What I Want to Say to Students Who Fail

I have been teaching for 30 years – middle school, undergraduates, graduate students. I’ve given out my share of failing grades during that time, probably more than most people because in mathematics, statistics and programming courses, there is not much room for giving the student the benefit of the doubt. If the answer is .46 and you say it’s 187 then you’re just flat wrong.

When students fail, it is seldom because they are unable to learn or lazy, and most often because they lack the prerequisite information. For example, any statistics course requires a basic knowledge of algebra – associative properties, exponents, squares, that kind of stuff. You need to understand that if you subtract X from every score that the mean score is now the previous mean minus X. That isn’t going to be explained in class because it is assumed that you already know it. The more of that stuff students are expected to know, but don’t, the more lost they are.

Here is what I want you to know 

… just because you did not pass this class does not mean you should give up.

Here is what you should do:

  1. Figure out what was the information it was assumed you would know that you did not. This may be college algebra. It might be that English is your second language and you did not understand a lot of what was said in class. Identify what you are missing.
  2. Fill in that gap. You could do it by taking a class, reading a textbook, watching videos online.
  3. Take the class again.

Sometimes people have all of the necessary information to pass the course but life just interferes, they have to work too many hours, their children get sick, they get sick – it all piles up and they don’t have the time they thought they would to study and get the work done.

If that is the case for you, here is what you should do:

  1. Line up whatever support you can to enable you to study. Move back home for a year if necessary. My daughter, Jennifer, did that to get her teaching credential and masters degree. It wasn’t fun moving back home but it made it possible to attend school without working. Even if you can’t move home, maybe you can find a roommate to share expenses, etc.
  2. Take the class again.

Maybe you think that your teacher/ professor is thinking you are dumb or lazy. Maybe he is, in which case, your teacher is a jerk who doesn’t deserve the time you are wasting thinking about his opinion.

More likely, though, your instructor is thinking it is ,

“I hope they don’t give up.”

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