Caring (Against the Odds)

Ponderosa pine treeAs the end of the semester drew near, I fretted about a student or two who had done quite well for most of the semester, then drifted off course, and finally disappeared without a trace.  As I tried to work this problem — figure out how to get my lost students to talk to me, two people asked me (with unveiled cynicism):  “Why should you care more about students’ grades than they do?”

That’s a good question, though it is based on somewhat faulty premises.  Most students do care about the grades that they get, and they also care about what they have learned in a course — or so it seems to me.  When otherwise capable students disappear, there is usually some explanation.  For some reason, though, given the strains of early adulthood and the fact that many first-generation students do not know how the system works, students just “log off” instead of asking their professors for help.  They assume that nothing can be done and there are no options, and no one cares anyway, so (as one of my students put it) “I thought I might as well just take the F and deal with it later.”

As a professor, one of my responsibilities is to evaluate student performance. Disappearing students, by academic convention, get an “F” (failing) grade for the course.  Alternatively, though, they could receive a “W, WP, WF” (withdrawal) or in some cases, or an “I” (incomplete, with the option of completing work within an agreed-upon time period).  From my vantage point as a college teacher, getting an “F” might have long range consequences that should only be borne if the grade is really warranted and there are no other alternatives.  So, in answer to the question above, here is another question: Why let talented students “give up” and “take their punishment” without at least trying to persuade them otherwise?  Will students be “wrecked for life” because someone inside the Machine cared about their long-term best interests?  And from a public resource perspective, courses retaken must be paid for again, and society always pays part of the bill.  As high as they are, tuition fees cover only part of the cost of higher education.  This means that re-taking courses always requires expenditure of public resources we cannot afford to waste.   –EdProf

One response to “Caring (Against the Odds)

  1. missprofessorcasey

    I completely agree. And I always consider the fact that students aren’t always completely aware of the consequences… for instance, last semester I had to sit down a student and explain what would happen to his GPA if he failed a course (and why it was important). For whatever reason, he did not have an understanding of this prior to our talk.

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