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End-of-semester notes from a college teacher

Seventy-four as of the dateline of this article.

That's 74 e-mail messages I've received from students since posting final grades for just one of my courses. I am a college teacher, and I am referring to the students in my business finance class with about 200 students. Here's a sample of the messages that have shown up in my Inbox, with my comments added parenthetically:

"I'm very close to an A, so please bump me up." (That student's course average is 87.9%.)

"I need to talk to you about the grade you gave me." (Note that the student didn't earn the grade; I "gave" the student the grade.)

"I feel it's unfair."

"I have to have a B in this course."

"I can't accept the C you gave me." (Note that curious turn, again: I "gave" grades.)

"Your [sic] my favorite professor and I just want you to know I'm hoping you'll think about helping my grade cuz [sic] I'm thinking seriously now about majoring in finance because of you."

"I know I flunked the final (and, in fact, one of the two midterms, but let's keep going with the narrative flow), but I did well on the quizzes (which were online, meaning that I made them easy to get good scores on)."

"I put alot [sic] of work into studying for the final and I don't see how I could have only gotten a 72."

"Did you curve the final?" (The average on the final was 76%, and the median was 78%.)

"Did you get my message last week about how I have mono?" (Oh, goodie! I was handling your exam.)

"I am very disappointed in how I did on the final, and I want to talk to you about it." (Read that, "I want to get up close so you can see with your own, caring eyes that I'm a hurting person because of this.")

"When are you in your office so I can see how you graded my exam?"

"I got an 85 on the final. How could I get a D in the course?" (That would be because you got a D on Exam 1, a C on Exam 2, and—well, spank me, Jesus—you took only three of the seven online quizzes, even though I reopened all of them the last week of class so people who had missed one or two could catch up.)

But here, gentle readers, is the one I've never seen before. Are you ready for this one?

"I can't go home tomorrow if I don't pass this course. Please help me..."

Good grief. Where do I go with that? Ah, yes: to the nearest cliff, where I can cast my mean, soulless body upon craggy rocks in the churning surf below.

Thirty-three years I've been doing this teaching thing. Everywhere from sleaze-bucket, fly-by-night, for-profit schools to snooty private colleges to major public universities. Everything from developmental, remedial, and college math to economics to computer software skills to English grammar and composition to paralegal to transcription and proofreading to accounting to finance and general business. I did a gig as a K-12 teacher at an up-scale private school, too. Twice I slept in my car through a Winter in the Midwest just so I could hold onto a job at some college or facsimile thereof.

Over those years, teaching conditions have gotten worse: the aptitude, attitude, and achievement level of the incoming students; the power of administrators, faculty activists, and state education and regional accreditation regulators; the influence of the academic publishers; and the pay. On that last matter, in inflation-adjusted dollars, I make less now as a full-time college teacher than I did in 1985 as a Graduate Teaching Associate.

Teaching conditions have gotten worse, but I'm still teaching (along with writing and semi-professional landscape photography). The reason is quite obvious, at least to me.

I still teach because I'm a teacher. It's as simple—and as deeply complicated—as that.

There. I've vented my frustrations.

Now, I can go back to answering each of those e-mail messages.

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