I've been a Teaching Assistant (TA) for many courses here at SFU, probably because I don't have the marks to get scholarships, fellowships and other funding, so to avoid draining my supervisor's budget too badly, I get paid by the department of Biological Sciences to teach.
I actually don't mind the work. It interferred a little with my research during my M.Sc., but not in a really significant or particularly damaging way. My own procrastination tendencies did much more damage there.
I've TA'd Bisc 100, 202, 302, 329, and 422, every one of those courses twice except 329. I'm currently TA-ing 302, Genetic Analysis. I just handed back to my labs (Weds and Thurs) the reports they completed two weeks ago, about a lab they did analysing the inheritance of eye colour in Drosophila melanogaster. Most people's marks improved a little from the previous lab reports I marked, about fungal genetics.
Anyway, I've just had a couple of students come by, to discuss the marks they got. Nobody got any more marks, although one student did make a pretty good case for her Introduction section being better than I originally marked it. I suspect I was not in the most generous of moods when I marked her paper, but marking-and-emotional-state is a topic for another discussion, where I can really get into detail about my opinions.
This little meeting triggered some of my memories of the tactics and arguments some students have used in the past in the ridiculous quest for more marks. This particular lab report is moderately important: it's worth 10% of their overall course mark, and was marked out of 50, with a quantised mark structure of 0.5 - ie, the minimum difference between two papers' marks was 0.5/50, or 1%.
The argument I got today was "that's based on a misunderstanding, why did I lose marks?". This is a strange one. The issue in question is a section wherein they had to describe the advantages and disadvantages of working with D. melanogaster. The instructions were misunderstood as advantages and disadvantages of the particular laboratory techniques used. Yes, if you misunderstand what you're supposed to write about, you will lose marks. This is unfair, how, exactly?
Other weirdnesses have centered on external factors, like having a job or stressful home life (not my problem!), or English-as-a-second-language (yes, we work in English here), or even last-minute deadlines (we assigned this weeks ago - why did you pull an all-nighter?).
On tests, I've had students complain that since they work more slowly than others, they should get either more marks (typically, the "creative" idea they have is to make the total smaller by omitting the questions they didn't get to) or more time. If you have a real disability, the appropriate student-services office can help, and will arrange longer exam periods for you. Otherwise, yes, your ability to answer questions rapidly is worth marks - leaving a question blank is exactly equivalent to answering it totally wrong. On a tangent, right-minus-wrong tests are fucking stupid, too, especially when the test is explained poorly. They don't discourage guessing unless the possible number of wrong answers is large, and it's made clear that a blank is deleted from the total.
Then, of course, there's the ever-popular whining. "Please?" "C'mon!" "But, but..." are all very common. Do these ever work for anything? Have you ever acheived any goal, ever, by deploying such tactics? Urrgh...
The annoying thread running through all of these is the total lack of empathic analysis built into any of these arguments. Turn the argument around, either to my point of view or to the point of view of other students. If I give you a bonus mark for whining, then I'll immediately get swamped by other whining students. Do you think this is something I want? If I allow you to argue your mark up, how is that fair to the other students, who might have similar (lame) excuses, but cannot get in to see me at this time?
More random whining from Martin, I know. I just don't feel like doing anything productive right now, so I'll file this under "procrastination" as well as "teaching".