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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sometimes it's about the life lessons

I had a meeting today with a student from the 1:00 102 class. He was in a lather because the bus he was taking to campus broke down, so he was unable to get to class--and he told me he had his "homework" ready. He arrived after my office hour, but I was sitting here with the door open, so I talked to him. I reminded him that there was an essay due today, and I asked him if he had that. Long silence, then the admission that no, in fact, he didn't. I pulled out his card: seven absences and only one grade out of everything that's been assigned since the start of the term. I asked if something was going on that kept him from doing the work: was he confused, or overwhelmed with his other classes, or dealing with something outside of school? Long silence, then the admission that he had no excuse: he just hasn't been doing the work.

He is not a liberal arts major; he's in one of our discrete degree programs, and he's taking 102 in place of a Communications requirement. He's also in calculus and a number of classes specific to his degree; he reported that he was doing well in all of them, though he was struggling with calculus.

Even when I laid out for him what he could expect this semester, he didn't want to admit that the best option would be to withdraw. I finally coaxed him into it--and I think he was relieved that I wasn't angry about it, or cold, just being clear and precise, and reminding him that, when we are adults, we sometimes have to make a choice that we don't like making but that will benefit us in the long run.

I signed the withdrawal form on the spot; he went off to the Registrar. I don't know if he got there before they closed--and if he didn't, I don't know if he'll follow through on completing the withdrawal process--but at least he learned that he has to acknowledge when he is not doing what he needs to do.

A bit later, a student from the same section came to the office to submit the printed copy of his second essay--and of his first essay: when I got the "final" version of the first essay, it was not anywhere near formatted correctly, so I handed it back to him and told him I wouldn't grade it until I had a properly formatted copy. That scenario played out three times prior to today: he'd submit something incorrect and I'd hand it back to him. Finally, today, we talked about it: he was using WordPad, which is utterly useless when it comes to formatting, so I explained that he'd need to get the material into an MSWord file and format it from there. When he came to my office, he had both essays--and essay two was mostly formatted correctly (he still hasn't figured out how to use headers, but one thing at a time); essay one was still incorrect--everything right except not double spaced. I handed it right back to him.

When I was talking to him about it in class, I said--jokingly--"I'm going to hit you, really hard." My frustration has turned into teasing, which works better for everyone concerned. I loved that when he showed up today, Paul and another colleague were in the office, so they witnessed the "Nope; do it again" moment. As I said to them, I'm just asking him to make sure his fly is zipped before he walks in the door... It's really that basic, and he needs to learn that even the little things actually do matter.

Both of these young men are smart enough--especially the one I talked into withdrawing--but both are, I suspect, bone lazy, and have never been held entirely accountable. Well, the time is now.

The peer review process in both classes went pretty well. There is one real character in the earlier class, as I think I've mentioned: he's quite the odd duck, seems to have slightly scrambled social instincts but a real intellect--and the other students in the class are mostly amused by his oddness. I am, too, most of the time, but today he seemed even more off than usual: slurring and muttering, then suddenly blurting out things loudly (including calling me by my first name, instead of the more formal "Professor" that everyone else uses). It occurred to me to wonder if he's on a medication that needs to be rebalanced, or on a new one that hasn't been fine tuned yet--but he explained that he just had a completely sleepless night last night, which is why he was "out of it." I guess I can buy that, but it doesn't really matters to me is that one student really wanted to work with the Odd Duck--a student who is also quite smart and who said, "Everything that comes out of his mouth amazes me; I want to know how he does that." And when another of the brighter students arrived late to class and needed to be worked into a group, the Odd Duck was eager to respond to her essay.

I do feel a little bad that one of the brightest students in that class--a truly charming young man, filled with intelligence and maturity--told me he hated the peer review process. I think he hated it partly because he was paired (and then in a trio with) two young women whose skills were way below his, and he was struggling with how to be honest without being too fierce. (Apparently he has the same problem in his Communications class, in which students critique each others' speeches.) I encouraged him to be honest in the future: he can show them the levels to which they can aspire better than I can, as he's a student, like they are. That said, I will work to put him with someone whose skills are closer to his own--maybe with the Odd Duck--for the peer review of the final essay.

So, now I have everything packed up to take home for another intense work weekend. I'm sure there is more I could say about today, student interactions (I got a couple of students smiling and laughing, which is always a great thing), that sort of thing, but it's gradually sinking in that I am absolutely whipped: I'm running on the kind of fumes that make toddlers get manic when they're exhausted, and I can feel myself trending in that direction. So, to stave off further mania and endless noodling, I will draw this post--and this week--to a grateful close. After how crabby I was at the start of the week, it's nice to leave the week feeling better about the students, my interactions with them, and the chances that they are actually learning what they need to learn.

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