When the student showed up in my office inquiring about his very low final grade, it began as a fairly routine appointment. Before I knew it, it had escalated into one of the ugliest exchanges I have ever had with a student – a very rare experience for me.
You see, I have become accustomed to having positive encounters with students and have always had a good rapport with them. Students are always very polite, ask good questions and appreciate the feedback I give them. I love teaching and mentoring them and I get so excited when they share their successes with me. These are the encounters that reinforce just how much I love my job. So when I experienced this rare negative exchange, it really rocked my confidence in my ability to be a strong teacher and mentor.
This student had every opportunity to do well in my course. Unfortunately, he failed to take it seriously. Although he did attend class and even participated, he rarely took notes, consistently walked in late, made little effort to improve his assignments based on my feedback and completed less than acceptable work. It was inevitable that his grade would suffer. When I reiterated the reasons his grade was low, he didn’t have much of a rebuttal and, instead, made the following statements to me. “Your grading is crap.” “I at least deserve a B.” “Admit it Liz, your course is just a filler.” And, as he stormed out of my office, “Oh Liz, you need to learn how to do your job”. It took everything in me not to respond to that last comment; not exactly stellar mentoring, huh?
Perhaps the exchange would have ended differently had I given him the following advice instead:
Always be Prepared
In order to get what you want, show up well prepared with strong evidence to plead your case. Be confident, articulate and respectful in your argument. Bring examples of how you were wronged and why you should receive “compensation”. Never underestimate the power of being prepared. Your brand will thank you for it too.
Always be Professional
When you realize you have lost an argument, it’s NEVER a good idea to resort to personal attacks and insults. Not only does this behavior prove you have lost your argument, it kills your reputation. Others will lose tons of respect for you as well. Remember, it is “Brand or be Branded”.
Take Responsibility for Your Actions
Everyone has experienced getting angry, reacting negatively and saying things that were inappropriate. All it takes is a simple apology and the respect you may have lost during the negative exchange will be given back ten fold. Never underestimate the power of an apology. It is a major brand booster.
Learn from Your Mistakes
Anytime you are given feedback, take it seriously and inquire about how you can make improvements. Take action toward these improvements and always find a way to learn from the experience. This is how you will become empowered, confident and professional.
So, I’m going to take my own advice and reflect on what I learned from this experience. Perhaps I could have kept this exchange from happening had I approached the student earlier in the semester and addressed his classroom behavior. Maybe it would have helped to encourage him to attend office hours to discuss his assignments. I think I was too lenient on students coming into class late, seeing texting going on during lectures and not reminding students of the importance of note taking. I guess I can come up with tons of ways I could have handled this situation better; in fact, don’t they say hindsight is 20/20?
Regardless, from now on I will pay closer attention to the happenings in my classroom. I won’t miss another opportunity to mentor a student who is making bad choices or using poor judgment. Why? It is because I take pride in being a good mentor. That’s just how I roll.
Have you had a mentoring mishap like mine? Here is a great opportunity to share your stories.
About the Author: Elizabeth Dexter-Wilson, aka “Dr. Eliz”, is the Coordinator of Career Services at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. We’re also thrilled to acknowledge Elizabeth’s passionate and innovative support for her students, and for many others through social media. You can reach Dr. Eliz via Twitter!