To B+ or not to B+

Before I grew weary of public life and moved into a vast bunker beneath Mt. Baker, I taught freshman composition at a large Midwestern university. I had no teaching experience when I arrived at said university (to pursue an advanced degree in the burgeoning field of wasting time on the Internet), but I took a three-week seminar designed to familiarize wannabe professors like me with the freshman-comp curriculum.

Among other things, the seminar instructors gave us tips on how to manage a classroom full of sleep-deprived 18-year-olds who would rather be "shotgunning" Keystone Lights and tossing "Frisbees" around the "quad" than getting intimate with the art of rhetoric.

Unfortunately, none of those tips prepared me for the stomach-curdling task of fielding students' questions about why their papers had received less-than-satisfactory grades (that is, any grade that wasn't an A). I quickly learned that the best tactic was to read excerpts of my students' mangled prose aloud to them while massaging my temples, as if trying to decipher their mumbo-jumbo was causing my brain to swell. That almost always shut them up.

Almost always, however, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. My system collapsed at the end of the first semester, when a particularly irritate student refused to accept my rationale for giving her a B+ on her final paper.

Forty-five minutes into our discussion - and half an hour after my office hours had ended, when I should have been home eating hot dogs and watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" - I blurted out that I'd switch her grade to an A if she'd just stop whining. She said that sounded swell and, before I could get my wits about me and take back my rash offer, vanished into the ether, never to be seen again.

I spent a few minutes wondering if I'd just crossed a line, ethically speaking - but then I said "ethically speaking, shmethically shpeaking" and decided that, if giving everyone A's on everything meant I didn't have to talk to my students anymore, giving everyone A's on everything was the right thing to do.

And that, friends, is how I became the most popular (if possibly the least effective) freshman-comp teacher in the Midwest.

Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. E-mail him at dpleonidas@yahoo.com or read his blog at theshallowobserver.wordpress.com.

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