Now You’ve Made Me Mad: Reprise

I don’t like this time of the semester.  A couple of years ago at around this time, I summarized why.


What do you mean, “Why am I failing English?”

You’ve failed EVERY SINGLE ASSIGNMENT since the beginning of the course.  You handed in your first essay 2 weeks late, and you wouldn’t have handed it in at all if I hadn’t asked you where the hell it was.  You got 37% on your last practice essay, but you didn’t ask me a SINGLE QUESTION about why, or even look at the detailed feedback sheet I filled out for you, and then you went ahead and wrote the real essay, and got a 40% on that.

What do you mean, what can you do to catch up?  There are TWO WEEKS left in the semester.  You’ve been failing English since the fourth or fifth week – why are you coming to see me about this now?  Your grades have been posted up this whole time.  The fact that you’re failing English is NOT NEWS.

Yes, I’m sure your other courses HAVE been very difficult.  If you’ve chosen to prioritize your other courses, then that is a perfectly legitimate choice.  We all make such choices.  Most of us also recognize that if we don’t prioritize something, we’re not likely to do very well in it.

Why am I angry with you?  I’m angry with you because you’ve had 13 weeks to deal with this problem, and yet you march into my office when the semester is, for all intents and purposes, OVER, and you suggest that a) the fact that you’re failing English is a total surprise to you, and b) I am somehow responsible for the fact that you are surprised, and c) I should now be doing something to help you deal with this problem.  THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN BE DONE NOW, and certainly nothing that I can do.  The time for dealing with this problem has PASSED.

What’s that?  Why don’t I care about your success?

I do care about your success.  I care about it very much.  I’ve been sitting here in my office, and standing in your classroom, caring about it, all semester.

You’ve been so busy not doing your work, you haven’t noticed.

Photo by Dominic Morel

Methinks the Lady Doth Explain Too Much

At the end of last semester, I posted about an extremely frustrating email exchange I was having with a student, but I didn’t post the exchange itself, as I was concerned about the niceties of using student correspondence in blog posts.  However, I kept the conversation in my drafts folder, suspecting that I would make use of it someday.  I came across it again this weekend.  I have enough distance that I can doctor the student’s messages a little while retaining their essence.  The student’s name has of course been changed, and other identifiers have been eliminated.  My replies are reproduced verbatim.

I wanted to post this now because we have come around to that same time of the semester – the final couple of weeks – and my dread of infuriating student emails is welling up.  However, my perspective on this conversation has changed in so many ways.  In particular, I see my own role and replies entirely differently.  In the moment, I was so furious with and bewildered by the student that I was unable to step back from my own behaviour and evaluate it.  Please read and give me your thoughts: what am I doing wrong here?

Student: Hi,its concerning my topic for the oral I choose to do it on war to stop war in the world are poverty.

Siobhan: Dear Shayla: Your guidelines state that in your oral, you must teach the class a skill that you have.  Is stopping war or poverty a skill that you possess?  Please reread the assignment guidelines.

Student: Goodmorning ,it is concerning toodays class.Since last yesterday,I catch a flue which was catch by my relatives in my household.I woul like to know if i can met with you next week to review what I will be missing in todays class.

Siobhan: Shayla: I’m sorry to hear you are sick.  You are welcome to meet with me during my office hours next week to discuss what you’ve missed.  In the meantime, you still need to give me your topic for your oral presentation, as you will be presenting next Friday; please send me your topic as soon as possible.

Student: Hi,I wanted to know concerning the orall date can i present the wednesday  after?As i missed a class and didnt get to choose my oral date

Siobhan: Shayla: Your oral date and topic were due last week – you were free to email me with your date and topic at any time!  However, as Friday is quite full, I can move you to the next date.  In general, though, not attending class is not an excuse for not taking care of your class responsibilities.  Please send me your oral topic AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, as it is now very late.

Student: My topic is to change poverty  int the world because it sais if there was one thing you had to change what would it be .And thank you for being patient and giving me a chance to do the oral another dtae.

Siobhan:  I believe I already wrote you about that topic: I think you are confusing your argumentative essay with your oral presentation.  Your topic for your oral presentation needs to be to teach the class how to do something that you know how to do well.  It has nothing to do with the topic for your argumentative essay, which is to identify something you would change in the world and explain why.  These are two different assignments.

Student: Hi,its concerning two zero I have.I have a zero on quiz 3 and 4?And concerning the essay and oral,I will see you tomorrow and talk about it ,because I am quite confuse.I will talk to you 5 min before class if that’s okay with you,because after you’re class I have gym and the time of break is just enough for me to get ready.

Siobhan: Shayla: It is not clear to me what your question about the quizzes is.  You have zeros on two quizzes because you were not in class on the days they were given.  If you have a medical note excusing you from the latest quiz, you can bring it to me tomorrow.
As for the oral, I expect you are confused because you have not been in class when we have discussed the guidelines, nor as the other orals have been presented.  I will be happy to talk to you, but the time before class is not the best time; it would have made more sense for you to come see me in my office well before now.  You have missed a great deal of class time, and this is putting your chances for success in this course in jeopardy.

Student: Hi,I wanted to know tomorw can i see u before class in ur office for like 10 mins? or at 330 pm?

[Interval: I yank student out of class to explain again that no, she cannot come to see me in my office ten minutes before class time for any reason. The next class, the student is unprepared to do her oral presentation because she believes that her date is the class AFTER the extended date I agreed to above.]

Student: Hi,its regarding the argumentative essay we have to write my topic is going to be pauverty …Ihave told you that before,but you said it wasnt good but i saw on the paper in class someone chose it

Siobhan: Shayla: I told you (twice) that poverty was not a good topic for your ORAL PRESENTATION.  Poverty is a fine general topic for your paper.  They are two different assignments; I was hoping that by now your confusion about these two assignments would have cleared up!
There is no need for you to tell me the topic for this paper now.  We have done a great deal of work on it in class, most of which you have missed, and I will not be tutoring you about it over email.  I would suggest that you do the best you can with your first draft (which is due on Sunday night) and that you take advantage of the opportunity to come see me in person about making improvements for your final version (due the following week).  I don’t want to get any messages from you about this between now and Sunday – you are on your own!  The guidelines are available in our online classroom.

[Interval: several face-to-face meetings in which I carefully explain to the student that she needs to read the assignment instructions and my email messages, and COME TO CLASS, if she wants to have a clue what is going on.]

Siobhan: Dear students:  As you know, your final English paper is due by midnight this Friday.  Classes finish on Thursday.  As I explained during our last class, I will be in meetings and other engagements all day on Friday, and so will not be available in my office or by email.  It is therefore essential that you contact me with any questions BEFORE 6 PM ON THURSDAY.  If you contact me by email, it is essential that your question be brief and specific – I cannot review your whole essay for you.  If you have more general questions, please come see me in person during our final class period, when I will hold office hours specifically for your class.  (Note: even if your question is brief, it’s always better to come see me in person if you can.)  I will also be available for regular office hours.

Student: [sent at 11 a.m. Friday]: Hi,I did not get to see you thursday as I was still working on my paper ,I actually even redid another one.I was wondering can you just take a quick look and tell me what version would be best? [attached: two full-length essays]

Siobhan: [sent after the essay deadline has passed]: As I explained in a previous message, and in class, I was not available to answer any questions on Friday.  I hope you submitted your essay on time.  Have a good holiday.

[Interval: final papers are graded.]

Siobhan: Shayla: PLEASE READ THE MESSAGE BELOW SLOWLY, CAREFULLY, AND AT LEAST THREE TIMES.  Please do not contact me asking me to answer questions that have already been answered below.
It is essential that you do your English course again.  You have failed it this time for two main reasons:
1. You missed a lot of class time, and so did not learn the material you needed to learn, and
2. You seem to have a lot of difficulty reading and understanding instructions in English.  This includes both assignment guidelines and email messages.
I have looked over your final paper.  I know you worked hard on it, but it is not a passing paper. It is not properly formatted, your thesis is still not adequately supported, and your organization, especially your conclusion, still needs a lot of work.  However, the main problem is this:
In at least one spot, you have used words directly from a text without presenting them as a quotation.  You have cited the source but you have not paraphrased properly.  (If you look at the “Originality Report” for your paper on Turnitin, you will see this section marked in purple with a number “2″ beside it.)
As we discussed in class, using quotations properly was a major part of your task on this paper.  Using them improperly is a serious problem, and the usual result is that you get a zero on the paper and a letter goes into your permanent file saying that you have plagiarized.  However, I do not think that you deliberately plagiarized here – I believe that because you missed so much in-class time, you did not know how to do this properly.  I am therefore not going to put a letter in file; instead, I will consider this optional paper “not submitted” and will give you the same grade for your final version as you received on your original version.
I hope that next semester you will make an effort to attend all classes and to give more careful attention to the instructions you are given.

Student: [message 1]: Hi,I wanted to know what version of the assignemt u read because I have send about 4 assignment making a mistake only 1 is the gudd version the latest one.

Student: [message 2]: Hi,I just reviewed my essay and I do not see where I did plagirasim I went on turnitin and recheck with my text in front of me .Is there a possibbility of me scanning the text I have and show you.

[Interval: Siobhan writes several long, detailed, patient, tooth-gritting messages and deletes them all, settling on this:]

Siobhan: Shayla: I am truly surprised that you continue to send me messages.  Obviously, a plagiarized sentence is not the only reason that you failed this course, and the fact that you will not accept responsibility for this is extremely frustrating for me, as it is taking time away from all the other papers I need to grade – this is not fair to the students who invested a lot of time and effort throughout the whole  semester.  I will be at the college this afternoon at 4:30 for a meeting; I can meet with you briefly before that.  I am not happy about this.  There is not need for you to scan or bring anything.  Please let me know if you can come to my office at 4:00.

[Student is never heard from again.]

Image by Ambroz

Here’s What I’d Change About School

Dear readers:

There are some exciting developments happening at Classroom as Microcosm.  The last week has seen a major uptick in traffic, not least because a recent post, Fail Better, was chosen as a WordPress Freshly Pressed feature and so attracted a whole bunch of new followers and, at last count, 228 comments – welcome and thank you!

In the meantime, I have received lots of interesting and articulate responses to a question I posed to student readers: what would you change about school?  I’d still love to know what you think about this topic – please hop over to the post and leave your comments – but in the meantime, several readers have agreed to let me publish their answers as posts, for your consideration and discussion.

Accordingly, next week I will run five posts from five students, in which they explain what they would change about school if they were Supreme Leaders of the Universe.  Look out for Emily’s post on Monday, in which she tells us her problem with school: it’s just not challenging enough.

Image by Julien Tromeur

Ten Wonderful Things, Part Seven: Looking Problems in the Eye

Another thing on my list of what went right this semester.

#7.  Looking Problems In The Eye

I have slow reflexes.  I am afraid of confrontation.  I want my relationships with my students to be smooth and easy without any special effort on my part.  Disasters come about because of these tendencies of mine.

One disaster that will haunt me forever is James, a student I had a few years ago who almost drove me to quit teaching.  The thought that I would ever have a student like James again made me feel that teaching is impossible.

However, after taking a bit of time off to reassess my commitment to my job, I realized that there will be more students who, if not exactly like James, are at least as difficult.  And I realized that I can learn how to handle them.  Not only that, but learning to handle them is good for me.

In some cases, like that of Khawar, a student relentlessly demands that I handle him.  Because of my slow reflexes and desire to avoid confrontation, such a student is in fact a gift.  I have to deal with him, because otherwise he won’t go away.

A student like Valerie is far more difficult for me.  She had no desire to connect; in fact, her goal was to hide what she was doing, and it was not only up to me to address the situation, but I knew I would meet resistance when I did.  (At least in James’ case, he clearly wanted me to pay attention to him.)  These problems keep me up at night, plotting strategy and practicing monologues and stewing.  I HATE this crap.

One of the greatest revelations of my teaching career, however, is that I have to do this crap.  I have to confront it, I have to walk through it, and once I do, I’ll feel better.  I’ll feel better because I’m not stewing any more, but most of all, I’ll feel better because I’ll know that I did the right thing.  Not that I did it right, necessarily.  But that it was right to do it.  These students need my attention.  They may not like it, and I may not like giving it, but we both need something other than silence.

Looking back at Khawar, Valerie, and other troubles I met with this past semester, I feel pretty satisfied.  There are always a few doubts, but for the first time in…well, maybe the first time ever, I can’t think of anything serious that I left undone.  I probably missed some cues or mishandled some moments, and I certainly don’t think that every single student left my classes feeling validated and inspired.  But when it came to real problems, I did what I could.  Effort, as opposed to solutions, is what I ask of myself, and for this term, I give myself an A.


Previous Wonderful Things:

#6: Rereading

#5: Exceptions

#4: Harry Potter

#3: Early Mornings

#2: Incorrect First Impressions

#1: My IB Students

Image by Andrew C.


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