Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Lazy Runs Deep

A weird thing happened.  At the end of the semester, on the day grades were due, we finally got an email from the data structures professor letting us know that the grades for the final exam and project were online, and that we could now view our final grades.  This semester was really rough for me (see the previous post) but I’d really thought I could pull a B out of this class.  But when I checked it, I saw that the online gradebook had other ideas.

Now I know what I expected to happen.  I would usually handle a disappointment like the C staring back at me with a heavy sigh and a bitter remark and a dismissive wave of my hand.  Life isn’t fair.  I learned that a long time ago when my mother explained to me that I had to be the older and therefore the more mature one when my sister and I would get into skirmishes when we were little.  But that wasn’t what happened.  It wasn’t what happened at all.

I became possessed by some person I haven’t seen since the ninth grade.  I became angry.  I became motivated.  I ranted for a while, to anyone within reach—my classmates, my mother.  Then it hit me that I had less than 24 hours to dispute this grade and I absolutely nothing to lose by trying.  Maybe it was futile.  The grade was mostly my fault anyway—I didn’t study well enough for the final exam, and I studied the wrong things, and my grade reflected that.  But there were at least two grade points that I could attribute to the teaching assistants’ inconsistent and lazy grading.  Those were the points I needed to squeeze a B out of this course, and I was clinging to them like the handlebar on an old roller coaster. 

Amazingly, given the height of my emotional distress at this point (as well as a mild identity crisis I decided to put a pin in), I composed a 450-word email to the professor that opened:

I'm sure you're getting a lot of emails from students who are panicked about their grades here at the last minute.  This is one of those emails.
Then I made my case.  I wasn’t fighting for truth or justice, because I probably deserved the grade I’d been given.  I was a lawyer on my own case, and I was not about to take “C” for an answer (there’s a “sí” joke in there somewhere, but I won’t make it so as to preserve the seriousness of this story). 

This professor, in stark contrast to my other programming professor this semester, had always been great about responding to student needs, pushing back project deadlines when they lined up with projects and exams in other classes.  I appealed to this tendency now.  Much to my surprise, he gave me a shot.  He had the TA send me the file they’d used to test our programs, and allowed me to correct the issue that had cost me the points I needed.  In a kind of daze, unable to fully believe, first, that I had initiated this at all, and second, that it was actually happening, I dismissed myself and left work.  I raced home, dug out my old program, and started coding furiously.  In two and a half hours of harried coding and frantically reading posts, I had solved the problem.  It wasn’t easy.
"I can scare the stupid out of you,
but the lazy runs deep."

My fingers shook as I hit the button to send the program back to the teacher.  I don’t know why they were shaking now; maybe it had only just occurred to me to be freaked out about all of this.  Who was this person who cared deeply enough and contained enough fire to fight so hard for a couple of points? 

Oh, me.  Right.

The professor emailed me and told me he’d adjusted my grade.  When I looked at the gradebook again, I saw that he’d given me exactly the number of points I’d needed to reach a B.  My grade is now an 80.01.  I’d done it.  I hadn’t rolled over and taken a C.  I had drawn my sword and fought.  There is no reason I should have been allowed to actually make changes and resubmit a project from weeks earlier and receive additional credit.  But I’d channeled my inner Paris Geller (Gilmore Girls?  Anyone?), I’d taken a shot and I’d made it.

I’m a little scared of what this means going forward, but I’m more excited about the B.

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