How To Identify Problem Students

While going down the YouTube rabbit hole early last September, I stumbled across this video by a Canadian lawyer about the three types of clients to avoid. These clients display urgency, flattery, or (lack of) responsibility — often simultaneously. As stated in the video, these signals occur in any customer service industry. I’ve certainly seen them, and probably you have, too.

Urgency — a student claims to have an emergency that requires your immediate action. Questions for you to ask: “Is this a real or perceived emergency? Did the situation arise because of the student’s behavior?” In a serendipitous example, two weeks after watching the video, I received an email from a student with “URGENT CONCERN” in the subject line. It wasn’t urgent, nor was it my concern.

Flattery — a student says that you are the only professor that can resolve their problem. It is an attempt to distract you from the real cause of the situation. E.g., “This is my favorite course, but it’s the only one I’m doing badly in this semester, and if my GPA drops below X, I will lose my scholarship and have to drop out of college. Are there any extra credit assignments?”

Responsibility — nothing is the student’s fault. For example (actual email I received last month): “The wi-fi is completely shut down on campus and I can’t submit anything, I’ve been trying to for the past hour. I know our assignment is due and I’ve tried submitting it but I don’t know what to do. I can attach the writing here but can’t upload anything to Canvas.” My response? “The library has computers on every floor.”