Every semester I’m faced with a troubling question: do I fail this student? Unfortunately, it’s not actually a question. I can’t lie and say a student did work they didn’t, and there are only so many extensions that I can give before the semester is just over. Still, it feels like a question because I’m the one convincing myself I have to do it.
I had a student, I won’t specify when or where for privacy reasons, that had a rough semester. They had some issues back home, some problems with other classes, and sometimes college is just hard and gets the best of you, even if you’ve been there a while. I gave this student extensions and extra feedback and as many chances as I could without actually jeopardizing my job. And I’d do this for any student that asked or needed it.
I feel like an implicit part of any job as a teacher is to get to know your students. I don’t know any other way to understand what a student needs than to get to know them a bit better than their first name and major. The best teachers I had were the ones who understood where I was at and were able to use that to get me to where they needed me to be. That’s what I try to do. I’m young and inexperienced, so I don’t do it perfectly, but I do try to learn what my students need in terms of their writing and how they learn and how they work in the college environment, and then I try to give that to them. In this case, that meant seeing that this kid was struggling to deal with classes and time management and tragedy so I gave him a few extensions on papers.
I don’t think anyone should fail a class because they’re going through something hard outside of it. I spent most of my life trying to hide how miserable I was and do well in school. That’s not something anyone should be expected to do, so I don’t want my students to do it.
That being said… holy fucking shit dammit motherfuck, I don’t want to fail anyone, but if the papers don’t come in and the semester ends and the emails aren’t answered, it’s the only thing I can do without getting fired and stopping me from being better at helping students in the future. There are rules I can bend and rules that will bend me, and once I’ve done all I can to blur deadlines and stay up past my bedtime adding extra comments, if the work isn’t submitted, I can’t do a thing.
I hate that.
I hate contributing to a student’s rough day. College is hard enough, and life isn’t exactly kind just because someone deserves it.
The worst thing I’ve experienced as a teacher is giving someone a bad grade when I know they could have done better if they’d just had the time or the energy or the life that would allow for the work I know they can do. And I know they can do it because I see it every fucking day when we write in class. I know the work is in there, but I also know sometimes something happens that keeps it from getting out. It happened to me, and it happens to students every semester, and it is such a shitty thing to see.
And then there are the people who will look at this shitty thing and say “they deserve the grade they earn” or “they shouldn’t have let anything hurt their grades, even tragedy.” Fuck these people.
I love the argument that giving a student leniency or time or extra help because of something outside the class is coddling them because life won’t be like that, but I would counter that suffering is not the life lesson I try to get across in my class. The fact that life isn’t fair is so ingrained in this generation’s mind that me further reinforcing the fact that everything is awful is kind of like looking at someone who is actively throwing buckets of water onto their burning home and saying “You probably can’t live there.” Yeah, they know, but they’re trying to make their lives better, and I’m not just going to throw matches on the fire.
I teach writing, and writing requires diligence and work, but despite what the most avid Edgar Allan Poe groupies would say, writing does not require suffering. So I don’t want to make my students’ lives worse by subscribing to the misguided ideology that kicking them while they’re down will make them stronger. It won’t. It will just make them someone who has been kicked, and it will make me someone who has kicked them.
I hate this.