Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A New Question and "Old" Updates: Revisiting the Skittish Speaker and the Problematic Professor

(This will be my last post until 2012 since I have some rare time to spend with my school-age child. I want to express immeasurable appreciation to every single person who has followed and/or shared this blog, and particularly to all who have offered encouragement and feedback. I remain honored and humbled by the response to and support for my message. I wish you the utmost abundance for your holiday season. I can't wait to share more student-professor communication conversation in 2012! Now, on to the updates...).
I had great comments from my last post regarding what to do when you fail a class--questions that can definitely help other students who are struggling. I'm going to continue the discussion a little longer. I welcome more questions ( if you have them!

I also wanted to bring you up to speed on the outcome of two other student questions:

First, remember the student from this post who was worried about speaking in front of a large group, but did great when speaking one-on-one or up to five people?

The follow up:
The student delivered the next presentation in class and survived. The student stated, "It didn't go as well as in my practice sessions. I forgot some of my lines and got flustered." (The student was not allowed to use notes for this particular presentation). The good news was that the student felt like the Q&A section went extremely well: "I handled it better by focusing on each person asking the question, much like having a conversation with that individual."

We will celebrate this student tackling the speaking experience head-on and reframing the public speech as one big conversation. Hopefully, the confident places will propel the student into the next successful speaking opportunity. 

And the next update: 

A couple of weeks ago, I answered a student question in this post regarding a professor displaying some unprofessional behavior in the classroom. The student questioned whether to see a department chair and if the complaint would be taken seriously.  

The follow up: 
The student did go see the department chair, the meeting went well, and the student feels much better! The student states, "The department is now looking closely at the professor's behavior. I feel that the issues will not continue again next semester." The student added: "I know that in the future if I need to speak with the department chair about a serious issue that I will be able to without feeling terribly nervous." 

That situation was tough, so I'm extremely impressed that the student self-advocated. These difficult conversations provide valuable experience for future conflict management. I know the student will draw on the courage that it took to get through this situation and feel more confident about navigating future challenging communication issues. Hopefully, the professor will get some support and future students won't have the same experience.

Now, to one of the follow-on questions from the "You Failed Your Class" piece: 

I'm going to paraphrase the crux of the question: 

"Do you have any suggestions for bringing your GPA up to par when you can't seem to find your feet at the college level?"

What a brilliant question, and one that I'm certain many students are facing right now. Just the asking means that this student is very motivated to figure out the struggle and get to the bottom of it. I say bravo! Asking the right questions is huge!

I have a lot of suggestions, and some of them involve more asking yourself more questions. Here's a list:

1.  My first suggestion is both reactive and proactive. First, reactive:  Talk to any professor from whom you didn't get a grade that you were hoping. Say, "I didn't do as well as I'd hoped in this class. Can we discuss some of the assignments that brought my grade down and see where I needed to improve?" (I'll get to the proactive in #3).

2.  If possible, try to pinpoint the specific component of classes that you're struggling with. So often, students say, "I don't get it!" or "This is just too hard!" The language we use fuels our anxieties and stress. So, define "it" and "this." Is "it" test-taking? Writing research papers? Trying to find proper sources? Math equations? You probably have numerous tutoring centers on campus that can assist you, such as writing centers, math resource centers, etc. Of course, the library can help you with information literacy. Pinpointing the parts of assignments that are reducing your grades will help you trigger the right support systems.

3.  Now, your proactive approach:  Meet with the professors for your upcoming term nice and early, or send an e-mail. Say, "I've been struggling with my GPA while in college so far. My test-taking skills seem to be fine, but my grades on my papers haven't been strong (or whatever the problem is... try to define it, if you can). I would like to do well in this class (also define what "well" means... is it an 'A'? A 'B-'?). Will you review my papers early? What strategies can we put into place?"

4. Look for unconventional types of help in addition to on-campus resources: I struggled in a college Algebra class and hired a high school math genius to come to my house twice a week and help me with homework. Sure, I was a non-traditional student and had some funds to pay him, but even a few hours of tutoring at $10/hour can do wonders, if you can swing it. You may even ask your parents or grandparents if they know any retired college profs or high school teachers.

Another option? Find another student with strengths that you need and barter:  They help you drill for a few tests, you wash their car, pick up a pizza, or offer to clean their apartment. Last, but not least, don't forget about your local library, which may also be able to help with some basic assistance.

5. Be strategic in your class planning. This is where your adviser and even some trusted professors can help you a great deal, but you have to work through this tip early. Schedule classes so you are not taking three extremely hard classes at once.

"Hard" is a subjective term, of course. For some, English/writing classes are considered difficult and math is considered easy. For others, the reverse is true. If you can, organize your classes so you have maximum time to focus on the elements that are difficult. Remember, you can always "interview" a prof in advance about his/her class. Say, "I am considering taking this class next term. Do you have a syllabus I could look at? An older one is fine." (I've said before that there probably won't be radical differences from term to term and you can get a feel for the class even with a document that is a term or two old). You can also be honest with the professor and say, "I really struggle with writing research papers. I want to try not to take all writing-heavy classes at once so I can do my best."

6.  Determine what GPA you really need. Does every student want to receive straight A's? Possibly. But not every student needs straight A's to reach goals. I don't want to say that grades don't count. They do in many situations, such as if you want to get into a particular program, go for an advanced degree, or if your employer will ask for a transcript because it's your first job (but they may confirm degree only, not necessarily look at individual grades).

7.  If necessary, you can re-take classes to raise your GPA (it's true that financial aid likely won't cover that), or, if an entire term is shot, you can consider academic renewal. An incomplete may also be possible, depending on the reason.

However, if you can still reach your goals with a 3.0 GPA, this gives you leeway to have a few blooper grades that can average out with some stronger grades. The organization YouTern has an amazing blog that discusses other attributes required of you in internships/the workforce: Personal branding through extracurricular activities, having a strong elevator pitch, etc. You'll find that there is more to your marketability than grades--and this may lighten some of your angst.

Remember, wonderful students, the beauty of college is that every single term is a true "academic renewal":  You can re-evaluate what's going well, re-tool what's not going well, and strive for better grades. Just because you have one (or two or three) "off" terms does not mean that your entire GPA will be shot.

Stay connected with your professors because your communication with them is so key to your success (no-brainer that I'd say that, right?). I realize many of you are on winter break or heading into winter break. It's not too early to send some e-mails scheduling appointments and start your next term off with a new support system.

I look forward to hearing awesome news about grade increases!

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