How to Become Irrelevant in 5 Seconds

By | December 2, 2014

Kool Derby

As part of my work, I teach online courses. In some cases, this type of work requires that I speak to students on the phone. The calls are usually because the learner has fallen behind with their work, and they are offering an explanation regarding their substandard performance.

The excuses are usually ones that I’ve heard before. For example, the hard disk crashed, the student became suddenly ill, or a new project was assigned and time ran short. As an online student myself for many years, I have a good understanding of the challenges faced by virtual learners, and can anticipate most of the discussion.

I recently received a call from Mark, who had fallen behind on his homework. I contacted him several days ago regarding the past due assignments. In fact, we were in Week 3, and he had failed to complete any work. With just a few weeks remaining, he was going to fail. During the call, he promised to get back on track and reinforced that I would be impressed with his level of effort.

After reviewing the grades for the current week, I noticed that Mark was still doing very little. I planned to call Mark again, but he beat me to the punch.

Here is the conversation:

Mark: Hello, Dr. Flores. This is Mark from the computer class. [Using generic names usually means they don’t know the class they are taking.]

Me: Hi, Mark. I suppose you are talking about The Fundamentals of Information Technology, correct?

Mark: Yes. That’s the one.

Me: Ok! What’s up?

Mark: If you remember, we talked last week, and I let you know that the entire internet was down for a 30-mile radius where I live. No one could access anything online for about a week, including me. [It’s unusual to me that an entire 30-mile radius had zero access to the web for a week here in the United States, but I wasn’t going to call ISPs in the region to confirm.]

Me: Ok, Mark. What’s the status with the work where you are behind?

Mark: Do you mind holding? I have another call.

Me: Ok. [I suppose someone “important” was calling.]

Mark: [On the other call, Mark was speaking to his wife: “Hi, Honey. I’m talking to this guy at school. Can I call you back later? Yes … I will get the stuff on the way home.]

I had to take that call. It was my wife.

Me: Mark, you are clear with the requirements, so please make sure to get those done. We only have a few weeks to go.

Mark: For sure. I will get it done.

Me: Thank you, Mark. See you in class.

Somewhere along the way, I learned the importance of professionalism. I have encountered workplace situations similar to what occurred with this student. In this case, the student called because he was failing to do the assigned work. He mentioned that he could not access the internet for more than a week, even though this is an online class. Finally, he was a bit unprofessional to put me on hold, and tell his wife that he was talking to a “guy at school.”

You must be concerned with the impression you give others, especially those in leadership positions. If you fail to conduct your work and yourself in a professional manner, you can become irrelevant in just a matter of seconds.

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