I am a university student who’s in the middle of those last weeks before the period ends that can be described as ‘hell on racehorse steroids’ and I’m failing one of my subjects. I feel super s***ty about, to the point that I haven’t seen my last evaluations (only the grade) but I know I have to get over my hurt and fear to see what I’m getting wrong and take advantage of my last ditch chance at passing this subject. Everyone tells me the professor I got is great, I do enjoy her classes, I don’t think she’ll be mad at me for asking for help, but I’m really embarrassed about my poor performance.
So cap, from your perspective as an educator, how do I get over my resistance to asking for help, I’m well aware it’s a largely irrational fear to ask a professor for guidance, it is their job after all. Any good strategies for communicating effectively with educators, professor, etc? Much appreciated.
The fluncky chicken
Hi Fluncky Chicken
1) Go to class, if humanly possible. You only get further behind when you shame-hide. Go to class.
2) If your school has counseling and/or study skills/tutoring resources, it’s time to check them out. They are there to support you and there’s no time like the present to call in the cavalry.
3) Figure out when your professor’s office hours are and plan to go, and/or make an appointment with her.
4) Before that meeting time, spend one hour doing your best to figure out what kind of help you might need. To do this: Look at the syllabus again, read your grades/evaluations, re-read the work you’ve done so far. Make yourself very familiar with the work left to complete in the semester.
Do you understand where you could improve? For example, do you need a deadline extension on a particular project? Do you need tutoring or a study buddy to help you pass an exam? Would you like a chance to re-do a particular assignment/paper/quiz for a higher grade? Do you need a particular concept re-explained? If you have to write a paper or do a final project, do you know that the topic will be?
If you had to sum up what you’ve learned so far in the class (despite performing poorly) in a short paragraph, could you?
You may not come up with neat answers in that time, but the more prepared you are when you go to the professor, the more she can target help your way. You’ll have a more productive discussion with her, and you’ll be able to demonstrate that you care about the subject and self-aware about what you need to do.
5) Then go talk to her. She’s just a person. Her job is to help people understand things. If there’s a way for you to bring your grade up between now and the end of the term, she’ll do her best to guide you there. If there isn’t, hopefully she’ll tell you plain. That can be a relief in itself.
True story: I failed a required course in undergrad. Then I took it again the next year and got an A. Nobody – no employer, no grad school committee, really nobody except my parents – has ever, ever been bothered by it. It felt like the end of the world at the time and it definitely challenged my idea of myself as A Good Student, but honestly it has never mattered professionally in any way. I know that can get tricky with scholarships/financial aid for some folks, but overall patterns matter more than one class. If you fail this course, it’s probably okay to take it again some other time when you have more resources to devote to it. You’ll almost certainly do better the second time around.
227 thoughts on “#1093: “Urgent: I’m scared to ask my professor for help!””
What if you have failed the class twice?
Then I’d ask:
Why are you taking this class? Do you actually need to take it again?
Why do you think you failed/are failing the class?
Before you take it again, what will you do differently next time?
Is it time to take it with a different professor?
Have you used all the resources (school’s learning center, tutoring) available?
Do you always, always go to class?
Do you turn in assignments on time?
Do you take advantage of professor’s office hours and extra help?
Is there something you need that you aren’t getting that you think would help you pass the class?
Do you think you are learning the material (even though you’re struggling with assignments)?
Can you make a friend in the class who takes good notes and seems to have a good handle on the information?
The advice for prepping & communicating with the professor remains the same.
I remember in college I tested into Trigonometry, though math has never been a strong subject. I failed it twice. Thankfully, my major didn’t require any math and I just needed General Ed.
I ended up taking “math for general education” and got an A. I think that’s the first math class I ever got an A in!
My strategy was always to take the math/science courses [not my strong suit] during summer school, so it would be the only thing I had to focus on. It was always too difficult for me to take those courses as part of a regular course load.
I failed Organic Chemistry the first time I took it (large class + not terribly engaging professor + my own bad habits), and re-taking it during the summer at a smaller private college near my parents’ (where I was staying for the summer) was the best thing I could have done. It was a smaller class, with a much more engaging prof who had real-world experience, and other than work, it was all I had to focus on, so I was able to 4.0 the class and the lab. Recognizing the things which I could control (being more engaged and focused) as well as the things I couldn’t control but could potentially find alternatives for (the professor and class size) really helped me be successful the second time around.
Ooh that’s such a good idea! I wish I’d thought of that. I went to film school so my hard classes were cinematography, and it certainly would have helped to only have that to do.
I did that too! I took one of my (two) required science classes in the summer. I took it at home in our community college (bonus I could transfer the credit to my four year university without transferring the grade and affecting my GPA). I had only that one thing to focus on and I had my very science family to help me. (Only non math or science major in my family.) I also knew I didn’t want to worry about it so my freshman year of college I took a science class and a math class that were basically redos of my senior year of high school (but still qualified for my general ed requirements as a humanity major) while it was fresh in my head. And then I was done.
Relearning math three years later for the GED was an adventure though.
My husband failed Statistics twice. The only time he could get it in was at 8 am with a professor who sounded like Bob Ross meets Ben Stein.
Put my hubs to sleep every time.
As soon as he took it with somebody else at the off-campus school, he was good.
My engineering statistics prof told us all the first day that we were welcome to sleep in his class, because if it hadn’t been for trigonometry when he was in college, he never would have gotten any sleep.
Much to our amusement, he turned out to be a hyperactive lecturer who bounced all over the front of the room with flailing arms the whole time — nobody was going to fall asleep in there.
I used to be really good at math. Like, amazing good. Award winning good. Not a prodigy, but straight A+ student. Then I had the worst teacher of all time and I went, in the span of FOUR MONTHS, from an A+ to failing. My parents have always been the kind of people who assume the teacher (or, more recently, the therapist…) is doing their best and in the right, and years later, when my sister had the same teacher, my mom finally realized he fucking sucked. I don’t think it’s gotten her over her disappointment I went into humanities and then dropped out of college (can’t blame my teachers for that, just my being poor and my doctors not realizing I had depression) but still. It can be a huge factor.
:hugs if you want them, or fresh-laundry smell: Same, except for science. I did very, very well under the U.K. method of teaching science, where they just cared if you learned and made the connections, then went to the very rigid and ADHD-inimical U.S. method of teaching science (which was, at the time, “copy down and rephrase chapter headings as questions, then write a page rephrasing what the chapter said, every night. DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS THAT ARE NOT IN THE BOOK. SQ3R!”) It’s a horrible feeling to have something you love turned to brain taxidermy and something you’re good at turned into a weapon against your self-esteem. And ask me if I have ever truly got past the gut belief that almighty and omnibenevolent teachers ever put personal dislikes or cognitive biases before leading a chlld to knowledge. Er. Or maybe don’t.
I hope you get to learn to love math again. I did, but it took a Socratic-method college in my twenties, and I missed so much in between!
(Sorry, mods, I know it’s off-topic, but I do think professors like CA deserve a high-five for flexibility.)
I failed a required art class, as a fine art major. And then ‘failed” it again by not retaking it on the next semester the course was offered (my university had a policy that if you fail due to certain crieria but retake the course when it’s next offered and pass, the new grade is substituted for the original failure)… because the next time it was offered was in summer, when I didn’t have financial aid so couldn’t afford to take any classes and had to work to save up for Fall. I misunderstood the requirement, thought I’d be OK taking it next time I was enrolled — which I did, and got an A! but the A appears on my transcript right above the F and subsequent blank.
I was in a masters program that had a foreign language requirement to receive the degree. Something like if your International Relations degree also required passing X level of a language. The necessity of this language requirement for this specific degree that during the course of the program they even reduced how much of it you needed to take – but regardless it was still there.
I had a friend in the program who went to every language class, did all the homework, met with the professors, met with tutors, etc. Could not test high enough to test out of the beginning level. She worked with the department, was engaged and honest about her inabilities to pass, and worked through a number of proposed solutions by the program. Ultimately the school worked with her to let her graduate without meeting the language requirement. That this was a masters program and a foreign language requirement may have ultimately helped in that decision – but at the end of the day, I believe that the fact that she was so engaged with her teachers and the departments of both the foreign language and our degree program was why that decision was made.
I know hat her inability to test out of these basic foreign language classes embarrassed and frustrated her. That she had to engage in multiple rounds of “yes I’m trying a,b,c,d,e,f” and gather allies to testify that this was not a case of failure to try or engage. But she did all of that, she graduated, and no one has ever asked to see her transcript in her professional life.
If you’re in undergrad – and especially if you’re in undergrad and have dreams of graduate school – this may not be a technical possibility – but I still think that all of the points of being highly engaged and proactive are what’s critical. Universities truly have no joy in people failing out and are often very happy to work with people – it’s just important that you’re present and engaged in that process.
Did that with a particularly gnarly (and oppressively dull) business statistics course. My solution was to take it during summer school with a dyslexic friend. Doing her notes for her was something I could actually kick my own executive dysfunction into gear for. It also challenged me to reinterpret the material as something other than straight text, into short, color coded key phrases, pictures, and diagrams. I simply do not put in that kind of effort for myself. Also you can’t shame-hide when your actual buddy will track you down if you try. This, a more interesting professor, a smaller class and smaller course load, and a more comfortable room, got me to actually pass with a decent grade after a withdraw and a fail.
The one that surprised me was how much difference the room made. In the main building that houses the business school, everything is shiny and new and comfortable except for one sensory-hell lecture hall with middle-school style desk-chairs, blaring fluorescent light, distracting acoustics, and a really weird setup with the whiteboard and the projector screen where you could either be in a good position to see one or the other, and teachers always used both. There was one table waaaaay at the back for people who couldn’t use the middle school desk-seats, and my teacher removed it and stuck it at the front of the room as a desk for herself. It was an accessibility menace. I took two classes there, failed one, hated the other, and rearranged the rest of my college career specifically to avoid that lecture hall.
Great point. I flunked algebra in high school; with a boring teacher and high temps and humidity with no air conditioning.
Summer school: better teacher, a/c, and an A.
Presuming that this is for the current semester, act fast OP. If you are on the January-April semester system, you may quickly be reaching exam season (if this course has exams rather than projects) and it may not be a bit late to try and get help. I know I need my marks in within five days after the end of the course and unfortunately, the later you are in asking for help, the more unlikely I am to give it. But not all profs work in the same way and the institution may have different rules.
I wish you all the luck.
I failed multiple classes in undergrad [basically by doing what the letter writing has been doing here,] I’ve also had professors tell me, “Yeah, you need to drop the class and retake it later since there’s no way you can pass.” I don’t know if you can recover at this late date, but having the discussion with the professor is something you should definitely do.
And also take hope, I did end up graduating and went to grad school years later, and nothing from my shaky undergrad years has ever come back to haunt me.
I was on track to fail a class my freshman year; it was a discussion class and my depression got hold of me, I missed two classes from that and then shame skipped two more.
I went and told the prof what was going on and he waived my attendance requirement! With the pressure off, I made it to class!
I was shocked that he would be so nice about it. Turns out profs want you to succeed and are used to finding ways to make that happen.
Just anecdotally, a ton of people I know in academia have struggled with depression themselves, so they may have been there and can appreciate how hard it is to ask for help!
My partner is an adjunct professor and has dealt with his own challenging mental health issues for years- he’s always empathetic to his struggling students if they come in and talk to him about what’s going on.
The one time in college I ever asked for an extension was during the worst academic quarter of my life. Every single week one of my friends was sobbing on the couch in our living room from some crisis. I was also producing the play from hell. The play opened the night before an exam that I had not studied for. I came home and my best friend asked me how it went and I promptly burst into tears (I am not a crier, none of them in four years had seen me cry before). I wrote an e-mail to the professor at midnight asking about taking the exam another time and she let me and said “sometimes you just need help.” She threw me a rope when I needed one.
It’s ok to ask for help sometimes.
I feel that hard. During uni, I was struggling badly during my first year, but I wanted to power through it, because I thought That’s What a Good Student does. I did power through it, but to my own detriment, and it made all the more mess for the psychologist who had to rewire the faulty stuff in my brain afterwards.
My third year, a similar situation happened. And at first, I reacted the same way. Power through, finish your assignments on time, because if you have to ask for extension You Have Failed. It was actually almost accidental that it changed – one of my uni friends told me she’d gotten an extension for several of her projects, because her rabbit was ill. And I was just like “wait, that’s an acceptable excuse??”
You know what my ‘situation’ was, both times? A close friend’s suicide. And I was so wrapped up in my own perfectionism that I didn’t think getting some time to GRIEVE OVER A FRIEND’S SUICIDE was ‘an acceptable excuse’.
If you need an extension, ask for it. If you need help, ASK FOR IT. It doesn’t matter if you think you deserve it or not – you probably do.
And often, people will throw you that rope. Maybe they’ve had the rope ready for days, weeks, just waiting for you to ask for it.
It’s been my (vicarious) experience that major depression is a routine part of getting a PhD. One of the reasons I departed the hallowed halls of academe, because the normalization of stress and mental illness among my peers and mentors as just a “hazard of the job” was disheartening to say the least. But, yeah, there can be a lot of compassion borne out of direct experience there.
Yep. I’m happy to work with anyone, you (general) just have to come and talk to me.
I failed a class and it was 100% my own fault. The only time it mattered was when I applied to a very competitive grad program. They rejected me on the first try, so I reapplied for the January intake and did a bunch of volunteering in that field to demonstrate my commitment. This felt shitty and I had to face up to some uncomfortable feelings, but I was able to handle the situation. (And this was a time in my life when scared all the time and I didn’t feel up to handling a lot!)
What I’m saying is — lots of people fail a class and go on to live happy, successful lives.
I’d been a straight ‘A’ student at high school, so I was shocked to get a ‘D’ on an exam in my first term in my freshman year. I went to talk to the professor, and she said that I wasn’t the only student who had underperformed in that exam, and she’d be setting a new one in a week’s time. I studied like mad and got a ‘B’ second time around. By the end of the term, I had my ‘A’.
Oh yeah, that was me, except on my first exam, I got a 16. Sixteen out of a hundred.
That was me in freshman calculus. It was the first B I ever had in my life and I was more proud of that grade than of any other one in my entire academic career, even now that I have a PhD.
These days I teach calculus based intro physics to engineering and physics majors and most of my students were the “smart” students who never really had to work that hard in high school. My class is typically the first hard thing for most of them and they do tend to freak out when it isn’t automatically easy for them. They don’t know how to study, because they’ve never really had to. And because I usually have 150+ students in the class (and I have 2-3 sections each semester with that many students), I can’t keep track of all of them and how they’re doing individually. I am happy to help and to work with them if they come and ask for it, but it does require them to come to my office hours and ask for help.
And at least once a week after the first few weeks of the semester I have somebody crying or losing their shit in my office and I have to talk them down and explain that really, a B in physics is a really good grade, it’s a difficult subject for most people, and nobody really cares about their grades once they get out in the world and out of college.
I was also shy of going to my teachers while at uni, but now I have a lot of friends who are professors and they’re much more annoyed about the ones who are failing and never came to see them for help than the ones who are failing and came to ask how to do better. They put a lot of effort into making sure they’re available, and they can feel pretty disappointed when no-one bothers to turn up to their office hours. Go go go!
As a former seminar leader and postdoc teaching fellow: what JennyWren said times 10,000!
Definitely, my professor and course instructor friends will move mountains to help someone if the student is clearly trying and working hard but still having a lot of trouble. The people who just quietly fail in the background and never ask for help? That’s what’s frustrating.
What minuteye said. It really is the most frustrating thing. Especially if it’s a large enrollment class–logistically we can’t individually keep track of every single student, so it really does depend on them coming to us and asking for help. And it is so frustrating when they don’t.
As someone related to, and who used to live with, a teacher, I can confirm this.
It might be too late for this, but a withdrawal/did not finish can be much better than a failing mark for purposes like scholarships and required results.
I would also suggest that, going forward, you see if you can do LESS per class term. Even if the program normally is X classes per term, sometimes X is unrealistic for your particular situation. Or X is assumed to include a mix of “light workload” classes (with fewer/no papers for example) with time intensive ones, but you have all your X filled with the most intense classes and no one can or should do it all at once.
*Not trying to say that some classes don’t matter, but the distribution of work does vary and how easy any academic task is is very individual
These are good suggestions. I was occasionally well aware that I was taking on more than I could handle, and I was basically right and should have made another plan. Once I did a 2-3 person project alone because no one wanted to work with the “oh I have class then, and also then, and also then” person. Another time I shame spiraled my capstone paper because my other class that semester was a 40 hour a week job on a light week. (I got lucky and finally looked at my email 12 hours before the deadline for an incomplete.)
Your tutors WANT you to talk to them. A student who hides and doesn’t communicate isn’t doing themselves any favours, because your professor has no idea what’s going on. And they probably won’t assume you’re struggling—if you’re failing and stop showing up and don’t engage with your evaluations, it’s going to look like you simply don’t care. Your professors want you to come tell them what’s going on.
My mom has taught college courses, and she says that the students who come forward are the students she can help. She also is more than happy to give them a break, leeway, a second chance, more time, etc. But the students who just don’t show up and don’t do the work? Well, she can’t help them if they don’t ask, but it also looks like they just don’t care about her class or their grade. Limited sympathy there, because she’s too busy helping the students in front of her to play guessing games about what’s going on with Mr No-Show.
She was also given a huge break once, from a great professor, when her fiancé abruptly dumped her. She missed a midterm and was failing—it was a course she wasn’t great at in the first place. She went to the professor and poured out the whole story. He was so incredibly understanding—said it had happened to him once and she should feel proud she was even out of bed trying to get on with it, since he had been crushed for a year afterward. He gave her some life advice based on his own experience, which made her feel a lot better, and then he gave her a C on the midterm (she didn’t even have to take it!) and told her if she got a certain grade on the final, she’d pass fine. And she did! But he couldn’t have helped her if she didn’t ask!
LW, I know it’s tough. Just remind yourself that your professor WANTS to hear from you. She really does.
“A student who hides and doesn’t communicate isn’t doing themselves any favours, because your professor has no idea what’s going on. And they probably won’t assume you’re struggling—if you’re failing and stop showing up and don’t engage with your evaluations, it’s going to look like you simply don’t care.”
YES SO MUCH THIS. When I was a TA, I told my students exactly this – having a crisis and not giving a crap about my lab course look the same to me. I would also tell them to come to me the instant they felt that they were falling behind because the longer they wait, the more this falling behind is going to snowball because in microbiology, everything builds on itself. If you don’t understand what the difference between DNA and protein is, you are not going to understand transcription and translation.
I have 40 students that I need to supervise for 4 hours twice a week, a ton of their work to grade, nevermind my own labwork and thesis writing for my MS degree – I do not have the time to track you down if you are underperforming and sleuth out what the issue is. If you ask me for help and let me know what is going on, I will do whatever I can to help, including vouching for you to my boss (the professor teaching the lecture course). But if you don’t ask me or don’t ask me until the very end of the semester when there are limited chances to change your grade? There is nothing I can do, especially since I am bound by whatever decisions my boss makes about make-up work and curving.
So please TALK TO US and TALK TO US EARLY IN THE SEMESTER. Professors and TAs WANT to help you, but we can’t help you if you don’t come to us. I certainly know not everyone loves biology as much as I do and that biology does not come as easily to other people as it does to me – and that’s okay! People have different interests, people have different needs and timelines for learning specific material – but you still have to tell us that we’re moving too fast or need a different explanation of a topic because sadly we need to cram in everything on the syllabus in a set amount of time.
Personal failure time: I also got a D+ in second semester organic chemistry because I did not understand the professor’s teaching style and thought it was stupid to memorize all these ways of making functional groups because I would never need to make an alcohol from an aldehyde by memory in an actual lab environment. I was distraught to get that grade because I was a Good Student. Retook the course next year with a different professor and got a B+. Still got into grad school and got a MS in biology. Literally no one but me cared I retook that course. My parents even were like, calm down, just take it again. Honestly, looking back I’m glad I dealt with that first major academic failure in a safe environment like college since now I am able to deal with failure better as an adult.
I gotta tell you, as someone who has been there before, the more you put it off, the worse it will be. Talk to her TODAY. Most professors are there to help you. In my early twenties I was agoraphobic. Like, severely agoraphobic and my therapist’s suggestion was that I take classes to help me get back into the world.
I can’t describe how horrifically difficult it was to stay in a classroom for one period and I did eventually get to a point where I graduated but in that time, talking to my professor’s became the first and most important thing I did. Do you know how hard it is to talk to a professor when you’ve been a shut-in for over a year? But I did it. And you know what each and every one did?
Ask what they could do to help me succeed and tell me they would do everything in their power to help me. They didn’t judge me, they weren’t mean, they didn’t yell (I did flunk out of the semester, that first time) but they were compassionate and supportive. They’re just people. People who are invested in helping young people but you have to GET IN THERE and advocate for yourself.
Talk to your professor’s, TALK TO THEM and tell them what’s going on, tell them what stress you are under and that you want to graduate. Assuming you want to graduate, sometimes it isn’t in the cards for everyone and that’s okay too. Again, I failed that entire first semester I started when trying to come back from being agoraphobic and NOBODY CARED. I went on to graduate. TALK TO YOUR PROFESSOR TODAY.
Seconding this! Talk to them. You are not the first student to be struggling. I have a huge fear of failure that has a tendency to make me want to avoid problems until they go away. Every time that has happened (like, say, not paying my student loans or looking at my student loan balance or calling my servicer because I was so terrified of them), when I’ve finally gotten around to making that phone call and asking for help, giving the monster a shape has always been better than letting the monster lurk, huge and amorphous, taking up space in my head and threatening to take over my life.
LW, do you have a friend who can hang out with you after class while you make an appointment with the professor, or go with you to the office hours and hang out outside? Often, having someone go with me (or even sit next to me while I make a phone call) helps. Planning a reward for yourself can help too–“After I talk with this professor, I can have ice cream and watch Legend of Korra on Netflix.” Or whatever floats your boat.
Good luck, LW! You got this.
> giving the monster a shape has always been better than letting the monster lurk, huge and amorphous, taking up space in my head and threatening to take over my life.
This is so well put and I really needed to be reminded of it right now, so thank you!
Becca, this is amazing. You have just described one of the biggest ongoing problems I have in my life in such a beautiful and perfect way. Thank you. This is an insight I didn’t know I needed.
Devicat, that’s amazing!
I know that the phrase “inspiring” can be condenseding, but as someone who has stuggled with anxiety and phobias and depression, just knowing that you pushed through even though you failed one semester is so empowering. I genuinely hope you’re proud of your achievement.
And it’s reassuring to know that professors are helpful.
Omggg blushing. I felt kind of embarrassed to share it at first but I think a lot of people can relate to the anxiety and procrastination and thoughts of ‘why haven’t you done this yet, you should be doing this’ mantra that is near and familiar to my heart. The hilarious part is that the year I graduated was the year the economy crashed and no jobs were to be found.
Though I finally did get a part time job, the last bastion of ‘hey, I’m.. cured?’ is full time work, traveling and possible relationship even though I’m an Old now and my brain weasels tell me no one wants a decrepit old geek with brain weasels.
Thirding this. I was absolutely in this situation – mono, depression, and I ended up WDing from a few classes. There are ways to recover. The profs want to help you, and if they don’t they’re not good teachers. I totally recognize the shame-hiding thing but you can get this back on track.
True story: after being a great high school student, I became an engineering freshman and nearly flunked out after the first year. I’m talking like a 1.76 GPA. I admitted I needed help, got help, and still graduated on track within 4 years. I went on to a graduate degree and a great professional life.
You can do it too!
“They’re just people. People who are invested in helping young people but you have to GET IN THERE and advocate for yourself.”
Yes, this. I am not a professor, but I do train new employees. My classes often have 15-25 people in them, so my focus is pretty spread out, and there are definitely limits on how much training you can miss while still being successful. However, I am always 100% willing to go to bat for the people who do reach out to me – in person, via email, whatever – and ask me for help. I will fight for them to get time off without being punished, I will create plans to help them get caught up on material they miss or work with them 1-on-1, and I will even adjust the class schedule if I can to minimize the content they’ll miss. But I can only do that if they reach out to me and I know what they need.
LW – Be kind to yourself and take the Captain’s advice. Spend some time figuring out what you hope to achieve by contacting the professor (extra help? a re-take of a difficult test? more time?), then contact the professor. Good luck!
Not sure if this is applicable to LW’s situation, but one office at my university makes things a lot easier for students who need to navigate mental/physical health accommodations – the disability resource center. They help the student and the professor create reasonable accommodations for a class (whether it’s deadline flexibility or things like closed captioning), so that everyone is on the same page regarding expectations and needs. I highly recommend touching base with such an office if a student has a physical or mental health concern that might require some sort of accommodation or flexibility – the earlier in the term, the better.
How would you recommend *getting* help from disability services? I spoke to the ones at my grad school last semester and had a few check-in appointments, but aside from suggesting I get an assignment planner app for my phone they were no help at all. I might have been able to get accommodations if I’d known what to ask for, but I didn’t and still don’t. I’ve only recently become aware that I might even qualify for their help, which is WHY I WAS BLOODY WELL THERE.
For the record, I have depression, anxiety, and what are *probably* autism-related executive function issues. Getting started on things (especially assignments) has been increasingly difficult and overwhelming; we’re talking I dropped one class last semester and failed another one. (Thankfully, I’m still on track to graduate—IF I can just, somehow, pull this last semester off…)
Plus, I’ve heard from classmates who DID manage to get stuff out of them that they explicitly don’t authorize deadline extensions at my school.
‘Getting started on things’ – I don’t know if this might help you, but I found a great book called The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. Amazing advice on starting!!… It helped me keep starting over and over again until I finished my PhD 🙂
Stuff you may find helpful, depending on your field, from a fellow autistic who finds starting stuff v v v hard:
– access to a tutor (or the prof) who can help you break big assignments into bite size, less overwhelming pieces (this gets easier with practice, too)
– deadline flexibility (even if you think they won’t do it, it’s worth asking, especially if you have classes with overlapping deadlines)
– counseling and access to medications if you want them (many schools have some kind of student counseling/therapy and some have health clinics that cash prescribe if you want to try medical help) (autism and adhd have a sizeable overlap in both symptoms and comorbidity, and I’ve personally found treating my previously unrecognised adhd is like a miracle)
– are you able to take in the lecture portions of your classes well? You might ask for copies of the lecture notes the prof teaches from, or a scribe, or permission to record the lectures, or some other option
Some places are better than others, and some places have more resources than others. I’m really sorry that yours weren’t more helpful than they were. Did you actually discuss your diagnosis with them? Sometimes medical paperwork is what’s needed to kick-start actual accommodations.
You should also have conversations with your professors. There are some things (I, a professor) can’t do without paperwork, but there are other things that I can do. Think about what might help — would setting up an appointment in the 48 hours after an assignment is given to check in with your very first steps help you get moving? (Just long enough to get *something* done, but not so long that it grows horns and teeth?) I would totally make those appointments with students. And there are other resources on campus that I can point you toward — tutoring, counseling, the student solutions office — that might be helped along by a professor calling ahead and saying “please watch out for so-and-so, ze’s coming by to talk (and you might find out that they know the magical incantation for your disability services office). Even just telling me what the problem is lets me help you brainstorm. And tells me that you’re not disappearing and not doing work out of apathy — knowing you care matters.
I know that asking for help is *hard*, especially when you really need it. But most of us really do want to give that help. I just can’t read minds.
I brought in my diagnosis papers (social bloody communication disorder—I’m not convinced this accurately reflects the problem that got me referred over for testing in the first place, but that’s another story). But, literally no suggestions whatsoever. My (non-school, because school refers most students out) therapist has been some help with learning how to break stuff down into smaller bits, though frankly I still suck at doing it on my own. Maybe I just haven’t learned how yet.
The 48 hour thing *might* help? It’s a lot of appointments to make and keep and I’m kind of really embarrassed, but *maybe*?
I would like to ask the person I see at student health to try and get me in with the school psychiatrist, but I’m not optimistic about my odds.
Are campus tutoring and writing centers for grad students too?
I’m sorry you’re having so much trouble unlocking this. Campus tutoring and writing centers are usually for grad students, too. Also talk to the graduate school or your department’s admin – they often know of resources that even profs. do not.
I really, really do get the embarrassment. Been there. And I’m not saying it’s *the* thing to do, just giving it as an example.
I hope you do talk to the person at student health. And the admins, and the professors, and is there a dean of students or something similar? They often coordinate the resources, and might be helpful, too.
The tutoring and writing centers at the places I’ve been have been for grad students, too. Our tutoring center also does some non-content, skills focused work, too — if yours does, that might be another resource for “help with strategies for breaking stuff down”.
The other thing that has helped me was figuring out who in my Team Me would let me / help me check in. Its been different people for different things, and in different places in my life. It’s ranged from in-person study groups (I’m in math, so the part where you talk and argue and draw pictures until you figure out the nugget of the proof, and then all go off on your own to write it up), to periodic phone calls with people I like/know well enough to be willing to talk on the phone, to telling the chat channel I was in that I was heading to do X, and to yell at me if I was back before time T, to online groups that were about accountability.
I don’t know if those will be your things. But I hope you keep talking to people and asking questions and asking for resources and ideas until you figure out what your things are. I do believe you can do this.
Here’s a strategy that helped me as an anxious, depressed, autistic college student that I’m sharing in case it might also help you/someone: Do you have anyone you trust who you could ask to do little daily checkins with? It could be a counsellor or someone in disability services, but it could also be a friend or family member.
See, when I was in my last semester of college, I asked my mom if I could email her every day telling her what I got done that day. And it was really helpful! It was great having the accountability of knowing someone was checking in on my daily progress, but also knowing that she would be gentle about it if I had difficulty so I didn’t need to be scared or lie about it if I struggled one day.
Previously, my motivation to get things done had come in the form of thoughts like, “If I don’t get anything done today, amorphous but terrible things will probably happen in the future.” This has the twin downsides of being paralyzing (unthinkably terrible consequences! what an overwhelming thought!) while also lacking urgency (the consequences will happen… someday! probably!). It turns out that, “If I don’t do anything today, I won’t have anything to tell my mom about!” was a much more concrete motivation, while also feeling a lot lower pressure.
1) I have found that getting started on things is easier with practice – just because you struggle now is no reason you won’t improve over time.
2) Depression makes things harder, so things that help your depression (therapy? meds? exercise? enough sleep and regular meals? sunlight? etc etc) will help your academics.
3) It sounds like you would be better off talking to your lecturers/tutors directly, not disability services. Maybe you don’t get deadlines but you get extra study, or other things – as an Arts student, lecturers could help with the time-consuming research part by saying “This book is great for this topic, plus here are three articles”.
Also, librarians can be amazing if you ask them (not the computer system, but a flesh-and-blood librarian) for help finding information on a topic. Even if that topic is “Why/when was marriage removed from the Sacraments in the CoE, and would that have had any effect on Spencer when he was writing the Faerie Qveene”?
Yess I second this!
Plus librarians can make really good “asking for help” practice. We’re non-judgemental (or at least we try), we don’t know you, and the interaction you have with us will never reach the ears of your professor so you don’t have to worry about how you’ll come accross. All you gotta do is find out what their reference hours are and walk up to the librarian on duty. If you’re not sure what help you need, we’ll also help you figure that out.
Plus even if it’s just practice, the librarians will most definetely know *something* that can help, even if it’s just contact info for another resource. We’re not social workers, but we’re very used to responding to students in all kinds of distress, from academic to personal to financial.
Okay, this is what I’ve had from the disability office at my university to help me get through things with (diagnosed) depression and anxiety and (undiagnosed) executive function and audio processing problems (like you, I’m pretty certain I’m on the autism spectrum). I don’t need special conditions for examinations (partially because I don’t get stressed out by exams, partially because I’m studying Creative Writing /Literary and Cultural Studies, neither of which have any exams to speak of). I do request a seven-day extension (on request, and without a medical certificate), for if the depression decides to bite in the lead-up period to a major essay or similar (where even a one week delay is enough to really throw things out of whack). So far I haven’t needed to use this – the nearest I’ve got is mentioning I might need to use it to one of my tutors once.
Something which might be worth seeing whether your university’s disability support people can help with is peer mentoring – the university I’m with does a specialist peer mentoring program for students on the autism spectrum (diagnosis not absolutely necessary, provided you fit in with a couple of screening conditions, I think). I meet up with my mentor (who’s a graduate student studying psychology) once a week, just to make sure I’m keeping on track and know what’s coming up on the horizon and so on, and to ensure I’m not having issues which could be soluble. They’re also able to act as moral support if I need to speak to professors or similar, and to help out with figuring out where to start on looking into certain things (like “how to get an adult autism diagnosis in a state where there’s only about a half-dozen psychiatrists who diagnose autism in the first place, and most of those only do paediatrics”).
The thing to note with most university disability support services is they’re primarily focussed on providing what you need academically – what do you need to be able to physically attend classes on the regular, physically get through exams, and physically hand in assignments (yes, they’re primarily focussed on motor accessibility needs – most disability support systems are, unfortunately, because the visible disabilities will always get attention ahead of the invisible ones). You could try asking the disability services people for a referral to whichever group does study skills training at your university – they might have more information and resources on how to deal with the “getting things started” and “timetabling study” side of stuff.
The quality and range of services provided by disability services offices can vary a lot depending on the university, available resources, your school’s policies, and what kinds of laws and regulations they are required to follow. I’m so sorry you had such a poor experience with yours. If you do plan to go back and try to request services, I hope you are able to speak with someone more receptive.
I sometimes find it easier to ask for help if I know what kinds of things I might be able to ask for in the first place. In case this would be helpful for you, here are a few of the accommodations I’ve seen requested at my university for students who are dealing with invisible disabilities:
Taking in-class exams in a quiet, low-distraction setting rather than with the rest of the class;
Extended time to take in-class exams (time-and-a-half testing is a frequently-used accommodation here);
Flexibility in the way class participation grades (if applicable) are assessed, so that students who are unable to participate in verbal class discussion with the whole class don’t lose participation points;
Attendance—if your class takes attendance and that forms part of your grade, disability services may ask that the instructor waive absence penalties or allow a greater number of excused absences (with or without additional medical documentation; this will depend on your school’s policies);
Alternative assignments, if there are particular types of activities a student otherwise would not be able to complete;
Note-taking services—when I was an undergrad, students in one of my classes all received an email from disability services looking to hire a student note-taker for one of my fellow classmates. My job was to provide copies of all my class notes for this student to use. I’d drop off copies of the notes about once a week at the disability services office, and the student would pick them up there. It was confidential—I never knew which of my classmates was receiving my notes;
Permission to audio-record lectures;
Permission to use a laptop or tablet in class to take notes or make use of adaptive technologies;
Use of assistive technology during exams;
Permission to write answers directly on an exam paper rather than bubbling in a Scantron sheet;
Use of a laptop or computer to write in-class essay exams;
An audio version of exams, or a test reader.
You said your center is known for refusing to request extensions on assignments for students, but it might not hurt to ask anyway. You may also be able to talk to your instructors one-on-one to see if they will allow reasonable extensions for you–use your own judgment of the instructors to determine whether you are comfortable doing so.
Megpie71 mentioned peer mentoring, which might also be helpful, if you think you’d benefit from working with someone who can help you with accountability and motivation, moral support, and offering different strategies for approaching assignments. Again, the options at your university may vary; they may or may not have specialized peer mentors who work exclusively with students who have been referred through disability services as Megpie71 described. If your disability services office doesn’t have this option, your school may still offer similar services for the general student population. Look for keywords like “peer mentor,” “academic coaching,” and “peer coach”. These services may be folded into a generalized student academic tutoring center of some sort; if your campus has a generically-named academic support center, you might start there.
I’m so sorry that this has been such a challenge at your institution. In my (admittedly limited) experience with our disability resource center, they have been really helpful in framing conversations between students and instructors. My experience was that they were pretty helpful up to the point of accessing the learning, but anything beyond that was firmly beyond their purview. For example, I led a university sponsored international tour that had a student in my group with limited mobility. As the group leader, I was expected to ensure that the student had physical access to the learning activities and group lodgings, but all other arrangements for free time activities had to be arranged by the student.
At my (public) university, all instructors must put language in the syllabus about how to get disability related accommodations. Beyond the advice of talking to the admin or student services person, you may also try talking directly to the professor to see if they can help get the conversation rolling? Deadline extensions (particularly for medical/mental health related flare-ups) are super common here – it’s not a carte blanche to turn in assignments whenever the student wants, but it’s intended as a tool to be employed if someone has a flare-up that will cause a delay in their course work. I’m so sorry that this is such a chore at your university!
Unfortunately Disabled Student Services often can’t help without an official diagnosis. I got help 20 years ago due to my hearing loss, but it didn’t occur to me that my executive function issues might be due to ADD. I thought only hyperactive boys had it!
I wish you luck with graduating, and I hope you can address the issues you are coping with.
After finishing school, I’ve had the most help from an occupational therapist. Maybe you would need that kind of help? Therapists have different experience, and you might need to try a couple. I lucked out and found a very helpful one quite early.
My department was not very helpful, but I got some help after I turned to the central administration and their counsellor. The help I got was a mentor. I studied for my Bachelor and got a mentor who was a Master student. We met once a week and talked about what happened since last week, and planned the upcoming week. Since they had just finished their Bachelor, they could give suggestions when I felt stuck.
Other resources the counsellor offered were for example note taking (getting a class mate take notes for you) or getting text books as audio.
As for extensions, in my experience you need to talk to the lecturer/teacher responsible for the course.
At the university where I work, the disability services office will only work with a student if they have a diagnosis and the paperwork to back that up. They are there to cover the university’s ass and only to cover the university’s ass. They are not helpful for students who need help getting a diagnosis or getting help with some issue or other that may be short term.
I’d like to add, in case this is one of your fears, that professors are used to students getting emotional when they are stressed. You might be visibly nervous when you talk to your professor and that’s okay. You might cry when you talk to your professor and that’s okay. Many of them keep a box of tissues in their office for this reason. As long as it’s reasonably clear you’re making an effort to figure out what you can fix, and not just going to the professor to plead with her not to fail you, a good professor (for example, one who everyone says is great) won’t hold being a scared, tired, stressed university student against you as a person.
I have gotten really good at offering emergency chocolate right *before* the tears would have started. Saves me tissues!
I keep tissues and a full cookie jar in my office for just this reason.
I am not a professor that everyone says is great (I’m very polarizing to my students–they either love me or hate me, and the ones who bother to come to office hours and get extra help tend to at least like me), but I am a human and I try to help them when I can.
“really nobody except my parents” ah, so.
But yes, you can do this. They will help you! Good luck!
(ah so meaning “yeah, I know this life”)
I’m glad you explained. I’ve never heard that phrase! Do you know where it originated or what areas it is popular? I’m a sucker for interesting English.
Its actually from Japanese. Aa is a common interjection, and in one of those weird linguistic quirks, Sou (with a long”o” sound) basically means so, as in “that’s so” or “that’s right.”
In an odd coincidence, you will also hear people say “ah so” a bunch in German conversation, where it means “oh, okay”.
I suspect that was JustinPBG’s idiolect. (Personal speech patterns.) Just a phrase they use a lot and probably a lot of the meaning usually comes thru in tone of voice and how heavy the sighs are.
University admin here, having worked with students for 21 years, daughter of two college profs:
Are you afraid that she’s going to yell at you? Are you afraid that she’s going to be contemptuous, put you down as “not worth my time” and make you feel bad?
Valid fears. You need to be brave. It’s more than likely that she won’t do any of these things. It’s more than likely that she’ll be very happy to see you being a responsible student. What disappoints college profs are the students who don’t give a damn, when they’ve spent hours creating a curriculum and a syllabus and being open to communication. Any student that turns herself around and actually makes an effort is going to be worth their time.
Sure, there are some asshole professors out there who think they walk on water. But it doesn’t sound like she’s one of them. Take the chance. You will feel so much relief by doing so.
University office assistant here. In my experience, our faculty LOVE to teach. They explain the same topics over and over, year after year and still love it. When you go to meet with your instructors for extra help, LW, it gives them another chance to do what they love.
Being an office worker, I mostly interact with students who are having problems. I’m also happy to help these students when I can. Nobody in our office thinks less of these students who reach out for help. In fact, students who are interact more with the program are highly respected.
I’m another university staff member who works in student services, and Anne On is right. Most of the students I talk to on any given day are struggling or have struggled in classes, for any number of reasons. I only think badly of students when their behavior in our office or on the phone is crappy–say, trying to physically storm past an office assistant and into a random administrator’s office, or addressing an office assistant as “babe” (flames….on the side of my face….), or behaving in an outlandishly rude and entitled fashion. As long as your demeanor with instructors and staff is a basic level of polite and pleasant, most of us are not going to think poorly of a student seeking help.
Co-signing what Cora says here. I was an adjunct professor for a couple terms and worked in uni admin for a spell.
When I was teaching, there were several students who had difficulty with the class. I had a much better experience with the one who admitted she took on too much that term and was upfront with her struggles than the one who avoided coming to us, didn’t follow through on plans to get back on track, and eventually blamed all her problems in the class on me and the other professor (and this was a graduate-level course).
It can be scary to take ownership of what’s going on with you, but that’s the best way to establish rapport with and support from your professor.
A+ advice. I’m a professor, and what I want most is for my students who aren’t doing well/getting it/etc. to COME TALK TO ME. Preferably having prepped a bit beforehand. I have seen a few students fail classes when they could have asked for what they needed–or some in to say, “I need something but I don’t know what.” (I try to reach out to these students *before* this happens, of course, but it’s not always possible and really, taking responsibility for one’s own learning is a skill to learn.) Always, always, always come to office hours (when students don’t come in, I sit and read CA, which is great but not what I’m paid to do.)
Also a prof. Keep in mind that – assuming that your professor is not in their first year of teaching – they have almost certainly seen students in much worse situations. We’re like therapists in that respect. Students come in thinking that they are a uniquely terrible failure, but actually, there’s probably several other students in my classes right now who are in a similar spot.
I’ve taught students before who have dug themselves out of much worse holes. Also students who haven’t, but who have then retaken the class and passed. Or who have not retaken the class, but graduated and gone on to have perfectly good lives and jobs despite having failed my class when they were a sophomore. Etc, etc.
Come in and talk! I may or may not be able to help you fix this current situation – there’s a good chance that I can, but it’s not 100%, and sometimes the best thing to do is to sign a withdrawal form so you can focus on your other classes. Either way, though, having the conversation will help with the shame, which will in turn help you move on in whatever direction is right for you.
I was a full on Hermione, As everywhere all the time, and I failed my first attempt at English 1A. Retook it and passed. It happens. Looking back, I only regret I was so emotionally invested in my grades.
Absolutely open a dialogue with the professor. Even the most demanding professor I ever had would work with students if they just told her what the hell was going on. (She was one hell of a tough grader, and she could read a Riot Act for the ages if it were warranted, but she was also genuinely interested in helping people learn what she was teaching!) A teacher (regardless of level/age group of their students) who isn’t willing to listen to students and help them learn is someone who is at minimum either in the wrong field or in need of an attitude adjustment.
Nobody can help in any situation if they don’t know you need help. It’s hard to admit you need help sometimes; I get that. I had good grades most of my academic life, and it’s easy to build a sense of identity around being Good At School Stuff, but (here’s the secret) pretty much every Good Student hits a wall at some point where the coursework is harder (because of the subject or the teacher or the rest of life throwing spanners in the works or whatever). Asking for help is a sign of strength, a sign of commitment to doing well and learning, not a sign of weakness or a sign of a Bad Student.
I am often taken by how often performance in a class has nothing to do with the material taught in the class.
For instance, how well one does in a biology class will have to do with how well one is able to draw what one saw under a microscope, so the students who are good at that sort of drawing do well and the ones who are bad at art fail, but nothing about drawing or art is on the curriculum, and no one would even think of getting tutoring in that because the class is supposed to be about science.
Can you identify some skill that may be tripping you up that’s actually unrelated? Possibilities are:
Memorizing lists or vocabulary.
Writing a well organized informative essay.
The social/management skills needed to work on group projects with classmates. (This is the one that often tripped me up. Professors would assign group projects like that was fun or hip or easier for everyone. Then when I didn’t know how to get my team mates to work together with me or even to show up to meetings, there was nowhere to go, no way to complain, no way to get help. If I couldn’t get information from a database, I’d ask for help operating the database. If I couldn’t “operate” a classmate, there was no special skills help for getting the classmate to return my calls.
Not doing well often has nothing to do with understanding the material. If you can pinpoint what you need, you’ll have an easier time getting it.
This is genius. So many of these skills are basic work skills that will serve you for life.
I feel you.
The worst group project I ever saw was in an ecology class that involved doing tests etc outside in the environment, and each group was assigned a different local environment. My group went fine, although technically we “cheated” because we split the work re: two team members went out and got the data, two analyzed the data, and one wrote pretty much the whole ppt based on the analyzer’s notes.
Ostensibly every group member had to drive out to their assigned environment and do the tests. But that was impossible to organize, so we covered for each other, and I’m sure the other groups did too.
Well, one group decided I guess they disliked one girl, and they were all friends outside of class except her. So they “ghosted” her and did the whole project without her and wrote on their reflections that she refused to help or do any work. So, she ended up failing the project, even though she tried to get in touch and they ignored her.
And it’s like: this is college! Why are you acting like a middle school clique? Ughh, it made me so mad, AND it pissed me off that the professor couldn’t see what’s going on.
I had a group sortof do this to me. I kept trying to set up meetings, and they all were too busy. Then they asked for an extension without discussing it with me and even though I told them I would be out of town on an interview that weekend when they wanted to meet to work on the paper. The professor couldn’t give me credit when they complained, so i failed the project. (Still got a B in the class so obviously this was crushing.) But yeah, that did not inspire me to a greater love of certain categories of business majors.
Ughhhh why is this allowed. Sorry that happened to you; glad you got a good grade in the overall class at least. But, gahrr, I feel like this happens a lot and some professors are just clueless.
I got so angry reading this. Almost the exact same thing happened to me! Because one of the other students in the (all-male-aside-from-me, hello STEM field) group made romantic advances toward me and I turned him down. Next thing I heard, the group had gone to the professor and said that I wasn’t doing the work and could they turn in the project without me. And I felt like it would make me look bad/unprofessional/something if I told the professor the real story, because I thought the whole situation was my fault somehow? Ugh. I think I turned in something as a one-person group, and took a ding on my grade because of it. Have always wondered how much the professor knew about what happened there.
Oh, it gets worse, too: the next semester the situation repeated with a completely different class and a completely different group, but the second time I acted more responsive to the flirting (and, in fact, even went out for drinks with the dude once or twice) because I was afraid of getting iced again. Turned in the project with a sigh of relief and never spoke to him again. Group projects can be hell if people don’t have the maturity for it.
That’s obnoxious. I’m sorry that happened to you
I feel like there needs to be a whole separate CA post / thread about dealing with group projects. I generally do well, but I think I just tend to be lucky; like, I get assigned to groups where everyone has the same, medium-amount of investment in the class that I do, and nobody is flirting or punishing anybody else. But once someone’s in that situation, what do you do?
I get angry reading this too. I’m not saying this would yield actually good results, but I imagine a scene where you go to the professor and say: This team mate made these romantic advances, and this is what I did. I tried this, this, and this. Now I understand that my team mates have asked to do the project without me. What can I do to resolve the problem? Can you give me some ideas for what I might try to work with these teammates or complete the requirement some other way?
The same for what Indoor Cat described where the members of the team decide to ice one member for reasons that have nothing to do with the assignment or working as a team. If the iced student goes to the teacher and in a non-accusatory way says: I tried this, that happened next, what do you suggest I do to complete the requirement? No guarantees that the teacher will be fair, but it does have the best shot at success. It puts the problem not in terms of getting involved in the students’ interpersonal relationships where the prof might genuinely be in over their head (or they wouldn’t have assigned a team project with no oversight or insight in the first place). It puts the problem back in the square of what the professor can do: Give assignments and evaluate student performance on those assignments.
This is getting a bit afield from the original question, but it has to do with working in a group in a school setting. I’m not sure if the genders of the participants matter, but I’m including them because I think it might. I (female) was in that position of having trouble “managing” my team mates on a group project. Some weren’t taking it as seriously as I did. Some were flaky about returning email, etc. It wasn’t a disaster situation like the ones described above since we did turn something in and do okay, but I was thinking I’d have done better and learned more if I’d done it myself. I was talking to a friend about it. He (male) said he remembered those awful group projects from high school. What he did was hold an initial meeting with classmates, do the whole thing himself, present it to the teammates the next time they got together and ask them what they thought. He said they always appreciated that he’d done all the work. Then he’d thoughtfully ask for help typing it (which dates how old we are and how far back this goes), and they’d turn it in.
Put it another way, I thought the important thing was to be fair to my classmates to get everyone’s ideas and input and make everyone feel included in the team and to make sure we all contributed equally. He thought the important thing was to get a good grade. He went about that in the most expedient way he could and simply skipped the part he wasn’t good at. You may be thinking he wasn’t good at typing. He freely admits the part he’s not good at is working with other people.
Following up on my own post. The more specific you’re able to be about the skills and particulars you need help with, the better the professor will be able to help you. If you’re making a complaint, put all the emphasis on what YOU need to DO in order to resolve the problem, nothing on what other people like your classmates need to do.
With my comparison with using a database, the script might look like this: You’ve asked us to write a research paper using articles from this particular database, and I’m afraid I’m behind because I got stuck on the first step. I haven’t been able to access it. I’ve tried from home using [these methods], don’t know [this kept happening] and also asked for help in the library [where the librarian wasn’t able to do it either]. I’d like to get started, can you help me get into that database or do the research some other way?
Note how different that is from putting blame on either the librarians or the school’s internet or anything else.
Compare that with: You’ve asked us to do a group project, and I’m afraid I’m behind because I haven’t been able to get in touch with my team mates. I’ve tried [these email messages, these proposals], but I’ve only gotten [these results]. I’m eager to get started. Can you give me any other ideas for what I might try to complete the project as assigned or complete the requirement in some other way?
It’s more than databases and group projects. It’s: “I’ve tried this, gotten these results, am having trouble with that. Do you have any suggestions?” Even a word like study is too vague compared to more specific terms like analyze, memorize, outline, summarize, understand. If you go to the professor and say “I’m having trouble analyzing this material,” that’s something the prof can work with.
That’s not to say that every professor will automatically be helpful once approached, but there’s a better chance.
I love the specific, actionable advice here. A+.
One thing you really need to think about before you talk to the professor, is it just this class or are you having time adjusting to any difficult class in college.
A lot of people get As in high school b/c they are naturally smart. They don’t learn how to work.
I’ve seen B students who learned to work do better in college.
Of course, if you are doing well everywhere else and it is just one course, then there’s something else going on.
It’s going to be difficult for anyone to help you if you don’t know what the issue is.
Of course, if you don’t know what the issue is, you can email the professor and say “I don’t know why I’m struggling so much in this class, are there any campus tutoring or counseling resources you can recommend?”
I was this kid in high school until my senior year when I took calculus. It was a lot harder than anything else I had taken and I had to work my butt off for the A I eventually got by the end of the year. Once I got to college, I was so glad I had already had the experience of having to work hard for a grade. That one calc class prepared me more for college than all of my other classes in high school.
Also, I want to add for the LW, I taught first year writing for several years when I was getting my MA and I agree with basically all of the other commenters and CA here: your professors want to help! I couldn’t track down all my students and know what was going on with each one of them, so I always appreciated students who would come in and tell me what was happening and ask for help. I had a few students disappear on me, and I still worry about them and wonder what happened. I had fairly strict policies but I was always happy to adapt as needed for students who came to talk to me. It’s tough and embarrassing and unpleasant to take that first step asking for help, but I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you speak to your professor!
Yes, talk to the prof. You are not the only person to ever have trouble with the class. I was on my way to a D in one of my major classes, so I talked to the prof, and he let me drop the class but keep my lab grades and retake the class portion next term, so I had that extra lab time to study, and it worked out fine.
The prof is not there to punish you if you don’t know something.
As a former TA, I just want to echo everyone’s advice here: go talk to your professor. It’s okay. I taught at a state school where I was the only teacher who knew my student’s names. They would go to these huge lecture halls for most of their classes, and be faceless numbers, and then they would come to English, where there were only 20-25 of them, and I would know who they were and stuff about them, and inevitably, around this point in the semester, some of them would come to my office and cry because they thought they were going to fail, either my class or someone else’s class. And we would work through it and figure out how to get them the resources they needed, or the Incomplete on their transcript, or the location of the tutoring center or their academic advisor, and things would improve. Sometimes their grades would improve, but always their state of mind would improve, because the scary and unknown CONSEQUENCES had become known, and that is better than unknown.
So go talk to your teacher: it’ll be okay.
I have lived both sides of this. I failed a class two years in a row because I just couldn’t sit down and do the homework, even though I aced the tests. (It was a programming class, and each assignment was built on the successful results of the previous assignment.) As the class went on I became increasingly ashamed and unable to even look at the professor, even though I LOVED his teaching. I was convinced that he thought I was the worst student in the world. But in fact, he was just concerned about me, since he KNEW I could understand the material. Even though I failed his class twice, he never shamed me or was anything but kind, and he even asked me to work on a summer project with him later on.
I’m currently a math professor and I see so many students in this same situation. Every semester I have students who are in danger of failing my calculus classes, some because they aren’t going to class and aren’t doing the work, some who are clearly trying very hard but just don’t get it. (Math is hard!) Many of my students are afraid to go to office hours or ask me for help, because they feel like they’ll be in trouble for asking the most basic of questions at the end of the semester. But I PROMISE you, neither I nor any of the professors I know would ever shame a student for asking for help. We care about our students and want every single one of them to succeed, and if you’re having trouble we want to help you. It’s NEVER too late.
This is, uh, timely.
I think I’m in (and failing) that programming class right now. My teacher is awesome, but I have no idea how to go about trying to catch up or if it’s even worth trying. Part of me wants to cut my losses, run away, change my major and never take another programming course. I’m trying to work up the nerve to go and see the prof first, but it’s hard going.
Thank you for the reminder that my situation is not unique and professors are good at being understanding. It helps.
If my experience is anything like yours, definitely go to your professor now! Even if you’re not sure how to get started, your professor can probably give you some suggestions for where to start.
The class in question for me was Operating Systems. The homework assignments involved starting with a little toy operating system written in C++, that had the bare bones of some functionality. Over the semester we had to add various features to it to make it into a functional operating system, but each assignment absolutely depended on the previous assignment working. I think I just sort of felt a little overwhelmed at the beginning of the semester and didn’t get started right away, and then of course the next week I realized I had twice as much work to do since I would need to complete the first assignment in order to do the current one, and every week I got more and more panicked. My natural response to panicking and feeling overwhelmed is always to retreat and avoid even thinking about the panic-inducing thing, which was Not Helpful.
The second year that I had this situation, I finally, FINALLY got up the courage to go to the professor the day before the final assignment was due. I almost couldn’t speak, I was so full of anxiety and shame, but I acknowledged that I had not gotten anything done at all that semester and I wasn’t sure where to start or if it would even be possible. The professor was very understanding and told me that if I could do anything on the project, even complete some of the earlier assignments, he would grade that and I would be able to get some credit. Unfortunately, that night as I attempted to pull an all-nighter, my anxiety was so high that I could barely even look at the program, much less write any code.
I actually aced every test for the class (including the final). This was partly because I had taken the class the previous year, but also because I really did understand the big-picture concepts we were learning. I still failed the class because the grades were structured such that the assignments were the larger part of the grade. I don’t begrude the professor for this at all–he still remains one of my favorite professors, and I’m sure he was struggling all semester with what to say to me.
This was a required class for my Computer Science major, in the last semester of my senior year. Because I failed the class, I couldn’t graduate on time. However, it ended up being a wake-up call for me that my heart wasn’t really in it. I have always liked the theoretical aspects of programming more than the practical, and in fact I had been strongly considering going to graduate school for math, even though as a non math major I hadn’t taken all the math classes I would need. After I realized I wouldn’t be graduating, I decided to take a fifth year and complete a math major (only a few more classes), plus re-take Operating Systems in the spring so I could graduate with a double major. That plan more or less worked out, and although I had to take out loans to do the fifth year, I was able to complete my classes, graduate, and go on to graduate school.
So there you go. It is possible to fail a class and recover! But I definitely wouldn’t recommend it–you’d be much better off talking to your professor now!
I work in student services, and something I often see with students is what I call the “black cloud of fear and procrastination.” Basically what I see happening (and this happened to me as a student as well), the smaller things build up into an amorphous terrifying blob of just not knowing where to start. The advice to break it down a bit into more manageable chunks is gold. I think all of us have been in the state of semi-paralysis, and that makes procrastination even more easy to fall into; it’s basically a bit of a vicious circle. The frustrating thing I’ve found is that once I was able to push through and get whatever task is weighing on me done, looking back, I’d often have the frustration of realizing that it wasn’t actually that difficult. Also a good trick not to beat oneself up about that!
Fear probably includes admitting that you haven’t been able to cope in this class, and ironically, students often feel this more with professors they like, because their opinion matters more to the student. It might help if you’re able to say to yourself: “I like this prof, and that’s a big reason why I’m feeling crappy about how I’ve done, but one of the reasons I like her is because I think she’ll understand.”
If you have an academic advising/academic skills centre on campus they may also be very helpful, particularly in figuring out how to time manage/task manage what’s remaining in the course. Good luck!!!!
Oh, the shame spiral of “I am not doing well in this class, and I am too ashamed to show my face in the class…so now I have missed a lot and am doing worse in the class”…yep, that pretty much describes my undergrad years.
Due to my mental health flare-ups, I had to reach out to instructors in whose classes I had fallen behind for….let’s see…nine?…different classes over the course of my undergrad years. Just as Tehanu described, I had the most trouble reaching out to the instructors I especially liked and wanted to think well of me. However….not one of those nine instructors ever responded to my admission of struggle with scorn or cruelty. They were usually very sympathetic and kind, and genuinely wanted to help me. That didn’t mean that they gave me unlimited extensions on assignments, or immediately caved to my every request for leniency, but they were always respectful and never treated me as if they thought I must be lying, or as if I must be a slacker who didn’t want to be bothered to do the work.
The closest any of them ever got to “harsh” was the professor who told me straight up, with a note of frustration in his voice, “Coffeespoons, you generally do excellent work in the class when you DO THE WORK AND ACTUALLY TURN IT IN.” That was actually one of the best things an instructor ever said to me because it crystallized where my problems lay—I often did very good work, but just as often, my anxiety would get the better of me, and I’d be so afraid that the work I was doing wasn’t good enough that I wouldn’t finish the assignment, or would be too ashamed to turn it in. One of the big lessons of college for me was that just showing up for class every day and turning in something—even if what I handed in did not represent the best of my abilities—was better than avoiding class out of shame and not turning in work because it was imperfect. It was one of the hardest things to get my brain to accept because I wanted to do my best. What I had to get the irrational parts of my brain to realize was that sometimes, “doing my best” meant “This is the best that I can do with this TODAY. It is probably not the best that I could do if I had unlimited time and unlimited mental health spoons and didn’t have five other classes and didn’t need to sleep….but it is the best that I can do TODAY, with what I have to work with TODAY, and now it is done and I am going to put away my thoughts about it for the time being.”
This whole last paragraph is exactly what I needed to read right now; thank you. If you don’t mind I’m going to save it to read later (just for myself).
Even a poor grade on completed work (or incomplete work that you turn in anyway) is better for your GPA than a zero.
DesertRose, yes! I tell my students all the time that there are two important ways to think about success in my classes. First, are you really learning the content and skills? Second, what is your grade? The first is more important, but the second can have real consequences too, especially for students who need to maintain a GPA for scholarships or who are hoping to go to grad school. But for both of these metrics of success, it’s better to do the work and turn it in, even when it’s not perfect. You will get feedback that will help you learn, and it’s way way better for your class grade.
Thank you! I’m so glad to hear it was helpful to someone!
sometimes, “doing my best” meant “This is the best that I can do with this TODAY. It is probably not the best that I could do if I had unlimited time and unlimited mental health spoons and didn’t have five other classes and didn’t need to sleep….but it is the best that I can do TODAY, with what I have to work with TODAY, and now it is done and I am going to put away my thoughts about it for the time being.”
That’s such an important lesson! I didn’t learn it until somewhat later than undergrad but it’s great. Thank you for articulating it so well, coffeespoons!
It’s a lesson I wish I’d started to internalize earlier; I didn’t really get it until I was almost done with undergrad. It wasn’t like I was a full-on perfectionist, either–I definitely did my share of slacking. It didn’t particularly bother me to turn in not-great work for courses in which I’d never had any expectation of excellence–for example, I knew that my French language-learning classes were never going to be my strong suit, so my goal there was to get what I could from the class and scrape by with good enough grade. The killers were the courses I loved, and the subjects in which I usually excelled. It really hurt when I wasn’t able to do well in those classes, for whatever reason. One of the hardest things I did in college was to make myself hand in a very shoddy paper (writing had ALWAYS been one of my defining skills in school) for a film studies class (my major, and my favorite thing) with a professor I adored (who had given me a lot of encouragement). It was so, so hard to turn in something I wasn’t at all proud of to someone whose opinion mattered to me. But…I didn’t fail the class, which I would have done had I not turned in the essay.
This could be written about my sil, who teaches at a university. When I ask her how her classes are going, she is never mad that students aren’t doing well, but she is troubled by when they aren’t doing well and don’t come talk to her. Just the act of sitting down with her not only helps get them on track because she can go over something they aren’t getting or give them guidance on how/what to study, but also because it shows her that they’re engaged and trying, which helps eek people over the line on participation grades and the like.
She really loves her students, and will bend over backwards to help them figure things out, but they have to talk to her to get that ball rolling. You can do this, LW!
I was really bad at asking for help in college. I struggled and I didn’t know how to ask when I got lost, because I’ve never been lost before.
But I eventually learned, and knowing when and how to ask for help is it’s own skill. It may feel like going to your professor represents you not fully succeeding, but really you are actually succeeding at a very important thing.
Everyone needs help sometimes. Learning to ask for it when you need it is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
I flunked out of a bachelors degree program not once but twice (two different schools) before I got my associates degree (a third school) and then went on to a dual bachelors (a fourth). The reasons I got in trouble the first two times were many, if not varied, but the reasons they turned into catastrophic failures both times were because I didn’t know how to ask for help. I didn’t even know asking for help was an option.
The third school doesn’t count (I had enough credits from the first two to complete the AA requirements in three semesters). The fourth school? The dual bachelors degrees?
I asked for help. I went to my professors, even when I was completely embarrassed. It often took everything I had to make those connections, but I have never regretted any of them.
I spoke with my (required) physics professor after class on the very first day and said: look, I will understand the material just fine, but when it comes to the underlying mathematics I will not test well. Is there any way I can approach this in a “physics for poets” sort of way? (There wasn’t, but that first day I had the name of two good physics tutors and a standing appointment to check in with the prof bi-weekly.) Halfway through the semester, when I realized I was having trouble in my basic math class, I went to the instructor and said: I get the theory but the actual numbers won’t come out right, what do you suggest? (Are you sensing a theme?)
But I also went to my Women’s Studies professor and said: Look, I know I’ve currently got a D in this class but I also just got a diagnosis for depression. I’m now on medication for the depression and seeing a therapist; is there anything I can do in addition to what’s on the syllabus to bring my grade up?
LW, to echo what everyone else has said: Do talk to your professor. It will be embarrassing, and you don’t have to reveal as much as I did. The professor might not be understanding. But I would say the odds are definitely in your favor that they will be willing to help.
This is a bit of a terrible story but I once blew a class completely. It was a writing class; I wanted to do well in it more than anything, got into a very bad headspace,and stopped going to class. Didn’t do most of the assignments, didn’t participate. I got a B-*, so I finally went to see the professor to tell him he made a mistake. He was retiring that year. He shrugged and said “you’re the only writer in the class.” He gave me a Norton Anthology and that was it. I’m telling you this because you never really know what can happen or what people are thinking of about you, until you ask. I really, really wish I had gone in to talk to this prof earlier…I might have actually learned a lot.
Don’t be me, go talk to your prof.
*I realize this is terrible, especially for any lawful good types. All I can say is enough accidentally terrible things happened in my academic career, like my honours thesis supervisor having to leave for personal reasons and the department refusing to supervise my original topic and having to restart, that it probably evened out over my time in school.
I got a totally undeserved A in a class because my professor forgot to give me a grade and nearly let my incomplete lapse into an F. Things happen.
I love this story because it illustrates how…people are just people. Professors have quirks and biases and positive prejudices, so, go for it.
But, I will say, I know you’re exaggerating to be funny (I hope), but B- really, really isn’t a bad grade. So I hope that’s not something you still believe, mainly because, as someone who failed / withdrew from eight classes in six years (so, two Fs and six Ws on my transcript), like…I mean there was literally a point where I attempted suicide, and then fortunately I stopped myself and sought long-term help. But I literally thought failing a class was a fate worse than death, and given my mental and physical health, failing a class was going to be inevitable.
And the thing is, I did actually graduate! I have a BA, and I haven’t had any suicidal ideation or panic attacks in four years now. I also have a full-time job and a part-time job, and I live on my own.
So I guess I wanted to jump in and say, holding yourself to such a high standard that a B- is a bad grade, that’s really not based on anything real. You’re allowed to choose your own standards. Like, maybe you already know that and I’m getting too concerned over a joke, but just in case you didn’t, or in case someone else reading this feels like B- is “terrible,” I wanted to say it’s not.
I think Ava was actually saying the B- was a far better grade than they deserved, having not gone to class, not participated, and not really done any assignments! That they saw the passing grade and were like “uhhhh but I didn’t Do Class? Are you sure?” and the professor was like “meh, you didn’t show up but you’re the only good writer so there you go.”
I think Ava is saying that the B- was TOO HIGH a grade for what they did, and the “terrible” part is the idea that someone could get that high a grade without doing the work –like it’s terrible they didn’t honestly “earn” the grade or whatever.
That being said, thank you for your reminder that failing is not the worst thing in the world –I failed pre-calc the first time I took it, and I’m now teaching calculus, so obviously that failure did not Ruin My Life Forever.
Oh! I see that now. I read her comment too fast. Good to hear 🙂
I’m TOTALLY tearing of from that sort of validation from a teacher, after you KNOW you didn’t give them your best.
(and Ouch. I’ve had friends run into that issue, too. Restarting thesis can be $$$, both time and cost-wise)
*tearing up. I swear I can type.
I had a near-complete breakdown in grad school. Absolutely could not function.
My academic advisor, when I finally bit the bullet and called her (sobbing and barely coherent), had me do the following:
– STOP what I was doing just at that moment (shaking over not being able to finish an assignment in class).
– with her help, made arrangements with all the professors with whom I had classes that quarter; one class I dropped, another I arranged to audit, another I took an incomplete and finished it later, and that cut the load down to a level I could handle.
– with her encouragement, got into therapy.
She actually wasn’t that great an advisor in some ways, but MAN did she save me that time. She wanted me to succeed. She wanted everyone to succeed! She had resources that she could bring to assist, and that was what she wanted to do.
Your teacher will be HAPPY to help you. Make her day!
Were you criticized a lot in childhood? Made to feel that you should just know things? I was, and I frequently think that that is why I’m afraid to ask for help with things when I need to.
Back in the day when I was Undergrad Socratic–I failed out of freshman year at a very good small liberal arts college. When I got my act together, my parents told me that they weren’t going to pay that tuition again, so I completed my undergraduate career at a state college. (I made dean’s list every term and graduated cum laude–DESPITE not doing all that stellar in a couple classes–I’m side-eyeing you, calculus).
And…it didn’t really matter all that much (after the initial horror and, yes, lingering parental disapproval). I got into a very good graduate school, and became Dr. Socratic. After many years I became Professor Socratic–tenure-track! I FAILED OUT OF SCHOOL AND STILL HAD AN ACADEMIC JOB. I’m yelling because that’s important. I didn’t do poorly in one class, I nuked an entire academic year from space, and it was tough as hell, but I emerged a stronger person and a more thoughtful person, and ultimately a more successful person. And, for my career path, it made me a better teacher.
Prof. Socratic had these words of advice for her students and has them for you:
1. Failure/struggling to learn/getting things wrong actually HELPS you learn! It really does. Yeah, being wrong stings, but approach it with curiosity rather than defensiveness and that’s where the magic happens.
2. Failure/a few poor grades is not a death sentence for your academic career or real-world career *IF* you put in the effort to work with your faculty they can help you navigate your path (yeah, there are some faculty members who aren’t awesome but most faculty really want you to succeed)
3. As you read here, most faculty have had struggles of their own. Because EVERYONE struggles from time to time. Professors are not magical unicorns of inner-born knowledge.
4. Asking for help is hard. But suffering in silence is harder.
Good luck to you LW, you got this.
Yes! I went to school thinking I wanted to be a network/computer engineer. I did okay my first semester and slowly discovered that I could not do subletting – which if you’re going to pass your basic IT certificates you have to be able to do that. I withdrew from a semesters worth of classes. I had a small mental breakdown from stress. I had a tearful meeting with my advisor where he told me to take a semester and do general Ed, and see if I wanted to go back to IT after that. And I took an accounting class for the heck of it and I LOVED IT. I got great grades. I aced 3 accounting classes. Almost perfect test scores. And now I do business admin for my job and am going back soon for my bachelors. Point is lots of people fail college classes but the beauty is that you are paying for them and you can retake them whenever you want to.
I, too, also almost failed out of undergrad. I was the smart, straight-A student who had never had to learn any kind of good study habits in order to do well, and I had undiagnosed anxiety and depression, and I was in the wrong major and then I got into a car accident. And I tried to just power through and shame myself into doing all the things and shame-skipped classes and pulled all-nighters cramming for tests that I then failed because I fell asleep during them. I was too embarrassed to ever go talk to my professors, because I “should” have been able to keep on top of the work, and also I was failing out of an art major, which was playing hell with my self-image as a Very Talented and Creative Person. No one had ever told me that art was work and making art could be hard even if you had talent, so I concluded I did not have any talent and was crushed.
Anyhow, I failed some classes, got put on academic suspension for a year and spent it taking classes at the local community college that would transfer back and count toward my degree. My parents were furious, I felt like a failure, I felt like it threw my whole life off the rails. But, unlike the massive lecture halls at the state uni, the community college classes were chill and the professors were so supportive and so enthusiastic about their topics. I ended up changing my major when I went back to my degree program, because I had taken a programming class on a whim and discovered it was all logic puzzles and making computers do things. (It would be years before I could make art again, but that’s another story.) Went on to grad school and a successful career in CS. It took me a few years longer to get that initial Bachelors degree, but honestly? No one has ever cared. Even if you have some ups and downs on your transcript, or even an incomplete degree, in the real world it’s more about the narrative you bring with that than the fact itself.
Also, a decade after the fact, even my parents have admitted that in hindsight they wish they’d let me take the gap year I wanted to take. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes it takes longer to figure things out than it looks like it’s “supposed” to on paper. I wish I’d been able to be more compassionate to myself and ask for help instead of feeling like I had to figure everything out on my own.
Re: #1 on your list – in martial arts, we say one learns better from what did not work. Did I get hit in the face? Need to improve blocking. Did I NOT get hit in the face? Could be that my blocking is fine, or that my blocking stinks but my opponent was not good at hitting me in the face, or that we were too far apart, or or or…
0) GO TO CLASS, BUY THE BOOK, READ THE CHAPTERS, AND DO THE HOMEWORK!
1) Go to Professor’s office hours early in the semester and Ask this question: “I know this is a really difficult class– what are some of the common mistakes students make and how can I avoid them?”
2) If you have problems with the homework, go to Prof’s office hours. If they have any “help sessions” or “study sessions” or “recitations” or any thing extra, go to them.
3) Form a study group with other kids in your dorm/class.
4) Don’t do the minimum…for STEM classes do extra problems. You can buy books that just have problems for calculus or physics or whatever. Watch videos on line about the topic you are studying.
5) Go to the writing center if you need help with papers/math center for math problems (if they have them)
6) If things still are not going well, get a tutor.
7) Read this book: How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less by Cal Newport. It helps you with things like time management and how to figure out what to write about for a paper, etc.
8) If you feel you need to withdraw from a class, talk to your advisor as to which one might be the best …you may do better when you have less classes to focus on. But some classes may be pre-reqs and will mess your sequence of classes up.
9) For tests that you didn’t do well on, can you evaluate what went wrong? Did you never read that topic? Did you not do the homework for it? Do you kind of remember it but forgot what to do? Then next time change the way you study…there may be a study skill center at your college.
10) How much time outside of class do you spend studying/doing homework? It is generally expected that for each hour in class, you spend 2-3 outside doing homework. Treat this like a full time job.
11) At first, don’t spend too much time other things rather than school work. (sports, partying, rushing fraternities/sororities, video gaming etc etc)
12) If you run into any social/health/family troubles (you are sick, your parents are sick, someone died, broke up with boy/girlfriend, suddenly depressed/anxiety etcetc) then immediately go to the counseling center and talk to them. Talk to the dean of students about coordinating your classes…e.g. sometimes you can take a medical withdrawal. Or you could withdraw from a particular class to free up tim for the others. Sometimes you can take an incomplete if you are doing well and mostly finished the semester and suddenly get pneumonia/in a car accident (happened to me)…you can heal and take the final first thing the next semester. But talk to your adviser about that too.
13) At the beginning of the semester, read the syllabus for each class. It tells you what you will be doing and when tests/HW/papers are due. Put all of that in your calendar. The professor may remind you of things, but it is all there for you to see so take initiative and look at it.
14) Make sure you understand how to use your online class system…Login to it, read what there is for your classes, know how to upload assignments (if that is what the prof wants).
15) If you get an assignment…make sure to read the instructions and do all the tasks on the assignment. Look at the rubric and make sure you have covered everything.
16) If you are not sure what to do, go EARLY to the professors office hours…not the day before the assignment is due.
This is all good stuff to help get it right the first time, but when the person is already drowning it’s an overwhelming list!
Yeah, I read #0, saw the exact bloody thing that I’m struggling with, and stopped reading.
Yeah, that would…. not have been a useful list for me either.
Read the chapters? But what if I can’t focus enough to read even a page? And how do I retain information? How much/fast should I read? How much am I expected to remember?
Do the homework? That would require having understood the material, being able to apply it to the problems, getting started with the work, actually completing it….
And so on and so forth.
It’s like saying “losing weight is all about eating right and moving more.”
Completely unhelpful advice in the current situation.
” If you feel you need to withdraw from a class, talk to your advisor as to which one might be the best …you may do better when you have less classes to focus on”
This is usually good advice, but OMG…the circuits class I had to withdraw from…the textbook was a 1000+ page reference book, and the prof assumed a ton of knowledge that I didn’t have. Stating on the first day monotoning about op-amps and calculating the gain (or something) with students who had never heard the word “op-amp” before. A little bit of “This is what an op-amp does and why it is useful” would have helped. My dean thought the problem was clearly the formal logic class I was taking as an elective and breezing through with no difficulty whatsoever.
“At first, don’t spend too much time other things rather than school work. (sports, partying, rushing fraternities/sororities, video gaming etc etc)”
Most of this advice is very good introductory advice, but I’m a little concerned about this bit. It might just be different definitions of “at first” or “too much”, but exercise, socializing, and fun are also really important to mental health and long-term productivity.
It really depends on the class, but in my experience in STEM the tutoring resources can be VERY useless at high levels, and when you’re in a hell on racehorse steroids situation (love the metaphor) you don’t want to waste your time. If it’s a STEM class where you are learning to practice a skill, the tutors may not even fully understand how to do the skill, and even the TA’s (yes this has happened to me from both sides, as a student and as a TA who is side-eyeing her colleagues) may not know how to do it properly and are just getting through office hours without really being prepared.
This is hit-or-miss, so I’d say try ONCE but if it’s not helpful think about re-prioritizing your time. In my experience *the best* resource you have if you are in a class about learning a *new skill* where you are graded harshly on your ability to actually do that skill (as in, there is no passing grade for effort put in or improvement, but only on execution of skill)… anyways THE BEST resource is your classmates. They are learning that skill at the same time as you are, and have the same amount invested in doing well as you do (and your TA may have far less invested in you doing well, depending on your luck of the draw. This goes for professors sometimes too sadly).
Be brave, ask your classmates for help. I know it’s tough, especially at this point, but remind yourself that when they explain something to you, it’s helping them learn the concept too. If you end up taking the class again (lots of folks fail one time around at something) then from the very beginning be aggressive in finding a group to work with and meeting with them regularly. It will go a long way to making sure you’re “in the loop” on what’s going on in the class, and your classmates will really be your best teachers.
Note on TA’s: if your class is big enough to have more than one TA, ask around (again: get to know your classmates!) for which is the best TA and go to her or his office hours. That’s your best bet for institutional knowledge actually filtering down to you, and if they are good they won’t care (or won’t be surprised) if you come from another TA’s section.
Anyways, this is kind of narrow advice that maybe only holds for higher-level STEM classes (go figure, the first classes I seriously struggled in). They are also the classes I made it through, started teaching, and watched students struggle in over and over. Also my perspective comes from big research-oriented institutions where teaching is a seriously low priority. So if this doesn’t match with what you’ve seen, feel free to disregard. But if you’re in that situation, this might be helpful to you.
Also going to another TA might give you a good script. “I’ve been struggling and I just don’t understand how my TA explained this. Can you explain it to me a different way?” Then if you’re embarrassed about “not getting it,” you can spread some of that embarrassment around and right back onto the institution that in all likelihood isn’t serving you to its best ability.
Also the new TA will be completely unaware of what your section is doing, and might not identify how far behind you are as “this student is so far behind” but instead might think “wow this section is so far behind.” Again, if you’re having shame problems, just imagining this as a possible thing the TA is thinking might help you get into office hours and talking.
As a professor, I want my student to come and talk to me about their grades, concerns, anything really. It is frustrating though when a student waits until the final week to bring up his/her concerns. At this point, there is often nothing that can be done, though I still offer emotional support. Ten years into my teaching career, I now talk to my students about this very phenomenon at the beginning of the term and warn them about the vicious cycle of procrastination, etc. I’ve found this has greatly cut down on the number of students who wait until the very end of the term to bring up performance/grade concerns and that they seek out my help earlier.
Yes! I tell my students that I will ALWAYS do my best to help them when they’re struggling, but I can’t do a whole lot if they don’t ask for help before finals week. The earlier you ask for help, the more options there are available to you.
I do some higher education teaching. I always tell my students I’m glad to help them if they ask. I also tell them that I can’t know they’re having questions or problems if they don’t ask because as awesome as I am, I’m not a mind reader (this makes them laugh). I also make it a habit, when a student asks, to ask them if I’m explaining it in a way that works or if we should try something different. I figured out that not everyone learns the same (total a-ha moment) and that different people need to approach things in different ways. So, if a student says, “yeah, I get A and B but I don’t quite get how to get to C from there” that helps more than if they say, “I don’t get C” because if that’s what they say I’m going to spend 20 minutes waxing poetic about the virtues and history of C. And that doesn’t answer the question and just frustrates the student.
All this to say that I hope LW talks to the instructor and is able to articulate where the problem(s) is/are. Sometimes unraveling a problem a little bit can help solve some other questions.
As a professor, my two least favorite things were faculty meetings and grading. I never wanted to fail anyone who tried/show up/put in any effort. I think most professors are like that – we don’t want people to fail our classes. We want to give every chance for you to get credit for learning something and putting in effort. For me, grading involved the five stages of grief about what I spent my whole semester doing.
So you really are doing your professor a favor by seeking out help to avoid failing your course (or if it’s too late, coming up with some withdraw/re-take work around). Plus, as someone else wrote above before – it’s frustrating to schedule office hours and sit around when no one stops by.
University Adjunct, Admin, & Advisor here: I want to second the Cap’s advice. Go talk to your professor. She is there to help you. But I also want to really highlight:
“If there’s a way for you to bring your grade up between now and the end of the term, she’ll do her best to guide you there. If there isn’t, hopefully she’ll tell you plain. That can be a relief in itself.”
This is great, great advice, and I wanted to talk to you about next steps if your Professor tells you there is no hope of passing. If that is the case, I would advise you NOT to stay in the class any longer. Investigate your school’s policy regarding withdrawals and incompletes. These policies tend to vary a lot from school to school and your advisor (whom you should also be speaking to about this issue) can help you navigate what is best for you. The withdrawal/incomplete strategy, as mentioned above by Nanani, can be friendlier to those with scholarships or anyone focused on their GPA number, and is worth considering for that reason alone.
It also is, in my opinion, the KINDEST thing a student can do for themselves. There’s a certain amount of self-flagellation in continuing to attend and do the work for a class you know you can’t pass. It’s exactly the kind of self-flagellation parents (especially tuition-paying parents) LOVE. It’s also the kind that can undermine a student’s confidence so severely that what would have been a one-off incident becomes a semesters-long slide. If you cannot pass, take the WP or WF or I for now and focus on your other courses. Return to this in the summer, or retake the class when you can give it more attention. This strategy is NOT failure. This is time and resource management. It’s exactly the kind of triage you will need to know how to do in adult life, and it will also help you feel so much more in control.
College students can easily forget that they are in school FOR THEMSELVES (ideally), and their education is meant to be for their benefit and use. If you’re failing a class, it’s not working. You’re not getting the use out of this course (for whatever reason). If your job stopped paying you (even if you were doing it poorly), you wouldn’t keep going to work. If your car runs out of gas, you don’t sit at the stoplight forever and refuse to leave your car. You leave it behind and go get some gas, or you call someone to bring you gas. I will stop with the analogies, but you get the idea.
If more students and parents would take this advice, instead of punishing already-struggling students with a strange kind of academic penance, I genuinely believe everyone would be happier and we’d graduate more students on time.
I want to second the note about Incompletes. Maybe you just can’t get it done this semester. When you meet with your professor, maybe ask her about an Incomplete. See what you would need to do. Maybe it’s “turn in that big paper/project by August 1st, and then sit for the final before August 15th.” Try to set something like that up. And then KEEP GOING TO CLASS–you will still need that information, you will want to see how your classmates give their presentations, you will want to show the prof that you’re still engaged and committed to success. And then spend June and July focusing on learning what you need to learn, and doing what you need to do.
I took an accounting course at my four-year university, which was required for my technology program and failed with a big fat F. For a variety of reasons, I transferred to our technical and trades college. Took that same course again with a different instructor, got an A, loved it so much I changed my major, transferred to a different four-year college and got a BA in accounting. LW, you will survive a miss here and there!
I see this in much the same way as I do as an office manager. That is, I’d want my staff to come to me as soon as they sense a problem, when there’s still enough time to try and resolve it. The closer we get to deadline, the worse it’s going to be if my employees hide and try to deny problems. It’s no different in school
I teach English at the college level and the Captain is right. Show up to class no matter how behind you are, find out by reading the syllabus or the online classroom page what the deadlines might be and what the assignments are, find out what your instructor/professor’s office hours are, and go see them.
Explain what you need and just simply tell them, “I need help.”
Speaking for myself and for all my colleagues past and present, I can assure you that the instructor who listens to a student in your shoes, 95 percent of the time, will try everything they can, within the rules, to help. (There are always a few assholes but they are very rare at the undergrad teaching level. The vast majority of people in these jobs want to help.)
Also the tutoring center is a wonderful thing. It’s there for you. They will not scorn you. They will meet you where you are.
I have had students who for some reason felt they were failing if they couldn’t do it all alone, without help. I’m not sure how to overcome that feeling, but college is hard and there are resources like tutoring centers for a reason. It’s okay to need help. Most people in college actually do need help and there is plenty available.
Good luck to you, LW, and do not wait. On my campus we are done April 20 and on my son’s campus they are done May 11. So time is short but you can probably still salvage this. I am cheering for you. Also as others have said… It’s not the end of the world if you have to cut your losses, take your F and retake the class later to bring up your grade. Sometimes taking the class with a different instructor makes all the difference in the world as well. If you don’t click with someone, find another teacher. Maybe it’s not you; maybe it’s them.
This is all great advice from the Captain and the commenters. I can only add on thing:
Put some tissues in your pocket before you go see your prof. Your prof will probably be kind to you. Nothing makes me cry like someone being kind to me when I needed it.
One more thing to consider if you need to re-take this class, or for future classes that are challenging – consider switching from letter-grade to pass/no pass (which doesn’t affect your GPA either way) if that option is available – most colleges will let you do that for a limited number of classes. It’s been an academic lifesaver for me on classes that I was floundering in (esp for the stress relief of “I need to get at least a B+” to “I’ll be fine with a C-“)
Also, maybe see if you can take an Incomplete (which also shouldn’t affect your GPA) and re-do this class in the future.
Hi OP! Something that helps me is to remember that you are PAYING the teacher to help you and to teach you! Once I got over my fear of asking teachers for help I found they graded me more charitably because they knew I was asking questions and making an effort, they were more likely to be flexible with me on extensions and missing class, and my schoolwork dramatically improved. They want to help you – let them!
Your comment is great, except this one thing: “remember that you are PAYING the teacher to help you and to teach you!”
Well, not exactly. That’s really close to the “I’m paying your salary” mindset that reframes the student/teacher dynamic as a client/service provider thing. In actuality the student is not paying the teacher. They are paying the school. Their tuition payment gets them access to the school’s resources, including a portion of the professor’s time, expertise, and coaching. But you’re not actually paying the teacher to provide a service.
Yeah, I’d reframe this as: the university is paying the teacher to help you. It’s literally my job description. I’m a professional, and students are not my boss. That’s important, because I don’t have to (and can’t) always help a student in the specific way that they might ask for it (read: I’m not going to raise a students grade just because they think I should, when it conflicts with my professional judgment). But it is definitely my job to help, and I will use my professional expertise to do so to the best of my ability.
Or another way of reframing it is: the opportunity to get help from your professor is INCLUDED in your tuition. If you booked a hotel room or a trip, it would be perfectly fair to take advantage of any amenities included in the price: the hotel/cruise ship/whatever is assuming that many people will. An “amenity” of college enrollment is the opportunity to meet with professors, get tutoring, etc. The college is expecting many people will do so.
It’s not an “amenity” though and students are not clients or customers, as they would be on a cruise. Unless it’s a for-profit university (and then we’re in a whole different sphere). The point of the reframe Sarabeth and I suggested is to remove the client/service paradigm entirely. Sarabeth put it perfectly: “it is definitely my job to help, and I will use my professional expertise to do so to the best of my ability”.
In addition to the other points (and not to pile on), that framing also has the unfortunate implication that students getting free or reduced tuition have less of a claim on a professor’s time than their full-freight peers.
Professor here. YES to the Cap’s advice to come to the meeting prepared! I sometimes get students who earnestly ask me to help them, but don’t give me any specifics. I ask them questions and give them my 5 minute speech about studying strategies, but there’s not much more I can do.
You mentioned evals. You gotta read those. That feedback *is* her attempt to help you. If it’s too scary to face alone, try reading the feedback with a supportive friend present.
Regarding makeups, extra credit, etc., please read the syllabus before you ask. The professor may have clearly stated policies about when such exceptions will be given.
(I personally feel that exceptions for anything but documented emergencies are unethical. Guess who never asks me for such exceptions? Hispanic students, Black students, and students who are the first in their family to go to college.)
When I was really struggling, I did a modified version of Pippi’s suggestion with the evals: I had a friend I trusted read them and give me the broad strokes and the things that were mentioned multiple times. That way I had somewhere to start and when I was working on it but still wasn’t quite sure exactly how to handle it, I could dive into the feedback and not be scared because I already knew what was there. When it was a big unknown that I felt was just listing all the ways I was terrible, I couldn’t face it. When I was looking for specific advice on something I knew I needed to work on, it suddenly became a reference tool instead of a referendum on my character.
The only thing I’ll add is something I always told my students when I was a TA: being in crisis and not giving a shit look exactly the same if you don’t talk to the professor. I didn’t even like teaching that much (grading is terrible) and I still bent over backwards to help any student who came to my office and asked for help. Ask the instructor for help. They will almost certainly give it to you.
“being in crisis and not giving a shit look exactly the same if you don’t talk to the professor”
This may sound cold and unfeeling, but I would add one caution: there’s another good reason to re-read the syllabus before you talk to a professor, besides reviewing what the material was. Namely, not all professors or school cultures will be open to the idea of an extension or retake. Almost to a person, the professors I’ve had in my current program have language on their syllabi along the lines of “The list of assignments and exams listed on this syllabus is exhaustive. In particular, there will be no opportunities to retake exams, turn in missing assignments, or do extra work to boost your grade. Please do not ask.” (Presumably because these people have been overwhelmed by the demand for such things in the past. As a grad student, I’ve seen it happen even with this language on the syllabus!)
If this is the case, it may be wise to make it clear that you’re *not* asking for that, but rather be specific about what you need help with. “I’m worried about passing the final, because I’m not understanding concepts X and Y / I have trouble solving problems of the form ABC.”
It may also vary a bit by discipline. The department I’m in basically never gives make-up exams because making a new exam will require new data… and getting data of an equivalent difficulty level will take the professor hours upon hours. It’s just not worth it for a handful of students.
Yeah, my academic unit has a policy on never allowing students to re-take a test/quiz or re-do an assignment unless the opportunity is available to ALL of the students in that class–it’s an equity issue. Sometimes instructors include that information on their syllabi, but sometimes instructors are not actually aware that this is a policy (especially at very large institutions like mine). If you are thinking of requesting permission to re-do an assignment and there’s no language in your course syllabus about whether this is allowed, I’d suggest framing your request to the instructor carefully. Something like, “I was wondering if it would be possible for me to rewrite the our last paper on the tensile strength of natural materials used in underwater basket weaving. Does the university/academic unit/your department have a policy about allowing individual students to re-submit assignments for credit?” That way, if this isn’t something that’s come up before, the instructor will hopefully investigate BEFORE they okay your spending time to re-do something.
In addition to the fairness issue, and the overwhelm issue, there is the issue that sometimes students lie. A professor should never put themselves in the position of having to using personal judgement to decide which students are telling the truth about their crises.
I would say never ask to “do extra work” to raise your grade, because especially at the time of term when students want to do extra credit work, nobody has any time to grade the freaking thing.
Right. “Can I do an extra credit project?” = NOPE, I DON’T WANT TO READ IT, JUST DO THE ASSIGNED WORK THANKS
This. I post extra credit work to our online homework system one or two times a semester, available to every student in the class. But that is the only time extra credit is available (and it says so in the syllabus) and I only do that because it is an online homework system and the it doesn’t have to be graded by me or the TAs for 150+ students. If there wasn’t online homework and everything had to be graded individually, there would be a lot fewer assignments and no extra credit, ever. Because nobody has time for that.
Hello, LW! I have been you! I crashed and burned at a class and had to eat my MASSIVE, CRUSHING shame in order to get help from the professor and get my act together. The pain is real, and powering through it is tough until you get your footing again. Be really nice to yourself in other ways, and try to make time for things you *are* good at so that you don’t come feel like your whole life is a failure because you spend so much time focusing on what you don’t understand.
I also wanted to say that I now have my Ph. D. and I’m on the other side of the table. I’d be really impressed by someone who put in a massive, intelligent effort to learn the material well enough to pass, even if they ultimately failed in the attempt. This is the stuff of which epic recommendation letters are made. There was one person who got a great letter of recommendation from one professor who was known for really difficult classes because he would find her outside his office every. single. morning until she finally understood a particularly difficult concept. Persistence is a virtue, and one that will probably get you farther than whatever material you’re learning in this class.
I went through this exact thing just a couple months ago. Coming out of the first exam I had a 30% and the prof had written “see me” on the front of my test. Every step to his office I was wishing the ground would open up and swallow me down. But he was incredibly cool about it. No sugarcoat–my grade was (and still is) in serious trouble. He told me to stop by once a week, even if I wasn’t having trouble with the material; sent me to the counseling center, and said if he saw some real improvement he’d be lenient come final grades.
LW, it is *so* hard to start this conversation. If you’re like me, you can’t imagine your professor being able to do anything; you’re pretty sure you don’t deserve their help and maybe you should just try harder? But I’ve dragged my grade up to 58% and I promise that wouldn’t be so without that first conversation.
Good luck with your class!
There might also be resources you didn’t know to even look for that your instructor might know about — you won’t know until you have the conversation.
That’s how I found out I’m legally disabled, actually. My thyroid condition had gone unstable, impacting my short-term memory. For most things it wasn’t enough of an impact to matter, but I had an exam coming up in a graduate engineering course where I was going to have to hold a very large and complex problem in my head all at once to work to a solution, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it — at that level it’s not uncommon for an exam in an engineering course to consist of one really ugly problem. I had been working out strategies for taking problems apart in ways that I could solve them in pieces and somehow knit up an answer, which could be done but would take too long.
So I went to the prof and explained I had a temporary medical problem impacting my memory and was there any way I could possibly get extra time on this one exam — I said I should be sorted out in time for the final exam for the course. He cut me off and told me there was a Disability Services office, and I should go there and they would issue instructions for him to follow, and he would be happy to give me any extra time or help or anything else they recommended.
I’m not really disabled, I thought, but I obeyed the professor I wanted a favor from. It turned out that legally and medically, I did/do have a disability with known recommended accommodations, the first of which was extra time on exams, and a specialist in systemic disabilities worked through the process with my doctors and issued instructions to my professors. The professor in question was very happy with this because it was painless for him — he sent the test to their office and they proctored my exam and hand-delivered it back to him.
It’s amazing what can turn up sometimes when you ask for help.
I love our disabilities office so much. They know what they’re doing and they do exactly what your prof said—figure out appropriate accommodations and in many cases take care of those accommodations.
Some disability services offices are not so great, unfortunately — but my daughter had MUCH better results with talking to her professors directly and working with them.
I recommend doing both (having documented that you’ve gone through the disability services office can open some doors/tick some checkboxes), but talking to the professors early-on when you’re struggling is pretty much never a bad move.
(After a rough first year, and getting some of the medical stuff addressed, my daughter did graduate and did well in her classes!)
LW – I hope you read these comments and realize that you are not alone and that what seems like a HUGE crisis now will eventually become an anecdote in your life story.
You have great advice, scripts, lots of examples of people who have been through similar situations and come out stronger for the experience – now the challenge is to put one foot in front of the other and actually go talk to your professor. In my experience, taking that first step is the hardest, but you can do it!
Please give us an update when you can. You have a lot of support here.
As an academic advisor, one of my go-to sentences is ‘you aren’t the only person in this conversation who has failed a class/been disqualified, etc.
Hey a subject I’m actually qualified to talk about for once. I am someone who kind of got locked into a cycle of going back to school. I’ve been a student a long time, I’ve been a teaching assistant, I’ve been a student tutor, I’ve been a notetaker, I’ve been a lab helper.
Ok first your teacher. I get it, some teachers are scary, they are all knowing and breathe fire. No wait that’s dragons. I think. Look, good teachers want their students to pass, they aren’t out to get you to fail. take a deep breath and talk to the teacher. The captain’s advice is spot on, get your butt in the seat, teachers notice when you go to class, even if you’re quiet. They notice.
Next, if you’re at a decent school, there are tutors, sometimes for free to the people at the school and see who’s available to help possibly.
Third, see what resources are available online. there was a tough algebra course that I had to take two tries at. Partially due to overload and partially due to not taking it seriously the first time around. The second time around I found great tutorial videos online to help when I was doing the work to reinforce the lecture.
if it comes down to it, failing a course is not the end of the world.
There was one student in a class where I was the TA, one day I got a message from her after an assignment was marked about how she doens’t understand anything in the course and was struggling. I emailed her that she can come to the lab hours I ran and I’d be happy to work with her, I’d let her submit the part of the assignment that was programming and therefore wasn’t given out as answers already for some marks. Little marks add up, you’d be surprised what you can accumulate. The thing is I spoke to the teacher and he said she didn’t come to class much and she never came to see me in my lab. I gave her a chance to try to find her footing and work with her but she didn’t take it. The first step has to come from you, but you’ll find there are people will to work with you.
Another instructor (adjunct) here chiming in to say, “please, please, please go talk to your prof.” We teach because we care about our students, we want them to get something out of the class, we want them to succeed. But we can’t help you succeed if you don’t talk to us, tell us what’s going on, help us figure out what you may need. I’ve had to fail students, and it’s a horrible feeling. I always wonder if I could have done SOMETHING more to help them. If it helps you be less fearful, remind yourself that in trying to come to a solution with them, you are helping them as well as yourself. After all, teachers don’t measure their success by how many students they flunk!
I would add: try very hard to go earlier next time. It’s great you’re going now, and I dont want to frighten you away. The prof is there for help. One thing I will spend time on is a student coming to me for help. Yes to all the captain said!! Esp the ‘find out what help you need.’ Try very hard not to say ‘I don’t get any of this!’ Unless you can point to a spot on the page and begin. I sometimes have students who come and just gripe at me ‘but you’re just not explaining it right!’ Ummmm…. No. Or vague but dire descriptions of helpless. The prof won’t mind a bit tgat you’re clueless, unless they’re A-holes. But they will mind if you skip class, fail all semester, then come 3days before the end and say ‘what can I do to get a pass?’ If you’ve done this, and you feel it bay be too late? It’s ok. You still go and you say that you’ve left it late and you’ve been ashamed to come before now. You think it may be too late to pass, (read profs body language here), and you’d love to pass but if not you’d like some help on how to do this better next semester. Don’t beat yourself up I’ve been that student! I’ve failed calculus and was happy with my C the 2nd time round. Math sucks. And I was too afraid to ask the prof or TAs for help I had trouble talking to people bc I didn’t want them to know how stupid I was. I’m not stupid I was just very young and slightly cut off from other humans. Connect with other students if you can, go to study sessions make drug day in class and sit at the front it will make you skip less bc you know the prof is watching! I was a terrible student and it’s made me a more sympathetic teacher to folks who make an honest effort even when they are terrified. Not so much the entitled premeds who tell me they NEED an A but they came to zero problem sessions. And to my office zero. But their dreams of Med school are over if I don’t give them a better grade (yes for real I got an email that said this). Unbelievable entitlement. But the spiral Shane folks I feel for. They’re not entitled they’re mostly awkward. Just try your best and show that to the prof. It’s all they want to see. And listen to CAs excellent advice!
Go talk to your professor. Or, if that’s too intimidating, send her an email! That’s a perfectly legit way to kick off a conversation (and for me at least, it’s way easier than just showing up to office hours or something out of the blue).
Here’s a script, in case you find those useful:
I’m having a hard time in (class) right now. In particular, I’m struggling with (really hard thing(s)). I know it’s affected my grade, and I really want to turn that trend around. Can you help me with this?
Your professor will probably either reply with some advice, or invite you to come to her office hours or make an appointment with her to discuss things in person. Either way, you’ll be on her radar as someone who needs help and wants to improve–which is a good thing! From there, you do what she suggests, put in the work, ask follow-up questions, and generally try your best. If it’s not enough, ask for more help (which, since your professor saw you following her previous suggestions, she’ll probably continue to be willing to give; most professors will do a lot for students who are visibly trying their best).
For future terms: The single biggest thing I’ve found for keeping my grades up has been knowing my limits and managing my workload accordingly. In other words, not signing up for too many classes, or too many high-workload classes at the same time. For example, I know that I can take 5 entry-level courses and probably be fine…or one upper level seminar, one moderate class, and two easier courses…or maybe two easier classes and two upper level seminars, if I really want to push myself and don’t have a lot of other commitments that semester. But I would die (metaphorically) if I tried to take 3+ upper level seminars, because I just wouldn’t have time to keep up with the workload, and because I wouldn’t be able to explore the topics as thoroughly as I would want to.
Obviously that won’t help you with this semester now. Don’t beat yourself up about that–everyone figures out their own limits through a bit of trial and error, it’s totally normal to overdo it at some point. But since you’re feeling like it’s normal for there to be a part of the semester that’s straight-up hell, I wanted to point out that that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Maybe it’s worth signing up for a lighter courseload next semester, and seeing if it takes some of the pressure off?
I failed my entire first year because I hadn’t asked for help. That first taste of failure bugged me so much I told myself it would just make a better story for when I bagged myself a First class degree. Which I did, by my fingernails. When interviewers asked me about getting a First, they love this story. Bouncing back is good.
What do you call the doctor with the lowest GPA when they graduate?
Doctor. You call them doctor.
This is meant to illustrate that nobody cares how many times you took a class, nobody cares about your gpa, nobody cares what college you went to, nobody cares how much it cost, and nobody cares how many years it took. Nobody! A degree is pass/fail for everyone outside academia. (There may be exceptions in rare fields, but if you were in one you would already know)
Take a deep breath, figure out where you got off track, and fix it! In addition, if your problem stems from not understanding the material, there are a TON of YouTube videos in just about every topic that might help if for whatever reason you don’t click with your professor. Your problem is very common and very solvable, and your life will not be ruined one way or the other. Good luck!!
I love this.
LW, I think Cap’s advice of going to class when you can is almost always the best answer, but sometimes, with some professors, it makes as much sense to stay away unless you have to show up for an exam or to turn in a project.
I had one such experience with one such professor, who was a perfect storm of incompetent and mean. Even though it was a math- and formula-intensive subject, she neither taught us any of the formulas nor knew any of the math. What little time she actually devoted to instruction amounted to her fumbling with the instruction booklet to a financial calculator and changing the variables in the PowerPoint slides (which she’d prepared herself) to make the result fit whatever her calculator said. The rest of her classroom time was devoted to bullying students who either couldn’t follow her or used class time to quietly do their own homework, ranting about how stupid she thought her father was, comparing how we dressed to her other students, and complaining that classroom attendance kept dropping.
Two-thirds of us failed her first exam. When I went to her for help she called me lazy because I hadn’t asked any questions during her fifteen-minute “review” session earlier that week (which she cut short because she was angry that more people hadn’t shown). She “offered” to “re-grade” my exam, but based on everything she told us in class about her “re-grade” policy, it was clear that this was a threat to lower my grade even further if I didn’t shut up and leave her office.
I stopped going to class. She didn’t take attendance anyway, and all our assignments (which she never discussed during class) already had to be turned in online. I did my assignments by myself, studied for the exams by myself, and only showed up to class on exam days.
My grades went up.
Obviously this is an extreme situation, LAW. Odds are, it’s not directly applicable to you. BUT! If your professor is anything like the one I had, maybe skipping class might work. Trust your gut.
P.S. incidentally, that professor had been on probation twice by the time I took her class. She’s currently on probation again. She is not tenured and the overwhelming consensus among students (at least when I was there) was “drop her class unless you need to graduate soon,” so I have no idea why she still has her job.
I think the “go to the professor” advice varies wildly in its applicability depending on the institution you are attending. I was really struggling in a class (I ended up dropping down to a lower level before the deadline, but I’m sure I could easily have flunked) and I went to a professor for help. He basically looked at my homework, told me I had made a good start, and then stared at me blankly when I told him I had no idea what to do or where I was going wrong, told him I thought I was really lost. He just said “oh good, you can evaluate some of these integrals” and waved me away. The fact that I had no idea how to even set up the next few homework problems was something he was totally incapable of helping me with.
In grad school I had a professor tell me if I couldn’t do the thing I was asking for help with, I missed the central point of the class and I should just give up now. Then, mid-office-hour, he turned away from me and started answering emails. Luckily, I had been collaborating with my classmates and knew everyone else was as lost as I was, but if I had been isolated that advice would have destroyed me. Anyways, I needed help to get a good grade (and I actually wanted to know the thing!) so I kept talking at his back until it was so awkward he turned around and started helping me again.
Moral of the story: make friends with your classmates so one jerk can’t tilt your perspective of yourself too wildly. And let your shame and pride fly out that window and keep persisting and demanding the help you deserve until someone finally feels embarrassed enough that they actually try to do their goddman job. /rantover
Oh, I didn’t even think about classmates!
My degree is in English, and I learned to form a habit (usually fairly early in the semester) of making what I always called “a mutual-aid pact” with a couple of classmates in every lecture/writing-heavy class I took (which was most of my classes, especially in my last few semesters), in which we’d agree to supply each other with class notes if one missed a class session and to proofread each other’s papers. It can get really easy when writing literary papers to tangle your brain up so much that what you write doesn’t make sense to anyone but yourself, and having a classmate (or a few of them) proofread your paper is a good antidote to that problem. Also, getting your paper proofread will help catch any “pet” errors (almost everyone who writes/types a lot has a few errors they make a lot), and catching even simple typos improves the quality of the paper, which is generally reflected in the grade.
What a mutual-aid pact between classmates would look like probably depends heavily on the course material, but it’s worth your time and effort to figure out how you and a classmate or three can help each other and then to offer to form one. It helps you, and it helps your classmate, and it helps your teacher, because if you can get the lecture notes from a missed class session from another student, you don’t have to go to the professor about it.
Ah, I was feeling super self-conscious that my advice above to make friends with your fellow students was only narrowly applicable in my or related fields, so I’m happy to hear it’s helpful in other disciplines I have very little experience with! Honestly I think the best support system you will ever have is classmates, but I’ve been obviously repeatedly disappointed with the educational support institutions are supposed to be providing.
Yeah, I think the specific nature of how classmates can help each other likely varies by discipline/subject material, but the possibility of “strength in numbers” is fairly broadly applicable.
My daughter finished nursing school late last summer, and she and her classmates were always working together, having in-person and online study groups, quizzing each other before exams (there are a lot of exams in nursing school, and they’re cumulative; I mean, given that their work is often quite literally life or death, it makes sense, but still. That’s a shit-ton of exam-taking!), and so forth.
I also read about a tech-based mutual-aid pact that wasn’t possible when I was an undergraduate; make a Google Drive document for your class/study group, and everyone takes notes in the same document. I believe the person talking about it was the professor (who was mightily impressed with the ingenuity of their students), and I’m fairly sure it was a lecture/writing-type course like literature or history, but I can see where a group note-taking document could be very helpful for students in a number of disciplines. Just the specifics would differ depending on the material and the format of the class.
Hey there student! I’m late to the party but I came here to say two things. 1) You’re doing the right thing by going to your professor! The Captain’s advice is spot on. 2) Be sure when you go in to meet with your professor that your attitude, goal, and plan are to find out what work *you* will need to do to fix things. Be prepared to accept answers your don’t want to hear and respect limits set by your professor. Check expectations about your professor going above and beyond for you. This gendered thing happens sometimes, where students expect professors who are women to occupy this nurturing/mother-hen/fix-it role when they come in for help. Most of the time students don’t realize or intend to hold these expectations. Just be sure you are focused on *your* responsibilities rather than your professor’s responsibilities (or what you may think your professor’s responsibilities are). I’m not saying this because I’m assuming you will go in with a gendered expectation, just, it’s a thing that happens and it’s good to keep in mind. Also, if you delete any expectation that the professor will save you, it can actually make the meeting less fraught for you and can make you feel more in control, because you’ll be focusing on your own action items. I say this as someone who crashed and burned as a student due to undiagnosed depression/anxiety, and as someone who teaches college students and has been in the professor’s chair many many times for conversations just like the one you will be having. I really wish I had gone into more meetings with the attitude described above when I was a crashing/burning student.
“overall patterns matter more than one class”
As an employed 32-y.o. w/ 21 years of education … I *still* feel bad about underperforming in some classes. This helped. Thank you.
I had a horrible prof for an awful required course that was only offered every other year, and I was a senior, so it was make or break. Halfway through the course I was doing so poorly that I knew I couldn’t pass the class and I would have chewed my own arm off before I talked to that guy. So I dropped out of college.
It’s been 21 years. My life totally went on.
Yes, it was a terrible, short-sighted reaction on paper, and I felt guilty and ashamed and weak and gross about it for years. But in retrospect it was a totally reasonable response to *my* whole-life situation — I’d go so far as to say it was the *right* thing to do, for me.
I tell this story very much NOT to suggest that you should drop out of university, but to point out that while you’re in the middle of a crash and burn, it feels like your whole life is hinging on this pivot. But really, it’s not; or I guess really your whole life is going to hinge on a lot of pivots and you should absolutely not let shame and fear paralyze you or push you into shortsightedness. Forgive yourself, understand yourself and make decisions from that place.
As a professor, I hope I can at least assure you that we don’t take this personally and don’t think failing is a badge of shame. We want you to ask for help when you need it.
I would bet money that, whatever the outcome, you will feel better once you do.
I was never good at this stuff or talking to authority figures but I learned in high school what worked for me when I got a (horror!) D in the mid-semester grade alert (I’ve been out of school for a long time, okay, I don’t remember what things were called): I go to the teacher (in high school, after-school, in college, office hours) and do my homework there. Office hours/after school so I didn’t have to ‘schedule’ it, or interact with the teacher/professor, an anxiety-provoking prospect, and I just sat, and did my homework. This:
1. Forced me to do my assignments! And
2. Gave my resources if I didn’t understand the assignment, so that I didn’t just give up in frustration when I felt like I COULDN’T do it or when I didn’t understand how it worked and
3. When I did ask the teacher, I had a specific, definite question to ask so I wasn’t just flailing around or felt like I was just asking for amorphous “accommodation”, when I was FINE, it was just THE MATH IS BROKEN, and so I wasn’t emotional or stressed (although obviously sometimes I WAS emotional about how the MATH JUST DIDN’T WORK, SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH IT), it gave me small incremental problems to solve, that made it easy to interact with the teacher, gave me somewhere to start, and showed me that they COULD help.
4. Made me look engaged, so the teacher knew I was trying, where I was having trouble, and could help me!
THE MATH JUST DIDN’T WORK, SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH IT perfectly sums up my entire relationship with math.
I have told students that they are welcome to come to my office hours and sit at the little table I have in there and just work on homework the whole time, so that if they have questions, they can ask right then. That is *fine* with me. Very few actually take me up on it, but the ones who do typically do reasonably well in the class and are happier with their experience.
When we’re in a class, it’s natural for us to compare ourselves to the other students in the class. The thing we have to remind ourselves is that once we’re outside of the class, we’re being compared to everyone, INCLUDING THE PEOPLE WHO NEVER TOOK THE CLASS. Maybe they never got to that level in their education. Maybe they never had the nerve even to try something that hard. Maybe they knew they’d never get even half way through the way you did. One way or the other, you can arm yourself with that information when you go to talk to the professor. Have that information in the back of your mind to give you confidence.
When I was in college I failed both Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer. Hilariously, I am now employed and doing very well as a thermal systems design engineer.
I also failed various flavors of Calculus a grand total of 10 times. Neither employers nor selective grad schools care, especially once you have even a couple of years of job experience.
Fail classes, try again, keep moving forward.
As long as you get the degree in the end specific classes and grades are just details that quickly become irrelevant.
One thing that I wish I’d had a better understanding of in college is to what degree grades are relevant and irrelevant. I don’t know if this will help anyone who’s still a student, but I remember feeling like my grades were going to define my entire post-college existence, or at least my right-after-graduating-existence. True story; I never once put my GPA on a resume, was asked about it, or had it in any way impact me. I could have graduated with a C- and my life would be *exactly* the same as it is now, except I’d probably have taken more classes that I was genuinely interested in.
So, it depends on what you want. Going to a highly ranked law/med school? Yeah, matters a ton; probably need a 3.8+. But there are plenty of interesting legal and medical jobs where you don’t need to have gone to a prestigious institution for your degree (again, it just matters what you want to do after graduating).
Finance/accounting/business consulting firm? Matters a bit – you usually need a 3.5 but as long as you clear that bar, it doesn’t really matter by how much.
Everything else? Maybe, *maybe* your first job will care about your GPA. Mine didn’t, and I don’t think most do. Just, you know, graduate if at all possible.
(And this isn’t even getting in to the fact that where you go to college and *if* you go to college don’t have to permanently shape your life, either, but that’s less useful for someone already in school).
This is a tangent, but what would all of you do when the professor in question isn’t one of those caring types?
I’m not failing this class, but I’m definitely not doing well. It’s within my program, but not my specialty.
I’ve heard through the grapevine, and observed through this class, that the prof just did not want to put the effort in. The materials are all from the book. The quizzes are the automatic quizzes online that come with the expensive book. The study materials are the ones that come with the book, and honestly like the writer had only ever read the one book. Then the tests are… completely different than the study problems!
I’ll get in touch with him, but I’m cranky about it. #notallprofessors
Get in touch with him to cover your bases ( and be cranky on the inside because he sounds like a gem). He might not want to put effort in but he cannot flunk you for asking how to best prepare for the next test since the previous one covered different material than the quizzes or study problems. But also, are there other students in the class doing well that you can go to for help? What about tutors in the subject? If you know someone who has taken the class before that can also be a good resource if only to get a heads up on what material he likes to give tests on.
It’s online, so I don’t know a single person in the class. I do know people who have taken it a while ago, but they’re mostly saying, “Oh well, it’s [class]”
Mostly, I just don’t have the time to put into getting tutors. Much like the professor, I guess, I’d rather put my time and energy into other classes. If I spend any less time on my other hardest class, my grade will just go down in that one without necessarily going up in the one I’m really struggling in now.
If I could put the time into studying material more like what was actually on the test, instead of the crappy study material, I think I would do better.
I’ll email him. Probably tomorrow. Only has office hours while I’m at work, if course, and I don’t think he’ll stick around to meet me after I get out. Because if anyone’s known to have a lot of spare time between 9 and 5, it’s people who take online classes and have enrolled in a program that’s almost exclusively night classes aimed at people who have a 9 to 5 job.
Woof, that felt good to get it out at least.
I hope this goes well; Jedi hugs if desired.
For the future, are you in a position to cut down on your credit hours in case something like this happens again? If you don’t have enough time to put the effort required into all your classes, it sounds to me like you might want to consider taking fewer classes or a different mix of difficulties. Although the latter gets harder to do the closer you get to graduating.
I do feel like I had enough study time for the last test if the materials available were better, you know? I did spend a good amount of time on it.
I don’t think my department has any sort of tutoring program regardless, but even if they did, I feel like they would also just be guessing at what the prof wanted as much as I am.
(Jedi hugs) This sounds like someone who should not be teaching online classes. Yeah, e-mail him. That might be the only thing you can do. You could ask about meeting outside of office hours even if you think the answer will be no. The worst thing that will happen is he will say no. He can’t flunk you for pointing out that office hours between 9 to 5 don’t work for students with full time jobs.
Also, I don’t know if your job would allow this but sometimes you can call a professor for help if you can’t make it physically to office hours. I too am a student who also works full time so do that frequently to talk with my professors or academic advisor.
Hmm I don’t know your time constraints, but I do think studying for various classes for me was never a zero-sum game. If I was struggling in one class, it really dragged down my confidence in my other classes. The pragmatic, cut-your-losses voice in my head was never the voice that got me out of a shame-spiral, but was instead the voice that talked me into sleeping through class and rationalized my procrastination and avoidance until I was really close to screwed.
The part of my personality that dig drag my shame-filled, exhausted butt out of the hole I had dug was the side that was determined! to just! effing! learn! the stuff! If I faced the shit class head-on and poured my energy into it, it rarely took away from my other classes, but instead was more of an engine generating energy for me to use for everything else. Just diving deep and doing the thing I was most afraid of usually pumped me up enough to work on other stuff.
Of course, that kind of motivation can only go so far, and if you’re time constraints are impossible than no amount of motivation is going to add more hours in the day. All it can give you is the energy to use the hours you have effectively.
Well, the two classes I’m doing well in I’m interested in, and like both profs.
So we’ve got
A) badly written class outside my speciality with uncaring prof
B) interesting class directly applicable to my profession with interesting case studies and a prof I feel like I could go to
C) interesting class with case studies that may relate to my job eventually, but weirdly tie in with skills from my first degree, with a freaking delightful prof
So, in my case, I don’t think working even more on A would help me, and I’d rather just do my research projects for B and C regardless. I’ve had plenty of shame spirals in my life, but I think this is more of an irritation escalator.
Do I literally have another hour or two a week to meet with a tutor (which we don’t have)? Yes.
If he wrote me back right now saying “X study guide is really good, use that” I could put in some time to use X study guide. I just don’t want to put more effort into guessing what he wants. Even if we had tutors, they would also just be guessing what random thing he wants.
One of our essay problems was on a super minor point that was mentioned for a paragraph out of 6 chapters. I feel like I have the concepts down, like I could rock the socks off of an open book test. I’m just not remembering the random minutiae and irregular rules.
It’s not a language class, but I feel like I want to go to Germany and order a pretzel and a beer and ask for directions, but this professor’s tests are like “list every irregular verb in German, and write an essay on this super obscure Low German dialect we mentioned once.”
I cannot offer you any helpful advice, but if *I* was your professor, I would give you extra credit for the outstanding term ‘irritation escalator’
I hope you get it figured out tho!!
I’d treat this the way I’d treat a situation where a good business has a bad employee. It’s rare, but every now and then I go out to eat and get a horrible server. I try to make sure I don’t get that server again. I might complain to the management. The same for the assistants in a medical office. I once felt it necessary to say that I didn’t want to get the same assistant again. (This is the person who takes notes for the doctors before they come in, takes blood pressure, and helps with things like getting out the hospital gown. I agonized over how to say it and finally asked that I not see that person again. I don’t know if it was my statement, if they’d gotten other complaints, or if it had nothing to do with her performance, but the next time I went to that medical practice, she was no longer working there.) Could you go to the department head and tell the professor’s boss what you’ve told us or merely ask for a different teacher or a different section?
Even if the professor isn’t a good resource for whatever reason, it’s still a good idea to ask for help, if only to cover your bases/show you’re trying. (You can be super cranky about it, though–that’s frustrating.) Who knows–maybe he’ll surprise you.
But also look for other resources in your school. Form a study group with your classmates. Find a tutor (maybe someone who took the class previously and did well in it, or someone majoring in the field). Ask your librarians to help you find some good study resources on the subject. If all else fails, see if another professor in the department has any advice–I don’t love doing this, it feels awkward to me, but you can pass it off as “I asked Prof X about this but their teaching style doesn’t really click for me, so I wanted to see if you had another approach I could try”.
Alternately (or maybe additionally), just resign yourself to this being a bad class, do your best, and consider passing a success. If you still have the option to switch it to credit/non, do that. Otherwise, just remember that one bad class on your transcript won’t matter much to anyone but you; as the captain says, employers and such mostly care about trends, not a single isolated moment.
The 2 classes I failed both had professors like that. 2 courses where I scraped by with poor but passing grades had greats profs.
My solution (and also my only option at the time) was to take the courses in the summer from different profs. Second time around I got an A in both classes.
Having engaged profs and the time to put in a lot of studying (took one course at a time) made all the difference.
Get another book! That reminds me of the Statistics class I took, and had to re-take later. Most students started out with the text book (a Statistics for Business Majors book), then the class split into three camps: the ones that got a statistics book for teachers, the ones that got one for the humanities, and the ones that looked up resources online.
If you have a library nearby, check out their books on the topic. Maybe ask a librarian if they know of any resources. Also, if you have a chat room or e-mail adresses, try get in touch with class mates for ideas on how to study.
Added: I wrote this before I read your response. Get another book is meant as a tip for classes you need to get a passing grade in. It doesn’t sound like this class is very useful for you.
True Story Time! When I was in college (during the Obama administration) The worst grade I ever got on my transcript was a C- I barely squeaked by with it. It was a one-credit-hour class on how to figure out what kind of job you want, do your resume, what to wear and say at an interview, and how you shake hands. Basic yet important stuff! The lady who taught it, I discovered over the weeks, had
-no other job than this one class
-had NEVER! BEEN! INTERVIEWED!
-never held a full time job
She DID however have the good sense to marry a doctor. Said doctor had just given the university a boatload of cash for a new building with their name on it. Things she said:
-Make sure when you print your resume to mail to potential employers you check the way the watermark on your fancy resume paper is facing and print with the watermark facing up. Employers look for that.
-When you go to a business dinner, ladies, make sure you let the man pull out your chair for you. It’s good manners.
-Make sure you can answer the interview question “who is your role model in World Politics?” because that question is very frequently asked.
I graduated in 3 years Cum Laude. I got an A in business calculus AND statistics. I took 21 credit hours some semesters. I went after a sheepskin like I was killin’ snakes. But I barely passed that class you guys. Barely.
Sometimes the person in front of the class is just NOT. YOUR. PERSON.
“-Make sure when you print your resume to mail to potential employers you check the way the watermark on your fancy resume paper is facing and print with the watermark facing up. Employers look for that.
-When you go to a business dinner, ladies, make sure you let the man pull out your chair for you. It’s good manners.
-Make sure you can answer the interview question “who is your role model in World Politics?” because that question is very frequently asked.”
Why I belong in science/science-adjacent public sector/nonprofit/non-tenure academic fields and not at all in capital-b business, law, or any “high-powered” fields.
I am *IN* a high-powered Business field, and her advice on how important it is to cut only one piece of steak at a time and keep the fork tines-down and never use the salt shaker for some reason always comes to me when I take my multi-million-dollar customer to Hooters. Worst. Class. Ever.
Like…this one credit hour gimme class almost held up my degree.
Wait, why wouldn’t you be able to use the saltshaker? It’s there for that purpose, isn’t it? Is this true of everything? Do I now need to worry about forbidden ketchup or proscribed pepper?
Ok, first, all her advice was terrible. Second, she said it is a *~secret test~* to see if you are the kind of person who thinks rigidly and assumes things (by salting food before tasting it) or can’t handle subtlety (by salting your food too much)
This is not how hiring works in any way. In my experience, hiring works by already having experience in the field, being a known quantity to the people hiring, and maybe belong to the same social club as the people in charge? If those don’t apply to you, do everything recommended by Ask A Manager instead of ANYTHING that teacher said. Also, learn to network real good. It’s critical.
I had to *sit on my hands* to avoid standing up in her class and warning all the students not to trust her. I complained to the Dean about how awful her advice was. He said: “you know what her last name is, right?”
Overly adding flavor to food that someone else has prepared for you can come off as rude as if they flavored their food badly. Like dredging (and I mean dredging) nigiri in soy sauce or asking for A1 at a high end steak house.
YMMV at McDonalds vs a Michelin star restaurant vs someone saying they make low sodium meals for health reasons and openly encourage you to add your own salt.
Hahahaha oh wow.
My mom’s piece of corporate advice (she’s a teacher, my dad is the corporate one) is actually one of the few things I remember best and put to use the most: when at a company function, have a drink you like well enough that you can drink it without making a face but don’t like so much that you’ll drink it quickly. It’ll keep things from getting out of hand while still giving you the social lubrication/weird trust that goes along with drinking with other people. (Obviously if you don’t drink, that’s a totally different story, but if you do it’s always proven very useful to me.)
So THAT is actually good advice (unlike my teacher’s) I do a lot of trade shows in an industry known for taking parties very seriously. I try to buy rounds, so I can go to the bartender and put in the order, and every 2nd or 3rd drink I get will be Secretly Virgin.
We are getting a bit far afield tho. I’m SUPER willing to continue this convo, if anyone wants to hop over to the ask a manager work related open thread? To the LW: in engineering, students tend to make fun of that one kid who is has lots of friends but is taking like 6 or 7 years to pass enough classes to get the engineering degree. Those SAME KIDS will be very jealous of that dude’s vacation home, boat, other boat, and Rolex. THAT kid will end up in engineering specific sales jobs, and make triple everyone else. Life is way bigger than the lecture hall.
“When you go to a business dinner, ladies, make sure you let the man pull out your chair for you. It’s good manners.”
I’m in a grad program for a professional degree, and I had to take a “professional development” class of sorts — it focused on writing memos and public speaking more than etiquette, but the instructor was also constantly impressing upon us the importance of making small talk. Which, sure, you don’t want to act cold and hostile to your co-workers/boss or anything. But this guy, every time he took attendance, would have a little conversation with everyone, as “practice”. What it was actually good practice for was talking to people who have no boundaries and won’t accept a soft no. He would ask people (especially us women, I want to say, but my memory could be affected by confirmation bias just because I disliked him) oddly specific questions about their eating habits. And if someone tried to deflect a question with something like “oh, I forget, it doesn’t matter, change of topic”, he would just double down. Ugh.
I was a graduate student / teacher of math.
First thing: do not make life harder for your professor. I generally wanted to help my students, particularly the math-phobic ones. But I wasn’t about to set myself on fire to keep a student warm. So taking a test later? OK. Wanting a whole new test? Meh. Blowing me off after setting up a time to take a make-up test? Fuck you, kid. Be a general pain in the ass? Things aren’t going to go your way.
My advice would be to be honest, humble (I’ve heard of students telling professors “you work for me” trying to get their way – don’t do that), and honestly ready to change your ways. If a class is just not going to happen for you, try for the incomplete and then make it as easy as possible for the person that’s going to handle all your assignments and tests at a later date. Good will goes further than you think.
And think of this as great practice for fucking up later in life and having to ask for help and say you’re sorry. Most people will respect a direct and honest approach. Life happens and we all find ourselves in crappy situations.
High school teacher, here, and just want to reiterate how good all of this advice is! Remember you come from a system, that for a lot of complicated reasons, repeatedly gave you the message that you must do Excellently, at Everything, or Future Catastrophe. And you did well enough at that system to get accepted to college. The belief in the need for that kind of success may feel like a life truth. It’s not. Lots of people who have lots of professional success failed classes or certification exams on the first go. Almost every adult has had the experience of not being passed to the next round of interviews or auditions at least once. It will take some unlearning to lose the panic over imperfection, but your prof has probably lost that belief a long time ago, and just wants you to just keep moving forward from wherever you are.
I’m in grad school and struggling to motivate myself. What’s helping is telling myself that the way to fail is to do nothing. The most important thing is to do the work – not to do it well, just to do it. So in your case, the most important thing is to go see your prof. Free yourself from thinking about the outcome, just think about the immediate task.
This has been my pattern over the years (!) I have been struggling to complete undergrad. Am currently in therapy and on anti-anxiety medication in part to help deal with this issue. I have no trouble talking to my profs when I’m doing well.
LW, don’t become me. This situation is fixable. If you can’t pass the class right now, you can retake it. Depending on how your school does things, if you can find out for sure through talking to your prof that there’s no way to pass, you might be able to withdraw for no grade or take an incomplete and finish next semester. Your professor wants you to succeed and wants you to learn the material she’s trying to teach you. And if you can make yourself go to her and say, “I’m embarrassed about this,” not only will she understand, some of the shame weight will lift.
I don’t have a lot to add, but I just wanted to say that as a new-ish community college professor, this thread has been amazing in terms of things I can start doing to intervene with people who seem to be struggling, and I’m going to add a lot of these to the “how to pass my class” mini-lecture I give the first day! Thanks Captain and the Awkwardeers!
My friend I so feel for you right now. The most important thing for you to do is take care of yourself and let go of the shame.
There is no shame in doing poorly in a course or in failing one if it comes to that.
True story: I have a science degree and I failed two of my core classes and got a D in a third (exactly 50%). I re-took the failed courses and passed. In the end I got my degree with a pretty goos GPA even (not that anyone gives a crap in my industry). I have now been working at a successful career in my field, which I love, for 10 years.
My Dad is a retired professor. If a student came to him for help he would bend over backwards. He once let a student write an exam at a different time so the student could go moose hunting. (Work life balance is important.) The only time he was disappointed is when students were doing poorly and didn’t ask for help, because he just wanted them to do well. No judgement.
All you have to do is ask. Other students say she’s a good prof so I guarantee to you that she will be thrilled to help you if you ask her. Even if you don’t know exactly where you need help right now email her. She wants you to do well and will not judge you for struggling. Email her. Tell her you want to do well. The more time you have to improve your grade the higher the chance of success, so email her right now.
You can do this. 🙂
Apart from the captain’s advice and the advice about mental health management, I also think it’s useful to re-frame how you see college/uni as an experience.
When I finished uni one of the things I realized was that the skills that helped me the most to survive (German universities are harsh) was to stop seeing uni as a measure of my intellectual skill, and start seeing it as something you need to be shameless about surviving. Whatever went wrong, I just took all the help I could to continue. I went to all the counselors, the profs, the advisers, I tried different learning and studying skills. You name it. I failed so often. But it never got me down. And it paid out so much at the end. I had way better communication skills, I knew how valuable it was to know the people and the structures, I learned that being informed about the expectations and the criteria is as important as knowing the contents of the courses/books (sometimes it’s more important), and I knew to shut down my ego and my fears every time something felt like a personal blow, like a statement about my deepest self. Emotional skill and not giving up was way more useful than any intelligence or knowledge I had to offer.
College/uni is a time when you are discovering a lot about yourself, and blows like failing at something can feel overwhelming. Be compassionate to yourself about how big of a deal your difficulties feel. But if possible, try to see the whole experience as an obstacle course. Shit happens, you get up and try again. No one gets to the other side without having practiced, and practicing means failing a thousand times.
I have a hearing loss, and was diagnosed a little over a year ago with ADD, bipolar, and anxiety. I have had executive function issues since I was a kid. I thought I was just bad at time management, messy, and disorganized.
I actually did well in school despite the executive function problems. I juggled a full time job and a max course load (over 20 units) per term for my BS. I got to work at 7 AM and left school at 10-11 PM. I got A’s and B’s except for Discrete Math. I had a D on the first midterm, and the instructor and textbook were both convoluted and confusing. I went to the University library and took out a half dozen textbooks, skimmed through until I found the one that made sense, and read and did the problems for each topic before tackling the official text. I was able to get a B overall.
I believe in you, and I hope your instructor and school are willing to give you the help you need to pass.
LW, does your class have TAs? Sometimes talking to them can be less intimidating than talking to professors. They’re only a few years “older” than you in academic terms and might be able to give you more concrete advice on how best to learn the material (eg try reading x before doing y but leave z until you feel confident in k).
In one of my first calculus classes at university, our TA gave us the script “Could you recapitulate **specific proof** for us?”. This was for whenever we were so baffled by a proof that we couldn’t come up with any coherent questions. This happens, and it’s okay! Specific questions are easier to answer, but it’s perfectly legitimate to say that you’re have trouble understanding a topic and need help figuring out where to start.
The TA’s script suggestion is brilliant! By giving you an elegant code phrase for “I have no clue what is going on” they relieved you of the burden of trying to figure out what to ask and of any shame for being in that position.
I had a lot of trouble with Macro Economics, I think, in college, and when it turned out there were a couple students who just sucked at math the professor started a group discussion/tutoring session. About a month before finals this new girl shows up and said she had been too embarrassed that she didn’t understand so only now was she getting help. She was obviously relieved that 4 other people didn’t get how to differentiate 0. The only reason I passed my economics classes were study buddies and group tutoring sessions. I also cried in front of the Macro Econ professor. All my teachers in college were happy to help people. They wanted you to come in, because it was engagement and they were teaching. Some even built a requirement to attend office hours into the grading policy. Also, the thing that seriously improved my writing was having a standing appointment with a writing tutor.
I was a Good Student all the way through college, but I struggled mightily in some of my classes during grad school, and there were several classes I wasn’t sure I could pass. When I was in the throes of the struggle, someone sent me a link to an essay called The Lesson of Grace in Teaching, by a math professor (my struggles were in math). It’s about how teachers can relate to students in ways that best support their learning. I found the essay profoundly meaningful in framing my problem in my mind, and in helping me get past the shame that is so often a barrier that keeps students from asking for the help they need. CW: the philosophical orientation of the post is religious, but I’m an atheist and found it helpful nevertheless.
I really wish I’d seen a thread like this when I was in university in the early 00s. For those of you who work in academia and are frustrated about shame-hiding students, would it give you a new perspective if I told you that I was deeply grateful for the help that my lecturers were able to give me under those conditions? You’re seeing the help you’re unable to give those students; I saw the fact that when my lecturers saw me skipping a lot of classes and handing in assignments late, they chose to help me however they could, rather than getting angry with me. I had undiagnosed, untreated mental health stuff going on and thought I was just being lazy, so the fact that my lecturers didn’t treat me like I was lazy meant a HUGE amount to me. So even if you’re not able to do as much for those students as you are for the ones who approach you more actively, trust that what you are doing for those students is still making a difference.
Aw, if I had a heart it would be very warm after reading this.
Yeah, it’s super hard to help people who are in the position I was, because like, my lecturers would tell me about assistance that was available to me and I’d just think “no, I’m not struggling; I’m just lazy.” That belief was impenetrable, and it’s a real punch in the gut for me to read this thread now and imagine how different my university experience would have been if I’d recognised that my lecturers were extending that help to ME and not just the fictional better version of me that I thought they were mistaking me for. But even with that barrier, my lecturers’ help made the difference between passing and failing for me on multiple occasions.
So yeah. Recognise that the stuff you’re doing still makes a difference for people like me, and also please forgive us. We did the best we knew how to do.
Dear student having a hard time in class even though you are really trying,
I’m a college professor because I want to help people learn stuff. Students who want to learn stuff make me happy. Students who make an effort to learn stuff make me very happy. Students who want to learn the stuff being taught and make an effort put me over the moon! They are the students who make my job good.
If you are not doing well, I am sad. I think about what might be wrong. If what is wrong is that you don’t show up, read the material, do the assignments, or otherwise show any intention to learn, then I am not sad any more, just annoyed. But If you are coming to class and doing assignments, I want you to pass. I don’t think less of you because you don’t get it. Please come ask me to help you. Office hours are boring, and I can’t help you unless you let me.
Me and most of your professors.
ps, I won’t tell you, but I am proud of you for coming in and working so hard.
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