No Student Left Behind

Bridget Cooper
Adjunct Instructor, Japanese

A few summers ago, I had a student in my online eight-week Japanese class, whom I’ll call “Nay”. From day one Nay was behind in the class and managed to stay behind throughout the class.  I had no doubt about her enthusiasm for Japanese, which she expressed in her many discussion board posts. She even wanted to apply for a study abroad program in Japan. However, Nay was overloaded with a second job plus family obligations. As she explained in an email, “It just seems like there are not enough hours in the day lately.” I was very worried that she wouldn’t make it through this quite challenging class, which included a heavy assignment load. I sent her over 18 emails during the eight weeks, reminding her to keep up and answering her questions. I also referred Nay to a success coach and checked in with the coach periodically.

I continued to encourage Nay to keep at it, although at times wondered if she would be able to catch up. I allowed all the students to turn in late work but deducted 20% off the top. Nay wrote midway through the class, “I feel kind of like Dory from Finding Nemo, ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…’ I know it’s temporary – that’s what keeps me going. It’s like a workout mentality; finish strong!”

At the end of the class, Nay was able to get a final grade of 3.0, and both her success coach and I were very proud of her. Nay and I learned valuable lessons from each other. I learned from Nay, that if I kept encouraging my students and replying to their questions quickly, then they would have a better chance of completing the class successfully.  Nay also learned a valuable lesson, which she expressed in one of her final emails to me, “Lesson learned: I will never take two summer classes while working two jobs – ever again. At least this course has been fun – thanks for making it awesome!”

Soon after the class ended, Nay wrote back, asking if I would consider writing a letter of recommendation for her to participate in a study abroad program in Japan, even though, as she said, “I wasn’t the best student this semester.” When I agreed to write a letter for her and pointed out that she did a great job of catching up, she replied, “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaayyy! This (all of this) has made me so happy.”