Don’t Pass Up Those Free Points…

A Lesson Learned the Hard Way

A new semester has begun, and students are trying to shake off a summer of fun, re-immersing themselves into a new schedule. For the new college freshman, this means entering an entire different environment-one where they are no longer under the care  of their parents…at least not when it comes to the issue of grades.

FERPA guarantees that all students who have reached the age of consent (fancy talk for having turned 18) have the right for their educational information (including grades, class attendance, progress in classes and so forth) to be kept confidential from their parents or other individuals without the express consent of the student. In other words, parents can’t call up your instructors and talk to them about how their adult son or daughter is doing in their classes. The days of parent-teacher conferences are over…unless the STUDENT requests one.

I have observed that this seems to give students a false sense of freedom and security: “If mom and dad don’t know how I am doing in class, I don’t have to tell them! I can go to class when (or if) I want to! They will never know…”

ExpelledI know this to be true because I had the same reaction when, as an 18-year old college freshman, I ditched classes on a weekly basis. I hung out with friends, blew off homework assignments, made little effort to study for tests, and generally had a good time…for awhile.

Then I got kicked out of school. My parents found out how I was doing when THAT happened. It’s pretty difficult to hide something like being kicked out of school when you are living in their house…and when they found out, they were NOT happy.


Recently, I gave all of my students a chance to earn some extra credit points to kick off the semester. As a math instructor, I know that my classes are intimidating to some, so I tried to take the edge off my students’ stress level by asking them to complete a simple writing assignment. It was SO simple that-other than their name-they only had to write 5 (yes, I said FIVE) words on a piece of paper and turn it in to earn five free points. The five words were from my recent blog called Five P’s That WILL Aid Your Collegiate Success. The students had two days to complete an assignment that should have taken less than five minutes and bring it back to the next class.

Most students did the assignment and earned their five points. A few students went above and beyond the assignment by providing their own commentary on the “5 P’s” or by even adding their own “P’s” to the conversation. For those students, I gave an additional point or two.

But more than 28% of the students across all of my classes didn’t bother to turn in the free assignment at all. I was shocked and disappointed at the level of apathy displayed by such a large percentage of my students. If previous trends hold true to form, it will be these same students who come to me later in the semester to plead their case for extra work so they can bring up their grades. I have told my classes in no uncertain terms that THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN. And yet, every semester, there are those who still decide to approach me, thinking that either I wasn’t serious when I said it the first time or that I will change my mind. For those students, I want to state that THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN! And it isn’t because I’m mean…it isn’t because I don’t like you or that I am being unreasonable. In fact, it is the exact OPPOSITE of those reasons that I will not change my mind.

When I became a dad, I learned that the hard lessons are the ones that have molded my own children into the responsible adults that they have become. In a society where so many feel that they are entitled to receive whatever they think they deserve, I stand in direct opposition to that philosophy. I want my students to succeed. And the only way to succeed is to experience failure along the way. This is a painful lesson to learn, but it is one that everyone needs to understand if they are going to succeed in college, in a career, and in life. youre-firedWhile I would prefer that my students take my word for it, many of them will have to experience it for themselves to understand that I am not overstating the problem.

I only hope that they learn this lesson now, while they are young and can make adjustments. Because if not, they WILL learn it the hard way, when they are called into their boss’s office and fired because they didn’t complete a work assignment.