Last-Minute Larry

I’ve got a student. We’ll call him Larry.

Larry is really pretty representative of most of my students. He’s smart enough to do exceedingly well in all of his classes – mine included – he just chooses not to. Whether he realizes this as a choice of his own making or whether he considers himself an unfortunate victim of circumstances, I don’t know (but I can certainly make a good guess). Regardless of WHY Larry doesn’t turn in his work or show up for the majority of the classes, the fact remains that Larry DOESN’T turn in his work or show up for the majority of the classes.

We at TCC run 11-week terms. Around week 5 or 6, I distributed progress reports* to those of my students who were in danger of, or who were in fact, failing. Larry actually received one of those reports because, as the Universe would have it, Larry actually showed up for class that day. Attached to that report was a copy of Larry’s entry in my grade book, showing him all the assignments that had been recorded as zeros because I’d not received anything from him. (It might be important to mention here that this is at least Larry’s second attempt to pass composition. O’Mama told me the other day that she had to record his failure in her class last term.)

I announced to the five students (who showed up and received their reports that day – I wrote many more than five) that I would accept their work late. This is a CLEAR violation of the stated policy in my syllabus, I reminded them, but if they were willing to knuckle under and do the work that was expected of them, I would be willing to go back a bit on my policy.

We’re in week 10. Guess who came to me in a panic after class on Monday, horrified that he was going to fail the class? He can’t fail the class, he explained, because this is his last opportunity to take it before his internship. If he fails, he loses the internship and has to arrange for another in a later term.

Week 10 of an 11-week course, is what I’m sayin’ here.

I met with Larry on Wednesday (it should be noted that I had to hunt him down – he was supposed to come looking for me) and gave him a repeat performance of the speech I gave him when he got his original progress report, along with a not-so-gentle chiding about his choice to wait until week 10 of an 11-week course to begin to attempt to do something about it.

Because I’m rather fond of my ass and like to keep it safe at all times, I composed this email to Larry this morning and cc’d it to his department head. I want to make sure that this doesn’t turn into a he-said/she-said scene. I know that kids get nutty when they’ve realized how badly they’ve screwed themselves over, especially when the loss of an internship is the consequence of that screwing. I don’t want to be the recipient of the rage of a cornered student on the losing end of his own stupidity.

Larry:

I’m writing you this email as evidence of our conversations and the agreement that we made yesterday, Wednesday, March 12. If you have anything to add, email me back and I’ll keep that as part of the record, too.

You came to me on Monday, March 10 (in week 10 of an 11-week course), concerned that you were going to fail our composition class. You’d received a progress report from me earlier in the term (I’m sorry – I don’t have the date that I gave that to you handy, but it should be on your progress report copy – I believe it was around the middle of February), warning you that your grade at that point was insufficient to pass and that, if you continued your current performance, you’d fail the course.

It is my policy, stated clearly in my syllabus and repeated often in class, that I do not accept late work. If I were to hold to that policy, there would be no chance that you could pass this class; you’ve failed to turn in many online assignments in addition to several in-class pieces, a writer’s journal, and a research paper (I gave you a copy of your current entry in my grade book both with your progress report and when we met yesterday). I am willing to bend my policy in your case; however, all of the work that was assigned for this class must be completed and handed in no later than Monday, March 17th by 1:00 or I will leave the zero grades in place and you will receive a failing grade for this course. If all the work is completed and handed in on time, the best grade you will receive is a D.

When we met yesterday, also I told you that you would have served yourself far better had you come to me earlier in the semester to discuss your trouble in keeping up with the work. I stated several times in class – and more than once in emails to the group – that I understand that many of you are working very hard; that you have a lot of work in all your classes, combined with jobs and responsibilities outside of college. The fact that you waited until literally the last minute to come to me with your problems does not speak well of your ability to manage those responsibilities. My hope is that you take that away as a lesson in all of this: people are very often willing to make arrangements and compromises if you come to them – early and honestly – with your needs.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Chili

* I despise progress reports. These are college students; they should be able (and willing) to keep track of their own grades. I resent them even further because we have to write them by hand (despite the fact that my gradebook program has a neat-o feature that will print progress reports for me) on a four-part form, so not only do we instructors have to fill out all the information on every report (and trust me; there are a lot of them) but we’ve got to use ball-point pen and use the force of a silverback gorilla.

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16 Comments

Filed under composition, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, hybrids suck, student chutzpah, Yikes!

16 responses to “Last-Minute Larry

  1. I’m the mom of a “Larry.” He’s a bright young man and nearly drove us nuts alllllll through school. Every teacher he ever had (K-12), tried their hardest to help him succeed. He graduated from high school by the skin of his teeth and by the love of his teachers. (He is an extremely likable kid/young man.) By his junior year, we (the parents) decided to stop pushing, screaming, etc… and let him fail. It seemed cheaper to fail in high school than college. He squeaked through… His teachers (and we) knew he was capable of the work, he just didn’t do it. He tried college twice – still the same. He is working now and mostly self supporting. His boss likes/respects him, but gives him a nudge when needed.
    I’m hoping he’ll grow up by the time he’s 35. He has 7 more years.
    I have no advice. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and am so impressed at how hard you work for your students. It’s obviously not “just a job” to you. Someday, your students will realize how lucky they were!

  2. Colleen, THANK YOU for your kind words. It is excruciating for me as a teacher; I imagine that goes double for parents (and, sadly, we’re starting to see a little of this behavior in Punkin’ Pie. We’re doing all we can to nip it in the proverbial bud).

    I’ve been wondering how much of this stems from the general culture and attitude of modern schools. We’ve come so far from the joy of learning – from inspiring and questioning and challenging – in favor of the almighty test that we’ve sucked so much of that spark out of students. I’m not even sure how I managed to get so excited about learning myself, being a child of the ’70’s school system, but I often find myself as the most enthusiastic person in my classroom. My students look at me as if I’m a two-headed freak, wondering what the hell I’m getting so worked up over. I think it’s kind of funny, actually.

    Just as an addendum, I came in to the computer lab that I baby sit on Thursday nights here at TCC and found Larry and another of his failing classmates (a girl who should have KNOWN better than to have gotten to this point, as she’s had me as a teacher before) working like mad to try to get everything in before the deadline. I just sigh and shake my head.

  3. I go through this 20 times per semester; I have found that college students lack independence because as high school students their parents made excuses for them. Many go to college only to struggle. I really do not think first year “college seminar courses” can help. This is a matter of maturity.

    I must agree with Colleen. There is only so much you can do.

  4. justthegypsyinmysoul

    I teach junior high students and experience this daily as well. I get frustrated because I believe a fourteen year old should be responsible for themselves, especially after receiving countless warnings. I hate to know that with so many this continues into the college years as well. I think you have given him all that you can and have gone above and beyond what is expected of you. The rest is certainly up to him.

  5. Yep. What always amazes me are the ones who will show up for a final, when they’ve failed the other tests and have not turned in anything, nor have they even attempted any extra credit work, if available. Are they that optimistic that mathematics will suddenly change and that magically they will earn the 115 points needed (on a 100 point final) to pass the course with a D?

  6. nhfalcon

    Look at it this way Mrs. C., at least Larry isn’t like that other student you had in past – you know, the one you had to worry about playing the race card on you? At least it seems like Larry isn’t blaming you for his failure.

  7. I feel you, babe. I look at college totally different now that I’m ahem, older, but have classes full of Larrys. It frustrates me that these students rant and rave about how they’re the ones getting the shaft.

    In my Psych class, the professor caved and changed the testing procedure for the rest of the semester. There are about 4 or so of us doing well, the rest are flat out failing. They’re the ones complaining, putting the responsibility on the Professor. I’m pretty sure it’s his first ever class and he doesn’t want to turn in a majority of F’s, but damn it….the class is not hard. Not if you show up, read the text, and God Forbid, study a bit.

    *sorry, rant over*

  8. I’m gonna say what I’ve said before – you go WAY over and above for these kids. I just can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for you that they don’t appreciate it.

    I went to a private high school (The Prep – just up the road from your high school, Chili!). Not doing work was not an option. Parents and teachers were all very motivated to keep you working. I was so thankful when I got to college, because I was one of the few people who had the discipline to get my work done.

    But being released from a dress code… that’s a different story. I was SUCH a slob for my first two years.

    😉

  9. You were very kind to Larry. He probably doesn’t appreciate it now, of course, but maybe someday…
    🙂

  10. M-Dawg

    You went above and beyond for Larry. It’s now up to him . . .

    Keep us posted on his response (if any) of the email.

  11. Darci

    I am the middle school teacher of the crowd and I just went through the same thing with 5 week progress reports. 10 days prior to turning in my grades I give them the printed progress report with all of the missing assignments noted. After distributing the reports I gave them the options to replace the missing assignments – book reports for Reading Logs and a packet for classwork. A few did it but many still questioned why I gave them a D or a Fail. Ahhh the vastness of youth.

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  15. Ian

    u are a very dedicated teacher.., larry is lucky. but don;t expect larry to change. he is who he is.. and he still can succeed in his own ways. don’t ask him to completely ‘U Turn’ and be somebody else. I don’t think he can function that way. What you can do is to just remind him to submit his assignment a little earlier. or have an earlier deadline probably.

  16. Juliette

    Hi Mrs. Chili. I am a sophomore in high school and I have about 15 days left. I dont believe I’m doing too well in my classes, but I do try really hard. Do you have any tips for me to help me pull myself together before the end of the year?

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