Argh and Sigh.
After talking with me after class briefly, a student dumped his two returned essay folders in the trash on his way out the door today. He was upset and frustrated. He's been upset and frustrated all semester long.
This student has told me repeatedly in woeful cover letters accompanying his essays and in a few emails that he is experiencing "family troubles." At one point, someone claiming to be his mother sent me an email on his behalf, explaining that his grandfather was dying of cancer and the student had been spending all his time with her at the hospital instead of in my early morning class.
I am not unsympathetic, though I am doubtful. This particular student got off to a bad start early in the semester. After conferencing with me for 30 minutes on a rough draft essay, he made no changes at all on his revision - and thus I gave him a no-pass on his first essay. I tried to send a clear message, through my commentary and in-person, that although his rough draft was good, it was not a final draft. And conferencing with me and then making no changes was not acceptable.
The student didn't like this at all. "But," he told me, "I love writing and I've always gotten good grades." "That's great," I told him. "Loving writing is a good start - but in this class, you've got to work your revisions."
Absences have piled up for this student and he has failed to show up to two more conferences - conferences at which I was willing, due to his family situation, to bring him up to speed on what he'd miss.
He missed most of the class meetings in which we worked on the linguistic reclamation essay - a rather difficult essay with some very particular tasks associated with it. As a result, the essay he turned in did not address the essay prompt, nor include any of the particular requirements specific to this essay, this topic. And so I had to give another No Pass grade to this student. I commented that absences had severely impacted this student's ability to write a passing essay. He was upset. "But you know my situation," he said. " And I still keep getting no grades."
"I did assign a grade." I told him. "The grade is a No Pass. Absences interfered with your ability to do the work."
"But you know why I was absent. I have other priorities now."
"And that's fine - you do have other prioritries. But as a result, you missed classes and weren't able to successfully negotiate this essay."
"I don't understand why I got this grade."
" You didn't address the prompt. Nor include the required elements of the essay."
"I don't understand why. I was an Honors student in high school."
"Did you read my comments and my note?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"Read my comments." And that's when he shook his head again and left the room, dumping his essays in the trash on the way out.
I am not unsympathetic. But regardless of why the student was absent, those absences impact his grade. He appears to have some tough choices this semester and I can certainly understand how he might choose (as would I) family over course work. However, I cannot give him a passing grade if he is not doing the work to the minimum standard per the requriements. He doesn't understand that. He wants me to give passing grades because of his situation.
I can't do that.
And I find myself resentful and upset that this kid views me as the bad guy, the uptight, tight-assed English teacher that won't cut him a break.
Truth is, I can't stand this kid's attitude. And I don't feel obligated to cut him slack just because he has an ailing and dying family member. He has missed far too many classes - and he has been unwilling to work with me and communicate with me.
I find myself comparing him to a student I had a few semesters back. This kid never missed a class meeting, until about 6 weeks into the semester, when he missed a class, but showed up to my office hours afterwards. "I'm sorry I missed class today," he told me. "And you need to know, I'll be out all next week."
I began to give the kid my usual missing-classes-impacts-your-grade blah, blah, blah lecture when I stopped, suddenly realizing that the student looked pretty shaky and that he was a student who had never missed class before.
"Why won't you be in class next week?" I asked gently.
"My dad died. He had cancer and he finally passed. I need to fly home and be there for a bit."
I cut this student a lot of slack. He wanted work to take with him. I told him not to worry - his priority was to take care of himself and his family. We'd figure it out when he got back.
He returned after a week, conferenced with me, picked up a packet of make-up work, did it all in a week, and didn't miss another class. He passed. Granted, the week's absence hurt his grade, and his focus was off - I could see a decline in the quality of his work. But he kept at it and he made it through. He passed the course.
I know not everyone is the same, and we handle adversity in different ways. I don't think I could get through a semester with a family member dying from cancer - I'd have to drop. And that's ok.
But I cannot give a passing grade to a student just because tragedy has struck his life.
I resent being asked to do so.
I resent being considered a "bitch" because I won't.
And I am annoyed with myself for taking this so personally.
Grump. Grump. Grump.
Argh and Sigh.