Monday, December 07, 2015

Special Arrangements

It seems like this semester, I have more students than ever before needing special arrangements for stuff at the end of the semester.  It's all reasonable and legitimate: too many finals on one day, emotional health issues, and so forth.

The thing is, though, I'm getting to capacity.

In one course, I got an electronic thing asking for a rescheduled final because the student had three finals on one day.  But the electronic thing basically asked me to just set a time.

So, I chatted with the student, and found a time that makes sense for both of us, and filled out the form.  That means I need to write a second final exam for this student.  Okay, it's extra work, but it's reasonable and has to be done.  (I do write a different exam because I don't want a copy of the one this student takes to find its way to other students, giving them an unfair advantage on their final.)

Then I got an electronic thing from another student requesting to take the same exam in the services office, but asking for it to start after the real exam had finished.  So, maybe this student has no nefarious plans (I don't think they likely do), but that seems problematic, doesn't it?

I called the office, and the people in charge weren't there, and the student worker answering the phones suggested that the student probably had another final after mine and so wanted a different time because they get extra time.  And I said that they'd asked for the exam right after mine, and that I'd have to write another exam.  Then he said that most professors don't write a different exam.  Which pissed me off.  First, I think that's BS.  Second, how would he even know.  Third, what does it matter?  If I, as the person responsible, say that I'd need to write another exam, then that's so because I'm the person responsible.  I didn't tell him off, but did say that even if no one else ever wrote a different exam, I would have to.  (Only many hours later did I realize I could use the other exam I will have already written.)

So I asked the student, and the student said they just wanted an extra couple of hours to study.  I suggested that making me write an extra exam so that they got a few extra study hours was inappropriate (and actually, against the rules), and could she take it at the regular time.  She agreed that she could, and filled out a new electronic form, which has the correct starting time.  I clicked my clicks, and sent it in.

Then the wrong starting time form got re-sent to me, probably because it's an automated thing.

I have two students in another course that need different sorts of accommodations.

So I make the accommodations as best I can.  But inside, I'm tired of having to make accommodations.  It's especially frustrating when the accommodations are for mental health issues, which look through the semester like the student isn't coming to class or doing their work.  When they communicate with me earlier on, and the deanlings that work with them communicate, it's less frustrating.  But when I get an email just before the last week of class suggesting that we faculty folks might be able to make accommodations, well, again, I probably make the accommodations, but I do feel frustrated.  (Yes, I know my frustrations aren't anything like as hard as clinical depression or anxiety.)

It's hard to balance the special arrangements with the requirements that other students are meeting without feeling like things are a bit unfair to someone.  (At the same time, one of my colleagues is dealing with a death in the family, and we've been covering in various ways for them.  And that's what colleagues should do when it can be done, of course.  So, special arrangements ARE good and important.)

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that we have bigger courses, and students are more fragile (because the economy sucks, primarily, around here) and more easily derailed/hurt, and we're under more pressure to feel responsible for them (without having any real power in the world), and we're under more pressure to do more bureaucratic stuffs (assessment fail) for more students.  Because of the budget crap, we're admitting students who are less prepared than our students on average a few years ago,  and admitting international students who are less prepared and whose English is weaker than our international students on average a few years ago.

I have another student who's looking very fragile right now, too, and who's going to need special arrangements as well.


  1. This is exceedingly hard to deal with, especially when everyone thinks he/she is a special case. Christ. Aren't we all? I suffered serious depression and anxiety in college, but I never asked for special accommodations for it. I just ended up doing badly, and I accepted it because I wasn't really in the right place to be taking exams or whatever. But I did the minimal best I could and ended up with a C instead of a B+ or A- or A that I might otherwise have gotten. But you know, that's life. The miniature "failures" that students go through in college are nothing compared to the big deals they will face when they get into the real world. I feel like we aren't doing them any favors by doing them favors. Know what I mean?

    And yet! I also have a son who had serious learning disabilities and who is on medication for ADHD and mild Aspergers Syndrome and has seen three psychiatrists and so on, and I get extremely pissed when his school doesn't follow his IEP, which is a document they are legally obliged to fulfill. But then, I pull back from that irritation and say to myself, "You know, Fie, if he fails, then perhaps he will learn from it. Perhaps he'll build character." So I keep my frustration to myself -- mostly -- and just try to be there for him as much as possible. It's a very hard situation. But then, I can't be there to hold his hand every single day. He's getting to the age (he'll be 10 in February) where he should be able to handle some of these things himself (like remembering to bring homework home). It's much harder for him than even my 5-year-old to remember such things, though.

    Anyway - this is a long answer to say "holy shit, this stuff sucks and is complicated." Hang in there.

  2. This rings true to me, too (as does Fie's "holy shit, this stuff sucks and is complicated"). I've got probably half a dozen students (out of c. 80 currently active) who are in various states of not really having it together as the end of the semester approaches, and wanting me to somehow help them pull things together at a point when, thanks to a very compressed exam/grading period, I need to have all the work in hand, stop interacting with students, and grade like hell.

    One student in particular, who has accommodations that include extended/flexible deadlines and permission to arrive at class late, leave early, and/or leave in the middle of class (we don't get diagnoses, of course, but my officemate guessed the same as I: probably some combination of ADHD and anxiety; his behavior might suggest something OCD-ish in there, too), has fallen behind on the preparatory stages of the big project (which I let him do without penalty because of the accommodations, but did warn him of the dangers) and is now really struggling with the final paper itself, in part because he hasn't done the preparatory work. Among other things, he's having real difficulty simply reading his sources (which are, to be fair, quite technical scholarly articles), in part because, unlike the other students, he's having major difficulty with the idea that he doesn't need to understand every detail to describe the overall purpose and results of a study (and I suspect he might have trouble getting to that bigger-picture view even if he did understand the details; he's clearly easily derailed by details). He's also clearly smart and hard-working, and quite charming in his way, but I spent an hour and a half with him one late afternoon/early evening this week, and basically had to (gently) throw him out of my office so I could do some things that affected the whole class, and go home. He (correctly) pointed out that he was making progress, and said he felt like he could write the whole paper if he could just sit there and do it, which may well be true, but I'm not going to pull an all-nighter in my office with a student! Shooing him out felt sort of like kicking a puppy, but sheesh -- and, as I keep reminding myself, if I spend too much time with any one student, the other students suffer in some way (usually late return of graded work).

    So, yes, the "getting to capacity" diagnosis sounds about right to me, too. Of course, the main people who can take up some of the slack are various support personnel, which contributes to the whole "growth of administration" phenomenon, not to mention potentially increasing the requests for accommodations, meetings to discuss individual student progress, etc., etc. I'm not sure what the solution is. I'm all for reasonable accommodations, but I'm also aware that some students seem to need a degree of support that they're unlikely to get in any workplace, which raises the question of whether supporting them through college raises unrealistic expectations -- while, yes, diverting more energy than we may have to give to a relatively small group of students. I understand parents' (and other parts of their support systems') desire to send such students off to college, because it seems like a relatively safe place for them to mature further, and because of a (probably-justified) fear that they'll lose academic momentum if they delay going to college, but I can't help wondering whether a few years seeing what they can realistically do in the workplace, and developing some life skills along the way, wouldn't serve them at least as well, and give them a better sense of whether the sort of job that requires a college degree is a realistic possibility.