In my last post, I discussed the joy of dealing with incomplete grades for students. For anyone who doesn’t know what this entails, it is a basic right students have in the event they are not able to compete the coursework for a semester. There may be some variations on this policy from school to school, but here are the basic conditions:
- The student needs to fill out an agreement with the instructor regarding their need to finish their coursework beyond the semester.
- There is usually one assignment that’s needed to satisfy the requirements for a student’s grade, but there may be more.
- The student has one year from the end of the semester date to complete their work.
- After the conditions have been outlined in the agreement and the instructor turns in the agreement, the student’s grade is recorded as “I” or INCOMPLETE.
- Here is the dangerous part: If a student does not complete the work necessary for them to get a passing grade, their “I” or INCOMPLETE will turn into an F.
I’ve never took an incomplete in college. I’ve never been a big fan of paper work, and the less there is, the better. Now, this is an unrealistic desire for someone in my profession. When I was in graduate school, there was some silly piece of paper to turn in to some office every week. Of course, this is a gross over-exaggeration, but I don’t think I’m too far from the truth. The incomplete was simply another document to fill out.
Given that, I did not make it a habit to approach my professor mentors and tormentors for incompletes. I usually finished my coursework by the end of the semester, even it killed me. There were many times where it almost did.
There was only one semester where I ever approached a professor to do an incomplete. It was a course on the great world novel and I chose to my semester paper on Shusaku Endo‘s Silence. This novel’s theme was suffering, which I would ironically experience as I struggled through the year to do the paper.
For some reason, it took me a while to decide on using this work as the topic for my paper. However, it would take me a long while to get it done. I often found excuses not to do it. The following semester, I dealt with drama. I had a personal and professional falling out with the professor who helped me get into graduate school (a cautionary tale against doing graduate programs in your undergraduate alma mater). It didn’t help that I worked as assistant editor for his disturbingly sick literary* journal at the time (I formally resigned mid-year shortly after any sign of friendship and personal regard disintegrated on both sides). I had an unrequited interest in a supposedly good friend of mine who took advantage of it. He lived in my apartment for a while and he didn’t hesitate to cash in the benefits when it suited him. He rejected me at a point when I started to think I had a chance with him. I then kicked him out of my apartment, but my woes were far from over. I wound up seeing a counselor that spring semester to deal with both issues, and one of the things that came up in the conversation from time to time was the incomplete.
In the aftermath, I was dealing with the emotional issues listed above, but I still struggled with getting a silly essay done. I still had to do creative writing for the workshops and readings for the lit courses in my program, which also had essays. I kept putting it off and putting it off, but the incomplete was always on my mind.
I did manage to get it before the year was over. The paper wasn’t great at all; however, I didn’t let it turn into an F. I just couldn’t afford it.
After that, I vowed never to take on another incomplete again. To use a cliché, it was a monkey on my back. I could not stop thinking about it even when I wasn’t working on it, and that was a constant distraction. As for the drama that served as a nice excuse? It soon passed. From time to time, I had to deal with the former mentor on a bureaucratic level. As for so-called friend, I realized he was useless and I never fell into that unrequited trap again. I am glad that the counselor didn’t let me forget about making sure I satisfied the incomplete.
Knowing that I don’t work well like this, I always feel some concern for students who take this on. As a teacher, I’m not too crazy to being tied to any class for a year.
*This is not a statement of literary conservatism on my part as it is more of a pot shot.