Of Students and Good Karma

Finals ended yesterday, which means that this morning I was calculating final grades.  I just finished entering them into the system.  I know that a whole bunch of my students are going to be surprised and ecstatic.  One or two of them may weep with joy.

See, I just did something I never do as a teacher.  I curved the entire class.

I make no bones about the fact that I am a hard ass teacher, both in my expectations and in the actual quality of the class.  Spoonfeeding never got anybody anywhere.  I have high expectations for my students, which means that they have to work.  My good students love me, and slackers hate me.  This has been the norm from the beginning.

I have always had a curving policy on major tests.  Not a “true” curve by statistical standards, but the nice easy kind where you take the highest student’s grade, add however many points it takes to get to 100 and then take that number and add it to everybody’s grade.  I’m fine with this, as I freely admit, sometimes there are just bad questions.  This sort of makes up for that, and it’s how my hardest prof in college operated.  So I model my classes after his.  Some semesters, like this one, I will replace their lowest quiz grade with their highest.  I don’t believe in drop grades–that’s too easy as a gimme–but I don’t mind giving them what they EARNED.  I did this in my Theories of Learning class this semester because the book is hellacious and too high level for the class, and they’ve all been suffering for it.  I’ve got a new book for next time that’s much more appropriate.

But that’s not why I wound up curving the final grades in BOTH my classes, even though I absolutely had a fair number of exemptions (which is why I don’t normally do it).

I have had this one particular student in every class.  She likes my style, so she’s taken all the classes I teach.  She has been generally an excellent student, very communicative, and tries REALLY hard.  This was her second trip through my abnormal class, which she was taking last semester when her husband was in a horrible accident.  He survived, thank God, but it’s led to a great deal of upheaval in their lives–obviously.  She actually did finish the class last semester but wound up taking me again because she wasn’t satisfied with her grade.   Totally fine.  Except this semester she’s been working two jobs, dealing with the fall out from her husband’s accident, and was recently diagnosed with a malignant melanoma.  Among other things.  This poor girl is one of those cases of a person who is kind, smart, has unshakable faith, that just makes you look at God and say, “Really?  You’re gonna let all this awful stuff happen to her?”

I just couldn’t bear for her to take another incomplete to bust her butt to write my massive extra credit paper, which she did last semester already, when she’s got all this other stuff going on, just because she didn’t quite make the grade on her final to keep the grade she had going into it. 

So I curved the entire class’s final grades (since I couldn’t just do it for her).   It also means that one of my other students, who was a total dumbass and missed about the first half of the semester, 6 quizzes, and two unit tests, who showed up right after thanksgiving wondering why his grades were missing (Um, you never TOOK them, idiot), who I gave a ridiculous deadline to and an opportunity to retake them all, will actually pass my class and graduate so that I never have to deal with him again.  He didn’t really DESERVE it.  He didn’t work, not like this other student.  But that one is more a gift to me.  And perhaps he will learn something out of the experience.

Hopefully I am earning some good karma with all this.  And at least I can be secure in the knowledge that in some small way, I helped alleviate some of the burden on this girl for whom I have so much respect and sympathy.

4 thoughts on “Of Students and Good Karma

  1. You sound like one of my favorite teachers! Heck, I even have him to thank for my BFF, because he paired us up to crit each other. Every time I look at my BFF, I think the same thing, “Really? You’re gonna let all this awful stuff happen to her?”

    Good for you Kait!

  2. I love modified curves. My opinion is it’s great for the teachers and the students. If I sucked at that topic, at least the students didn’t bomb because of it. It also adds competition. After studying your butt off, it’s nice to see that extra boost even if you did miss a question here or there. After all, no one’s perfect.

  3. I did something, too, I’ve never done as a teacher: I gave an F. I talked to the student, tried to help him help himself, but he didn’t care about learning Photoshop. What’s a teacher to do? I have done as you say–rework my grading to legitimize my grde for one student. It seemed right, like I hadn’t considered certain factors in my matrix if s/he was earning the wrong grade. It became a productive experience.

    Teachers that are authors. I bet there are lots of us.

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