Why My Students Get Poor Grades

People often tell me that they just cannot "get" English—it's not in their DNA or something. Yes, English is a difficult course for many, but often the reasons have nothing to do with the course material or with the student's abilities and preparation.

1. They didn't realize college would be hard work.

They sailed through high school without breaking a sweat, possibly because they were so valuable to the team that nobody would give them a poor grade. They arrive here and cannot readjust to a world where they must manage their schedules and put in real effort.

Yes, you really do have to turn in every paper that is assigned. No, teachers don't forgive college papers just because they like you.

2. They cannot follow instructions.

If I ask a group to turn in a paper on a certain date and with a certain length and doing a particular thing with a specific topic, at least 10% cannot hit all four requirements. If I have 40 students, at least four will be nowhere near the assigned topic.

3. They cannot read.

In addition to the problem with assignment sheets, many students cannot wade through a three-page article and figure out the main point. They make assumptions about what the author is saying. They put words in the author's mouth. They cannot look up basic facts on the Internet. These students are always astonished when instructors will not accept ignorant guesses as fact.

4. They assume nobody in the University knows anything.

They assume that nobody in the world has ever had to do anything like going to a university or college and that there is no information in their textbooks, so they have to invent everything from scratch.

We have open hours in the Writing Center. At most 10% of my students will go to the Writing Center in a semester. I keep office hours for answering questions. Students almost never stop by to ask for help writing a paper—at most they are dropping off a late paper or asking why their grade is so poor. None of my students can ask for help—presumably because they assume nobody knows anything here.

5. They cannot turn off their cell phones.

In any class session, at least four students are desperately texting their friends for the whole hour—and assume I am too stupid or blind to see what they are doing.

6. They assume English class is a study hall.

To them, English class seems like a great time to work on history homework or to type papers for other classes. College classes actually have content. If you miss that content, you get a poor grade. (By the way, do you use your time in other classes to write your English papers? Or is college English just one of those meaningless requirements that Ashland uses to fill up your time and take your money?)

Perhaps your high school classes never actually transmitted information, and the only point to your being there was to register your presence. College is different.

7. They assume attendance is optional.

Some of my classes resemble a bus station. Students arrive 20 minutes late. Athletes who are abusing performance drugs need to keep rushing out to use the toilet. Terribly urgent cell phone calls cannot wait until class is over. These people went to high schools where the rule was "show your face and get the points for attendance" but nothing else ever happened in class. Things are different here.

Many teachers have a maximum number of absences, after which you automatically fail—and excuses such as "needed more time in the weight room" or "had to unlock the dorm room for my roommate" just don't count.

Face it: if you are only here 60% of the time, you will miss 40% of the material communicated in class. (Not to mention the attendance points you lose and the quizzes you won't be able to make up.)

8. They assume classroom learning isn't real.

A fair number of my students can sit through a lecture, read the material, and even do in-class exercises, but never figure out that all of that actually means something. To them, classroom material is best forgotten as soon as possible. It's just something we do to fill the time. It has nothing to do with the "real" world.

9. "It's just my opinion against yours."

Some students assume that English has no rules whatsoever, and that everyone's opinions on grammar and style are equal. They believe that the opinion of a college freshman is exactly equal weight with the opinion of a teacher with advanced degrees in English and 20 years teaching experience—and the opinions of textbook writers don't count either because textbook writers are just putting down their own gut feelings.

Why did you come to college? if you already know everything there is to know, there's no room for anything new.

And of course the big one—plagiarism

We've heard all the excuses:

Nope, nope, nope, and nope. All of these boil down to "I thought the teacher would be too dim—or too lazy—to catch this." Plagiarism is an insult to the instructor, a violation of Ashland's code of ethics, and a quick route to a terrible grade in the course.


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 12/31/17 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.