The student’s name was Penny.

By Tedd Sperling
Assistant Professor, Computer Information Technology

She was a vibrant young woman with bright eyes and a very outgoing personality. In class, she was the perfect student. She was always attentive, made good eye contact, responsive to questions, and quick with answers. In short, she was a delight to have in class. She was one of those students that when you finished a lecture, she made you feel good about it.

Over several semesters I had Penny for several classes. She had always received an “A” except for the first class she had with me. She said I was the only teacher who ever gave her a “B”. Unfortunately, the reason was she had been helping another student and she neglected her own work. A sad example of “No good deed …”, but Penny knew why she received a “B” and never complained.

Through the semesters I got to know her well. She often showed me pictures of her brother, of which she was so very proud. He was a very attractive young man. She said he had advanced degrees and was well on his way to making his mark in the world – and I believed it.

One day Penny was not as cheerful as she usually was. I could tell something was wrong, but I didn’t want to intrude. I’ve experienced tragedies in my life and I realize people don’t usually want advice, but rather support in handling difficult situations.

Eventually she told me her brother had been diagnosed with cancer. Over the course of the semester she gave me updates of how her brother was doing – but each time, the prognosis was more and more dire.

One day she came in crying profusely and was almost incoherent. Through the tears, she told me her brother had died: there were funeral arrangements to be made, she had to travel to Texas, and airline tickets had to be purchased. The family was devastated and they needed her help. She knew she had to do something, but then there was school. In short, she was looking for advice.

I told her “Take care of Family First!” That has always worked well for me. She asked “What about school?” I added “Don’t worry about school — just take care of your family and yourself. When you want to return to school, then contact me and we’ll see what can be done. But for now, don’t even think about school”. She thanked me, and I felt I had helped her in some minor way–she left. I prayed for her and her family.

Three weeks later, Penny called me and asked if we could meet. Of course, I said “Yes” and we set up a day and time to meet. Not counting assignments and quizzes, she had missed three weeks (six lectures) and she needed to make-up everything she missed – not an easy task. I set up a schedule for her to meet me two hours before each standard lecture, and I would try to get her back in sync with the class. In doing so, she was never late for any of our meetings and she quickly learned everything I gave her. In six weeks, she had completed all the assignments, quizzes, and was back up to speed. She received an “A” for that course.

This incident supported my practice of providing abundant support when needed, while keeping faith in the student.