Last term, I had a student, we’ll call her Amanda, who posed quite a challenge for me. She seemed nice enough at first glance; pretty and confident, she didn’t seem to have any trouble, in the first few days of class, expressing herself to me or her classmates (though I should note that she was a little haughty, and was the student who inspired the You Can Call Me Mrs. Chili post). She seemed to write well, too, and I was looking forward to having her as a voice in the class.
Except that she hardly ever came to class. After about the third or fourth week, it was far more likely for her to be absent than not. I would get occasional emails from her explaining that she was sick or that she had an appointment during class time, and would I accept her homework via email – which, against my policy because it was often submitted late, I did.
This habit of absenteeism continued through the rest of the semester. As it happened, she was only able to deliver two of the four speeches required of the course. She had to take her mid-term late (another breech of my policy) and failed to hand in the take-home portion of that test; a significant bit of work which counted for half the grade.
She showed up on the Monday morning of the last day of class, telling me that she had to deliver her final speech first because she had yet another appointment and would have to leave the class early (are there NO other times during the day for her to schedule appointments?). I told her that would be fine, and as soon as the class arrived, she could deliver her speech and go. She thanked me, then told me she was going to take her mobile drive and print out her speech. She popped the thumb drive out of her laptop and went out of the room…..
…. And never came back. She left her laptop and books on the desk, and I kept watching the door, thinking that she’d at least come back for them. Nope. Around mid-class, I sent someone out looking for her, but she wasn’t anywhere to be found. I dismissed the class when we were through (remember that this is the last class of the semester, please), then packed Amanda’s things, left her a big note on the white board telling her that I’d brought them to the front desk for safekeeping, and headed downstairs.
No one knew what happened to Amanda. No one had seen her leave, she hadn’t spoken to anyone, she wasn’t in any bathrooms or the library or the student lounge. I gave her things to the goddess at the front desk and told her the story of the disappearing girl. Goddess took the books and laptop and locked them in the cabinet behind her desk, and I went home.
I didn’t hear from Amanda again until Tuesday afternoon around 4:00 – after my next-to-last Tuesday/Thursday class. She claimed that she’d been sick and had to leave, and asked me where her things were. I responded that she could get her computer and books back from the Front Desk Goddess, and that it was entirely inconsiderate of her to leave without telling me: she had to have passed at least half a dozen people on he way out, any whom she could have asked to run up to tell me she was leaving. I offered to take her final exam late if she emailed it to me right away, and I told her that she could deliver her final speech in my last Thursday class the day after next.
She neither emailed me her final nor showed up for class on Thursday. I got an email from her telling me that she couldn’t get a car or child care for the time slot and what should she do?
At that point, I was pretty much done. I’d given her more than enough opportunities to meet her responsibilities to the class and I couldn’t really see any way of getting her what she wanted. I emailed her back and gently suggested that she should perhaps consider taking the class again when her life situation offers her the time and energy to approach the material with the focus and attention it needs. I posted her grade as an F and left it at that.
It was around this point that her proverbial gloves came off. Her response to my email was;
So what your just going to fail me so i do it again. I dont get it. Your the only teacher it seems like doesnt really care. Lifes very difficult but i dont think backing outs any easier
No, Amanda; it’s obvious from the extensions I haven’t given you and the offers of visiting other classes I’ve not made and the work I’ve not accepted late that I don’t give a crap about how difficult your life is.
It was right about here that I put all the emails we’d exchanged in order and sent them all to Joe, my boss, along with a note explaining my side of the story. This was back in early July.
Last week, that same boss called me into his office. “What can you tell me about a student you had last term named Amanda?” he asked me. I reminded him that she was the student whose emails and grade report I sent to him almost two months ago; he said “oh! That’s HER?” and went to his desk to get the file.
When he came back with my emails and the angry letter she’d written to the school, he started reading. As he mumbled things like “didn’t help me,” and “difficult pregnancy,” and “made me uncomfortable in class,” he cross-referenced with the emails I’d sent her offering to accept work late and to have her deliver her speech in my other class and my offering sympathy for her plight. Finally, Joe turned to me and said, “look, it’s pretty obvious to me that you’ve done your job here, and that you went out of your way to help this student. As far as I’m concerned, this matter is closed.” He put “FYI, CASSIE” and forwarded the whole bundle of papers to Amanda’s department head.
He then went on to talk to me about how this generation of students – the 19-23 year olds in particular – have a peculiar sense of entitlement that no other group has had; at least, not to the extent that this bunch exhibits. “Look,” Joe said, “these kids have never been faced with failure before. They have gone through their schooling with teachers who coddle them because of pressure from the parents and the administration. Parents come into classrooms demanding A grades for their kids, and the teachers are afraid to hold the student to any accountability. Then, they get here where they’re faced with the real consequences of their actions. This is probably the first time any of these kids has been faced with the real posibility of failure, and the don’t know what to do about it, so they revert back to the tactics that have worked for them thus far – they bluster and they threaten and they demand. You did your job – more than your job, really, because I know how tough your policies are and how little you like to bend them. As far as I’m concerned, this matter is closed.”
The thing is, when Amanda was in class, she did extremely well. She was articulate and poised, but she wasn’t in class enough to have learned all the material in the syllabus. I can’t say, with any confidence, that she met the standards of the class: I can’t say that I had enough opportunity to see her demonstrate the skills that I was tasked to teach her. By asking for a passing grade, Amanda is essentially asking to be paid a full week’s salary after showing up for work on only two days, and it just doesn’t work like that. I’m grateful to my boss that he agrees. I’m absolutely certain that Joe will NOT ask me to change Amanda’s grade: Cassie might, but Joe won’t.
I may work in a podunky, zero prestige little community college, but I’ve got one of the best bosses ever.