Friday, December 12, 2014

Can't you just...?

I have to start off by reiterating that I haven't been at this teaching gig very long. This is my third semester being "in front" of the classroom, and I am still in that period where I am constantly surprised at the questions that I get from students. For the most part, my students are inspiring. They have jobs, kids, other classes, transportation issues, etc., and still manage to show up, participate, ask awesome questions, and turn in their work. Recently, I noticed that I was focusing on the ones who weren't. 

I think this is because I want them all to do well. I have some part of me that thinks if I will it hard enough, if I just want it bad enough, they will be present. But I have a handful of students who show up sometimes, turn in homework sometimes, and participate sometimes. And about three weeks ago, many of them started asking about turning in late work or getting extra credit. And the questions were something like this:

Can't you just accept my late homework?
Can't you just offer more extra credit?
Can't you just drop the lowest quiz?

"Can't you just" has become one of my least favorite starts to a question...

I have one particular student who has been a handful. Throughout the semester, she has been absent or very late and hasn't turned in much work. She didn't show up to our mid-semester conference because she forgot the scheduled time (it was posted on our class blog). So I told her that I didn't think she was going to be able to pass the class. (She didn't have enough points for it to be possible.) But she kept coming to class, sometimes. She blames her tardiness on her mom (she won't babysit). She says that she hasn't gotten a check, so she can't pay to print her paper (I suggest that she print it in the lab we go to). Still, she has so many excuses. And I want her to have solutions. I offer her solutions. I guide her to solutions. Still, the issues persist. 

She hurts my heart. I realize that I see my former self in her. I see the former "me" who was a single mom and taking the bus to school while working two or three jobs. I know it is hard. I know it. And sometimes I didn't go to class. I even failed a class because I didn't go to the final...ask Rebecca Wolniewicz... 

I wanted it to "click" for her in my class. I wanted to be the one to inspire her to make it work: to succeed in spite of all of the problems. But last week, she came to me and said, "I know that I'm getting an F in the class, but can't you just give me some extra points so I can at least get a C-?"

No. No, I can't. I want her to succeed. I really do. I really think I did everything I could to guide her to the point where she could make that decision. But maybe she isn't ready yet.

So the blog post was to write about my horror story...and I think, in my mind, the horror is that I just can't do all that I want to do to make it "click" every time.



  1. You show such empathy - and your desire to facilitate the "click". You remind me that "the click" may not happen in my class. Or at all. I've got to be at peace with the outcome. That doesn't absolve me from doing my best, though, and I know you are doing your best.

    Your "Can't you just . . . " chorus (meme worthy!) makes me think about the point of extra-credit, dropping low quizzes, and make-up assignments. I do wonder what to make of my own make-up and extra-credit policies. Should I use those options so students can demonstrate proficiency? Or if they've missed an opportunity to learn, too bad? To what degree do my policies imply mu values about learning? Is make-up work about accumulating points, or proving mastery? Anyways, I know that regardless what I say or do, whatever policy I institute, But I do need to think about how what's behind those policies and how to more effectively discuss and iterate them throughout the semester.

  2. If anyone could have made it click for her, it's you. You gave it your all and hope that in the future it will still all come together for her. Great blog :)