There is no other place in life, it seems to me at the moment, where this type of behavior is acceptable. When a student takes the ACT, the SAT, the Bar, MCAT, LSAT, STEP exams, medical boards--even the written driver's exam, they don't get to negotiate with the computer or graders on whether they had X or Y score. There's no office somewhere where you go argue with the poor professional who is hired to read SAT essays and try to convince him or her that you need a higher score on your SAT because you tried really hard and your high school English teacher loved your work.
After a long night of thinking about the communications I read yesterday, I came to a conclusion regarding something I did do wrong--I responded to statements. Neither communication I had yesterday asked any actual questions or took responsibility for poor performance such as only doing 60% of the minimum work, using first person (when it is forbidden), using outside sources that were not approved and are not mentioned in the prompt, and a case of thesaurus-itis where the paper was a recycled essay found on the web. Neither student participated in the provided workshop for the writing assignment before it was due.
So, in order to not repeat my mistake yesterday, I am setting a new rule for myself. If I receive communications from a student about a grade that has no question in it, my response will simply be: "Do you have questions about any of my feedback or the assignment requirements and/or grading rubric?"
I will not respond to statements. Here are some specific examples of wording in statements to avoid when communicating with your instructor and why:
1. "I don't agree with my grade. " OK. There's not much I can say about that. If you can articulate a question that shows confusion over how and if your work matches an achievement level as described in the syllabus where letter grades are defined by the institution, ask that question. If you found a legitimate concern with the grading rubric, ask about that issue.
NOTE: The syllabus and the rubrics are provided to you on the first day of the course. If there are larger conceptual questions you have about those assessment tools you should ask them before you attempt to use them as guides for your writing.
2. " I feel ______. " I'm not your counselor or your best friend. I can't assess your feelings, nor is it my job to counsel you in emotional matters. My job is to assess a product.
NOTE: This "feelings" approach is often evidence that you're stuck in an early stage of thinking. Critical thinking, which is what college-level writing focuses on, is not about subjective feelings or reactions. Instead, it is a higher level of thinking that seeks to make connections between theories and evidence.
3. "You are talking down to me." Or "Your tone isn't encouraging." I am not your peer. Instructors are not subordinates. You are in my class to learn the concepts and material that I have mastered. If I state something in language that is over your vocabulary level take the challenge by asking questions about what you don't understand.
NOTE: If you refuse to use spell checker and I am constantly hounding you to do so, it may very well start to "feel like" I am nagging you and talking down to you. There's a simple solution--use spell checker.
4. "I tried really hard." Perceived effort and result are not always the same. Trust me when I say that every time I climb on the treadmill that I am reminded of this. Again, product is what is assessed.
NOTE: Beginning college students often seek their old English teacher or a family member out to read their work and then attempt to use that as some standing to challenge a grade in a college course. This is not going to work. In many cases, a teacher in a high school has a BSE, a Bachelor's degree. They are far more your peer than they are mine. Secondly, think about how overworked your former high school teacher is. The path of least resistance for them is a quick skim and a pat on your head. They stand nothing to gain by spending a huge amount of time helping you with your paper.
Finally, note that assignments are part of a course. To expect anyone not in that course--even tutors in the Writing Center--to be able to read your paper as a part of a course they are not in is faulty reasoning. At best, people outside of the course can provide you with basic information about the overall structure and clarity of your writing. They cannot take into account what was covered in the class discussions or what was indicated to you in individualized feedback from your instructor.
This is why when confronted with "I tried really hard" my first step in responding is to go look and see if the student was active in course workshops, as well as to review my previous feedback to the student to see if they are applying that feedback in a clear way.
In the future, I simply will not respond to this statement.
5. "I gave you my opinion, and that can't be wrong." Writing assessments are not personal essays or blog entries. They are not supposed to be "opinions." Analysis and opinion are not the same. See #2 above.
I've written about communication with your instructor on this blog before. Perhaps the best tip that I can give is this. Before you hit send on a communication with your instructor about a grade or paper review, ask yourself this:
What do I hope to gain here?
If the answer is that you are going to tell your instructor they are rude, mean, or that you tried hard, don't send it.
If instead you can honestly answer with "I hope to better understand how to succeed in the course by asking these questions" then send away.