End of Term: So Now You're Interested in Passing This Class?


millerBy Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.
I’ve noticed that each semester there are a handful of students who really come alive the last two weeks of class! They have been dormant, doing barely enough to pass or not t be withdrawn from the class. They have a handful of missing assignments and are teetering on the edge between passing and failing.
Lo and behold, the end of the term looms, the students become interested in completing the work, participating in earning any and all points, and want to know about any extra credit opportunities! (My policy is you can’t do any extra credit if you have missing assignments.)
Where were you all semester? Of course I’ve attempted interventions and reached out to these students, usually to little or no avail. Some respond and get back on track; some fall off the wagon again. One school at which I teach requires documentations of interventions and outreach, so this is done on a weekly basis. To complicate matters even more, the makeup and late work acceptance policy is shaped by the university, with input from individual faculty. Therefore, most of student late work has to be accepted (with late penalties). Can I be honest? I don’t relate well to this type of student. I still have nightmares that I am in high school or college and I show up to class and haven’t read the book or missed a class and have no idea what the teacher is talking about. I wake up totally stressed out! So it is difficult for me to understand being enrolled in a class and missing assignments. Of course, we’ve all been there when we’ve had an emergency and needed an extension, but I’m referring to students who have several outstanding assignments and/or projects.
Grading this late work on top of the final exams and completing final grades is a lot of extra work for the New Adjunct. I’m not sure if most students appreciate the additional work necessary to help them get through the course. I’m willing to bet the same scenario is played out again and again for these students in their subsequent courses. 
Should they, instead, be failed or weeded out of the university system? 
I ask myself, “What are these students really learning?” If my goal is to teach some life skills, not just the objectives in the syllabus, then what lessons are being taught? Am I teaching that, in life, there are always second chances, always opportunities to succeed? These are not necessarily bad lessons, but I feel the lessons I really want my students to be learning are about being conscientious and having pride in their work ethic. Second (and third chances) are not fair to the students who do the work all semester, on time, diligently and punctually. (Yes, they receive the intrinsic reward of a job well done, but come on!) This is a tug-of-war: on one hand I want to (and have to) allow make-up work (with penalties); on the other hand, I want to expect and model punctuality and diligence. 
Where’s the right balance? This New Adjunct struggles as my Fall semester courses wind down. 
About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her role as a wife and mother.

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