Monday, July 15, 2013

Hector from Hagerstown. Am I a Bully? An Early Thirsty.

I've had a student who has struggled all summer. He doesn't listen. Doesn't read assignments. Turns in half legible writing most times. He also is an ESL student, so often tells me he doesn't understand the assignments because he doesn't read well.

We're in an intro class with a writing intensive designation. I sent him several times to our excellent tutoring lab, but there all the tutors do is correct his work.

When he does in class work, it's nearly incomprehensible.

I've told him time and again he simply needs more practice reading and writing English, and he replies, "But I don't even speak it at home."

He revises these essays endlessly, and I don't mind allowing that. But he only ever addresses the notes I make. (I might mark one problem in one paragraph and tell him there are multiple similar errors elsewhere. He returns these so quickly that I'm sure he's not even looking for other errors.)

Last Thursday he sent 2 of his past essays, only mildly revised, for "more comments, Professor." I replied, "It's time we put some final grades on these. No more drafts. Please print them in the format for class and turn them in Monday."

This morning I saw his drop notice in my campus email.

Q: Did I push him out of class?


  1. In a way, you might have pushed him out, but it sounds like he was just in the wrong class to begin with. Was there a pre-req for him to get into a writing intensive class?

    Second and third language students are difficult, but at my regional uni, for example, they often are funneled through a number of language classes where they gain some control over the kinds of things your student seems to suffer from.

    He wouldn't have passed your class, right? Based on what you've written at least. Maybe the drop is better for him, and maybe your insistence will force him to get some extra help before trying it again.

  2. If you did, you did the right thing. He wasn't ready for your class any more than I'd be ready for Ph.D. French classes.

  3. I never know how much I'm responsible for and how much our college's tutoring and developmental folks are responsible for.

    In classes with clear pre-reqs, this isn't so hard. But in entry level courses, shit, everyone is to blame when a student is ready for the work. If you're teaching a typical summer course (condensed time and so on), it's even harder than normal.

    You didn't do anything wrong. Could you have done more? Maybe, but nobody other than you can really answer that.

    It's a shame for the student, but maybe your urging will get him on a different track.

  4. Yes, and that's a good thing. What is an ESL student doing in a writing intensive course, anyway? It's not your fault, I suspect, but your school isn't doing this student any favors. The policy makers are more responsible for his wasted time and effort than you are.

  5. Yea and nay, all at the same time. You might've effectively pushed the student out, but you were also being reasonable and, from the sound of it, you'd already made many allowances for this student. Enforcing the rules of the class is part of your job.

  6. If you did push him out of the class, you did the right thing. As some of the other commenters have suggested, the real failure here is at the administrative level. Students are being admitted to college without the basic language tools they need to succeed, and the professors are being left to deal with the problem. If we keep failing these students, maybe the admissions people will do their jobs properly.

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  8. Chiming in with all the others: yes, you probably pushed him in that direction, but it was his decision to either stay in the class and risk failing (but learning more in the process, and so preparing to pass in a later semester), or drop. He decided to drop.

    I pushed back a bit yesterday with my neediest, most time-consuming student in my online class (asking hir to be a bit more independent in evaluating sources rather than constantly asking "will this one work? what about this one?" without even trying to apply the criteria with which she should be becoming familiar by now -- I mentioned that she should be becoming familiar, didn't say I didn't think she was trying). The student stayed. In hir case, I'm pretty sure the issue is anxiety strong enough to inhibit concentration more than laziness (though there may be a bit of that as well). In your student's case, laziness may be a stronger factor.

    A college degree, as well as certifying certain knowledge and skills, is (or should be) an indication that the graduate has mastered certain "soft skills," including things like hard work, persistence in the face of frustration/obstacles, and management of hir own emotions (at least well enough to get some work done). Sometimes the way to learn those skills is through negative as well as positive experience (quitting has consequences, including loss of tuition and loss of time and effort expended). Honestly, I think you would have been doing the student no favors if you *didn't* push back a bit. Allowing some revision is good pedagogical practice (and a reflection of how writing works in the real world); allowing endless revisions is not.

  9. @Hector: If any of us is looking for an absolute right or wrong here, then we're in the wrong business. My sentiments in the previous post apply: What are your community standards? What would the other proffies in your school/department do? What is your school's formal (or informal) policy?

    It's hard because you're judging a student whose writing is imperfect, and yet your own writing is imperfect (e.g., there should have been hyphenations in "half legible writing" and "in class work", right?). How imperfect is too imperfect? How many hours of work is too many hours of work?

    Been there. Good luck.

  10. It sounds to me like you bent over backwards for him and he had to cut his losses.

  11. Did you push him out of the class? Yes.


    I'm with Ben, Wayworn, and any number of others. Yes, you pushed him in a way that ultimately resulted in his dropping the class, and yes, you did the right thing.

    Some of my colleagues have said that the most difficult part of becoming a teacher to accept was that it is good and right for them to fail students, encourage students to drop, and otherwise cull the herd. They wanted everyone to succeed.

    I get it, I do. But I have never felt that way. I don't take delight in being the reason some students drop, or being the one who marks down the "F," but I do take satisfaction from it when I feel it's justified.

    They make feel-good Hollywood films about the teacher helping the kids to succeed, not about the teacher flunking the ones who manifestly need to be flunked, I know, but this is arguably the more important part of your job. Embrace this. You have got to learn to embrace this.

    1. Every once in awhile, you got to see Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak (aka "Atilla the Sub"!) give an F to a student on The Golden Girls.

      That's pretty much the only time I recall ever seeing the rough part of teaching.

      Oh, and we did get to see Blanche deal with a skeevy prof in a language class willing to give her an A for sexual favors once too.

  12. Love Dorothy. And high props to Blanche for not bangin' that prof.


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