Approach for Extra Credit
December 14, 2009 9:45 PM   Subscribe

How should I approach a teacher for extra credit in a class?

Hello Hivemind,

I'm a straight-A student with a very strong chance of getting valedictorian for my high school class of 2011 (Right now I'm a junior). I currently have a 4.0 cumulative GPA. Due to the odd way the WA public school works, the valedictorian is decided purely on GPA. Thus, there's around 4-5 of us for each graduating class rather than the usual 1 you see in colleges.

I've managed to hold on to the 4.0 despite taking a ton of AP classes these last few years. However, I currently have an A- in my AP US History class, which is by far my weakest subject. I'm more a math and science guy.

I was hoping to approach my teacher and see if I can do a history project for him to earn enough extra credit to boost me up to an A for this semester. I'm less than .5% away from an A right now.

However, my teacher is a really intense, no nonsense, brutal kind of guy, and isn't one to give out extra credit freely. I love his class and the way he teaches, but it makes it hard to develop a teacher-student bond with him, and I am sure he'll refuse to grant me the project without a very good reason.

So, could you please give me some tips on how I should go about asking him for the extra credit? Maintaining my 4.0 is important to me personally, and while I'm doing a lot better in the class, I just need a little bit of a boost to get back into A territory.

Any suggestions on how I should approach this?
posted by Atarah to Education (20 answers total)
There is really no way to avoid coming off like a sniveling student in this kind of situation: you just have to suck up your pride and ask. Tell him just what you told us: you're a 4.0 student and you'd be happy to do any extra work you could to pull your grade up since your GPA is obviously important to you. Pray to God for his mercy and thank him for his time.
posted by flavor at 9:50 PM on December 14, 2009

Teachers HATE these questions. So, yeah, echoing flavor: suck up your pride and ask. Leave out the reasons and complications. It'll only annoy him. Smile and be direct. And accept no for an answer if he says no.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:54 PM on December 14, 2009

Let him choose.

"I need this A. What can I do for extra credit?"
posted by rokusan at 10:03 PM on December 14, 2009

I wouldn't let on that you need an A, just that you'd like to do some extra credit work, perhaps on topic X.

"Need" is one of those subjective kind of words when it comes to letter grading. You might think you need one, but he might think you haven't earned one.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:10 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Echoing the topic X idea. Have a project of your own in mind in case he seems receptive to you, but is himself at a loss for what you could do. Coming off strong about it from the beginning may or may not make you 100% more annoying.
posted by flavor at 10:16 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can you do extra credit in a different class for a more permissive teacher and get an A+? This would balance the A-, and your problem would be solved. Furthermore, it's an easier sell to say you want to do something really stellar, and get the very best grade in a class you really care about. Wax poetic about science and dreams of MIT, etc.

As far as the history class, see if there isn't an assignment where there's room for you to go above and beyond. For instance, if you have a paper due, say you'd like to expand your paper because you're really interested, etc. Can you do 10 rather than 5 pages? Never bring up getting extra credit. He will feel compelled to sneak it in in some way, probably be giving you extra points somewhere else. He will do this even if he's convinced himself that he won't. It's just the nature of human psychology...
posted by xammerboy at 10:37 PM on December 14, 2009

I was totally in this group of kids when I was in high school (battling it out for class rank), and teachers hated the games that we'd play to stay on top. I promise he knows that you want that A - but probably the only way to get it is to really earn it with the work you turn in for class. I like the idea of expanding a project or doing something on your own, but talk to him about your idea first. Don't just go doubling page counts on a paper of your own volition. That's really obnoxious and will probably sour him towards you.

Incidentally, Algebra II is what did me in - a B+ on a semester grade my sophomore year. It turns out it relieved a lot of pressure because I could sort of take the rest of the classes as they came without being neck and neck in competition and fighting tooth and nail for every extra point. So in the event that your diligence and pleas for extra credit don't get you up to the A you want, take it in stride. Your GPA will still be fantastic, your class rank will still be awesome, and you'll be a step removed from the silliness that fighting to stay #1 can lead to.

(I say this with full acknowledgment that I was totally keyed in on rank in high school .... I took it Very Very seriously. But it didn't really do me any good. So don't stress too much about it!)
posted by ChuraChura at 10:58 PM on December 14, 2009

Depends on his motivations for teaching the class. If he's into the accounting, and adding up points for your grade, you may be out of luck. If on the other hand, he's about learning for learning's sake, and into grading you on your mastery of the subject, well, that's the way to spin it.

Hey, Mr. Whatever, I'm kind of bummed that I haven't really seemed to do my best in your class, and I'd hate to just let it go. Is there any kind of extra research project I might be able to do to bring me up to what you would call "A level" knowledge?

Something like that. It's not about your grade, it's about his evaluation of how much you know. It would be a rare teacher that would not be tempted to work something out when pitched like that (unless there's some kind of policy against it at the school). Maybe not a "you do this, I'll give you this much credit" quid pro quo, but when grades are due in, your willingness to put in the effort to meet his standard might make him throw it over the "A" line. You cannot come off as an all-I-care-about-is-the-grade whiner, though, so it could be hard.
posted by ctmf at 11:00 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can you do extra credit in a different class for a more permissive teacher and get an A+? This would balance the A-,

There's no such thing as an A+, at least not where the poster is from. 4.0 is as high as it goes.
posted by floam at 1:32 AM on December 15, 2009

I wouldn't even bring extra credit to the table. Just ask what you can do to get an A in the class. If there's time for you to get an A without extra work for both of you then you really need to go that route.

Most teachers I've had, especially in high school, wouldn't give extra credit for things like this because then they'd have to give it to everybody and take the time to grade all of that work. I'll bet some of those people just said that as an excuse, but the logic is pretty sound. Especially if the class is about to end.

You don't want to come off looking like you think you deserve special treatment because you think you're so wonderful. Not that you do, but when kids complain over an A- as opposed to an A and don't have some piece of work that was graded incorrectly that would change the overall grade...
posted by theichibun at 3:24 AM on December 15, 2009

I, when I'm being a teacher, hate students who are focused on their grades and see the subject matter from that perspective. Maybe you need to ask your teacher what deficiency the A- indicates about your grasp of the subject and how could you remedy it?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:31 AM on December 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't say that you need an A. As someone who taught college freshmen, I'd hear that phrase over and over again despite telling students not to say it in the syllabus. It implies that the other students don't need As, and implies that you think that grades are something handed out interdependent of your own efforts and actions.

I also wouldn't do what ctmf says, as it seems to be quite transparent grade grubbing to me. If you had a particular area you're doing poorly in--say, you were struggling with vocabulary--I could see asking for help specifically in that. Or, you could take Obscure Reference's approach, which is a good one. But that's not what you're looking for--you don't think your current knowledge is lacking, it sounds like. You want extra credit.

The problem with this sort of extra credit, and I speak as a no-nonsense professor, is that it asks for preferential treatment and extra opportunities not afforded the rest of the class. You might know this; after all, you do see yourself as competing with the other students. But for me, you would have to let that go if you wanted a chance to bring up your grade. I would be more willing to hear out a student if they were asking for an extra credit project for the whole class (you might talk to a few other students about this, and get them to approach the teacher with you) rather than a special one for themselves only.

But generally, even, and I think especially, if he says no, I would take this as a learning experience. It sounds like you're being challenged in this class--you're working hard and scraping by with an A- (which is actually an admirable grade, and fine, or would be if it weren't for grade inflation). In the next semester, I would approach your teacher at the beginning, tell him that you're hoping to earn an A next semester, and ask him what you have to do to make sure that happens. Then listen to what he says. Even the specialist snowflake needs some help sometimes.

Oh, and:

Due to the odd way the WA public school works, the valedictorian is decided purely on GPA.

That's not odd at all; that's pretty normal.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:34 AM on December 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm a high school teacher, and while I understand your predicament, I HATE grade grubbing at the end of the quarter. It's going to be pretty transparent that you're only focused on the grade here, but you need to try to spin it the way fairy tale of los angeles suggests. Make it about learning and not about your grade as much as possible. Try to pick a topic that your teacher seems especially interested in so it won't be a chore for him to do the extra work (and yes, extra work for you means extra work for the teacher - coming up with a suitable assignment and then grading it). Good luck!
posted by katie at 6:01 AM on December 15, 2009

In the next semester, I would approach your teacher at the beginning, tell him that you're hoping to earn an A next semester, and ask him what you have to do to make sure that happens.

I agree with this approach. I have no special teaching experience, but having been a student myself and maintained a pretty high average, I would go this route. Phrasing it from the same starting point PhoBWanKenobi suggests, I like "I would like to earn an A for this class, is there a time we can sit down and discuss my strengths and weaknesses, and any guidance you can give me so I can target my work this quarter and do better?"

You want to focus on the fact that you don't want to be "given" an A, rather you want to "earn" that A. If you start from that standpoint and it is going well, you can see whether there is a possibility to ask if there is potential for you to go above and beyond in the upcoming semester to really shine.
posted by bunnycup at 7:03 AM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I teach college, not high school. But APAH should be similar.

I would tell you that if you want a flat A, you should ace the final. I really have to think that if you're a half-point away now, that it is mathematically possible for you to receive a flat A without extra credit. In fact, I might compute what you need on the final for a flat A and check with the teacher about this, not about extra credit.

It's going to be obvious that you don't really need a flat A for anything -- the difference between a 3.9X and a 4.0 is nonexistent -- so your teacher is likely to suss out that you just want to stay in the valedictorian group. Were I your instructor, this would not seem like a very good reason for me to have to do extra work grading whatever bit of bullshit makework I had you do.

(people ask me for extra credit all the time in my political science 101 class. I tell them to take the time they would have spent doing a bullshit makework project and read the damn book (again) or take a note-taking class or study before the next exam. This horrifies students.)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:07 AM on December 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

You should not ask for extra credit. I teach college freshmen and have it in my syllabus that there is no extra credit offered at the end of the semester. Students who ask for extra credit get a long explanation of how I can't treat them differently than other students, that an extra credit assignment for the whole class is not feasible because of the workload it makes for me when I'm already grading tons of stuff at the end of the semester, that they don't really NEED an A because A's aren't like food/water and they aren't going to die if they don't get one, etc.

If you ask anything, ask what you need to do to get an A in the class. If a student asks this, I run the math and tell them what they need to get on the final exam/paper/assignment to get an A. If he tells you you need something like a 145/150 on the final to get an A, start studying. The ball's in your court.

That said, if a student is within about a 1/2% of a higher grade at the end of the semester and has done well on the final, I often bump them up because that 1/2% represents about 5 points on a 1000 point scale and is a small enough margin that means I could have graded something particularly harshly or made a mistake somewhere along the line. But if you're grade grubbing and not acing the final, I might not do the bump at the end. Just because these requests for extra credit year after year are so damn annoying.
posted by BlooPen at 7:44 AM on December 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd go with something in hand--the start of a project that might evolve into something that would earn you extra credit. You can go to him, lead with what you said about enjoying the class but wanting to do better in the course, then show him what you've started. Talk about why the extra project is important to you and what benefits it might provide you and him. You might also be able to work something out with him where you share the project with your classmates--that's always a good way forward, especially since it's not just all about you.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:01 AM on December 15, 2009

Are you counting on this teacher for a college recommendation? If yes, then DO NOT be a grade-grubber. Most teachers hate this kind of whininess more than anything else on earth -- and they will not forget it when recommendation time rolls around next year. After graduation no one will care who won the valedictorian game (college admissions people don't really care, either). Man up: take the grade you earned.
posted by philokalia at 9:56 AM on December 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is a chance for an important life lesson. Sometimes you get an A-. You need to understand that the work you did earlier in the semester does not warrant a higher grade and that you cannot fix the problem at the last minute. Learn to accept consequences of your actions or inaction. In addition, you might take the opportunity to unhitch yourself from this particular rat race. Like philokalia said, no one will care about it in the very near future.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 10:58 AM on December 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Fellow WA junior here. Unlike you, my school doesn't do minuses, so I only have to scrape a 90% (and yes, I made exactly a 90.0% last semester in AP Euro by being the only one to ace the last project, so I've been in a similar, tricky predicament.) I'm also no valedictorian candidate, but I like to maintain above a 3.8.

There's still a month left in the semester, not counting winter break, at least for me. This is enough time that you aren't one of the super-annoying last-second kids, but yeah, it's clear you want the grade. Just own up to it, and say something along the lines of "I've really struggled with X this semester, which has hurt me. I've done X to remedy it, but I'd like my grade to reflect the progress I think I've made. Can I do X project to address the problem and show my growth, and maybe give me a chance to raise my grade a bit?"

If there's a specific test you bombed or something, ask about an essay or something to address your shortcoming on the test and show growth in that area, to specifically raise your test score.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:38 PM on December 15, 2009

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