Stealth Students, or, Long-Fuse Effs

(N.B.: Because I blog under my proper name, I drafted this post at least one full year ago—maybe a year and a half, or even two years—then saved it to post later. This way, it is clear that the post does not concern any of my current teaching sections, but rather a situation that simply crops up periodically. Any resemblance to current students, living or dead, is coincidental and regretted.)

Professors, do you occasionally find yourself perplexed to observe a student who repeatedly fails to accomplish the assignments, but never steps forward to talk about it? Even when you have called attention, during class time, with heavy eye contact, to the part of the syllabus that says they can’t pass under such circumstances? No contact, no drop slip, no…anything? Perversely, such a student usually continues to take the quizzes or exams, on which basis I theorize that they simply do not believe anybody would actually fail them for a course, and that my warnings are a part of simply keeping up appearances.

Students: have you been or known such a student? (Anonymous comments encouraged!)

Policy-wise, it isn’t a murky situation: the student will not pass the course. And between the syllabus and the verbal heads-ups, there aren’t any doubts about communication. But…what, if anything, do you do? Options include:

  • Do nothing to interfere with the student’s karma: it’s a free country;
  • Reach out to see what gives;
  • I guess I am out of options at this point.

What is your own habitual practice with those students who are failing to turn in the work, but who keep showing up to class and taking—usually failing—quizzes and exams? The ones who have never come to you to acknowledge that they aren’t handing in the assignments?

[Stealth Students, or, Long-Fuse Effs was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/02/21. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

3 Responses

  1. As a former struggling student, I can tell you that there are multiple factors to this. For me, I had to work 60 hours a week to help pay for the excessive cost of living in Evanston. At times it was too easy to become so backlogged that catching up seemed impossible. There was a time or two that I did fall too far behind. What was helpful to me was when the prof addressed me privately about what was happening. They showed concern, was able to understand the situation, and motivate me to do well. As a prof, you’ll see students fail. That’s on them. However, if you’re inquisitive into the seemingly lack of motivation, talk to them one on one and see what’s going on. The worst that will happen is that they’ll continue to fail. However, understanding the individual plights of your students has the potential to positively effect a student’s life more than you could ever realize. Thank you GK and CA!

  2. [Moderator’s note: Some Body, it looks like you made two attempts at one comment, so I have only published the second of the two. Let me know if I misinterpreted.]

    I’ve not been a full stealth student, but have been the student doing very poorly who will only acknowledge it via email. I knew at the time it was silly, but, shame makes us do foolish things. Direct contact would certainly be the most compassionate choice, offering to meet with the student about what’s going on and to evaluate whether or not a plan can be devised to allow the student to pass, or, if it’s beyond that point, perhaps it is wise to make it clear that the student has reached a hole that can’t be dug out of, and offering the “truce” of a passing withdrawal, if said student will withdraw. It woudln’t hurt to remind them that if they are that far behind, they could probably use those class hours somewhere else.

  3. If possible (i.e. I have time and their email works) I contact them to ask what’s going on, sometimes we can work things out for them, sometimes I just learn that they wanted to do the course but either can’t or can’t do it properly but are learning stuff anyway. Occasionally it all turns messy…

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