It’s our responsibility to teach responsibility

When I began working at the ELI three years ago, I immediately immersed myself in the organizational culture, in which we put all student needs first. It’s a noble prospect. My colleagues and I bend over backwards for our students, always conscientious of the fact that they are thousands of miles away from home and family, and, as a result, we tend to try to fit into that family role.

Some of the things that we do make sense: helping our students in an emergency, taking them to the doctor when they need medical care, hugging them when they need a shoulder to cry on, knocking on the doors of their apartments when they haven’t come to class in weeks, contacting them when their parents call us frantically because they haven’t called home in awhile, etc. These are important and helpful things that have a positive effect on our students.

We also tend to “assist” students by carrying the load of their responsibilities: chasing after them to provide us with the documents that we need in order to extend their visa status, seeing them outside of office hours because they were late for an appointment (or because they didn’t see the need to set one), sitting with them for a half-hour at a time listening to their attempts to negotiate the non-negotiable just so that they feel “heard,” reminding them of deadlines over and over again, etc.

Now that we have had over a year of 500-600+ enrollment, we have begun to ask ourselves, “Are we doing these students any favours?”

The majority of our students are university bound and already have conditional acceptances to undergraduate and graduate programs at our university or at one of our partner colleges or universities. Many of these students are very young–aged 17-20–and have never been away from home.

We worry now that this behaviour of constantly reminding students about their deadlines and providing them with our services at any time (regardless of the inconvenience) is detrimental to them. One of our functions is to teach our students responsibility; this is even mentioned in our Mission Statement. We are now asking ourselves if we are preventing them from learning the sense of responsibility and discipline that they will need in the university setting because we have been coddling them.

It’s time to get these students ready for college. When they get to that level, no one is going to provide them with the same level of support and “hand-holding” that we do at the ELI. We don’t want to be cold, and we certainly won’t stop being caring, compassionate, and responsive to their needs; however, by holding fast to our deadlines, rules, policies, office hours, schedules, etc., we will start training them for the level independence and responsibility that they will need at the university level. I really feel that the end result will be positive and they will be prepared for US university culture.

This has been the trend of many of our thoughts as ELI staff for quite some time. I think it will be interesting to see how things will evolve over time.

2 thoughts on “It’s our responsibility to teach responsibility

  1. zuba

    I do agree with the points you made in this article but I also think that it is crucial for international students (which I am too) to have their family-like surroundings for a short while until they get familiar with campus, grocery stores, new classes and teachers, etc. It is terrifying at the moments being apart from your family and friends, your culture, language, and customs. And yes, international students did sign for this, they “knew” what to expect once they leave their home, but they also hoped to establish friends who will provide them with useful input on different norms and values that are imposed in the US. And that friend usually happens to be ELI and its staff.

    Having said all this, I still agree that ELI sometimes treats their students better than some members of royal families which does not help the case of further orientation of a student. Now I like the idea of “cooling” off few degrees, but I know from student perspective that it will be hard to establish that line between “ELI will help me with this” and “I have to do this on my own”. Good luck to all of us in this process.

    1. N. Redman Post author

      Hey Zubes,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you’re right: the challenge that we are going to face is finding the balance between providing a high level of service (and providing the atmosphere that we are always able to help), and the responsibility to teach others how to do for themselves. Do we help them in the short run, or do we prepare them for success in the long run? How do you find the balance between the two?

      Thanks for the good comment.


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