Is it how they ask?

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E. F.:
Since we have been spending some time in this forum on late assignments, missed exams, and attendance issues, I thought I would ask the following question: How influenced are you by HOW a student asks for an “exception” or “excused” absence?

I find myself actively delineating between students who are active in the class—who are obviously upset about missing a class, exam, assignment, etc.—and those students who seem to stay dazed and chronically behind an entire semester, who seem to be doing the least amount of work possible to pass, or who just don’t seem quite able or willing to read a calendar.

I also find myself occasionally responding to the students’ attitudes as much as the excuses themselves. For example, I have a pet peeve about students rushing up to me as soon as I walk into a classroom and telling me the sad story of their lives before I even reach the table. This is especially aggravating because the students who have attended class and completed their work on-time are sitting there waiting to see how I respond. The students making these requests for special accommodations in front of the class can end up drop-jawed surprised at how unwilling I am to tell them late submissions are okey-dokey and everything is totally make-up-able while I am in front their fellow students who have met their obligations to the class. However, I am much more user-friendly at the end of class.

I now have the following policy statement in my syllabus that has helped (but I’m sure will never fully alleviate) the problem:

“If you have a situation concerning an absence, a grade, or a personal issue, please consider the following ideas:
1.   It is always better to talk to me about personal issues at the end of class if at all possible.
2.   Be sure to have a specific solution in mind if you are going to present a problem.
3.   If you are going to lie to me about an absence (which you shouldn’t), be sure to lie at the college level.”

Of course, there are also the other requests that the are part of the job: The “Can you email me your lecture notes on what we’ve covered over the past two weeks?” request; The “I wasn’t here for the last three classes. Did I miss anything?” syndrome; and The “My family always takes a three week vacation for Spring Break” dilemma.

I realize that some students struggle to communicate and don’t mean their comments to be offending, but other students simply don’t care how inappropriate their actions or requests are. Do you find yourself frustrated by and responding to the lack of social skills some—actually only a relatively few—students exhibit, or have you developed a thicker hide than I have?

Thanks for your posting E.F.:
Dear E. F.

I wish that students would communicate more respectfully and effectively, especially when they are asking me to make an exception to my regular course policy (late assignments; absences, etc.).  

Also, I know that email is such a quick and ready form of communication but I don't know if students realize that they could be much more persuasive if they communicated properly while using this medium.  Sometimes I receive emails address to "hey" with no caps, no punctuation, no correct grammar, misspellings, asking me to make an exception to my regular course policy.  Do you ever get those?  

It seems like you have some good ideas about how to mitigate against some behavior!  I think that I will try to include some statements about this sort of thing in my class policy section of future syllabi.  Thanks for the idea!

Visiting ass't. prof.:
This is only marginally related to the original post, but it was so funny that I had to share it here.  This is a recent email message I received from a student which is a classic example of how (and what) not to ask (for).

Hi, I'm planning on going to a club on Thursday night so I won't have
time to write my paper by the time that you have office hours on
Friday. It would be really great if we could get together during the
weekend, preferably on Sunday afternoon (I work from 9am to noon), to
go over what I will have written.

Ph.d. Candidate:
How did you respond?

Visiting ass't. prof.:
I nonchalantly told her that I was not available over the weekend.  If she wanted me to look over a draft of her paper, she needed to come in during office hours.


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