Saturday, October 27, 2012

Must be present to win

A cry for help

One of my students—let's call him “Dick”—sent me a distressed e-mail. He was not doing well in class and was hoping for some wise words of guidance from his teacher. His semi-coherent message ran thus:
hey Dr.Z dick here,
hey i wanted to run over a little bit of questions, 1.please tell me if there is anything you can pinpoint from my work that i can work on to develope the grasp of this sections.i do not want to fail and sometimes i feel i can grasp it then sometimes i fail it.i do not want to fail this class i meet with tutors every week twice and home tutors and i can do decent but cannot prove my worth on every other using the dropin ctr efficiently...any help you can recommend i do not want to lose my financial aid as it is viable to my continued succession.i can retake the course next semester as a retry but do not want to receive a W as it may discontinue my aid as well..
I often reply immediately to such messages, both to reassure the student and to prevent them from getting lost in the in-box maelstrom. Students benefit most from timely feedback. This time, though, I sat on my hands and just stared. And stared. And walked away from the computer.

Dick was in class the next day. I asked him to see me at the end of the period. He dutifully approached me as his classmates filed out of the room.

“I got your message, Dick, but I have to say I'm puzzled. Isn't it obvious what you need to do?”

“Huh? I'm trying everything I can, Dr. Z!”

“Even attending class? You routinely miss one class session per week and you often skip two. I'm less impressed about the frequency with which you meet with tutors if you don't attend actual class sessions.”

“Well, uh, sometimes I can't make it.”

“So it seems. But if you can't attend class, you can't reasonably expect to pass it. And where is the work you're doing with your tutors? I didn't see any homework from you for the last two chapters. So far, in fact, you've missed about thirty percent of the homework and quizzes. You'd barely be passing if you got perfect scores on the remaining seventy percent, but you're nowhere close to that.”

Dick had nothing to say, but he was nice enough to look embarrassed.

“Dick, I was astonished by your message, especially since it should be perfectly obvious that you desperately need to come to class and pay attention to the lessons. You can't skip out on a third of our sessions and survive. Few students could get away with that. I need to see you in class, on time, every day for the rest of the semester. That's my advice.”

He nodded his head. He even showed up the next day. Two days in a row. That's good! I wait to see if he makes it to three, which has occurred before—but rarely.

One thing sticks in my mind, though. Dick was clearly surprised—startled, even—at my advice. The notion of actually coming to class regularly had never occurred to him.


Kathie said...

What's your school's policy re taking attendance? Some schools' syllabi actually announce that it counts for, say, 10% of the grade. What about surprise quizzes, so that students realize they need to be in class? Some college teachers take attendance in case a student later files an appeal re his/her course grade, etc. Yeah, I realize it's awfully Mickey Mouse for college, but sometimes ya gotta CYA.

Zeno said...

Instructor's option. Some of my colleagues take daily attendance, whether by calling roll or using a sign-in sheet. I prefer frequent quizzes, almost always unannounced. Most of my class sessions begin with quizzes, missed at the students' risk.

Karen said...

I remember, as an undergrad, having a (very) few classmates who really could pull off passing classes without attending all that often. Sometimes these were even math and science classes. These people inevitably spawned many more wannabes who couldn't pull it off, which they often discovered quite painfully. It was sad to watch.

Kathie said...

Pssst, "Must be present to win" applies equally to Zeno posting a new blog comment if he wants to "win" some new comments ;-)