Natalia Temesgen

Troubling phenomenon occurring at colleges: Star students are ‘quitting’

I taught my last class of the 2017 spring semester at Columbus State University this morning. Now, all that stands between me and summer vacation is a couple of weeks of grading.

Final grading is a very reflective process for me. I scan over the grades and attendance logs from Week 1 to the very end, recalling the highs and lows of students I’ve come to care about greatly. There is a troubling phenomenon that I’ve noticed: a few students begin to “quit” before it’s all said and done. Sometime around the midterm, these students begin to attend class less and less and sometimes stop submitting their homework.

You might guess that these students stop showing up or doing their work because the class is too difficult for them or their grades were suffering from the beginning. That’s rarely the case. Usually, these students had been making As and Bs on their assignments. This makes it all the more disappointing to see them disappear.

I interviewed a handful of my first-year students a few weeks ago, asking why they felt this drop in attendance happened for some students. Their thoughts fell into the following categories:

▪ The social scene of college begins to take priority, making it hard to stay on top of academics;

▪ Students are doing well enough that they begin to go on autopilot, which can backfire more quickly than expected;

▪ Other courses may have stricter attendance policies or more rigorous assignments, and my course begins to take the backburner.

What can I do as the leader of the classroom to help those students that struggle with follow-through? I have a few ideas I’m going to implement for next semester. I will remind them that the road ahead is a marathon, not a sprint. I will be a cheerleader to their early successes, but continue to encourage them past the exciting, honeymoon phase of the semester. I will have a stricter attendance policy, because while I want to respect their independence I also know that even adults benefit from rules and authority.

When I think about the world outside of the classroom, I can point to instances in my own life in which I gave up too soon. This often has happened with plays I write. I don’t often have formal deadlines for my writing, because I do the work independently and engage theaters after its been written. This makes it easy to give up mid-draft or even after a so-so first draft. I need more accountability for myself.

I also sometimes go on autopilot when I start finding a rhythm with duties. I’ll go a month doing consistent meal prep for the week, then start to relax until I find myself getting takeout for the family multiple nights.

It’s easy to lose track of progress and take momentum for granted. All of us, students or not, can improve our consistency and stamina when it comes to worthwhile endeavors.

Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at nntemesgen@gmail.com.

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