For those that were interested in the "you are not special" speech
I received several requests for "the speech" so here it is (it was a nice diversion from the grading sitting in front of me). Feel free to adapt it to your particular needs with a variety of audiences.
I don’t have a specific text (have given it more times than I can count) for my “You are not special” speech, so I did my best to recreate the speech for those who are interested.
When I start class on the first day we go through the basic policies and procedures for the course. My classes can range anywhere from 25-100 students. Once we have gone over the basics, I move to this.
You’ll notice on the syllabus this statement, “A SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING CLASS EXPECTATIONS: I have high expectations of any student who chooses to enter a college classroom, but I have particularly high expectations of the students in this class. This is mainly because I would assume that if you are in this class, you have a) decided to be a communication major or b) you have at least some interest in the field of communication. I expect that your work will be of high quality and that you will engage the material. I also expect that you take responsibility for your actions (or your failure to act). I expect you to be proactive about your grade and your work in this class. If you are concerned about your grade, you should contact me and make efforts early in the semester to address the situation. At the end of the semester it will be too late for me to offer you any constructive options. I will not make exceptions or allowances for individual problems (unless it is an extreme and DOCUMENTED issue). I cannot, in good conscience offer one student an opportunity that I would be unwilling to offer to the entire class.”
I completely understand that things happen during the semester that may be outside of your control, however, before approaching me about your particular circumstances, I encourage you to read and reread the statement above, particularly if you are asking me for any kind of special consideration. I take this policy very seriously, because in my years of teaching it is the best policy I can come up with to address the needs of ALL students. Each semester here I teach between 100-150 students. Although I am a relatively junior faculty member I have taught at several institutions, and taught thousands of students. In all honesty, the number of “special” circumstances that warrant an exception to the stated policies in the syllabus is relatively small.
I use this policy, not to be “mean” or “unfair” to particular students, but to be reasonable and fair to all students. I am not in the business of policing excuses for their validity. If I receive official communication from a college administrator that you have an extreme circumstance then I will make an exception for you. Otherwise, why should you be granted an exception that I would not be willing to grant for all other students in the class?
For the record, the following instances are not valid reasons to not turn in an assignment:
A sore throat
A malfunctioning printer (you can email a copy of the paper to me before class and then find a way to print it when you arrive on campus – if you can’t do that the paper is probably not done)
The internet went down and you couldn’t finish your paper because you needed additional sources (this is really problematic, because it means that not only have you written your paper the night before, you have also not done the research for your paper until the night before)
The library closed too early
You had a minor fender-bender 3 days ago and needed to meet the insurance agent
You broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend
You have to leave for your best friend’s wedding/a family vacation/spring break/a sporting event (first of all, your parents should know when you are in class and refrain from making flight arrangements, plans, etc while you are in class; secondly, if you do have to miss class for such situations, it is YOUR responsibility to turn the assignment in EARLY before you leave; you are choosing to go out of town, you therefore need to compensate for that)
These circumstances will not warrant exceptions to course policies because, frankly, they are not exceptional circumstances. I am not unsympathetic to the reality that “life happens,” however when life happens, consequences happen as well. You have to deal with those, as well as life.
There are common questions that arise when we discuss this, so I thought I would counter them here:
1) Is it better, then, to lie and make up a better story for why the assignment is not here? No, because you still need to provide substantive and verifiable documentation for your situation. If you are planning to go all the way and fabricate that as well, you should read my class policy on academic dishonesty – then you will have bigger problems that a poor grade in my class.
2) Is it better, then, to just be honest and say that I just couldn’t get the assignment done? Sure. I would appreciate that kind of honesty. Will it make me rethink not penalizing you for not turning the assignment in? Nope, but I would really appreciate not having to wade through yet another amazing, evolving excuse.
Obviously, the best choice you can make is getting your work done and in on time. Barring that, you will need to do what you can to get something to me – even if it is not your best work, because some grade on an assignment is better than no grade on an assignment. And, yes, if you don’t turn in an assignment, you don’t get an “F,” you get a zero (I once had a student who assumed she got a 55 for her missing assignment).
Again, I use this policy out of fairness to those in the class who struggled to get the assignment done and in (even if it wasn’t their best work). Why should the person with special circumstances be granted the same (or a better) grade than that person?
Some of you will also come to me after an assignment is returned to ask that a grade be reconsidered. I will reconsider a grade if I have made a mistake applying an objecting standard or if you can make a substantive argument about why my grading or my justification of the grade you have received is problematic. However, I will not alter a grade for the following reasons:
You think the grade should be higher because you worked hard on it
You are not a C (or A- or B or D or F) student
You didn’t have enough time to get the assignment done
You talked to someone else in the class and you think that your work is better than theirs (NOTE: I can only discuss your grade on an assignment. Legally, I cannot discuss the performance of another student in the class)
Your parents will be angry at you (or me) for the grade you have received. (And, no, it is not necessary to have your parents call me because THEY think that you should have gotten a better grade. Again, legally, if you are over the age of 18, I cannot speak with anyone about your grade without your written permission)
You NEED a better grade in my class to boost your GPA, keep your scholarship, graduate, get into law/grad school, etc. (Again, I am not unsympathetic to your plight, but a failure to succeed on your part, should not involve a call for me to bend my ethical responsibility to all of my students by giving you a grade you don’t deserve).
Students sometimes tell me that I should be more lenient about these things because college is not “the real world.” That argument does not hold for me. First of all, college is supposed to be preparing you for “the real world.” It is not High School, Part II. You should be learning to behave responsibly and professionally. I would be doing a great disservice to you if I let these things slide, because in “the real world” no one is going to care about your excuses. You get the job done, or you don’t have a job. The job market for a college graduate is not what it once was. You can no longer get a degree (especially in Communication) and expect that a job will be sitting there waiting for you when you get out. You have to work for it. That means several things. First, it means that you will have to go above and beyond to even be considered for jobs/internships. A member of our advisory council (who is the CEO of operations for the North American branch of a major PR firm) told me recently that her firm offered a total of 9 internships – they received over 900 applications. Mediocrity will not cut it in today’s market. And, if you do get a job, mediocrity will not help you keep it or advance in your field.
I will not reward mediocrity or excuses here. Mediocre work will receive mediocre grades. I expect you all to put your best foot forward, get your work done, and do that work to the best of your ability in the time frame provided. If you have any questions or concerns about this policy, feel free to discuss the issue with me.