It’s easy to forget sometimes that my class is just one of many that students are taking and that it might not be their first priority. At the start of each quarter, after explaining my expectations and policies, I always tell my students that sometimes “life happens”. By this I mean that something might happen to cause one or more of them to fall behind in some way. In this case, I ask them to let me know that something big is going on and I then work with the student on a case-by-case basis to accommodate them so that they can complete the course satisfactorily.
One year, a student’s house burned to the ground a few weeks before final projects were due at the end of the school year. Another time, a student’s mother fell terminally ill. A few days ago, one of my students came to let me know that her fiance had just been diagnosed with cancer, and today another told me that she had just been laid off from her job.
Such events help me to stay realistic about what I can expect from students, and are a constant reminder of what is truly important in life.