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Category: Classroom Management

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Managing student complaints
Today’s blog post talks about the need for a more proactive approach for minimizing instances of student entitlement. The scenarios here focus on issues regularly associated with entitlement. They can be used to start and structure discussion among faculty and in discussion activities with students.

Faculty discussions on student entitlement

Faculty do talk about entitlement. Their conversations tend to focus on examples followed appropriately by dismay, disgust, and sometimes even anger. Entitled attitudes and beliefs violate many of the basic tenets of higher education. It’s hard to imagine how students could so completely misunderstand what education aspires to accomplish. However, that’s where most of the conversations end, and there’s much more about entitlement that merits discussion. The scenarios can be used to explore the salient issues, starting with a deeper understanding of what entitlement involves. Most of the definitions are clear, but pretty generic. The conversation gets interesting when it focuses on what entitlement looks like when students have it or do it. The scenarios highlight some situations typically associated with entitlement. The discussion could start with student responses and actions that illustrate entitled attitudes and beliefs. But not every student request or objection is an entitled one. Sometimes students have legitimate concerns. Could that be the case in any of the scenarios outlined below? Another rich discussion area involves whether certain faculty policies or practices promote student entitlement. Greenberger et. al. (2008) asks about the circumstances within higher education that foster it. The discussion could encompass higher education, generally, but the focus on faculty is important. Are we part of the problem? Are any of the policies and practices described or hinted at in the scenarios encouraging the sense of entitlement? Grading systems that rely on points? Policies that allow for absences? Giving partial credit? The most needed discussion is the one that explores faculty responses to entitled attitudes and actions. Is the best approach to take the offensive—start the course by clarifying expectations? Outright discussions of entitlement—what it is and why it’s wrong? Even with a proactive approach, there’s still a good chance that a student will make an entitled request, sometimes politely, other times more aggressively. What’s the best response then? “No” generally takes care of the immediate problem. “No, I won’t bump up your grade.” “No, I’m sorry, but effort doesn’t count.” “No, you’ll need to take the exam when it’s scheduled.” Even so, some faculty find it hard to say no. Why? But the biggest problem with “no” is that doesn’t change the attitude. Instead of considering what it is about the request that caused the negative response, the student concludes the prof is hardnosed and has acted like a jerk. So what’s the best approach to changing attitudes? Would facilitating a discussion of the scenarios with students help? Faculty discussions should explore the reasons why entitlement is wrong—how it hurts the student, can compromise the faculty member, undermines the institutions, and doesn’t prepare students for what lies ahead professionally. If we aspire to persuade students to abandon their entitled ways, hearing good reasons why they should is part of the process. Finally, faculty could profitably discuss what a college education does entitle students to receive. The opportunity to learn is the easy, obvious answer. But is that all? Everybody has opportunities to learn, what differentiates the opportunity to learn in a higher education environment from other opportunities? If most of what students think a college education entitles them to is wrong, then what’s the right answer? Reference: Greenberger, E., Lessard, J., Chen, C., and Farruggia, S. P. (2008). Self-entitled college students: Contributions of personality, parenting and motivational factor. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 37, 1193-1204.

Scenarios for student discussions

More perspectives will likely be heard if students first respond to the scenarios individually and that is followed with small group discussions. Each group could then be asked to provide a majority and minority response to the scenario As noted in the October 4, 2017 blog post, the definition of entitlement is widely accepted. But what attitudes, beliefs, and actions exemplify it is another matter. The scenarios have been purposely written with a certain degree of ambiguity. Some responses to them will reflect entitled attitudes and beliefs, however, in some cases, the student may have a legitimate issue. Students could start by first discussing whether the scenario reveals entitlement or a legitimate concern. You might find there’s some disagreement among your students in terms of what is entitled behavior and what isn’t. To keep the conversation flowing, encourage students to respond to the scenarios from different perspectives.  For example, consider how each of these questions direct the discussion. It’s also possible to use scenarios like these to explore the differences between how faculty and students respond to the scenarios. However, if you share how you think students should respond to each scenario, that could make the exchange confrontational. If you wouldn’t bump up the student’s grade (first scenario), but the majority of those participating in the discussion think you should, you’re standing alone in defense of the response. You can keep your beliefs out of the conversation by soliciting the group’s recommended response and then asking them to anticipate how professors would respond to their recommendation. Then you could explain how you think most of your colleagues would respond. Be sure to focus on why faculty would likely respond in that way. You could include in the discussion or conclude it with this question: What does paying for a college education entitle a student to receive? An opportunity to learn from experts who know the content and how to teach it? A safe environment in which to explore ideas? Learning that is supported by faculty committed to student learning? A chance to learn in a community where diversity is celebrated?

The scenarios

Final grades for your intro psych course have just been posted. Your grade is a B+. You are only three points from an A-. It’s a required course, unrelated to your major, and not at all interesting to you. You do not understand why the university makes you take these courses. However, in order to keep your scholarship, you need to maintain a strong GPA. You’re wondering if you should to go see the professor. He could bump your grade up. You’re taking a course in which the professor has very detailed requirements for the papers. She indicates font size and type, margin size, and electronic submission format. She wants papers submitted via the LMS by a certain time on the due date. You forgot and emailed yours to her directly. She gives you a zero on the assignment because you didn’t follow the instructions.  You can’t believe she did that. Your grandmother’s 80th birthday is fast approaching and your family is planning a special celebration at her favorite restaurant. You want to attend, but the birthday dinner is Thursday night and to get there in time you must leave at noon. Here’s the problem: one of the three major tests in econ is scheduled for 2:30 in the afternoon. You’re trying to decide what you should do. You are taking a math course and it is really hard. You don’t like math and usually don’t do well in math classes. But you need a good grade because it’s a course that’s required for your major, so you are trying hard. So far, you haven’t missed miss a class. You try to do the homework problems but they aren’t like the problems he does in class. You’ve gone to the Learning Center three times—all that and you still barely got a C on the first exam. Given how hard you’re working, it seems like that effort count for something. You’re taking a course that has a huge textbook and the professor assigns long readings every night. The prof mostly lectures but rarely talks about what’s in the textbook, other than giving regular admonishments to do the reading. You make multiple attempts to always read what’s assigned, but it’s so boring and confusing that you can’t get through it all. The night before the exam, you plow through the readings. You get to the exam and there are all sorts of questions from the textbook. You read for hours the night before but you can’t remember much of it, and you end up missing most of the questions. You’re angry. The course is hard. You’re spending way more time on it than any of your other courses. You studied every day the week before the exam and your hard work paid off. You got one of the top grades in the class. This made you very happy, until the professor began going over the exam. Students started arguing about how they should receive partial credit for this and that. The professor started backing down, and pretty soon students were getting credit for all sorts of little things, even when they missed the answer. You know these students. They don’t work hard in class and they share solutions to the homework problems. Now they’re getting test grades they don’t deserve. It’s very upsetting.