Eric Caldwell; Jennifer Low

Caldwell: Students object to grades for a variety of reasons—they might be frustrated with their abilities (I don’t know how to progress to the next level), frustrated with an evaluation which they take quite personally (I hate being eternally categorized as a B student), or frustrated with their inability to evaluate their own work (I can’t image writing a better paper or I can’t imagine what an A paper looks like). Sometimes students simply find the grade inconvenient (I need at least a B+ in order to get into the Com School). And sometimes they honestly disagree with your evaluation.

Whatever you do, don’t act defensively; listen to the student, and be clear about your expectations and the degree to which they were and were not met. If the student resists your evaluation, put the burden upon them—have them show you how the paper does in fact meet your expectations. This is often useful as it forces the student to directly confront their own work, in some cases for the first time.

Low: In dealing with a hostile student, you must begin by disengaging yourself. Be aware that this student cannot ruin your life and, furthermore, even if you do not get through to this student, you have not failed as a teacher. Call a (mandatory) conference with the student. Explain again your grading criteria. Admit that different disciplines often have different criteria but that yours are as broadly shared by this University as any criteria can be. Go over the "unfairly" graded paper again, being as specific as possible about its weaknesses. Offer a variety of suggestions about rewrites. Consider using these or similar lines during the course of the discussion: "I didn't give you this grade; you earned it by handing this paper to me in fulfillment of the assignment." "This discussion is not about who has the power to make grading decisions. This discussion is about your paper and about how you can try to learn to write a little better, if you choose to." 1992