Thursday, November 29, 2012

Student Complaints

Every semester I get complaints. I find them upsetting; I don't like being complained about, especially if the students complain about me directly to my boss, or on the course evaluations, instead of coming to talk to me first. Several times throughout this semester I made a point of talking to my students about professionalism, which includes not only better ways to e-mail me (and I bring in examples of previous e-mails, with the students' names removed, to illustrate just how bad some of them are), but ways in which to resolve those things the students find upsetting or confusing. I talk to them about shifting expectations, that now that they're in college they need to act differently, more like they would at work, and less how they would have acted in high school.

Since the summer semester, I've started emphasizing that my they need to come talk to me first, before they go elsewhere; it's more professonially courteous (I explain), since we're all adults here; I emphasize that my policies are not the result of my disliking my students, of thinking they're anything other than intelligent adults, or that I'm out to get them. But now that we're all adults here, especially if they've come right from high school, they need to start trying to resolve their issues with me first. If they come to me first, we can try to figure out a solution, and it's easier than having a big blowout at the end of the semester.

The big complaints come out in the form of talking to the department chair, or a very long comment on the course evaluations. One student complained to the department chair that he had done badly on his paper - he had failed for not fulfilling the basic requirements. The department chair asked the student if I had told him what the repercussions would be; the student replied that I had made it clear. (He later apologized, sheepishly acknowledging that he "may have overreacted.")

Another student, in his course evaluation, launched into a tirade that clearly I was anti-Mormon. A third sent me a lengty e-mail several weeks after I had submitted grades, complaining about her grade, and alleging that I was grading her harshly because she was pregnant.

Of course, in the case of that particular student, because her attendance had been spotty, she consistently missed my announcements both in class and through e-mail in which I reminded students to check their e-mails and that there were deadlines for questioning their grades, which I reminded her of; I reminded her that these policies had been announced a number of times in class and through e-mail; that I could not be responsible if she did not check her e-mail in a timely manner; and that she could not claim that I was making it difficult for her because she was pregnant if I had been lenient in the past. I didn't hear from her again.

I do encourage my students to question their grades, but I also remind them that I have my own deadlines when it comes to submitting grades, and that I can't give them an indeterminate amount of time.

One of the things I like most about teaching this level of writing is the thing that's also the most frustrating: teaching the students some of the basics of communication that I probably didn't quite grok at that age either, but which in retrospect were obvious.

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