Monday, April 5, 2010

Bride of Wacky Student Time

Last week was a pretty hellish grading week for me. I had around 150 intro exams to grade, as well as a batch of upper division papers. In my capacity as judge, jury, and executioner, I had a couple of interesting interactions with some wacky students.

One was an intro student who is in Army ROTC. He emailed me at 1:00 AM in the morning the day of the exam (I am sure he thought of it as the night before) to ask if he could take the exam a week late. Why? Because he was waiting on some kind of promotion, and he couldn't concentrate until he got the news. My reaction was twofold:

A) No.

B) Are you fucking kidding me? This is cannot be how the Army wants its officers-in-training to behave. Grow up.

Of course, my response contained only reaction (A); I omitted reaction (B) in the final draft. In an ironic denouement, the student actually did better on this exam than he did on the one prior.

The other was a student who submitted a paper in which he objected to the hedonistic theory of value promoted by a philosopher whose last name is 'Kant' and whose first name is 'Frankena'. Boy, oh boy. It's downhill from there.

--Mr. Zero

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

At least the student e-mail you before the exam. I've gotten at least 3 or 4 similar e-mails from students (not ROTC, but similarly inane excuses) *after* they didn't show up to the exam. Jesus.

Anonymous said...

What's most important is to enforce arbitrary deadlines with utmost rigidity. That will teach them just about as much as holding in class exams. The best way learn philosophy is to hurriedly scribble into a blue book. You sound like a great teacher.

Anonymous said...

Wow, 9:43, you are such an asshole!

Anonymous said...

Being forced to work to arbitrary deadlines and scribbling philosophy in a bluebook might not be the best way to learn philosophy, but it sure as hell teaches you a lot about life.

zombie said...

The ROTC student surprises me. When I've had students who were military vets or in the reserves, they were always extremely engaged and responsible, and they got their work done and didn't complain about it. Model students. The ones in active reserves sometimes had deployment issues, but those are understandable.
My favorite students were the ones who lobby for a grade change after the semester is OVER and final grades are in, especially if I had never seen them before (in class or out of it). Some things about teaching I don't miss. (But I actually do miss teaching.)

Anonymous said...

I had a student write a paper on Clark and Chalmers's "The Extended Mind."

Throughout he referred the author as David Clark.

Anonymous said...

I have just had a spate of students who, after consistently crappy attendance/participation in a smaller seminar, and consistently mediocre papers, want to know how they can improve their grade. There are some details this semester that are new, but this kind of thing always makes me sigh. If you were really that concerned about your GPA, why didn't you START by attending class? Or working on your papers more? Why do a crappy job and then get worried about how to undo it?

Anonymous said...

I have students referring to J.J. Thomson as "he" and "him" because of the LAST name: Thomson, as in "Tom".

Of course, I'm sure I'm not the only one to get students talking about John Stuart "Mills" because of my constant use of the possessive, "Mill's Utilitarianism".

Ben A. said...

To that same point, James Rachels is frequently identified as "she" when I ask students to write about passive and active euthanasia.

Xenophon said...

I know it's hard not to take these kinds of requests seriously, but life will be much easier when you just think no, say no, and move on, without wondering whether there's some possible world where this is a good reason. After all, students don't take half their requests (for extensions, grade changes, etc.) seriously -- otherwise they'd come up with better ones.

Put rules in your syllabus and apply them, except in the most extreme cases where it is clearly more just to quietly make an exception.

As for Anon 9:43: I spend a lot of time drawing up a syllabus and a set of rules that I think are fair and reasonable. I therefore feel justified in actually applying those rules. Students who think that professors just stand in the corner with the lights out when they aren't observed by students (or other variations on Berkeley) misunderstand how higher education works.

Polacrilex said...

Anon 1:14.

This has been the semester of deaths, illnesses that magically disappear within hours of missing class, and strange "job interview" excuses. I don't know if this is a trend in the Spring (I've never kept data on the subject), but my students always seem to have better attendance, fewer excuses, and better writing skills in the Fall.

Also, do any of you get students who insist on referring to philosophers by their first names in their papers?

Anonymous said...

9:43 here. What's the worst case? Suppose that your students are just making up junk excuses. Oh well. Then you give someone an extra couple of days for no good reason other than they mismanaged their time. (In fact, I think that mismanaging time is a pretty good excuse for an extension.) But some of the students will have legitimate excuses. To shut them down with an appeal to policy is terrible.

Don't appeal to life lessons: In many, if not most, real world jobs, deadlines are not so firm. Sure, if you are making shrink-wrapped software for a Christmas release then you've got a hard deadline. But no one would ever think of asking to put off the holidays. . . .

I have some awful students. I have a series of policies on my syllabi too. I once had a student who missed over half of the semester and couldn't understand why they weren't doing well. So now I have an attendance policy. I don't enforce, but it's there just in case. . . .

My strategy is to bark a lot, but seldom bite. Typically it doesn't help anything to bite. I'll come down hard on the entitled little shits, but it's not offensive to ask for more time because you are worried about a promotion. . . . Yes, I'm part social worker, but that's what some of them need. I really like most of my students.

Anonymous said...

Where is fairness in all this? If you give special privileges to anyone who asks for it, how well will you serve those who attend and work day-in, day-out? My suggestion is to build in disposible points into the syllabus--drop the lowest two quizzes or one paper or one exam or some such before determining the course grade. Then just say upfront that there are thus NO acceptable excuses for missed work--and say something about you not wishing to make arbitrary judgements about excuses. Experience tells me that most responsible students will fit into this grading scheme--some irresponsible ones will still try to play you, but you will have elbow-room to make your own call about truly exceptional circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Maybe 9:43 could also wipe my ass for me, if I became one of his students. Because sometimes it's a drag to wipe my own ass.

Anonymous said...

6:35

So now I have an attendance policy. I don't enforce, but it's there just in case. . . .

This is deception, pure and simple (I don't suppose you tell them you don't enforce it, since you claim you bark a lot and don't bite). If you don't count attendance, you should tell them that. Unless you believe that deceiving your students in this case is ok because you think it's to their benefit. But I'd love to hear your clever attempts to argue it's not deception, if you have any.

From Merriam-Webster:
deceive: to cause to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid

Anonymous said...

And, btw, seldom biting (presumably based on who you consider with your infallible judgment to be entitled little shits) sounds pretty damn arbitrary for one complaining about 'arbitrary deadlines'.

Asstro said...

Not as bad as the guy who wrote his exam about Dick Hart and his meditations on first philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:43 ...

Just out of curiosity, how many students do you teach in a semester? Because I teach over 300 students per semester, the deadlines are not arbitrary at all.

Why do I give students deadlines? Because I have deadlines. I have to submit progress reports, drop students, and submit grades by certain dates and times. Grading the work of 300+ students requires extensive management of my time, as well as organization of EVERYTHING. Late work means work that is not where it supposed to be, doesn't match, isn't in the same arena as what I am grading now (so can't legitimately be compared to the work of their peers and isn't the same mental space I'm in when I'm grading). If 50 people ask for extensions, make-ups, exceptions, etc. based on their "perfectly legitimate" excuse for every assignment, do you know how much back log that creates for me? It adds hours onto my grading schedule.

I'm perfectly happy to agree that no one learns philosophy by scribbling in a blue book. Of course, the exam isn't when you LEARN philosophy -- it's when you SHOW the professor what about philosophy YOU HAVE LEARNED IN THE COURSE PRIOR TO THE EXAM. That's generally how assessment works.

Anon 10:54 is exactly right. Having worked in different professional fields before teaching, including higher ed admin, IT content development for a private firm, banking and finance, and franchise management, teaching students that deadlines matter, and that ridiculous excuses get you nowhere fast is an important lesson. Because when I worked in all those fields, I had to manage the workers who used to be students who got away with everything, and honestly, that was WORSE than dealing with them when they are students.

Anonymous said...

"Dick Hart and His Meditations" is my new favorite band name!

Anonymous said...

This semester one of my students "friends" me on facebook. Later in the semester, she writes about skipping philosophy class with her buddies as her status. Just before class I get an email saying her grandmother died unexpectedly and she's unable to attend class.

I respond with the usual "I'm sorry to hear that" reply, but attach a screenshot of her status update to the email.

True story.

Anonymous said...

8:51, if I could, I would pick you up and carry you around on my shoulders as if you just kicked the winning field goal in the Super Bowl.

Anonymous said...

I guess I am lucky, I don't get a bunch of excuses. There are always a few out of a class of 100, and I just grant them unless its obviously unfair, ("I am not prepared can I take it late" or some variation). I think someone actually did ask me to let them take a test because they did not study for it. At least he was honest.

But I do get lots of requests for extra credit. I always refuse. The idea behind extra credit is that you should get a better grade for doing more work, which in my humble opinion is bullshit.

I hope the grade I give my students reflects their philosophical understanding/ability, now how many hoops they can jump over. If they improve, I give them all sorts of bonuses. But just doing more work.. what is this, the popcorn factory?

BunnyHugger said...

I too get students who call James Rachels "she," quite reliably. I suppose this is because I say "Rachels' theory" and such while I lecture, but I don't call any other philosophers by their first name, so why would they think I was talking about someone named Rachel? I won't even bother throwing in rhetorical questions about whether they look at the actual article.

Anonymous said...

What deadlines aren't ultimately arbitrary?

Anonymous said...

Because I teach over 300 students per semester, the deadlines are not arbitrary at all. Why do I give students deadlines? Because I have deadlines. I have to submit progress reports, drop students, and submit grades by certain dates and times.

But are those deadlines YOU are under arbitrary? (Answer is yes.)

This does not mean, however, that you should be flexible with deadlines. The world runs on (arbitrary) deadlines. As you shown, many things and other deadline depend on prior deadlines, so missing a deadline can set off a cascade of consequences.

Anonymous said...

The deadlines the educational system operates under are conventions. I'm not a philosophical genius or anything, but I was under the impression there was a difference between being purely arbitrary and being conventional, with the latter being a convention that is decided on for pragmatic purposes of something like organizational efficiency. You know, like, what side of the road we drive on or something.

So, yeah, that my institution is on a semester system rather than a trimester or quarterly one, or that the semesters start and end when they do, or that I start lecturing and stop lecturing at certain times is arbitrary in the sense that those ways of doing things are not necessarily better than any other way of doing things. But they are still important conventions that people should be reasonably expected to follow without giving excuses about how they were going to do the test that day, but their pet armadillo infected their aunt's foster child with armadillo flu and had to be taken to the hospital where they were going to study for the test but the light was just too bright and gave them a migraine when they tried to read because they have chronic migraines and can totally give you medical documentation for that.

Anonymous said...

Hi 1:02,

I think you're right that some things that are arbitrary are also conventions, but you haven't argued that conventions are not themselves arbitrary, if that was your point. If not, then I'm unclear what your point is...

Anonymous said...

I think my point was something like this: Schools have to be run in some kind of systematic way, or else they'll descend into worse chaos than what they are now. That we run them one particular way rather than another is a matter of convention, and the conventions we actually use may be to some extent arbitrary. But that we have some set of conventions isn't itself arbitrary; its a necessity.

I mean, I guess we could just think that people will learn what they want when they want to on their own by buying books and reading them and accessing educational materials for free on the internet. But then we'd be even more fucked for jobs. So, yeah, considering that I like money in my bank account, I'm going to go with: I don't care if the conventions are genuinely arbitrary, I think they are good (for me?)

Anonymous said...

I don't care if the conventions are genuinely arbitrary, I think they are good (for me?)

Agreed. That's why second poster (9:43) is ignorant about the way the world works. All deadlines are arbitrary, and even if not, they're valuable and possibly necessary conventions. So sticking to deadlines is also valuable if not necessary.

Mr. Zero said...

The reason I thought this case was so egregious it was worthy of mention in this post is that this student is just over a year away from entering the United States Army at an officer's rank. There are two wars going on. This student’s responsibilities will affect the safety and the lives of enlisted personnel. I'd be more than a little surprised if there were no firm deadlines there, or if what deadlines there were were purely arbitrary. I didn't think these Army guys were real lackadaisical about due dates. I think lives are on the line. (And like Zombie, my experiences with ROTC students has been almost universally positive.)

College deadlines are clearly arbitrary in some sense, and lack the importance of, say, wartime military deadlines. But that doesn’t make them all-things-considered unimportant; it is not possible for me to do my job effectively without them. And the suggestion that you can tell what a shitty teacher I am because of my views about deadlines and in-class written exams makes me think that either 9:43 is very na├»ve and/or wet behind the ears, or has never had a heavy teaching load.

Anonymous said...

9:50

The only deadline which matters in the military is "puff, puff, pass" :-)
They don't take kindly to bogarters

theVirginlover said...

This is hilarious. Reminds me of my ex boyfriend at Tulane-always doing this. Hate to admit, I've ended up with denouements like this myself.