April 24, 2010
The balance between "let me help you" and "you are an adult now"
I find as an ASP'er (and a faculty member when I wear that hat) that I regularly have to decide where to draw the line between offering assistance and allowing students to make their own decisions (and sometimes as a result, mistakes).
Take for instance the chronic "no show" student. This person has a standing appointment on my calendar (usually because of probation status) but part way through the semester disappears. It usually starts innocently enough - one of us has to re-schedule because of illness or out-of-town commitments. Our school does not have any immediate penalty with teeth to it if a probation student does not attend appointments. I make the gesture of a reminder e-mail encouraging the student to return to our scheduled appointments. But, I ultimately allow the student to decide if she wants to accept the assistance available.
Another example is the student who tells me that she is going to attend a workshop or make an appointment to discuss a particular study problem. Sometimes the student neither show ups for the workshop nor contacts me for an appointment. If I later bump into the student in the hallway, I'll follow up with encouragement to make an appointment so we can address the issue. After that, I drop the matter.
A final example pertains to the elective courses that I teach. I always have 30% of the grade connected to a presentation. I strongly encourage students to meet with me the week before their presentations so that I can alert them to any problems with their planned PowerPoints or handouts. If a student chooses not to meet with me, then the presentation may be incomplete or inaccurate and cost the student points that could have been gained with some additional pointers from me. When a student does not make an appointment within the expected time, I do not interfere since it is the student's choice (and responsibility) to request assistance or not.
The dilemma, of course, is that some students who most need the assistance are the very ones who do not take advantage of it. If I go beyond offers of assistance and encouragement, however, I end up playing a parental role. And lessons about asking for assistance are perhaps better learned in law school than later in life when the stakes are higher. The reality is that students will be on their own when they leave us. Employers and judges are not going to hold their hands. (Amy Jarmon)
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