Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sad Search

In my typical grading avoidance mode, I looked at the Sitemeter referrals today, and here's the saddest search: I HAVE NOT DONE THE WRITING ASSIGNMENTS AND NOW I AM GOING TO FAIL THE CLASS, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO NOW?

What to tell the student who's doing this search? What to tell the student who comes to my office, or the one I see crying in a hallway?

First, take a deep breath. It's not at all good or fun to fail a class, any class, but when you think of the really worst that can happen, it's not the end of the world, either. It's not a major nuclear disaster coming at Earth from all sides, leaving only cockroaches and fungi deep in caves.

One of the things I really admire about this search term is that it takes responsibility. Taking responsibility means you can probably learn to do differently.

What to do?

First think about your options. Can you retake the class, and if so, can you do something substantially different when you do? Have you learned from your experience, and can you change the way you did things?

In most colleges and universities, when you retake a class, your new grade replaces the old for your GPA, though both show on the transcript. So, focus on doing well when you retake the class. If you want to go on to grad school or something, then you're going to need to think about how to frame your failure and retaking in a way that helps your application. Maybe you'll want to argue that you messed up, took responsibility, learned from your mistake, and became a much better student. Maybe something horrid happened and you learned from that.

Here's a dirty little secret: I had to retake two classes in college. I'm not proud that I had to retake two classes, but it was a learning experience. One thing I learned was that my parents loved me even when I messed up. I remember phoning them when I realized I was failing a class, and how wonderful they were, how calming and caring.

That brings me to the second thing you need to do, perhaps. If your parents are helping you in school, then be honest with them (or whomever). You may lose financial aid, or get put on probation. You're likely to have some painful conversations in your future, but the sooner you start having them, the better.

Talk to your parents, spouse, or whomever else is important in your life.

Talk to the financial aid people if you need to, the probation or dean's office. Most colleges and universities have academic help or tutoring centers, counseling, and other services to help you if you need them. Take this opportunity to commit to getting whatever help you think is appropriate. Make a plan for how you're going to change your study habits or whatever.

You get big Bardiac bonus points if you go to your professor's office hours and apologize for doing poorly, take responsibility, thank the professor for being a good teacher, and say that you're going to use this experience to learn to do better. I'm willing to bet your professor doesn't hate you for failing, but will be decent and sympathetic, and probably suggest tutoring or something.

The third thing you should do is review and revise your curricular planning. If you took too many classes with too many working hours, but you have to work to eat, then plan on taking fewer classes. You may need to plan in a summer course or something.

The fourth thing may sound odd, but if you've figured out you're failing a course and can't possibly pass, then put your primary efforts into your other courses for the rest of the term, and try not to worry about the one problem course. If you can do better in your other courses, you'll help your overall GPA.

And finally, take care of yourself in the deep ways. Taking responsibility, focusing on changing what you need to change means that you don't need to spend time feeling sorry for yourself any more than necessary. You don't need to go out and get so drunk you can't think. You don't need to drive like an idiot or beat yourself up or punish yourself.

What do YOU want to say to the student who did that search?


  1. Anonymous6:27 AM

    What a sad search string--but what a wise and compassionate reply you've composed! I'm going to bear it in mind when dealing with my own students in similar situations.

  2. I don't think it necessarily means the student is taking responsibility. There has to be follow-through and real change for that to be the case. How many times has a student come to you promising to do something, but then disappears off the face of the earth?

  3. Very eloquent reply. It could have been one of my students this term who posted that search--we'll see if that person follows through & takes responsibility.

    I have remarkable variation in the maturity level of my first-year students this semester. Most are absolutely on the ball, but a few just don't seem to have made the transition from high school yet.

    Oh, I had to retake a couple of classes in college, too. My explanation, when applying to grad school, "Hey, it was the 60s!" (though I phrased it more decorously).

  4. Anonymous9:16 AM

    What a great post! This is advice that so many students need, and yet the spectre of failure is often relegated to the mutterers' corners of our hallowed hallways.

    I want to second your advice about talking to the professor. I've had students in precisely this position come to me, and FAR from hating them, I often feel optimistic for them, respectful of their courage in trying to rectify their mistakes. In more than one of those cases, I've had students come back to my class to retake it, and even when they haven't been superstars in the class, they have done well enough to pass, and earned my respect in buckling down to do so.

  5. Ianqui, I think it's taking responsibility because it didn't search for something about how the professor's mean, won't accept late work, or whatever. You're totally right that the real responsibility comes with changing things.

    But I can only do so much with a sad little search string!

  6. I really liked your advise. I would probably add the thought that, as college teachers, we aren't grading your life -- only your performance in one class. We recognize that, while it seems like we think our class is the only thing going on in your life, there really are challenges that students face which result in their not being able to pass the course. This doesn't make them bad people, nor does it make them bad students, it just makes them busy people who have to make choices about what they do on a daily basis.

    I never had to re-take an undergraduate class, but I had to re-take two in grad school. In restrospect, I wasn't ready for them when I took them the first I really needed to re-take them when I did.

  7. Anonymous5:49 AM


    My originally finding Bardiac a year ago whilst searching for Romanian Sweetbread Ensemble is ok then ?

  8. I think what you said is great. I'd probably tell them that I've screwed things up before and lived to tell about it, too. You fall down to learn to how to get up.