My whine class

Apr 07 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In any class there is a cohort of students who are problematic. In my very limited experience, I would say that ~10% of the students in a given course are going to cause the instructor some sort of headache during the semester. I don't mean the students who need to make up an exam because they were actually sick, rather those who write you at 10:00 pm the night before the exam asking for an extension because they OMGareSOstressed or don't show up due to the death of their 6th grandmother in 2 years, etc. Sometimes these are easy to deal with and sometimes there is a metric ton of baggage that causes all sorts of complications.

It's kind of the hidden time suck of teaching. You know there is going to be the time you need to put lectures together, to give them and to grade exams and assignments, but then there are all of the "issues". Whether valid or not, they take time to deal with.

When it is 10% of the class you can mostly roll with it, assuming your class size isn't enormous. This semester, for whatever reason, my class is chock full of students with issues. Leading up to the exam this week I heard from ~30% of the class with some reason why they should be given a few extra days before taking the exam. Of those, 20% did not show up for the exam, either with valid excused absence, or not. And this is just this week!

Of course they won't all be able to make up the exam at the same time and now I have to be concerned about the advantage that these students will have over the others. Do I make a new exam? More of my time. Do I just say fuck it and give them the same thing? How many make up sessions do I allow? How many days later? Should I care? Do I care?

Based on the fact that I did the heavy lifting of putting all the lectures together last year and only have to modify/update them this year, the time I spend reacting to student issues this semester is more than the time it takes me to prep my lectures. I wish that was an exaggeration.

Life can get in the way of academics, jobs or anything. I am sensitive to that and I don't think for a minute that every student is out manipulate the system. At the same time, I'm starting to feel more like a manager than a teacher these days.

Not the kind of stuff that makes the recruiting highlight reel.

20 responses so far

  • I bet you'd find the number of certain classes of excuses drops rapidly if you require notes from doctors or funeral directors, with accompanying contact details for verification.

  • geeka says:

    I find that if you have a strict policy about taking 10% of grade off the top for any late tests/assignments, this improves slightly.
    There's also the Best of 4. Give 4 exams, and only use 3. This allows the 'good' students to still excel if something goes wildly wrong, but the screw ups are still going to end up with accurate grades. This allows you to not schedule make-ups at all.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    This allows you to not schedule make-ups at all.

    But means more grading. Pick your poison.

  • jc says:

    10% off??? Go for 50%!!!!!!! for late assignments.

    Also, in my syllabi, there's big bold letters that say NO MAKEUPS FOR ANY EXCUSE. They may take a test early if they know they'll be gone (stus with away games or conferences), but I never gave a makeup and plan on keeping it that way. I had plenty of people not show up for tests and they got all got zeros.

  • Dr. O says:

    Agreed with Geeka's 3 out of 4 plan. Almost every class I took as an undergrad had an optional final exam that could be used to replace another that was missed or had a low score. My grad mentor took the same approach, and she stopped grading if it became apparent that they were not going to get enough points to improve their grade. She didn't even allow those that already had an "A" to take the final. And students did the math prior to the final to see if it was worth it to even show up. Only about half the class usually showed up for these finals, sometimes ever fewer.

  • sciwo says:

    I so hear you. Large classes feel by far more like management exercises than real teaching.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Hmmmmm, a 3 out of 4 with no makes up at all might be worth exploring....

  • Namnezia says:

    That's what I do too. I have three optional midterms and one mandatory final. If they take all of them, then each is worth 25%. If they decide to skip a midterm then the final is 50% and each midterm is 25%, if they drop 2 midterms, the final is 75% and some brave ones choose to only take the final for 100% of their grade (nobody so far has gotten an A doing this). With that policy in place then I simply say NO MAKE UP EXAMS. And stick to my guns. It's helpful to put a "course policy" page on the curse website or hand it out with the syllabus so things are perfectly clear from the beginning. I've gotten calls from deans saying students went to talk with them claiming I was unreasonable, but when I direct said dean to the policy sheet they usually side with me. It'll make your life easier.

  • Karen says:

    I'm a grad student (MS) at a teaching-oriented university. My advisor teaches at least one, and often two sections of an upper division general-education class. He makes two exams for each examination (by reordering the questions), one for odd-numbered rows and one for even-numbered rows to inhibit cheating. If a student has a valid excuse for missing the exam (and he's very liberal about excuses) he gives a make-up. If the make-up has to be given after the exams have been returned, he'll write a new exam (more reordering of questions, changing numbers, etc.)

    Some of his grad students (including me) join his wife in telling him he puts too much work into this, especially since all of his exams are 100% short answer/essay questions. His grading load is atrocious. But he just really wants his students to learn to think.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm really digging Namnezia's policy. It would solve at least 75% of my issues, give the students flexibility and keep me from dealing with make-up exams.

  • chall says:

    huh, that's a really interesting idea. I've had the thing where a midterm is worth extra points for the final - i.e. do the midterm and get over 60% = extra 10 p on the final (makes it easier to get a good final grade) but the suggested one seems even easier.

  • LadyLobo says:

    I'm a grad student who has TA'ed for a few different profs at a large public research university. And as the person who grades the exam and has to organize the make-ups, I like Geeka's system best (drop lowest score of 4 exams). Its simple and straightforward which means less fidgeting with gradebooks and fewer frantic emails from undergrads who don't know how to calculate their grades.

    It works off the policy that my dad, an ex-community college prof, taught me: put the monkey on their back. Its their education, their GPA, therefore its their responsibility to show up and know the material. And if and when they don't, its their fault.

  • Dr. O says:

    I like this idea... filing away in my brain for future use.

  • atmos_prof says:

    This 10% rule (might be 5% on a good day, for my big class,
    which is largely grad) is the main reason teaching a large class is
    more of a headache and time sink than a small one. Teaching 150
    kids would be no different than teaching 15, if I could get rid of
    5-10% of them (of my choice).

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Make ups are not required. You can simply set a time and it is take it or leave it.

  • Cherish says:

    I agree with the 'drop one test policy'. I had a couple classes do that, and it was nice when I ended up in the ER the night before the exam. I just didn't show up for the test, and I didn't have to bother with talking to the prof about calcification in my kidneys while doped up on narcotics. (I didn't know if he would believe me given how incoherent I was.)

  • GMP says:

    I list midterm dates on the syllabus and tell them on day 1 of classes that they have 1 week to tell me if there is an irreconcilable conflict, otherwise the exam schedule is set in stone and cannot be moved. I always schedule a late afternoon/early evening discussion slot (it's in the class schedule), and I use this slot to administer midterms twice a semester, so most of the students are already free during that time. Those who aren't I can always say it's their fault for not making room for discussion, and if it's stuff like another lab or even a part-time job, I ask them to pretty please try and move that obligation since it's twice a semester only, so they can make the exam. Usually they are able to. Stuff like "I want to travel see family for Thanksgiving 3 days early and it conflicts with my exam" (there are a lot of those), I simply say "sorry, no; travel reservations are withing the students' control." I haven't had any dead grandma excuses yet.

    Only once have I had a student fall sick with the flu the day before the exam, and I scheduled a makeup exam for him (had him sit in my students' office and take it). Otherwise, I can generally get away without make-ups.

  • Jeremiah says:

    "don't show up due to the death of their 6th grandmother in
    2 years" My current Chemistry professor has what he calls the
    'Grandmother Life Insurance' policy in his class in regards to his
    tests. Basically, there are NO makeups on the exams, don't even
    bother asking. In order to account for those one of cases, though,
    he will let the final replace 1 midterm score. Seems like it works.
    On most days there are ~20-30 students in the class. On exam day
    there are 80-110. --Regards!

  • Kaija says:

    Yup, another vote for the "best 3 of 4" or something like that for exams and no makeups at all. It gives those with a real emergency an out and eliminates the BS that goes along with makeup requests, scheduling, and grading. If a student really wants to skip an exam to go on break early, then they have that freedom and can weigh their cost-benefit ratio themselves. If they already have 3 solid scores, they can skip the last exam and focus on another priority and one less exam for me to grade.

    I like LadyLobo's approach of putting the responsibility for managing and making choices on the student. Make the grading and exam policy fair, communicate it clearly, and then stick to it....word will get around.

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