Fall of 1989.
Clutching the attache with my newly-minted graduate degree, I, a fledgling college professor, walk into my first-ever English class, Masterpieces of Literature.
On the days I didn’t attend classes at University of North Texas, I was a substitute teacher for high school where I put up with inattentive and unruly teens. It was a higher level of baby-sitting, only some of those babies were six-feet tall and others, pregnant with their own babies. In short, I had enough experiences with secondary school to know it wasn’t right for me.
Now, as I look at the sparkly eyes and attentive posture of these college students, my heart slops over with hope.
For the most part, these students are adults with families and day jobs. Their attendance hinges upon finding sitters for their children and engaging their supervisors’ cooperation in coordinating their work schedules with their class time. Both deliberate, proactive steps require effort. .
During the sixteen-week term, I administer frequent reading quizzes, three to four themes, and a final examination. Some who pass the class leave rejoicing. A small percentage, for one reason or another, don’t. Still, both groups assume the same responsibility for their success as in the beginning of the semester; they accept the grades they have earned.
The key word, here? Earned. In The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the infinitive, to earn, means “to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.”
Another operative word? Effort. Defined by Merriam-Webster, effort is “conscious exertion of power: hard work.”
What is absent from these two words? The implication of privilege, especially when it is undeserved or unauthorized. That leads to the final word, entitlement.
According to Merriam-Webster, entitlement means right or privilege, “a belief that one is deserving of…certain privileges.” A store coupon entitles a consumer to save fifty cents. A will entitles beneficiaries to take possession of property bestowed upon them by the deceased.
But warming a seat in a classroom, buying a paper from an essay mill, completing only enough work to avoid breaking a sweat, and sending Mom or Dad to harass the professor when students don’t receive the grades they ordered?
No, those actions do not entitle students to pass.
Fast forward from the class in 1989 to those of 1990-2011. To some of today’s students, there is only one passing grade: an A. This standard is good as long as the quality of work, the level of dedication is commensurate. Sadly, for some, there lies a discrepancy between the grade students believe they deserve and those they actually earn.
Diligent students get it. They arrive early and stay late. They are present on test days, even if they run 103-degree fever or have a flat tire on the way to school. They contribute to class discussions, ask questions during and after class and assume responsibility for their own progress.
Today, there are still good students in my classes. Enough to keep me returning to the classroom, heart slopping over….