There are some students you're sure would have done better in your class if only they'd come to your office hours, or submitted a rough draft of an essay, or even just bothered to ask for a single point of clarification. And then there are other students you can't keep out of your office: the ones who pepper you with emails, outlines, paper drafts, and endless questions about the minutiae of format and source citation.
I've got one of those right now: a student who runs everything by me. But every suggestion I make and every correction I offer seems only to make her more anxious, and more convinced that if she just starts the next project sooner, and gets feedback from me on every detail, then she'll do better.
And the thing is? She won't.
Most high-strung students you can tell to chill the fuck out. Sometimes they're excellent students who just need more sleep. Often they're reasonably good students who can't believe they're suddenly getting Bs (rather than the straight As they got in high school or at their previous college)--but who will settle down in a month or two through a combination of working harder and adjusting their expectations. But the student I have right now isn't getting better. And it's been clear to me for a while that she's not going to get better this semester, or maybe even next semester.
It isn't that she's dumb. She's hard-working and curious and I'm perfectly willing to believe that she'll have an intellectual growth spurt over the next few years; I've seen it happen before. But in the short term, no amount of effort on my part or hers is going to push her over the hump. She's just not ready.
And that's one of the dirty secrets of teaching: it's not about what we do, or it's only very contingently about what we do. Something we say in class or explain during our office hours may plant a seed, but intellectual growth happens over time, inside a student's head, in ways that are fundamentally mysterious. It happens while our students are out babysitting or buying gas or fighting with their friends. One day, they didn't get it. The next day, they do--or at least, they're primed to get it, this time, when we give them exactly the same advice we've been giving for months.
But you know, I can't tell my student that. I can't say, "you're not going to improve much this semester--but you might next semester!--so chill out."
So I keep meeting with her and responding to her emails, and her work gets only very marginally better. I'm trying to communicate my faith in her, but I wonder whether I'm doing the opposite: she's working so hard, and I'm being so patient--and her grades stay the same. In her place (and I have, after a fashion, been in her place), I might conclude that the problem was me and I was just intractably stupid.
Read a lot, think a lot, live life, be patient. Sound enough advice, but easier said than done.