Wednesday, August 29, 2007
It is that time of year again: not only is the corn in the Northeast at its sweetest, but I am starting to contact all the students who, by virtue of their final grades last year, are required to see me. Easy stuff, right? I send an e-mail, they immediately respond, we set up a meeting where we develop a fabulous and successful working rapport; and before you know it, the student is back in good academic standing (batta-bing, batta-boom). If only it were that simple.
Sadly, I often find that I have to coerce this relationship into being and I wonder if that coercion sets up a non-trusting relationship. My first contact with students is usually an e-mail where I say something like, "pursuant to the Dean's letter dated in late June, you are required to see someone in the Academic Support Program. The good news is: you have been assigned to me, your new best friend! So, contact me and we can set up a time to meet. Oh, and by the way, if you don't, I'll have to tell the Dean about it, but let's not even go there yet...."
This year, that got me less than a 50% return. So then I send out a second notice, and this one is laced with guilt (I have to say that having a little old Jewish grandmother in the Bronx puts me at an advantage in using guilt tactics...). It goes something like this, "in my last e-mail, I asked that you contact me by a certain date, but I haven't heard from you yet." This is a slightly less manipulative version of, "you don't write, you don't visit, you don't call...." Then I add (I told you, I was taught by a master!), something to the effect of: "and if I don't hear from you, I will have to tell the Dean and I really, really don't want to do that." Also known as: "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you!"
This might get me a few more students. If I still haven't heard, I'll send the third notice cc'd to the Dean. I won't mention in the notice that I have invited the Dean to join our correspondence, but it will be obvious. I call this the passive-aggressive phase. The fourth notice comes from the Dean.
In the end, I will have some students who finally show up, but are so bitter about it that we never really develop a rapport. In ASP, connecting to students is key to a successful relationship, but sometimes beginning the relationship may be what dooms it. Think about it: if this were a dating situation it would be like having your old Aunt Manya set you up on a blind date with a friend's grandson ("a lovely boy"), who it turns out has a host of unfortunate personal grooming issues, and calling you constantly to ask how it is going and when you will see this walking CVS ad again. When you do see him again, it is clear to both of you that other people have forced this to happen and it should end quickly and as painlessly as possible.
So when a student has been forced to see me after attempting to ignore me, what do I do? Well, of course, I shower that day and then I still treat them as if I am their new best friend. All is forgiven when you walk through the door. (ezs)