Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Glimpse into the Private Life of a Student

For several months now, I've been slowly working through an archive of First Year Writing students' portfolios. Though I'm reading them through a lens that looks for classifications of public versus private writing spaces, I saw something today that sparked my interest much more. I was reading a student's essay on dorm living that was written for a colleague's class when I came across a description of a student that I recognized, one of my own.

It was a strange moment for me. I only had the girl in class for a few weeks, but she was very unique. She had a creative approach to writing and a great sense of voice. I knew it would be a pleasure to read her papers and to push her to improve her writing throughout the semester, but I never got the chance. Eventually, she just stopped showing up.

What I learned from this other students' paper was a bit about the girl's lifestyle. It made it seems as if she were a recluse, someone who never stayed in the dorms unless it were completely necessary. She spent all of her time trying to do things away from campus. You could tell the roommate was intrigued by her, but also felt sorry for her, as I began to. It didn't seem like my student enjoyed being at the university.

This short description made me think back to our classroom interactions. I knew that the student was unfamiliar with many of the tasks I was asking her to do; she expressed her discomfort. She wasn't a shy girl, but I didn't see her really interact with her peers in the classroom. I assumed that she had just dropped the class, but it sounds like, from this paper, that eventually she left the university. I can't help, but wonder if I added to her anxiety by forcing her outside of her comfort zone even in her academic work or if there was something I could have done to prevent her from isolating herself. Should I have reached out to her? Should I have stopped her to talk after class? Should I have written her an email? I will never know.

It is scenarios like this one that make me wonder how involved we should be in students' lives. If I knew that she was experiencing this disconnect from her peers, I probably would have meddled. I would have tried to show her how much the college social experience has to offer her or to point her in the direction of peers with whom she could feel more at-home. On the other hand, perhaps this meddling is not a good thing. Maybe, the student really did need to leave the university. Maybe it wasn't the right place for her. Again, I'll never know.

I'd love to know how others deal with this. As teachers, how far do you delve into students' lives, outside of the classroom? And for students, how much involvement do you want teachers to take?


~~vanessa said...

This semester I had no choice but to delve into the personal life of a student when with email communication and phone communication let me to contact health services, and help get this student to counseling center quickly.

This has resulted in a greying of boundries in regards to timely work, attendence and participation. I have recently realized that in order for this student to have success, she has to fail my class and blame me, because I directed/forced her to get help.

I ethically had no choice to get her help (life and safety issues) but it's still not a great place to be sitting in.

NP said...

It's a difficult decision. Somewhere down the line, though, this student will probably think back on you and realize that you were trying to act in her best interest.

Thanks for sharing.