Hindsight is 20/20. We’re all great Monday morning quarterbacks. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Whatever the cliché, it comes down to students lamenting in January what they should have done throughout the semester to ensure their academic success.
As we finish out the Fall Semester, our students need to evaluate their status in each class and figure out just what effort they need to put in to cross the finish line with the desired (and sometimes required) outcome. You can help them with this crucial assessment.
As you search for topics of conversation around the Thanksgiving table, you might want to nudge them in the right direction with some targeted questioning. Start by asking who teaches each class. If your student doesn’t know the professor’s name (and it’s the final weeks of the semester), that could be a red flag. Ask your student about each course specifically — what’s the most interesting thing about the class, what work is outstanding.
Ask your students if they received an Early Warning. If so, what did they do to ameliorate it? An early warning is an electronic notice that a student is struggling or failing to meet the attendance requirements. Not all professors send warnings to students, but we know that when students receive them they often are able to get their act together and improve.
Ask about pre-registration. What are they scheduled to take next semester? Students should be done with spring registration by the time they come home at Thanksgiving. Students who are engaged and content are usually excited about registration and about what they are taking next semester.
Ask about their roommates – what’s the most annoying thing about the roommate? What’s the best thing? What are they thinking about housing arrangements for next year?
Ask if they read their university email. Reading email is the difference between success and failure. There are nearly 10,000 students at Seton Hall. It would be nice if we could send a personalized text to every student each time there is important information to convey. But the reality is: we send emails. Students complain they get too many so they don’t bother to read them. Really? There are financial ramifications that affect you, the parents, when students ignore emails. Late fees are imposed on tuition bills, students are charged for health insurance when they already have family health insurance. All of these situations stem from students ignoring their university email.
Ask if they did the extra credit. In my 35+ years of college teaching, I have observed that it is the students who DON’T need the extra credit who do the extra credit (which may explain why they don’t need the extra credit!). Every chance I get, I ask students if their professors have given them the opportunity to earn extra credit and I urge them to do it, just in case.
Ask them what’s the worst case scenario? I find this an enormously helpful question. This is best illustrated with a real-life slice of my life. During the summer, my son is scheduled to start a new job and I am doing my best to not ask too many questions or to be too pushy. So I keep my mouth shut after I asked, “All set for Monday?” on Friday evening and he replied, “Just got to fill out a few forms.” On Saturday, I couldn’t contain myself and asked, “Got those forms filled out?” but again backed down when he said he was on it. Fast forward to Sunday evening when I am sitting down to a re-run of 60 Minutes and he turns on the printer and it’s dead. A half-hour goes by as he fiddles with the connection, the cartridge, the scanner and the computer. Nothing. So now he is faced with the worst case scenario: he will go to work on the first day unprepared and with his homework not done. Not exactly the message you want to convey to a boss. So he turns to me for help at the 11th hour and I succumb. We head to Seton Hall on a Sunday night, open my office and print out his paperwork. He is extremely grateful and I resist the temptation for about half the ride home, but I can’t hold back any longer. “If you had imagined the worst case scenario for your procrastination, this never would have happened.”
I have sometimes described this as “Just in case the engine falls out of the taxicab,” which memorializes the time the engine fell out of the taxi on the way to Newark Airport for a trip to Hawaii. Thanks to my keen ability (honed by decades of motherhood) to imagine the worst case scenario, we still made our flight.
Our dean of Freshman Studies, Robin Cunningham, has a favorite saying for students, “It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish.” The university has the resources to provide your students a strong end game, from tutors-in-residence, the Writing Center, the Academic Resource Center and our end-of-the-semester tutoring event, Tutopia. And there’s still plenty of time to finish strong. Happy Thanksgiving!