Painful truth

Dear Students,

I know I upset one of you today, and goodness knows whether I will upset more of you tomorrow when I actually hand back homework.

The student I talked to today worked very hard and felt he got robbed on his score. Unfortunately, he just got the math wrong. Scores in general were lower than I would have liked them to be. I know I caught some students out — they were not thinking that 2 weeks to do homework means 2 weeks of homework to be done. I know others got caught thinking that if a few problems were easy then they all would be easy.

I don’t know if I’m harder or more conscientious than other instructors. I do know that I believe that all of you can master this material and get it right. I know that I am going to push you to get to that level.

If I tell you that you got something right when you really didn’t, I am leading you into complacency when you are capable of doing more and doing better. I would rather have you angry with me and have you figure out how to make a stronger, better effort to get things right and understand why you are right than have you satisfied with your grade and mediocre at solving problems.

Would you rather believe a pleasant lie or know a painful truth? I have always lived on the side of painful truths. Today feels like one.

Honestly? I want you to like me. I want you to enjoy my class. I want you to learn a lot. I want you to grow. I know that all those things go together. If you hate me, and you hate my class, learning a lot and growing are less likely to occur. But if I have to give you a false sense of the merit of your work to make you like me, that won’t work either.

So, if you get this homework back and you need to be angry with me, I encourage you to be angry with me. Anger at me that keeps you motivated and working is better than anger at yourself that is paralyzing and makes you think, “Why should I even try? Why should I even bother?” Or worse, fall into inaction because of those thoughts.

I am a grown woman, with a strong soul. I can handle your anger.

That said, I hope that I can bring honesty and encouragement and grace and motivation to you. I hope that I can be someone who helps you to believe in yourself. I hope that I can hold you to high standards, and motivate you to hold yourself to high standards and help you see that you are capable of meeting them. Even when the work is far, far from easy.

That’s what I want for you. That’s what I want for me. That’s what I want for this class, and every other class that I teach.

With sincerity, and encouragement, and even, yes, with love,

Dr. Jinx

Still Struggling

I am still struggling with my graduate class. It is amazing that a class of four people could make me so miserable. Although many people would claim that we make ourselves miserable.

How am I making myself miserable?

  1. I am giving them my hard work, that they do not appreciate.
  2. I assign them what seem to me to be meaningful (and often nontrivial tasks), which they do not appreciate or like.
  3. I don’t give high grades when I see poor work, and I have to deal with the arguments.

I could simply

  1. Not try as hard. Can I restructure class so that I’m not working so hard for it?
  2. Give easier assignments.
  3. Give high grades all the time.

The first of those seems like a reasonable course of action, but I think my integrity has arguments with the next two.

I need to care less about what they do, what they think, and how they complain. Maybe if I can manage to not react to it, it will drop off. And think carefully about what the learning objectives should be, given the level and disinterest of the students. What can I make stick given who I am working with?

You can’t make everyone happy. And being in a group of really unhappy people can definitely rub off. Insulate myself better. And detach, detach, detach.

Letters from Students Unhappy with Grades

Dr. Linhart,

My world is going to end if you give me the grade I earned in your class. Because of this, can’t you just give me a C instead?



Dear Student,

I think there is a misunderstanding about grades. I do not give grades. I report what happened in my class with regards to student performance. As such, I cannot, and my integrity requires that I do not, report grades that are unmerited to the university.

I wish you fortitude in dealing with your situation. I realize this is not at all the situation you want to be in, but I know you will find the fortitude, dignity and integrity to get through it. Things are often incredibly painful when they are happening, and our challenge is to learn what we can learn from them, so that we don’t have to face the same problem again.


Dr. Linhart

Dr. Linhart,

Are you available in the morning tomorrow? I can bring all my assignments and exams, and surely there are points I can reclaim in order to get above the defined line.

Thank you!


Dear Student,

Please tell me you are joking about this. I have been available all semester long to deal with point disputes. If there is something you feel very strongly about, I will, of course, be happy to hear you out, but this should have been taken care of when the papers were first returned to you.

I think you also misunderstand how many points it takes to raise a grade. Let’s say you had an 79.5% and the cutoff was 80% (I am sure we are talking a larger gap than this, but let’s use it for an example). That seems a small amount, but a handful of homework points or even a few points on the final or another exam will not bridge this gap.

I know you are disappointed with your grade, but I believe your time and energy would be better spent in determining what you need to do to avoid this situation in the future. The power to come for help or to put more effort into learning the material was available to you for the entire semester. If you had exerted this energy then, you would have earned the outcome you desire with no questions from anyone and with a great deal less frustration on both your part and on mine.


Dr. Linhart