Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hindenburg Student

Sometimes students explode. Sometimes they burn bright and then fizzle. And sometimes, the crash is long and slow, but nevertheless ends in flames.

This student's crash I saw from a long way off. From week 2, it was obvious that s/he was one of those students that was a voracious but sporadic consumer of facts. They'd pop out randomly in class. Yet they seemed to have little to do with the actual reading. So we had a talk about that every few weeks. I mentioned that talking about outside materials (a) didn't let me see that s/he'd been doing the classwork, and (b) shut the rest of the class out of the conversation.

Then there were the odd behaviors: the close-talking, the need for immediate verbal feedback at the end of each class, the need to shake my hand at the end of every conversation. These struck me as possible spectrum disorder issues, so I talked to hir -- gently! -- about getting to see the folks at DSS. I even mentioned a specific person who I knew was particularly helpful.

Then there were the anxieties, the near-tearful breakdowns in my office. For these, again gently, I mentioned how helpful our free on-campus counseling program could be. That it was totally normal to feel overwhelmed in the first semester of transferring from a two-year school to a four-year one. That we had lots of resources to help hir; s/he only needed to use them.

By week five, it was obvious that this airship was going down in flames and I was suggesting withdrawing from some of hir classes. By week 8, it had gotten bad enough that I was floating the possibility of medical leave: "just to give you time to get in the position where you can really succeed the way you want to."

S/he insisted that s/he was "just going to stick it out and see it through."

And today, I got the e-mail: after three missed appointments to talk about the final paper and two extensions, s/he wrote to say s/he wouldn't be turning in the paper. S/he was getting Ds or Fs in all hir classes, but s/he was going to do better next semester.

For which s/he was enrolled in five classes for a total of 16 credit hours.

Sometimes, you see a crash coming from a long way off. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, the student crashes and burns, all the while insisting that everything's fine.


Contingent Cassandra said...

I've had that student, more than once (sometimes even the same student more than once, as is their wont. At least they don't blame us).

I, too, send them to our generally-pretty-good counseling services. Unfortunately, at least some of the counselors there don't seem to have figured out that a student who has been having trouble getting started on work all semester needs something more than a neat little timetable showing how (s)he is going to accomplish 1/2 to 3/4 of the semester's work in the 2 next weeks to turn things around. Even if the plan is, on paper, plausible, it's just not going to happen. So the student contacts me, as advised, to apologize for being so far behind, and to say that (s)he's been having some "personal difficulties" this semester, and to "discuss catching up," and we sit down, and I agree to accept the overdue work, and then, a week or three later, when grades are due, I contact the student, whom I haven't heard from in the interim, to ask whether (s)he wants an F or an Incomplete (which I'm willing to offer, because (s)he's been doing the right things in terms of seeking counseling, etc.). And the student, usually, takes the IN, and promises to be in touch soon. Then months pass, and the IN automatically turns into an F (and sometimes the student reappears on my class roster). I suppose it's one step better, in some ways, than the student just disappearing mid-semester, but it's not really a solution.

Historiann said...

Oh, the humanities!

(Sorry--couldn't resist.)

That's a really sad story, and one I have seen too at my uni. There are some students who are so invested i magical thinking that they will rack up more educational debt than they can realistically pay off before they're 50 by "sticking it out" like that, semester after semester.

I'm going to run this blog post past my husband, who's doing that work in behavioral peds this year. I think he'll say this kid is definitely on the spectrum (the inability to focus on the immediate, the need for stimulation/touch, etc.)