Teaching Responsibility

As an instructor of introductory level classes at the university, part of my job is teaching responsibility. Over the years, I’ve found that it’s not only at the introduction level that students need to learn this. I’ve encountered upper-level students who don’t seem to have grasped this lesson yet. And it’s not an easy lesson to learn. There are plenty adults out in the ‘real world’ who still haven’t learned this lesson. So why do I hold that it’s so important?

There are many times throughout my day when students want to argue with me, and listening to them, my immediate reaction is to reverse the situation onto them, proposing the situation in another context with “Let me tell you how this conversation is going to go with your boss.”

Example 1

A student was habitually late to class. I informed her that her lateness was starting to take a toll on her grade. Her response: “You can’t expect us to be to class on time every day!”

Let me tell you how this conversation is going to go with your boss. If you’re late to work one more time, you’re fired.

Example 2

A student wanted to talk to me about a grade she received on an assignment. I told her to come to my office and we could discuss it. Her response: “I don’t have time to come to your office. Can’t you just look at it now.”

Let me tell you how this conversation is going to go with your boss. As your boss, I just heard “I don’t care about this issue enough to actually take the time necessary to fix it.” If you don’t care about fixing issues related to your work, you evidently don’t need the extra responsibilities that come with a promotion.

Example 3

A student got mad at me because I adhered to the rules I outlined in my syllabus, causing him to obtain a low grade on an assignment. His response: “Your rules are stupid!” Then he slammed his fist against the desk and stormed out, cursing at me on his way through the door.

Let me tell you how this conversation is going to go with your boss. If you don’t like the rules, you don’t have to work here. You’re fired.

Most students aren’t like this. Most of them are really good. Most of them quickly learn to take responsibility for their actions and admit when they’ve made a mistake. Most of them are willing to work with me and talk it out when they don’t understand a grade they received or why I have a certain rule. But there are some I worry about.

I hold that it’s important to teach responsibility when students are still students because if we wait until they’re trying to make their way in the business world, it might be too late.


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