The spring term has come to an end. Graduation was beautiful with one of our largest graduating classes in the history of this college. I led or participated in numerous celebrations sharing the respect and love we administrators have for our Student Workers, our Administrative Assistants, our Maintenance and Operations Team, our Veterans, our Graduates, and our many student shows and awards ceremonies for the Arts, Writing, Music, Dance and Theater. As this term closes I’m already busy preparing for the summer and next fall sessions. Assuring the teachers contracts are in place, scheduling classrooms, checking all distance education faculty have their classes prepared and the technology is in place, and so much more. I’m completing tasks while trying to prepare myself for a couple of weeks of much needed rest and relaxation also known as vacation. This all sounds reasonable enough right? Things one would expect a dean to be doing. But there is actually something else that takes place at the end of each term that many of you non-deans may not realize takes place. The grade and enrollment disputes.
The end of each semester I receive numerous requests for late enrollment. Students that sit in a class not officially enrolled waiting to see if they will pass then they want to fill out a special form for my signature allowing them to late enroll. There argument is always I was there the whole time, I did the work. Parents and Students, this is not appropriate. I have to turn these down. While there may be such a thing as a Late Enrollment form, it isn’t designed for this use. This is for taking care of rare situations where a student entered a class within the first two to three weeks of the class start. Not waiting for the semester to be over and then asking for special permission. You might wonder why the teacher let the student sit in class. As a dean I always wonder that too. Although if it is a large class of 60 plus students it is possible a teacher doesn’t know all students by looking at them. At the college level faculty do not always call roll in their classes. If you are a student trying this you may get away with it once or even twice convincing a dean of some sad story to fight your cause for you but more and more educational processes are asking us to all get tighter on this and just say NO.
The other end of the semester true stories that comes up for a dean is grade disputes. Students don’t complain all semester about a teacher and then come to you when they don’t like their grade to tell you the teacher has been giving you a bad time, or letting class out early, or overall doing a poor job teaching. Well, it’s a bit late to solve the issues if you wait until the end. If the teacher really is doing a poor job you need to go to the dean when it happens not after the semester ends. There are some things you can do to help yourself though. I suggest you follow this practice throughout all your classes, make it a habit, assuring you are getting the grades you earned.
Keep a copy of all assignments you turn in if possible. Sometimes it isn’t possible with in class tests. It is possible with essays and term papers though, and with most homework assignments. I can’t count the times that students complained assignments they turned in were not counted in their final grade but they gave the teacher the only copy and the teacher says they didn’t receive it. What is a dean supposed to do? As a dean I can’t just assume the teacher is at fault. As a student you need to assure you kept copies of your assignments. I can ask a teacher to grade the assignment if you have a copy and they claim they didn’t receive it. I can’t force the teacher to do this, but most will abide by a request if it is reasonable and if it does indeed help the student succeed.
Another thing you can do as a student is keep a tally of your assignments and grades. Most teachers already do this for you in an electronic format. However, you should be keeping your own records. If you notice you didn’t get a grade on something you believe you turned in then talk with your teacher immediately. Do not wait until the end of the semester!
It may come as a surprise to you how many students do not follow their grades and are surprised by their final grade for a class. Your grade should not be a surprise. Perhaps your final test grade you might not be absolutely sure about but for the most part you should know what your grade is along the way. If you are doing the work and meeting the deadlines there is no reason to not be passing your classes. If you do not know your grades along the way check with your teacher. If your teacher doesn’t know or isn’t letting you know go see your dean.
So those are the typical end of semester disputes that a dean deals with. These can number from two or three to dozens. If more than a dozen a dean has to seriously look at how they are working with their faculty. They may need to start creating trainings about appropriate expectations around keeping roll and keeping students informed of their grades. Both important elements in student success and retention. If you wonder how important this is…I once had a student come in to drop a class thinking they were failing yet when I checked with the faculty the student was actually making an A. It is so important that a teacher communicate regularly where the student stands with their grade. On the other side I have seen many incidents where students thought they were passing a class when in actuality they were failing due to not turning in assignments or passing the early tests. Yet still they thought they were doing fine because they hadn’t seen their grades and tracked them. As educators we know from research that when students regularly are informed of their grades they can better monitor their time spent on study for that class in order to improve their grades. If a faculty doesn’t keep the students informed many of the students will falsely think they are fine when in actuality they need to work much harder on the class.
Enough with that rant, let’s look at a not so usual story. Each semester there is at least one unusual story of some sort. This semester it is this one. Let me first say that I have almost 200 faculty in my area. The majority, 99% are fabulous. Highly dedicated to student success. However, as with any business, one might have a new employee that isn’t quite fitting in or an old employee that is just collecting the pay check before retirement. Despite my extensive screening in the hiring process this can happen. For this semester I had a new teacher that had been with me for three semesters. This professor attended all the professional development trainings I offered, she really showed an effort of trying to be a great teacher. However, she didn’t understand the techniques being taught. She confused rather simple training ideas with a need to throw everything out and become completely experimental. As such she did not do a great job in the classroom. To some level she experimented too much. She would forget the basics and go off topic, wanted to abandon the idea of regular grading and structure, and forgot there is a separation between faculty and students. She wanted the class to be fun. Which I highly encourage in faculty. But, not fun for the loss of actual learning. So when students began to complain that they didn’t understand what was going on in the class, problems developed.
The problems did not develop only at the end of the class. Several students came to me early in the semester complaining about this instructor. Remember my comment at the early part of this post? They did the right thing by coming to me at a time I could still step in and help. When they complained this instructor dropped three students because she thought they were dissing her and that was disruptive to the class. Everyone, instructors cannot drop students for conduct (at least not at our college). Instructors do not have to tolerate bad student conduct but they must follow a process and can’t just drop a student from their classes. Students have rights. Conduct rules are outlined in the college catalog or student handbooks. Conduct is a serious process that has legal ramifications and guidelines that must be followed. As the chair of most of our student grievance hearings this is a matter I am extremely careful with and knowledgeable about. Without going into all the details about student conduct process let’s suffice it to say this was not okay.
Due to this situation I became involved early in the semester to help the three students that this instructor dropped. I worked with the instructor to help her understand the appropriate process. I had the students reinstated into the class. However, I warned the students at that time that they would need to be extra careful to not be disruptive, to pay attention, to do their work, and to not miss any classes. I also worked with the teacher to be as kind with these students and get past this experience for the rest of the semester to go more smoothly. This was no easy task. Come the end of the semester two of the three students received A grades. Those two did the work. They never missed a class and they remained respectful to the teacher. The third student did not adhere to my guidance. That student did not do the work, missed excessive class meetings, and then continued to be disruptive. This student apparently thought he had something over this teacher having had the dean override the teachers dismissal. Not a good way to think on this students part.
Come last day of class the student receives their final test with a failing grade and recognizes he has failed the class. The student becomes outraged and becomes quite belligerent with the teacher. The teacher calls the campus police. The campus police witness the student being belligerent to this teacher. The police and teacher come to me with the story. Following that the student comes to me with the final test and wants me to fix the grade. I made it clear to him and I’ll say this here, Deans do not change grades! Only the instructor of record can give a grade or change a grade. In extreme circumstances grades may be reviewed by faculty in the same area for possible grade changes but that is extremely rare as in cases where an instructor died before the final grades were posted, things like that. Even still the Dean does not give grades or change them! This was not one of those cases where anyone should step in about the grades as it was clear this student had not done the work. The final itself was enough evidence. The final was actually not difficult for this level of class. One would have to not read the text or listen to any of the discussions/lectures to have failed this test. It was not comprehensive and should have been simple enough to pass. Which I explained in detail to the student as he came to me in an outrage wanting me to fix this.
This same student became enraged at me for not Fixing it for him. Claiming I wasn’t doing my job as a dean. As if he knows what a deans job is. Which is partially why I write this blog. Most people don’t realize a dean can’t change a grade. We do, however, advocate for you as students if you are indeed being treated unfairly by an instructor. We do work with faculty and help establish new views or a review of your work, assure that all your work has been considered, and methods of that nature. We do not bully or override the faculty though. We also support the faculty. We support the faculty from abusive students. We help assure they are not bullied or being abused. We protect them, we educate them, and champion them. Perhaps you can see as dean we walk a narrow line of helping faculty and students. Generally the way we help the students the most is by hiring, training and supporting faculty to be their very best.
In the end the student left unhappy. His unhappiness should be with himself. I advised him and hope he follows my advise to use this experience as an opportunity to recognize that in education the only way to be successful is to do the work. Study, attend class, listen, be involved, actually learn and the passing grades will come.
As I end this posting I hope I’ve shared with you a bit about how a dean can help a student but also the limits of what as deans we can do. Highpoints for you to leave this blog with:
Go to the dean early at the first sign of trouble in a class with an instructor. But only after you have tried to talk with the instructor about your concern.
Keep copies of all the work you turn into an instructor.
Keep track of your grade as you progress through each class. If you don’t know your grade standing ask the instructor. If the instructor can’t tell you go see your dean early on.
Students have rights but also have rules of conduct they must adhere to. Your student conduct rights and processes are posted in your college catalog or student handbook.
There are such things as late enrollment options. But don’t try to abuse them.
Deans are there to help but don’t think knowing a dean is going to be an easy A. In this story two of three students passed a class they otherwise would have been dismissed from. Not bad numbers.
The majority of faculty are excellent. However, there can be those rare ones that are not so good. Don’t let an instructor convince you to leave school or to give up. If you start to think that way please make an appointment with a counselor or the dean.
Until next time, best wishes for your continued education success.
PS: The instructor in this story is no longer teaching with us.