I Don’t Do Drama

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.

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17 Comments

Filed under admiration, colleagues, concerns, frustrations, General Griping, I love my boss, self-analysis, student chutzpah, Teaching

17 responses to “I Don’t Do Drama

  1. Yes you do have one of the best bosses ever…and his perspective of the students today is right on the mark. May I say…that you went above and beyond what I would have done with this student. However, we must always….I mean always…COA!!! You did good!!! sorry for the bad grammar…I am always self conscious when I leave a comment here 😉

  2. I’m a new teacher – I’m ALL ABOUT covering my ass, especially with this group of students. Taking my word above a teenager’s is one thing; taking it above someone who is essentially an adult’s is something else entirely. I’m very, very careful, because I know that these kids may not be very book-smart, but they know how to get what they want.

    Don’t stress about the grammar, Danielle; it’s okay to use it for effect – and I don’t grade people’s usage unless they ASK me to….

  3. Jackie

    It does seem as though you have a wonderful boss –I’d take that over prestige any day!

  4. Glad to hear that the situation seems to have worked itself out and that your boss backed you on this. I can only hope that my administrators would do the same in a similar situation. Speaking of COA, I deleted about 200 emails from students and parents yesterday from last year… always makes me nervous to do it because I never know when something is going to come back and bite me…. even if 3 months have passed since the end of the school year.

  5. Seth, I’d be nervous about deleting emails, too – one NEVER knows if or when that shit will come back to bite one. I still have all the emails every student has ever sent me in files on my email program. I’ve got to ask my husband to archive them on CDs for me, just in case.

    (oh, and did anyone notice that Ms. Amanda doesn’t know the difference between your and you’re? Is it just me, or does this undermine the credibility of her claim to be entitled to pass the class?)

  6. Sue

    I have been teaching at the college level for over seven years now and this last semester was by far the worse batch of “life isn’t fair, what can you do for me to make it easier?” students I have ever had. Its frustrating because I really work hard at caring about the students and giving them the benefit of the doubt (as you did for Amanda), but then it comes back to bite you (as it did from Amanda). I can see now why all those “hard-nosed, uncaring” teachers exist out there. Its really almost necessary to protect those students who do make umpteen sacrifices and work terribly hard to get the work in on time and show up for class no matter what their circumstances. Those students go along, never asking for any special exceptions, and since we never hear from them, they often are not the object of our concern. Instead, it is the students who are constantly asking for special exceptions that become the object of our concern and our empathy/sympathy. It is kind of sad actually.

    Anyways – this has been an area that I have really been considering over the last couple of months off. Trying to figure out how to make sure that I protect those who do the work and show up and make THEM the object of my concern (and appreciation).

  7. I can only hope that my new boss will back me as effectively as your boss backed you. Smart move, keeping all those e-mails!

  8. Sue, what you speak of was a BIG issue for me, last term in particular. I had a group of medical assisting students last term, and they were very keen on fairness because THEY worked hard. They made their deadlines, they did the work, and they made the commitment, and they were sick to death of the students who didn’t bother, but who were still afforded accommodation and special treatment. It’s a tough balance to walk – focusing on the ones who DON’T give us trouble while trying to be fair and reasonable with the ones who do – and I’ve not figured it out just yet…

  9. I’m beginning to see the same tendencies in my high school classes, as well. I teach in a very small, very isolated private school, but as more and more parents are taking their children out of the overcrowded public schools, our school is growing. More and more of these former public school kids are demanding A’s and B’s for D and F-quality work, and their parents are right behind them backing them up. I no longer wonder why my shoulders stay in knots and my head is always throbbing.

  10. I cannot lie, Chili, you inspired my post today. It is no coincidence.

  11. sphyrnatude

    Way to go. I’m glad that your boss is backing you up. The observation about the hard working students being particularly concerned about fairness is an interesting observation – they seem to have realized that floating the bad students actually harms them, or at least decreases the values of their efforts.

    As far as CYA, I *still* have the files (paper) from the first university class I taught back in the late 80’s….

  12. Right on, Mrs. Chili!
    In my industry, we have a lot of younger, “first job” employees. And it AMAZES me the crap they pull. That same sense of entitlement.
    Stick to your guns. Someone has to put a stake in the ground and make them accountable.

  13. Wow. Mrs. Chili–YOU ARE MY HERO!

    And your boss is your superhero side-kick.

    The trend continues as I noticed my roster included a student (who was NOT recommended by a consensus of social studies faculty) in an AP History class. grrrr…

  14. Your boss is correct on the entitlement comment of this generation of kids.

    I teach high school history (mostly freshman). I hold ALL my students accountable. I have parents and administration on my back all the time asking me to “give the kid a break”. I’m sorry. Someone needs to teach these kids to be responsible for their actions. The earlier we start holding kids accountable, the better prepared for the real world that kid will be in life. The parents are not doing it. My administrators are not doing it. The community isn’t even doing it (EX: when a kid gets into trouble with the law or courts, the kid gets a slap on the wrist).

    You got me on my “soap box” on this post. 🙂

    Thank you Mrs. Chili and to your boss for holding Amanda responsible for her actions. Let’s hope more educators will start doing the same thing. 🙂

    PS NEVER delete emails!!!!! Unfortunately, we live in an age that you have to cover your butt at all times! I document all conversations and emails at all times. No matter what . . . cover your butt girl! 🙂

  15. JK

    Amazing post, wonderful blog — I still need to reread and work through the whole Nazi thing, but as a future teacher I appreciate the experience, wisdom, and ideas you put out. And I cringe over my poor grammar… sorry.

  16. I know I’m late to the party here (just discovered your blog – great job, by the way), but I wanted to say your boss is spot-on in regards to what is happening. I recently posted about how we set students up for future failures because of the system’s structure and pressures. Truly, the students are the ones who eventually pay the price.

    What an excellent boss you have! I only wish our principal gave the same support.

  17. JK, don’t cringe over grammar. If you make a mistake that you only realize after having hit “publish,” let me know and I’ll fix it for you. Don’t let fear of a misplaced modifier keep you from adding your voice to the conversation.

    Dr. Prezz, my boss IS the best, and I’m so grateful to be working for him, ESPECIALLY since I’m relatively new to this profession (at least, I’m new to teaching professionally – I’ve been a teacher all my life; I’m just now being paid as one).

    I do worry about the failure of these students, but then I wonder if our entire structure – business, marketing, the world of work – isn’t making the same kind of accommodations that schools seem to be making. A blogger friend of mine recently published a post about how “competence is the new excellence” and that we seem to be more willing to accept the less than adequate because, frankly, that may be the best we can get. Sadly, I think he’s on to something…

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