When a student is trying, but failing, what can a teacher do? Siobhan Curious,who teaches English in Quebec’s version of community college, writes about regret in Classroom as Microcosm.

She knows “Michael” has a troubled home life and severe difficulties with schoolwork.

Last week, Michael did his oral presentation, and he got a zero.  He spoke for barely a minute (for a 5-7 minute talk) and nothing he said bore any relationship to his topic or made any sense.  I was unable to give him points or feedback in any of the categories he was being graded on.

She told that there’s no way for him to pass the course, despite his hard work.

How to tactfully explain that because he is demonstrating absolutely no progress from assignment to assignment, and is not in possession of the most fundamental skills required to pass, he’ll probably never  complete college?  How to say, “It makes no sense that you ever graduated from high school”?  How to say, “This is the wrong path for you”?

. . . I’ve talked to other teachers and tutors who know Michael, and they confirm what I’ve seen: he works very, very hard, and he makes no progress.  None.  It breaks my heart that he continues to waste his time, when he could be investing himself in something that brings him enjoyment and maybe even an income. For some reason, he’s been continually given false expectations of what he is capable of.  Someone, somewhere – maybe many someones – has to help him understand that he needs to stop banging his head against this wall.

I asked, “Have you ever spoken to someone in counselling about your bigger plans?  About what you want to do with your life, and where college fits in?  I can see that school is a big struggle for you, and it’s causing you a lot of anxiety.”

Michael thanks her and leaves. Should she personally escort him to a counselor? Just keep failing him?

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON November 13, 2012

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Hopeless — Joanne Jacobs

[...] and unrealistic expectations. Now he’s at an open-admissions college, where he’s  trying hard, but failing. What can his instructor [...]


Of course she should fail him. He needs to fail. Because everything short of that isn’t going to lead him to understand that he *cannot* do this. Every C, every D+, every thing that is an attempt to keep him going just teaches him the wrong lesson: that what he is doing is okay, and he is improving.

No. He needs to fail. If he fails out of school, then he will have that path closed off to him, which is WHAT HE NEEDS in order to get on a path that is good for him.

She needs to get over feeling bad that his failing means he’s a failure. He’s not a failure–or need not be a failure. But doing anything other than failing him will keep him on this terrible path where he can never succeed.


My question — has this student had any kind of proper educational assessment? It seems to me that, given the student’s motivation and work ethic, he deserves to be steered into a program that will move him forward, and this has to be based on an up-to-date evaluation of his strengths and needs.

Community college programming isn’t my area of expertise, but I know there are campuses — Malcolm X College in Chicago was and perhaps still is one — with specific programs to address the needs of students who enter with very low, even primary-grade, levels of academic skills. Effective programming can raise these students’ skills substantially but must be based on accurate assessment.

Of course the student cannot pass THIS course, but possibly he could be referred for appropriate evaluation and redirected to a course of study that *would* be effective for him.

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