Conversations with Students

First of all, have you read my disclaimer??

As an administrator, part of my job–one of my very least favorites–is dealing with students complaints. When a student has a valid complaint, I have no problem working with him/her to resolve the situation. But more and more frequently, I get conversations like this (Please note that this is not an actual conversation I had to today with any particular student but is, instead, a fictional composite created to illustrate a point):

Me (having reviewed written complaint prior to meeting): So your problem is your teacher gave you zeros for assignments you did not complete, is that correct?

Student: Yes, it’s not fair.

Me: Ok. So you think it is unfair that you did not receive grades for work you did not complete?

Student: Yes.

Me: Ok. So what do you think should happen in this situation?

Student: I think the teacher should let me turn in the work and grade it.

Me: Some of these assignments were due in February.

Student: Yeah.

Me: So…you think you should be allowed to submit your work late–months late even–and that the teacher should grade it despite the fact that the course–and department policy–is that you only get one late assignment in a semester?

Student: Yes.

Me: You signed a class contract indicating you understood the course policies,  including the one that states that no late assignments beyond the one allowable assignment would be accepted and that all late work would receive a zero. I have it right here…

Student: Yeah, but it’s not fair because <insert excuse of your choice here>.

Me: Let me ask you this: if you had a job, and your boss gave you a number of assignments to complete, and you didn’t complete any of them, what do you think would happen?

Student: Uh…

Me: Right. What would happen is you wouldn’t get paid; you wouldn’t have a job anymore. This is like that. College is your job.

Student: But <insert excuse explaining why the rules should not apply to him>.

Me: So…the rules shouldn’t apply to you?

Student: Yes…because <restate excuse from above>.

Me: No.

Student: Who’s above you?

In our success classes, we strive to teach students personal responsibility–accept responsibility for your choices–and accept the consequences that come with those choices. If you want to improve your life, you accept responsibility and then you make a plan of action to change the outcome you didn’t like: I didn’t submit my work, so I failed. Next time, I’ll write down all my due dates in my planner, so I can be sure to submit my work on time. Easier said than done.

I always teach my students in the college success classes that the first step to changing your outcomes in life is to change your language because the way you speak influences the way you think, which influences the way you feel, which influences the way you behave. Thus, if you’re saying things like “My teacher gave me zeros,” you’re simply putting the responsibility for your grade–for whether you pass or fail the class–on the teacher rather than taking it upon yourself.  If you speak as though you have no control–only the teacher does–you begin to think as someone who has no control over his own life.  And if you think that way, you begin to feel powerless, and when you feel powerless, you stop taking actions to help improve your circumstances. If you want to improve your outcomes (i.e. your grades in class), you have to start by changing your language: accept responsibility and make a plan of action.  As you focus on changing the way you talk, you’ll begin to also change the way you think.  When you accept responsibility with your words, you begin to think that you do have control over the things in your life. When you think that way, you feel empowered. And when you feel empowered to make changes to improve your life, you will take the actions  necessary to make those improvements.

Sadly, that lesson doesn’t always sink in by the end of a 15-week class–so I certainly can’t get someone to embrace it in a 30-minute meeting. But, boy, I wish I could.

(Again, please note that this does not refer to any actual student or students but is instead just an example I’ve created to illustrate a point)

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Filed under Community College, Higher Ed, My Opinion, Teaching & Learning

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