I hate to give F’s, especially when a student is doing well, then starts to fall mid-semester. How I wish I could tap on their head and say, “Hello, what’s going on in there? Why are you throwing all your hard work away this semester?” But of course I can’t – they are adults and I’m sure it would violate some section of the Geneva Code. How I wish they’d come up and share what’s going on, so I could help redirect them, either with academics, or point them to a counselor or help to deal with what’s bringing them down. Instead, whatever’s going on causes them to turn in “crappy” work, or no work at all. It’s a bummer all around.
Yesterday, sitting in the teacher’s lounge (I teach English at a community college), I heard a fellow teacher complaining about her student’s behavior. The student hadn’t turned in work and was giving the professor grief for not giving him a break on his grade. The teacher worried about giving this student a poor grade for incomplete work.
Professor Goodwin, sitting next to me, said, “You need to give him the “F” – he didn’t do the work.”
The worried teacher returned, “But what if he get’s upset – what if the other kids won’t like me.”
Dr. Goodwin chuckled, “Tough nuggets,” and went back to her grading.
Often many of us teachers eventually learn not to care what students think of us. At least this is how students see our occasional our pragmatic, unemotional responses. While many have learned to detach somewhat (to survive the plethora of student defenses, true and untrue, for their failure to finish work), we do increasingly care whether our student, who’s performing poorly or giving us trouble, who’s stopped showing up, who’s not prepared, will ever graduate.
We wonder if they do graduate, will they have the skills to come up against hundreds of other candidates applying for a good job. We care about whether our student will learn the soft skills (politeness, timeliness, group mentality, congeniality) while preparing for those terrifying initial interviews and actually make into a lucrative job, whether they’ll have the stamina to survive mangy co-workers, and more importantly a challenging boss. We wonder if they’ll get a job good enough to start paying off bills, buy a dream car, save for apartment rent, or purchase a condo in a neighborhood where it’s not scary to walk at night.
We grow to care if our student’s know how to write and speak in an educated fashion, where their voice will be heard for the sake of their future child’s well-being, the welfare of their family, the benefit of their community and country. Above informational and academic learning, we wish our students skills in problem solving, research, time and work management, and we in no way want to encourage poor performance and excuse making as a way of life.
After a while we do learn not to care if students “like” us, because we grow to care too much about our student – enough to give them the occasional “F.”
Be well, and write back – please.