The thorn in my semester November 26, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: failure, grades, students, teaching
There are two things I hate about being a teacher. The first is dealing with angry, threatening students. Fortunately, I don’t run into those too often, but they are seriously unfun. The second is dealing with students who don’t show up (sometimes physically, sometimes mentally) but still want to pass the class. This problem is more common than the first, though, so I’ve had to learn to get used to it.
The very first semester I was teaching, as an undergrad, I had a student who missed a couple labs. This student in particular annoyed me because it was someone I knew through other activities. When I introduced myself to the class, he said to his neighbor, quite audibly, “She’s the teacher?! This class is going to be SO easy.” The department policy was that anyone who missed more than a certain number of labs would fail, but I tried to be nice and let him make it up. When I set up a time for the first make-up lab, he showed up drunk and could barely function. I complained to the chair, and he got upset with me.
“Why are you letting him make up the labs? This is exactly why we have this policy in place. Fail him.”
I was surprised how easy a decision it was for the chair. Appalled, actually. But the student had been a pain all semester, so I rationalized that I didn’t owe him anything.
I got a call from him over Christmas break: it was my fault that he wasn’t graduating.
I don’t take lightly to guilt trips, so any residual guilt I had about failing him disappeared in that moment. The maneuver backfired, and I told him to take it up with the chair.
I’ve always wondered if his comment about the class being easy was an indicator that he thought he wouldn’t have to put in any effort. I also realized that he was right: if the chair hadn’t told me to fail him, he likely would have gotten through the class easily. That one was my fault: he accurately predicted that I was going to be much nicer than I had to be, and he was going to take advantage of that. I try very hard not to do that any more.
I really hate every time I have to go through this with a student. It’s not that I put a lot of faith in grades, but I would really rather that the students put in enough effort that I can at least justify passing them, even if just barely. It’s much easier on all of us.