End of the Semester Blues

Students taking a test at the University of Vi...

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I have one section of students that  hasn’t mastered the necessary skills to show they understand how to properly write a college essay, complete with proper citation. Their last batch of essays was pretty bad. With the exception of a few papers, most students bombed their Works Cited pages and their writing felt unpolished.

I asked a few other professors what to do.

“Tell them to suck it,” one said. “If they don’t have it by now, it’s not because you haven’t shown them; it’s because they haven’t taken the initiative to learn the material.

The other professors agreed.

But I didn’t want them to “suck it.” Why am I hesitating? I wondered. What has happened to me? As always, I want my students to master the material, so regardless of what my colleagues said, I decided to give them an option: I returned ungraded essays to them with extensive feedback and told them they could ask me for the grade they received on the essay and forfeit the right to revise, or they could revise their essays (with rough drafts attached) by Wednesday at the beginning of class. And by Wednesday, I mean tomorrow.

No one asked for his or her grade.

Now, I’m not crazy enough to believe that everyone will actually revise, but I am hopeful that some will. I am hoping that they will use their style books, the extra time along with my feedback, and give it one more try. Because after this, that’s it. There are only a few tiny assignments, 7-minute oral presentations, and self-evaluations.

I know students have other classes, but mine is required. English Composition-101 is required. Required. So if a student fails, he or she will have to take it again. It’s expensive to fail classes, but some students don’t seem concerned about the debt they are piling up.

At this point of the semester (with 6 classes remaining before the end of the term), certain students wake up and realize they have been doing poorly (for most of the semester), and act shocked by this revelation. They ask about extra credit and want to be passed because they need to keep an athletic scholarship, and/or avoid parental wrath. Requests for points for nothing or for passing grades are easy to handle. I offer a “no” along with my sympathy, plus advice about how to retake the class.

Today, as we began week 14 of 15, I had a student with an overall average of 54.4% ask me what he could do to bring up his grade. I shrugged. He shrugged. Later, I saw this video. I’d send him the link, but I don’t think he’d get it.

*Note: This little ditty was made by Clay Morgan at Educlaytion.com*

In reality, it is kind of hard to fail my class. I offer a lot of help to students to want it. I make myself available to conference. I allow students who show initiative to revise their papers. I offer extra credit opportunities throughout the semester – just not as an “emergency out” at the end.

I hate watching students unravel at the end of the semester but – the reality is – there are always some who come unstitched.

It’s reality, but I don’t have to like it.

Seriously though, why am I more upset about my students’ failing grades than they are?

18 responses to “End of the Semester Blues

  1. That is simple, because you are a good teacher. You caring proves it❤

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  2. Giving them another opportunity is good teacher stuff. The video is classic representation of students and parents who are convinced teacher source of their failure. Two anecdotes: Got F on midterm. Prof shocked. Me dead shocked. I was prepared but seems she created test from 5 books I did not read instead of 30 books I did read. Did extra paper and B on final for B in course. In undergrad got F in linguistics. Prof used pre test as post test final. I got a 12% on pre test and 64% on end of course post test. Still gave me F as not 70%. When I became a teacher re my students, that kind of progress merited an A+ despite grade scale.

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    • If my students do not know how to write simple, compound and complete sentences, they will not get an A in my class. I’m sorry, but your example makes no sense to me. If you got a 64% and 70% was passing, you should have failed. Why would you want to pass students who do not have a minimum understanding of the material? I’m pretty sure that is how we have gotten into this mess.

      Students who show up on-time, stay awake, work hard, hand in papers on-time, revise, take advantage of extra credit opportunities can get a D pretty easily. People who want more than that have to work harder.

      At week 14, students are out of chances. Are you going to tell me I should pass the student with the 54.4% because he is a nice boy?

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  3. I too am dismayed when students come at the end of a marking period and ask for extra credit to bring their grade up. I have offered extra credit opportunities throughout the semester, offered the chance to re-take tests when the grade is below 80%, and been available for help sessions every day. If they have not taken advantage of any of that, I have little to no sympathy. I also have the policy that any extra credit that I do offer needs to be available to all the students in the class.

    Students need to learn to take personal responsibility (“I earned this grade” rather than “she gave me this grade”). Unfortunately, that seems to be the hardest lesson for them to master.

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  4. I’m with Melissa on this one, Renée…you are the rare kind of teacher who goes the extra mile for her students…there were a lot of them when I was growing up, but they are few and far between at my children’s schools!

    I also agree that most kids want to blame it on somebody else if they screwed up…sad!

    Wendy

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    • Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson

      (edit)

      I have a student who plagiarized early in the semester. I suggested to her that she drop the class. She refused. I told her that it would be very difficult for her to pass given that she would have a zero averaged in with the rest of her grades — that it is very hard to crawl out from under a zero with a passing grade. She has stuck it out. She has a 60%. I can feel the groveling coming on. I am waiting for it. She is going to beg me to pass her BECAUSE she stayed on despite the offense.

      As much as I hate math, I am a numbers’ girl at this time of the year. Each student creates his/her own reality. I didn’t tell that student to cheat. I didn’t tell this student to stay in my class. I have given her every point she has deserved – and she has got a 60%. It’s not a 65%. We’ll see how she does on the remaining assignments. Miracles can happen, right?

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  5. If she does everything correct starting now……Will she be able to pass? Miracles can happen. I will be hoping she improves. I give her 100 points for not dropping out! That takes guts!!!!

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    • Mom, are you insane? You never cease to astound me. Seriously? One hundred points for not dropping out? She doesn’t have the skills. How does this help a person? It’s like building a house on top of no foundation. Any student who is failing needs to retake the course, if only to prove to themselves that they CAN succeed without tricks. Oy.

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  6. I know where you are coming from, Mrs Jacobson. I have been that student before in the past, and with busy work and school schedules it can be hard to keep track of everything. Sometimes I would miss a few homework assignments, and they would turn out to count for more than I had bargained for. Although some teachers do give out extra credit, it is rare, but really it never hurt to ask I suppose. I have had classes where I bumped my grade from the C range to the B range with some extra work towards the end of the semester. However, I do not agree with the passing of the buck. If I do badly in a class, it is no one’s fault but my own, and I realize this. I have found in the past that when I try to make excuses for my own work, it is usually to justify to myself why I did poorly. It’s a lot easier to say I did poorly because of my busy schedule than it is to actually make, take, and plan a schedule that will allow you to do the work necessary to succeed.

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    • Shawn, I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to accept responsibility for your actions. (Maybe you can explain these things to my mom.) I sincerely missed you today.😉 And even though this came in a wee bit late, I’m STILL giving you the credit because it is a great response. How’s that?

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  7. Sounds like you are bending over backwards to help and encourage and enable – without doing the work for them. That’s very dedicated and caring. It’s also more professional than the further education teacher I know who all but writes – or even actually writes – the media studies essays for her class of what she calls no-hopers. What you’re doing is not only great, but you can stand over it and be proud.

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    • I have great hope for these people. And many of them will do great things. They may not all end up writing as much as I insist they will and the world may not the demand the perfect that I do, but the folks who can accomplish what I ask can proudly say, “I beat Mrs. Jacobson.” I want them all to beat me!

      There are some fabulous people with some great work ethics in my classes. I’m not worried about them one bit. But college is not for everyone. Some of my students need to work for a while and, perhaps, come back to academia later. Or not. It’s okay to take another route.

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  8. I think you are my long-lost teaching twin! I have the same philosphy as you, and like you, I wonder why I seem to care more than some of my students do! Why is it that some students come to me with excuses (job, kids, sickness) for why they are failing and other students with the same “excuses” aren’t using them and are passing?

    Before I began teaching Comp. I, I taught Developmental Writing for 7 years. One day, I spent twenty minutes going over an “F” paper with a student. When we finished, she looked at me and said, “So, do I HAVE to re-do this?” I replied, “Nope. Just take your F and quit wasting my time.” I wanted to say MUCH more than that, but I restrained myself!! This student proceeded to fail my class that semster, the next semester AND the semester after that! She would NEVER put the time in necessary to pass. I don’t know what you do with students like that, but it is disappointing and frustrating.

    What do you do with the students who DO try extremely hard, but just don’t “have” what it takes to do college-level work? I think they will barely scratch the “D” level, but they want “C’s.” Like you, I’m a numbers gal, and I can’t give them the grade if they don’t earn it, but I do feel somewhat guilty.

    We have raised an entire generation of kids who have not been allowed to fail. They have been consistently given extra credit, second-third-tenth chances to pass because of an educational system that won’t let them fail. And yet the irony is that sometimes it is failure (and the fear of it) that leads to success…

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    • I just learned that in my son’s middle school, a 79 will earn him a B-. Um, I’m sorry, but for as long as I’ve been teaching anything in the 70s range is a C. A 79% would be a C+, not a B-. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but it does speak to the point that grades ARE being inflated all over the country.

      And this is why you (Melody) and I (and others like us) feel a wee bit uncomfortable doling out the low grades. And it explains why students are astounded when they receive “real” grades for the first time. It must feel like a jolt to the system. No wonder my students look at me like I’m an alien. “I did well in high school,” they tell me. I’m sure they did.

      Now let’s just all agree to bump everyone down 1/2 letter grade. That’s probably getting closer to where most students should be.

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  9. Okay, I am coming in really late but I have a great excuse! I was super sick all day yesterday (on my birthday…gag). This post is really, really good because so many teachers deal with the same problem. I am like you when it comes to students and do give a lot of chances to makeup work.
    There’s nothing you can do for those students who just care until it’s too late. The student in the video (which is truly brilliant and must’ve been created by a super spectacular person ;-)) isn’t the most common but they do exist.
    You’re right to care and struggle with how to help students. I think if you stop caring then something is missing.

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    • Clay, I’m so sorry you were sick on your b’day. (*coughs up ball o’phlegm in your honor*) I sincerely hope you either called it a movie day or stayed home and sipped soup. I hope this doesn’t impact Wednesday Wiki.😉

      Anyway, I’ve gotten to the point where I am okay if students think I’m mean. I don’t feel guilty because I know that I never do anything with any unkind intentions. I really do try to help prepare my students as best I can.

      As one student recently posted on her Facebook status, “Mrs. Jacobson don’t play.”

      I’m good with that.

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