A few weeks ago, I made a deal with a student. It stemmed from her whiny, complaint driven attitude. Her complaint was one I’d heard several times. “Why do I need to come to writing workshop? I don’t have any work to do. I don’t need help.” It was the third or fourth time that day I had heard that excuse. I think something snapped.

“Fine,” I said. “Tell you what. Go ahead and do this essay on your own.”

She blinked, shocked. I don’t think she expected my response. I pressed on.

“Show up for all of our meetings between now and when the paper is due. I won’t count you as absent and you can stay and work on the paper or you can leave,” I explained.

She nodded.

“When you receive a grade for the paper let me know. If it’s an honors grade, I’ll excuse you for the rest of the semester. If not, then you come here and work with me. How does that strike you?”

My student was speechless but kept nodding her head. “I’ll take it!” she proclaimed. There was a spark in her eye. I had given her an opportunity to get out of writing workshop and she knew it.

Over the next few weeks she would show up at the beginning of our appointed times and then leave. I didn’t mind the extra free half hour of time. Today, she came in with a graded final paper. She sat down heavily in desk next to me, frustration etched on her face. I looked at her and she handed me the paper. A “C+” was written in pencil in the top right corner of the first page.

“What happened?” I asked. She shook her head.

“I don’t know. I really thought I had done well,” she responded. “He says I can make revisions for a better grade. I’ve already started. Can we read through the revisions together?” She asked.

I smiled and inclined my head. “Sure,” I said. “Let’s go through it line by line.”

She nodded and we began working through her paper. I don’t always employ tough love techniques when I teach. But it worked in this situation. I don’t think she’ll complain about the usefulness of the the writing workshops again.

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