Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Student Emails

So I handed the course instructor a CD-ROM full of marked essays, and she uploaded them to the Distance Education website thingy, and the students downloaded their essays and had a look at their marks and my comments. Not surprisingly, many of them are not very happy.

Now, my email inbox is slowly filling with "i got good marx on first assingment please can i see you talk about it"

1. At least demonstrate the intelligence necessary to spell my name right. TWO Ls!
2. Email is not text-messaging. Type slowly and carefully, please.
3. The marking guidelines were made available to you (in general form) long before the assignment was due - whine about the categories and expectations to someone else, please. You didn't get an "outstanding" mark because your essay was not "outstanding" (at least, not in the positive sense of the term).
4. I'll be here Thursday, Friday, and all next week, including Monday. Pick a time, and I will briefly entertain your whinging voice in person.

Not that any of my students read this.

Given that none of my students will ever read this, and I'm going to miss a bus so I might as well hang out here for another 20 minutes anyway, I'm going to do something vaguely unethical. I'm going to post actual snippets of some of these emails (names removed, of course). All are presented as they arrived to me, except elipses - those are mine.

The comments seemed picky. For example, why I chose the word emanate or what do I mean by the words "unique" or "stable". In the results section all comments were specific to the fact that I did not identify a reference number despite the fact that I do say who made the comment.
You were supposed to reference your interviews (those comments) properly, as numerical citations. This was made clear in the assignment.
...and I am a fourth year student hoping to get into medical school. I am writing to you because I am very disappointed with the mark that I received on my assignment... I am not a 70's student and I dont believe that my paper deserved a 70's mark.
Do I look like I care that you're trying to be a doctor? Should I give you special treatment for your medical aspirations? What kind of backwards logic is that - doctors are 'special people' and need a little boost to help them get over their terrible mental illnesses? (Langmann, feel free to comment specifically about this one.) Feel what you like - your paper deserved everything I gave it.
...I think some of your criticisms are redundant. An example is "chemical molecule what other types of molecules are there?" why can't I put the word chemical there
Urgh. This was a particular 'favourite' of mine. My irony detector is not very good - but it's twitching here. My criticisms of your redundancy seem redundant? You can't put "chemical" there precisely for the reason I stated (that you quoted so poorly): "chemical molecules" is a stupid thing to say. So is "mental perception" - you discover another form of perception, you win a prize (from some nice people in Sweden).
I got a very high mark on the first assignment and so I assumed if I wrote the second asignment in the same manner, I would be okay.
You assumed wrong. The two assignments didn't seem rather different to you?


Chris Harrison said...

This post made me laugh. You must promise to make this a recurring theme. Every time you grade papers and your students email you with their asinine comments and gripes, you should post the highlights with commentary. I'm sure it's a sort of stress relief for you, and it really is funny to read.

King Aardvark said...

Strangely, I never got these kinds of whiney emails when I TAed. Not that they didn't complain to me all the time. Typically, they'd just come up after we handed back their assignments then they'd either get angry or start to beg. I'd tell them no, they'd complain some more, then finally go away. Repeat around 20 times per week. Nice, but no record of what was said.

I was known as the mean TA.

TheBrummell said...

I'm glad you like this, Chris. I won't (please please please) be marking anything for a while, probably not until the fall, but I'll try to remember to do this again when the students inevitably whine some more. It was rather therapeutic for me.

I still haven't responded to those emails yet; I should probably go do that now...

King Aardvark said...

Naw. It's Easter, so let them stew a bit more.

I like torturing little kids. Can you tell? :-)

In fact, that's what I miss most now that I'm not a grad student anymore.

Carlo said...

Wow... I don't know if I'd ever put the actual comments that students had made on my blog...

Those are pretty sweet. Especially the Medical School one... In fact, I feel a rant coming on about a student who spent a whole hour crying in our lab for me to give her an extra mark before the Post-Doc told her to leave, NOW!

TheBrummell said...

feel a rant coming on about a student who spent a whole hour crying in our lab...

You told me that story in meat-space, and I loved it. Tell it again!

As long as real names never appear, and there's not a good chance that some individual could be identified by context (e.g. I'm fooling nobody by always refering to him as "my advisor"), I don't really think there's a problem with relating this sad little anectodes.

Rant away!

langmann said...

I'm surprised you put up the comments also, not necessarily because of ethics (its probably unethical but so is stomping ants on the whole grand scheme of things) but rather because it leaves you open to one of these whiney whiners tea-bagging you via the Dean.

"and I am a fourth year student hoping to get into medical school. I am writing to you because I am very disappointed with the mark that I received on my assignment... I am not a 70's student and I dont believe that my paper deserved a 70's mark."

I'll tell you Mr. Undergrad Pre-med student what I think of this, STFU that's what. As I told one particularly whiney bitch who actually got 98% on something I marked that if that person didn't get into medical school it wouldn't be because of their marks. I don't think they ever got that little message.

Medical school does freaking crazy things to the personality of people who are genuinely nice people. Competition does that, I think. I think no-one has sympathy for pre-meds because MDs make so much money afterwards and seem to get so much glory in the media that outside people just don't have the time to feel bad for them.

At the end of the day, a bad mark is a bad mark. Dealing with it and even learning from it is a sort of maturity.

Anonymous said...

Wow... the "I am not a 70 student" type arguments smack of elementary school parent-teacher meetings, only now the students are old enough to use those arguments themselves.

Overall I think the increasing use of e-mail has made things worse for TA's; the ability for students to write whiny screeds and send in their papers last minute (instead of, I don't know, printing them out and handing them in) has probably had an overall detrimental effect. Then again, e-mail has saved my ass a few times (i.e. "That paper is due today?!" *runs to the library*), but I am really amazed at how immature some of my fellow undergrads can be.

TheBrummell said... leaves you open to one of these whiney whiners tea-bagging you via the Dean.

I'm not worried. My commentary here is what I'd like to say to the students, not what I actually say to them. My actual email replies to this pool of stupidity were mostly along the lines of "I'd be happy to meet with you to discuss your essay and my comments. When might be a good time for you to come in and visit?"

Very milquetoast, I know, but I'm not actually a horrible person (probably).

Email is probably neutral in the grand scheme of teaching. Some idiots misuse it, and make themselves look highly foolish. Others have no troubles with this tool, any more than they repeatedly stab themselves in the eye with a pencil, or drink photocopier toner, or get trapped in an elevator.