The Waiting Room

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Swinging Pendulum

Posted by Seeking Solace |

I am making some changes in how I manage my program and my courses this term. I slacked off on my usual tough but fair policies that I have used for years for more lenient policies. I did this because of some of the issues surrounding the program and the previous administration. I felt that the students needed some time to adjust to all the change that was going on around them.

Needless to say, there was a price. The minimized structure and demands seemed to cause many to take liberties that would not have occurred if I had used the tools that I know and trust. Now, that is not to say that what I do is rigid and not amendable to change. If anything, I am the first person to say "Well, that didn't work, what else can we do?" But, there are things that I know have worked for the eight years I've been at this. After a couple of semesters, what I am doing now is not working.

What I have found over the years is that the student demographic that I teach needs structure. They need it because, in many cases, they have not experienced it in their lives. Though some fight it at first, I have found that in time, many embrace it. That is not to say that I am some authoritative, Professor Kingsfield-type professor. But, I do set clear expectations of my students, which I thoroughly explain their importance. I let them know up front what is acceptable and what is not. I let them know the consequences and why the consequences exist. Most importantly, I give them all the tools they need to succeed and the encouragement to succeed.

For example, I re-implemented my late work policy. I had a student submit an assignment past the time allotted to submit work. I reminded her of the policy in the syllabus and explained why I could not accept her assignment. I also told her that because she does good work and that I drop the lowest assignment grade, this should not have an effect on her grade. I also reminded her that if circumstances like the one she encountered happen again, she should call me before the assignment is due and ask to more time (The circumstances surrounding the late assignment could have warranted a phone call which would have avoided the assignment being late in the first place). If she had called me, I would have been more than happy to work with her. I thought the student was going to flip out on me with the "But, it's so unfair..." But, she didn't. Instead, she told me she understood that the policy is what it is. She said she didn't think to call me, but now that she know that she has that option, she will call me if this happens again. Sometimes, I think students don't realize they have options. They don't understand that if a door is closed, you need to open a window. Hopefully, now this student, and others, will realize that they choose what happens. They always have other options.

I also think that is important to let them know why we set the policies that we set. I don't think students see the "real world" application. My students will enter the legal profession where they will be slaves to deadlines. They need to understand that due date is not a suggestion. There are reasons for them and sometimes serious repercussions for missing them. Sometimes, there is no mulligan. I try to explain this to them or use examples in class on how a missed deadline can hurt.

The good thing is that a few of my students are well aware of my policies, having experienced them for a couple of semesters. They know the drill and they don't complain when I have to implement a consequence. It will be interesting to see what happens with the others, although the students are warning their classmates. I guess word travels fast.

So, we will see what happens. The point of all of this is to have a strong, solid program. I am hopeful that the pendulum will start to swing in the correct direction.