Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to handle students who tell you they need to get an "A"

Apropos to the post below about students "demanding" to know why they didn't get the "A" they think they deserved is this essay from Inside Higher Ed, explaining how to handle students who subtly pressure the teacher at the start of the semester for an "A."

Unless you discourage it, someone will come to you early on and announce that s/he "needs" to get an A in your class. Variants include: "I have a 4.0 GPA"; "I want to know exactly what I need to do to get at least an A in your class"; "I’ve always gotten an A in (your discipline here) classes"; and "I’m applying to law/med school so I need to make sure this course won’t hurt my GPA."

The best way to address such a statement is try to avoid needing to do so in the first place. Some professors like to use ice-breakers in the first class to build solidarity. If that works for you, who am I to criticize? I’m not comfortable with the touchy-feely stuff, so I prefer to get down to business. However you start, though, make sure you make several things clear when you pass out the syllabus.

First, advise students that your grading criteria are laid out in specific detail on the syllabus. Second, remind them that a B is an honors level grade and they must do honors level work to get a grade that’s at least that high. Third, tell the class that you will evaluate everyone’s work according to the same standards. Fourth, remind students that you can only evaluate products, not effort, perception, or personality.

Even then at least one student is likely to repeat the dreaded "I need to get an A" phrase. In such a case, the best route to go is to smile and tell the student, "I hope that your need will match what you earn, but you should know that this conversation will have no bearing on how I evaluate you. In fact, it would be a very good idea if this topic is never again mentioned." Don’t be surprised if said student drops your course. Don’t worry about that; in fact, count your blessings.

The author offers additional advice on students who tell you:

  1. I need this course to stay in school and I’m willing to work hard.
  2. Is this course going to be fun?
  3. If I miss a few classes, will it hurt me?
  4. If I screw up, can I do an extra credit project?

In addition to answering those questions, the author also provides a bibliography of readings on these topics.  You can find all of it here.


| Permalink


Post a comment