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She Missed the Final. What Would You Do?

  • Final ExamI awoke to my early morning email with a letter from a student who had missed the last few weeks of class. It’s not uncommon at the community college where I’ve taught since 2004 for students to dwindle away towards the end of the semester. Usually it’s the ones who haven’t done well on assignments or tests or the ones who rarely participate in class. I used to worry a lot about what had become of these students, and what I could improve to get them to stay, but after years here and conversations with other professors, I saw that this wasn’t exceptional and I never really lost that many students, so I stopped obsessing over this.

    This morning was different. This student told me of her recent troubles with depression and anxiety and of her recent suicide attempt as a result of the guilt and shame she felt from being unsuccessful in school. All she wanted from me was a chance to complete the course. She had already missed the last exam. In fact, I had already completed grading not only for that test, but for the entire term, and I had even posted final grades for the course.

    I was upset, but mostly very worried about this student. She had participated somewhat regularly throughout the semester, had made some great contributions to the classroom discussion and even made me laugh a few times, so I was surprised that she had disappeared this late into the semester. Of course, she also could have been misleading me, to create an excuse to get me to let her take the missed exam.

    I had two important questions that I needed answered. First, and most
    important, how can I make sure this student is ok? She said she was “on the road to recovery,” which I hope meant that she is seeking help. I have not had a situation like this before, so I contacted my department chair and she promptly gave me information about referring her to counseling. I called the schools counseling center and explained the situation and asked that they follow up with the student. I asked them to please let me know that they’ve made contact with her. I’ve also sent her a couple of emails, and I know that she’s read at least one of them. (Since I wrote this, the student has responded to an email and I know that, for now at least, she’s o.k and I know the counseling center is also still trying to reach her.)

    The second question was should I let her take the test? The department chair told me that I could allow it and that I could submit a grade change form after she takes the test, but that this was at my discretion. I didn’t have to let her take the test.


    It’s a little bit of a pain for me to do this, and I’m not sure it’s a hundred percent fair to the other students, but ultimately I’ve decided that I will let her take the test...within a reasonable time frame. I don’t know for sure that she’s telling the truth about her suicide attempt. It really doesn’t even matter though. She wants to complete the course, feel better about herself and maybe even learn something. Aren’t those reasons enough?


    Would you let her take the test?

    Do you know how to deal with students with mental health issues?


  • Natasha Christensen
    Natasha Christensen I would let her take the test.

    I refer them to counseling, but if they are suicidal, I actually walk them down there and wait till they get in to talk with someone. This semester, I dealt with multiple cases. I tend to give them a second chance. But, on...  more
    May 23, 2013
  • Bob Ertischek
    Bob Ertischek Hi Natasha, Thanks for your comments. This occurred several days after the end of our classroom sessions. The student contacted me by email and I did not have her phone number. I did try to find it, but since I had already submitted my grades, I no longer...  more
    May 23, 2013
  • Robert  Ostrow
    Robert Ostrow I have had similar situations like this and I think it is a very delicate situate. In my courses take home exams are the tests and require a lot of effort from the student. I would say that I did what you have done by contacting the department and asking ...  more
    June 3, 2013 - 1 likes this