Unexcused absences from class This is often the most obvious sign of a problem brewing or in full flower (sorry for the mixed metaphor). When the absence seems excessive, and particularly when it includes work not turned in, you may want to send the student a note to let them know you've noticed their absence, to remind them of your attendance policy, and to ask if anything is wrong. If you are reluctant to contact the student yourself, or if your own contact has had no result, you should send a note to the Associate Dean of the College, and one of the deans will follow up on it.
What constitutes an "excused" or "unexcused" absence? Intercollegiate athletic contests and field trips for another class are excused absences, but students should notify you in advance and arrange to hand in work or take any quiz or test scheduled for that day. Illness is reason for absence also, but how ill? That's for you to judge. You can ask students to get a written note from the Dean of Students Office. Ask a few other faculty what they do, and what their attendance policy is. (Some require attendance at every class, some have a set number of allowable unexcused absences, and others have no policy at all.) Decide on your own policy, put it in your syllabus, and remind students of it into the term. Then hold to it.
Late or missing work Again, you set the policy for accepting or not accepting late work. Should you remind a student of the deadline past when work hasn't come in? Many of us do, but also worry that we may be "coddling" the students by always giving them reminders. No one way to handle this either. If the student seems to have a persistent problem of handing in work late, you may want to consult with others who may know the student's habits.
Requests for extensions or make-up work None of us have a problem giving an extension or arranging a make-up exam for a student with an obviously legitimate excuse. But sometimes the excuse seems tenuous, or is requested only after the fact of a missed deadline. We don't know any faculty member who hasn't struggled with this, nor have we heard of anyone who has come up with a fully satisfactory way of assessing the range of excuses. It's always an option to request that the student obtain a note from the Dean of Students office.
Emotional problems You may notice a student is unusually quiet, listless, tired, or labile. There is never any harm in asking someone if s/he is okay or if they'd like to talk. Rather than trying to solve the student's problem yourself, though, especially if it's serious, you may provide the most help by referring the student to others (see section on Counseling Services). Of course, not all problems are traumatic and sometimes students just need a pep talk and an indication that someone cares about their personal welfare. This is pretty easy to achieve and can make you feel like a hero as well as turn around a student's day.
Illness Students sometimes don't get medical help when they need it. They don't have their mom or dad around to see to it that they go to the doctor, and they may not have anyone to take care of them if they're confined to their room. Since our student health program entails trips to doctors in town, not on campus, students sometimes put it off. They may even be too worried about missing class work to take the time to go for an appointment or to stay in bed when they need to. This doesn't mean you should try to provide a parental substitute. But if you notice a student seems ill yet is still trudging to class, you might ask if they've been to see a doctor.
Slipping grades The thing here is to find out why grades are slipping. Call the student in for a talk.
Special learning or physical needs Some students have obvious
special needs that you will be asked to accommodate. Others have special
needs that are not so obvious. Some faculty ask students to fill in an index
card with the usual vitals as well as any confidential information the student
thinks would be helpful to the faculty member with regards to the student's
learning style. For instance, a student might indicate that shyness is a
potential impediment to participation and that some advance notice of being
called on helps to organize thoughts and emotionally prepare. Sometimes
a course will deal with issues that are especially sensitive to a student
(e.g., racial prejudice, rape, religious identity). A course may have physical
elements difficult for some (e.g., a walking field trip in Chicago or a
trip to Green Oaks). Students with learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia,
ADHD) and in need of academic accommodations are usually advised by the Director
of the Center for Teaching and Learning to discuss their needs with their
individual faculty members. Often, but not always, the Director will
initiate contact with faculty in order to discuss appropriate accommodations.
In those cases when you are not directly contacted by the Director of the
CTL, you should feel free to call or email with any questions or concerns
that you may have.
First-Year Deer-Caught-in-The-Headlights Look First-year students have unique needs in adjusting to college life. For many, this is their first time away from home and parental authority. For nearly all, the adjustment to independence and self-reliance is uneven. Some students will find the work load and academic standards daunting. (This can also be true of transfer students.) Others will find the freedom overwhelming. Some will find that they are as yet unskilled at coping with social pressures without parental back-up. Most will experience some academic bumps and for many, social adjustments will be at the root of the academic problems. Particularly in the first term, you may want to check in periodically with first-year students in your classes (as well as with new advisees)--just to check on progress and general well being.
Some faculty (especially in First-Year Preceptorial) structure required office visits as part of the course (and in lieu of a class or two) just to be able to get a one-on-one check-in with students' progress, academically as well as personally. Some faculty adjust teaching strategies in classes that tend to have mostly first-years. While still maintaining high standards, they may give first-years more time for projects, and provide more check points on work done outside of class. Also, first years generally need more development of critical and analytical thinking before being turned loose on a huge final paper, so variation in types of assignments and grade weighting for assignments and exams need to be assessed. One doesn't need to be a surrogate parent, but just to provide more structure, discipline and supervision than one might for more experienced students. Keep firm with deadlines and expectations, while also being friendly and supportive.
International students About 10-15% of the Knox student body is from abroad. These students add in stimulating ways to the diversity of the campus, while also occasionally requiring some special awareness and sensitivity from faculty. A myriad of cultural issues may have an impact on the progress of an individual student as well as on the dynamics of your class. Gender and class identities, for example, may be treated very differently in the home culture. Expectations of teacher and student roles may be quite different, as might habits of public presentation. If you're perplexed about a dynamic that has developed, you might want to consult with the person in the Dean of Students office with responsibility for international students, or perhaps with a faculty member who has extensive experience in the other culture. Team learning and group projects can also be very helpful in a student's adjustment to a new culture.
Many international students come with superb English language skills. But for those who need help, a referral to the Learning Center is in order; ESL tutoring is available.
Hostile behavior towards you personally In rare instances, faculty may find themselves the target of an angry or hostile student. Such an individual may seek you out or simply go straight to one of the Deans. In many instances, the Dean will defuse the situation and you may never even hear about it. If you perceive a student is upset, attempt to head off the crisis by asking the student to come talk. You needn't necessarily bring up a particular incident or problem, but rather, ask if things are going OK. Should a student persist in being hostile (whether or not their perspective is justified), faculty will probably want to take certain precautions, such as:
Keep a paper trail. Take notes during and following meetings with the individual. Use e-mail directed to the student to summarize and clarify meetings and keep a hard copy. Keep copies of all responses.
Make copies of the student's work with your commentary.
Advise your chair of the situation and perhaps apprise the individual that you have done so.
Leave your office door open during meetings with an individual with whom you have an ongoing contentious relationship.
Shift meetings to more public venues.
Should you feel things are escalating, request a meeting with the Associate Dean of the College or the Dean of Students.
If the student has gone directly to a Dean, and the Dean asks you to speak to the student and listen to his/her position, you should not feel pressured to go against your own judgment in the case, especially where it concerns a grade. In the unlikely event that the student is instituting a grievance concerning some form of harassment, you should seek advice from the Dean of the College.
Students Closed Out of Your Class First, be real about what is a reasonable enrollment size for your class and stick to your guns. (See section on "How to say no.") Faculty have different strategies for dealing with the student who shows up swearing that s/he won't graduate without this course. Not many of us are totally consistent in every course all the time, but here are a few sample strategies:
No Admits, no way, no how. Firm. This faculty member sets an enrollment cap of about five over what is optimum for that particular course and relies on the usual no shows and drops to balance things out.
One-on-One Admits Only. Firm. This faculty member sets an optimal cap on the course and posts a waiting list, first-come-first-served. If someone drops, the first person on the list gets in. And so on. No bargaining.
Low Cap, Willing To Bargain. This faculty member deliberately sets a cap about five under the optimum, because this is a course kids closed out of other courses come running toward and it is required for the major. This faculty member decides who gets in by contacting advisors to assess how critical each student's graduation crisis really is.