Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scooby Brownies and Dead Squirrels: Why You Should Run Ideas By Your Prof... and Listen to Their Feedback!

Student wanted to teach the class how to make brownies.

Background scene-setting:  I was in graduate school. As a graduate assistant, I taught a 101-level public speaking course. One of the major required speeches was a demonstration speech. I always encourage students to tell me their topics ahead of time so I can do what an instructor is supposed to do:  Help them with their content, ideas, references, etc. This student was taking my advice. 

"I think your audience may already know how to make brownies," I said. "The goal of a demonstration speech is similar to an informative speech:  You want to raise the awareness of your audience. Teach them something new."

"Like what?" Student said.

"Well, if you want to do something with brownies, what about another variation of brownie? Rocky road brownies? Low-fat brownies? Brownies with cream cheese swirls?"

Student nodded and suddenly looked confident. "I think I see what you mean now," he said.

Student left and I felt pleased with myself. I helped with an "ah ha" moment. I loved teaching communication already!

Fast-forward to the day of the speech. Student strides to the speaking area, lays out his materials, smiles at all of us in the audience. He begins:

"How many of you watched Scooby Doo when you were a child?"

A number of students raised their hand.

Student continues: "I have a few facts to share that I bet you didn't know about the Scooby Doo show. They were all on a psychedelic drug trip. That's right... All those kids were doing drugs."

My students laughed. I think I threw up in my mouth a little.

Something told me that these brownies would not be the ones I've seen on the Food Network.

Student continued:  "Now, of course they couldn't show you the drugs 'cuz it was a kids show, right? No. They did the drugs another way. So, today, I'm going to teach you to make Scooby's Brownie Surprise. You can do it in three simple steps."

Student looks at me and smiles proudly, as if to say, "Ms. B., I took a new twist on the topic--just like you told me! And check me out, nailing my thesis and mapping statement!"

Where the speech went from here (not very far!) isn't the point of this post. Suffice it to say, I intervened, but being a new instructor, I fumbled over the process and learned from it.

Thankfully, Student didn't have any actual "ingredient" ("Like I'm really going to give it away in class, Ms. B!" he said) on him. 

Instead of focusing on what the student was speaking about--definitely a memorable day in the Annals of My Teaching--let's focus on how the communication went down:

Student did the right thing by coming to me early about the topic. However, the alteration required an instructor reconnect. This was not the first time that a student quasi-informed me of what they planned to do and then took a very liberal twist on my advice. Or, worst, completely ran off the rails and just did whatever they wanted, despite my perception that their approach needed a change.

Some examples:

-Two students in the past few quarters who were hell-bent on delivering yet another speech on legalizing marijuana. I told both of them that if they wanted to do this topic, they needed to find a fresh, new angle on the subject. I've been asked about this particular topic so much over the years that one day, I spent part of my afternoon researching "pot news" (yes, on my state computer, but I did check with AT to make sure this was okay) so I could make some suggestions on how to tackle the topic by highlighting new legislation. What did each student do? Deliver yet the same, everyday speech on why we should legalize marijuana. I remember one speech being far more passionate than the other, but no new twist. No new angle. No favorable grade on either, mostly due to lack of quality sources. 

-A student who wanted to bring her pet chick to class to discuss how to raise a baby chick. I said, "Live animals are unpredictable and can distract the audience so they don't listen to your speech." For a little levity, I added, "And, the chick might poop on the floor." The student did bring the chick to class. The students were greatly distracted. And, that squishy chick poop stained the carpet.

-Every student who approaches me each quarter wanting to do a speech on quitting smoking or some form of exercise. My answer is always the same: "The audience knows that they should be doing it (exercise) or that they shouldn't be doing it (smoking). What new angle can you take on this subject so they will listen to you?" Yet again, the same exercise and smoking speech occurs. Wait, I should have put global warming in that topic thread, too.

And, finally, ranking right up there in the Scooby Brownie Hall of Fame ...

-A student who wanted a unique visual to go along with a presentation she was doing on poverty. I suggested an image or maybe a graph with some surprising statistics. What visual aid did Student land on? A frozen squirrel, wrapped in tin foil, in a Ziploc freezer bag. Student asked the audience to imagine the smell if the bag were opened. The stench of the rotting, dead squirrel equated to the stench of poverty. And we'd better do something about it.

(I know what you're thinking. Yes, these stories are all TRUE.)

What's the communication lesson?
First, tell your prof what you plan to do.
I'll elaborate on the issue of students failing to ask for any help in a future blog post. I'll start the conversation here:

Too many students keep their ideas for papers, speeches, and projects to themselves, never gaining important feedback on if their idea is viable, credible, too broad, too narrow, too complicated, too anything. However, if your professor will be evaluating your work, doesn't it make sense to ask that person's opinion on what you are doing to ensure you are on the right track?

You don't want to find out when your grade comes back that you missed the mark just because you didn't run your idea by your prof! 

Again, Scooby Brownie Student did the right thing by coming to me, so I do have to applaud that effort. (In retrospect, I should have supported those mundane brownies!).

One side note: When you tell your professor what you are doing, be confident that it is what you want to do. So many well-meaning students ask me, "Which topic do you think is best?"

My response to the student is always: "Let me turn that around:  Which one of these topics are you most passionate about? Which one can you put yourself behind and feel good about? Which one will have credible research? Which one will meet the time limits for your presentation?"

The whole reason for my existence on campus is not to hear speeches or read papers about things that I love, like, or can even tolerate. I always tell the student that my feedback is not about me. But it is my job to see the bigger picture:  Encouraging the student to pick a topic that they can put their heart and head behind--one that is researchable and viable, and that meets the assignment requirements. 

Second, listen to the feedback you are given!
Although I know that an honest evaluation of what I believe will work and not work in speech topics, papers, etc. can hugely piss students off, I'd rather be up-front with that hard conversation a) before the student has already produced a boat-load of work; or b) before my evaluation is official and requires a grade.

Your prof's job is to help you work with your ideas. You shouldn't have to totally abandon them, but you may have to tweak your angle or find a new approach. And guess what this is going to require? Time and research! This means you need to talk to your prof early so you will have the time to do the research that you need.

When you hear from your prof that your topic won't work, that person should instead tell you another way to bend what you want to do. If that doesn't happen, try to first come up with some alternate ideas yourself and say, "What if I just use this part of the topic? Would that give it the focus it needs?"

Or, if you are totally lost, you could say, "Can you give me some examples of what another version of my topic would look like?"

Keep in mind that your professor does not know everything about every topic. But someone who has access to that information is your favorite neighborhood librarian. Never be afraid to use your campus librarians or even the librarians at your public library, who can help you with ideas that are viable and researchable. 

Bottom line: Listen to what your prof has to say and heed the advice! If your prof is helping you ahead of time, he/she has nothing to stand to gain or lose if you take the advice or not. In fact, that person is spending extra time to ensure that you are successful. If you strongly disagree with the advice, say so and ask for further rationale of the prof's position. See if you can reach a compromise.

If you decide to run with your original idea. Don't be surprised if you receive the same exact feedback that the person gave you already, but this time with a grade that you might not expect.

Will this be because the prof hates you because you didn't accept the advice? That would make a great story, but no. There may have been absolutely nothing wrong with your plan under other circumstances, but it may not have done what it needed to do for this particular class. Your low grade and pointed evaluation will happen because your prof told you what would work for the assignment... and you decided to go with your plan anyway.

Finally, if your plan vastly changes, go back to Step #1.
After you change your approach, don't do what Scooby Brownie Student did and just run with it. Pass your new idea by your professor. Say "I did some research and here is the new angle I've decided to take with this topic. Can you tell me if I'm on the right track now?"

In Student's case, this person probably did not want to hear what I had to say. The idea probably seemed brilliant at the time (and I can only imagine what was happening at that time), and there was a fair chance I wasn't going to go along with it.

I've seen this time and time again:  Either students are so married to an idea that they can't see outside or around it, or they simply don't want to invest the necessary time to give their idea a proper fit for the assignment specs. Sadly, my feedback and their grade tells the final story, and I can't stand the fact that we could have done something about it earlier.

Take a step back from what you want to do. Listen to your prof tell you what you need to do. You'll probably be happier with the outcome.

I have always said that there are as many interesting student stories as days that I spend in the classroom. In all of the situations I mentioned, I hope that the students learned from their decisions. I have certainly learned far more from the times I decided to "go my own way" when I thought I knew it all. I remember many of those instances being painful at the time, however.

As I write these last few lines, I'm laughing to myself:  I just remembered, and it is quite fitting:  My 7-year-old asked if we could make brownies this week to celebrate a camp performance that she had this past Friday.

They aren't going to be your run-of-the mill ordinary brownies.

No way.

We're keeping a little healthier around here and we're going to make the "No Pudge" variety.

The "surprise" ingredient?

Light or fat-free yogurt.

If only Student could have gotten that this twist on the norm was more what I had in mind.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Three Ways to Grab the #1 Employability Skill (Hint: Communication!) BEFORE You Leave College!

(Updated, April 19:  See bottom for added recommendation regarding communication portfolios, asked by a  Twitter follower!)

Let's cut right to the chase: You are almost ready to graduate.

You'll have your piece of paper in hand, but do you have what employers really want? 

What employers want is something to think about because unemployment is... Well, you know what it is. This CNN Money prediction can tell you more.
So while we're on the subject of what employers want, a National Association of Colleges and Employers 2011 report ranks verbal communication as the #1 most desirable employability skill.

The bottom line: 
-Job-hungry you will have a degree
-A bunch of other job-hungry people will have that same degree
-One hungry person could chomp their competition:  Let's say that's you!

How? By highlighting your communication skills!

You nervously think, "But I'm about to graduate! How do I show that I have good communication skills other than by just talking?"

There is still time to grab some communication know-how before you leave college. Let your profs help boost your communication capital in three ways: 

1.  Talk to a professor or two who teaches in your field of study (an off-campus tip is to contact someone in the profession via e-mail). Find out what communication skills will be the most relevant to your career that you should highlight in an interview or on your resume.

Your professors taught you a ton about the "hard skills" required for your intended career. Your degree-in-hand will tell an employer that you have credentials. Now it's time to hone in on the soft skills that may not have been discussed regularly in class.

Say, "Professor, what communication skills would you recommend I talk about when I'm interviewing to become a ____________? What communication skills should I strengthen before I actually get my job?" Then...

2.  ...Contact three to five professors that you already took classes from--in any discipline. Ask them to help you "spin" your communication-related assignments/activities for an interview or your resume. 

Surely, at some point in your college career, you worked in groups (for better or for worse!), or you gave group presentations. Maybe you did some service learning (Like the students in this article on the American Association of Community College website on 4/20!). Maybe you engaged in regular dialogue on a discussion forum. You might have passed documents back and forth via e-mail with your classmates for peer review. I'm certain that you did at least a few speeches, either in or out of class.

BOOM! Check out all of your communication training! 

So how do you speak about this work you've already done in an interview or cover letter?

First, reference the communication skill required by the employer, "I see in your job post that your ideal candidate will have a high level of interpersonal skills to work with upper management and exceptional ability to work in teams." (Taken from an actual job ad!).

You could say, "I worked in groups in many of my courses. One particular group in my Environmental Science class went really well:  We met weekly, kept thorough meeting notes, and everyone followed through on their tasks to produce a high-quality final paper and presentation. I was proud that our group got along so well. We had regular contact through e-mail and maintained status reports on how everyone was doing. Our group scored in the high 'A' range. I am so glad I had this practice for other teams that I'll work on."

If you had a group experience that didn't go so well, be honest. Employers will find your truth refreshing, and you will appear as someone who can reflect on a problem and swiftly move to solve it:  "Two people in our group just didn't finish their tasks on time. I learned a lot from this experience. Next time, I would have group members partner up on large parts of the project. That way, there is a back-up to ensure that the group meets its deadline."

Another example:  "In my Business Ethics class, we answered weekly discussion forum questions and responded to others' posts. This was worth about 30% of my overall grade. My professor commented that my posts were insightful, my responses validated the comments in the original post, and they appropriately advanced the conversation. This experience helped me practice communicating with people of diverse backgrounds through e-mail."

See? You probably have loads of communication experiences to speak about from the classes you've taken. Go find out how to make those occurrences interview or resume-ready. 

3.  Go visit any communication professor and ask for either a) recommendations on a basic interpersonal or small group communication book (think trade book that you'd get at Amazon or Barnes and Noble; or b) an older textbook on same--most profs have desk copies lying around. 

Phrases related to interpersonal communication and/or small group communication are present in nearly every single job advertisement out there. More real-job examples:
-Continually mine existing accounts for opportunities to expand existing relationships (interpersonal)
-Strong communication skills both written and verbal with the ability to gain consensus for project deliverables (interpersonal, group)
-Demonstrates proficiency by exhibiting the following skills, competencies, and behaviors:  Patient Care Experience, Team Commitment (interpersonal, group)

Learn some catch-phrases, even if you didn't take a class in either of these subjects.

Now of course, just because you read a book on interpersonal or small group communication, you can't say you're an expert. But, at the least, reading up on the basics will shore you up on some concepts:  Using "I" versus "you," the difference between non-assertion and passive aggression as conflict management styles, and how to define "brainstorming," "groupthink" and "group consensus."

After you learn about some of these communication standards, try them out with your family and friends. Improved interpersonal communication skills can only stand to benefit all of your relationships!

Then, you can tell your potential employer that you did some "extracurricular" study in communication so you could communicate that much more effectively in the workplace.

After all, how many job candidates are going to proudly exclaim, "I just finished reading 'Working in Groups' by Engleberg and Wynn in my spare time because I know I'll be on committees and on teams. I wanted to learn more so I have the best chance at working well in other groups"?

You know how many job candidates will say that?


See? There's still time! Don't walk down that graduation aisle without upping your "communication capital"!

In your next interview, chat up your Yanomamo tribe presentation that you slammed in your  Anthropology class. In your next cover letter, toot your horn over the group project in your Econ class where two out of five group members bailed, but you led the remaining three to an aced project.

You didn't have to get paid in college to gain documentable communication experience.

Let the other folks with the same degree fear big, bad you--rocking the #1 sought-after employability skill.

You are going to show your future employer that in addition to your degree, you have what they want.

Updated: One of my new Twitter followers asked if developing a communication portfolio would be helpful. Absolutely! This is something that you could easily develop online (See Megan Semmelman's impressive personal blog post about developing an online presence -- ran across this based on a USA Today College article that she authored). If you want the portfolio in-hand for interviews, use a standard clear cover folder. For both approaches, add any of the following: 

-Sample group project (or synopsis)
-Sample presentations (ones that went well, obviously!)
-Writing samples
-Listing of communication-related titles that you've read
-Brief listing of communication-related activities and skills you developed
-Recommendation letters that speak to both your ability to do the job and communication skills

Obviously, you don't want to make this package unmanageable, but any documents that highlight your ability to both do the job and communicate on the job will help you stand out. I have been on the job market four times since I started teaching (all by choice, fortunately!). As a new or seasoned educator, I always sent a teaching portfolio ahead of my on-campus interviews so the search committees could get to know me early. I was told later that this was a successful strategy!


(Quick end-note: In 1998, I graduated with my B.S. degree in Post-Secondary Education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Yeah! Vegas, baby!). Before my own walk down the aisle, I had the good fortune of co-presenting a research paper with one of my profs, Dr. Clifford McClain, at the Nevada Vocational Association conference. One highlight of our research, the SCANS (The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) Report, ranked communication in the top three most sought-after employability skills in 1990. 

The big difference then? The unemployment rate was between 4-6% range.

Interesting that one decade-plus later, some things did change, but one remained the same:  the strong communicators are STILL the job candidates to beat).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What a Student Can Do When a Prof Miscommunicates: The Late-Breaking Syllabus Change

I'm already breaking my own header restriction and blogging about the current quarter. It's only my third post!

I'm not "outing" any students, but rather, myself: 

"Hello, my name is Ellen, and I'm the miscommunicator."

Is it fair to solely focus this blog on student-committed communication errors when professors have their share of them, too? Hardly. So, here's my confession:

I'm teaching Public Speaking this quarter. I've taught it a zillion times in a bunch of different formats:  daily, twice a week, one evening a week, part-televised, fully online (won a national teaching award for that model--woo hoo!)... in a boat, with a goat.

(Just kidding about that last part).

I've never taught Public Speaking, once per week, for exactly two hours and thirteen minutes. 

When I put this schedule together months ago, I thought, "Hey, I taught my Interpersonal Class in the  2:13 time format. No problem!"

Here's what I failed to catch before my syllabus was in the hands of my students: 

-The other course was writing-heavy. This course is speaking-heavy.
-I have a total of 10-11 class sessions.
-I have 29 students.
-I need six speaking days for that many students.
-This leaves very little time to actually teach public speaking.

I. Screwed. Up.

I'm guilty of unintentionally miscommunicating the required assignments in the syllabus... because I'm now going to have to add to them. In my mind, adding more assignments and points outside of the syllabus is somewhat of a BPS:

Big Professor Sin.

Now, I'm hardly the first educator to make a late-breaking syllabus change. You've probably seen those  strategic "disclaimers" throughout profs' syllabi: "planned schedule," "tentative plan," "tentative assignments."

Professor translation: "In case I made an error of gargantuan proportions, I reserve the right to say, 'But it was just my tentative plan!'"

So what am I doing about the problem? 

I am deferring some of the in-class work to our online environment:  I'm adding a series of smaller assignments, related to more major assignments that students already have to do for my class. The assignments will have points attached. Why? Because, historically, students will not do work "just for fun." (Students reading, I totally welcome your rebuttal or thoughts on this!).

My oversight is actually a good thing: Students are going to have far more personalized attention from myself and their peers in the online environment. The new points will also be fairly easy to earn.

But I don't deny my students' perspective:
"Crap. She's giving us more work to do and now there are more points involved."
"Crap. I have to do more reading/writing on my own."

I explained my error to my students, both in an e-mail and in person. Hopefully, they understood. Many of them completed the first not-on-the-syllabus online assignment, which was due yesterday. I'm thrilled!

What's the communication lesson here?
Even long-time professors slip up when it comes to planning a class--for a number of reasons. The key is open communication about any changes that occur.

So, if your professor suddenly makes a major syllabus change, you have the right to question it if the professor's explanation is confusing, unclear, or unfair.

You have the right to know:
a)  Why the change was made and its purpose.
b)  In the case of new assignments, how the new assignments affect the grade weighting in the course and the overall points.
c)  If the change has any serious negative impact on you--I was taught in graduate school that syllabus changes should never negatively impact students.*

*Example: If a professor suddenly takes out all the written work and you are only graded on multiple-choice quizzes and a final exam. Obviously, unless you are a strong test-taker or you know the material well, you will have no other way to "show what you know" than to ace those quizzes/exams. Your grade could take a huge hit.

Here's what you can say:
Ask either in class--I bet five other students will be glad you did!--or talk to the professor privately, but be sure to use a questioning, rather than accusatory or angry tone:

"Professor, I understand you are adding some new assignments. I want to be certain that I'm clear on why these are being added and how they will help with what we're already studying/working on. What is the goal for these new assignments?"

You can also ask:
-"How will the points be counted for this additional work?"
-"How will this work be graded?" Sometimes, when professors add smaller assignments, they are meant to support major assignments. This means that they may not be subject to heavy grading, but instead, pass/fail (as in, if you turn in the assignments, you will get the points).

If something seems very wrong about the change being made, try to get further clarification from the professor.

If the answers still don't seem right (not as in that you just don't like the change, but that it actually doesn't seem fair or clear), you may have no choice but to meet with the head of your professor's department and see if that person can help. I know this isn't easy for students to do, but asserting yourself in college when situations seem realistically unjust will only give you good practice for other areas of your life where you need to do the same.

As for my situation, this wasn't the first curve ball caused by me or by forces outside of me. I've gotten thousands of students through this course successfully. History tells me that I will do so again.

Of course, my students have only known me for three weeks. I blubbed some assignments. They may not be so sure.

I'll do what I always strive to do:  Keep the lines of communication open. Listen to student concerns. Provide solid feedback. Encourage students through quarter's end.

I'm on it.

Are you wondering what to do about a professor's miscommunication? Have you experienced a syllabus game-changer? Comment about it or e-mail chattyprof@gmail.com.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Student Absences: Why What Happened in Vegas Should Have Stayed There

There comes a time in every professor's career where you believe you have simply heard it all--every possible reason why a student is going to be absent or was absent.

This was another first:

“Ms. Bremen, I have to miss your class next Thursday because I’m in a pole dancing competition in Vegas. I could win $10,000.”

I'm rarely speechless. I was speechless.

The student who stood before me was all business. She took responsibility for her upcoming absence, disclosed her reason (didn't offer up a note, but, really, who would write one for her? I didn't want to ask), and had a solid plan for making up the work. I think I eeked out a feeble, "Okay, then. Good luck."

What else was I going to say? "Sounds like a good topic for your informative speech?"


Instead of focusing on the random time that the chatty professor couldn't, well, chat, let's jump to the communication lesson here. There are actually two:

First, what the student did correctlyShe told me she was going to miss the class ahead of time! We all know that unexpected situations arise, illnesses, etc. that are not always planned. Professors do understand reasonable unplanned issues. However, students often do know they will miss class and they never say a word. They simply don’t show up. They miss whatever occurred that day. Of course, they expect the professor to bring them up to speed upon their return--as if we can re-hold class for all who didn't attend.

Instead, if you know you'll miss class, contact your professor either in-person or via e-mail. Say that you've done the following:

a) Reviewed the absence policy in the syllabus and you know the ramifications of your missed day;
b) Reviewed the course schedule and that you will take responsibility for the work you missed. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever--am I clear yet?--ask the professor what you missed or if you missed anything important that day.

If your absence will be more than a few days, see below for how to handle that.

If you have an assignment due on the day you intend to miss, discuss your plan to turn in that assignment early (or be prepared to tell the prof that you also reviewed the late policy on the syllabus).

Second, what the student could have done differently:  She disclosed too much... and not just because of what she was doing instead of coming to class.

The reason for the absence just doesn't matter. It's not that a professor doesn't care if a student:

-is sick
-has a sick family member
-has a change of work schedule
-has a suddenly deceased great-aunt
-has a wicked test in A & P that needs an extra study period, otherwise known as the same time as your class (This is almost the worst disclosure of all. Professors love hearing that another class was far, far more important than theirs).

Most professors do care a great deal about their students. However, rather than ponder the "why," professors need students to focus on their plan to recover from the absence and own responsibility for what happens next i.e., readings, assignments due, and subsequent penalties. 

Therefore, it's fine to say, "Professor, I'm going to be absent on Thursday. It is unavoidable and I will keep my overall absences to a minimum. I've reviewed the absence policy in the syllabus. I've reviewed the schedule. I see that Chapter 5 is going to be covered while I'm gone. I'll be sure to read Chapter 5 and have the assignment in on time."

And leave it at that.

The only change in this "non-disclosure" plan is if the absence is due to a more long-term problem, such as a prolonged illness, family emergency, unplanned vacation. In this case, make an appointment with the professor as soon as the situation arises, discuss the issue, be realistic about your time away, and see if you can still salvage the class. Most professors are apt to work with you if they can be proactive, rather than reactive.

If your situation is one-shot, such as brief illness, sudden work change, quickly solved life situation, that only causes you to miss a day or two, then keep the pole dancing--or whatever else is keeping you from class--to yourself.

Quick end-note here:  I am actually from Las Vegas. Lived there for 20 years.  Even when I was teaching in Vegas, I never had a student say they would miss my class because of pole dancing in Vegas. How crazily ironic that it took me teaching in Seattle to find a student heading to my hometown for Poledancing Idol... or whatever the competition was called (Pole Dancing with the Stars? So You Think You Can Pole Dance?).

While I remember this situation like it happened yesterday (It didn't. More like a few years ago.), what I don't remember is if the student actually won.

Friday, April 8, 2011

After 13 years... a bribe

Plead. Cry. Yell. Play victim. Apologize.

After 13 years of teaching, I've witnessed all sorts of reactions when students learn that they aren't getting the grade they "needed." But this was a first:

A bribe.

It was almost a "good" bribe, too:  Student would babysit my kids or mow my lawn. 

I don't have a lawn. I do have kids. And it is hard to find a good babysitter these days...

Seriously, did Student think bribery would actually work? Apparently so.

I was not surprised that Student was upset with the final grade. All quarter, Student apparently had a particular outcome in mind. Student needed a certain GPA in order to get into a program at another institution. The final grade in my class missed the mark, but was, unfortunately well-deserved based on Student's performance.

Of course, it would have been helpful if Student told me about the needed GPA early in the term. Maybe we could have actually done something about it--like hatch a plan for early review of work, continual checking of grades to see if Student was on track, etc. But in week 10 when finals are flying? Rewind is not possible.

So, desperate student = desperate bribe.

I'm almost surprised it didn't happen sooner in my career. I've seen a load of tweak-out come week 10, all as a result of poor planning or life unexpectedly getting in the way, which, of course, happens to all of us.

What did I say to Student? Essentially, that a bribe was:
a) Something I could or would never accept (and as if I'd really have this person watch my kids!);
b) Highly unethical;
c) Highly unprofessional;
d) Cause for me to escalate the matter to my Division Chair if the dialogue continued, which could have far deeper ramifications for Student's overall college career. 

Fortunately, Student apologized profusely and accepted the grade.

While I'm definitely in disbelief about the approach, I am empathetic. Being blind-sided never feels good. Having that "Oh, crap! What am I going to do now?" feeling never feels good either. However, these feelings hopefully drive new behaviors and improved communication. As Maya Angelou says, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." 

How can Student communicate better next time?

Number one:  Never, ever bribe a professor for a grade! This seems obvious, right?

Number two:  Start a dialogue EARLY with a professor about the needed/wanted grade. Find out what that grade will require. Stay after class, make an appointment, send an e-mail, carrier pigeon, anything! Learn what needs to be done, do it, and keep tabs on progress. Sounds like a no-brainer, but too many students don't do it and find themselves in a sweat at term's end.

A bribe.

There is no place in college (or anywhere, for that matter) for bribery. Well, maybe The Soprano's School of Mafia-Related Communication. And even there, the most artful bribe could get you whacked.