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Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Earlier this semester, I had a meeting with one of my students, Dirk, from my Intro to Subfield course. He'd just received the grade I'd given him on a paper (an A-) and was "deeply concerned" about the fact that he did not get an A. "I'm not here asking you to change my grade," he said, curly hair flipping out from beneath his stocking cap, "it's just that I've never received such a low grade on a paper before. In high school I got all As, no questions asked."

I gave him my "this is not high school" speech, explaining to him that while his paper was good, it did not deserve an A. I gave him my reasons, and he seemed to understand them. Then he pulled out a sheet of paper and showed it to me. It was an academic progress report from his last year at high school. "See?" he said, shoving the paper in my lap, "I'm smart enough to be doing better than A- work in your class. I mean, this is an intro class, after all."

I could feel the blood rush to my face, and resisted the strong urge to roll my eyes. After explaining to him that this "intro class" did not mean that it was an "easy" class, he launched into a 15 minute speech about how he's discovered that, because he's so smart, he can quadruple major. Why get just one major, or even two, when you can get FOUR? He then proceeded to tell me about how he was the smartest child in his family, and how he always had to help his older brothers and sisters in their classes (two of them are in college as well). Our meeting ended with me chuckling softly to myself as he left my office.

A few weeks ago, we had an exam in my Intro to Subfield class. Dirk always sat in the back of the class. He never took notes, despite the fact that everyone around him was scribbling madly. He would just sit there, sweatshirt flopping open to reveal a grungy t-shirt beneath, same curly hair twanging out everywhere from beneath the red and white stocking cap. He looked the same on exam day, only this time he was busy filling his exam book with his essay answer. Indeed, he was the last one in the room when the exam period ended. "Dirk," I said, "time to turn in your exam. Class is over."

He didn't look up at me. "I got the exam three minutes late," he said, writing.

"No matter -- you're already two minutes past the exam time," I said, ready to grab his exam booklet. "Finish that sentence and that's it."

"No, I still have one full minute left," he said, still writing and not looking up.

"No -- it's over." I closed his exam book and took it.

He stood up and stretched. He's one of those lanky kids who, when he stretches, seems like one of those ancient flying dinosaurs: huge, a bit menacing, and ugly.

I smiled at him. "Well, what did you think of the exam?" I asked, trying move past the exam-snatching incident from a moment before.

"Easy," he said. He walked out of the room.

A few days ago, I received the results of the multiple choice section of the exam. The exam was 25 multiple choice questions and then a long essay. The class average on the MC portion was 15/25. Dirk scored a 22/25. In class yesterday I mentioned that, while I hadn't yet graded the essay portion of the exam, I had the results from the MC portion. I told the class what the highest score was, and that they'd see their exams on Wednesday (provided that I finish grading the essays today -- ugh).

After class, Dirk came up to the front of the room. "Where's my multiple choice score?" he said, looking at my papers on the table and moving some of them around. "You said you had them."

I was miffed. Miffed that he was touching my things, mostly, and that his tone was so demanding. "I don't have them here. You'll see them on Wednesday."

"But if you have them, I want to know my score," he said, face bearing not even a trace of good-naturedness.

I shook my head. "Well, you'll just have to wait. No one else has seen their scores yet, either."

He stomped away, mumbling something about being the smartest person in the class.

Students like Dirk, although I don't encounter them very often, drive me insane. I can see that he has some potential. He's a decent writer, and he seems to study the material and know it well. I've read his essay, and it's OK. I just hate his attitude, the way that he acts like I should treat him differently because he's "smart." I wish I could just shake him and say that a truly smart person would lose the attitude, treat people kindly, and accept that the rules apply to everyone equally. When I saw his exam score, I was actually relieved -- he'll be happy with it, I think, because he'll have a solid A on the exam. I'm relieved because he won't come to my office hours again, and I won't have to listen to him blather on about how much of a genius he is. I just don't want to deal with him, because he makes me feel defensive and like I want to strangle him. Just looking at him annoys me: I discovered long ago that I cannot stand to look at men with longish, unkempt, very curly hair. I don't know why. Just bugs the heck out of me.

Off to grade more essay exams.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 11/07/2006 08:56:00 AM  
7 Words of Wisdom:
  • At 9:00 PM, Blogger phd me said…

    Oh, how I love entitlement. Love it!!

  • At 10:17 PM, Blogger Ianqui said…

    I think you should say to him, "You know what? I'm smart too. I have a PhD. And I am your teacher, which means that I run the class and you play by my rules. And if you can't manage to do that, well, you won't exactly be giving me the impression that you're very smart at all."

  • At 12:32 AM, Blogger Flavia said…


    I'm with Ianqui. This kid needs an ass-whupping, and fast.

  • At 8:27 AM, Blogger RageyOne said…

    Ugh. He sounds like a pompous asshole (excuse my French). I really do dislike those he feel they are priviliged and want the world to know it. Just sickening...

  • At 10:13 AM, Blogger Aliki2006 said…

    Oh my goodness-I'm so sorry you had to deal with that kid. I don't come across attitude like that where I teach now (but other sets of discipline problems) but I remember coming across that sense of "entitlement" when I taught at the big private upstate NY school. Quibbling over an A- just used to drive me INSANE!

  • At 3:39 PM, Blogger ArticulateDad said…

    You know, hate it as I do, I've come to accept that sometimes the lessons some people need to learn will have to wait for another teacher, another day. Sure, if he gives you a mediocre paper, you grade it fairly, even if he'll come storming into your office. But it sounds like his attitude will far more likely irk you longer than his memory of your class will affect him. Of course, if it wouldn't be a violation of ethics, or cause for consternation from the department chair or the dean, there's nothing saying you can't write a nice little note at the end of the term, explaining that despite his earning an A- ;) for the term, his attitude and bearing in life leave much to be desired. That said, there's no guarantee it'd have any lasting effect on him. Too bad. It'd sure be nice if the world operated such that we all learned the lessons that mattered.

  • At 6:51 AM, Blogger Leslie M-B said…

    Seriously, this kid needs counseling. What an ass. I'm sorry you have to deal with this. At my current institution, there's a general sense of entitlement, but few students dare to challenge me on grades, even though I invite them to ask for a regrade if they feel I missed something.

    But every once in awhile, one does come along, and it always shocks me how clueless they really are.

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