Tuesday, January 17, 2006

This is no time to be a Cowboy

I spent two days over the break reading exams (construction law, no less!) to a blind colleague.  He did not hesitate to ask me for help when he needed it.  The stories he told me about going to law school and taking the bar while losing his sight were inspiring.  He is a neat guy.  When he took the bar he needed a reader and had to fashion his own accommodations at times to get through it. He passed the first time.  Granted, he is a very intelligent person, but perhaps his greatest gift was to know when to ask for help.   This is a gift I wish to bestow on my students.

Now that the grades are in, I will soon be seeing a new crop of students who performed poorly on their midterms/final.  I have a mini-diagnostic sheet I ask them to fill out when they come to see me asking about study habits (did you outline?) and life changes (did you end any relationships just before exams?).  At our preliminary meeting, I always ask the students if they have ever had ADA accommodations at school before.  A surprising number of them will say yes, but that they did not seek such accommodations in law school.  Why?  They are afraid of being stigmatized or labeled.  They fear that their professors will know that they had extra time and will grade them accordingly.

I always assure them that such accommodations are between them and the Dean of Students.  Their professors will never know.  Their colleagues will never know either (the hand-writers will assume they are typing and the typers vice versa).  Also, the exam answer given to the professor will have only their exam number on it, no indication of any accommodations and will be included in the pile with all the other exams.  Still, I find resistance.

So, then I beg students to get the accommodations they need.  I tell them they should set a "precedent" for bar accommodations now (although there is no guarantee of accommodations on the bar, it helps to have had them in law school).  I try to persuade them that this is no time to be a cowboy about exams.  I even stock the forms necessary and pass them out to students who might need them.  I have a list of people at student health services and the learning center they can see if their documentation needs updating.  Still, some students will not do it.

Eventually, when the students are seeing me because they are on academic warning, I might be able to persuade them to file the forms and get their paperwork to the Dean. It is one of the most frustrating circumstances I encounter in Academic Support when the" academic warning" designation, which will be noted on their transcript, could have been avoided.  In the end, the negative label the student feared happened by not taking steps to seek accommodations which would have been confidential.

So, as I am gearing up for my "no cowboy" speeches this semester, I will have more stories in my arsenal about my colleague (and more dog hair on my coat), but hopefully I will also have a little more success in getting students to get help when they need it. (ezs)

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