You just have to do it on your own

Today was the second day back at work after the winter holidays. It felt like I never left. I am swamped with work, my desk makes these weird creaking sounds as if its surface is going to break any minute and I´m trying to fight my way through grading schemes, lesson plans, organizational stuff and generally through still having a personal life at the same time.

The good thing about coming back to work (as opposed to lying on the couch all day watching television) is that there is not so much work to be done anymore (sounds like an oxymoron, but there is that brief period before the end of the term and the end of the school year, where work actually ceases. If only just a bit.). It´s the end of term and all exams had to be written before the winter holidays, because the grades have to be passed along by the end of next week. That´s weird, really, and my school is particularly early in doing that, because the term ends at the end of January and there is still enough time for students to either fuck up or improve immensely.

Anyway, what I did the day before I had to go back to school (I never get tired of saying that: I go back to school) was to calculate the grades. Basically, grades are a mathematical equation (and I´m not particularly good at nor particularly fond of mathematics). The final grade is 50% written grades (only exams) and 50% overall participation (with 35% for oral participation, 10% for tests and/or presentations and I give an additional 5% for participation in group work and general behavior in class). So after having spent hours calculating grades (and reaching the point of complete frustration about once every 10 minutes), I spent yesterday and today discussing the grades with my students.

Most students simply sat there, accepting their fate without so much as trying to fight for their grades. There is always a small percentage of subjectivity in grading others and students should know that they have the right to say that they think their grades are unfair. And then I will think about it. And sometimes I even change the grade to a better one. Rarely, but sometimes I actually do. Not so much anymore since grading has become mathematical finding of the truth, obviously.

So I was out in the hallway with all the other teachers (the classrooms are heated, the hallways aren´t…) processing student after student after student until I talked to a girl from the educational program of the vocational business school. She is neither good at writing exams nor at any form of participartion in class and she tried to talk me into giving her a better grade because of her extreme form of exam anxiety, which she says also has an impact on her participation in class.

See, it´s not like I wouldn´t factor that in, but I have to know that beforehand, because then there are other options that we could consider, such as doing a presentation or handing in all homework or you name it. The problem is that I cannot change the grades or even think about changing the grade once the term´s almost over. If I know beforehand I can influence the grade itself, say an exam grade, but not in hindsight. So I tried explaining that to her, but she started crying, sobbing loudly, which was at first embarassing, but then, as I tried to console her, she uttered between sobs that the only thing that would make her stop crying would be me changing her fail grade to a pass grade.


I let her cry for about a minute. See, I hate when people put on an act. I might be strict, even rigorous sometimes, but if you tell me that you think the grade is unfair, I will most definitely think about it. Unless, of course, you are lying or have a completely different (and not very realistic) understanding of what is acceptable for the grade you desire.

So she cried and when she realized that her tears wouldn´t make me give her a pass grade, the tears stopped. I tried talking to her about the (alleged) exam anxiety and she said that she had been to counselors, doctors, psychologists and even tried out a variety of medication (both homeopathic and regular stuff), but that nothing had ever worked. I asked if the doctors and psychologists had told her what to do to calm her nerves and she just laughed and said that they told her to try and relax, be prepared, face the fear and confront it head-on to beat it (and I actually think that´s the way to do it). Another psychologists had told her to find something that calms her down, to do that at least twice a week and to try and hold on to that feeling of complete calmness while sitting through an exam (which I think might be just as hard but also just as good an advice).

And then she said the funniest thing. She said that whatever people had told her to do, it had never worked and it will never work, because it is utter nonsense and she refuses to try breathing exercises to calm her nerves or working with an anti-stress ball. She said that people´s suggestions of how to overcome her exam anxiety weren´t helpful at all. And that she might just have to find a solution on her own, because she knows what would help her and the other´s don´t.

So I asked her: “Then why don´t you do it on your own?”

She just stared at me. Then she blinked, then she opened her mouth as if to say something, but at first no words came out. Then she said: “But… but my parents paid those people to help me! Who´s going to pay me?”

And then I had to tell her that most things in life will only be done the way you want them to be done when you do them on your own and by yourself. Also I told her that relying on others to do the work for you is never going to give you the results you wish for and that you cannot expect people to do the work for you. From the look on her face I can tell that this came as a complete surprise to her. As someone who has to do everything by myself and as someone who doesn´t rely on people anymore when it comes to things that are either too personal or too important, I never expected this to be the lesson to be learned today, but I do hope that somehow she will come to realize that doing things on your own is the only way to get things done – and I hope she starts with aiding herself in overcoming her exam anxiety. Unfortunately though, she will still receive a fail grade.



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