Books & Reading

Case Study of the Problem Student – “R U Ready 4 College” Excerpt (Part Three)

RUR4C Final Cover
R U Ready 4 College?
Available in print and for Kindle!


All this month I am going to be sharing excerpts from my newly-revised edition of “R U Ready 4 College?,” which outlines and shares strategies on how to be successful in college and how to cope in your new surroundings, academically-speaking.

Excerpt Three – Case Study of the Problem Student:
Sometimes difficult students are not all one thing – they are a mixture of issues. Such as in the case of Maria (not her real name), a student in an online Intro to Humanities course I once taught.

First some background. Maria had been in school for about two years but failed nearly half of her course load, including an Intro to Humanities class she took prior to mine. Her overall GPA was a low-C, which is passing but far from stellar. She also had been on academic probation three times, including the time when she had been in my class.

What is academic probation, you may ask? I didn’t touch on this earlier for the simple reason that your standards should never sink so low. That being said, probation is when you fail to meet the required standards set forth by your college. Let’s say you must have a 2.5 GPA (a low-B) at the end of every semester, but one semester’s GPA was 1.3 (a high-D). You would be placed on probation. Aside from conflicting with your ability to obtain or continue receiving aid, probation means you cannot sign up for classes by yourself and must get permission to even sign up at all.

Likewise, your transcripts are put on hold, meaning you must get permission to have them released, which can complicate matters if you want to transfer schools. A student is only allowed to be on probation a limited number of times, usually consecutively, before being dismissed or suspended, which means you are essentially barred from taking classes towards a degree at that college.

Concerning Maria, her profile doesn’t match that of a model student. Her track record in my class wasn’t good at all as she failed nearly every assignment, including three open book tests, and never had an overall passing grade at any point in the semester. In fact, her “best” grade all semester long was a low-D.

I left comments on her work, pointing out areas she needed to improve upon or work on, namely basic grammar skills, time management skills (as she often rushed through her work), and critical thinking/analysis techniques. But she kept making the same mistakes and it was clear that she either never read my remarks or simply ignored them.

Furthermore, on one of her first assignments, Maria submitted incomplete work, but she contacted me and requested to resubmit it. Normally, students were only allowed a single chance to turn in an assignment, but since Maria turned in her work before the deadline and it hadn’t been graded, I decided to give her a second chance. But even after sending her two emails, reminding her to turn in her work and informing her that she would fail the assignment if she didn’t, and giving her a small extension, Maria never submitted her assignment and it was given a zero. That was the last I heard from her until much later on.

So that’s the type of student who decided to, out of the clear blue, send me this email towards the end of the semester. (Please be aware that Maria’s email contains some choice language. Rather than censor it, I decided to leave it intact to give you the full effect of her words.)

I feel like your grading is ridiculous. Consider the fact that I feel all your assignments are ridiculous. I worked hard on this paper, as ridiculous as it was. I hope we never meet again in the online world. Maybe your should consider some better        teaching techniques instead of having your students read and do this silly ass prompts with your harsh ass grading rules.,    Your an awful instructor and should improve your teaching skills instead of being lazy and having us read a boring ass    book. Your pure lazy and an insult to others of your profession. Good luck.

That was very sad for me to read for a couple of reasons. First, it was sad that a student would hide behind technology to spout things I bet she wouldn’t say in person. Secondly, it was sad because, contrary to what Maria thought, I worked hard to create my classes and maintain high standards (what she considered to be “ridiculous” I suppose). Lastly, it was sad that she would lambaste me when, based on her record, she really needed to take a good, long look at herself.

I chose not to respond for two reasons: one, she didn’t present a formal inquiry or legitimate comments; she just wanted to curse, rant, and rave and I wasn’t going to entertain that. Second, Maria just didn’t care to learn. She repeatedly disregarded my comments on her work and even failed to make the best of a second chance to submit an assignment, so why should a lengthy email from me make any difference?

As you can probably guess, Maria was a combination problem student. She was disconnected as she thought the class was boring and, hence, probably didn’t see the point in it; she was failing; she was arrogant; and she was antagonizing/complaining as she disregarded my comments on her work, never strove for quality from herself, and wanted to blame me for her apathy.

But this isn’t the end of Maria’s story. Roughly a week after she sent me the uncouth email, she contacted me again to request a favor. It blew my mind, to say the least.

This second email was, to my surprise, a politely-composed message, explaining various family-related issues that she never told me about before and stated she wanted an Incomplete so she could turn in her final (though even a perfect score on the final would not have been enough to redeem her grade). I was shocked and wondered if this was the same student. Then I wondered how someone could honestly think any professor would comply with her request after cursing her out the week before. And in case you’re curious, no, Maria never apologized for her earlier remarks.

My policy was that I didn’t give Incompletes regardless of the reason. Despite that, Maria didn’t meet the college’s academic qualifications for an Incomplete. One of those qualifications was that a student had to have demonstrated “reasonable possibility” for passage in the class. If the student had been earning good grades, then passage with an Incomplete was probable. But if the student failed most of the assignments, then it was likely she would fail even if given an Incomplete.

Nevertheless, even disregarding the fact she didn’t academically qualify, Maria’s past actions came back to haunt her. She already showed me that she didn’t care about second chances, and I wasn’t about to reward her rudeness by making her think that she could just insult a professor and get whatever she wanted. Thus, I denied her request and she failed the class. Maria also failed her other classes that semester and was placed on probation for a fourth time (the third time consecutively). She didn’t sign up for any further classes and, I presume, quit school.

Will she come back? Personally, I hope not – unless or until she develops a stronger work ethic, makes a major attitude adjustment, and gains some much-needed maturity, regardless how old she actually is. Otherwise, no matter what school she attends, she will always fail thanks to her own callousness and childishness.

As much as professors want to help students, they can only help those who seek it. Maria continuously submitted poor quality work, never asked for help, ignored my comments on her work, and failed to take advantage of a second chance. But it was ultimately her choice – her laziness – to not learn from her mistakes, and she paid for it with a poor academic track record that she can never erase. Maria has nothing to be proud of during her brief stint in college and that is the saddest outcome of all.

I never got the chance to respond to her the way I wanted to, mainly because I sensed she was not someone you could reasonably engage or dialogue with. But if I could, this is what I would have said:


I’m very sorry that you feel that way. Rest assured that a great deal of hard work goes into developing and teaching my classes. It takes weeks, even months, to create and draft assignments, and each step of the way I scrutinize and alter my own process. I have revised my teaching techniques throughout the years as it is unwise to remain static in anything we undertake in life.

You should also know that no one else has complained about the class in all of the years I have taught it. In fact, I have had some students go out of their way to tell me they enjoyed it. So this is all a matter of your opinion, which you are certainly entitled to.

I see that you have taken Intro to Humanities once before and failed, so I can only guess that Humanities is not a strong subject for you. You would do well to seek out a different area to study. Do not take a class because it sounds “easy” as it is evident that Humanities is not easy for you, so you would be wise to pursue other elective class options, perhaps ones concentrating on a single subject and not a survey course (which is what Intro to Humanities is).

That being said, there was a far better way to state your feelings than to resort to crudities that should be beneath you to use. Just because you are taking this class online does not remove the need for civility. In short, you’re free to dislike every aspect of this class, but the way in which you express yourself could have been more professional and tactful. What you said to me violated the college’s Student Code of Conduct as it displays a disrespectful, thoughtless, and (if I may be frank) immature attitude, which will be detrimental to you later on if you do not keep your temper in check now.

But more importantly, I would like to ask you why you did not heed my comments on your work all semester long. I don’t give comments for fun: I provide them so students can see what they have done well and what areas they need to improve upon. Grammar and delving into an artistic piece’s deeper meanings are two areas you needed work on and I do not apologize for pointing that out to you. But I can only relate the problems I see – I cannot fix them for you. Only you can do that, if you wanted to, and it is evident that you didn’t want to. You were also extended a second chance to resubmit an assignment yet you spurned the opportunity. This tells me that you genuinely did not care about being successful in this class, and I hope you know that to turn down any opportunity to improve yourself is a very thoughtless decision. But it is a choice you made and you had to contend with its consequences.

It is sad to see a student who will not learn from her mistakes. I can see from your record that you have been on academic probation numerous times. One more semester and you will be suspended, and I trust you do not want that, which would be a terrible way to close out your college experience. But it is not too late for you to make a change, not only in your work ethic but also in your behaviors and attitudes.

I hope you will take these words to heart, take a good look at yourself, and stop blaming others (such as myself) for your failures. As distasteful as it might be for you, you must own up to your poor quality of work and seek to do better or else you will always fail and never achieve anything to be proud of. And that is a very tragic way to live life.

So consider this an open message to all of the difficult students out there: stop pointing fingers, point one at yourself, and lose the attitude. It will get you nothing and nowhere but failure.

Want to read more on how to not be a difficult student, even without meaning to be (among other topics)? Then check out “R U Ready for College?”, available both in print and for Kindle!


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