in admonishing her that I’d given the class no reason to think that I was either unapproachable or unreasonable, and having one’s father deathly ill hundreds of miles away certainly qualified as one of the “extenuating circumstances” that I mentioned on the syllabus are the prerequisite for policy exceptions.

I told her that, while I’m not willing to “fudge” her grade – she’s not close enough to a B to adjust up a few tenths of a point – I was willing to look at ways that we can ethically get her to where she needs to be. I went back to my grade book and noticed that she didn’t have grades listed for a couple of assignments; I told her that she could either find those assignments and let me know what the grades on them were (it’s entirely possible that I failed to record those grades) or, if she didn’t do them, she could get them done before grades close and I’d give her the credit. I also didn’t receive the last page of her final, so she got a zero for one of the five questions; those 20 points will help to bring the grade up – I told her to get that to me as soon as she can.

I’m struggling with this. Her grade is an honest and fair assessment of the work she did. That the work was influenced by factors in her outside life is really beside the point; my job is to grade what the students give me, and Lisa gave me B- work. If she had come to me when all of this started going south, I would have been more than willing to work with her every step of the way. She didn’t – and I wouldn’t have found out about any of this had Beth not intervened – and that tells me that Lisa agrees that the grade she received was fair.

Which brings me to Beth. I’m profoundly bothered by the fact that she essentially told me – without using the verb – to fix Lisa’s grade. “She’s a good kid and needs the scholarship” may be true, but there’s nothing ethical about changing a grade like that, and the fact that she even brought it up gives me serious cause for concern. Beth isn’t my boss – Joe is, and I’m certain that he would never ask such a thing of me – but there’s still a hefty amount of unspoken pressure brought to bear, given Beth’s tenure at TCC.

I am comfortable with the arrangement I made with Lisa. If she does the work – and does it before I leave for vacation – I will adjust her grade to reflect that work and hope like mad that it brings her to the B she so desperately needs. I don’t have any ethical qualms about this because, under different circumstances, I truly believe that Lisa could easily have been one of my A students; I recognize that outside forces are wreaking havok on her life right now and I’m willing to make certain allowances for that. I’m not going to just “fix” the grade out of a sense of mercy, though, and the implication that it is something I should do is insulting to me.

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8 Comments

Filed under colleagues, concerns, General Griping, Learning, Questions, Teaching, Yikes!

8 responses to “I Will Not Fudge

  1. Quite an ethical quandary, but I think you came to a permissible compromise.

    Beth certainly should not suggest that you should fudge any marks, but at the same time, Lisa does genuinely deserve ‘special consideration’. Do you have ‘special consideration’ in the Podes? We have this rather institutionalised system whereby if a student cannot adequately complete an assignment or take an exam for good reasons (that is, not something like ‘I went out the night before and had a hangover the day of the exam’), then they apply for ‘special consideration’ and the faculty usually allows the course co-ordinator to give an extension.

    Anyway, my point is, Lisa’s case is a clear-cut ‘good’ reason for special consideration, and your giving her the option to make up the marks by doing one assessment that she missed, is entirely appropriate I reckon. Besides, on a technical front, you could always say that you had accidentally misplaced one of her assessments, as you imply.

  2. sphyrnatude

    I have to disagree with this one. Yes, Beth was definitely out of line – both ethically and proffesionally. As for Lisa, her is unfortunate, and I do sympathise with her position. However, as you stated, if she had come to you BEFORE the grades were finalized, you could have addressed these issues then. By waiting until after, Lisa has created her own problem.
    Think about it: how many other students do you have that would benefit from an after-the-fact opportunity to make up unfinished (or at least unrecorded) work, or a chance to do abit more on the final exam? By extending this provoledge to Lisa you are unfairly penalizing the students that don’t have the same chance.
    Another unfortunate reality is that in the real world, Lisa will have to deal with life crisis. If she is having problems at her job, and she wawits until her exit interview to explain the reasons, she’s not going to keep her job. If she is proactive, and makes sure her boss understands her situation, her boss (if a good one) will make whatever allowances possible to allow for her situation.

    Unfortunately, one of the unspoken lessons that college is supposed to teach is that the individual has to deal with the results of their actions (or inaction).

  3. nhfalcon

    I’m curious to know how TCC grades,Mrs. C. What I mean by that is what numerical range constitutes an “A,” a “B,” etc..?

    For example, at the high school I interned at, a B- was an 80 – 83, a B was an 84 to an 86, and a B+ was an 87 to an 89. Under this structure, Lisa’s 83.5 is close enough for me to giver her a break, given the circumstances.

    If, however, TCC’s grading structure is more like a B- starts with an 83, then I think you’re solution, Mrs. C., is a good one.

  4. I have to agree that Beth’s approach would also make me uncomfortable, but I am going to with the benefit of the doubt and assume she was just trying to convey the girl’s situation to you.

    It is sometimes very difficult for a young student to come to an adult teacher with these problems. I think you are taking the best approach by allowing her to make up those couple of assignments. If she does it, her grade will reflect what she learned. If she doesn’t, then she is making the choice to keep the original grade.
    Last semester, one of my students came in for the final exam. I took one look at her and knew that something was seriously wrong. I asked her to step into the hall. She told me that her brother-in-law had just punched her father, knocked him out, and then fled the police. She was afraid for her sister, afraid for her dad, and this girl was in no condition to take a final exam. I told her to come to my other class later in the week and she could take it then. While I realize that students do need to learn to deal with the hardships of life in a realistic manner, I am also going to live by the golden rule in these cases.

  5. Really Sphyrnatude, that’s the only problem I have with this whole thing. She SHOULD have come to me – and she had AMPLE opportunity to do so; I make myself almost obsessively available to my students – and the fact that she didn’t makes me think that the lesson she needs to learn from this is to be proactive about her shit. I think she thinks she’s being stoic and responsible (and, in a way, she WAS being so – it was Beth who pushed the issue), and the “mom” in me wants to teach her that it’s important for her to talk to people to express her needs. That’s not going to happen now, though – that’s a lesson she doesn’t get to learn this time around.

  6. Denever

    I don’t think there’s anything particularly stoic about looking so miserable that one teacher repeatedly asks if you’re okay, and then breaking down in tears and getting two teachers involved in your problems.

    In fact, she *is* expressing her needs, but she’s doing it in an especially childish, passive way that won’t (or at least shouldn’t) serve her well in the working world.

    And, if I’m understanding the grading situation correctly, she may already have the necessary B average to keep her scholarships if she’s earned some A’s in her other classes, right? If, on the other hand, she’s getting C’s in other classes, then a B- in your class isn’t going to be the sole reason she loses the scholarships.

    It sounds as though Beth was suggesting that the grade in your class was the make-or-break one, and I don’t see how that could be. If it’s not, then the main lesson being imparted to her seems to be that she needs to dissolve into tears in front of a few more teachers.

  7. Newb

    I’ll be the advocate for the student. First, no matter how available you make yourself, it is still difficult for some students to open up to a teacher. A teenager seeking help from an adult is extremely rare. Secondly, she accepted responsibility for her grade and did not ask for it to be changed. It was only after being prodded did she try to find an escape. Lastly, this is a LEARNING experience. Yes, she wouldn’t get such breaks as an adult in a working environment. She is NOT an adult, and she is NOT in a working environment. I’m not a fan of the tough love approach. Is she going to learn that crying at the last minute will solve her problems? How well do you think you taught her? I believe you handled it perfectly. Informing her what she should have done and still making her responsible for the work.

  8. thebutton

    I just happend to peek in here at your blogs while going through a friend’s blog. This particular post caught my eye.

    As a college student, I was placed in a similar situation. I found out my father passed away and it was finals time. Everyone pulled together and told my professors what was going on while I flew out to attend his funeral. Only one refused to give me an extension. Had I the time to, I would have gone to my professors myself and let them know what was going on. It’s the responsible thing to do, especially when you know your emotions might get in the way of your education. I did manage to make it back in time to take that last final that I could not get an extension for and I did perfectly fine on it. Never once did I feel that any of my professors were unreachable or uncaring.

    I believe you handled the situation appropriately.

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