student to professor mansplain

Exam tips

As a senior PhD student, I had the opportunity to teach my own class. One of my students was a Masters student in another department on campus, and all the other students were undergrads. I was taken aback when I went to grade his midterm exam, as I noticed that he had scribbled notes to me in the margins about what he thought were ‘good’ questions, and what he thought were ‘bad’ questions to have been asked on the exam, with suggestions for rephrasing them in ways that would apparently have been more acceptable to him. It was clear that he had put more time and effort into deconstructing my exam (and giving me tips for improvement) than he did actually answering the questions, because he didn’t do very well. 

I was a TA once

I’m an assistant professor and Ph.D. at a master’s level institution, and am 40+ years old, with 14 years’ experience teaching or TA-ing college level courses. Last year I had a male undergraduate student, age twenty, who often stopped in my office to chat. He explained that he didn’t believe in hierarchy, so he just enjoyed “sharing ideas” with me. In class he refused to raise his hand but rather burst in with both questions and answers at least ten times per class session (in a class of 70+ students).

I spoke to him a couple of times about his conduct in class and asked that he back off to leave some time and attention in class for the other 70 students. He also didn’t believe in self-restraint, but he said he would try that as a “favor” to me. When I handed the midterm exam back in class, I asked if students had any questions about the correct answers or how it was graded. The other students asked a smattering of reasonable questions and were ready to move on with class. This student began to argue with me about every single question he missed, insisting that the questions were poorly written. (I am completely open to learning that a particular question was weak, but I don’t believe that every question he got wrong was my fault.) I finally cut him off and asked him to come to my office to discuss it further. After class he came in and proceeded to lecture me about how my exam was badly written, and offered to help me write a better exam for the final. He was qualified, he explained, because he had “been a TA once and had written some exam questions.” This student became a fixture in my semester, coming in to my office to give me “advice” on how better to teach my classes. It was outrageous, but somehow it wore me down and I actually ended up crying in one of these sessions.