December break has officially started at my job and I must confess that while I’m not psyched about a three week, unpaid vacation, I am looking forward to a reprieve from dealing with the collegiate academic system. I’ve complained before about professors and students, but something I saw recently blew my mind. Indulge me, if you will, in the following.

I had a student come to me this week with a paper that he had previously turned in. It had been graded and handed back to him so that he could revise it and turn it back in for a better grade.  This was all standard operating procedure. However, as I read over the comments left by his professor, I felt rage and anger build inside me.

His professor left unhelpful remarks in the margins of his paper. Comments such as “This is vague, fix it” and, “This thesis is weak.” I’m still uncertain as to how those comments are helpful to a student. Taken alone, these two comments were enough to raise my ire, but the commentary did not stop there. At the end of the paper, his professor hand-wrote a page and a half of notes questioning his topic choice and his overall commitment to the class. The choicest remark was, “I know this is harsh, but I’m frustrated.”

Come on!

You’re frustrated? How do you think he feels? Moreover, do you think writing all of those comments is going to make him want to turn around and get straight to work on making corrections? The only way it could be worse was if you used a red pen. I’m glad he came to the writing center and showed me the paper. I think if I were in his shoes I would have stuffed the paper into the bottom of my bag and “forgotten” about it. College and this program are hard enough without teachers tearing students down and then expecting them to have the academic discipline to seek out the necessary help to become better.

What I take issue with the most is the fact that this professor began to grade emotionally. That’s just unacceptable. I recognize that grading is difficult but the moment you lose objectivity is the moment you should no longer be grading. If you insist on being frustrated, be frustrated with your inability to teach in such a way that your students respond positively to you. Be frustrated with the fact that the paper topic was boring and generated boring papers. Being frustrated with his effort is just an excuse for your sub par teaching.

It was evident from the notes that the professor did not agree with my student’s thesis and counted that against him. That’s unfair. Whether you agree or disagree with a students’ idea should never play a role in the grade they receive. The only thing that matters is how well the student defended their ideas.

His professor ended the handwritten note with, “I know you can do better,” and a smiley face. All I could do was shake my head.

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