A dillar, a dollarThe fall semester is over and it's time to file the grades. As a diligent pedagogue, I always make a point of checking that my grade spreadsheets accurately represent the handwritten records in my gradebook. Once again, I see an unmistakable pattern. Eight of my students' names were originally entered into my gradebook by hand because they did not appear on the original print-out. They were neither pre-enrolled nor on the official waiting list on the first day of class.
A ten o'clock scholar
Why do you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o'clock
But now you come at noon
Seven of the eight students are gone. The one survivor squeaked by with a C. The others dropped the course (or I ended up dropping them for nonattendance). The moral is clear: It's a waste of time to add "walk in" students to your roster. If they didn't have their act together sufficiently to register before the beginning of the semester (or at least get on the waiting list for classes that are fully enrolled), they aren't going to pass.
If anything, my gradebook understates the magnitude of the problem. As a rule, I do not take a student's name the first day he or she happens to show up. Instead I give each one an enrollment card to fill out and tell the student to bring it to the next class session. Often I never see them again. Absent the instant gratification of an add-slip signed by the instructor, the student goes searching for more immediate rewards. No doubt this simple mechanism is sparing me from quite a number of foredoomed students, although I don't like stating it this way. It just seems to be the truth.
Perhaps I should have a short informational handout for next semester's late arrivals. Will it do any good? Only if they're able to learn a lesson from printed material, and I'm afraid the evidence for that is slender. In any case, here goes:
Dear prospective student:
Thank you for inquiring about openings in my math class. You are welcome to add your name to the "late add" list tomorrow if you fill out and bring back the student information card I gave you. If you had remembered to bring a pen or pencil, you might even have filled it out today.
No, I will not sign an add-slip for you today. I understand you think this is an urgent matter, but in that case you should have signed up for the class in advance. If this class is full, you could have added your name to the waiting list even before the semester began. We can put up to twenty names on the waiting list and there was room for yours, but we did not see you till today.
I'm sorry you think it's unfair that we begin our semester earlier than other colleges. We are an open-admission community college and we have a longer semester than the limited-admission state university. That's why we start earlier. For that matter, the university doesn't even offer the courses that you need, while we can even instruct you in the high school courses that you shirked.
Thank you for informing me that you're going to work really hard and do really well if I let you into this class. Such a result would be contrary to the bulk of the evidence I have seen in my years as a teacher, yet hope springs eternal.