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Giving Chances Can Lead to Unknown Benefits (Revised: 5/27/15)

​​Each of my college students – upon request – has an opportunity to receive individual feedback about their class performance beyond grade assignment at the end of each semester.  Receiving feedback is optional; however, students who request an assessment obtain the benefit of my classroom observations, analysis, and evaluations related to their interpersonal skills, communication skills, and class engagement, along with recommendations for improvement.

During one feedback session, a student provided me with some impromptu commentary.  This student surprisingly communicated an appreciation for my willingness to provide students with assistance and opportunities for redemption to pass my class.

This student went on to disclose that if their current semester’s classes weren’t successfully completed, the student might not be able to continue in their program or at this college.  This student’s dilemma was a direct result of previously being placed on academic probation; moreover, to register for the current semester, this student was required to write a letter to the dean to request approval to continue prior to being allowed to enroll for classes.  Unbeknownst to me prior to our conversation, this student was almost at the end of their academic career.

This type of situation isn’t foreign to me as I was given warnings and placed on probation early in my academic career.  My learning challenges were mostly due to my inability to connect with the passive teaching styles used in many classrooms.  Nevertheless, my conversation with this student reminded me about a bad experience that I had with a professor during my undergraduate degree program.

My predicament manifested itself after I stayed up all night to cram for a finance exam.  The day of this exam, I went to work as scheduled and immediately afterwards to campus to take the exam.  After staring at my paper for about ten minutes, I realized that I couldn’t remember anything other than my name.

After this failed attempt, it was a long wait to speak with my professor once this class ended.  During our conversation, I asked for an opportunity to take the exam later; the response received was unexpected.  My professor – in a very callous manner – told me, “You just learned a tough lesson”.  As it turns out, the only lesson I learned was that understanding and compassion wouldn’t always be given.  At an earlier point in my challenged academic career, this experience might have been the catalyst for me to quit my pursuit toward my dream of earning a college degree.

This memorable experience with my finance professor wasn’t forgotten --- as a student or professor.  This defining moment in my academic career is the reason that I will work with my students (within reason) to help them overcome their challenges and sometimes self-imposed limitations.  My strong belief is that educators – and individuals generally – have a significant responsibility to help students to identify issues that might impede their success, along with helping them to do better.

My conversation with the student in my class validated my decisions to provide my students with an opportunity to excel --- sometimes in spite of themselves.  The students who receive additional assistance and guidance don’t receive an opportunity for redemption without significant consequences.  Any student who receives assistance must be willing to push themselves during a limited time period for a chance to pass my class.

Some might think that these additional opportunities might be unfair to other students who completed requirements on-time and as expected.  My response to these kinds of perspectives is that it’s silly --- as any student who was in a similar situation would receive the same consideration.  Moreover, another student’s struggles has nothing to do with or doesn’t detract from a passing student’s success.  Furthermore, it can be argued that providing additional assistance during challenging moments can have a greater social impact and economic value versus allowing a student to struggle, suffer, and become dependent on societal welfare or worse.

As an educator and former at-risk learner, I understand that there might only be a single opportunity to convince a student to work a little harder to achieve their potential.  By providing a student with a chance to succeed, this moment could be the difference between an individual who leaves school or someone who continues their quest to earn a college degree.  Therefore, educators must understand that the impact of their actions aren’t always limited to the current situation.  An educator’s decision(s) to be thoughtful with their approach could be the determining factor that prevents a student from making a bad choice that could negatively impact their life, direction, and future.

Students don’t always make decisions that are in their best interest(s); however, a poor choice at a moment shouldn’t be a reason for anyone to not attempt to identify and pursue ways to drive behavioral changes.  During times that students make bad choices, these are the moments that efforts should be increased to redirect their actions before the opportunity to take corrective action is gone --- sometimes forever.  Furthermore, some students while under stress might be incapable or unwilling to make the right choice(s); therefore, individuals within their circle-of-influence should use these times to step-in, give students a chance, and provide support that might not be received anywhere else.

It must be understood that it’s difficult for some individuals to ask for help or provide assistance to someone who doesn’t appear to be ready to make positive changes.  However, the first option shouldn’t be to give-up on someone due to temporary setbacks; instead, these are the times and moments that everyone should be prepared to be part of a collective team to inspire, educate, and uplift anyone who decides to make beneficial forward-progress.

award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host