Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Teaching Adults

Eighteen is the age when people are officially considered adults, yet somehow, when it comes to certain issues, people will still be children. Unfortunately, for me, when it comes to receiving an appropriate, albeit failing grade, in a class, the person is still just a child who needs a parental figure to fight his/her battles for them. I checked one of my many school email accounts and was astonished to find an email from a parent regarding his/her student’s grade in my course. The syllabus for this course was designed by the institution and not me, and so truly, I have no real control over it. In the syllabus, it is plainly stated that a student will not pass the course if all assignments are not completed. That means, even if the student, does an assignment unsatisfactorily, he/she will still be able to pass the course.

A few of my students neglected to do their Oral/Powerpoint presentations, which were only worth a small fraction of the total grade. These presentations are a requirement of the course and the institution requires this assignment for two of its general education courses. Thus, according to the syllabus, the students could not pass the course. So, I acted suitably and gave the students Fs, as required. I received a few emails from one student requesting clarification for the grade. I explained the situation, but the student still wished for me to change the grade to the one he/she thought was deserved. I decided not to take any action because I was following the syllabus. Then I received an email from this student’s parent chiding me for the failing grade and for not doing my duty as a teacher. I have sent all of the emails to the Chair of the Department and I will abide by his decision, whatever that may be.

Truthfully, I think that making all students complete every assignment is not a bad thing to have in a syllabus. Oftentimes, however, there are assignments that are not worth as much points-wise and students often have to make the decision as to whether they should do multiple assignments in different courses shoddily, or if they should do one well and just neglect the other. Part of the college experience is learning to make difficult decisions. Inserting the requirement of students completing all assignments takes away that decision, in some ways. Regardless of what I think about it, as the instructor in the course, I must act in accordance with the syllabus. All of the students need to be held to the same standards and fairness is one of my biggest concerns with regard to students. I always hated it when I felt like someone else was given better treatment than me as a student and I vowed not to do that with regard to my students. And I haven’t. I think the fact that some of my students who have requested me to be their friends on Facebook, or on MySpace (after the end of the semester) did not, in fact, receive an A in my class, suggests something about that.

What irks me the most is the fact that the student did not handle it him/herself and instead involved a parental figure. It is entirely possible that the student does not know that the email was sent to me, but in this case, I have a feeling that the student is aware of the situation. What would have happened had the student not gone to college and instead was hired for a job and consequently, got fired for not completing the work required? Would the parent have emailed the adult’s employer (note the 18 year-old IS an adult) and reproached him for terminating the adult’s employment? Certainly not. It seems irresponsible on the parent’s part to allow oneself to become involved. I understand that when it comes to one’s child one will do whatever it takes, but the fact is that once that person is 18 years of age, he/she is seen as an adult and no doubt wants to be treated as such. The parent’s involvement undermines the student’s agency in myriad ways. And to boot, technically, I am legally not supposed to discuss the student’s grades with a parent because the student is an ADULT and it is violating privacy regulations!

I mean, there are 18 year-old men and women fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet one student can’t take it upon him/herself to fight this measly battle over a grade in a college course? I understand that there are sociological changes in the way that college students are now in comparison to how they have been. I remember hearing one professor mention how much more attached students are to their parents because of cell phones. Students do seem to talk to their parents daily, if not hourly, and I have witnessed students talking to their parents between classes, pledging to call them during their next break. As a parent, I’m sure it’s wonderful to have one’s adult child so close, but all it does is foster a potentially unhealthy dependence on the parent. When will the student actually grow up? Isn’t that what college is about, in a lot of ways—growing up?

What’s interesting to me is that oftentimes it is these same students who would like the drinking age to be lowered to 18 because they are adults and should have the same rights as other adults. But apparently, they want things both ways. They want to be children when it comes to receiving a poor grade they clearly earned with regard to the requirements of the class, but adults in cases where they are not being afforded the right to imbibe the same beverages as other adults. Be consistent. Or perhaps the government needs to be consistent, I’m not quite sure on this one.

If the grade is overturned, it doesn’t help me or hurt me in the slightest. But it would make me question why we have syllabi in the first place if we aren’t going to actually abide by them. It will also make me wonder about the role of the teacher and who has the power in the classroom, the student, the teacher, or the student’s parents.

I just sent the student an email which said that I would not change the grade. I received an email from the Chair of the Department and then later I spoke to him. Based on my syllabus, we concluded that it would be fair for me to keep the grade as is. The most important thing is that the Chair is going to support me in this decision without any hesitation. I appreciate this a great deal as oftentimes I have heard of situations in which the student, like the customer, is always right. I am glad that this is not the case.

I’ll keep you posted on this situation. I hope that there will be no more addenda.