jimvanpelt (jimvanpelt) wrote,

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But I Worked So Hard!

Here's a situation every teacher (editor) has faced: a student (author) turns in a final project (manuscript), and the project receives a poor grade (is rejected).

The student (author) then complains to the teacher ( his friends), "But I worked so hard!"


I'm going to drop the transposition of "student" with "author" strategy here, but everything I'm saying about students in the classroom can be continued with "author" in replacement, and good/bad grades being replaced with acceptance/rejection.

The connection between hard work and achievement is obvious, but it's not a direct cause and effect relationship.  For the student who worked hard, there will be improvement, and perhaps over time there will even be excellence, but hard work on the current project may not mean that the project will be very good.  It depends on where the student is in his development.

I know, it doesn't sound fair.  What also is not fair is that there are some people who, with much less effort, produce better projects.  So, student A could spend a week writing an essay, agonizing over every word, losing sleep, putting aside friends and recreation, focusing with manic intensity, and end up with a mediocre essay.  In the meantime, student B waited until the morning that the essay was due, opened his notebook next to his bowl full of Cheerios, and then neatly wrote a first draft that he turned in when it was due, and the paper received a high grade. 

Where's the justice in that?

There isn't any if you believe that the formula HARD WORK results in EXCELLENT ACHIEVEMENT (immediately).

All I can tell the student is that hard work, applied over time, with adequate feedback and a willingness on the student's part to change, will result in improvement.  Sadly enough, it is possible that "excellence," however that is defined, may be forever beyond the student's reach regardless of how much work the student invests in reaching for it.

I was put in the weird position by a student this morning when she said, "So my hard work didn't matter at all.  I still got a C!"  I had to explain to her that hard work does "matter"--it's one of the elements to improvement--but hard work on any single project may not translate into the grade she wants.  The final essay is effort-neutral.  I can't tell by reading a paper if it came to me through a lot of effort or a little effort (although I'm sometimes tempted to guess).  The paper exists all on its own.  It either fulfills the requirements with excellence and grace so that I can give it an "A," or it does not.

For a writer, if excellence is defined as publication in the venue that the writer is striving for, the same steps are necessary: hard work, applied over time, with adequate feedback and a willingness on the author's part to change, will result in improvement.  However, it is possible that the hard work applied over time will NEVER result in publication.  Sorry.  Fact of life.  Not everyone can get an A.  Not everyone can write at a professional level.

The secret is that you don't know if you are in the "never" group until you give up without reaching the goal.  As long as you keep working, and the real goal is to better than you used to be, then whatever the definition of excellence is is still a possibility.

In the meantime, hard work has to be its own reward.
Tags: publication, teaching, writing
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