When you don’t have all the answers

My office at OSU

A friend and I were talking about being vulnerable. How it is okay to be vulnerable even when we have very public personas and that sometimes we have to admit that things can be difficult. Today, with 16 days left at OSU, I had an academic advising appointment that really shook my soul.

The photo above is of my office. I’ve been cleaning and clearing in preparation for my last day. Students who have been my advisees for multiple appointments immediately notice that my walls are a little barer. I’ve been telling all of my “regulars” that I am leaving. It’s been really hard to tell students who I have developed an amazing rapport with that we will not have any more appointments together.

A student who has been having academic difficulty came into my office today to talk about his academic options. Without going into detail, he has been struggling and his future academic status is incredibly bleak. As an academic advisor, I am constantly optimistic that I will be able to assist my students. Sometimes the path that my advisees wind up on isn’t necessarily the one that they planned to go down, but at least a sense of momentum is accomplished.

Today, I felt like I had failed this student. Behind the closed door of my office, I told him that I was leaving. He was noticeably angry with me. I couldn’t blame him. He felt that he had been given the run around… I remember when we first met. It took a long time for him to trust me. We met several times and eventually, I felt that we were making strides towards some sense of success.

When I had to tell him today that he couldn’t return for fall classes due to his grades, it was the worst thing that I’ve ever had to tell a student. The processes to try to get him back had been exhausted. He essentially told me that I was ruining his life. And knowing his circumstances, I certainly knew that his journey was going to be so difficult. Sometimes life kicks us when we are down. This was a case where I couldn’t do anything for him. I felt sick. I wanted to cry. He was so upset. In 3 years of advising at OSU, I have never had this exact set of issues happen to a student. I didn’t have any answers. There wasn’t a solution. It was crushing to both of us. When he left my office, it was as if we had both been sideswiped by emotion. It was the worst goodbye.

I went back to my desk, checked my calendar, and readied myself for my next appointment. I had to regroup. My next advisee needed me too.

3 thoughts on “When you don’t have all the answers”

  1. Thank you for sharing how pivotal the relationship we have with our students is. I have been having the “tough” conversations with students for almost 9 years now, and each one is painful. We do what we do to help students through those moments, hoping that years down the road, they will understand why. Despite your move into a new role, I am glad that you had the opportunity to be there for so many students at OSU.

  2. wow. I hate those moments when there’s nothing else we could do for a student and we struggle with our own principles. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. How sad it is when student’s dreams do not work out the way they plan. When you wrote how you had to regroup for your next appointment I really understood how you felt.

    I advise students on academic probation so every semester I have to tell students they can not attend the university for the next semester.

    Usually I try to help the student make a plan for their time away from college. Sometimes I give them a list of noncredit classes they could take or I’ll tell them about career or volunteer opportunities. I try to help them find way that they can use the time to help them come back to school after their suspension, ready to make the grades they need to stay in school. Sometimes, they are too upset to hear other options.

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