Annals of Annoying Students

by Kieran Healy on May 9, 2007

Via “Unfogged”:, a “hall of fame note”: from a student:

Dear Prof. AWB,

I was in your British Literature class in the fall of 2006, and for that class, you gave me a grade of C. I need to have a better grade for this class. As far as I know, I got an 86 on the first paper, and I didn’t complete the second assignment. I don’t know what I got on the final essay or exam.

I would like for you to change my grade to at least a B. If this means I must complete the second assignment, I will attempt to set aside time to do so. Please address this matter immediately.

Thank you,

Bwahahaha! Actually, just this morning a colleague got an email from a student saying that he would “try to set aside time” to take the final (the time for which has been posted on the University’s website all year).

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Student requests « The Unapologetic Mathematician
05.10.07 at 9:02 pm
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05.11.07 at 11:20 am



dsquared 05.09.07 at 9:29 pm

oh dear Kieran I am terribly disappointed at this attitude, it is so awfully awfully wrong and arrogant of you teachers not to engage with your students like this. It is oh so easy to mock them, while ignoring their substantive points. Truly this is the cardinal sin of the academy etc etc etc etc (ctd page 94).


BillCinSD 05.09.07 at 10:49 pm

I have a colleague who recently had a request to change a grade from 10 years ago. The requestor had just received an opportunity to go to China as part of his job, but he had been masquerading as a college graduate and now needed the degree.

I’m surprised the student didn’t offer to wash your car or something like that Kieran. Sounding mad that yhat you need to fulfill the requirements of a class really doesn’t get the professor on your side.


eszter 05.10.07 at 12:04 am

OMG, this is priceless.

I’m with Dsquared, btw, and many others are as well, I’m sure.

I had a student use the word ultimatum with me recently. I was being reassured that the specifics expressed in the email were “just a preference, of course, and not an ultimatum.” ?!?!?


James F. Elliott 05.10.07 at 2:32 am

“I need to have a better grade in this class…” Perhaps s/he should have thought of that while taking the damned class. Kids these days.


Guest 05.10.07 at 4:00 am

Personally, I love that letter. Dude said “please” and “thank you” while asking for what he wants. More power to him.


r@d@r 05.10.07 at 4:18 am

i want to laugh at these examples, but must recuse myself due to the number of college courses that i have failed and the melange of lame excuses and pathetic pleas for mercy that marked those failures.

we all have our low points. some of us have a lot of low points.


SG 05.10.07 at 4:54 am

The sad thing is these types of scheme work. I once knew of a masters student who discovered she needed to get her degree in order to qualify for a plum job, but she had long since given up on completion and needed to get a mark for one more subject to get her degree. So she contacted a (sadly, quite famous within his field) lecturer and asked him to allow her to submit an essay which was a year overdue. He said yes and marked her without penalty, she got the degree and subsequently the plum job.

At least she was able to “set aside the time”. Hrmph.


MissLaura 05.10.07 at 5:20 am

I admit it, I failed a student for only having turned in one of four papers and a midterm, then pretended to believe her when she wrote to me claiming to have totally turned them in, late, but before the end of the term. I’m such a softy – as soon as my students figure it out, I’m toast.


Marc Mulholland 05.10.07 at 8:38 am

Larf! I bet the student didn’t expect that “address[ing] this matter immediately” would mean bunging it on the internet. The joys of instant publishing!


MR. Bill 05.10.07 at 10:58 am

Re: the Hall of Fame..

Who wrote it? This dang internet thingy doesn’t seem to have a citation in its tubes anywhere.
And the version I can find is not quite as I remember it, to wit:

The Hall of Fame is high and wide;
It’s waiting rooms are full.
Some go in the doors marked ‘Push’;
Most, out the doors marked ‘Pull’.

(And I seem to remember the same Victorian poet wrote a verse about the toast landing on the floor, ending in “and always on the buttered side”.)
Senility is not pretty.


lemuel pitkin 05.10.07 at 12:23 pm

I used to send emails like that all the time. The tone was a lot more abject and fawning, of course, but the content was the same. And the response was almost always, Sure.


Thom 05.10.07 at 1:13 pm

At least he doesn’t make any spelling mistakes, that must be worth something.

Mind you, his lack of knowledge of his own grades doesn’t exactly suggest an academian’s thoroughness of research.


Frowner 05.10.07 at 1:37 pm

Re 3: I often wonder whether phrases like this result from students’ confusion about the meaning of words, or perhaps about what words connote. This may be mere over-thirtyism talking, but when I get emails from people in their late teens and early twenties, I get the feeling that most of them haven’t read enough to get a sense of the full meaning of many fairly common words–most recently a confusion between “to capitalize on” an advantage and the philosophy of capitalism.


Maurice Meilleur 05.10.07 at 1:58 pm

The best response suggestion so far from the comments to the original post: ‘Please see me during my office hours 5 months ago to address this issue. Maybe I can grant you an extension for your extenuating circumstances, so that your second paper will be due 4 months ago.’



Thom Brooks 05.10.07 at 2:54 pm

Amazing—some students simply know no shame!


David Margolies 05.10.07 at 4:00 pm

So we have “attempt to set aside time” and also “try to set aside time”. I cannot argue for this, but is it possible this is an emerging polite formulation? It seems to us old fogeys (me and perhaps others commenting) so odd. Just drop ‘attempt/try to’ and we would all like the messages more, so by the evidence that they do not do that, can the students think they are saying what is right?

Just an idea.


Bloix 05.10.07 at 4:08 pm

Perhaps the student has been encouraged to believe this is possible by other professors. I have a son in high school and we have been doing college visits. We sat in on a history class just after spring break, and the professor began by saying that he still didn’t have papers that were due before the break from about a third of the class and would they please get them in. No statement that they would fail if they didn’t, or that they would be graded down, or that the papers wouldn’t be accepted. Just, “get them in, please.”

I think this is a terrible mistake. In the real world, late work is useless work. Professors teach their students a really harmful lesson when they lead them to believe that deadlines don’t matter.


eszter 05.10.07 at 4:13 pm

Frowner – This person is older than the age range you specify. But yes, that also occured to me.

Back to the original message: If this means I must complete the second assignment – this part is precious (although it’s hard to say which particular section is the best). Assuming the instructor would even consider changing the grade under such circumstances, how is the “if” appropriate here? Is the student expecting a grade change just for asking? I guess given the message overall, that may well be what the student is expecting. I like some of the suggestions people had on the original post regarding possible responses.


Andrew Edwards 05.10.07 at 4:28 pm

In the real world, late work is useless work.



bumkiss 05.10.07 at 6:58 pm

The “if this means I must complete the second assignment” does not really mean that the student expects to get the grade without doing that; it is an incorrectly phrased offer to fix what was one of the reasons that caused all this.

I find it hard to accept criticism of the ‘style’ of begging, when the very act – begging – predestines it to be clumsy at best, even when communicated face to face, in person, with all the non-verbal cues. Why then expect it to be done better on paper, and that too by teenagers?


luci 05.10.07 at 7:06 pm

My initial, snap judgement, when I see these accounts from teachers passed around the internets, is disbelief. Just doesn’t ring true to me for some reason. Sounds like an exagerration, embellishment. But I realize there are millions of students, and there’s gonna always be a few fruitcases. And I’ve never taught a class myself…

But still… “Please address this matter immediately?” I can’t imagine someone trying this approach, unless they are lacking facility with the English language.


Peter 05.10.07 at 8:33 pm

Having worked on the teacher side of the student-teacher divide at a state university, this letter isn’t out of line of some of the things that I have come across. At that university, I believe the deadlines for changing grades would have been passed by now.

Some of the students put so much effort into evading the work required that if they had put just half that much effort into actually doing the work, they’d have received A’s.


rvman 05.10.07 at 8:47 pm

Application of marketing theory – this plea may have been more likely to work had the 2nd assignment actually been enclosed. (Surveys/appeals for money where $1.00 bill is included, or a bunch of address labels, get higher response rates than surveys/appeals where a much higher value reward is promised.)


Jeff 05.10.07 at 8:58 pm

I once handed in 100 pages of essays 2 years late. It was for an independent study in social psychology. I needed the class to graduate and simply hadn’t done the work. I attached a note that said something like, “I know I was completely irresponsible about this, but if there is any way you can still grade these I’d would be very grateful.”

It worked. Well, only in the sense that you can still graduate with a D in social psych :)


Sarah 05.10.07 at 9:40 pm

One time I missed a final and the instructor let me do it at home over the break between classes, and then he gave me an A- and, well, I promised God a LOT of stuff after that miracle. It’s the only grade on my transcript that I’m not entirely certain I earned, though I did have something around 85% going into that final, so it’s theoretically possible.

But in general the assumption is that old bad grades need to be corrected by really good grades in later classes — I really can’t imagine any of my classmates thinking any differently, though perhaps the roommates who came to me with “geez, Sarah, you’ve already done all the practice essays and you’ve got an A in the class, can’t we just use your stuff, it’d be easy for you to do new ones and she’d never notice that the quality of our writing had risen dramatically on the second midterm…” might have thought such tactics would work. Then again, I was homeschooled, and my mom gave me C’s for late work — I’d expect no less from total strangers.


Clayton E. Cramer 05.10.07 at 9:40 pm

I had one student for Constitutional History who did very poorly on the midterm, and thereafter, never showed up for class. Nor did he turn in the research paper. Nor did he show up to take the final. Not surprisingly, when you get a 0 on two items that make up 60% of the grade, because of my cruel and vicious nature, this turned into an F.

I thought no more of it until about four months after the end of the term, when I received a very “poor, poor pitiful me” and “you are such a nasty person” email from this student. At least he wasn’t begging for a chance to turn in that research paper and take the final.

A friend teaches bonehead math at a local university. His big problem is always the very, very pretty bimbos in training who come into his office and emphasize how incredibly important it is to pass the class, and how they will do “anything”–like come over to his house and clean it, or “whatever.” His suggestion is usually that “whatever” might involve doing the homework, studying, and doing well on the tests.


gab 05.10.07 at 9:44 pm

Comment #21 – “judgement.” I suggest judgment is the most commonly misspelled word in English. Anybody have another word they’d nominate?


nick 05.10.07 at 10:03 pm

#28– since both spellings, with the first “e” and without, are legitimate (Brit vs US English), another nomination will indeed be necessary….


James 05.10.07 at 10:40 pm

Hey, I teach bonehead math (as a grad student) at a state university, and the thing I find most surprising about the quoted e-mail message is not that it’s grammatical but that it’s correctly spelled.

Or maybe students put more effort into correspondence with professors than with TA’s…


Michael 05.10.07 at 11:55 pm

I would respond to requests like this by asking if the student knew the Rubaiyat. Whether they did or not I would quote
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on:nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Those with a less poetic drift might note that the fat lady had already sung.


sara 05.11.07 at 12:47 am

Nyah! I STILL have college nightmares (I don’t have them about grad school, oddly enough) in which I have signed up for five or six courses during the semester but have attended only two or three (though I did not behave that way). In the dream, the deadline for dropping the courses without penalty is past. The courses are always located in inaccessible buildings in remote parts of campus. I attended Yale briefly and remember a seminar on Gnosticism (taken merely out of curiosity) that was way up Science Hill.


sara 05.11.07 at 12:51 am

I also had a professor (in graduate school) who made it plain that (to quote him) “I do not answer e-mail from students.”


r4d20 05.11.07 at 12:56 am

a colleague got an email from a student saying that he would “try to set aside time” to take the final (the time for which has been posted on the University’s website all year).

Yeah, but the keg party was scheduled, like, 2 weeks ago – and one must have priorities.


Martin 05.11.07 at 3:15 am

As an associate professor, I submitted an “F” on the first grade report for a freshman student who had not taken the first five weekly exams.
The student complained to the university ombudsman.
The student told the ombudsman that he had not received a class syllabus, so he had no way of knowing the course required weekly exams.
The ombudsman directed me to remove the “F” and allow the student to continue with no recorded grade because the student did not know he had to take exams.
I showed the ombudsman the class syllabus that detailed the testing criteria.
The ombudsman then said that unless I could produce a certified copy of a signed statement that the student had accepted the class syllabus on the first day of class, I would have to remove the “F” grade.
The Red Queen was correct; it took all the running I could do, to keep in the same place.


Bloix 05.11.07 at 3:25 am

gab, #28- yes, judgement. Definately.


mijnheer 05.11.07 at 5:10 am

Three days ago I received an e-mail from a student that included the following:

“Recently, I found that I failed the course. Therefore, I am hereby to ask for the scheduling of a supplementary test. If not, is it possible to supersede the result by taking other philosophy course or just simply cancel out the result. Thank you for your attention and please give me any advice regarding to this issue.”


Rodger Loder 05.11.07 at 11:42 am

My university has a rule that grades cannot be changed except for clerical error. That takes care of that.


An individual 05.11.07 at 1:25 pm

Don’t any of you see anything wrong here? Where’s the justice? So the student didn’t jump through all the prof’s arbitrary hoops. What if that guy knows his stuff backwards and forwards now? He has a right to feel irritated.

To quote Mr. Floyd, “I don’t need no ‘education'”. Except I do. Society will keep me down otherwise.

School is bullcrap.


Martin2 05.11.07 at 1:29 pm

The reason why students do this kind of thing is because it works. Not always but with enough professors to make a try worthwhile.


Windypundit 05.11.07 at 2:10 pm

Nyah! I STILL have college nightmares…in which I have signed up for five or six courses during the semester but have attended only two or three… In the dream, the deadline for dropping the courses without penalty is past. The courses are always located in inaccessible buildings in remote parts of campus…

Oh, man, I thought I was the only one.

It’s been almost 20 years since I was an undergrad, and I still have nightmares about exactly this scenario.


Daniel Artz 05.11.07 at 3:01 pm

This Kid appears ready for Law School — He’s already learned the most important rule of negotiation – You can never get what you are afraid to ask for. Now the professor needs to learn the second rule – When presented with a patently unreasonable request, never negotiate, just say no (or hell, no, or NFWIH, depending upon the desired level of emphasis or the extent to which the request is unreasonable)


eszter 05.11.07 at 3:09 pm

Martin, that is unbelievable! Examples like that are scary, because you can see cases like that spreading. Can you imagine the nightmare if we had to get written signatures from each student for every assignment we hand out?!


Michael Mouse 05.11.07 at 3:47 pm

Maybe “set aside time” works on the model of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. By designating the fallow time they did not use for study as “set aside”, the student is reasonably expecting to receive a boost in their grade.

Makes at least as much sense as the CAP.


Sam 05.11.07 at 5:06 pm

The local JUCO here has students sign a sheet passed around on the first day of class confirming that they read and understand the course requirements. Instructors only have to do it the one time and file it away for future reference, if necessary. It seems to do away with this particular variety of peskiness from students.


rc 05.11.07 at 5:49 pm

Posted by An individual: “To quote Mr. Floyd, “I don’t need no ‘education’”.”

Uh, Pink Floyd is a band, not a man.

Maybe education isn’t so bad after all… unless you like being wrong all the time.

I used to have an attitude like the student in this story, and also like the commenter ‘an individual.’ The reason for these attitudes is arrogance. Teenagers already know everything (just ask them), so school is a needless burden. Grades, classes, and teachers are simply unjust obstacles in the path of the many rights and entitlements that they deserve. And since these obstacles are so unfair, any action to ‘fix’ them is justified… yet it’d be ideal to have to take no action at all.


Tully 05.11.07 at 6:31 pm

Posted by An individual: “To quote Mr. Floyd, “I don’t need no ‘education’”.”

Uh, Pink Floyd is a band, not a man.

Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?


bud 05.11.07 at 7:04 pm

“bloix” in #17 has obviously never heard of the “Wally Period”.

Scott Adams certainly exagerates for comic effect, but _Dilbert_ maps much more closely to the real world than most college courses.


An individual 05.11.07 at 7:20 pm

The character in the movie is called Pink. I always assumed his full name was Pink Floyd.

If you ask Mr. Abe Lincoln, he might tell you that there used to be a place for the self-educated. Today you need an Official Document™.

That kid isn’t less smart because he failed to turn in a paper, or because he was insufficiently humble towards a professor.


An individual 05.11.07 at 7:22 pm

What’s the purpose of “education” anyway, turning in papers or increasing knowledge?


squsie 05.11.07 at 7:48 pm

What’s the purpose of “education” anyway, turning in papers or increasing knowledge?

Well, if you decide that you want the certification of education represented by a university degree, you might just have to play the game by the rules. Otherwise, run wild, run free, you autodidact you!


Keith Thompson 05.11.07 at 7:48 pm

That kid isn’t less smart because he failed to turn in a paper, or because he was insufficiently humble towards a professor.

No, he failed to turn in a paper because he’s less smart.


Kate 05.11.07 at 7:49 pm

I’ve had plenty of professors who seemingly welcomed late papers as it allowed them more time to “grade.” And I’ve never met a professor who didn’t offer extensions, though I know they exist. Changing grade is another matter entirely, however.


Craig Mosher 05.11.07 at 7:50 pm

Re: 51–the two are often related.


D Lacey 05.11.07 at 8:32 pm

I have the nightmares too. Except most of the time, I’m teaching the classes rather than attending them, and I miss several. When I really taught at a college, I didn’t miss classes. No idea why that particular recurring dream is so common, but it sure seems to be.

I think the extreme humorous shock stance taken here at the request is too much. Sure, you can say no, but what’s the real problem with accepting late work at a lower credit rate? Maybe for every year late it has to be 20% better to get the same grade ;)

Late, but well done, work in real life, is often far more valuable than on time, adequately but slipshodly done work. In real life you have to maintain your code, you have the potential of second and third and subsequent printings of your book… the endeavors that favor doing it adequately on time are relatively limited.

I agree that the rhetoric in the letter is inappropriate to the situation. Maybe I’ve just been out of academia too long to see the point in the generalized rejection. What would be wrong, in theory, of giving students unlimited time to turn in work, and withholding their grades till it was all turned in? I’m probably missing something terribly obvious.


Burt Likko 05.11.07 at 11:22 pm

I make a little bit of extra money facilitating classes for the University of Phoenix Online. I get requests like this about once a class. I call these sorts my “special needs” students. They all have some kind of a “special need” that they think should grant them a dispensation from the syllabus or otherwise doing what the class requires of them. For instance:

1. I accidentally did the wrong test; please let me re-take it even though you’ve now posted the answer key. (No.)

2. I accidentally forgot to take the final exam; please grade me as though I were not required to have done so. (No.)

3. I have great difficulty writing good research papers because you’re the first instructor I’ve ever had who required me to use the APA citation format. Please give my paper an “A” because of my inexperience with this standard. (No.)

4. I should get an “A” on my research paper because no professor has ever asked me to use good grammar and speling before so i didn’t know that was a requirement. (I don’t think so.)

5. Please give me an “A” on the final exam even though I turned it in to the wrong instructor in the wrong class. (No.)

6. Please submit a grade change card raising my grade from a “D” to an “A” because no instructor has ever given me less than an “A” before in my entire time at this school. I paid my money, I deserve the grade. (I beg your pardon? No.)

The only time I’ve ever granted such a “special request” like this was when I got this one for a quiz turned in half an hour late:

7. Please accept my quiz even though it is submitted half an hour late. The power went out because the Taliban cut off the electricity to the bunker and my unit had to be dispatched to neutralize the enemy. I was able to reconstruct my work, but unfortunately HQ had to file a report of these events first and that ate up most of our bandwidth as the deadline for the quiz was passing. /s/ Sgt. [Student’s name omitted], somewhere near Kabul, Afghanistan.

That last one seemed like a pretty good excuse.


Antti Nannimus 05.12.07 at 1:10 am


In the real world, you either do the work well and turn it in on time, or you’ll probably flunk out.

Sorry, no appeal, no mercy.

That’s why we call it the real world.

If you don’t flunk out, you lucked out, even though you didn’t deserve it. Somebody screwed up. Don’t count on it ever happening again.

Have a nice day!



Martin 05.12.07 at 3:09 am

Friends, I such good memories from 30 years of university level instruction of many inventive methods of gaming the system, well beyond my student who seduced the ombudsman.

Ombudsmen are easy to deal with.

My first experience came during an anti-communist, witch-hunting period, in the late 1950’s.

I was a new assistant professor.

An adult student came to my office at the start of the course to “discuss” his expectations of receiving an “A.”

He opened his briefcase, moved aside the cocked and locked Colt M1911A1 pistol and handed me a piece of stationary for his very own private church.

“This is a completely legal organization,” he said, “the state knows about it.”

On the right side of the letterhead I saw the names of every organization on the government’s subversive list, starting with the American Communist Party.

On the left side of the letterhead he had a list of names of with himself as “Head Priest,” his spouse as “Vestal Virgin,” and a dozen names as “Significant Contributors.”

“I write crank letters to J. Edgar Hoover,” he said, “on a run of letterhead with the names of people who piss me off as my Significant Contributors.”

He smiled, told me it was a pleasure to meet me, and he looked forward to the course.

The student was quite bright and easily finished at the head of the class, but he brought his briefcase to every class, perhaps just in case.


grad student 05.12.07 at 5:19 am

As an undergrad at a first-tier university to remain nameless, a first-year professor had a student in two of his classes who stopped attending classes after the midterm, and did not complete the final or the paper. This professor pulled me and another senior/good student aside after class asking if he can just fail the guy, or if he has to jump through certain hoops, what consequences he might face, and whether this was typically done. We both said “Fail him, he didn’t bother to do most of the coursework. You have both the power and justification to do so.”

However, I think there is a difference between people asking for a better grade when they don’t bother to do the work, and people who are trying hard asking for extensions or makeups. When I eventually TA (to the extent to which TAs have discretion over these things, and on deadlines they often do in practice at my institution, especially on minor assignments) and if I eventually become a professor, that distinction will probably remain important to me.


cm 05.12.07 at 7:11 am

While I can’t find it in me to be sympathetic to the student’s request… I do find myself tempted to start a blog posting unprofessional, ungrammatical and simply ludicrous correspondence from professors. Students do have a lot of nerve, or gall if you prefer, but there are plenty of professors out there who reward, and exemplify, misbehavior.


jprime 05.12.07 at 12:28 pm

I think you/we might be taking that student’s email too seriously. The student might merely have thought “I know this email is lame, but why not take a shot? The worst the professor can do is to say ‘no'”

My students always test my boundaries where there are low costs and no potential penalties for doing so. After all, what do they have to lose by it?

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