Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Transcribed From My Real Life, And Animated, For Your Amusement


katems said...

I have deep deep respect for you, and the way you handled that student's request (if it was a real scenario - i understand that it might be created from multiple identical encounters with students). I laughed out loud, repeatedly, at this little clip.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

I want to start showing this to my students.

DOCTOR J said...

@Ideas Man: Take and use as you wish. I consider this public domain. Perhaps even a Public Service Announcement.

To Spell Out said...

I guess I understand the frustration. I mean, we've all had irresponsible students. But if this is based on one particular incident (rather than an amalgamation of conversations), it occurs to me that this is extremely unprofessional. Your student could read this at any moment. I mean, do you really want any of your students to be able to go there? About drama created on a public blog post? I certainly would not.

Furthermore, I'm afraid I don't have deep respect for the insulting way in which you responded to the student. I've been lurking here for a long time, and I usually admire both your writing style and your approach to politics.

Certainly, the circumstances that the student describes are not unusual in the context of temporary illness. But what if she'd been dealing with them all semester? What if she were coming down with an autoimmune disease that doctors couldn't pinpoint? That very thing happened to me, only I was in graduate school at the time. I'd never missed a deadline in my life, not through my double BA or my first MA, but yes... Suddenly, I did need to miss several classes during the semester. I did need extensions. I did have trouble making deadlines. And I was the object of exactly this kind of derision.

I did not deserve it then, and that has made me far, far more tolerant of these kinds of excuses than I ever used to be. People go through bad shit. In one semester, one of my students was brutally raped and nearly died. Another student--an African-American-was getting race-based death threats in the nearly all-white Northern community where we lived. Still another lost his access to housing and found himself crashing in his car for the second half of the semester. Another was trying to get out of a domestic violence situation and was stalked.

Students deal with actual extenuating circumstances far beyond going to a Kings of Leon concert. In my own experience, real trauma is more the norm than irresponsibility. Often, students don't want to talk to someone in a position of authority about what is happening. No matter, you seem very self-satisfied with the quip about "getting dumber by the minute."

B Blake said...

I don't know I'm sort of on the fence here. Obviously, these types of responses and policies have a really big deterrent effect on any irresponsible slackers and punish any of them who are foolish enough to ignore such policies. I also see the appeal/necessity of laying down rules and enforcing them. Additionally, you have to start preparing students for their careers.

My biggest bone to pick here is with this statement: "being sick is not an extenuating circumstance when writing a paper." Certainly that's true the bulk of the time--when we are simply talking about colds, stomach viruses, etc.--but it's not categorically true. If a student gets sick a couple of days before, then yes, it's legitimate to criticize them for not working ahead of time. But if someone becomes ill a week before the paper is due and stays sick practically the whole time, that's an extenuating circumstance. Why? Anyone who has even been pretty sick can attest to the fact that's its pretty damn hard to focus and think coherently for any length of time... let alone compose a large essay...and they can also attest that getting sick and staying sick like that before a paper's deadline is pretty unusual.

Most of the things Spell Out mentioned also strike as extenuating circumstances. Am I correct in assuming you would take issue here or are we, by and large, in agreement (and you made this post because of a recently outrageous circumstance, where it was painfully obvious the student was a turd)? If the former, I'm curious to hear a defense of towing an almost absolutist line on these kinds of class policies, which doesn't end up effectively abandoning any pretense to meaningfully being fair.

To Spell Out said...

Per rules: I'm not averse to rules as such. In my own experiences, though, I've come to differentiate between certain types of rules.

1.) I hear a lot of professors and grad students kvetch about the kinds of rules that seem to take primacy in this post. These rules tend to center around lateness and punctuality and preparedness. They do help to differentiate between those who are working hard and those who are not. But they can also be normalizing in the sense of creating good capitalist subjects. These are the rules that I maintain the most flexibility around. On one hand... There's certainly a defense to be made of this kind of normalization. Conforming students will probably become successful and well-integrated into our global capitalist system. It's in their best interests in many ways. But... Well, for ethical and political reasons, it's never been one of my biggest priorities.

And based on personal experiences (and the words of Helen Prejean), I guess I'd rather "err on the side of compassion." I don't know who has truly extenuating circumstances and who does not. I I am not their therapist. I am not a doctor. I do not have the capacity to judge a truly disabling condition from a mere annoyance, and I'd rather not risk violating the ADA.

I have heard vapid excuses here and there, and I get that it's annoying to deal with students so unworldly that they don't realize they're making stupid excuses. More often than not, though, I hear substantive excuses. I excused one student from class (and a quiz) because his girlfriend was being sent to Iraq for two years, and he wanted to drive her to the airport. I let the same student take the final exam early because he was headed for Afghanistan a few days after graduation. I had another student who came from a working class family--and who became the sole caretaker of his dying father. He missed about half of my class lectures. It wouldn't have been acceptable for a Kings of Leon concert, but I made the call not to penalize him. I allowed him to write an extra research paper in order to make up a couple of missed quizzes. In the grand scheme of things...? Eh, I felt the dying father was more important than my class. When I made it clear that I was willing to work with the student, he more than stepped up to the plate to meet his course requirements. I guess... I've fielded far more serious life traumas than silly excuses, and I find that it's unfair to stereotype students in this way.

And quite frankly? I graduated from a top tier R1 undergrad institution, and I did exceptionally well... This was before I became chronically ill... I wrote almost all of my papers the day before they were due. Sometimes two days. I double majored in humanities and social sciences, and I was routinely lauded by professors for writing the best papers in the class. Some people thrive under tight deadlines. I always did before I became ill. Sure... Two sick days aren't really extenuating circumstances, but... Knowing how I was (and how some of my brightest students are now), I just... Due dates are not my greatest concern.

2.) There are times when I feel that it is imperative for me to take a stand in the classroom. This usually happens when a student says something racist/sexist/homophobic in the middle of class. It will make things worse if I appear to attack the student, but I have to do something. There are always people of color/women/queer people in my courses, and it's my job to create a space that is both professional and respectful to them. These are the things that I have been known to kvetch with friends about--sometimes to vent, and sometimes to seek advice. (That said... I tend to keep it among friends, and I wouldn't repeat these classroom dialogues verbatim on a public blog. Like I said... I think it's really unprofessional to snipe at specific students on public domain.).

Shahar said...

Nice video, it's like you've been following me around at work. I think I'm going to make a whole series based on my awkward interactions with both the administration and many of my colleagues...