In my Interpersonal Communication course, my students submit a question-prompted journal fairly early in the term.
The first question? “Analyze your communication strengths and weaknesses, based on communication competencies in the textbook.”
If other questions go awry, (they usually don’t–interpersonal communication may be hard as hell in real life, but it isn’t rocket science), I can typically count on students answering this one question.
Student’s journal literally had a polar bear in a snowstorm on page one.
I was grading at night, so I e-mailed Student and said, “I just reviewed your journal. Am I looking at the correct version? The first question has no response. Is it missing?”
Student responded fairly quickly: “I didn’t understand the question. I don’t have an excuse. I figured I’d just get a zero.”
Student was honest, at least.
I replied, “The question asks you to think about ways you communicate with others, what is going well and what you would like to improve. There are a list of communication competencies in Chapter 1 that you can draw from. Why don’t you take another look and turn this back in? You’ll be analyzing your progress at the end of the term, so it’s an important question. I’ve seen you contribute in class. I feel confident that you know this material.”
Now Student, “I just didn’t understand the question.”
Now me, “I think I just explained it (?). Would you like to come in and we can talk about it further? Like I said, this is a pretty important question for the rest of the term. This is also your first major graded assignment. I’d like to see you get more points and I’m giving you an opportunity to do that.”
And Student again, “I’ll just take whatever you give me.”
At this point, I’m dumbfounded. And, to be quite honest, feeling just plain dumb for obviously caring way, way more than the student.
My final reply, “I disagree with your decision, but it is yours. We could get you up to speed and raise your grade. If you are confused, ask for help, rather than just submit work knowing you will get a zero. You wouldn’t do this in the workplace and then take the fallout, which could have serious consequences, right? There is another journal due in a few weeks. Let’s take a look at that one early and make sure you are on the right track.”
I’d love to say that this situation rarely happens. Another student submitted a required draft paper to the class dropbox a week early. It was almost too early–I suspected something was amiss–so I took a look. I e-mailed the student:
“Student, I noticed that you submitted your paper early, which is great. I see that it is missing sources and a thesis statement. If I grade this now, I’m going to spend time dealing with those issues that you can fix. Not only will your draft grade be affected, but my taking time on required items that are missing reduces the time I can spend on content. You’ll want my feedback for the final paper, which is worth four times as much. Since you are so early, why not add the thesis and sources and resubmit?”
I never heard from Student. The draft was not resubmitted. The grade was as anticipated, not only on the draft, but also on the final paper. These issues lingered until the last journal, which earned an equally low grade. Then I finally heard from the student: “Why did I get that grade?”
My reply? “There were no cited sources for your journal, the same as your paper. I e-mailed you to call your attention to this problem in the hopes that it would be fixed for the draft. I never received a response. Every paper this term has been missing sources and it has made a huge impact on your grade.”
Student didn’t argue that my e-mails weren’t received, and often, that will happen. I’ll stop with examples, but my question is this: Since when do professors care more than students? What kind of work ethic does this show? Where do students believe it will lead?
So what’s the communication lesson here?
Fabulous students, nothing in your verbal or nonverbal messaging should ever, ever give your professor the impression that you give less of a damn than they do… especially when any prof enables you to practice being better, stronger, or employable!
Speaking of employability, the first student wanted to “take a zero.” At work, a zero could mean “zero job.” There is no ‘turn in crap work and let the consequences fall.’
In both cases, a boss wouldn’t seek you out after poor work is submitted, steadily manage your process as you fix it, then cheerlead you to the finish. A boss would find someone competent enough to get it right the first time, or, at the least, savvy/proactive/assertive enough to seek out resources for help.
Of course, my recommendation is to be on top of your assignments so you know what is expected. I recognize that sometimes, this doesn’t happen. So if your professor ever contacts you about submitted work and allows you to improve it, your response should be, “Thank you very much for calling this to my attention. I must have misunderstood something about the assignment and realize that I should have clarified it with you earlier. I appreciate you giving me feedback and the a chance to fix the problem. I can have this back to you in 24-hours (or 48… or whatever, but make it a short turnaround time!). Would that be all right?”
Then do it! Show your prof that you were worthy of him/her taking the time to care. Profs stop giving students chances when they perceive that their concern isn’t shared. Conversely, being able to swiftly apply feedback is a critical skill. Your prof could write about this in a recommendation letter if you keep the relationship amicable.
The interactions that I’m describing are a gift. The gift of a potentially better grade and a huge test of your work ethic.
You’ll want to pass that test to benefit your future career. That’s what college is about, right? (Psst… yes!).
Students, why do you think faculty concern is ignored when that concern can only offer benefits? Embarrassment? Genuine apathy? Disregard for consequences? Colleagues, what are your thoughts?