It's not you, it's them: When students ask too much

by Megan Reilly

As much as we love working with students in our jobs, I think we have all had that day when we want to close our door, scream, and never talk to another student again.
A coworker of mine had that feeling last week when a student, who had been giving her trouble and making her life difficult for weeks, responded to an email that included this line: "I do believe you are setting me up for failure."
For weeks, I have heard the saga of how this student has been inconsiderate with the established planning process, asked for exception after exception, and generally disrespected the time and effort that went into planning the particular task she was seeking. But at the point of being told "no," this student decided that failing to bend over backwards and cater to her individual mistakes, needs, priorities, and schedules meant that it was my coworker's fault that she would not succeed.

The general response when my coworker shared this with us was a) amusement ("how ridiculous") followed by, b) assurances that she is not, in fact, setting this student up for failure, and finally, c) okay, now how do we help her?
The last one is really the million dollar question. How do we help students who don't want to help themselves or worse, who don't even recognize that they have a role in their own success but simply expect things to be done for them? How far above and beyond should we really go to accommodate a student who didn't follow the procedures that everyone else had to follow? And how do we teach students to be responsible, active adults when we can't even get them to stop threatening us with a phone call from their parents when we don't (can't) give them what they want?
I hesitate to call it "this generation" because most of the students we encounter are phenomenal - responsible, smart, motivated, and independent. Is helicopter parenting to blame? Or is is simply a sense of entitlement that certain students bring with them to college?
Whatever the case, the situation was yet another example of how thankless this field can be sometimes. Your job can be dedicated solely to helping students and yet the accusation of setting them up to fail will still hit you in the face sometimes. But when that happens, all you have to do is take a deep breath, think of all the great students you do get to help (like the one who nominated that very same coworker for supervisor of the year), and remind yourself that you did everything you could., because sometimes, it's not you, it's them.
Follow Megan on Twitter at @MReilly90!

Student Affairs - the First Years

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