Now You’ve Made Me Mad

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

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23 responses

  1. I soooooo sympathize with you…and understand why you wrote this post. You’ve summed it up perfectly – I have absolutely nothing to add. This student deserves to fail and you should not feel ANY guilt about it. He/she needs to be responsible for his/her actions. Don’t help, just listen as I’m sure you’ve done. Then walk away…leave it. We hope students will learn from such situations, but we have no control over that. But accept what’s yours, not what belongs to your student.

    Be nice, cordial and save your energy for students who will get something from it.

    Don’t change one damn thing….and be proud of yourself!

    • Thanks, Gen X – it’s been a really frustrating day. It’s as though I’m suddenly besieged on one side by student after student who has finally decided to pull his/her head out of his/her bum, and on the other side by student after student giving me what seem to be totally bogus excuses about why their major essay and/or oral presentation isn’t ready. This always happens, but it seems a bit extreme this semester – maybe I set things up in a way that led to this? It’s all making me crazy, and I’m having fantasies again about abandoning teaching and becoming a Buddhist nun.

  2. Wow. Just — wow. I’m sorry you’ve had such a frustrating day. Before you chuck it all to become a Buddhist nun, you might consider that THIS is your training. You don’t have to chuck it at all. This kid is your Zen lesson of the semester.

    I really, really like the perspective, though. The way we show we care is being there, teaching, every day.

    • OKP: that is in fact exactly my project: it seems that teaching is my practice, and so I have to take it with all the lessons it delivers. It’s good to have you remind me of that, because I’m losing perspective on it today.

      Besides, I don’t think The Fiance could get behind the nun bit.

      • Probably not.

        One year for Halloween, I dressed up as the A Fairy, who delivers A’s for all the deserving boys and girls (and of course they’re ALL entitled). I showered them with handmade confetti (all marked with A’s, and all cut out by my then put-upon TA). One of them remarked that it was the only A he was ever going to get from me. I told him to cherish it — or work harder for a real one.

        Just a little lightness tat I hope assuages some of your frustration! I know from below that you still had more to field even after this post. Sorry.

      • Ooh! Make it a book to read to your next class — a companion, if you will, to the syllabus. “And the small and pesty goblin asked the wise sage, ‘Why am I failing English?’ and she did smite him.”

  3. But you don’t understand — they are ENTITLED to a good grade, regardless!

    The lack of personal responsibility in the younger generation is truly appalling. They believe that by just “showing up” they’ve made their contribution. There’s always a way out, there’s always a “pass.”

    And our young people are being taught this at early ages. As early as elementary school, there’s no such thing as a hard deadline — if you suddenly discovered your homework balled up at the bottom of your backpack 6 weeks’ after it was due…well, great. Turn it in now! It’ll count. Or, just stay in during recess to complete a report. I’m not trying to be mean; I just believe it is our duty as the ADULTS in the equation to properly prepare our kids for the real world. If you aren’t there when the big presentation to the prospective client occurs, well, there’s no do-over.

    Teaching is such a two-way relationship. It is based on the premise that the other part who is to be taught, is also willing and available to LEARN.

    • Oh, Corinne, I know, I know.

      Just this morning, I received two emails from girls (friends, as it happens) who missed an important exam yesterday. One, apparently, had a root canal (but apparently had no inkling of this before the day of the exam, so didn’t let me know in advance that she would be missing it.) The other, apparently, had her flu vaccine on Sunday, and had a bad reaction through Monday and Tuesday, and so was unable to come to class. She was too sick to contact me (as were the rest of her family, maybe?) but not sick enough to go to the doctor, so she doesn’t have a medical note. Clearly they just forgot about the exam and skipped class, then realized their mistake, and are now scrambling to cover their asses. And I get to play the wicked witch. It’s been a whole week of this stuff, and I’m EXHAUSTED.

  4. Oh my….those 2 girls have just added fuel to the fire…ouch!? But not much you can do…at least you ‘see them coming’. I’m a hard ass myself – young people (as well as ‘adults’) need to be accountable for their actions, be responsible for what they do. Unfortunately society is much more tolerant than I…but I’m too stubborn to change – come on, if we give in, they’ll never learn now will they?

    Courage ma belle…

  5. Well, take courage! At least none of this is turning into the dreaded parent meeting… can’t tell you how many hours of time have been sucked up into the void meeting with parents and trying to very diplomatically tell them that no, there is no way their child is going to pull this one out of his ass in the last two weeks of the semester. To be fair, most of the parents get this look of revelation on their faces when I point out the string of zeros. I cannot possibly be hatin’ on their child with unfair marks if I never had the chance to mark something in the first place. That story might work if they handed in shoddy work — but the kiddos, they ain’t getting any smarter with this stuff.

    • Lightly Seasoned:
      I am always very grateful that I don’t have to deal with parents. I occasionally get a call, but it’s usually from someone very concerned and reasonable, who wants to discuss real solutions. If not, I can always foist them off; in fact, if their child is over 18, I’m not allowed to discuss them with their parents at all. It makes my job much easier. I admire public school teachers so much I don’t know how to express it.

  6. We have the exact same problem at our place. The kids are so used to being spoon-fed that they can hardly do anything for themselves yet wonder why their grades aren’t up to scratch. It seems to be a universal, genrational problem. I have genuine worries about what will happen next, namely when this current bunch of kids stumble out into the world.

    • Mr. Teacher:
      Once kids get to CEGEP, we spend a lot of time dealing with their anger at the fact that they’re not going to coast through without consequences the way they did in high school. To be fair, though, the student who provoked this rant is in his 20s, and has been in the work force for several years, so there’s absolutely no explanation for his being so obtuse.

  7. I got an email on Monday from a student who hasn’t been to class since September 23. He wants a list of everything he missed because his financial aid will be messed up if he fails another class.

    Looks like he’ll be paying his own way next semester.

  8. Every year I share stories with my 6th graders which relate the importance of completing work on time and following directions accurately. Maybe a real world example will help:

    My cousin Josh really disliked school and put no energy or effort into his schoolwork. He could complete the work but he did not have a desire to finish it, so he just ignored his teachers. He rarely turned in work on time or studied for tests. He thought he could just glide through school without consequences. This all crashed around him during his senior year as his Economics teacher had firm deadlines. Josh had developed the wrong habits and staying true to form, he did not turn in his work on time. Josh did not graduate with his class. He completed his GED later in life. He is now a 32 year old man without a job or a future. He has held down many jobs (5 that I know of) and has been fired from every one! His last job was on a military base where he made good money. He lost that job because his boss told all the employees to not take home any office equipment during inventory. Guess what? Josh didn’t listen, took home some equipement and was fired on the spot! Sadly, he realizes that the habits he formed while in school still plague him today and adversely impact his life.

    I don’t know if your students respond to this kind of stuff…every class is different. But I bring real life stories into my class as a way to get the students to focus beyond the classroom and toward their future! Even if it may seem as though the kids don’t care, I know that telling this story helps me as a teacher! And it helps the students know that I’m trying to build character within them for their future. Their habits and patterns during school DO affect their future!!

    • JoAnne: I wish all sixth-grade teachers were as conscientious about this as you are. By the time they come into my classroom, some of them have had many years to entrench the habits that are going to cause them problems their whole lives. And of course, they didn’t just learn these habits in school; they learn them from the people around them, whether parents, teachers, or friends. Sometimes the most we can do is let the natural consequences happen.

  9. Age-old story that I still like to hear from other teachers in other schools so I don’t feel so alone.

    These last few weeks of the semester, we have so many things coming due, and I am already sounding like a broken record about the deadlines. There’s a list posted on the board, too. I’m still apprehensive. I have baggage. There will still be THOSE students who don’t do what they need to do, claim they didn’t know–they’ll get their parents to complain, too, wasting my time when I am working overtime to get their grades posted. I’ll beat myself up a little for not holding their hands, like a good little middle school teacher, and then I’ll wake up and say to the student, “When are YOU going to take responsibility for your own education?” This is a question that some will not be able to answer for a few more years. (Man, freshman year will kick their butts!) What can I do about THAT?

  10. I absolutely understand! Students lack self responsibility and somehow they put the responsibility on us (parents too!) The key is to make them realize it is their choice to fail or succeed in class.

  11. Thank you so much for this! We aren’t really supposed to moan, are we? But there are always the odd few determined to fail themselves. I am pretty careful about keeping them up to date – no one should be surprised to fail.

    Having said that, I teach one re-sit class and they are pretty easier to motivate. I just ask them “Do you REALLY want to do this for a third time?” and they snap into action!

  12. Pingback: Top 10 Posts of 2009 « classroom as microcosm

  13. Just change English out to “Abnormal Psychology” and you absolutely have the same situation I faced last semester. THANK YOU!

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