Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Please Read and Follow Instructions

Dead week almost killed me. Really. Besides the mountains of grading, I got to be the recipient of all that student wrath--and that's always much harder on me than the actual grading.

Dead week's about the time the students start to realize the ramifications (like, "But I'll lose my scholarship!" or "But I'll be kicked off the team!" or "But Mom & Dad will kill me!") of all those poor decisions they've been making all semester (like skipping class, not reading assigned texts, and failing to turn things in). And it's a whole lot easier to be angry at your professor than it is to admit that you're the cause of your own problems.

In Comp classes, the most important paper is usually the last one--the dreaded research paper. There are, of course, those nasty plagiarism issues. They are never fun to deal with. I usually hear "But I didn't know!"s, no matter how much I explain plagiarism in class, and I often see tears. Sometimes there are protests of innocence, even with the proof staring them in the face.

But the issue that gets me the most is students' refusal to read and follow directions. Now, because of past experience, both my syllabus and my Essay Assignment Sheets look surprisingly like legal documents. They include things like:

--Two scholarly sources are required. Failure to cite two scholarly sources will result in a grade of zero and your paper will not be graded.

--A Works Cited page is required. Failure to submit a Works Cited page will result in a grade of zero and your paper will not be graded.

--Photocopies of all sources with the borrowed information highlighted is required. Papers submitted without highlighted photocopies will receive a grade of zero and will not be graded.

--A plagairized paper will receive a grade of zero, with no opportunity to redo the essay.

--Your essay must be at least X# of pages long. If your paper is not a full X# of pages, it will receive a zero and your paper will not be graded.

You get the picture? OK.

So, not only do I spell out the requirements in detail, I also read the assignment out loud, explaining each requirement. I remind them during the process. THEN, on the last day of class before they submit their papers, I give them a checklist for editing and revision. Along with things like "Does your paper have a title? _____", I have questions like "Is your paper a full X pages long? _____ "and "Do you have a Works Cited page? _____" On the list is also "Have you included copies of your sources? _____ Remember, failure to submit copies of your sources will result in a failing grade." Notice the handy spot provided for their yes or no answers.

Elementary, my dear Watson. Or so you'd think.

But, no! I get papers that are half a page too short. I get papers with one source. I get papers turned in without photocopies of sources. And what grade do these papers get? Say it with me class: "Zero!" And to make matters worse, usually these students have written "yes" in every blank of that handy-dandy checklist that I've provided.

Now, here comes the worst part. Do you know whose fault those zeroes are? Are they the fault of those students who didn't read directions? Or who didn't listen in class? Or who assumed I didn't mean what I wrote and said? No! Of course not! It's MY fault. So students get angry and shout "Stupid class!" or slam doors or throw their papers all over the hall. One student told me that I just wasn't merciful.

Another student who hasn't managed to follow a direction all year told me she plans to major in nursing. I'm frightened.


Jennifer said...

I'm sorry you are having to deal with all of this...wish it would go away :(

Kelly said...

I hope this makes you feel better. My "favorite" parent/teacher conference involved an over-the-top angry mother who called the principal to complain about me and a plagiarism issue on her son's paper. I gave him a zero and wrote him up. I copied the website where the information was printed, etc.

OK. Here's the kicker. I walked in, and she said, essentially, that she knew the paper was not plagiarized because SHE WROTE THE PAPER!!! And get this: It was MY fault that she wrote the paper because I expected too much out of her son. I almost lost it. I was having to fight back the laughter the entire time.

She argued with me for about ten minutes, trying to prove how HER paper was not plagiarized. I had to explain plagiarism to her over and over without laughing. It was hilarious.

She kept saying things like, "I don't want to do his homework for him, but I have to. He might fail." hahahaha. The principal and I both could not believe it. Bizarre.

Stephanie said...

@Jennifer--Thanks! This, too, shall pass!

@Kelly--and it never occurred to the mother, of course, that the act of turning in a paper his mother had written was plagiarism, even without the sources issue! What can you do but laugh???

Courtney said...

I'm sorry that some students act that way. I'm glad that you stick to your guns-- we all have to learn personal responsibility at some point!

Nursing school will be a real eye opener for the student you mentioned.

Kelly said...

Stephanie, I could not even begin to explain how her son plagiarized by getting his mom to write his paper. She kept going back to the fact that her paper was not plagiarized. She said, "I just used the website for definitions. Just like you write definitions in history class." Right. Well, if the goal was to get another chance for her son, it did not work. It was hilarious.

Mark Elrod said...

You read my mind.

The worst part is that you either have to stick to your guns or be that teacher who doesn't have any sympathy.

And you're right. The pattern is that students who don't pay attention for the first 15 weeks don't pay attention during the last week.

Hang in there.

Jessica Love said...

Someone emailed me this with the reassurance I was not alone, although I'm not sure how reassuring it actually is that college students are as bad as high school students.
Of course, I know why they would think they wouldn't actually get a zero on something, because when I followed a similar policy and procedure (substitute "F" for "zero") and the students complained to their parents who complained to the principal, I had to change the grades because I had "not communicated clearly enough" and he believed them when they said "I didn't know it was plagiarism when I copied and pasted and didn't put a citation."