Well, it's that time of year again, but you can put down the eggnog because I'm not talking about the Holidays. While most people out there are trimming trees, lighting menorahs, and wondering why that hard-to-shop-for person on the list won't ever just tell people what she wants, those of us in academia are going through a different December tradition: final exams.
This can be a stressful time for everyone, including success coaches, who have to anxiously await results that they no longer have any hand in shaping. This is the time when we cross our fingers, ask ourselves if we did everything we could have for our students, and hope for the best. Last week, at our final success coach meeting before the end of the semester, one of our newest success coaches raised a tentative hand. "This may be a silly question," she began, "but I am feeling unsure about how things are going to turn out for a few of my students, and it's making me really anxious. Do any of you feel that way too?" Heads bobbed up and down in unison.
To give you a little window into this experience of waiting, watching, and hoping, here's a brief summary of the journeys a few of my students have been on this fall, and where I think they might end up when the grades come in.*
Rebecca and Tracy: Rebecca and Tracy are both freshmen who came to school already on academic probation. (My university admits 10-15 of these students a year, and they are all paired with success coaches for fall semester.) They also both found themselves paralyzingly homesick as of their second day on campus. During the first few weeks, not a meeting went by entirely tear-free. Rebecca was having roommate drama, Tracy wasn't making friends, and both of them were beginning to think that this whole "college" idea had all been a big mistake. Rebecca, who had been recruited for the softball team, knew that she had to get off academic probation in order to play, but sports were her only true passion. Tracy simply had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, and she switched majors three times in two months. As of our meetings last week, both girls have adjusted beautifully, and I predict they will both end up with a few As, more Bs, and one or two Cs. But it's not only their grades that are important. Before Tracy walked out of my office after our final meeting, she gave me a huge hug and said, "I would not be here at the end of this semester if you hadn't talked me through my homesickness and anxiety." I asked her what she had learned about herself in these past few months. "I learned that I can handle harder work that I thought I could," she replied before adding, "and…I learned not to be so afraid of new things." With that, she walked out the door and into finals week. Now I wait.
Jay: Jay came to me spring semester of last year after ending the fall semester of his freshman year with a GPA of 0.5. He is also an athlete, and due to his dismal showing that semester, he became ineligible to play. During spring semester, he made a 2.5, which brought him from academic probation to academic "warning" status. This fall, Jay has done everything that has been asked of him. Math is the subject with which he struggles most, but I think he is going to pass and will probably get Bs and Cs on everything else. Unless he doesn't. Now I wait.
Allison: Remember Allison? If not, you can check out Five Keys to the First Meeting. Well, Allison is a sophomore now, and she's another semester closer to graduating. I think she's going to make it, but she still struggles. I don't doubt how much she wants it or the depth of her understanding of what this opportunity is costing other people in her life. During one of our meetings she told me, "I want to do this. I have to do this; my mom is mopping floors just so I can even be here." However, while she made a 96% on her last paper, she apparently didn't attend her math class at all last week. I know that, at this point, she has an A in math; nevertheless, missing classes is not acceptable. I think there is a very good chance that she will have over a 3.0 for the semester, but one thing I've learned is never to assume. So I wait.
Marco: Marco is a junior who has been meeting with me off and on for three years. He came to school on probation, went from probation to warning after his first fall semester, and by the end of the school year he was doing very well. His sophomore year went pretty smoothly (he was doing well enough not to have to see me anymore), but by October of this semester, it was clear that something had gone very wrong. Marco had three Fs by midterm. He didn't show up to class. He didn't show up to our meetings, and when he did, it was clear that he didn't want to be there. He seems to have given up, and I still can't figure out exactly why. I know that there have been some recent disappointments in his personal life, as well as a few bad choices on his part, and my best guess is that he has come to the conclusion that none of the things he's been working toward are worth it anymore. I don't know. But he is one of the students for whom I am most concerned as this semester ends. I wait.
I nodded my head with every other success coach in the room when our "success coach rookie" asked if the uncertainty of not knowing how it's all going to turn out can get to us because I've seen it "turn out" in so many different ways. Sometimes a student turns around his or her whole life/attitude/GPA in one semester, but with others success comes in fits and starts. Some students leave the university, and I never hear from them again, while others are dismissed and return a year or two later more mature and determined than ever before. I think about one student, a senior who most likely will graduate with honors in the spring, who as a freshman, when asked about his goals replied, "My goals? What goals? I'm just eighteen!" His journey has been rocky at times but he has stuck with it and is now reaping the rewards.
So as finals week goes into full swing, I will be thinking about those students at my university (the vast majority) who are doing just fine, as well as those I will meet for the first time in January when they walk in my door. But mostly, I will be thinking about Rebecca, Tracy, Jay, Allison, Marco, and my four other students- waiting, hoping, cheering on. So stay tuned! As soon as I know, I will be blogging about how it all "turned out."
*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of students. Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.