I am teaching an honors class for seniors (at a very good university, top 5 in my field). Most students are fantastic. They are very interested, they often surprise me with insights in class, and the class is very lively not because I am a particularly engaging lecturer but because the students love what they are learning. They thrive on painful homework sets and difficult homeworks/exams. They can’t get enough of whatever I throw in their way. In all, they are a joy to teach.

Unfortunately, in a class of such strong students, the weak student sticks out like a sore thumb. One student in particular is doing extremely poorly. Generally homework sets are well done since students more or less help each other out, but in quizzes and exams this student has scored failing grades (10-20% range). But because of her good performance in the homework sets, I don’t think that she realizes that she is a very weak student.

This in itself is fine, because not everyone can be strong in everything. But what worries me is the subconscious that manifests in her behavior.

For example, she comes to my office hour (she is the only one that comes regularly; I hold three hours’ office hour a week, and she is there all three hours. The others come and stay for no longer than 10-15 minutes).

  • She tells me that a particular problem is not doable because it was not covered in class (it was done and I point it out in her notes that she took in class). Her favorite complaint is that a problem seems unapproachable unless we know some advanced topic (that she gleaned from the textbook) that will not be covered for a few more weeks. I ask her to prove it using the advanced topic and she still cannot do it; furthermore, the problems are most definitely doable with what I have covered in class.

  • When I do not post the solutions immediately after the homework sets are due (because as a professor, I happen to have things other than teach this course), I expect an email in my inbox asking where the solution set is.

  • When she does not understand a concept, she bring her notes and says that the class was unclear and that I should explain it again to her (I receive great evaluations, and I am in particular noted for the clarity of my lectures).

The thing that I am concerned about is that less than a month into the semester, she is already showing signs of blaming her problems on me. I know her very well academically, since we have been spending three hours a week going over the course material. There is no chance that she will pass this course (as she has no idea how to think for herself; her idea of academic improvement is to consistently show up to my office hour and listen to me talk), and I am worried about her creating problems for me. She is a transfer student from a community college, and no one else has any data on her as this is her first semester. Furthermore, as a woman, I often find that students tend to demand things from me, and I am seeing signs of this (asking for more office hours in a completely entitled way, etc.)

It would honestly improve the quality of my life so much if I could somehow find a way to deal with her. What can I do to 1) try to get her to drop my course, and 2) cover my ass for the administrative hell she might raise, if she fails my course?

As a disclaimer, I have had weak students before, and I was not this worried about them, because they acknowledged that they were weak, and they actually put work into trying to learn the course. This one, however, seems more into thinking about what things are in her way of learning that I am not doing.

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