Entitled Behavior in Students, Its Source, and Addressing It
Anyone who had been teaching for awhile has experienced it. One of your students shuffles up to your desk and claims to be unhappy with his grade.
Often there is an excuse—sick uncle, dead grandmother, generic “family emergency.” That apparently behind him, however, he’s become uneasily aware of his grade. And since this wasn’t his fault, he wonders if he can do some kind of “make up” work. Often this is a weak student, but sometimes it’s also a strong student, who wants to see her “B” grade changed to an “A.” While you may sympathize with the student’s desire—after all, who wouldn’t want a higher grade than earned?—teachers should refuse these requests if for no other reason than fairness to the students who have been coming regularly. This is just one example of “entitled” student behavior that has become common in our culture.
What are Some Entitled Student Behaviors and Their Sources?
Taking time off; altering the schedule in other ways
This is a major one; students are notorious for coming late, leaving early, and not attending. More immature students in particular have trouble understanding that they must fit college into their lives, not expect the college to revolve around their lives. These attitudes probably stem from not understanding the nature of college work or adult life in general and in seeing the world revolving around their own individual needs.
Modification of work schedule or content
Similarly, besides the schedule, students sometimes expect the class work schedule, such as due dates of major papers and tests also be modified for their needs. They can also sometimes expect modification of content that they find “boring” or nonessential to life in general.
Expecting/Negotiating a higher grade than earned
Another common behavior that students demonstrate is to try to negotiate a higher grade, often citing their “hard work.” While of course effort matters, so does a certain level of skill and proficiency at the college level.
How then can one diplomatically address the student wanting to raise her grade without the student complaining to the dean (as can happen, especially with higher achieving students)? This can be done by addressing a few key issues with the student:
Communication (or Lack Thereof): It was the student‘s responsibility to approach you when she first began to see her grade falling due to her family or health crisis or other concerns. Teachers cannot “read” every student’s individual needs and concerns; adults are expected to speak up for themselves.
Fairness to the Other Students: Other students in the class have been laboring away, often through difficult circumstances of their own. This difference in commitment should be reflected in grades.
Effective Curriculum: The curriculum and activities for most college classes, including ESL classes, has been designed with care and forethought as to the assignments and how they will build on each other, articulate with other classes, and ultimately benefit the student. Any “make up” work a teacher, however good, can design “on the fly” and that the student will undoubtedly complete in a rush will not be the same quality and ultimately will not benefit the student.
Suggestions to Address Entitled Student Behavior
Any time you reject someone’s proposal, no matter how wrongheaded, such as completing a bunch of “make up” work instead of the regular curriculum, a few reasonable solutions should be made to leave everyone at least partially satisfied. Here are a few:
Complete key components in the regular curriculum
Not only does this save you the headache of designing an alternate curriculum for the student and figuring out how to assess it, but it also assures that the student can really benefit as much as possible from the class, given her lack of involvement. Pick out a few key assignments that the students can reasonably complete in the remaining time, decide on the highest grade the student can earn for this modified curriculum—you may decide no higher than a “B” or “C,” for example. Don’t be too disappointed if the student, given her history, fails to complete the work at all. You are simply doing your best to help her; she has to participate in those efforts on her behalf.
Team up with a classmate and share notes; join a study group. Seek college resources in tutoring
One of the reasons a student might fall into such a dilemma as not having completed most of the coursework by the end of the semester is that he might have no real idea of what it is to be a college student and the work habits that it requires. The difference between commitment and work habits needed for high school and college in the U.S. is notoriously large. Meeting regularly with a tutor or study group can implicitly model and explicitly teach the behaviors need to succeed at the college level.
In some classes, such as writing classes, a portfolio might be an appropriate means to alternate curriculum and assessment. In the portfolio, the student keeps a selection of representative work over a period of time to demonstrate progress. This kind of assessment based on individual progress rather than outside standards can benefit some students.
Advise the Student Appropriately
It’s entirely possible that despite your best efforts, the “Johnny –Come-Lately” student will just not be able to produce adequate work by the end of the term, given the late involvement in the course. Be prepared to talk to the student about this and various alternatives: repeating the course the following semester or in the summer, taking it at a local community college, and so forth. There a number of ways a student can remedy a situation like this once he comes to terms with it.
Turn it Back on the Student
Another method is asking the student what grade he thinks he deserves or what he should study in the class. Often he’ll find he can’t really say and realizes that perhaps the teacher can make the best decisions.
It isn’t easy dealing with the student who sees a certain gradepoint average as her birthright. However, by advising the student appropriately, offering suggestions, and actively listening, student satisfaction and achievement can be achieved.
Dr. Stacia Levy teaches writing and reading skills at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California to both native and nonnative speakers of English. She also has taught academic and creative writing at the University of California, Davis. However, she began her teaching career twenty years ago as an instructor ESL in adult education programs and still primarily defines herself as an ESL teacher. Publishing credits include two academic works based on her dissertation, several short stories, and a novel, California Gothic, a story of romantic suspense. Google+
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