Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What would The Byrds Say?

Or King Solomon, or anyone who has ever thought that there is a season for compassion and a season for strictness.

A purely hypothetical situation:

A student is clearly having some issues--attendance has gone from perfect most of the semester to spotty, even dreadful since break. When said student does appear, s/he looks dreadful--not poorly kempt, just beaten down.

The problem is, the student has been dishonest--you know, in the fiddling with margins and fonts kind of way that's totally transparent, and the "dog ate my homework/email is broken" sort of way that's harder to prove but no less visible to the naked eye.

The student had tried to schedule an appointment with me today, but we crossed paths--the purported topic of the meeting was a need for a pep talk. In an email, the existence (though not specifics) of tragic events are confessed, the imminence of graduation is referenced, the possibility of a sobfest is forewarned.

What the student doesn't know: the big margin/big font paper failed, and I've found multiple pieces of evidence of the mendacity of the broken email excuse. With the current average, and without a penalty for the mendacious excuse, the student will not successfully pass the class (though it would be close). Because the student did not know this information, I am not reading the earlier email as manipulative.

There's a third exam tomorrow, and big final paper due in three weeks.

Though I know, and can more or less prove that the student has been lying to get a long extension, I think I'm going to grade the work that was (eventually) turned in. But I want a confession, partially because I don't like being lied to, and partially because I don't want the student to believe the ruse worked.

I also believe that the possibility of passing this class relies on getting some extra help from me, which I fear may, in terms of the amount of effort I'm willing to expend, may be partially contingent on the student coming clean.

I fear all sorts of things about this purely hypothetical situation--that I'm being an ass, that I'm being a pushover, that I'm being selfish, that I'm being compassionate, that I'm being vindictive, that I'm being manipulated, that I'm not being even-handed, that I'm being generous. All of these things are available, but few of them align for me in a clear course of action. Especially after the lingering embarrassment of a couple of days ago.

Perspective anyone?


Dr. Crazy said...

Ok, first things first: I hate confessions. If it were me, I honestly wouldn't want to hear it from the student.

The way I'd deal with it is this: I'd grade the work to this point as it deserves to be graded. When the student met with me, I'd say, this is the situation with what you've done this far. This is what you have to do to pass. Whatever your excuse is, I'm not granting an extension if I don't see substantial work in the form of a draft, notes, etc. from you. Make your choice. Here are the university policies on forgiving courses; here's who you call to figure that sort of stuff out. I think you're a good student, but it's not fair to the other students if I make exceptions for one and not for all.

But then, I'm a bitch.

Sisyphus said...

Ick. I hate confronting students. Calling them in to give the straighten-up-and-fly-right speech is almost as bad as when they come in to try the 57 variations on the begging-for-a-better-grade speech.

I would give the info on emergency drop/incompletes/do overs/health withdrawls options first and then ask them what work they would do and what plan they had for catching up, and then work with them on what grades and points they needed to pass.

Students I've given one exception or special chance to, however, are always the ones who drop the ball or need yet another extension. Or come back to hassle you and make all kinds of troubles one way or another, like a time-suck. And not as fun as blogging.

Scrivener said...

I don't face this set of issues all that terribly often, and when I do, I usually aproach it sort of in the manner Sisyphus points to: more or less, I tell them they're in trouble and ask "what's your plan to deal with this?" I don't think a confession per se should be necessary, but the student should have to figure out what he or she needs and/or wants from you and to ask for it, and then you should decide what's valid. You shouldn't be in the position of developing solutions for the student.

And Sisyphus is also right, in my experience, that the students you accomodate in one way will end up revisiting you to ask for way more and will drop the ball again, probably multiple times.

Matt said...

I'd be wary of seeking a confession, especially given the recent plagiarism episode.

What I would do, however, is draw up, with the student, a strict contract for an extension that you'll both sign. The contract would set out clear due dates, and would close with a sentence such as "I, [student], understand that if I do not complete the above assignments on the dates listed, I will fail this course."

I've used such contracts in the past to good effect. What's nice about using such a contract is that it takes the onus off of you -- and your worries about whether you're being generous or vindictive -- and puts it squarely on the student's shoulders.