I was planning to blog about teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X but that will have to wait because I had an impromptu meeting with one of my students’ parents! (I also sat on my first oral comprehensive examination for a Master’s candidate, which is worth a blog entry too, but that will have to wait as well. For now, mabruk! She passed.)
One of my students in my core humanities class has been failing for some obvious reasons. She has been absent 11 times and late 7 other times (so far the class has met for 28 of its 36 sessions). And she has not handed in 7 of her 9 written assignments. Early in the semester, when I spoke to her about her attendance, she blamed her bus driver, which is ridiculous since the first bus arrives on campus at 8:15 and our class starts at 10:50; she was taking the latest bus that was scheduled to arrive on campus at the time our class started. About 4 weeks ago, I posted her mid-semester grade, which was an F, and asked her to see me. No words or response. She continued to miss classes and assignments.
Finally, she came to see me on Sunday, with a medical explanation and a file of her medical records. It wasn’t the bus driver after all; it was her thyroid. The doctor’s notes were sketchy: one called her a “very nice young girl” and another indicated that this problem is ongoing extending back to September. And it was dated the previous day.
My interpretation is that she may have some sort of medical condition, but it is largely irrelevant to her failing performance in class. I took her materials and spoke to my department chair. I tried to call the advising office, but was unable to reach anyone there for two days. I wrote her an email explaining the situation and encouraging her to withdraw from the class and that I would indicate she was “passing,” in consideration of her illness. (Withdrawals appear on transcripts as WF or WP to indicate whether or not the student was passing or failing at the time of withdrawal. The grades appear on transcripts but it does not figure negatively into a student’s GPA, which is hugely important here as most of the majors accept students on that basis.)
No word for two days. This morning, her adviser finally calls me. And she tells me that her parents are on campus and want to meet with me. Ugh. There was no way out of it. They came up right away. I explained the situation to them, which included the observation that the class is a seminar and that the classroom work can not be made up. I shared with them my recommendation that she withdraw. They told me that they did not understand why I did not accept her excuse, which her other professors did. They are allowing her to make up the missed work (though I know she did not miss as many classes elsewhere since mine was the first of the day and I once even saw her on campus after she missed my class). I explained that I was terribly sorry for her illness but that I did not think it could be made up. Had she spoken to me about this when the situation began, it might have been different. She asked about the possibility of an incomplete, which is quite rare and which I discouraged.
If this illness is serious enough to be responsible for all of her missed work and is ongoing, as indicated by her and her doctor, I don’t see how she can make up a full semester’s work for 5 course in 3 weeks, especially when she told me her doctor suggested she stay home. In my email to her, I told her that I suggested that she concentrate on her health so that when she returns to school she will be healthy and strong.
Her parents were fine, though they were probably not too happy with me. No fireworks, but the entire scene felt kind of dramatic; my student's eyes were welling up with tears. Yes, I felt bad and am still wondering if I did the right thing. When they all left my office, things seemed up in the air. But about thirty minutes later she came by with the withdrawal form which I signed.