Thursday, September 22, 2011

You may already be a loser

Are you effing kidding me?

I sometimes get e-mail from students. It happens. Students usually write to ask questions or to tell me why they missed (or are going to miss) class. I like it when students take the trouble to contact me.


Then there are examples like this, which initially appears innocuous:
Hello mr Z,

I need help with alot of the materials, is it possible to get some help from you?
Thank you,

Sent from my iPhone
This plaintive query arrived during the fifth week of the semester and came from a student enrolled in a class that had met nine times. I had given that particular class a total of six quizzes, short one- or two-problem exercises designed to help me keep tabs on my students' progress and to highlight the concepts or formulas I deemed most important.

I took a peek into my gradebook to see how much help Edie might need. Out of six quizzes, with a total of 60 points possible, Edie had racked up a grand total of seven points. She managed a score of 6/10 on Quiz 1 and 1/10 on Quiz 3. She missed Quizzes 2, 4, and 5. I imagine she finally got worried when she took Quiz 6 and earned 0/10. Time to ask for help!

Several possible responses to her plea came to mind. For example:
Hello, Edie. It's way too late. I'm dropping you for non-attendance.

Take care,

Professor Z
But I got a grip on myself and decided to take a milder tack (and included none of the bracketed remarks!):
I can recommend several steps, Edie, to improve your performance in the class, but you have to implement them quickly if you are to do well in next week's exam [after which pigs will fly]. First of all, you can come to my office hours, which are included in the course syllabus (look at the top of the first page) [and which I e-mailed to everyone in addition to handing out a hard copy on Day 1]. Second, you can go to the Campus Tutoring Center for drop-in math tutoring. Check at the CTC's information desk to find out when tutors knowledgeable in our subject are available. Third, you should review the problems on all of the quizzes we've had so far [including the ones that you missed or flunked—which is all of them]. I have been posting solution keys on the course website where you can download them or print them out.

Finally, ask questions in class [if you're ever there]. We will be doing as much review as we can fit into Tuesday's class next week. [Then, when you realize you have no idea what we're talking about, you can drop the class.]

Professor Z

My student was impressed with the helpfulness of my message, which prompted the following response:
Thank you mr Z! I will read the book this weekend and come to you during office hours.

Yeah. That seems reasonable. Four chapters of neglected school work all polished off in a single weekend.

The self-delusion will not be long lasting.


Gburg Atheist said...

Ugh! This sounds all too familiar to me in the High School world. See you again in my class next semester. Sorry, but you have to do some work yourself young student.

Curmudgeon said...

My favorite along these lines was a student some years ago who'd figured out the grades she needed to get in all her courses, mine included, to graduate that term and that she could graduate if she got a D in my course. She needed no more. So she did just enough to get the D. It was a solid D. I'll give her that.

But she miscalculated, and got one grade lower in another class. Showed up at my office after the term was over, grades filed, explained her predicament and asked if she could do extra credit retroactively so I'd bump her grade to a C so she could graduate.


She plagued me by phone, at my office, and filed a complaint with my chairman [who laughed]. Best line: "I can't believe you won't let me do extra credit to raise my grade."

My repeating, with suitably sympathetic and sorrowful countenance, "The course is over. You completed it with a D. I'm sorry, but that's it." had no effect at all.

Ah, memories....

Karen said...

I remember getting into real trouble in a physics class in the spring of my first year as an undergrad. The professor did NOT make sense to me, and our text was one of the most obliquely written pieces of junk I've ever seen.

Fortunately,the professor who taught me an earlier course in the sequence was a kind and generous man. He told me to go buy the text that every other section of the class used, and read it carefully, which helped immensely. Then he patiently tolerated me attending his office hours for the rest of the quarter and asking him the questions that my own instructor wouldn't answer clearly.

Sometimes it takes a LOT of work (and a professor willing to go above and beyond the call of duty) to succeed. I managed a B in that damned class. (Physics was never my best subject.)

Zeno said...

Good story, Curmudgeon, but I wonder why she plagued you instead of the instructor in the other class, the one where she miscalculated. After all, she achieved her goal (as low as it was) in your class.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Z, she was probably plaguing them all (except the ones she'd gotten As in, which had to be some, right?) just hoping that one would relent.

Miki Z. said...

I love the campus tutoring centers at community colleges. Both my wife and I worked as tutors while we were attending a community college. The thing I have noticed about the people who come on a regular basis to get help is that they attend class regularly and try diligently to complete homework.

A few student-parents would miss class on a regular schedule, but in these cases they discussed the matter with the professor prior to the start of the course. This let the professor coordinate with the tutoring center to arrange appropriate help. When family medical issues prevented me from attending courses on Mondays, I benefited from this system myself.

Samantha said...

I've caught up on four weeks worth of work and reading in one weekend before. Of course, that was in a subject I was good in and already knew well (English Children's Lit).

Maybe I'm just weird, but what's bugging me the most about this person is that she keeps calling you "Mr Z". All my profs have been "Prof." or "Dr." (depending on their preference and qualifications). Even the ones that have invited me to call them by their first name. Only the one prof who said that I could call her by name after I was no longer her student became something other than "Prof/Dr".

Zeno said...

Samantha, it's rather a different environment at a community college (as opposed to a four-year college or university). While all faculty members are "professors" (either regular faculty or adjunct), only a minority of us have doctorates. (In my math dept, it's about 15%.) The minimum qualification for a teaching position is a master's degree in the pertinent field. Thus most of us are known to our students as "Mr" or "Ms".

I deliberately do not go out of my way to correct students who address me as "Mr Z" instead of "Dr Z". At a CC, it's a natural and innocent mistake.

Kristjan Wager said...

I find the different modes of address across countries interesting. As both Sili and I have mentioned before, we don't address professors (or anyone else, expect for royalty) by titles in Denmark.

As a general rule, I've always addressed my professors by their first name.