Dear Professor, all I want is to LEARN

I personally don’t believe in a doomsday. For that reason, I haven’t been interested in the so-called doomsday December/21/2012. That’s why I still don’t know why people across the world jokingly call today is the end of the world. But today is really my worst day since I have been in the United States in July 2011.

Last night, following my classmate’s message, I went to our school’s eCommon website and checked my grades of journalism law and ethics classes. At the time, the so-called doomsday just started about 10 minutes. I didn’t expect the highest marks, honestly but what I saw on the screen rocked me. Two B-, the worst grades I ever got since I have studied at Emerson College. They are considered failing grades for a graduate student at my school.

Out of sudden, I felt that I was the worst student in class. I felt that I didn’t deserve being a Fulbright student any more.

At that time, my classmate texted me again and she said her grades shocked her, too, and asked if I was happy with mine. “Don’t ask S. Very disappointed. I prefer not to tell,” – I replied to her message curtly. Then I cried as if my sweetheart had left me for another girl. Then I called a close friend in Vietnam but after a few talks, I hung up.

In that depressing moment, I strongly believed that S. and I were not the only ones in class who were given bad grades. Despite the midnight, I emailed and texted some classmates and asked if their grades satisfied them. Then I wrote a long note to Professor J., the director of our graduate journalism program. I hated to bother him when the semester already finished but he was the only one I thought of then.

I told him the whole story and said what happened put an end to my tolerance and it was very unfair to me and my classmates. I said that I wanted to re-take the classes of law and ethics with another professor.

In my email, I told him that I had no chance to make improvement because we never got her response to our assignments. She never returned our assignments. I submitted my assignments both via email and in class. But when I emailed asking her for feedback after more than a month she ignored it. At Emerson College, the professors tend to return to the students’ assignments within one or two weeks. In case they can’t manage to give their feedback on time, they often let us know when and why.

She didn’t reply to my emails. About a week later, she said in class that she didn’t get assignments from many students, including me. I was shocked and frustrated. I waited until the end of that class and showed her that I DID email all my assignments to her Emerson email address as a back-up. But she still asked me to send them again. I asked her for feedback again, and she said: “You would be fine.”

That wasn’t the first time she said so. Our class was familiar with that repeated sentence and “No one will fail.” And she kept ignoring my feedback request.

I was really nervous when I did the two final papers. I really don’t know if I was right or wrong in the last assignments. I wished if she would have told me that she disagreed with what I wrote in my works and that I needed to fix this or that as other professors often told me in their feedback. But I still tried to do the final papers to the best of my knowledge. During the process, I found that there were some tricks in her law exam. No wonder in the second to the last class, she stressed something like “it’s not a normal mouse but a smart mouse can do this.”

When I brought my final papers to submit in class, I still asked her for feedback of my last assignments. “Your assignments are thoughtful and thorough. Don’t worry you guys will be fine” – she replied to me in front of a classmate. I also asked her for feedback to my final papers. She said that she would email me. But I doubted her promise.

Let me tell you why I need feedback from my professors and how it is vital to my study. A very recent example. The professor of feature writing, who is also our program director, gave me 8/10 for the first draft of my final feature story, which was the hardest kind as he said. That was the worst grade I got for a feature story but it didn’t disappoint me. My professor returned my draft with a long note in which he expressed his disappointment to my writing. He said he got used to much better work and that he thought I might be too sick to write a good piece. I was sick then – it was true but my sickness wasn’t the reason.

It didn’t also mean that I didn’t understand what he told us in class. I knew for sure that I couldn’t get a good grade with the first draft. Because we were allowed to hand in two drafts and the second draft would be double graded, I wanted to use the first draft to experience my new way of writing which I thought might be right or wrong. But without trying, I can’t tell. It would be good if he agreed with my way. If not, I still had the second draft to fix my story. Thanks to his feedback, I did more reporting and wrote a new piece which was quite different from the first one.

The final draft got 9.2/10. “IT IS MUCH BETTER. THE REPORTING HERE IS MUCH, MUCH BETTER, AS IS THE STORY’S STRUCTURE” – my professor said in his feedback to my second draft. He asked me to do little work because my story had potential to be published on the Boston Globe’s website.

Back to my classes of ethnics and law. A lack of feedback still wasn’t my only disappointment. She was also the only professor who delayed to give us the syllabus to the fourth class while each of her course had only seven classes. She might be too busy to get ready before the course started. But what mattered was that she often skipped her syllabus and never brought guest speakers into class as she promised in the syllabus. Some classmates called our class a move night because for several classes, we just watched the movies and talked a bit and the class was over, usually around 9 p.m. and sometimes earlier. Some said they didn’t think they studied journalism laws. She didn’t suggest any book to read. Just some handouts on the federal and state laws.

She wasn’t the first adjunct professor I have studied with. For me, she is a knowledgeable professor who owned both journalism and law degrees. I liked the way she handled discussions in class. But I don’t think she is a devoted teacher. I don’t think she is a serious professor. That she changed our in-class exams into take-home exams (to be better for her and for us as she said) was another example.

In his replies to my email, the program director said “what happened here does not sound right. Every student deserves feedback.” He said he wished I or someone had told him the problem sooner. Actually there were some times, I wanted to email him but my belief that I could convince her to give us feedback kept me from talking him about the problems in her two classes. I wished we could have done instructor evaluation after her first class of journalism ethics ended October 24.

The program director advised me first to talk to her about my grades. I asked my classmate how to talk to her in a polite way. She told me how to say but I wanted to clear my mind a bit before shooting an email to her because I didn’t want to show my frustration in the email. At the same time, several classmates replied to my midnight email that they weren’t pleased with their grades, too.

I hoped a good nap would help me feel better. But it didn’t work out. I napped again and again, several times, until nearly 6:30 p.m. I got up and got a text “check your revised grades” from S. I checked mine immediately.

Two B+. But I still feel bad.

I learned that some classmates emailed her about the grades. And it seemed to me that she revised the grades under that pressure. If what I thought was right, I don’t think her grade revision is a good deed. If I deserved two B-, I would be happy to accept them because they reflected my ability.

Grades are important to me but they aren’t all I want. All I want is to LEARN, not only from the professors but also from my mistakes . I do WANT to have her feedback on my papers and exam, and to know why I got the grades I got. Therefore, though I got better grades now, I still want to email her for feedback. I will do it tonight.

I hope she will not disappoint me again.

My latest story was about a well-known Syrian grocery store in the South End, Boston.

My latest story was about a well-known Syrian grocery store in the South End, Boston. That might be the last story I did for school because I will do a thesis and an internship with The Christian Science Monitor in my last semester.

My only job in the United States is to study and all my study and life expenses here have been sponsored by the Fulbright program. I haven’t allowed myself to study badly. I haven’t allowed myself to do things other than focusing on studying.

Dear Professor, all I want here is to LEARN. My time here is limited, only two years and it is coming to an end soon. Did you know that I couldn’t hold my tears whenever I think of the day I will leave my school, leave my classmates, my American friends, leave my Boston, leave America? Since I have been here, I found that Emerson College in specific and the American education system in general excel at bringing my potential to the fullest. I have lived another life, a life of standing on my feet, a life of learning to become a fine reporter and a life of exploring myself.

You know, I dream another dream.

When I am not happy, Susan Boyle’s song always lifts my mood up. Video from Youtube

(My DOOMSDAY, DECEMBER/21/2012)

2 thoughts on “Dear Professor, all I want is to LEARN

  1. I can totally understand you for I am in the same boat. I am in the middle of very lengthy grade appeal. I ended up with a B+ but with no feedback throughout the semester even after I requested to see my graded papers/exam. Its been 3 months since the semester ended and still nothing. At this point, its in the hands of the director of legal affairs because of a violation of FERPA. Did you know that any graded assignment/exam is an educational record and if the professor refuses to allow you to review your assignments is considered a violation of FERPA?

    • Many thanks for your understanding. Whenever I thought of that bitter experience, I regretted that I should have done something, e.g raising my voice.

      Glad to know you and thanks for reading my blog.

      To your success,

      Mai Ngoc Chau

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