Grades are Earned

As a teacher, you eventually have to deal with a student pleading for a better grade. I am not sure if I was more flexible in the past or now — since I do admit adding an “extra credit” activity this year. But, when a student with a 79 percent asks why he didn’t receive the “B” he believes he is somehow owed, I am the last person to surrender. In fact, I think it pushes me away from any act of kindness when a student accuses me of not understanding his or her efforts.

Every class is about life skills. Some teachers do adjust grades while others do not. That is, I admit, much how life works. And some students are far better at playing instructors, just as those students will be better at office politics. We cannot control the fact that life is not always fair, but we can try to make our classrooms as fair as possible.

Since I teach composition and rhetoric, I’m already in a subjective domain. No matter how much I count grammar and spelling, my analysis of a paper is largely subjective. The primary “objective” measure I have for a paper is if the student attempted the work. Because I do count things that can be objectively measured, and usually find that these measures correspond to the grades I give in the subjective areas of the course, I seldom doubt my grading.

If you do poorly on simple quizzes and basic homework tasks, you probably do not care about longer papers. If you do not outline a paper, submit drafts, or participate in workshops, it is a reasonable bet that your paper will not be as good as those of students working through the “process” of composition.

So, when a student tells me that my grade was not fair, I can show him or her my grades and ask, “Why didn’t you do well on the quizzes? Why didn’t you participate in peer editing sessions? Why didn’t you care until the last week of class?”

Grades are earned. They are not given.
Yes, I have had students try and fail. That really upsets me, since I can tell when a student is struggling. I make every attempt to help the student out of class, but many are simply not prepared for the university. In those cases, the grades are still based on student works and not “given” based on my own emotional desire to help these individuals.

A 79 in my class can indicate a struggling immigrant worked a lot to succeed or that a gifted writer didn’t try very hard. It is a matter of perspective.


  1. I am so glad I found your post. I am an adjunct instructor who has to meet with a student tomorrow because they want an "A" in the class. The class is not over. There are still two quizzes left and a group project. The student has a grade of 83 but is afraid that they will not get an "A". Never did the student mention needing help understanding the material presented in class. So instead of coming to me to let me know she is having trouble. She went straight to the dean and the dean directed her back to me and I asked that the chair of the department meet with us. she wanted to bring in another student that wants and "A" too. I said she could not bring in another student in on a meeting for her grades. I just don't understand what they want from me. The class is really easy and if they would work as hard on reading the book and the powerpoints that I give them a week before the class as they are on making me give them a grade, maybe they would have an "A".

    1. Students want to pay for a degree — only some realize the value of earning the degree. As a student told me tonight, many students do not want the "value" of the education for which they pay. They want the degree and nothing more. We need to change that, somehow.


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