Finals week, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the end of the semester

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Finals week. I think I dislike it more than my students do. My students are mostly just stressed out during it. In fact, I had one student come to my office today who looked scared to death, though why I am not sure. I am certainly not intimidating and he did pretty well in my course, but maybe he just had a really rough week and was expecting more bad news, but he did not receive bad news, at least not from me.

But I do think I hate finals week more than my students do and I mainly hate it because of emails. Emails that don’t stop. The ping like sound my email makes when I get a new message scares the crap out of me during finals week. I always think, oh I hope that is an assignment. I hope that is just an assignment. 95% of the time it is just an assignment. 4% of the time it is something the university sent me that I don’t care about, minus that health insurance email with the $1212 dollar premium that we have to pay IN FULL by JAN 20TH if we want to sign up, which is ridiculous. (Where is your Christmas spirit, oh University I attend? It certainly isn’t located in that insurance premium and so I am getting insurance elsewhere, f*ck you very much.) But it is those 1% of times where it is a question that goes something like this–

Dear Ms J, (my students usually call me by my first name because I ask them to, but they get formal at this point, which tells me I have taught them something)

I noticed in the Blackboard gradebook that my grade is two points away from an A in your course. Would it be possible for me to revise something now, or perhaps turn in extra credit? I really want an A. (Honestly, they say it all much nicer than this sounds, usually. They are impressively cordial in their rhetoric with this request. Most requests sound professional in tone.)

Signed,

Student

I usually respond with a not as snarky as I could be reply saying all my grades are final, thanks for the email, good job in the math, and we all really want something, but all final grades are final. Like I want to be able to afford a nicer apartment, but since I live mainly off a graduate student stipend, no. It doesn’t happen for me, at least not right now.

I have to admit that I do commend the students for trying. My closest friends will tell you that I can be a pro at trying to find ways and means to get out of things, so I understand working every angle, especially when it involves GPAs, graduate school applications, and being able to get into your major program. I also understand that grades don’t say poo about anyone’s intellectual capacities. Grades just tell you the quality of your performance during that semester and they are completely subjective since another human being, a teacher, evaluates your work. Sometimes I tell students this, just as a pick me up, just as a reality check. It usually helps.

This semester I did something different to curb these emails about extra credit, more points, and grade alterations, and so far it has worked, though perhaps now that I say this I’ll get an email. I put a policy in my syllabus basically saying that all final grades are just that–they are final grades. I don’t give extra credit. I don’t boost final grades up by one point because if I do that for one person, might as well do it for everyone. And revisions are always due by the final exam time. That is it. Done. El Fin. Enjoy winter break. Wear a warm coat.

Because not everyone reads an 8 page syllabus (and also, I can kind of understand that as well, though I would say that most of my students, at some point, do look through the syllabus), I repeated the all final grades are final in end of semester email announcements and Blackboard announcements. I just said, this policy is in the syllabus, please be aware of it. Thank you. Don’t forget the warm coat.

So far, it has worked. I haven’t received emails aside from wonky news about insurance, student assignments that have already been graded, and some really nice student thank you messages. So far, everything has been cool.

My students also did really well this semester, too, so maybe I didn’t need that new policy at all. Maybe it would have worked out OK. I don’t know. All I know is that I do think I hate finals week far more than my students do because it is the time when people ask for things they should have asked for weeks ago and is the time when you have to deliver either really good news or really bad news as the train speeds out of the station. It is like trying to save animals from a burning building. It is awful sometimes doing this kind of work because you don’t want to leave anyone at the station or leave anyone in that burning building, but sometimes it cannot be helped because you have to be fair and equitable to everyone. At least I believe that in the end, as long as the work gets done, the time and effort does pay off.

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