“That” student.

If there’s one piece of advice I would give to anyone starting college, it would be “Don’t be that student”. Despite what many students think, while we pretty much know who you are, depending on class size, we don’t have the time we’d like to be able to track every student in detail. The students we see the most, deal with the most, and talk about the most tend to fall into two categories: the very high-achievers and that student. The high-achievers come to make sure that they’ve dotted all the i’s, that their question on a possible interpretation of something on slide 3 has the answer that they think it does and to talk about honours or PhDs or job references or things like that. When we talk about those students, the high-achievers, it’s generally because they’re moving on, doing interesting things.

The rest of the class? We’ll see them periodically, in lectures, on the forums, around. Even those who are struggling, who we see more, we probably won’t see as often (although we’re probably trying to). We’ll try to learn names, get an idea of who you are, but we’ll probably never see you enough to get much depth.

But that student? That student we deal with a lot. We generally don’t gossip but, sometimes, if someone is expressing exasperation with a student, or can’t get their head around why one of their students is doing something odd, we might, from time to time, lean across and say “Student X?” “Yup, that student.”

Let me be frank. If you’re trying, but you’re struggling, but you stay in touch and do your own work and you come to appointments? You’re not that student. If you don’t show up to class or do any of the work and fail silently, despite all of the e-mail asking you to get in touch? You’re not that student. People who know that they are struggling and are striving to fix it are my bread-and-butter and I’ll try to get you back. People who don’t show up at all and don’t respond? You’re only wasting your own time. It’s a shame (and I’ll keep trying to get to you) but you’ve made a decision, of sorts.

So who is that student? If you:

  • never hand anything in on time, even with extensions, and you have no real reason and you can’t even be bothered to think of one;
  • stick your hand up in lectures frequently, which is good, but only ask irrelevant questions, frustrate your classmates and then, a week later, do the same thing again without a hint of introspection – you’re not dumb but you can’t be bothered listening;
  • show up without having done any of the pre-reading or any of the previous assessment and then complain that you don’t know what we’re talking about;
  • can’t see why your group would care that you only started your section of the group assignment 12 hours before deadline;
  • make an incredibly urgent appointment one afternoon for early the next morning and then don’t show up because you forgot – or just because;
  • can’t understand what’s wrong with the previous entries on this list…

then you might be that student. Sadly, until you actually decide that you want to be in the course, and you devote the effort, and you work out what you have to do in order to pass, then there’s not much that I may be able to do for you. Why are you showing up if you’re not doing anything? I can try and help you to work out how to get ahead but, until you accept that you’re going to need to allocate more time and yourself to this course, there’s not a great deal I can do.

And every lecturer you run across, who doesn’t know you, is going to try and help you as well, because that’s our job. But, you, if you’re that student, you’re making yourself nigh-on impossible to help.

Some come good. That’s always a huge blast when someone genuinely sorts themselves out, gets their courses done and graduates. We’re genuinely happy for your achievement – not because we’ve got rid of you (seriously!) A lot, however, get kicked out after they’ve under performed for too long and that is such a huge waste of potential and time. And that, most of the time, is what happens to that student.

We offer a lot of opportunities for redemption and, honestly, it makes me really sad when someone stays on the path that will ultimately lead to them being kicked out. Half the reason we can even identify that student is because so many people will try and bring them back, get them on the righteous path and bring them up into the general body. Hey, if you can get that student into over-achieving, you’ll really have achieved something good!

Not everyone has to, wants to or needs to go to tertiary study. But if you’re going to do it, why not give it a good shot? I sincerely hope that there is enough good teaching around for everyone to be able to make the best of their shot. (Sometimes that’s not true but I can always hope that we’re all trying to make our teaching better.)

Like always, all joking aside, we have to focus on imparting knowledge (teaching) but that requires that our student be ready to receive knowledge (learning). Seriously, no-one really wants to be that student.



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