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.