A failing student

The end of term means grades but thankfully I only have the ominous ‘participation grades’. However, the 6 sub-sections make it less about actually participating and more about grammar and linguistic competence. This is France after all so it’s grammar, grammar, grammar with a side salad of grammar.

My problem dear readers (all 5 of you today) is one particular student. This young lad has bad English. When I first tested him about a year ago I gave him a low mark and spoke to him about it. I then told him what he had to do and how important it was to improve. Sadly, he hasn’t. It’s not rocket science and to make it even easier he gets tailored lessons sent to his iPod every day.

So, 1 year later and he still can’t make a sentence. He has tried in class sometimes, mainly when I have pushed him, he has attended too although he left early a few times. he’s a nice guy but just doesn’t want to improve. He’s very lucky or unlucky in that he doesn’t need to pass TOEIC to graduate but he needs to pass my course. His weekly participation marks are not good but I have certainly been too generous. But if I put 4/5 (the truth) it will hurt, putting him at 2/3/4 below the others makes the point perhaps and if the marks are too low I know I will get into bother of some sort.

At this point I am sticking with my marks and I will give him a lower mark than the others. To cover my ass I’ve told the admin staff but nobody is really bothered. If he fails he fails, I have tried, very hard but now I give up. I’m too old now to invest my energy in students who don’t want help and judging on how nacked I’ve been I have done this too much.

Next term? More clear-cut I think and less chances. If I think someone is poor I will tell them then give them some tips but if they don’t work on it then that’s their business. cold perhaps but they are adults. When I get an email about this kid then I will repeat what I’ve said here. I tried and tried and he wasn’t bothered. If he fails then he fails but he has been given enough chances, too many maybe.

Am I too harsh?

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14 thoughts on “A failing student

  1. Not too harsh at all! I used to give students who couldn’t be bothered,did very little and were just turning up to get credits, an automatic fail. If they had a really bad attitude, I wouldn’t let them attend class, which basically meant throwing them off the course. They usually came back with a better mindset after a few weeks. (Cruel to be kind and all that!)

    • Sounds good to me but I have the feeling my boss likes students who pass.I’ve raised my marks in general but this guy is a fail, even by the official mark scheme.

      • Yeah, I know the kind you mean! Passing students like that is a bit unfair on the ones who worked and earned a pass, isn’t it.

        • Exactly!! I would be really angry if it was me. But then again I’m sure that students who complain probably get increased grades too. I had a student literally grab me in the car park last year who had an argument with me about why I had failed him .Another who came to my on campus flat with her boyf. Thankfully I wasn’t in so they decided to graffiti my wall. I think that’s the closest I’ve come to quitting teaching and also doing something potentially dangerous for anyone in the room. The answer from my boss was that they were “stressed and concerned” about their mark of 83. Apparently the lowest mark this ‘100% all her life girl’ had ever had.

            • And what made the last worse was that my parents had just arrived so as we walked in our flat with their cases the first thing they saw was “you evil teacher…hurt a young girl’s feelings…”. Taken out of context it sounds even worse. All that over a mark. Madness! From then on I created an official mark allocation scheme so that everyone gave the same scores but then we’d get these young ‘cool kids’ who’d just give everyone 100% “cos they were sooooo awesome dude”. Thus, we then looked tough in comparison. These things only work if everyone does it together.

              • Should’ve taken another 20% off for that! If they already think you are “evil”, you might as well live up to your reputation! 😉

                • That’s a good idea. In situations like that where the dept just say “give what you want” but then the students have some kind of expectations, I have a couple of times just said to bosses “look, just do the grades yourself”.

  2. Try imagining someone who hasn’t visibly improved for about 7 years, been at the college forever, and yet somehow passes his/her ESOL exams. Mind boggles.

    To help, I think you need to be clear-cut. It may seem harsh, but how do you get through to those students who don’t seem to bother??

    • Yes. Good points Mike. I tried investing in this kid but he’s thrown it back in face so now it’s just business. You come, you participate and then I give you what band you are in according to the rubric. This guy will fail but that was his decision. Yes, it’s hard when you are the only beginner in a class of ints but that’s life.We can’t all have differentiated classes. He’s had his chances, advice and help.

  3. Are you being too harsh? Impossible to say, without knowing the student.

    It may be that they have personal issues getting in the way of learning (such as low level depression) or subtle learning difficulties that make studying too much of an uphill effort to deal with.

    I’m not sure lenient marking really helps this kind of student, as it may lead them to think that they are doing better than they actually are and compound the problem!

    My approach would be to talk to the student to check he isn’t having problems coping with the work, and diplomatically explain that he is going to fail the course if he doesn’t put more effort in. Remind him of the need to pass your course. Remind him of the need to pass your course with every iPod lesson you send him, too. I would follow this up with a mark that genuinely reflected his effort in class next time round, no matter how low it was.

    Yes. the truth can hurt, but sometimes the truth is needed; and there are ways of giving feedback that can help to cushion the blow. Better to give him a wake up call before the end of the course than after it, I’d say.

    • Good point Sue but I did the 121 chat already. I’ve seen teachers constantly bending over backwards for kids and they get played. Excuses from ‘my brother got married’ to ‘I’ve had flu for 8 months’.

      I think in total we’ve had 2 proper chats and 2/3 short “you really need to improve” ones. I know that they don’t get anything from their other teachers just pass or fail marks. Problems? Maybe he does but that’s not my job. I don’t agree with teacher/therapist roles unless you are trained. I’ve known many teachers (usually female, sorry if it sounds sexist) who spend hours with kids and give them their private phone number etc, even take them out for dinner. For what? To help them in their emotional turmoil? To ease some kind of guilt? To help the students with their life problems? Fine, I am a people person and would hope I could help a student if the need arose but I’m not a professional and playing those roles can be dangerous.

      Ai ai ai. We have a very complicated job don’t we?

      • Hi again Phil,

        I don’t hold with playing therapist either, but if learners are having issues I do see it as part of my role to try and point them in the direction of someone who can offer them professional help (I teach adults, so the situation is perhaps different).

        By problems coping with the work I meant is has he been placed in a class that is suitable for his needs? If he is the only beginner in an intermediate class, then that may be a big part of the problem – no matter how hard you go out of your way to help him, he’s always going to be surrounded by people who are way better at English than he is, and that must impact on a subconscious level, at least.

        Like you say, we have a very complicated job!

        • Thanks Sue.
          I get what you mean but I have a very bad habit of putting my foot in it especially with upset students. I do speak to students and tell them that I’m not happy with X, Y or Z but I’m not daft either and I know that quite a few tell porkies. On the other hand, I had one who said in his thesis defence that his paper wasn’t good because his dad had died and he hadn’t had time to write. I was shocked but even more so that he hadn’t told anyone. I then changed his mark. I had no evidence but I trusted him. Now perhaps I should have asked for proof but these things should be standard procedure in my opinion ie they complete a form and etc etc.

          I had a female boss who used to mother students and she got students in and through courses and even got permission for them to resit the whole year. Quite a few times they’d call her at home in the early morning with their problems. I’m sorry but that’s not my job. I personally think it wasn’t hers either. Having an independent counsellor would be better.

          Level-wise we have beginners or int. That’s it. If anyone is tested as Adv they don’t have to attend but that is another post.

          I do blame my course though as it’s just PPT (not my choice) yet via my online interactive stuff (lots of your great exercises) and speaking work AND their daily online lessons, most have really improved. This kid hasn’t put in the work in class or at home so that’s the bottom line. Sadly for all of us!!

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