Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Acknowledging some universal truths of teaching

I wouldn't be sitting in my office right now if I hadn't violated one of the Universal Rules of College Teaching: If a student begs for a face-to-face meeting outside of office hours because it's the only time he can possibly meet, he won't show up. (Doubly true for Friday afternoons. Triply true if it's my birthday.)

I should have known better than to expect the student to meet me at the time he had specified, but the end-of-the-semester grueling grading mayhem marathon may have led to some discombobulation of my teacherly instincts. For instance, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the student who begs and pleads for an extra-credit assignment won't bother to turn it in, while the student who needs it least will complete the assignment. I know this! We all know this! So why am I surprised that my very rare offer of a tiny serving of grace was ignored by the student who's been lobbying loudest for extra credit?

Today I'm enjoying a rare hiatus between piles of grading: I'm caught up on grading but expecting two more piles of exams tomorrow and the final capstone papers on Friday. I wouldn't have come to campus today if I hadn't fallen victim to another Universal Rule of College Teaching: Any blank space on a professor's schedule functions like a powerful magnet to attract committee meetings, service obligations, and students who desperately need to meet (but then won't show up). 

And as usual, just when we've reached the time in the semester when things ought to be quieting down, suddenly we suffer the Attack of the Grade-Grubbing Quibblers. They come armed with arguments based on what their friends, family members, and favorite online paper services say about their writing but rarely with the actual paper under discussion, much less the grading rubric or prompt. 

It happens every semester so why should I be surprised? I am living proof of the truth of another Universal Rule of College Teaching: No matter how many times we see students screw up in the same old predictable ways, we always harbor some small hope that this time things will be different.

(Now how long do I have to wait before I give up on this guy?)  


Bardiac said...

Oh, yep. A lot of schools seem to have an informal "rule" about waiting 5 minutes for an assistant prof, 10 for an associate, and 15 for a full prof. So, maybe give him 10 minutes and then you're DONE waiting?

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on your school. I was in your place yesterday, with two student appointments after my last class and well after my office hours. The first one didn't show up at the appointed hour and the second one was late by 20 minutes because we had changed the time when another appointment cancelled on me. And while I was with that student, the first one showed up. He works all day and goes to school at night.
So yeah, what you describe has happened to me, but the exceptions make it worth my while to wait.