Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The dangers of being nice

Some students, if you give them an inch, they'll take an ell.

I've been working with a distance education student over the semester break. Let me say first off that I had other plans for my time during the break, and I receive very little financial reward for this. It's mostly a service task. The distance education program was closing at the end of December, and I assumed I was done with the whole program. All my active students were finished. At the end of November, a new student contacted me, desperate to finish the course that s/he had been enrolled in for 6 months but hadn't started. I took time during exam week to meet with this student, to give advice about ways to actually do it in a month, even though no one ever had. The student did not follow my advice. Two weeks went by and there were no assignments. I assumed the student realized the difficulty and quit. I eventually sent a query, and then received a barrage of assignments at once, all within the last 9 days of the year. I graded them as quickly as I could, and I graded them pretty leniently. One assignment submitted was the wrong file, and I sent notification. In January, the student finally found my note and send the correct file. At this point, the class was over and the deadline was past, but I was feeling generous so I decided to grade it, but only after I returned from out of town. I also had to immediately grade the final exam upon my return because of the graduation deadline and because the student took the exam later than we initially agreed. Today I went into the office to grade the exam and the re-submitted file. When I opened the file, I saw it was yet again the wrong one, so I simply assigned a grade of 0, calculated the grade, and then immediately contacted distance education with the final grade so it could be quickly processed. I even drove downtown to drop off the exam personally at their offices.

And when I got home, I have no less than 4 emails from this student sending the correct file and begging me to grade it. (I'm not going to.)

This is the thanks I get for being nice. This encounter demonstrates Moriarty's maxim in "The Blind Banker," the second episode of Sherlock: "Gratitude is meaningless. It is only the expectation of further favours."

I've seen this pattern play out with other students, too, and I've seen a similar phenomenon in the hospitality industry. I worked in a semi-ratty hotel for a while. When there was a festival and we charged over $100 for a night, no one complained about the rooms. When we had $30 specials, we had lots of complaints about the tears in the carpet and stains on the bedspreads.

Going in to the new semester, I'm inclined not to give an inch.

Sometimes I wish I could be as cold as Simon Cowell (pic source).


  1. Ick, what a bad experience this sounds like. I try to keep in mind that part of what I'm teaching are skills like meeting deadlines, planning, responsibility, etc., and so letting students off the hook is in a way failing to provide such lessons.
    In a teaching workshop today, I was intrigued by one suggestion for students who want extensions and stuff--be willing to negotiate extensions, but only for students who have a specific plan for how they intend to complete the assignment.
    I'm trying to reassess my policies on extensions and stuff right now. Keep me posted on if you hit upon any new ideas!

  2. Good luck! I actually find that the stricter I am, the better my teaching evaluations are :)