Makeup Work: 3 Scenarios

meZaC80I have a blanket policy against end-of-term makeup work for students who have failed.  If you didn’t complete all the assignments and get the extra help you needed during the semester (and if you did, you probably passed – it is extremely difficult to fail my courses), then you need to face the consequences.

This semester, I’ve received more requests for makeup work than ever before.  It’s exhausting.  Over the last few days, in particular, I’ve grappled with three scenarios that, when I add them all together, I can’t come to a comfortable decision on.  I need your advice.

1. Student 1 is a competent writer and could easily have passed the course.  When we met at midterm, we agreed that she was in serious danger of failing if she didn’t buckle in, come to class and do the work.  Nothing changed.  She did not do the required minimum of blog writing and didn’t show up to do her oral presentation.  A few days before the deadline for her final essay, she wrote pleading for extra work, citing personal problems throughout the semester, a need to graduate etc.  Answer was a blunt “no.”  She failed the course by a few points and wrote again to plead for allowances.  Answer?  Still no.

2. Student 2 failed this course with me once before, due to both poor skills and inattention to work and deadlines.  She was always pleasant but seemed confused and tuned-out, and repeatedly expressed surprise when it was pointed out that she had not followed (very clear) instructions.  For the first half of this semester, it seemed that her approach would be exactly the same as it had been last time.  By the second half, though, she started to try to pull herself together, mostly without success.  There were glimmers of potential in some of the things she produced, but deadlines were still missed, word counts nowhere close to met, writing riddled with all manner of errors.  Again, she looked surprised when told that she had failed assignments for these reasons.  A couple of weeks before the end of classes, she asked me to tell her honestly where she stood, and I told her honestly that there was no realistic chance she would pass.  She soldiered on anyway, and handed in what amounted to a good final paper, but it wasn’t enough.  The day after her final grade was posted, I received an email from her in which she began by wishing me a “pleasant good day” and then went on to say that she couldn’t believe that I “had taken pleasure in failing her by only 3 marks” and that it was clear that I had been “determined all semester to see her fail.”  She informed me that she had thought about “taking me to the dean” but had decided instead that she would benefit from doing the course again because she “had learned nothing in my class.”  (Perhaps she hasn’t put it together that, if she wants to maintain her major, she needs to take the course for a third time WITH ME.)  She ended by wishing me blessings from God.

3. Students 1 and 2 wouldn’t really trouble me if it weren’t for Student 3.  She is a nationally ranked athlete.  Her spoken and written English are very poor, and she was spotty in her completion of assignments.  At midterm, one of her coaches wrote to me and asked me to call him.  I hesitated, but did so, after confirming his identity with the student.  Only during the conversation with him did I discover that he was not a college coach, but a private one.  He informed me at length about Student 3’s prospects, including a scholarship to a major American university contingent upon her passing all courses.  I explained that I understood the situation but was not going to GIVE the student grades she wasn’t capable of, or dedicated to, earning.  I also asked some questions to find out who at Academic Advising is responsible for monitoring her progress (a setup in our “Sports Etudes” program in which elite athletes are given some academic flexibility to accommodate their training schedules).  I suggested that in future, the coach should ask this contact person to deal with me, and should not write or call teachers directly.  Nevertheless, I received a message from the coach again yesterday, asking about Student 3’s final results.  Although she had made significant effort on some assignments, others had remained undone, and I had posted her failing grade the day before.  I didn’t reply to the coach right away, but minutes later got a panicky email from the student, asking for extra work or other ways to make up her grades.  I immediately wrote to their contact at Academic Advising, asking him to handle the situation and contact me if needed.  He has promised to do so, but I am left with the question: if her results in my course are the only thing standing between her and the next important step in her academic and athletic career, do I take that into consideration?  If I decide to be flexible, should I also be flexible for Students 1 & 2?

What would you do in any of the above situations?  Does leniency for Student 3 also require leniency for the first two students, or should the answer be a “no” across the board?  Or should I lighten up when it comes to borderline failures and allow students to do makeup work regardless?  I would be very interested to hear  your thoughts.

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18 responses

  1. Shorter answer: The answer to all of them is NO. All the evidence you gave me only made me feel more strongly! Honestly, if you’re going to give ANY of these students leniency, then why bother having any standards at all? Why not just give everyone a passing grade the first day of class? The only thing that might help in future semesters is to state CLEARLY (including in the syllabus) that if they are struggling/failing, you’ll do what you can to help them over the course of the semester, but there is no “waiting until the last day and then asking for extra credit/leniency/whatever”. Finally, if you give Student 3 “leniency” just because she is an athlete, that’s even more insulting to Students 1 and 2; it implies that Student 3 has some kind of worth or value that neither Student 1 or 2 has.

    Longer answer: Student 1: She was given ample warning. Worse, she waited until the END of the semester to cite “personal problems through the semester”. IF she had come to you much earlier, then MAYBE you could have worked something out with her, but she didn’t. So: No. Student 2: PHHHHFTTTBBB. I would tell her you will be happy her for her to take all of her assignments to the dean and show the dean what her assignments look like. Also, are there any outside resources/help for students with (documented?) learning disabilities etc.? Can you and/or the dean tell her exactly what she needs to do and what help she should seek out? Maybe if she has to take the class the third time she has to sign something that shows she has seen the syllabus, the deadlines, been provided with your office hours and any other on-campus resources available to her, etc. That way she can’t express “surprise” that she’s missed deadlines or whatever. Student 3: Sorry, no sympathy. If her future were that important, whoever is invested in this student, ESPECIALLY THE STUDENT HERSELF, should have cared about ALL of this ALL semester long. It is ONE thing if support was asked for ALL SEMESTER LONG, but this waiting until the end of the semester and THEN asking for exceptions completely rubs me the wrong way. Also, here in the States, it is against the law (FERPA) for teachers (of students over age 18) to disucss the student and her grades and ANYTHING academic with anyone other than the student. I can’t believe someone who is not even a college employee can get any information from you or dictate what you “should” do!

    Anyway, best of luck and I look forward to seeing what happens!

    Date: Thu, 23 May 2013 16:05:10 +0000 To: terrywca@hotmail.com

  2. What would I do? I was in similar situations when I taught college. I suggest you send this to the coach and ask him what he’d advise for Student 1 and Student 2 in light of what he wants for student 3.

    But, then again, I do have passive aggressive tendencies.

    As for this question: “if her results in my course are the only thing standing between her and the next important step in her academic and athletic career, do I take that into consideration?” I think this same question also applies to your other students as well. Just replace the word “athletic” with whatever career interests they have.

  3. I know you got my SUPERLONG email, but I’ll try to encapsulate it here!

    1. No leniency. If there’s an ongoing problem, she should have talked to you long before this.

    2. No leniency. Clearly there are more issues at work than you can solve on your own, but if she takes your class–agaaaain!–perhaps a “special” syllabus for her with deadlines printed several inches high so there is no “surprise” and/or separate instruction sheets just for her–but document every single effort you’re making to help her.

    3. No leniency. If it were that important to the student, she would have made the effort. Her coaches and you can’t (sorry for the cliche!) care more about her education than she does/make more effort than she does. As I said in my email, granting #3 leniency and not 1 or 2 is even more unfair as if it is okay to not do your schoolwork as long as you provide “value” somewhere else.

    In short, if you make exceptions for any of them, you may as well not bother setting any standards at the beginning of the semester. If you make exceptions for them (here’s another cliche!) all you are teaching them is that if they whine enough, act frantic enough, they don’t have to ever do any work, ever, for the rest of their lives.

    I have noticed something at the school where I work (here in the States), which seems quite similar to yours, in that if students are told mid-way through the semester that they MIGHT pass if they do x, y, z, or that they are in DANGER of failing unless they do x, y, or z, somehow all they hear is “You are passing right now, so don’t make any extra effort between now and the end of the semester”. I don’t know why, but something is being lost between teachers warning students they are in danger of failing if they don’t do something and what the students seem to hear or process. It seems condescending, but I wonder if putting it in writing and getting the students to sign something partway through the semester that indicates that they understand they’re failing and will fail if they do not step it up, so that that same piece of paper can be waved under their noses at the end of the semester when they suddenly claim they never knew they were failing..?

  4. To student 1: “So your solution to failing the course by not completing the required work is to ask for more work?” No. “You have not lived up to your responsibility to yourself.”

    To student 2: “Thank you for your email. I sincerely hope you benefit from doing the course again, utilizing all the resources available.” No. And no matter how you want to respond to the passive aggression, don’t engage. Flaming swords should be left to the angels.

    To coach and student 3: “If you don’t perform the duties of your athletic position in a game, what does your coach do?” Terry’s right about caring ALL semester. Another question I might ask is, “Tell me, during which part of the game do you get to re-attempt a point that has already been scored and recorded?” Or I might ask this: “If your results in my course are the only thing standing between you and the next important step in her academic and athletic career, how can you say you are ready for the next step? You have not lived up to your responsibilities to yourself in this instance.”

    Their responsibilities to THEMSELVES, much less their responsibilities to you. None of these circumstances seem to be right for flexibility.

    I would urge you to be kind, firm, and brief. I have learned to say the absolute minimum when explaining grades to students or parents. More rope to try to hang me with.

    Good luck.

  5. No, no, and no. However, we do owe something to students who present as these three do. We owe them better advising so that they don’t sign up for classes they can’t or won’t take seriously. If the issue is skills, they need to be in a curriculum that better matches their skills. If it’s the need to be succeeding in school in order to pursue an athletic opportunity? well that’s just the fault of the system — athletes should not have to be good students in order to succeed in athletics. Don’t know how to turn that one around, however.

  6. Student 3 does make me hesitate, but it really wouldn’t be fair to the other students who did do the work and did meet the deadlines if you moved the goalposts at the last minute just because one girl who’s failing happens to be good at sport.
    It must be really difficult to give someone a grade that you know may well cause them to not get a place that’s important to them, but when universities give offers contingent upon other requirements they’re asking the student to step up to the challenge. If she didn’t do that then she is not who they are looking for and would probably struggle more if she did end up in the university.

  7. No, No and especially No to #3 (wouldn’t be fair to the other two students).

    How will our students ever learn that we mean what we say (including lots of offers for extra help earlier in the course), that there are consequences for what they do/don’t do, that when we specify certain things in the syllabus, provide academic warnings, etc—there’s a reason for that.

    Sadly, I think some students today have successfully manipulated teachers, parents and other adults, including coaches. The plea to have MORE work to do when one hasn’t done the required work just baffles me.

  8. To your attendance-challenged student, I would refer her to the syllabus and make it clear that you cannot make exceptions, particularly after finals grades are determined. You might suggest that she try an online version of the course, if your uni offers it. I’m a returning grad student and making classes has been difficult for me, too, but deadlines are deadlines.

    To the artistically-minded student, I would again refer her to the syllabus and make clear that the points are non-negotiable, so those vital three points were unfortunately on the wrong side of the line. You might suggest that she aim for getting papers done a little early to find a colleague or tutor to look at for her.

    To the athlete…actually, I’m not sure why you’re failing her. Is it the “poor” English or the “spotty” work? I could care less whether she’s on scholarship or athletics or anything else, but I am concerned that you seem less confident about your final grade for her. Was there more to it than that or did you just not feel that you needed to repeat what had been said about the others? Also, you shouldn’t be discussing student grades with anyone other than the student, official coach, private coach, parent, anyone.

  9. Every young person deserves to be taken seriously. And if you give a student more and more chances when s/he has blown off the first ones, you are not taking her/him seriously. Moreover, the biggest goal, for each student, should be to find some activity or area of study where he or she will act in a conscientious and reliable way. If it’s not Introduction to Composition, then it needs to be something else. Doesn’t matter what; they need the experience of being accountable to themselves and others.

  10. You did the right thing in all three instance… That’s the trouble with our schools… I have a family member that can barely read and he went on the graduate high school…

  11. They failed to earn enough points for the work which was assigned to them. You didn’t fail them. I have to remember that when I get these kinds of requests from the same type of students. While it is easy to think that giving students “grace” or a pardon might be constructive for them, in reality, giving in to them reinforces poor performance–the product of a skilled teacher is quality performance. This issue is about instructional integrity; therefore, there is no other answer for them.

  12. I’d say you did the right thing in all three circumstances. I’ve been in similar circumstances and that has always been my response. I have at times been flexible on due dates, by a day or two (and always with tardiness penalties), but never at this late time. Good luck, and hold fast.

  13. That would be three ‘no’s for me, too.

    As for the athlete, I’ve noticed that athletes typically have *more* support structures in place than regular students, and have more advocates who ask on their behalf for extra consideration.

    A student who cannot complete work here is not ready for work at four year institute, where the athletic part of their life will be even more involved.

  14. This is all good advice, so I won’t repeat what others have already said. I’d say no to all three, and do say so to my students every semester. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t agonize over the decisions, at least a bit. We root for students to succeed all semester long, so it’s painful to give failing grades to those we know could have solid successes.

    But a false success does more harm than an honest failure; I’m convinced that some of our failing students can attribute their failure to false successes in their past.

    A thought about coaches: I’m happy to talk with them, but I never call them and never visit them in their offices. They are advisers to me, not the other way around, so it’s up to them to reach me. I’d have thought this turf-stuff ridiculous ten years ago, but I’ve seen how important it is to the coaches. It’s like a victory to some of them, to hear me come with a ‘how can I help you?’ phone call.

    In teaching writing, again and again we fail good writers. It really sucks. But it’s because there are a thousand rarely-assessed things a student must do to pass – more, I think, in writing classes than others. Hunter Boylan calls them the ‘non-academic skills': doing work ahead of time, working in a distraction-free environment, thinking through faculty feedback on papers, focusing, revising, and then all the usual things like coming to class, reading, understanding what’s read, taking notes, doing homework, staying sober, eating, sleeping…..

  15. Thank you so much for all these replies! It has been really helpful to have you all at my back as I’ve grappled with all this.

    Update on Student #3: she wrote me in a panic again once the final grades had been submitted. I replied that there was nothing I could do for her, but that she had every right to apply for a Grades Review if she felt any of her grades had been unfair. I outlined the procedure. I spoke to the head of the Grades Review committee a few days later and they had not heard from her. I hope she found some other way to resolve her difficulty.

    • I commend your resolve in the face of adversity. I think it’s definitely very difficult to have to fail students, especially when you only wish the best for their future (kind of comes with the job of teaching, does it not)?

      I don’t think exceptions should ever be made (outside of the rules of the school, such as grade review). It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the students who do not get special treatment.

      On that same train of thought, consider student #4, who, assuming student #3 had gotten their scholarship, would not be given that scholarship. If you give to the undeserving student, it punishes the student who actually does deserve the scholarship. That’s what I think, anyways.

  16. I’m late on this, but I just wanted to commend you for sticking to what was right. Students will just take advantage when we do not stick to our guns. I know it is hard to do, I’ve been there, but I know you did the right thing.

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