Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Horror

We have a name! Our faculty, counselors, and librarians working as part of this challenge have decided on SWCBloggers as our group's name. I love it!

The second SWCBlogger challenge asks us to focus on an end-of-semester horror story. We all have them. Our nerves are fried, our students burnt to a crisp, and we're all angling to just be done. Yet, this is also the time when patience, compassion, and equanimity are so key. My grandfather, a football coach, always offered this adage about getting through college: "It's an endurance contest!" That applies to us, too.

I'm tempted to write about a situation occurring now, but to avoid descending into full venting mode, I'll dip back into my memory a couple of years back. I was teaching a full-semester hybrid college composition course, a class that only met face-to-face once a week. Many students quickly realized how much they relied on the instructor's f2f presence to keep them motivated and remind them of tasks--they just couldn't integrate the flipped model, and as a fledgling hybrid instructor I probably wasn't managing as well as I should have, either.

In this perfect storm of a class was a student who struggled to do the work well--or at least, he struggled on the rare occasions that he did do the work. Passing the class might have been a realistic goal for him had he put the time in, but with all the missing work it just wasn't happening for him. It wasn't until the end of the semester, though, despite regular grade updates and an email check-in or two, that it registered that he wasn't going to pass.

Three weeks before the semester ended, the pleas came in. First there was negotiating: "What late work can I turn in? Do you have any extra credit opportunities?"

Two weeks before the semester ended, big guns were drawn: "I have an athletic scholarship to Important University starting next semester. If I don't pass this class I'm going to lose it."

Then came, "Athletic counselor ______ said you could still give me a W and backdate it. Please do that for me so it won't affect my GPA." Because he had been attending class, though, I was not gonna do a late drop--I'd have to lie on the form to make this happen for him, and as we were also communicating by email at this point that was so not going to happen.

As he lay the final--a timed write--on my desk, he said, "I hope you don't ruin my future."

We eventually ended up at the dean's office. The dean, by nature so pro-student and compassionate, got his hackles raised the moment the student alleged I had it out for him. He launched into a personal responsibility talk so fast, articulate, and accurate that the student sat, stunned and speechless.

The student shuffled out looking as dejected as if he'd lost the Rose Bowl. I felt just awful. I figured the whole thing could have been avoided if I'd just been on top a bit sooner. An email nudge mid-semester is not enough for a student who doesn't thrive in the online environment. Simply having course policies about late work that you go over once or twice in class isn't enough for students who may have been coddled in previous courses or on the field.

This is the dance of the school year or semester. We need enough motivation to get us out of bed in the morning and enough enthusiasm to meet our students on the first day and feel positive about what lies ahead. And yet, we need to be so clear and consistent with our expectations for the course and unafraid to reach out and say "Hey! You're messin' up. What's going on?" when we need to.

By the end of the semester, though, it all seems to be a tangled mess. Oh winter break. Will you hurry up and get here?


Anonymous said...

I love this blog. You captured all the facets of the situation and it's quite, quite familiar to me personally. Thank you!


Elizabeth Merton said...

Great blog! It captures the essence of the end of the semester muddle students and instructors find themselves it. You just want a "do over!"

Heather said...

"I hope you don't ruin my future!" Ouch. And with the course repetition policy and financial repercussions of not passing, we hear a lot of "I have to pass!" pleas here at the end. Heartwrenching. Balancing being fair with being compassionate ain't easy.

Laura said...

What Heather said. That student really delivered a low-blow with that one. It really is difficult to be "that guy" when the time comes. :(

Henry Aronson said...

Ima chime in the with the rest of the replies. You outline precisely the tightrope we walk - being a student's cheerleader at the same time we must measure his or her mastery of the material. Cheerleader may not be the right word, yer part of our charge is to be students' allies, to support them on their path, which stands counter to our other charge: maintaining the integrity of our discipline. Here's to maintaining a dynamic balance.