It’s the time of year when I begin getting emails from students who want to make up work or find out why their grades are low or contest their grade in the class in some other way. It’s the time of year, too, when I begin to feel very, very mean, and thus, I hate this time of year.

This morning, I got two emails from students. One student wanted to know if she could make up a quiz that the rest of the class took before Thanksgiving and she missed because she went home early. I had given the class the chance to take the quiz early if they gave me notice, but she did not know, as she said, that she was leaving early for break – she wrote to inform me of this fact the morning she was leaving, which gave me about five minutes – five minutes that I didn’t have because I was conferencing – to get the quiz printed and to the proctoring lab for her. I told her that I couldn’t do so and that in the future she would need to give me more notice. Still, she asks if she can make it up. I know she is angry; I know why she is angry; I know this seems unfair, but I must set standards and hold to them. Part of my greatest struggle in teaching is that I know I’m not just teaching these folks – especially in my developmental courses – how to write; I’m also teaching them the practices and senses of responsibility that will, hopefully, make them better students and, maybe, people. (Oh, and I also know that the quiz is not enough to bring up her grade. She has missed a lot of work.)

The other email was from a student who has a high C in the class but says there is a “problem” with her grade. Knowing that email is an imperfect medium, I try not to read into this phrasing, but it still bothers me. I try to be especially careful to calculate (or at least enter and let the computer calculate) grades for me, and I know her grade is accurate. She has made a lot of progress in the class, but honestly, she’s doing C work. She does, however, have another paper that I will grade this week as well as a final exam, which could pull her up to a B. She has worried about her grade from the second week of class, and while she has worked hard, I do wonder what she could have done if she spent more time worrying about how to understand the material instead of what percentage she will receive.

My biggest struggle in these situations is that I am a nice person. If I thought it would be in their best interest, I would simply give the students A’s and be done with it. I hate hurting people’s feelings; I hate having people mad at me; I hate being disliked. But the truth is, this, too, is part of my job, the part I hate most.

But still, I push on, trying to hold my ground and helping them hold theirs. It helps, when I can believe it, to know that I am only a tiny piece of the puzzle. I hardly remember the grades I got, but I do remember the teachers who pushed me. I hope my students will be able to do the same for me.