Monday, November 13, 2006

Because By This Time of the Night... grading gets really generous and I seem to be able to fly right through essays which took me much longer earlier in the day.

Ahem. So, I'm taking a break to share this story. And I want your real opinions.

Friday, we gave a test. One student came up to us 2 minutes before we handed it out and said she was just too ill to take it. Fellow TA, whom I've trained to be as suspicious as me, looked at me, looked back at the young woman and said, "Well, you're here. You can't make it another hour or so?"

Oh, no, she was deathly ill and just couldn't. So, fine. Our professor is pretty good about letting them make up the exams with a doctor's excuse and assorted other excuses. Fellow TA told her to come back Monday with an excuse.

Something's not clicking with me. I am, I will admit after years of TAing and after having taught my own class a few times, a tad skeptical. For example, we had a student who came to take an exam, answered the first few questions, and then proclaimed she was too sick to finish. Fellow TA, still early in her first semester as a TA and not having received the benefit of my full tutelage in skepticism, told her okay. I reminded her that we didn't make new exams for makeups and as the student had already seen and answered most of the exam, this could be an issue. So we re-drafted the exam and fellow TA learned a valuable lesson.

And, I am a stickler for attendance. Oh, I know some students have to miss, but once you have more than 5 or 6 absences, my eyebrow is raised.

So back to sick student. She comes in today with an excuse written on a prescription slip on which the "doctor" has written "__________ had the flu and couldn't attend class 11/6 through 11/10. Call me if you have more questions." I'm thinking, 1) This sounds nothing like any other excuse I've gotten 2) On a prescription slip? Don't most doctors have excuse forms? 3) The doctor gave her a retroactive excuse that extended back four days? 4) Hey, I recognize this student's name!

Why do I recognize this student's name? Because she missed the eight classes immediately before the test! So, I'm thinking "the flu" may be code for "I haven't read a damn thing." I couldn't help it, y'all.

I called to verify the excuse.

She's not even a patient there.

Now here's my dilemma. I've only called to verify 3 other excuses this semester. I was prejudiced against this girl because she missed so much class. If she'd had 3 or fewer absences, I would've never checked. Of course, I'm going to run all this by the professor and he gets final say but...

What's your opinion? Am I wrong for thinking she shouldn't get a makeup? Should I let the attendance fixation go? Am I unfairly biased towards kids who come to class?


Abadiebitch said...

I have gotten an excuse on a prescription page before. It is more because of the flippant way the doctor wrote it, and because he was something to me other than my doctor. If you know what I mean.

I don't think the word "prejudiced" is right. It is more like judgement. But not judgement in being judgemental, but in judging a situation on its merit. She has missed a lot of class. Does she deserve more time? Could her test score be that great anyway? Aren't you teaching History classes? Who in there right mind would miss a History class?

Leslie M-B said...

I would invite her into my office and confront her about her absences and her deception, and explain that dishonesty is not acceptable in academia.

Then I'd ask her if she feels she still deserves to take the exam, and why. I might even ask her to put it in writing.

If she gives a half-ass excuse and still can't provide documentation, I'd either not let her take the test, or I'd give her an alternate exam (because she's going to hear about the questions from other students anyway, even if she never saw the test itself). Then I'd grade her responses extra, um, firmly.

What's your opinion, elle?

Anonymous said...

of course run it all by the professor... but i like trillwing's response. if only because i would love to see her squirm! but seriously, good idea. and you know what, even if she takes the same exam, i bet you anything she will do poorly.

Kate said...

I'm with trill (nice thinking!). Sorry you've got such deceptive students, Elle. Ick.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

These students will try you to the point of exasperation! My goodness, if they put half as much energy into reading for class and coming to class... Jeez!

elle said...


LOTS of kids miss history! See, he set it up so that, if they achieve perfect attendance, they get 20 bonus points. So, once they miss, some of them figure "I don't have to go anymore; I can't get the 20 points anyway." But he's been telling me, they're freshmen; if you say something to them, if they realize someone's watching, they'll come back. And he's largely right--when we posted scores for the third exam, I put a note beside certain students' names saying "Excessive absences may lead to your being dropped from this class!!" Several of them haven't missed since then. :-)


Part of me thinks I'm making this way too personal. My reaction is rooted in two things 1) I really believe students, especially first-time freshmen who are in this particular section because they are in a program that aims to increase retention, should come to class and 2) I don't like be lied to. And, to be honest, a little pride gets involved, because I don't like them thinking they pull the wool over our eyes--even in some cases where we've let things slide, we've let them know, "Hey, you're not fooling us."

So, no, I don't want to give her the makeup tomorrow. And when it comes down to it, the professor would back that opinion.

But he'd also drive himself crazy trying to think of something alternate she can do. He's just like that; the students are learning to go to him before they approach us, because he's way generous. And since it's his class, I feel I need to adopt his attitude. But I can't!

elle said...

and justme, you're right, i know she probably won't do all that well. the bearded guy who is a fellow TA told me to relax about the attendance. "They don't come, you get the pleasure of bubbling in that F on the grade form. They make their choices," he says.

But if I can catch some of them before they fail, shouldn't I? I mean, Friday when we gave the test, I pulled aside a student who has 17 absences and was like "Hey, I'm so glad you joined us! I'd like to see more of you." And he was kind of shy, but promised me he'd start coming. He has a C+, so I told him, "Imagine if you come to class... that could be a B!"

He was there yesterday.

RageyOne said...

I tend to be on your side and agree that you are judgemental, not prejudice. Honestly, Elle, it sounds like you have the best interest of the students at heart and really want them to succeed; yet, you don't like to be taken advantage (totatly understandable). You have to draw the line somewhere and that young person may be it. How unfortunate for her.

I like Trillwig's suggestion also. Give her the opportunity to come clean, take the test, and more than likely, she will do horrible. Stress to her that she should come to class! The material is not going to magically appear in her head.

The History Enthusiast said...

I've had students do this when I was a TA, but in those cases they were allowed to drop one exam. I've gotta say that I like trillwing's idea, and I would maybe talk to your professor about some of your concerns, particularly regarding how your students sometimes go over your head and approach him first. The professors I've TAed for would want to ensure that my authority was not challenged. Be sure to post and let us know what ends up happening!

belledame222 said...

yeah, I'm with Rachel.

call me a cynic, but I also wouldn't agonize too much over it. iow: do what you think is right; but energy-wise, i don't know as you need to really give her more priority than she's given your class, you know what i'm saying?


been there, done that, on both sides of the equation

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