Monday, April 11, 2011

Pregnant Student versus a Hungover One

Reader J. kindly sent me a link to a blog post of a woman who is going to college while pregnant. This blogger / student felt sick and had to leave class early. The professor took off participation points. Now the student is planning to complain:
 I have to keep going to class until I’m really in labor, and school is pretty far away.  My Tuesday class is a reasonable half hour away, but my Wednesday class is 90 minutes away in traffic.  If I started hard, active labor at school, I have no idea what I would do.  Also – get this – I left class early last Tuesday because I was so sick I couldn’t see straight, and my professor actually had the balls to dock me 20 out of 25 possible Participation points just because I had to leave.  Clearly she’ll be docking me ALL 25 Participation points for each class I miss while I’m doing a silly little thing like trying to have a baby, so I cannot take off a single extra day other than what is absolutely necessary.  (And yes, I am SOOO writing a letter about that.)
Now before I proceed to comment on this post, I need to explain that I'm the most laid-back professor in the world. If the students tell me they need to miss a quiz or an exam or that they can't hand in the paper on time, I never even ask them why this happens. I just reschedule. Every single time. My students see that I do everything I can to accommodate their needs, so they never abuse my niceness.  There was a single instance in my entire teaching career when I didn't accept a student's final essay that was handed in late. The reason why I made an exception for that student is that he handed in the essay a week after the date when I had to enter the final grades into the system. Other than that, I have not been known to make students' lives difficult.

Participation grades, however, are a different matter. In order to get your participation points, you need to . . . well, participate. In discussions. In class. I once failed a student who handed in perfect written assignments but missed 80% of classes in my Advanced Spanish Conversation course. As hard as I tried to explain it to him, he refused to realize that a course on conversation implies engaging in conversations and participation involves participating. As understanding as one might be of the students' personal circumstances, one cannot give participation points to somebody who was absent. Participation in absentia is not possible. It defies all logic to give participation points to someone who is not in the room.

The reason why I never ask students for the reasons why they need to miss class or hand in assignments late is that I have no interest in working out a hierarchy of special needs or problems. In the discussion thread that follows the post I quoted (if you manage to wade through the childish vocabulary and infantile oohs and aahs), several commenters refer to this woman's situation as being "special" because she is pregnant and, as a result, different from the situations of those students who can't come to class because they are hungover from their last night's party.

There is no doubt in my mind that her pregnancy is very special to this woman. It must also be very special to her relatives and friends. For strangers, however, of which her professor is one, it is neither more nor less special than another student's hangover. Both the pregnancy and the hangover are the results of the choices these students made as adults. In my capacity as an educator, I don't think it's my place to judge whose choices are more legitimate and deserve of greater consideration. All I need to know is that the student wasn't there and, as a result, didn't manage to participate. 

We all would like the world to stop and pay special attention to our all-important issues. And, of course, everybody is intimately convinced that everything to do with them is especially important. However, adulthood consists of realizing that we are not the center of the universe and the world at large couldn't care less about our pregnancies, hangovers, illnesses, absences, or grades. 


liese4 said...

Agreed! My son (16) is taking his first college class. Some people in his class have the same attitude, hey I was sick/drunk/forgot my assignment, give me my points. He made the highest grade in the class on his last essay, a 99, and some people made a zero. That means they didn't turn in anything. I don't know if they are asking for an extension, but the teacher has said she will accept late papers, so they are in luck.

It's been a good experience for Joel, he was surprised the first time he had to peer review, we've never done that before. So now in our homeschool group we have groups of kids who are trading papers they have written and doing a peer review to get them used to the concept. I was surprised that he has made such good grades, 95, 98, 99, but I know there is no way he will get higher than a 99 on essay 4, his paper was well thought out, but not very smooth.

How's your ear? I had a horrible headache today, I think my degenerative cervical spine thing is getting worse. Ugh, I need to find a good spine clinic.

I know you don't usually check out other blogs from posts, but we went to an awesome edible book fest Sunday and I got some cool pics of the cake entries.

Clarissa said...

The ear is better, thank you for asking! It turns out my regular doctor has been arrested for Medicare fraud since my last visit. The secretary kept mumbling in response to my question "When will the doctor be back?" She probably didn't want to say, "In five to fifteen!"

So I had to find a new doctor in a hurry. And he was really into gossiping about the scandal surrounding my previous doctor. I hope you find a good clinic soon!!

Do leave the link to the cake pictures!

Spanish prof said...

Reading this woman's post, it sounds to me that if she had chosen to miss class, it could have been excused as a medical absence. So she was actually trying her best to be there and participate. Although it was not exactly her case, imagine she had left early because she was so sick that she spent an hour in the bathroom puking. Would you rather her do that, or puke all over the place in your classroom, because she wants the participation points?

I'm the opposite of you. Except for SPAN 101, I don't care if they come or not, and don't take attendance. There is always a great correlation between their attendance and how well they perform in class (although I haven't taught a Conversation class. That would be different). But you better have a good excuse for me to re-schedule something or let you hand in something late.

Clarissa said...

I'm not disputing that this was a legitimate medical absence. I'm sure it was. Still, as legitimate as it was, she still didn't participate. What difference does it make to me or to the class if a person did not participate legitimately or not?

I feel that in literature courses participation is a lot more important than anything else. What use to me is a student who read a single text, wrote a great essay on its basis and snoozed through the rest of the semester? Literature courses don't happen unless all students participate actively every class session.

liese4 said...

That was too funny about your ear doc, glad you found another provider. Do people really talk like that to adults ("Does your Mommy work for the university?") Weird.

Edible book fair post link:

Clarissa said...

Wow, gorgeous pictures. It is unbelievable how creative some people are.

And really beautiful kids too. They even overshadowed the desserts. :-)

Anastasia said...

I am the second most laid back professor ever but I agree that participation is a separate issue. I never give a student who makes an attempt less than 50%, so if someone were present for part of class, I'd give half the points. But not more than that.

J. said...

I guess what got me about this was the whole "how DARE she!?" implication, and even more the comments of her readers (I posted on this topic over at my own blog, )--I mean, yeah, it seems like any reasonable professor would have been understanding, would have been clear from the start regarding what constitutes legitimate vs. non-legitimate absence, would have excused her departure for medical reasons. But that her first reaction was to cry "bitch!" and write a letter to the university, rather than just waiting a day and calling the professor to see if things could be worked out--THAT is what made the little hairs on my neck take notice.

I would be very interested to hear the prof's perspective on the various conversations, both the one at the beginning of the semester and the one from last Tuesday. Spin is almost inevitable--unless the professor really IS an unmitigated bitch (and let's face it, is ANYONE's bitchiness unmitigated?), I'd bet there's a slightly different account she'd give.

I did the adjunct thing for a couple of years, teaching a for-credit chorus, for which participation was the ONLY way to grade. I was clear in expectations, but also fairly merciless--I'm right with Clarissa in terms of not wanting to know or thence evaluate the specific reason for a person's absence, but to ask that they be adults about it and make their own choices--it was only required that they notify me prior to class time that they were not going to be there, or the absence was automatically unexcused. (Okay, once there was a documented ER visit that coincided with class time and precluded the call, but that's a little different.) There was exactly one "freebee" excused absence allowed per student per semester, and any additional absences had consequences in the form of either grade reduction or extra credit work (written or menial setup crap I otherwise had to do myself, or attending some other event) required to make up the grade. Period. I gave the "be adults, make your choices, and be aware that all choices have consequences, this is how it is out there in the world of working musicians--if you don't show up, you don't get paid, and you won't get hired again" speech every semester, and 90% of students Got It and didn't mess with me.

This just...bugs me.

(And FTR...adjunct SUCKS.)

Spanish prof said...

I am not disputing that she did not participate. I am just talking about common sense. Maybe it's my Latina "hot" blood (I love playing with stereotypes), but if I was pregnant, I made the effort to go to class, I have to leave because I am nauseated and need to puke, and my professor takes points off participation, next time I would stay in the class and puke (again, it's my inner drama queen arising). Then, you have a class disrupted and everybody is grossed out. So the professor can pretend nothing happened (difficult), or ask me to leave, in which case I would refuse saying that last time I did that, I was penalized and points were taken off my participation grade. I know this is taking logic to the absurd, but so is being inflexible as to why somebody has left the classroom.

In my literature classes, if you read a single text, you are not going to do very well. First of all, they need to turn in reading comprehension questions for each text assigned, typed, and before the class begins. Second, my exams are all open book. You can have the texts, your notes, whatever. But if you haven't paid attention over the semester, you'll do pretty bad. I am not saying I don't call on students in class. I do. I just don't grade participation. If you want to skip class, go ahead. You'll have a hard time answering exam questions unless you are really bright.

This is an example of a question for my 300 level Contemporary Latin American Civilization midterm exam (it was in Spanish, obviously): a)What are the characteristics of a good "ruler" (gobernante) for José Martí. b) Based on this, what do you think Martí would say about the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada in Bolivia, both at a political and an economic level? Why? Justify your answer using concrete examples from the texts we have read regarding Bolivia and the documentary we've seen.

Do you really think that somebody who snoozes throughout the semester can answer that question? No, you need to be in class and participate. Or at least be alert. We just have different methods of sticks and carrots.

Clarissa said...

Throwing up doesn't really count as participation. :-) Being physically present in the room is a necessary prerequisite to participation but it's not the only one.

If there are students who attend every single class meeting but never open their mouths, I fail them on participation.

A student like the pregnant blog author could have made up for being absent on one day by participating a lot on the other day. This, however, was not an option she chose to explore. She decided that complaining about the big, mean professor was the most mature thing to do.