It is that time of year, both the time of festivities--Christmas, graduation!--and also the time of tears. I've spent hours and hours this week trying to sort out the issues of students with complaints. And then there was the issue of the student who thought she was on target to graduate, only to find out the day before graduation that she had failed 2 remaining classes, both of them in my department.
Many failures led up to that moment. The largest one was her failure to turn in required work. She also failed to keep tabs on her class. But she showed up for graduation clearance, and no one told her that she was off the grad list, as she could have reasonably expected.
I wrestled with the best approach. My inner judge wanted to punish her. I heard that voice inside me saying, "Well, maybe you'll learn to check your e-mails if we make you repeat these classes. Maybe you'll learn to get your work done if we punish you."
It would have been punishment--her family had already arrived for graduation, and she had already spent a lot of money on her portfolio for portfolio review, our event where our students hope to meet future employers.
My sense of compassion almost always weighs in. It's hard to listen to a student in hysterics and not want to find a way to fix it all.
My inner efficiency expert wanted to pressure the teachers to change the grade--my inner efficiency expert just wants problems to go away. Luckily, I am skilled at resisting this urge when it comes to teachers. I don't want a grade change if there's no way to justify it to any auditors who might come along later. And more than that--I want to live an ethical life, and I want to support the faculty.
One teacher allowed the student to turn in the missing papers. One teacher wasn't sure she wanted to do that.
Yesterday, in an early morning meeting with the dean, the teacher, me, and the other department head, I asked the teacher, "What would you have done had the student found out on Monday that she had failed?" The teacher would have created an additional assignment for the student.
But since it was Thursday morning and not Monday, we were running out of time, so we crafted a compromise. The student could go to the morning portfolio review--but then she had to do the extra credit assignment before the late afternoon graduation ceremony. Happily, she did.
In our solution, the student still had some work to do. But she wasn't kept out of the important gatherings of the day.
Before the morning of meetings, my dean and I had a conversation about my conflicting responses to the student. He said that in his early days of being a dean, he'd have been the law and order guy--clear consequences, swiftly enacted. In his later years, he's tried slowing down and listening and trying to discern the best approach that serves the students and the school in the best ways.
I liked watching us all work together. By working as a team, we--me, the dean, the teacher, the other department chair--came up with a solution I hadn't though of on my own. It's what should happen, but doesn't happen as often as I'd like.
And while it was exhausting on one level, on another it was energizing. I think of the words of the Psalmist who talks about righteousness and peace kissing each other, mercy and truth meeting together. The Psalmist had a different scenario in mind, but it fits my workplace too.
And for that, I am glad.
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