How Should I Deal with This Annoying Student?

So I have this kid coming to my office today to “talk about a few things.”  Because I am psychic (and because I have dealt with him all semester), I already know that he wants to talk to me to either complain about a grade or ask how to get a higher grade.

I don’t really know what to tell him about this.  The dude already makes B’s and some B-plusses, and I just don’t see him doing any better than that.  He’s fine on getting the assignments done in an adequate-to-good-ish fashion and meeting all the various requirements, but his writing style is in the not-so-good space between confusing and boring.  There are word-choice errors and syntax problems that aren’t such big deals, but they render the writing a bit confusing.  But then, I don’t feel like really trying to resolve my confusion because the material is so dry that I cease to care.

I can’t really tell him this, though, can I?  I mean, boring writing is a problem A LOT of my students have exhibited over the years, and I have never come up with a diplomatic but effective way to discuss it with them.  I usually settle on “make every word count.” Not so helpful, right?

Other things to note: This is a guy who asked for (and received) a one-day extension on his last essay.  I don’t mind granting these when someone is either sick for a long time or has a pile-up of assignments from other classes.  I usually only do it once per student per semester, and only if they ask.  However: I am already a little  peeved with him because he is always checking his math homework in the beginning of my class and I have to ask him to put it away every day.  Like, he’s already prioritizing other classes over mine before he even asks for an extension so he can get his other class’s paper done.  He really doesn’t deserve sympathy at all.  But I doubt he’ll bring up these issues in our meeting, and I’m wondering if I should even bother.

Maybe my advice on how to make a better grade should not focus on making his writing less boring, but rather on asking him to pay better fucking attention in my class and put the fucking math homework away.  Maybe I should just punch him in the neck.  What say you?

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UPDATE: My drop-in hours for today are ending in seven minutes and Dude has not shown up yet. He still could show up to my hours Wednesday (I told him either/or would be fine but he said he’d show up today) but at this point I am FED. UP.


  1. You know I love a good punch in the neck, but to be honest, I think you should try and do both the first choices of your poll, and maybe just recite the 2nd paragraph of this post to him. It sounds like this student feels that he “deserves” an A without really knowing how to earn one. Entitlement: the biggest (and most punch-in-the-neck-deserving) student problem EVER. But, if he DID focus more on your class, or at least prioritize it on equal par with others AND pay more attention, chances are his writing WOULD improve. So I think you are totally within your rights to tell him so. Also, if you pull it off well, it will probably make you feel better. Good luck!


  2. I suppose I sympathize with your student, speaking as a former undergrad who was nearly driven to the brink of insanity by professors who refused to grant me anything above a B on my essays no matter how much effort I put into them. So much of grading in the liberal arts is impossibly subjective and I suspect that professors base much of how they grade entirely on their impression of the student. “Oh, _______ doesn’t like to speak up in class and/or checks his math homework? Automatic B!” Knock this kid for his syntax problems but not because his essays are boring. Criticizing an essay for being boring is like lambasting a Warhol art film for being “too long.” Boredom comes with the territory.

    I would major in math if could I do it all over again. No gray area. You’re either right or you’re wrong.


  3. Somebody doesn’t know much about work in math RE proofs.

    I’m still going with neck punch. I say this as a guy with a degree in econ who is working on another in chemistry – “boring” is a legitimate critique in a writing class. I received many pretty good grades (A mostly) on writing assignments in college despite having poor attendance and participation — because I know my way around a sentence.

    There’s subjectivity in grading everything, you should see the partial credit on my latest O-chem exam’s Fischer Esterification mechanism question. I got the order wrong on a couple of steps, but I still got half credit…is that “objective”? Did I deserve 3/4 instead of half? Do I go argue with the prof about it or do I pull out my book and redo the homework problems so I learn something?


  4. I would major in math if could I do it all over again. No gray area. You’re either right or you’re wrong.

    Not true.

    But on to other things. I don’t like the cut of this dude’s jib. At all. That this dude is entitled to something is true – he’s entitled to the grade that you give him. If, as instructor, you feel he deserves a “B”, then “B” it is. I would simply tell him that he needs to make his essays more interesting in order to receive a higher grade.

    I would not advise him to spend less time on math and more time on your course. That his for him to decide. I would simply say that the content he submits is simply not sufficient to warrant higher marks. If he’s intelligent, he will know what to do. If not, then he receives his “B”. The fact he did not show for the meeting is also telling.

    Kids in kindergarten and primary school whine for “A”‘s, not undergrads.


  5. I can remember two great comments from lecturers/tutors about my writing that made me realise how important style and argument are in decent essays. I say be blunt. If he asks the question I don’t see why should hold back the answer. Of course, I’d probably give him a few hints about decent essayists and would bluntly tell him just how he fails to be one. There may be a reason why I’m not any kind of teacher…


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