On Monday, I posted about M, a student in one of my courses who was blaming her previous teacher for her course failure and asking to be promoted to the next level. As anticipated, I and the placement coordinator met with her on Thursday to get a clearer understanding of the situation. Some of you asked to be updated on the outcome. Here it is, in a nutshell:
- M arrived in my office and, as we waited for the coordinator to arrive, I asked her to explain her request again, particularly the puzzling implication that her teacher this term (me) and her teacher last term (not me) were the same person. No, no, she responded – she’d only meant to say that she’d had the previous teacher more than once.
- She explained that she’d first registered at our college before her arrival in Canada. She had no information about whether the teacher she’d chosen was a “good teacher” or “bad teacher.” As it turned out, the teacher was “a bad teacher.” After she’d failed the course the first time, M tried to sign up with a different teacher, but schedules were changed and she ended up with the same teacher again. Therefore, her failure was not her fault.
- When the coordinator arrived, he explained to M that a) regardless of what her teacher had done, it seemed very likely that M had failed because her communications skills are poor (we pointed to her confusing email message as an example), and b) there are formal complaints procedures that can be taken against teachers, but they need to be taken immediately, not at the beginning of the next semester, and c) bad-mouthing a teacher to his or her colleagues, especially in writing, is probably not a good idea.
- I further added that if we promoted M to the next course, she would once again have no choice about her teacher, and that she would have to take responsibility for her own success or failure. What was more, she would need to get significant extra help and be prepared for a possible failure in the course.
- The coordinator and I then agreed that, if M acknowledged these conditions, we would promote her to the next course and let her take her chances.
On the surface, this seems to be the best outcome for all concerned. M gets what she wants, and I don’t have to deal with her for the rest of the term. She would probably not get much out of the course anyway, given the attitude she has coming in. So, if the important question here is “How can we help M learn the course skills and become better at English?”, then this is probably the most effective answer.
And of course, that is the question. But there’s another question that keeps nagging at me. Is it a good idea to give people what they want because you don’t want to deal with their crap?
You see it all the time: spoiled children harassing their parents; rude customers bullying sales clerks into bending store policy; nice guys finishing last because they can’t bring themselves to be obnoxious in order to get ahead. Teachers giving students good grades so they don’t have to argue about them.
I am relieved that this student is out of my hair, and I am confident that this is probably the most efficient way we could have dealt with the situation, but I still feel like justice has not been done. People should not get what they want because they whine; they should get what they want when they’ve earned it.
We are responsible for helping our students learn our subject matter. Many would say that trying to influence them in other ways is overstepping, that even late penalties or attendance policies extend our reach beyond its proper perimeter. But to what extent are we obliged, not just as teachers but as members of a society, to teach people how to behave properly?
Parents are expected to enforce rules like “Say please” and “If you ask me in that tone, you’ll get nothing, young lady.” But what about the rest of us? Are there times when we should say, “No, you can’t have what you’re asking for, because you’re being a jerk”?
Image by Sanja Gjenero