Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is someone trying to set me up?

I just received the following email asking for permission to enroll in a class with seats left in it (no permission is required). I edited it only to remove any vaguely identifying details:

I just left you a phone message asking if you would accept me as a student in your Fall ______ class, to work with me as a side by side. I need a Professor who has a lot of patients,tolerance,understand of my disabilities. Someone who is willing to work with me hand in hand in other words close and don't mind answering what some may think is ridiculous or dumb questions so forth and so on. I need a very caring,concern,understanding professor with all in tension of understanding me as a student with all my disabilities on hand as well as questions.


  1. I would tread lightly on this one.

    Is this student deaf? I ask because the way that he or she writes reminds me of previous experiences with deaf writers - particularly the way that he or she wrote "in tensions" instead of intentions, how there are no misspellings, and the other non-sequential bits of text that can still be deciphered.

    Deaf students are fine in my book, so if that's the case, then it is probably okay to take this student on. He or she may just need some guidance and is pretty hard on themselves.

    Then again, the cling factor is great with this one. Have you got enough teats for this one to suckle? I'm sure more than 1 will be required.

  2. I don't know. I think this one might actually be reasonable. The student lets you know up front what you'd be getting into. Sure, there's no need for permission, but that's why this student is so considerate in the first place. He/she doesn't want to burden you, and wants to know outright if he/she would be a burden to you. This is a request for permission, which you shouldn't need to give but now have a right to deny. Count yourself lucky.

  3. The absolute first thing to do is make sure this student has been identified by the office of student affairs, or whoever deals with accomodations at your university. If this student has documented disabilities, the school needs to know. If, however, what the student is angling for is special accomodations when there is no accomodations plan, s/he needs to be sent to the office of student affairs to remedy that. You can tell the student that you are not averse to working with them as much as necessary, but if special accomodations must be met (extra time for tests, etc.), the student must be sure the univeristy is aware of their condition.

    The student obviously has very significant problems communicating effectively. You should not be averse to helping, but at my university I am forbidden from providing accomodations without a plan.

  4. Whether the student has a real disability or not, the fact remains: This student has HORRIBLE communication skills.

    This, in turn, calls upon us to answer this super-duper uncomfortable question, for which many of you more touchy-feely types (and others!) will want to set me aflame in the public square:

    Should we give degrees to students with atrocious communication skills?

    If you argue that students with disabilites AND who happen to have atrocious communication skills SHOULD get degrees, then you are answering that, yes, we SHOULD give degrees to students with atrocious communications skills.

    The fact of my hypothetical students' disabilities (or not) is irrelevant to the basic fact that you (in this hypothetical question) DO want to give someone a degree who has atrocious communication skills.

    My point is that you've got to be honest with yourself, regardless of your position on this question.

    If you had this student in your English course, for example, and he/she had a documented disability that cause the crappy language use, and you passed the student, you just passed a student who has crappy language use. You have to live with this fact.

    Of course, some of you will say "I did pass him/her, BUT..."

    Your "Yes, but..." crap doesn't fly with me. Sorry, but anyone who passes students with poor skills because that student is disabled is using a double standard. In my college, the disabilities office expressly forbids us from applying different standards to disabled students.

  5. At my institution there is an "Accessibility" office, or "Students With Disabilities", or something like that, and all arrangements for special accommodations for students who need them are done with that office, who handles it for the student. If your institution has anything like that you need to refer the student there.

  6. If the student is deaf, I would assume a transcriber will be attending classes with him/her. This has been my experience with deaf students. However, I do not think this student is deaf. Nevertheless, as has already been mentioned, this student needs to work closely with the office at your institution designated to assist students with disabilities. Although the student's situation may warrant some curricular modifications on your part, it is not feasible that you will be expected to devote the type time and attention this students seems to be requesting (especially if you are dealing with anywhere from 75-150 students in a given semester). Your institution should have resources for this student. On the other hand, perhaps the student has already been told that enrolling in your class is not a good idea, and as a result has been instructed to get "your permission." If you have the time, you may want to bring this to someone's attention (in the disability office). Who knows what has been lost in translation. CYA!

  7. Deaf students tend not to leave phone messages.

  8. I don't think the student is deaf. When she left a message on my office line, she spoke with a pronounced stutter, but not with the kind of voice I have heard deaf people use when they have, say, partial hearing. I called the Student Support Services office right away on this one. They have never heard of her. So naturally I gave her all the information about that office in my reply email. I cannot offer her any accomoodations unless there is a written authorization and plan from that office.

    Actually, I am feeling like a big meanie, but MY first response was that this was a student looking for a private professor. I have 125 students a semester, and while I offer my time to all of them (and many of them do come to me for extra help) during my office hours, I cannot work extensively with one student the way this student seems to be asking me to do.

    I also thought that maybe someone warned her against this particular class: it is an online class and students need to be independent learners.

  9. Cookes, and others: This person has difficulty with written grammar, not with communication skills. Grammar is probably still too broad of a classification.

    Communication skills need to be judged against communication intent, and this person appears to have gotten the point across just fine.

    I know scores of people with degrees who have excellent writing skills, but who are horrible at communicating--written, oral, or otherwise.

  10. Best to always send students like this to the proper authority first, Bella, or else they may sabotage a class or your career because they MIGHT feel slighted that you "refuse to help" (as has been shouted at me more than once).

  11. Bella, I"m not sure you can meet the requirements that this student seems to be asking for. He or she says: "Someone who is willing to work with me hand in hand in other words close"

    This reads "a whole lot of hours that prevent you from doing many other things that also deserve/require your time and attention."

    I'm not trying to be a big ol' bitch, and I'm repeating what others seems to be saying...but whatever office that assists students with disabilities MUST be the office that sets up whatever extra help this student is to get--note taker, tutor, extra time, etc. etc. AND the requirements are spelled out by the person's doctor in consultation with that office. A student who comes to you to say that they're going to need way more than what can happen when a student drops by office hours with a question would worry me.

    From your end, once Student Services is on it, it shouldn't really require much more than what you already do when you run a course.

  12. I think you're absolutely right, Bella, that this student is asking for a private professor, and you aren't paid that much. Student Support will be able to tell them what assistance is available to them, and will be able to provide that assistance. You did the right thing in referring the student to that office. From the sound of it, you couldn't possibly give this student as much help as he/she wants, and if you ever sounded as if you were willing to do ANYTHING, it would turn out that it wasn't enough, even though you PROMISED... I would step smartly out of the line of fire here.

  13. My experience has been that the ones who come across as this needy out of the gate are the first ones to drop the class. And that's all students who come on this strong, not just those who self-identify with disabilities and make lots of demands. I think they may have some ideal professor in mind who's going to be the answer to all their problems, but nothing I do will ever be enough.

    You were absolutely correct to call your disability support office and give the official line about accommodations. Our contracts as faculty members call for a certain number of office hours for student advisement. Reasonably that's all students should expect, and we certainly shouldn't be expected to give most or all of that time to one person. I'm sure your college has plenty of support services, both for disabled students and the general population, that this student can use.


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