Friday, July 20, 2007


Here's a question for all those academics out there: how do you keep enough distance to prevent becoming over-invested in your students, yet still connected enough to help them?

Here's the problem I'm having. My spring term class was fantastic. But one of my students had to take an incomplete for a very defensible reason. She ended up missing the last couple of weeks, but contacted me regularly to let me know what was going on, and we worked out a schedule for when she would turn the last few items in. We agreed to a two week extension for her to complete the rest of the work.

Well, that was a month ago. And nothing. I've heard nothing from her. This is a very good student, one who was consistently on top of things until just now.

Part of me knows that there are many legitimate reasons why she would drop the ball on this -- related either to the pre-existing reason for the incomplete, or something new out of the blue. And I know that lots of people don't think about college as the end-all-be-all of their lives. There are even people (gasp!) who don't care if I give them an F. And that's ok. Not everybody prioritizes college (or simply grades) the same.

My dissertations sisterhood is telling me not to get worked up about this. Of course, that advice came the same day as a flier advertising a campus fundraiser for a student who just awoke from a coma. Here is me trying not to scan the obituaries for my student's name.

My student evaluations tend to praise me for my level of approachability and connectedness; I don't want to lose that. But I need to watch my investment level. Now I've just got to figure out how to do that.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

[Redacted comment from email...]

Two things...

One, as the professor, you have a lot of leeway. Students have a lot of time to finish incompletes, so the clock isn't really running down.
Wait for the beginning of next semester and I bet that student shows up asking how they can complete the incomplete. If you like them and they have a good excuse for missing the end of the spring semester (let summer slide, that's their time), then help them complete it. I remember [names] letting me skip almost two weeks of school to have fun my senior year (I'm such a dork I asked if it would be ok and for the homework ahead of time!).

Two, if you're concerned for the students health or safety, contact the Dean of Students...that's what they're there for. It will relieve you of some anxiety and s/he will know what to do (legally and ethically).

Good luck, don't fret. Caring about your students is great!

7:54 AM  
Blogger KLee said...

Is there any way that you can email the student? Does the last known email address that you have for her still work? A gentle prod in that direction might work. Along the lines of: "You're usually so good about turning your work in and keeping me apprised of your situation -- is everything all right? Is there anything that I can help with?"

Maybe that might shake her loose, and she'll be able to get back into the flow. If that doesn't work, I would take Anon up on the suggestion to talk with the Dean of Students. Good luck, in any case.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Quinn said...

I've emailed her a couple of times. I don't know if she's ignoring me, or if there's been a communications breakdown. Either way, I'll probably send another email and see what happens.

1:56 PM  
Blogger EJ said...

Kids today...I just had to write that. Without knowing the original reason I would say that students should learn early on that deadlines actually mattered. When I first started TAing I tried to be nice and accomodating and it just doesn't work. The whole give them an inch they take a mile thing is pretty accurate. Once I made a few exceptions the papers never came in on time until I reinstated that grades would be lowered 10 points per day.
Unless there is a damn good (coma) reason she should at least contact you.
I wouldn't bother contacting her and feel free to give the incomplete either now or at the start of fall term.

12:33 PM  

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