This Blog Doesn’t Deserve an A. Do You?

Confession time: I’m bad at blogging. Just look at the dates on my articles. I post as consistently as an MTA train during rush hour.

If that weren’t bad enough, instead of writing concise tutorials and easy-to-follow “how to” guides — the kinds of things that make blogs useful — I tend to write rambling essays about things only I care about.

I bring this up because I believe in the value of taking responsibility for substandard work, especially when I know I’m producing it. In the case of this blog, I know what would make it more successful, but I have priorities in my life that take precedence, and, as a result, the blog isn’t as good as it could be.

In short, it’s not an “A level” blog, and that’s OK. I accept that reality and recognize I’m the cause.

In contrast, as the end of another semester approaches, I’m about to encounter the bi-annual ritual of students refusing to take responsibility for their substandard work.

Or, as I like to describe it…

Hell hath no fury like a student who receives an A-.

I understand why students hate A-minuses (and B-pluses): a “not-quite-an-A” feels like they’re just barely missing out on the grade they wanted, so they place the blame on the grader since the grader could have pushed the grade slightly up to get it passed the admittedly arbitrary cutoff line.

While believing a grade should be raised (or lowered!) regardless of the actual work submitted ignores numerous logistical, educational, and ethical concerns, that’s not what I’m interested in discussing.

Instead, I want to discuss the question of who’s responsible for grades. Specially, I want to know why the instructor is responsible for grades. Yes, we assign grades, but we give grades based on the work our students submit.

In other words, grades are earned, and grading is a descriptive process. By the time I’m assigning grades at the end of a semester, the grades were already determined by the work submitted throughout the semester. But when students don’t get the grades they want, instead of looking inward to ask themselves what they could have done better, they tend to look outward. The result is a handful of emails at the end of every semester either arguing for higher grades, begging for extra credit, or pleading that I’m ruining someone’s life.

I don’t like ruining people’s lives. In fact, I feel terrible when I receive emails implying otherwise. But it doesn’t get me to change a grade, and it doesn’t solve the real problem.

The real problem is that students need to accept that not everything they do is going to be perfect. Sometimes we aren’t as good at things as we want to be. Sometimes we don’t prioritize things as much as we should. And sometimes our lives take unexpected turns and we simply can’t accomplish what we hoped. None of it is “bad,” and none of it is “wrong.” It’s life, and it’s 100% acceptable.

It’s OK to challenge yourself and produce something that isn’t perfect. It’s OK to prioritize some commitments over others and, as a result, produce substandard work. And it’s even OK to try your absolute hardest and still fall short.

Let this blog post be an example. I’ve been revising it for three months, and I’m still not happy with it. It doesn’t explain what I want to convey as ellegantly or clearly as I’d like, and I have plenty more I’d like to write about the topic that I haven’t included. But I’m posting it for the world to read, and every time I get an email questioning a final grade in one of my classes, I’m going to respond by linking here.

While I know this blog post isn’t a perfect response to those emails, I also take full responsibility for its lack of perfection.

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I teach in Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship program and founded RocketBolt. I write about startups, pedagogy, entrepreneurship, engineering, and poetry. They’re all related, I promise.

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  • I’m hosting today’s @dukeinnovation “Lunch & Learn.” I’m talking with my colleagues about #socialmedia and trying to convince them to take it seriously, so I made them take a group photo for me to post.
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In related news, doing this kind of thing is why I’ll probably never get #tenure
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#entrepreneur #startups #lunchandlearn #mycolleagueshateme
  • Today, I lead the first meeting of a @dukeinnovation faculty committee about creating a methodology for teaching #entrepreneurship that can apply to any type of #venture.
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Mind you, by “lead the meeting” I mostly just mean I was lucky to be in the same room with an amazing group of #scholars and #entrepreneurs who didn’t need any help from me to have a fascinating debate about how to accomplish a nearly impossible task.
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But at least I got to take a picture from the head of the table 😁
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#mycolleaguesarebrilliant #innovation #entrepreneur #wholetmein
  • Brought my daughter with me to watch my @dukeinnovation students graduate. She got to see dozens of examples of the kind of person I hope she becomes: brilliant, kind, thoughtful, articulate, talented, caring, confident, and really good at producing high quality work despite a propensity for procrastination 😁
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Thanks, #duke2018 #graduates for making me love going to school every day. I hope your journeys beyond @dukeuniversity take you into jobs as amazing and rewarding as mine.
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#graduation #innovation #entrepreneurship #classof2018 #bluedevils
  • Drinks at the @thelakewooddurham with the @dukeuniversity Junior Faculty Association to celebrate the end of another great semester.
  • Congrats to all my @dukeinnovation seniors who gave their final Capstone presentations yesterday.
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No more #homework. Now it’s time for the #realworld.
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#duke2018
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship
  • Threw an LMOC (Last Monday of Classes) party in my #learningtofail class.
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The students had to convince their friends to bring food, and they earned points based on how many calories they got delivered to class.
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Lots of cookies and candies. But the winner was the student who convinced his friend to deliver 30 pounds of flour. 🤣
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #startup #ldoc #partytime
  • Asked my #learningtofail students to sell a @jollyrancher for $100 today. For the first time ever, everyone #failed.
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In related news, I heard a report from a campus tour guide that dozens of prospective students and their families were continuously being solicited to buy absurdly expensive candy during their campus visits.
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What a strange coincidence. Must have been someone else selling candy today, too...😒
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #sweettooth #collegevisits
  • Finally had a freshman discover the Duke-sponsored free lunch opportunity.
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I forgot to ask Julia about the most important thing she’s learned in my class, but she’s taking another one with me next semester, so I feel like that’s a good sign she’s not just using me to get free food ☺️
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneruship #socialmediamarketing #teaching #freelunch
  • The end-of-semester FLUNCH parade continues... this time with Thomas, one of my soon-to-be-graduating seniors in the @dukeinnovation capstone who’s heading off to work @txinstruments.
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When asked to share the most important thing I’ve taught him about #entrepreneurship, Thomas had trouble coming up with an answer. Sounds about right 🤔
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#entrepreneur #innovation #teaching #freelunch #duke2018
  • “When you go into a company, whatever you decide to do, you want to be closest to the money. That’s the safest place to be in every business.” - @cleithe, VP of Sales for @adwerxre, who I conned into speaking to both my @dukeinnovation capstone classes.
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#sales #marketing #startups #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #innovation
  • Doing a little FLUNCH with @adam_kershner,  Ben Lee, and Adam’s freshman roommate who was just there for the free lunch ☺️
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Adam says the most important thing I taught him was: “How to think differently and approach problems in an unorthodox way, and how that approach to problem solving is one of the most valuable lessons from Duke.”
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Honestly, I don’t think I taught him that. I think he already knew it when he showed up as a freshman in my very first class @dukeuniversity. Now he’s a graduating senior in my @dukeinnovation capstone, and it’s been a privilege to watch his Duke journey. I’m sure he’s going to do great things, and I look forward to following his post-college journey via Instagram.
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P.S. Adam, tell Ben to follow me here so I can keep tabs on him, too 😉
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #startups #teaching #duke2018
  • “I’m not tasked with trying to sell you anything. Thankfully. There’s nothing more boring. What we’re looking to do is be magnetic. Pull you into our orbit. Be interesting.” -  @gavinohara, the global social creative lead for @lenovo, talking with my @dukeinnovation class about the importance of sharing good content online instead of trying to “sell.”
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#entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #innovation #socialmediamarketing #socialmarketing #startups #corporatemarketing

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