Monday, April 1, 2013


A Student Tells Me “I Would Do Anything, And I Do Mean Anything, For a C”

Would you: mow my lawn, do my laundry, paint my living room, act as my chauffeur, chef, all-around handyman?

If I needed a green card, would you marry me?

Would you be the one — next semester — to tell students when they are failing?

Would you be the one I call when my dog finally dies and I cannot lift her into my car alone?

Would you lend me money?

Would you give me money?

Even if I didn’t need it?

Do you even have money?

Would you write me a song?

Would you look up my ex-boyfriends and ask them if they ever — just sometimes, just once in awhile — think of me?

Would you get a good night’s sleep?

Would you stop global warming? Or at least do your part?

Would you never buy a sub-prime mortgage? Would you save ten percent of your income and give another five percent to charity? Would you open a retirement account? Today?

Would you stop hating your mother? Would you stop making excuses? Would you stop telling stories about yourself in class that make everyone uncomfortable?

Would you do the reading? Every day?

Would you kill yourself? (I would never ask you to.) (But would you?)

Would you stop being so easily convinced?

Would you become a person “on whom nothing is lost”? Would you identify whose quote that is?

Would you show some sense?

Would you “serve as the axe to the frozen sea within”? Would you identify whose quote that is?

Would you keep in mind that your teachers are people with complicated hearts? Would you keep in mind that when you don’t do your work it really does disappoint and when you’re rude it bugs us for days and when you fail we don’t ever exactly forget, and we do, we do, feel like maybe in some way it was actually our fault?

Would you be more like me?

Would you become someone who when offering to do anything — really anything — would demand an A not a C for your sacrifice?

Would you see the world as the piece of wonder that it really is?

Would you see these years as an amazing time in which all was opened up to you?

Would you be honest? Face your fears? Learn to use a comma correctly?

Would you, when I tell you no, forgive me?

Ayşe Papatya Bucak directs the MFA program at Florida Atlantic University. Her stories and essays have been published in Witness, Prairie Schooner, Creative Nonfiction, and The Iowa Review. She keeps a blog on teaching creative writing for Bedford/St. Martin's.

70 Comments / Post A Comment


sso good. This: "Would you become someone who when offering to do anything — really anything — would demand an A not a C for your sacrifice?" is exactly what I was thinking!



That's like wishing for more wishes!


@iceberg Same here!


This is perfect. Absolutely perfect. <3@v

fondue with cheddar

"Would you keep in mind that your teachers are people with complicated hearts? Would you keep in mind that when you don’t do your work it really does disappoint and when you’re rude it bugs us for days and when you fail we don’t ever exactly forget, and we do, we do, feel like maybe in some way it was actually our fault?"

Teachers. <3


@fondue with cheddar This. I took a hard line with my students, because they ALL have a sad story. Every one of them. And you can care about them and feel bad for them, but in the end: Do they give two shits about you? These college students? No. 99% of the time they only give half a shit about their GRADE. Certainly not enough to actually come to class.

I learned early on that I could not care more about their success than they did, it would just make me a crazy person.

My standing analogy is that undergraduates are like zombies. They aren't real people, and if you give in and do one a favor, the rest will eat your brains. THE END.

fondue with cheddar

@angermonkey I can totally understand that. I know it can be rewarding sometimes, but it seems like it would be heartbreaking and/or frustrating most of the time. I have so much respect for teachers of all kinds.

Better to Eat You With

@angermonkey "I learned early on that I could not care more about their success than they did, it would just make me a crazy person."

This. This is the lesson we all have to learn if we're going to survive.


@Better to Eat You With @fondue with cheddar And I don't want to give the impression that I don't (didn't) care about my students or that teaching is not my favorite gig on the planet. But there is a syllabus, and that thing is a contract, and if I do my part and you can't be bothered to do yours I CAN NOT bend the rules for YOU, individual student. And that's always, ALWAYS what they want: for you to bend the rules, just this once, please? Just this once, because they HAVE to have an A in this class or they won't get into med school/law school/grad school... and just this once? PLEASE? This semester has been so hard. I missed class all those times because I was sick... too sick to go to the health center ::chin wobbles, tears::

No, dammit. That is unfair to everybody else. That's the part that they never get. I'm not being mean to THEM, I'm being fair to the other 199 people in that section.

fondue with cheddar

@angermonkey I didn't get that impression at all.

all the kittens in the club gettin nipsy

@Better to Eat You With @fondue with cheddar Best username convergence ever. Mmmmmm. Undergrad fondue.


@angermonkey Eh. The world gets by bending rules for other people. Deadlines are blown, admissions fees are adjusted, discounts get given whatever whatever, times for appointments are found.

I figure... one student's business isn't really anyone else's. If someone needs time to whatever whatever, and it doesn't kill anyone else to give it... fine. If other students don't need the time, good for them. They finish up the semester before finals begin and skip off to Christmas break without having pulled four all nighters in a row. Good for them.

To be honest, if I had to keep track of shit getting done at x-time, no negotiations, I would go absolutely nuts. ADD-Professor here can't keep track of her own shit. It's just so, so frustrating to hold the line on everyone else's shit.

Point is, really, there is no moral value or fairness about syllabi (except the don't steal other people's work part, that totally is). It's really all about what works best for the professor and their sanity. It's good for your sanity to have a hard time and not give extensions? Then don't give extensions. It works better for you to be flexible and everyone knows they can work with you for flexibility? Then that is the rule.

When other profs say about their syllabi "well, in THE REAL WORKPLACE you have to do stuff on time..." I think, actually, not really. What you have to do is follow the rules your boss/the workplace set because the rules make their lives easier.

Also, you know, they actually do have all that stuff happen to them, a lot of the time. And if they don't, well, if I don't ask for reasons they don't tell me lies.


@PistolPackinMama Also, contracts are revised and amended all the time. It's not the 10 Commandments or Peace in the Middle East. It's a syllabus. (And if it were a syllabus for Peace in the Middle East, they'd probably damn well get it done on time.)

Better to Eat You With

@PistolPackinMama One student's business isn't anybody else's business until they tell everyone else in the class that you've given them a break, which they always, always do, and then you're trying to keep track of 25 different extended deadlines for 25 different people, all of whom are going to do it the night before whatever deadline you've been able to twist their arm enough to get them to agree to anyway. And then they do a shit job and get the C- they would have gotten without the extension. Meanwhile the decent students who didn't ask for an extension spend the entire semester seething at you and give you articulately shitty course evaluations and run to your boss' office to complain about you at the first possible opportunity because you're fucking unfair, and they're right: You're fucking unfair.

Who has time for this shit? I haven't had a cost of living raise in 9 years and I'm about to embark on grading 1,200 pages of student writing (which is 1/4 of my semester's grading). "Flexibility" means that I don't have time to help the good students who deserve it because I'm spending all day accommodating people who don't give a shit in the first place.


@Better to Eat You With That's fine- so don't give extensions to anyone. I am not saying you shouldn't. I actually don't really have a horse in the race of how you run your class. I am busy running my class.

My point is, your decisions about your classroom are yours, and the rationales are yours, and they are fine. But the reasons I give for allowing extensions are also valid, and they make it easier for me to pay attention to the good students because I don't have to think about the late papers. I get them, glance at them, and give them their C- rather than freaking out about keeping track of shit when I struggling to remember my car keys. My choices aren't a comment on on how much of a contract your syllabus is. Yours shouldn't be a comment on how much of a contract mine is, either.

When you say to people "I do it this way because this is how all the work gets by me, with the best outcome for students and for my sanity" then it's a watertight argument. Your classroom, your rules.

Professors I have worked with who don't teach English comp will say in an aggrieved tone of voice "I am an X-teacher, not a writing teacher." Well dandy. I am a social scientist who focuses a lot on writing, not a time management coach.


@angermonkey "My standing analogy is that undergraduates are like zombies. They aren't real people, and if you give in and do one a favor, the rest will eat your brains. THE END" :D

I don't think I am this cynical yet; I teach high school juniors, and I keep thinking it would be easier, they would actually do their work if I taught at the college level. I guess not.


@PistolPackinMama I teach high school, which is admittedly different, but I'm with you on not really caring when my kids get things done. I give unlimited test retakes and I don't deduct for late work. And my reasoning is that I have a list of things I want my students to know and be able to do by the end of the semester. Some come in already able to do those things, and some come in hardly able to converse in English (I teach at an international school). Expecting them to all accomplish things at the same, regular intervals is unrealistic, and means I'll have a quarter of my students bored to tears and another quarter having already given up by the second week.

In reality, I find that students still finish and prepare things by the deadlines, because it's sort of a pain in the ass to make something up. And the class moves on. But at least the panicked students who are in over their head have a shot - you don't get a few weeks in and have kids give up because "why try anymore?" when their failure is mathematically certain. (one way in which hs is different is that students don't stop showing up when they have given up)

I can also get away with this because I have small to moderate class sizes. If I was teaching lecture halls of over 100 at a time, I would probably take a hard line too. However, that would be for MY sanity, not because I think hard-rule deadlines are highly valuable to THEIR learning.


@MissMushkila Yeah, I can see how that can work when your skill levels/competencies are all over the place, esp. with language comprehension/expression. In my Junior year of HS, I can remember some of my friends and colleagues just blossoming from start of year to end. I've thought it must be a fun crowd to work with because of that big change.



Thank you. It is not okay to place justice above mercy by default. Even if, statistically, you expect to be played.

I had ... challenges as an undergrad, some of which were amplified by course structures/tempo. It's been a couple of years and I still cry when I think about professors and TAs who chose to read my vulnerability as a form of manipulation. I was "the other student(s)" and the memory of repeated humiliations is unfair. My particular combination of challenges made me an outlier, but the challenges themselves were not unique.

I owe a lot to the professors who helped or allowed me to break the rules, knowing I could and would write new ones. A couple of those folks managed to record failing grades on my transcript and, simultaneously, let me know they still believed in me. These are the people who inspire me to teach.

It's raining on my face.


Which is not to say that I've never, ever grade-grubbed in my entire life.

Or that I disliked this article -- props to Ayşe Papatya Bucak. Amusing and poignant.

Stephanie Boland@twitter

@Better to Eat You With Thank you for this. I would never give a mean course evaluation over it or run to someone's boss, but I do find it hard not to resent tutors who give extensions for ridiculous reasons. And yes, they always tell everyone, and yes, those of us who work very hard get very annoyed at them.


@Stephanie Boland@twitter did you ever ask for an extension and be refused it for any reason, legit or otherwise, from the same tutors? Because that is trip to the Dean's office worthy. Otherwise, what's not fair? I don't understand why you resent people for having something you never asked for nor were refused.

If you needed a break and didn't ask when you knew tutors would accommodate, that's not very good self advocacy. If you didn't ask because you did better getting stuff done by deadlines, then you're doing well with self advocacy and that's great. Unless their deadline revision is affecting you negatively for some reason- because it's group work, or they are cheating on content, or are affecting quality of classroom instruction- I don't see what there is to resent. It's not relevant to you or your learning.

In fact, if it's relevant at all to you, it could be in a positive way. When folks turn in stuff late to me, and it's clear that the reasons are "I am slacking," that usually means I give the pre-deadline attention they would take up to the students who are more engaged and asking for my help. They got time. The other students got a lot more.

@() Yup, exactly. If profs just Can't because they have 200 person sections and stuff has to happen on schedule, it's understandable even if it sucks. But since I can, for the sake of students like you, I do. If nothing else, if they work with me on rewriting rules, they have some slack to spare on profs who can't or don't.

For the record, when students complain that Professor So and So is a hardass and doesn't give extensions and whine whine whine, I stick to a united front policy. Which means I tell them "they have reasons, it's their classroom, you might work in a field that has similar attitudes about deadlines, and part of college is learning to prioritize, so stop complaining at me like I am going to do something about it and get your work done, okay sunshine?"

I also adored this post, because who hasn't heard point grubbing at some point, and what do you say? "When you fail I feel like it's in some way partly my fault, even though intellectually I know it isn't, and you're killing me because I care about you, but giving you points you don't deserve isn't solving your real problem, and it's not happening, sorry."


@PistolPackinMama Especially b/c some rules are just arbitrary. For instance, I used to be a real hard-ass about people coming in on time (I took lateness as a personal slight); if you weren't there when I started the lesson, you didn't get to come in at all. Granted, this was /not/ a university setting, but rather primary education, so I think perhaps providing a more structured environment at the lower levels is important. The real irony here is that the only reason /I/ ever got into trouble during my HS yrs was for being tardy. Even so, it took me a while to realize that I needed to just chill the f*** out. If I ever go back to teaching, I've pledged to take a more laidback (but NOT lackadaisical) approach w/ my future hypothetical students.


@D.@twitter My wee brother makes his late students stand on a desk and recite poetry relevant to the class topic, Dead Poets Style. The other option was x-many tardy counts= an absence. He gave them the choice, and they all picked poetry.

Number of late entrants to his 8:30 AM class the first term he tried it? Three.

His best "I can't make it" note that year was "I am so sorry Mr. PPM'sBROTHER, I have to miss class on X-day. I am being sworn in as a US citizen, and there isn't an alternative time to do it." To which we all said... well, that makes sense.


As an undergraduate who likes to think she's an actual person, this is the most disheartening thing I've ever read. I'll leave out the details, but it's been a rough semester due to some medical/mental issues. I missed a lot of deadlines.

A week ago I sent emails to a professor and the dean explaining the situation, offering proof from a doctor that I was being treated and a copy of my prescription, asking for any kind of help, and offering to do every assignment I missed for any amount of credit.

A week later I've gotten no responses. I can't tell you how much it sucks to have everyone automatically assume that you're lazy and a liar and just unwilling to work. I'm not really sure why I made a profile just to say this, but reading your comment was devastating. :/


@LittleBird13 okay,I have to step in here. At no point did I EVER say that I did not excuse absences, especially medical. That would be crazy asshole behavior and also illegal. This Is what syllabi are for- its the place where you outline what you expect from your students, but almost MORE importantly it's the contract that outlines how I will be able to help YOU and what YOUR recourses are when shit gets real. Which, incidentally, is why I find the posters above who are all "eh...syllabi... I don't have time to worry about uniform due dates" UTTERLY HORRIFYING, because you're basically breaking a contract with the rest of your class and it is catastrophically unfair. However, if my syllabus states that you need to bring me proof of a doctors visit within X days, you need to bring me proof of a doctors visit in X days. This is almost invariably university policy- my personal feelings on your illness do not (and should not) come into it.

Also, I have never in my career taken more than 24 hours to answer a student's email. That is inexcusable. I am including the week my father passed away and I had to fly 1000 miles to plan a funeral in that history. I answered emails in the car on the way to the service.

We KNOW you are actual people. And we, believe it or not, build our course syllabi to help you and give you the benefit of the doubt. That benefit is not endless, though, and there are time frames and limitations to how long we can help you.

And some faculty are dicks- if yours has left you twisting in the breeze for a week, he/she is one of them. Call or park your butt in office hours if he keeps blowing you off, and then tell the department head.


@PistolPackinMama I guess we have to agree to disagree on this. My syllabus tells the students what I will teach, but it also outlines the policies that protect them (excused absences, make up policies, recourse). Having those rules count for some students and not others is deeply unfair in my eyes. What does that tell the students who DO bring me a doctors note when they miss an exam because they had the flu?


@angermonkey I think you are assuming that I state in my syllabus that the assignment deadlines are non-negotiable. In my syllabus, I state that students who are not going to make a deadline need to

1) let me know
2) establish a new due date for which they will be responsible
3) ensure the material is turned in at that time

This is an option for anyone who follows up on it, and it is clearly stated for anyone who cares to read it.

It's only unfair if allowed some students the options and then denied it to others when they ask for it. You're writing as if the policy you have on deadlines is a law of nature. It's not. It's a closed system that you, as the authority in the room created. It's unfair because you say it's unfair, because you decided what the contract is going to be.

My contract is different.

And when students are missing class, they have the problem of not being able to make up in class work, of which there is a lot. Their participation grade suffers unless they have a university endorsed excuse for not being there.

I don't understand what the problem is here.

As a side note, if your experiences with depression have worked out so that you can follow the x-many days rule with absence notices, that's great. But having been through that mill and back more than once, I know that's not how it works for everyone. I can't help people figure out how to cope with their chronic mental illness if I don't know there is a problem, and I won't know if they don't tell me. My syllabus is written in such a way that the option of telling me is maximized and no one is getting any special treatment that isn't available to anyone else.

This is not unfair, because I have set my closed system up such that it isn't.

There's nothing wrong with this, nor is there anything inherently wrong or unfair with your system. I don't have to agree with your policy to agree it's an acceptable choice and one students should learn to work with.


Had me at "Would you do the reading?"




@Tulletilsynet I was going to say, you would do ANYTHING for a C? How about you do the work assigned to you to a C-standard? Dead easy, giterdone. Boo-yah, wasn't that a cakewalk?

God bless them and their hyperbolic panic.


I was a secondary school teacher for two years. Nothin' like being propositioned by your 18-year-old student. "What can I do for you *wink* to pass the final, Teacher?" My answer: "Study."


@hyaluronan One time in a 300-level college class (aka, everyone should've known better) the prof explained that the only thing the midterm would cover was Crime & Punishment, and as long as we were ready to analyze it, we'd be good to go. Cue the next 15 minutes of "but what do we need to DOOOO to get a good grade?" The prof actually kept his patience and said "if you haven't read the book yet, I'd get cracking on that. If you have, you'll probably do fine."


@Poubelle The grade-grubbing in some college classes made me so embarrassed for my fellow students. Quit wheedling and show some self-respect!


is it sad that i sang-read this to meatloaf's "i'd do anything for love (but i won't do that)"?


also, every one of these is a potentially terrible rom com starring sandra bullock.


@becky@twitter No, it is awesome that you did that.


People actually say that? Ewww.


@Lyesmith All the time, but usually through tears. I teach chemistry to desperate pre-med freshmen, and this is the time of year where I have to come up with responses to that offer on a daily basis.


@Shara Ah, pre-meds. They are my favorite. And by my favorite, I mean uughhhhh...


@Lyesmith A fellow TA in grad school was told by an undergrad that she would fuck him for an A. When he expressed concern for her self esteem, she shrugged and said it had worked on plenty of other instructors, so what was he all up on his high horse for.


@angermonkey I like nurses the best. (I do not like them the best.) I don't care if you got A's in every other class. That means if you get a B here, you will still survive. And if you didn't, why didn't you get an A in Microbiology?

Love them, but man are they control freaks upset they can't be control freaks about every last detail of life.


@dabbyfanny I still remember the burning shame of mixing up "proposing" and "propositioning" when talking to my favourite high school teacher and asking him to explain the difference (ugh ugh ugh). I can't believe people -actually- proposition their teachers.

Better to Eat You With

@dabbyfanny When I was an undergrad, I dated a PhD student who taught his own Psych sections (instead of assisting/grading/whatever). It got really embarrassing when my friends propositioned him.


@Lyesmith Lyesmith... ooh... I am feeling sympathetic pains. I'd likatadied if that had been me.


This piece could have been wasted on just goofy stuff, which would have been good for a passing chuckle. Instead, it got beautiful and I loved it in a way that makes me want to apologize to some of my past teachers.


@Nocs I know, right? Sorry for being disappointing, professors who surely no longer remember me!

I really enjoyed this piece.

RK Fire

@Mira Same here, but part of me is smug with the thought that I rarely thought it was appropriate to beg for a better grade. "Well, I did turn it in two days late, so this deduction of a letter grade was deserved."


@RK Fire Yeah, I accept my lower grades because I deserve them. I didn't work as hard as everyone else, and explaining my occasional struggles with A.D.D./Mental health doesn't seem like a "good enough" excuse. I'm an adult, I should deal with my own personal struggles and not foster them off on my colleges/profs/peers.


"I would do anything... except, apparently, the required work."


I think they mean, "I would submit to anything."


@Tulletilsynet As opposed to "I have submmited everything already, so this conversation is unnecessary."


"Would you stop being so easily convinced?" Made me wonder if I am that way. Not usually, but sometimes.

oh! valencia

I just want to say how much I loved this, and that is all.


Teachers, I love you.

279th District Court

Thank you for this! I still think about the student last semester who walked into my office saying that she had asked to meet me after not doing her final paper because she wanted "to protect my A." And having to explain to her that she did not HAVE an A. She had 50% of an A, based on the tests, but she was missing all the points for the paper because she didn't turn it in.

This is a better response than any I've come up with. Beautiful, sweet, and charming.

Little Miss Bossy

I once had a student offer to "give me a deal" on sneakers (he worked at Sports Experts).


@Little Miss Bossy your icon and user name!

And hold me back from cheap sneakers! (okay, I don't care about them, but... hee.)


@Little Miss Bossy Reminds me of the scene in Easy A where a guy offers Olive a coupon to Bath and Body Works in exchange for lying about having sex with him.

mrs psmith

@Little Miss Bossy Hahahahaha ahh what an optimistic fellow.


@mrs psmith Yeah, I mean, if you're going to bribe me with shoes, you had better be bribing me with shoes that either are Manolos, or are going to be purchased by me in an Italian shoemaker's store, in Italy, and there better have been a plane ticket tucked in that offer, too.

Otherwise... nothin' doing.

mrs psmith

@PistolPackinMama Right? Sports Experts isn't going to cut it, my little venality amateur.


@PistolPackinMama I can't remember which professor it was, but his policy on bribes was it had to be good enough to risk losing his job over. Which I thought was a clever way to say don't try and I'll make fun of you for puny efforts in bribery.


@cminor HAH, that is indeed quite awesome. I also tell them unhelpfully snotty evals, as opposed to useful criticism evals get marched down to the bar, where I read them aloud dramatically and with vigour and then we laugh and laugh and laugh. Calling your prof a fat whore makes you the object of much humorous derision. If you want me to care about your anonymously nasty remarks, I sure hope yo are okay with other people anonymously enjoying them, too.


Would you put an average amount of effort into this class's required workload?


@annev6 Haven't you heard? "Average" is the new, "A." "C" now means that the assignment was completed.


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