Sol writes: What To Do When It All Goes Wrong

The “It’s not just you” files.

Sometimes, you just screw up.

Here are several links you need in your “What do I do now,” file. Trust me, some day you’ll need these.

isiteshelp@dcemail.harvard.edu

This is the email to ask for help if your homework won’t upload, gets garbled, or you have other problems with the sites. The most important thing that I can tell you is that when you have trouble, contact your instructor IMMEDIATELY.

Otherwise, you may end up getting a zero on your assignment, as I did once. And it will be your own fault, like it was mine. I ought to have contacted her right away when it didn’t post. There’s no excuse, and so honestly, I earned that grade, no matter how much it makes me cry. In the real world, things are turned in or they aren’t. I didn’t realize at first that it hadn’t posted properly, and it really was up to me to check on it. Even if you get an email from the i-site saying that it posted, GO CHECK. There is no substitute. Open your attachments, make sure that everything’s there.

There will be times when it isn’t your fault that you miss something, and if that’s the case, you’ll be asked to prove it. One time, I went to the hospital after discovering the hard way that I had a new food allergy. I missed the due date for turning something in, but I had the discharge papers to prove that there were seriously extenuating circumstances- and I contacted the professor with the assignment as soon as they let me go home. Professors do understand that sometimes, things happen. That one was fine.

It might happen over exams. This is the process for making up exams:

http://www.extension.harvard.edu/policies/exams/#makeup

You don’t go through your professor on that one. Your professor can’t schedule a make-up final. They may be able to schedule a midterm- my Japanese teacher scheduled a midterm for three of us who needed it.

If you have to ask for a make-up final, you need to be prepared to prove that you had a real emergency. You get three days to get a medical exam letter. Get that in RIGHT AWAY. It’s always a good idea to call Academic Services in advance to make sure that you have all the pieces of your appeal together. They’re really helpful about telling you what you have to do.

They can’t help you if you just miss an exam date, only if you have a serious emergency. It’s always best if you can tell them ahead of time, but things happen. Whatever you do, don’t miss the make-up exam!

Let me tell you about the worst mistake I’ve made, since it might make you feel better if you’re among the hiding-under-a-rock club. Doing stupid things is isolating, yes, and you’re sorry. If you want to do better, though, you have to learn from it and move on. Get up, and keep going.  This is one I’ll never, ever do again. (It had better be the dumbest thing that I ever do in school.) I was brand new to the school experience, new to the whole adventure. I was taking a distance course, and there were two exam dates given. When I first enrolled in the class, I wrote down all the important dates in my calendar. The syllabus was updated, and I forgot to update my calendar.

Yes, you’ve guessed where this is heading. I missed my exam, realizing it three days after it took place, and cried for two weeks. There was no making that up. I passed the class because of earlier hard work, but I wouldn’t have for most classes I’ve taken. One missed exam can often sink you. So… show up! Double-check due dates, exam dates, everything.

I didn’t want to tell anybody, I was so ashamed. I was sure that the first thing anyone would say would be, “You should know better.” I DO know better… now. I should have then. I’m lucky, though. My friends are kind. Not one of them told me how dumb I was; one sent flowers. One took me to dinner and regaled me with stories of college mistakes. Everyone had a story to tell. I was amazed to discover just how foolish some of the people I love most have been.

These mistakes happen. Really. They do- and not just to you. Ask the people you love. Ask people you respect. Ask what they learned. Nobody’s perfect. You should take every step, every time, to avoid these errors, but if you find yourself doing something truly ridiculous, remember that it’s what you do next that matters. Do you stay down? Give up? Or try harder to get yourself organized? If you’ve made it to the Extension School, it’s probably the latter.

Whenever there’s a problem, get in touch with your teachers. Reach out. They don’t want you to fail, but if you’re not up front about things, that’s a problem: they can only grade what you turn in, not what you tried to turn in and didn’t check on. (Or tell them about.)

I got a zero on the writing project I was talking about, by the way. Worse still, I missed out on the very real treasure of careful, studied advice from my professor. Ouch. That’s a lesson, all by itself. I went to the writing center with it, http://www.extension.harvard.edu/resources/writing.jsp

But it’s not the same.  Don’t cheat yourself out of teacher feedback.  Contact your teachers, every time. And in the meantime, take comfort in the fact that every one of us has a story, somewhere in our past, of something we’ve done. In the words of my very good friend, who is also a high school teacher, “I believe that smooth seas make no good sailors.”

One Comment

  1. David
    Posted March 25, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    thanks for posting this. this actually was very reassuring and helpful. you are absolutely right about how isolating stupid mistakes makes you feel. your post just helps say “hey, we’ve all made mistakes, now be brave, learn from it and move on.”

    i’ve made my fair share of stupid mistakes, missed exams, screwed up assignments, and each time i did i just wanted to crawl under a rock for a month. it’s nice to know you aren’t alone in that.

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