Yesterday afternoon I received this email from a student:
OMG, really? The student hasn't turned in a lick of work since the semester started and his absence has been spotty... How has this turned into my issue?
That is what I might have thought a couple of years ago. Now I have taken to responding to emails such as these by answering the question (to make sure the student is heard) and offering suggestions (to put the onus back on the student) - all while keeping my emotions out of the equation. Below is my response.
This student's issue is that he has yet to submit any work. It's simple math (because the course ISN'T challenging - especially for him as a heritage speaker). I will accept late work whenever it is turned in, too, so he can fully recover his grade if he wants to do so. Of course, would I prefer that work be submitted on time? Absolutely. But you know what? My students have a LOT on their plates (work, home, school) and what I really want is for them to do the work and to be engaged with the language. So, my constant message to them is, "Just get it done. And submit it when it is." I want them to realize that they CAN do hard things (even if it is just complete the work!) and they CAN turn around a dismal situation.
My students are about 80% commuters and about 50% first-generation college students. They have a lot going on. (All college students do, but I would argue that this particular population has a few more things with which to contend.) The last thing I want is for them to have a negative experience in my class. It is a language class, after all, and language is not finite, but rather evolving - so should the experience be.
The interesting takeaway for me since adopting this attitude toward my responses: there seems to be less stress for everyone, especially me, but for this student too:
It's true that we cannot force our will upon another, but we can put forth into our interactions what we would like in return.