Dear Alma, I have one duff student. Do I fail him?

Dear Alma, I have one duff student. Do I fail him?

Dear Alma,

I am finishing a year of teaching at a university as a sabbatical replacement for an acquaintance. My duties span the usual – a studio of undergraduate to PhD students (mix education and performance majors), teaching a couple of classes, and coaching chamber and some large ensembles.

My question is this. I have one graduating master student, performance major, who is not up to the task. He is floundering with his repertoire for his senior (graduating) recital. His level on the instrument is very low, as is his commitment. He has already extended his degree by one year. I don’t think he should have been admitted to the program in the first place.

I am just here for the year, so my thought is to just pass him, and push him through, to make my life (and his) easier. If this were my full-time job, I would no do this. Of course it is not entirely up to me – there is a committee which approves or disapproves his final recital, but I have the lion’s share of the responsibility.

Should I fail him or pass him?

Alma, please advise

Dear please advise,

Being in an one-year position can be both the most pleasant experience and most awkward year. You don’t really have to deal with the regular back-stabbing and disfunction of a department, recruit, or make long-term plans. You can enjoy your new city and feel like you are having a year’s vacation from your regular life.

However, situations will come up in which you very much have an impact on a person’s future or the reputation of the school. You still have to represent that school’s values and try to make a continuous educational experience for the students who will have you as a temporary teacher. And your behavior and actions will be put into your permanent record to some extent.

I would reach out to your friend, the person you are replacing for the year, and ask their advice. They accepted this person and know the system. You don’t want to ruffle feathers – either your friend’s or the school. Take your friends’ advice (could be to extend the degree by another year, to just pass them through, or to have a meeting with your department head or committee). You don’t have to get too involved, just follow the advice of your friend.

It’s hard to not put yourself into this job, but I think your roll here, please advise, is to just provide a temporary road for this school. Not to create anything new or different. If they admitted this student, they think he is the correct level for the school.

Just sit back, and enjoy your last month of teaching, and thank your friend for the opportunity to take care of their studio for the year.

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