This semester I have two students who are honors course contracting my classes. This means that they want honors credit for the class, and we create a written agreement about what they have to do to get it. In practical reality, I write the contracts with some broad leeway so that we are doing extra work but the exact details are somewhat fluid, and easily customizable to my needs or the students’ needs. Sometimes I think I should be more formal about it, but so many classes like this I don’t teach very often, and so, no, I don’t have enough mastery of the material to really know ahead of time.
One of my honors students has not been showing up to class. I get that he’s generally smart enough to learn the material on his own. And I also get that the engineering school is being a gigantic problem for him with group projects and teammates who aren’t helping. And a grandparent recently died. I can cut him some slack once for missing my class, but I think he’s missed two or three in a row. And this isn’t the first absence.
I called him in to talk to him about it the other day. “Look, I know you are under a lot of stress, but make it to class. Think of it this way, would you want a letter (of recommendation) writer to say that you were reliable except when you are stressed and busy?” I shouldn’t have said that. I’m not going to put that in a letter, even though I’m annoyed. And even though I am annoyed, this is still a student that I just plain like. I should have poked more into how he was doing first. The poor kid was like a whipped dog for the rest of the day, either from me or from exhaustion.
I felt like such a heel. On the other hand, I really think he should be coming to class.
So lesson one, write it into the honors course contract. No absences except for excused absences or with prior consent of the instructor. I have to go to extra effort for you, you show up to class.
Lesson two, listen first. I already know this one. It is the execution that’s sometimes is lacking.
Lesson three, focus on the positive. I really wish I’d said instead, “I miss you when you don’t come to class.”
Lesson four is just a question for my readers. What should I do now? If I could write a Dear Student letter, what should it say? Oh, heck, here’s a first try. What do you think?
I called you out for not coming to class the other day. I think I did a bad job of that. I wish I had asked you first what was going on in your life that caused you to miss class. I wish rather than getting on your case, I had told you that I missed you when you don’t come to class. I wish I had written it into the honors course contract so that we both would have agreed to that ahead of time. You looked bad the rest of that day, and I’ve been feeling bad since. I hope you will accept my apology for handling that badly. And I hope you will come to class. I miss you when you aren’t there.