Surviving the Final Grade Apocalypse
This is a guest post by Alan Shaw.
This spring semester is coming to a fast close and as TampaBayScene’s resident professor (just kidding, I’m an adjunct), I wanted to take the opportunity to help some of you navigate this perilous time. The storm of final grades will soon be upon us, and it’s likely that some of you will not do as well as you expected to at the start of the year. It’s likely some of you are in danger of failing a class or three. I want to offer some advice on how to conduct yourselves over the next few weeks.
However, make no mistake about what I’m doing: I’m not here to help you scam your professor for a better grade. No, you’re fucked. The advice I have will only help you be slightly less fucked or, at the least, lubricated. I’m here to help improve the esteem your professor holds you in with the hope that when he or she is passing final judgment on you like Hammurabi the faintest glimmer of mercy will be granted. So, let’s get you slightly less fucked.
Stop with the Neutral Butthole Face.
If you want your professor to think just a bit better of you in a few weeks when he or she is handing out final grades, a sound course of action is to think about how you’re holding your face during class. I’m speaking specifically to those of you who have a condition I call Neutral Butthole Face. Some people call it Resting Bitch Face, but I think that both maintain some stereotypes I find odious and discounts the likelihood that this condition afflicts far more guys than you’d think. For serious, it’s a facial condition that men and women equally greet me each semester with, and if your professor is like me, it grates like a fiery finger of sunlight on your eyes.
Neutral Butthole Face, or NBF, is the condition by which your face, when not being used to express emotion, naturally falls into a repose that resembles a butthole or another similar icky thing. You don’t mean to do it, and it’s likely you don’t even know you are doing it, but there it is: a butthole face. It’s the face your dog makes when you cut one on the couch or the face you make when that relative you only see during the holidays makes a shockingly racist observation about something on the evening news. NBF is the face of all Internet trolls and the emotional distillate of people who text during movies. It is the Kanye West’s ego of expressions, or the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s “Up” in face-form.
Invariably, when I meet my new class at the start of the semester, there will be one young student, most often seated in the back, wearing their variation of NBF. Like the Moai of Easter Island crossed with the sentiment “I need you to be okay that this is my dump class,” it looms large and says it’s displeased with everything. Now, I’m not saying I grade the NBF student differently than the rest. That would be highly unethical and a bit dickish, but when that student emails me at 2 a.m. about needing an extension, I’m hesitant. Know what I mean?
So don’t be this student. For the next few weeks, think about how you’re holding your face. Is it conveying interest and receptivity to the professor? If you were greeted by this face one night at at a club, would you find it inviting or cautionary? Maybe you should practice in the mirror before your next class.
Don’t ask the professor to do it for you.
This will earn you no goodwill in a few weeks, so don’t do it. You’re in college to learn and you’re paying for the privilege, so try to for the next few weeks. Certainly your relationship with your professor is instructional, and you can expect to be shepherded to understanding, but nothing will cheese off your professor faster than telling them to tell you how to do the homework/test retake/essay/lab. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be asking for help, but it does mean not to, in essence or deed, say to the professor, “Just tell me what I have to fix so I can fix it.”
When you say something like this you’re saying you want the answers and not the lesson. You don’t want to know what it is you did wrong, only to have those errors pointed out and corrected for you. That is no bueno. That is asking for the professor to cheat for you.
The point of college is to learn, to apply yourself to the lessons given and to attempt to be improved by them. Part of this process is fucking up and trying again, but what’s more, part of it is learning how to fix the errors you’ve been presented with on your own. This sort of industriousness is difficult and takes worlds of time to learn, but any professor worth a damn will remember why they got into teaching if you show them you can do this. And showing them you can may just win you some of that pity we talked about earlier.
And don’t grade grub.
This is easily the fastest way to fail. Every semester I have a handful of students who, once final grades are submitted, ask that I change their grade to what they think they earned. It’s insulting. Doing this says that you don’t think your professor, in the most sacred task they are given each semester, knows what the fuck they’re doing. It says that you know better and that you don’t really value them or the authority they presented themselves to hold the entire semester. Saying you think you deserve a better grade is the academic equivalent of a war crime.
Having said that, you may be granted a higher grade if you are in a very particular sort of situation. When armed with proof, a demonstrated work ethic during the entire semester, documented extra credit and additional class participation, then yes, asking the professor to reconsider your performance is appropriate.
That, however, is a long jog from firing off a quick email the Friday of finals week saying you want an A instead of a B-.
So no grade grubbing. Don’t do it the last week of class. Don’t do it this week. Don’t do it at all. Instead, ask your professor how, based on your performance thus far, you can improve. Be contrite, servile even. Everyone loves a good groveling, so don’t consider yourself too good for it. But above all, respect the sanctity of the grade book.
If nothing else, understand that your professor is most likely not a full professor, but instead a lowly teaching assistant, or worse still, an adjunct, the shat-upon worker bee of academia.
People want to be treated well, like they’re respected and wanted. Maybe you should ignore everything I’ve said and just do that. When you try to get some end of the semester pity from your professor, do it the way you’d want it done to you. Smile, say please and hope.
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