As the professor begins to pass back our papers, I am filled with the angst of fear and intrigue as I wait for the fateful moment of the return of my labor. Six hours of labor to be exact, all conformed and manipulated to fit as words in ink, on a few sheets of paper. Although it cannot exactly be compared with a twelve or twenty-six-hour birth, I dare to say that this paper is a baby of my own – a child of my labor.
Labor that can be seen in one condensed form – writing. A subject that every student loves! Or maybe they could if they wouldn’t be asked to write a paper in the middle of a semester with about 1,687,543 other things to do.
Perhaps that is my only solace, that it happens to all of us. As students, we all have felt the stress from an assignment, which is no trivial matter, due to its: deadlines, guidelines, foreign formats, sources, and of course trying to retain the material etc. It’s enough to give any person anxiety. But this is the life of a student – simultaneously juggling multiple assignments in multiple different subjects. Pushing ourselves to the point of anxiety induced stress – which is a subject for discussion entirely on its own.
What happens when a paper is handed back and it is not up to your standards? What happens when your labor, your baby, is critiqued harshly? What is your initial response? If you’re anything like me, you will go through a few different emotional stages. Call them stages of grief, if you will:
- Shock. I see the grade, and I am beyond unimpressed, as anyone else would be with the hideous number scribbled at the top of my paper. Although numbers are easily understood in any language, I stare at them in a stupor. As if they would magically transform if I stare for a lengthy time.
- Anger/Denial. After I stare, I start to read and interpret the comments. I recognize every fault, of the soon to be unfortunate professor: they miscounted my points, or they didn’t give me credit for entering specific content in the paper – yet it’s there, etc. After my own critique, I fume with anger and resentment. I deserve a better grade! My six hours of labor deserve much better than this.
- Bargaining. I make the resolve to meet with this so-called, “professor” and redeem the qualities of the paper that were so obviously misunderstood.
- Depression. Even if the professor gives me a few extra points, I still will not have an ideal grade. Then starts the inner monologue: You didn’t get a good grade cause the professor doesn’t like you. Or maybe you really do suck at writing! (Yah, you do). Why do I try so hard, for so little in return? Maybe I should just give up. I see people doing it all the time. Yeah, I’ll just give up, and sleep – man I am tired.
- Acceptance/Perseverance. Regardless of whether I meet the professor or not, or whether I receive a better letter grade, I understand now why I have earned the grade I have. Maybe I didn’t fully understand the content, and I was trying to write around that small detail. Maybe I was sick at the time, or I had personal things going on at the time, and my paper reflected that in one way or another. The possibilities are endless. Either way, I accept and understand my baby’s critique.
As I said before, the only true solace I have, is that I am not the first to receive a letter grade that doesn’t meet my approval. My situation is universal. I cannot attest to it, but I am almost positive Poe would have had a bad paper or two, if he was a UMBC student in 2019. I would think the same of Whitman, W.E.B. Du Bois, and even Churchill. Presumptuous maybe, and perhaps my perception and my beliefs are invalid. However, I cannot believe that a single student of UMBC (in any decade) hasn’t received a letter grade that was not to their standards. I do believe that a student, isn’t a true student, until they have felt the touch of despair from the attainment of a disappointing letter grade. I also believe that instead of claiming to have lack of expertise in a subject (mine’s science), or simply not having a knack for a certain kind of assignment (I dislike group work), it is far more gratifying to simply pick myself up, and move forward. By doing this, all students show their personal and academic perseverance and resilience. I am proud to be one of the many students, who can demonstrate the very essence of tenacity that is needed, not only to excel at UMBC – but to excel in life, as well.
Contributed by: Cassie Davis, Writing Center Tutor