The toll of student excuses

After two research trips, a house move and a heavy Spring term, I was really looking forward to my Summer term this year.   Normally, this is the time when I have a reduced course load and then I get a short break before the madness of Fall term begins again in late August.  I was thinking I might have time to settle into my new home, do some writing, maybe relax a bit.  This has not been the case, and as my Summer terms are now really winding down, I have found myself much more tense and frustrated than I might have expected to be.  Upon reflection, I have found that much of my frustration has been caused by a rather high proportion of student excuses and last minute begging for grades in my Summer terms this year.  I have had a number of students who were far more invested in begging me to raise their grades than they were in simply doing the work assigned to them in the first place or in following the improvement plans that I had created for them.   I care about my students and want them to succeed.  When they behave this way it makes me both sad and angry, and I find dealing with them draining.  Sometimes I know I just need to step away from the keyboard…

I have a couple of observations I wanted to make on these patterns of excuses, though.  First, for many students, Summer terms are a necessity, not their first choice, and students take Summer courses to meet their goals faster or out of some form of desperation. These are not good conditions for student success. Additionally, many Summer courses are accelerated, and students pile them on thinking that they will have no problems completing all the work.  But they often do, and then they try to impress upon me  that they couldn’t keep up in my course because they are so awesome that they took 6 courses!  Really this translates to “I don’t manage my time well and didn’t make your course a priority”.  I’m not sure why I should accommodate this particular problem.

And at the end of every term I get the sob stories, and some of them are quite amazing.  I’ve encountered all manner of student illness, child illness, parental illness, death, stalkers, eviction, job loss,  incarceration, housefires, and any form of deployment and military training you can imagine.  Most of my students are adults leading adult lives.  We all know what it is like to have life get a bit hard, or very very hard, and just put our heads in the sand wishing it would all go away.   But when my students take this approach it leaves me in a horrible position. I hate having to fail students. I want them to do well, and the fact of the matter is that many of my students are taking my courses to get out of a tough spot in life. This means they will have extra challenges.  While I want to show them compassion, giving them higher grades just because they ask me to or grading work submitted well beyond the due date,  is not, in my view, genuine compassion.

Sometimes I have to teach horrible lessons about consequences. If your grant aid is important to you, you will do what it takes to stay in school. If you want to qualify for a specialized academic program, you will make passing my class a priority. You will have to learn your own limits and know whether or not you can really adequately balance family life, work and school.  I give you all the tools to help you succeed in my course plus I give you myself!  I am here to be used as a resource and I will help you!  It really takes so little to get me on your side, but I have to stick to my guns and I have to be fair and consistent.  But sliding on my standards is not really helping students out.  It also suggests that I don’t respect my subject matter or my role as a teacher, and I do.  I have so many triumphs to celebrate this Summer term.  There were a lot of great papers, there was super discussion and a lot of my students did very well.  Many A’s were earned.   I hope to turn my focus to those and hope that next term I won’t have to have so many painful conversations.

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Online Educational Specialist