What would it take for you to fail a student?

Believe it or not, a professor does not enjoy failing students. Instructors dream about classes filled with students who all succeed and dedicate themselves to the coursework. Leading a class like this is fulfilling, fun and rewarding. However, in the real world, some students simply do not make the grade.

Failing is easy, but so is success
Everyone says that it’s easy to fail a class, and they’re right. But it’s actually just as easy to succeed in a class. And it comes down to following the instructions and completing all the assignments on time and thoroughly.

Now I know that sounds overly simplified, but in nearly ten years, I have noticed a distinct pattern. So-called “gifted” students who just don’t do the work and don’t follow directions regularly fail. Meanwhile, so-called “average” or “remedial” students perform extraordinarily well if they work hard, follow instructions and meet deadlines.

College classes reward students who do the work as instructed without being late. Students think that they need some insight into some magical secret that leads them to good grades. However, succeeding in college classes is not so much of a mystery, and it is not limited to naturally “smart” students.

Forcing an instructor’s hand
Instructors have no problem failing a student who simply doesn’t show up and doesn’t do the work. If you show real, consistent effort, an instructor will lead the way toward better grades. Every class document – like the syllabus, class announcements, and assignment instructions/outlines — is designed to help you succeed. When a student completely disregards those materials, that’s when they start slipping.

Every term, I provide students with a detailed document that addresses how they can succeed in my class. In this document, I list five things they should avoid. I can’t tell you how many students do not bother to read or follow this basic document that explicitly tells them how to avoid losing points in my class.

Most instructors see education as a partnership. They will provide the material and the structure but the student needs to be involved and actively engaged. When a student is not attentive or diligent about his or her own education, this is a formula for failure.


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Professor Kim
The Online Professor

Eson Kim has been teaching College Writing and Literature for nearly 10 years. In addition to her blog,, her work has recently appeared in flashquake. She is also a fiction reader for Ploughshares Literary Journal. She strives to improve the quality and accessibility of education for all students from all backgrounds.

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