Monday, June 04, 2007

Turning a Student Around

Hi Everyone-

I wanted to post this email from one of your fellow instructors, Jessy Devasia. Last semester Jessy had a student who was really primed to have a terrible learning experience in her course. Jessy managed to help that student have instead one of those positive, turning-point experiences that I am sure the student will remember for her entire life.

From Jessy:

I am a Health Sciences faculty and my teaching techniques are very traditional demanding hard work, discipline, order, mutual respect, and truthfulness. But I have learned over a period of time that patience, compassion, forgiveness, keeping my pride and ego aside, and being a little flexible can turn around even very difficult students in a very positive way. I had a gratifying teaching experience with a student whom I taught this spring, which I would like to share with you.

Profile of the student: She is taking this particular course for the third or fourth time with CCConline. She was not able to go beyond the third week of the semester each time she has taken the class due to various reasons, which appeared silly and funny to me! This student is in her fifties, working 3 jobs (60-65 hours), neck deep in debt, with weight and health problems, ailing spouse, and a very intelligent perfectionist who tries to relive her excellent teen years and early twenties as a top student. She has been admitted to the BSN program at a reputed University in Texas for fall, 2007. She wanted a commitment from me that I would not let her go this time. I promised her that I would work with her as long as she tries her best and keeps in touch with me.

Though whatever I did was not a big thing for me that turned out to be a life changing experience for this student. . I know that all of us do to these things for our students every semester we teach. When our kind Head of the Department, Alison Jacobs asked me to write about how our little acts of timely kindness and help may turn into a forward moving experience for our students, I looked back and found a few things, which may have helped this student to complete this course and chase her dream of joining a prestigious nursing program in a reputed university.

1. Listen to our students carefully especially during the first 1 or 2 weeks of the semester and look for direct/indirect hints which some of our students give expecting our leadership, help, understanding, reassurance, and guidance as they undertake this journey with us. Make a note of the back grounds of these students (age, type of employment, number of jobs, number of working hours, sexuality, marriage status, single parent, health problems, getting back to school after many years, care givers of sick spouse and parents, financial problems, got admitted to programs which start soon, taking 3-4 online classes, need a B or C…) and keep a special eye on these students all through out the semester.

2. Always reply to the student emails as early as possible. Never reply to an email when you are tired, angry, and disturbed about something. When we are in a hurry to write a well thought out reply let the students know that we have their message and get back to them soon.

3. When a student openly says that the instructor is bad, hate the way we run the class, and find fault with everything we do, it is really hard not to take it to heart. But my experience with these kinds of students tells me that it is a cry for help and they are not able to move forward. These students are like our children who say that they hate the parents and home when they need us to reach out to them. This is when we can keep our pride aside and ask the student what we can do to help her succeed.

4. Please always try to contact an enthusiastic student who suddenly disappears from the class. You may reach them when they are very miserable and able to offer a helping hand. I believe that there is nothing wrong in being flexible with our test and assignment schedules (with penalties for late submission applied) to help our non-traditional students who come to the class with bagful of problems on their back.

5. A second attempt on reaching a missing student from the class also will not hurt.

6. Help the students to be practical, to make compromises, fix up priorities, set achievable goals, and plan the work-time schedules. It is also right to be tough at this point and use an iron hand. Suggest the students using their time wisely. Remind our adult learners that we cannot be always perfectionists and we are not the teenagers who made straight As and went several extra miles doing schoolwork 35-40 years ago. No body learns everything about a subject in 15 weeks and gave them suggestions on how to do well in tests. We can always read and learn many things later on.

7. After all these advise do not help in turning in class work, we can resort to the technique of giving ultimatums. Give the final chance and express your final decision without any ambiguity. We have done everything possible within our limits.

I would like to add an email, which I received from this student at the end of the semester:
"My deepest gratitude for your kindness and above all your fair treatment to me as student. With mixed emotion, I now move forward from the warmth and intellectual nurturing of Arapahoe CC to the fast-tracked arena of the University of Texas @ Austin.
I have learned more than just academic content from you -- I depart with the memory of compassion and understanding without judgments, which now are my responsibility to share with those lives, which will now cross mine."

I think that these are some of the most gratifying moments in my teaching career.

Jessy Devasia

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