Friday, December 18, 2015

Love and the Law and Student Complaints

It is that time of year, both the time of festivities--Christmas, graduation!--and also the time of tears.  I've spent hours and hours this week trying to sort out the issues of students with complaints.  And then there was the issue of the student who thought she was on target to graduate, only to find out the day before graduation that she had failed 2 remaining classes, both of them in my department.

Many failures led up to that moment.  The largest one was her failure to turn in required work.  She also failed to keep tabs on her class.  But she showed up for graduation clearance, and no one told her that she was off the grad list, as she could have reasonably expected. 

I wrestled with the best approach.  My inner judge wanted to punish her.  I heard that voice inside me saying, "Well, maybe you'll learn to check your e-mails if we make you repeat these classes.  Maybe you'll learn to get your work done if we punish you."

It would have been punishment--her family had already arrived for graduation, and she had already spent a lot of money on her portfolio for portfolio review, our event where our students hope to meet future employers.

My inner efficiency expert wanted to pressure the teachers to change the grade--my inner efficiency expert just wants problems to go away.  Luckily, I am skilled at resisting this urge when it comes to teachers.  I don't want a grade change if there's no way to justify it to any auditors who might come along later.

One teacher allowed the student to turn in the missing papers.  One teacher wasn't sure she wanted to do that.

Yesterday, in an early morning meeting with the dean, the teacher, me, and the other department head, I asked the teacher, "What would you have done had the student found out on Monday that she had failed?"  The teacher would have created an additional assignment for the student.

Yesterday we were running out of time, so we crafted a compromise.  The student could go to the morning portfolio review--but then she had to do the extra credit assignment before the late afternoon graduation ceremony.  Happily, she did.

In my various responses and in the responses of the others involved (teacher, dean, other department head), I saw us as metaphors for the responses of the Church to the Bible.  I saw the Law based approach--what I think of as the discipline and punish approach.  It's attractive, I admit, at least to those who can live by the Law.  There are clear rules, along with clear punishments for rule breakers.  We know what happens when we screw up.  It's easy to categorize people, the in and the out.

But Jesus came to show us a new way, a way based in love and forgiveness.  However, that approach doesn't require us to let people walk all over us.  The unattractive feature of this approach is the difficulty in figuring out the correct approach to wrongdoing.

In our solution, the student still had some work to do.  But she wasn't kept out of the important gatherings of the day.

I liked watching us all work together.  By working as a team, we came up with a solution I hadn't though of on my own.  It's what should happen, but doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

I wonder if it would happen if I prayed for an open heart more often?  Yesterday, knowing that I would start my work day with the meeting and then with the student who had spent hours in hysterics on Wednesday, I prayed as I got out of the shower.  I prayed for wisdom and insight and guidance and for an open heart.

My epiphany, when I asked the teacher what she would have done on Monday, felt like an answer to that prayer, as it gave us insight and a path to follow.

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