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Own your mistakes. Good things happen.

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responsibilityI know all you faculty out there will understand the scenario I’m about to explain. It’s all too common and, in many ways, pretty sad. But, nonetheless, this time it reminded that owning your mistakes can be a good thing.

It’s our final week of classes. For students, that means actually logging in to the course site and checking grades. With only a few days left in the semester, they realize “Oh, I’d better see where my grades are.” Yes, as faculty, we say, “Gosh, they should’ve been doing that all along.” Then comes the flurry of emails. “Why did I get this grade?” “Why is there a  zero there?” “I know I submitted that.”

And, so, then go out my typical responses, “Well, actually you didn’t submit it which is why there is a zero there.” But last night, I received an email from a student regarding the last major assignment submitted that simply read something like:

Prof. Singleton,

I was checking grades and saw a zero for this assignment. Would you check to see if that went through? I thought I submitted it.

This email had followed an email from earlier in the day regarding a 30-point exercise (which in total, all exercises only account for 5% of the grade) that went like this:

Mrs. Singleton, I’m sure you can appreciate that we are all busy students who are taking 6 courses, working full time, and juggling many assignments right now. I don’t appreciate receiving a zero for an assignment that I mistakenly posted in the wrong spot. I take my grades seriously, and receiving a zero for work that I actually did doesn’t seem right.

Now, I could turn this into a lesson on tone and rhetoric, but not for today. Let’s just let those ruminate a bit.

So, for the first email above, I went back into the system to check for a submission. As I thought, nothing there. So, I responded to the student and told her there was no submission. Her response, though, surprised me. She wrote back and said, “Oh, I see. I submitted the rough draft not the final. Thanks for checking.” I responded back and asked if she meant that she only completed the rough draft portion and not the final assignment. Again, her response surprised me. “Yes,” she said, “I didn’t upload my final draft. My mistake. I’ll take the hit.”

What?!? It is rare that I receive an email from a student with this level of honesty and responsibility. I was pleasantly surprised. I firmly believe that part of my job as an upper division instructor is to prepare students for the workplace. This response showed me this person is ready for the workplace. Did she not complete a task, follow directions, etc.? Yes. But she owned it. I love that. And so, I rewarded her for it. I agreed to grade her rough draft in place of the final, and explained to her why. Will it be a great grade, maybe not. But it’s miles better than a zero.

Her response back to me made me feel even better.

Prof. Singleton,

AH! I know you don’t have to do that. Thank you so much. It’s so nice to catch a break sometimes. Thanks, again!

So, moral of the story. Students, listen up. If you take the stance of “I screwed up. I own it. My bad,” you’re far more likely to receive a positive response. Try it next time with your instructor. It might just work.


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