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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Taking a deep breath and practicing compassion

This morning there was an e-mail from one of the two 101 students who had fucked up. He apologized for giving me the impression that he was making assumptions--but he still didn't ask what he could to about the situation, which to me sounded like he was still making an assumption. However, after firing off another angry salvo, I arrived at the office to find him hovering outside my office door: he'd just dropped off the hard copy of the paper, and since I had a few minutes before I had to be at Advisement, I brought him into the office and talked rather sternly to him. I won't get into the entire content of the conversation, but at the end of it, I told him I was still angry and didn't want to make any decisions about how to handle his paper until I'd cooled down--so I'd talk to him in class, by which time I'd have had a chance to get over being angry.

When I got to class, the other student was there--and I said, "You haven't checked your e-mail." She said she hadn't, and said that she thought I'd said something sometime about how I would work from the Turnitin copy or something... Um, no. She had the hard copy with her--along with a prescription pad note that she'd been in the doctor's office on Monday. I don't accept doctor's notes, and I had believed her in any case, but that wasn't the point. I took the paper from her, returned the doctor's note, and said I'd talk to her later. I returned the papers to the three students who had submitted theirs on time. Then I talked to the young man who'd had his with him on Monday but just hadn't remembered to give it to me at the end of class: I told him I'd mark it in class, provide feedback--but I'd take a late penalty.

Then I talked to the young woman. I explained that the assignment should be a zero, and she should have to proceed with no feedback or guidance from me. However, I would give her feedback--she can pick it up tomorrow--but I'll take a large late penalty, as that's only fair to those who did turn the assignment in on time. I've decided that I'll either divide her score in half or take 50 points off, whichever leaves her with the higher total. That's no doubt more generous than she deserves, but her grade will still suffer one hell of a big hit. I strongly suspect that, numerically speaking, she won't have the points to pass--so, in her case, I'm going to be stuck with the decision of whether to give her the mercy D or whether to give her the F she's "earned." It's a really tough call.

There was a time when it wouldn't have been. I'd have given the F with no compunction. I think I need to be honest about her writing on her final paper. If I think she can write well enough to have a chance of success in 102, I'll feel more inclined to give her the D. If I don't, then I'll give her the choice to withdraw or fail. The real point is whether she can survive the next level. If she can't, she shouldn't move up. I'm choosing to believe her hard-luck-life story about this semester and to trust that she can pull her act together in the spring and not screw up as badly as she has for me this term: that would be the other reason to block her forward progress, if I don't think she's ready to handle the responsibility of moving forward. And I'm on the fence about that.

We'll see.

I had another pleasant encounter with a student in my office today, a young woman from M&D who came to see me both about revising her second essay and about her final paper. As with the other students I've seen this week, I do wish she'd come to see me earlier--it would have made a big difference--but I'm glad she came to see me at all. I think she gained a lot of confidence from our talk, which is lovely to see. What strikes me, however, is the surprised gratitude the students tend to express. I don't know what they expect when they come to my office, but it seems they don't actually expect to get any help or encouragement--and they're almost stunned when they do.

Thinking about it, just now, I'm reminded of the value of individual conferences on the first paper. I've never done that with lit electives--though Paul does (he has a "draft day," when students do peer review, then he conferences with the students, then they submit their papers). But I wonder if I should reconsider how I structure that first big essay assignment so the students from the lit electives have to come see me at least once, early in the semester, just so they know how much help they can get from the experience. After that, I'd leave it optional--but it certainly would negate this refrain of the last week: "it would have been better if the student had come months ago."

There's other stuff popping (an issue with an adjunct that came up in P&B yesterday, when I wasn't there, and I'll have to meet with Cathy and Bruce--and I guess the adjunct; Cathy proposed an 8:30 a.m. meeting and I said absolutely not; I want to chime in on the changes being made to the mission statement, which essentially are moving toward turning us into a trade school; other annoying bits and orts), but the main thing is taking care of students. I have the one 101 paper to mark, and homework for the lit electives to wade through--and a pretty sizeable wodge of reading to do before tomorrow. There's a conviviality event tonight (when faculty from the department get together at a local watering hole and have adult beverages and mostly talk about our students or the state of the campus), and I'd planned to go. I'd still rather like to, but I also need to get that reading done, so, well, I'm not sure. It is early, but I also want to be home early for a change. Oh, decisions and decisions.

I'll figure it out on my way down to the parking lot. All I really want to do is to hide under the sofa until it's all over--but tomorrow should be (god willing) a relatively easy day, which is a gift from the gods, and one for which I am profoundly grateful.

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