Friday, May 15, 2009

Helping Probation Students Deal with Grades

Finals finished a week ago today.  Grades are due on Monday. 

I am beginning to get e-mails and queries from students who were on probation last semester.  It is as if they have had some relaxation but also just long enough to rehash exams.  They are now mentally preparing themselves.

Some are inquiring about meetings in preparation for attending summer school.  They are feeling confident that grades will allow them to continue.  They want to start working on their study habits for the short, intense summer classes.  They will often be juggling classes and part-time jobs.  The discussions with these students tend to focus on:

  • Discussion about the differences between regular semesters and summer sessions.
  • Discussion about progress in their study skills and honing improved skills to new levels while shoring up areas that are still weak.
  • A draft time management schedule for their planned courses and work hours.
  • If they ask, we discuss how the petition process ties into summer school start-up should their grades fail to meet all of the requirements.  (With no grades posted yet, I tend to allow them to ask.  We still have time for this discussion if needed as grades come in.) 

Some are making backup plans.  They are somewhat hopeful about grades, but are contacting me about possible alternatives.  The discussions with these students tend to focus on:

  • The petition process if their grades fail to meet all of the requirements.  They usually ask about the process immediately.  The time line for the process is often important to them.
  • Discussion of possible avenues other than law school: work, other graduate programs, later readmission, application to other law schools.
  • The reality that it will take a few days for all grades to be posted and that some grades may be late coming in because of professor illness or other extenuating circumstances.
  • Stress management tips as needed. 
  • A few of these students doubt that they will want to continue even if their grades turn out okay.  I encourage them to do what is best for them and remind them that law school is not a perfect match for everyone.    

Several different types of probation students will contact me once grades begin to post.  The context will vary with each situation.

Some will contact me with excitement over the postive changes they made and their first ever Bs - or even As.  What are fondly known as "Atta Boy! Atta Girl!" letters will be in the mail for them before too long as they surpass their probation requirements.  In these cases, I focus on:

  • Being enthusiastic in my celebration with them.
  • Talking about future honing of study habits to continue a sharp upward trend in their grade point averages.
  • Offering to work with them again on a regular basis to help them improve further when they take their next courses.

Some students will contact me with despair when not all of their grades measure up to their expectations even though they met the requirements.  Why?  They are personally disappointed because they just eked by the probation requirements or have not yet achieved anything higher than perhaps a C+.  For such students, the discussion focuses on:

  • The areas of improvement that they did have and what changes contributed to that improvement.
  • The fact that study habits improve over time and need to be honed each semester.
  • A game plan for ways they can improve in the future.
  • An offer to work with them again on a weekly basis to help them improve further when they take their next courses.

Some of the students who are despairing will have fallen below the requirements but have a right to petition because of extraordinary circumstances.  With these students, I will focus on:

  • Listening to their concerns and worries so that they are able to process some of the shock and sorrow.
  • Turning their attention to any options that they have and how to take action on those options.
  • Explaining what the requirements mean for the student's specific transcript and discussing the petition option(s) appropriate for that student.  Again, time lines are often important.
  • Explaining what categories of information must be included in the written petition.
  • Beginning the process of thinking about alternatives if a petition is unsuccessful.
  • Discussing stress management tips as needed. 
  • Referring them to other deans or offices as appropriate. 

And for those students whose grades are so far away from the requirements that petitioning is not realistic or impossible because of the rules, the discussion focuses on:

  • Listening to their concerns and worries so that they are able to process some of the shock and sorrow.
  • Turning their attention to any options that they have outside law school.
  • Helping them see their support network of family and friends and mentors who will be there for them.

    At the end of the day, I want each of these students to exit whatever level in the process feeling that someone listened, gave accurate information, and helped them through the process.  A student may have abysmal grades, no extraordinary circumstances, or no options left in regard to law school.  However, that student still deserves someone who listens with patience and courtesy.  (Amy Jarmon)     

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