Nelson’s main point seemed to be that teachers can’t completely predict how their students will interpret information and communication in the classroom. Kate was a great example of this, and she really resonated with me. Although the information given makes it seem clear that she followed instructions on her assignment sheet, she still received a bad grade and pretty rude comments. However, we are not given any information about her classroom experience- did the teacher go over the assignment in class? Was it the first paper she had written for this teacher? How much explanation was given? Were there outside resources and examples of great papers? I think the failure of the article to answer these questions makes it hard to gauge how mean the teacher was really being (IE, if he went over detailed instructions in class and had many examples, I could understand the comments more) and how much Kate had really missed.
Anyways, that was my rant about the writing. Aside from that, I have been in Kate’s exact situation several times- I felt like I did a great job on an assignment, worked very hard, and still got a C.
One time in particular really pissed me off. It was actually my first college paper in my first college class, and I worked my ass off. It was due a month after I started working on it.
The guidelines were super vague, like Kate’s, and looked something like
In three to five pages, with at least one outside source, write about one change you
would like to see in the world. Use MLA format and your works cited page does not
count toward the page requirement.
There wasn’t a whole lot else- only formatting rules I can’t remember because.. Who cares?
Anyways, I chose to write on legalizing assisted suicide. My argument was that it should be legal to kill yourself humanely, or to have someone else assist you rather than both of you facing legal consequences. I used three sources and wrote a 7 page paper, and I followed all of the formatting instructions. I explained that I thought it should be an intensive legal process, which would deter those who are making the decision impulsively, and should require signatures from family members that they were notified.
When I got my grade back, I was stunned. My paper had very few comments on it, and they were all negative. The only feedback the teacher gave was writing “not true” next to my argument, and that it was too cruel to make sense. At the end, she wrote a brief note that my point disgusted her, and she could not, in good conscience, give me anything higher than a C grade. She even acknowledged that I had followed instructions perfectly.
I was pissed. What. The. Fuck. She gave us an open ended paper, and I wrote about something I believed in strongly. Because she disagreed, even though the prompt told us to write about whatever we wanted, I received thirty points off. It was ridiculous.
I tried to talk to her about it. She told me that her class was no place for ideas like that, and directed me towards talking about race instead. Apparently, she was looking for a paper about bringing equality into the world in some way, and even though this was not said in class or on the assignment sheet, the only people who received A’s or B’s wrote about that.
It turns out that was the focus of the class- with special attention to the quinceanera tradition. She had expected us to read through her syllabus and write something related- hopefully- to hispanics, but anything about race would have pleased her.
I changed my writing style to suit her wishes, and received an A on all of my other papers.
I’ve never forgotten that, and honestly I wish I had reported her for her unfair grading. I am sure something would have been done, and the C made me get a B in my first class. I come from an intense family, so this infuriated them.
I think Kate’s situation was similar. She worked very hard and followed what she was told, but had issues that the teacher never specified beforehand (to our knowledge). The teacher made her feel stupid, whereas mine made me feel angry, but still.
I never want to make a student feel like this. I want to be as clear as I can, but at the same time miscommunications will happen. I think for my first given assignment as a teacher, I will have students turn in a rough draft so I can make sure they understand the assignment. Or perhaps, they can have a rewrite instead to correct mistakes for a high grade.
Either way, it is unacceptable for teachers to behave like that. Teachers need to remember that they are fostering the advancement of young and impressionable people, and while that student is only one out of however many, to the student, the teacher is much more.
A simple, ‘good job’, or ‘nice improvement’ can change a student’s path. It can inspire them. Because, honestly, not everyone writes the same way, and so many people write in an amazing way that will never fit academic styles.