Tag Archives: college freshmen

Grade Grubbers

I hate grade grubbers more than I hate pedophiles.  Grade grubbers are the pedophiles of the academic world. Is that too extreme? Offensive? (Guess what? I don’t care)

For the blessedly unfamiliar, grade grubbers are self-congratulating, special snowflakes who can’t seem to accept reality at the end of a semester.  As such, they attempt to force their delusions upon me.

They do this at the end of a semester.

After final grades have been submitted.

When I just want to curl up in my heated blanket and pretend they never existed.

They are the lemon juice in a paper cut I forgot I had.  They are the dank, rotten cilantro odor tainting the air after a stink bug has been slain.  They are the e-mails clogging my spam folder (the ones I never get around to deleting), trying to sell me Viagra for the penis I don’t have.

They come to me, obsequious and contrite at first, begging for unwarranted clemency.

I’m a special snowflake. I deserve an A. Please give me an A.

Their e-mails are always subtle and passive aggressive in their attempts to place the blame for their failure squarely upon my shoulders.  Let me give you a sampling:

Dear Professor, (respectful – so far, so good)

I was surprised to see that I ended up with a B in your class.

(Oh really?  Were you surprised?  Because, guess what, reading your final essay was like stubbing my toe a million times and then immediately falling into a pool of lava.  Did Paris Hilton write it for you, or did you just dangle a fish in front of your your cat while it walked across your keyboard for a few minutes?)

After all, I got A’s in all my other classes, and I’ve always been an A student. (Oh fantastic!  I didn’t realize I was consorting with an ***A Student*** here. Wow.   I’ll just go change that grade immediately since, after all, your grade in my class is entirely determined by the grades you receive in your other classes and your ability to demonstrate such robust megalomania.  In fact – why just an A?  Let’s make it an A + + +!)

I even had my mom, who is also a professor here, read over all my papers before I turned them in, and she always said they were good.  (Well since your professor mother [who most certainly must exist because you say she does] thinks you deserve an A, I will certainly change that grade for you.  After all, she’s the professor of this class, right?  Oh she’s not?  Well then I guess she can go fly a kite with all the other moms I don’t care about.)

I’m sure such students are the radioactive fallout leftover from this nuclear shift in parental ideology.


I feel like I earned an A in your class, and since I was only 1 percentage point away, I would be so grateful if you could change my grade to an A.  (Do I even need to comment on this?  Yes, you were only one percentage point away.  Do you know what that means?  IT MEANS YOU WERE A FULL 1 PERCENTAGE POINT AWAY FROM EARNING AN A.   But you know what?  Forget that.  Let’s come up with a new system of evaluation based upon what you feel you deserve.)

If I don’t get an A in your class, I won’t be able to [insert sob story here – make the dean’s list, keep my scholarship, play basketball, be an RA, achieve self-actualization, wipe my own ass,  and on and on and on, ad infinitum].  If there’s any extra credit I can do to raise my grade, please let me know. (Oh, your performance in my class might jeopardize your ability to have something you want?  Well then I will definitely change your grade lest you suffer some kind of disappointment in life.  We can’t have that.  It’s probably my fault that you didn’t take advantage of the TWO extra credit opportunities I offered earlier in the semester, but now that the semester is OVER, I would love to go out of my way to assign and grade more work for you.)

I really enjoyed this class this semester, and I thought you were a really good professor! (Oh flattery!  Now we’re resorting to flattery!  Ingenious.  I’ll never see through that. . .)

Sincerely (Really?)

The Worst Person Ever – no really, I’m THE WORST person ever

I even had a student once try to force her final essay into my hand even though she had disappeared from class for about a month without a word, far exceeding the attendance policy and automatically failing her for the course (which I informed her about in an e-mail I sent, also encouraging her to withdraw from the class so her failing grade wouldn’t damage her GPA).

I should have known this girl was a soul-sucking black hole of a bitch the first day of class when I innocently pronounced her name, Sajah, like this –> Say-juh (like Asia, but with an S).  She snotted back, “Um, hello? It’s pronounced Suh-jay-uh.”  I wanted to snot back, “No. It’s not.  You’re missing some letters.  Were they stolen?  Perhaps you could borrow some from Emmaleeighh over there, since she’s not even using half the letters in her name.”

Anyway, after I stood my ground and refused to take this girl’s final essay she left it, along with a note, in my mailbox.  The note read “Teachers like you are the reason students like me don’t succeed.”

Am I?  Um, thanks, I guess.



I Did Nothing

After a grading bender on Saturday and Sunday, I managed to finish all my work before Thanksgiving Break even began.  So, when Monday morning rolled around and my husband prepared for work while I sat in my pajamas under my heated blanket like an elderly invalid, I quavered out this feeble question: “What should I do today?”

He replied, “Do nothing.  Do absolutely nothing.  Don’t clean. Don’t cook. Watch TV and read books all day.  Seriously, if that empty bowl of yogurt residue is not sitting on the table when I get home, I’m going to find it and throw it against the wall to watch it shatter into a billion yogurty pieces, a symbol of your broken serenity.”  (I might have made that last part up).

So I girded my loins and prepared for the daunting battle against my own sense of guilt.  You see, I don’t quite know how to do lazy.  I’m sure I’m not alone here.  When I try to relax, guilty, wormy thoughts squeeze through the cracks in my brain and whisper obligations to me (guilt worms can whisper, btw, and they look like this):

“Lazy cow,” they whisper, “there are so many things you should be doing right now.  Cleeeean something.  Wriiiite something.  Plaaaaan something, dummy!  Harvest someone’s organs!  Do something!  If you don’t, your humanity will be revoked, and you will become one of usssss! Blaaaaargaaaagarrr!”

It’s usually just easier to acquiesce to their demands, but on Monday, I decided to make a concerted effort to not put forth any effort.

I succeeded.

I watched movies.  I read books.  I stayed in my pajamas, curled up in my heated blanket burrito, drinking tea (dream big, people, dream big) and breathing.  Most of the time I feel like I’m holding my breath, swimming upstream against a steady deluge of work.  Monday I was finally able to take some slow, deep breaths into the brown paper bag of my first real day off in a long time.

Every now and then, another guilt worm would whisper in my ear, but I managed to stuff a sock in its terrifying maw long enough to enjoy my day.

In short,

Highlights of last week?  Listening to a teenage girl on the bus tell her friend, “White people and light-skin people look nasty, like they sick.  Look like somethin’ wrong with they skin.  Ugh.  I could never date outside my race.”

I get it.  I’m pale.  My skin is roughly the color of copier paper. Beetle-cleaned bones. Basmati.  But, come on, it’s not like I look like Lord Voldemort:


My lily-white skin does react poorly to sunlight, though.  On my honeymoon, despite emptying the entire contents of a family-sized bottle of sunscreen onto my body, I still managed to get sun poisoning.  My whole face swelled up.  I looked approximately like this:

Hey you guys!

Also, when I was working at a daycare, a little boy asked me, “Why you draw all over yourself with markers?”  It took me a minute to realize he was pointing to the bright blue veins shining through my translucent skin.

I’m pale.  Still, I like my skin.  It keeps out pathogens and cat hair like most skin.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m not trying to chat that girl up and get her number, though; she might just vomit all over me, and then who knows what color I would be?

Highlight #2:  While having a discussion with my students about the purpose of higher education (whether it is simply to prepare them for careers, or whether it is also about shaping their character), one student raised his hand and said, “I think high school is when we shape our character and figure out who we’re going to be.  I think when we get to college, we should pretty much know that stuff already, so college should just be streamlined and focused on our careers.  We pretty much did all our growing up in high school.”

My response:

Did you think like that when you were a freshman?  I don’t remember thinking that, and a cursory/embarrassing visit to my old journal confirms that I pretty much felt like a fetus when I was 18 (and wrote like a fetus, too – a depressed, angsty, hormonal fetus).  Is this a common thought amongst college freshmen now?

If so,

I asked him, “Think about who you were when you were 13.  Were you pretty much the same as you are now, or different?” (Obviously he replied ‘Pretty different’) “OK then, imagine yourself when you are 23.  Does turning 18, legally becoming an adult, really put a stop to your ability or need to grow any more than becoming a teenager caused you to completely put away your childhood and suddenly become mature?”

Cue crickets and blank stares.

Anyway, I’m on break now, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  I hope you enjoy it with people you love (or at least tolerate).  Go find some leaves and roll in them for me.  All mine are covered in snow spat out by the encroaching winter demon who longs only to torment me with his jagged, icicle fingers.  Oh warm fingers and toes!  Would that I knew you still!  Pray you return swiftly and reattach yourselves to my icy stumps.


Crazy Eyes/Crying Eyes

This Week’s Poetic Bus Conversation:

Me: (Noticing a man approaching the bench and realizing I am sitting slightly toward the center, I scoot over to make room)

Man:  (mumbling incoherently)

Me:  (Thinking perhaps he has greeted me or attempted to make polite conversation or simply standard, unwelcome human contact of some kind, I do my social duty, look over and make my face smile.  Wrong move.  Dude has legit crazy eyes, and now I have engaged him.  He is holding an empty cup, shaking his legs frantically and staring me down with his crazy, crazy eyes – like Suzanne from OITNB, which you should watch right this very second if you haven’t already.  Seriously, stop reading my blog and go watch it):

I love her so much.

Seriously, she is my hero.


On the other hand, those aren’t really the eyes I want to see staring at me from the face of a bus stop stranger.

Dude also has the most methy teeth of all time.

Mr. Meth:  You sittin’ on that side?

Me:  Yes, I’m sitting on this side.

Mr. Meth:  Oh. You gonna sit on that side?

Me:  Yes, I’m going to sit on this side.

Mr. Meth:  Oh. Can I sit on that side?


Me:  Um, sure, you can sit on this side. (I moved to switch places with him)

Mr. Meth:  (Noticing the bus fare clutched in my moist, nervous, ‘please don’t force your interaction or anything more tangible on me’ hands) You goin’ somewhere with that money?

Me (thinking) – nooo, I’m just sitting at this bus stop holding this money because I’m waiting for a friendly helper to make it rain Washingtons all up on me!  I will now hand you my money so you may assist me in this venture.

Me:  Yes, I’m going home with my money.

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ buy some drinks with that money?

Me:  No, I’m just going home.

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ buy some coffee?

Me:  No…

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ buy some juice?

Me:  No…

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ buy some pop?

Seriously, it was like having a conversation with this character but with 85% more meth and crazy:

Me:  No, I’m just going to buy bus fare and go home.

Mr. Meth:  How much bus fare?

I was becoming gradually angry.  I just wanted to sit in my cone of social anxiety and pretend that everyone else was dead.

Me:  (What I wanted to say…)

Me (What I actually said):  $2.25

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ spend all that money on bus fare?

Me:  Yes.

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ spend all that five dollars on bus fare?

Me:  I don’t have five dollars.  I just have $2.25 and I’m going to go home with it.

Mr. Meth:  Where you live?

Me (Thinking):  Oh, you want me to tell you where I live?  Do you?

Me (what I said):  Um, I live over on the west side of town.

That was the end of our conversation, but for the next 5ish minutes as I waited for my bus to arrive, Mr. Meth proceeded to mumble incoherently to himself.  Occasionally he would break up these strings of nonsense by laughing loudly and maniacally, as only a crazy bus stop friend can laugh.  It sounded like a mixture between Dracula’s laugh

and Jeff Goldblum’s Jurassic Park laugh, which is the most glorious sound in all of creaion:

In other news, I’m still swimming in papers, but I should be caught up by this weekend and maybe get to enjoy that elusive phantom known as a day off!

Also, a student cried in my class last week.  Remember when I mentioned self-professed “emotional problems” girl?  Yea.

Apparently she didn’t finish her draft on time and this upset her verily.

As I stared at her trembling lips and her moist eyes, I considered a few approaches to the situation.

First I thought about doing this:




or maybe this:


Then I considered some light mockery:


but I figured I might possibly be sued for public humiliation (this is America, land of the free, home of the people in Rascal scooters who sue McDonalds for putting them there).  So instead I took my usual, gentler, infinitely-more-awkward approach to dealing with any outpouring of sadness in my presence:

And do you know what happened?  As I tried to console this unwelcome hot mess, she straight up said “Ugh!  I’m not in a counselor’s office!”

I wanted to say, “Seriously?  You made it a counselor’s office when you strolled in here with your pale, wet face and dropped your emotional baggage all over my comfort zone!”

I wanted to slap her.  I wanted to slap her more than anything in the world.  Is that a healthy feeling?



Word Salad and Ranging Furries

People with schizophrenia sometimes suffer from a condition known as schizophasia, a chaotic speech pattern composed of unrelated, illogical words and phrases.  It’s – well, it’s really sad, actually – a symptom of a destructive mental illness that will hopefully subside with treatment.  So what am I supposed to do when my otherwise mentally healthy students (so they say) seem to suffer from the same disease, but on paper?

Before I started teaching, I was under the impression that college freshmen would possess a certain amount of proficiency in using the English language.  After all, if they’ve made it to my class, then they’ve somehow managed to survive 13 years of prior education.  Surely, somewhere along the lines, some English teacher forced them to diagram sentences until their fingers bled and until they were mentally double-underlining the predicates in their friends’ speech.  Surely some maniacal high school teacher with a red pen went apeshit on their essays, frantically jabbing at the page until it resembled the aftermath of a Manson Family creepy crawl with ‘Helter Skelter’ scrawled in the white space.  I mean, these are the tenets of a model English education, right?  Torture and shame?

Oh, wishful thinking, that harlot of trickery!  I anticipated uninspiring prose and occasional misplaced commas.  I failed to anticipate that some of the students our admissions board calls “higher education ready” are unable to form even a single, coherent sentence.  It’s as if there’s a tiny goblin hiding in their brains feeding their sentences into a slap chop and then piecing them back together with bits of chewed up bubble gum.

Insert your sentences here.  I promise I'll be gentle.  You can trust me.

Insert your sentences here. I promise I’ll be gentle. Don’t you trust me?

They can’t even produce writing at the level of a  fourth-grader reciting a ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’ essay (I got a new dog.  I named him Merkin. I played ball with him.  We had fun.)

In my first semester of teaching, I had a student I’ll call David.  His writing was so dreadfully slap-chopped together, I thought for sure that it couldn’t be real.  At first, I thought my boss had planted a fake student in my class, like a suspicious parent who uses one of those nanny-cam teddy bears to make sure the kids aren’t getting roofied, stuffed into the spin cycle of the washing machine or duct-taped to a chair.

I can see into your soul.

I can see into your soul, and I will eat it if you transgress.

Here is an example of what David’s writing looked like:   “I was a kid, little I loved bear going four after with him every day with him after looking school the time pie expansion.”  It looked like a sentence at first glance, but closer inspection revealed a monstrosity.  It was like that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Cameron looks a little too closely at a Seurat painting:

From far away, it looks beautiful, serene, lucid, but up close it is a horrifying mess.  Every sentence in his essay would look like this, so that by the time I’d finished reading the first paragraph, I thought was schizophrenic or that I was having some kind of petit-mal seizure.  I asked my husband to read over the essay to confirm that I was not, in fact, going to die from a brain aneurysm (I had already WebMD’d myself into a state of hypochondriac paranoia and was 97% convinced that I had a brain aneurysm or a brain tumor – possibly lupus or flesh-eating bacteria).

Clearly this student had a problem at a most fundamental level.  He spoke very clearly and did not have a registered disability, but a chimpanzee sitting at a typewriter could produce more meaningful work.  My fellow adjuncts and I had been forbidden by our department chair from teaching basic grammar in the classroom; after all, we were teaching college students and should be focusing on higher-level writing issues.  Of course, this directive was coming from a guy who dressed like Danny Zuko in the final scene of Grease, talked like Larry David and described himself as an anarchist (because if there is one profession that says ‘anarchy’ it is being the head of a department hierarchy).

A face-morphing website decided this is what the adult version of a child sired by both Larry David and John Travolta would look like.

A face-morphing website decided this is what the adult version of a child sired by Larry David and John Travolta would look like.

I tend to agree with his position on the issue, but I felt bad for David.  Yet, as much as I suggested that he visit the Tutoring Center or the Writing Center to get help outside of class, he did not do so and continued to fail each essay.  He truly seemed to think the one with the problem was me (in a way, I suppose he was right).

This was the most infuriating part of the experience.  He seemed completely shocked when I would return a paper to him with an F, explaining that it was incomprehensible.  It was as if I had insulted the Bard himself!  “I worked really hard on this!” he would exclaim, affronted, as if grades were based upon effort, not actual performance.  “I understand that,” I would tell him, “but it seems like you need some outside help.  Your sentence structure makes it impossible to read this.”  He seemed shocked, and I was shocked at his shock.  Had he never received criticism of his writing before?

Several other thoughts blitz-attacked my brain during this experience with David: A) How did this kid graduate high school?  Are the standards of public schools now so low that this complete lack of competence is acceptable?  B) What kind of college is this that admits students who are clearly so ill-prepared for college-level work?  C) This is the Composition 2 class, which means that this student has already taken and passed the prerequisite Composition 1 class.  How? Why? Is this an episode of the Twilight Zone?  Is Rod Serling here? I thought he was dead.  Is he a zombie? Can I get his autograph?

Imagine, if you will, a world where students who can't form a single intelligible sentence are praised by English teachers.  You just might be in...the Twilight Zone.

Imagine, if you will, a world where students who can’t write are the new literary geniuses. Failing is passing.  Lies are truth.  Does your brain feel like it’s being dissolved in sulfuric acid yet?  Then you just might be in…the Twilight Zone.

My bosses boss, someone, somewhere, some gleeful Buddy the Elf with a giant ‘approved’ stamp, had approved this student – had determined that this student possessed the necessary skills to succeed in college writing classes.  David was fed a lie.  Some misguided teacher had perpetuated it.  The student was drowning in his own ignorance and I had no idea how to help him.  His problems were so systemic, I didn’t even know where to begin.  So what did I do with David and others like him?

I...corrected them.

I…corrected them.

I didn’t “correct” them in the manner of Delbert Grady, the super creepy butler from The Shining, but judging from their reactions, you might have thought I was a psychopath who wanted to chop their bodies into pieces.  I failed them.

The next semester I ran into David again.  He was with his new comp. 2 teacher, who I recognized as his former Composition 1 teacher – the one who had previously passed him.  After making eye contact with me, David exclaimed to his teacher “That’s her!  That’s the teacher I’ve been telling you about!”  I realized I had been the subject of conversations between the two of them, and I imagined David storming into his class on the first day, poutily explaining to his buddy the teacher that some succubus had failed him.  For a second I thought they were going to go all West Side Story or Cobra Kai on me and put me in a body bag, but they didn’t.  We exchanged pleasantries and parted ways.  The cycle would continue.  The cycle, unfortunately, will continue still.

At least some of the word salad I have to choke down is actually somewhat beautiful, like bizarre, abstract poetry.  One student in particular, an older lady named Ruth, produced some of the loveliest nonsense I’ve ever read next to Faulkner or e.e. cummings:  “I love ocean the stars on the glistening watching the sparkling surface the moon.”  Of course, she failed the class, but I think she missed her calling.

Most of my other students can at least manage a bare minimum of written communication skills, but every now and then they amuse me with their carelessness or obliviousness.  I once asked students to define their idea of ‘success’ (which yielded very disheartening, but characteristically American, results).  One student wrote about how he wanted to get famous, make a lot of money and buy a lot of things (without much insight into what skills he would use to attain that end).  I think he just assumed that his natural charm and wit would throw him into the public eye and money would begin to rain down upon him.

Disregard females; acquire currency.

Disregard females; acquire currency.

He wrote, “When I think about those things and what I’m going to do to have those things, I just go into a daze and my body gets all hyped up and I just start pumping myself.”  It took me several long seconds of staring in disgust at the page to realize he wasn’t writing about masturbating to the thought of his own self-centered materialism.  He meant ‘pumping myself up’ as in ‘getting pumped’ or ‘getting hyped.’  But he wrote ‘pumping myself.’

Another student wrote about a fight she had with a friend and how she went into a ‘ranging furry.’  Naturally, this made me think of furries, also known as plushies – you know, grown men and women who dress in animal costumes and meet up in hotel rooms across the country to “do their taxes.”  I kind of hate that I know this, and I have 30 Rock to thank for the knowledge.

Hello there.  We are soul mates.  Would you like to watch as we destroy your childhood?

Hello there. We are soul mates. Would you like to watch as we destroy your childhood?

Also, do yourself a favor and DON’T do a Google image search for ‘furries’ or ‘adults in animal costumes.’  You will not be able to unsee, nor will you be able to erase that from your search history.

Perhaps television truly is rotting my brain.  I should have just imagined something like this when I read ‘ranging furry.’

Here are some sweet, innocent little lambs on the range.

Here are some sweet, innocent little lambs on the range.

Instead, I imagined plushophiles (which is also in my search history now).

Also, if you haven’t figured it out yet, the student was trying to write ‘raging fury.’

By now you might be thinking, “Wow, you sound like a terrible teacher.  I can’t believe you’re making fun of your students this way.  Have you no decency?  Teachers like you are the reason students don’t succeed.”

And to that, I can only say,

Bonus Round:  What words were these students trying to write (answers below):  Ordicale, Sicodic, Hertary.

Figured it out yet?


Answers:  Article, Psychotic, Hereditary