a reaction to The 4-Stage Response to Low Student Achievement

March 2, 2011 at 5:02 pm 3 comments

I read an article on the Chronicle of Higher Ed online today about the four stages professors go through after they start teaching introductory-level classes. The stages are in response to unexpectedly low student achievement, and are:

  • shock
  • dismay/guilt
  • contempt (aka passive acceptance or resignation)
  • acceptance

The author shares his responses to each of the four stages and they’re enlightening and saddening at the same time. I have definitely gone through these stages myself (and urge you to read the article if you’re a new instructor yourself; it’s a quick, insightful read), but wanted to share the last paragraph, since it really struck me:

“Sometimes a lesson about consequences is the most you can hope for a student to learn. For professors, acceptance, in the active, constructive sense, means being OK with that outcome, once intervention has been attempted and failed. But if other students are capable of improvement, accepting their limitations means accepting that they need a nudge.”

When my students e-mail me about missed deadlines, or come to class saying they couldn’t do the homework because the site was down/their log-ins didn’t work (when we meet once a week and they didn’t attempt to contact me BEFORE class about the problem…), the compassionate part of me wants to say, “Okay, I’ll let it slide this time.” Or, “How about a one-day extension on your paper [that was assigned 3 weeks ago] since you had the flu?” but I can’t. Like the author, I’ve come to realize that, perhaps more than anything else, they will learn consequences in my class. College–especially a career college–is supposed to be preparation for the real world. If you don’t give a patient her medicine on time, she could die. If you don’t submit legal paperwork before the midnight deadline, you could lose your case. The IRS doesn’t take excuses if your taxes are filed one day late. Consequences must be learned at some point, and that point may be my class.

I’ve decided I’m okay with that. While I want my students to like me, I am not there to be their friend. I am there to teach them skills that will help them become productive workers and well-informed citizens. Taking responsibility for your actions (or inactions) is a small piece of that.


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sara Kelley-Mudie  |  March 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I’m at a college prep high school for students with learning disabilities, and this issue is exactly the kind of thing we grapple with every day. Most of our students genuinely struggle with organization, time management, and other executive functioning issues–but the task we have is to help them learn how to find success in spite of those challenges, not use them as a crutch and as an excuse.
    My colleagues and I talk regularly about the line between coaching students, and enabling them. We need to show them what success looks like and create the structures in which it is possible for them to be successful, but their success is, ultimately, their responsibility.

  • 2. bluestockinglibrarian  |  March 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    “the task we have is to help them learn how to find success in spite of those challenges, not use them as a crutch and as an excuse.”

    I love this, Sara. There’s another recent Chronicle article you might be interested in on note-taking, where professors expressed their dismay over students who don’t seem to understand the point of taking notes in class and have to be coaxed/trained to do so through the use of open-notebook quizzes, etc.

    (I’ve also started following your blog more closely–you’ve got a lot of great resources and ideas I plan to use! LOVE your world of citation idea!)

  • […] comes time to actually write the thing. Hence the scaffolding on how to take notes. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m teaching them life skills, not just how to use […]


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