End of Semester E-mails

by Thomas Whitfield, M.A.

The holidays are slowly creeping up on us and so is the end of yet another semester. Although I am still a student, I am also a teacher. Twice a week I wake up at 6:30am so I can be ready at 8am to begin lecturing to undergrads for 95 minutes. I sincerely love teaching and really enjoy my students. But, there are over 90 of them and a significant amount has not completed nearly enough work to finish the semester shining. On almost a daily basis I receive at least one e-mail from a student about the hardships of the semester and how I must help them to pass the class. Before responding, I do my homework. I check the attendance, look at the assignments they have turned in, how they scored on the exams, and even go as far as to google their name in effort to see if they look familiar. In the majority of cases, they do not look familiar, they have not done their homework, they have missed at least one exam, and they have not attended class regularly. I do my homework to show them they have not done theirs. And, I do it all through gritted teeth and shallow breath. I become angry.

I believe that students should not wait until the end of the semester to be concerned about their grade. I believe they should work hard and if they are aren’t succeeding, they should ask for help. These beliefs are not helping me deal with the situation though. If anything, they are producing demands that students “must” not reach out to me when the semester is almost over, students “must” be more aware of how they are doing in the class earlier, and students “must” be responsible. These demands I’m placing on them are leading me to feel more than frustrated and annoyed, they are leading me to feel flat out angry.

Today, around noon, I received an e-mail similar to all the rest. I noticed the demanding beliefs that began to flood my mind, but instead of allowing them to take me down a path towards anger I decided to challenge them. “Although I would prefer that students do not reach out to me and ask me to save their grade that they’ve done little work for, there is no reason or rule that they absolutely cannot.” I repeated this to myself a few times and did feel a bit less angry. Once I started to do my “homework” on the student, as expected they had not attended class, taken the exams, or completed homework, more demands came. I tried another rational belief, “although I’d prefer this student was more responsible, there is no reason they absolutely must be.” After a few moments and repetitions, I felt my anger change to frustration.

This is not my first semester teaching, this always happens. Yet I am continually angry about it when it does. Not anymore. Now I’m just frustrated. I will continue to work on this as it will surely continue to occur. As with most things, there are layers, and the next is how I want to be able to say “no” without feeling guilty.

Thomas Whitfield, M.A.

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