How far should we go to help students?

This post raises some very interesting and important questions about the extent to which faculty members should allow students to experience failure.  The author asks: “How many of us—as college or university faculty—take on …. “hovering parent” traits and strive to make paths smooth for our students instead of teaching them how to navigate a rough path themselves?”  Examples of such behaviour include:

  • Remind students again and again to turn in their homework or assignments
  • Call a student if he or she has missed a few classes
  • Provide extra credit to raise students’ grades in a course
  • Grade on a curve
  • Change course requirements mid-way through a semester because students complain the work is too hard or that there’s too much of it
  • Place all lecture notes and relevant information on a Course Management System so students don’t have to take notes or even attend class

I have certainly done the items in the first two and the last bullet.  I often find myself struggling with this very question:  My instinct is to treat my graduate students as adults, which means expecting them to take responsibility for their actions and behaviours; on the other hand, I want to help them avoid pitfalls, if possible.  I think there is increasing pressure on faculty to not let students experience failures or obstacles.  I’ve always believed that however painful, failure is a learning experience and an opportunity for growth; more importantly, that we must accept responsibility for our actions, or lack of action. I am increasingly concerned about what I see as a growing societal intolerance towards criticism and complaint, even if constructive, and labelling them as negative and therefore inappropriate, even if valid points are made.  But that’s another matter.

In response to this post, a person said that he/she would be having a discussion with students on the first day with respect to expectations on the part of both students and faculty, which is an approach I try to take, but which I will be sure to spend more time on.

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