"those damn commas"

I was in my office during office hours when my phone rang. I answered.

“This is Bob Smith (not his actual name). I’m the father of Susan Smith, who is a student in your class this semester. And she’s going to fail your class because of those damn commas.”

That was a real conversation starter.

Over the next few minutes, we talked about the importance of grammar skills in a media career, the routes students have to improve their grammar skills, the cost of tuition, and the frustration that parents and teachers have in trying to motivate students to improve their academic performance.

The key issue for Mr. Smith was the cost of tuition HE would be paying next semester if Susan had to retake the course. He was very clear that he wasn’t concerned about the college’s standards or demands of media jobs.

“You know, “ I said, “I’m sitting in my office during my office hours, and not a single student has come in to see me today. These office hours are just the time for Susan to come in and discuss what she should be doing to improve her grade.”

“You’re having office hours now?” he asked.

“Yes, for another 45 minutes,” I replied.

“I’m calling Susan right now, and she’ll be there.”

After a brief good-bye, he hung up. In about two minutes, the phone rang again. This time it was Susan.

In an almost tearful voice, she confirmed that I would be in my office, checked the location, and said she would be there.

In about 10 minutes, Susan was sitting in the chair in my office, holding the folder of her graded lab assignments.

We walked through her assignments, and she, after my prompt, got out her notepad and took notes about what she could be doing to improve her grammar skills.

“Do you think I can make a C in the course?” she asked. The C is the minimum grade students can make in the course and move on.

“If you take the action steps we’ve discussed, you can,” I said –- with the emphasis on you.

That was the only time Susan made an office visit, but I did keep up with her through conversations with her lab instructor. Susan did take those action steps and earned a C+ as her final grade.

She moved on to upper division courses, held several internships, and now is working for a newspaper.

This story has several morals. See what you think those morals are, and tomorrow I’ll report on what I think the morals are.

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