Last week I had to have a very direct conversation with one of my students. Technically, he had falsified an assignment; he cheated. Cheating isn’t allowed and there are penalties. Like other faculty, I give myself room to evaluate the situation. The penalty can be as light as a zero on the assignment all the way up to referring the matter to the Office of Student Conduct.


I won’t get into the details of what the young man did, that’s not what’s important. But I decided not to take it any further than a penalty in my class. He will still be in school next semester and my hope is he will be a better young man for it. What’s important is that as I drove in this morning thinking about it I realized something.


In most cases, the class you take is a transactional relationship. The student wants a grade, the faculty member wants to teach. To evaluate if the teaching works, you get a grade. In some cases there is an investment. Some faculty truly love to teach. But some are ambivalent. Some students truly want to learn. But some are ambivalent. It’s another example of a “natural curve.”


Why? Most students only take one class with the faculty member. In that situation, whether it’s an auditorium of 300 or a classroom of 70, neither party has much of an investment unless one seeks the other out. If you aren’t going to see the person on a recurring basis, then why make the effort. You came, I saw, here’s your grade. Next semester there will be a lot more just like you. We all have competing priorities. Faculty publish their research and serve their community. Students have jobs, family, and community service.


In a different situation, I may have just nuked the young man. Packaged up his assignment. Sent it on with my note. See ya.


But I didn’t. And today I figured out why. I think he has potential, but it wasn’t just because of something particular to him. It’s the way the classes are set up. Instead of one and done, our career classes take place over time. I see you in the beginning when you’re lost. I see you lose interest. I see you when the light comes on. I see you when it wraps up. If you do something stupid in there, unless you’ve worn out your welcome, I’ll still be here to support you. I may talk mean and make you uncomfortable. I may ask you to do things that you don’t want to do. I may ask you why you didn’t read the instructions. I won’t tell you what to do. I’ll ask you what you’re going to do. And if you or I don’t like that, it doesn’t matter because we’ll both see each other again next semester. I’m invested. The question is, are you?


After all, it’s your future. I’m just here to keep poking you along…