Grade Disputes: How NOT to Handle them in Nursing School

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I want to tell you about a time in nursing school when I did not handle things the right way, and I had a big disagreement with one of my professors. 🤭

I was taking a Community Health course, and generally speaking, I was one of the better students in the class.

Which, FYI, is why my nursing program hired me as a tutor while I was still in the nursing program. So I was pretty proud of myself, and rather confident in my test taking ability.

In fact, there were several times where I advocated for my classmates in my accelerated BSN program, for myself, and even for some of the ADN students at various times when some unfair things had happened. 

For example, sometimes a student’s grade was a little borderline, and they were hesitant to approach their professor about a disagreement for fear of backlash. 

(Now, I’m not saying that any backlash would have actually happened, but it’s a legitimate fear, right? You never know…and you don’t want to wait until there’s some subjective grading, like your clinical assessment, or something like that, to find out that the professor wants revenge, and you fail…) 

The fateful day…

Anyway, on this fateful day in my Community Health class, we were going over a recent test. In that test, there was a question about CRISIS that had been marked wrong, but I was convinced (and still am!) that I actually got it right. 

The question was: 

“Which of these scenarios is an example of a family or client in crisis?” 

One answer choice was a family where their young child had died, and they were receiving family therapy to help them cope. Another option was a family who had lost their home in a fire and were experiencing feelings of depression while living in a hotel. 

Now, according to my community health textbook, the definition of “crisis” in a community health setting is when your acute needs in a situation exceed your available resources.

In other words, whatever it is that you’re going through exceeds your resources to cope with it. 

Our difference of opinion…

I chose the homeless family experiencing depression…because the family’s needs exceeded their resources. They experienced the negative effects of depression because they didn’t have a permanent place to live, and were not receiving any support or therapy to help them cope. 

To me, this seemed to perfectly fit the “official” definition of a crisis as per my textbook.

However…my professor said I was wrong. She insisted that the correct answer was the family whose child had died. Her rationale? That there’s nothing worse than having your child die. 

What kind of rationale is that? I mean, in “real world”, emotional terms…she’s not wrong. There is probably nothing emotionally worse than losing a child.

But that’s not what the NCLEX-style question was asking.

To this day, I stand by my answer choice as correct: the homeless family was the best example of a family in crisis. 

Because while losing a child is awful, that family was receiving therapy to help them cope, and was therefore not a textbook definition of “crisis”. 

Where I went wrong with my professor…

I pointed this out to the professor in front of the class. 

Repeatedly.

To the point that she was getting pretty irritated with me.

But no matter how much I pointed in the textbook at the definition and explained how the definition met the criteria for my answer choice (but not hers), she would not change her mind. 

And oh boy, was I was frustrated with her. 

And that is where I went wrong. 

Maybe I was used to getting my own way and had gotten a little arrogant, but right in the middle of class in front of all my classmates, I was having a public argument with my professor over a test question. 

When I finally realized how disrespectful I was being (and that she was not going to give in…), I finally gave up and sat down.

As much as it pained me, I did apologize to her after class for arguing and being disrespectful. 

(Sidenote: I did not apologize for disagreeing about the test question…because I still think she was wrong and I was right, haha!)

The moral of the story…

Regardless of who was right (me) and who was wrong (her, lol), I should not have approached her that way during class, continuing to argue in front of everybody. When it became clear that we were not going to agree immediately, I should have stopped and approached her privately after class. 

The moral of the story? 

Be respectful to your professors, even when you disagree, and even when they’re wrong. 

I never did get points back for that particular question. But because I was a solid student, it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things…I was going to pass either way. 

Besides, I learned a valuable lesson about working with (ahem…difficult) colleagues, even as a student. I was going to be a nurse someday and she would no longer be my teacher, but my colleague – like she is now! 

And the same will be true for you someday, too.

It’s good to be assertive when you think you are right. But there can be a fine line between assertiveness and disrespect. In the end, even if you can’t reach an agreement, it’s most important to maintain a respectful working relationship. 

So who was right…me or my professor? How have you handled disagreements in nursing school?

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