Sunday, April 27, 2008

Two Proffies Wrestle With the Right Balance.

I know all about fairness and rules and following the syllabus. I know I need to maintain academic standards. But occasionally I'll get a student like Reynolds who just seems to be outside the normal standards.

Reynolds is an adult student, coming back to school after 15 years. He works in a neighboring city because he has a young daughter. He's in the midst of a terrible child custody case right now, and also works full time. How he gets to all of his appointments, to class, to his job every day just astonishes me. But he's always cheerful, ready to go, and hard working.

He doesn't have anything like the kind of time my traditional students have, and sometimes it shows in his work. He's skirting the C/D line right now, and at our institution the D carries no weight, is more or less a more pleasant F. I've asked him what he's able to do to increase his time in the lab, or what I could do to get him his assignments a little ahead of time, but Reynolds just shakes his head and says, "Just treat me like one of the kids, Professor."

But it's breaking my heart. He's got more on his plate than any student I've had before. Last week his ex-wife had a car accident and Reynolds is now shouldering even more of his daughter's care. He turned his lab report in, and while it showed that he's getting the material, it also showed that he'd simply not spent enough time on it.

I know what the right thing to do is. Reynolds doesn't have the time to really do well in this class. I have no doubt he'd ace it if he could just pull back one of his real world responsibilities. But I hate how I have to treat him the same way as the ganja-smoking waste of a life who is his lab partner, Reggae Richie, who is either stoned, getting stoned, sleeping, playing Xbox, or shuffling into my class in his hemp sandals.


The young woman went AWOL from class for three weeks. During that time she missed two assignments towards the researched essay, four journal entries, three quizzes and class conferences. She did email me about our conference, saying she had to take her niece to the doctor as she was the only one in her family with a car. I understand the tug on my students from their outside life, and unlike many at the neighboring Big U, these community college students have much to juggle.

On the day she returned, I passed back the research papers. She approached me and asked if she could make up the work. I referred her to the assignment where it clearly stated, "No Late Work." Or I thought it did. I realized I'd only said that in class, when she was gone. I'd been quite dramatic about it, hey, the class even laughed with my dramatics, but. . . she wasn't there. Luckily, she took my word for it, and as she left the desk I scribbled on my handout "add No Late Work Accepted." I'm covered, because it says this in my syllabus.

So how does a professor balance this need to be King Solomon?

I much prefer the days when I stand in class and give out the assignments, rather than the days where I have to balance their excuses/reasons/life fumbles against the standards of higher education. My father (also a professor) says that the university is bigger than just one student. While I can live with throwing the one under the wheels of the academic train once in a while, it's wearying.