It is without doubt my least favorite time in the semester. It has become particularly distressing in the last four or five years when I interact with most of my students “at a distance,” either in large lecture halls or over the Internet. Long gone is the university I signed up for almost 40 years ago, the one with small classes, and long, leisurely, writing assignments. The new U creates new tensions, tensions that may arise in no small part from the “at a distance” communication model that is the norm on the Internet.
Here’s my problem: You see, students still, technically, have five days to add a course despite the fact that classes started two weeks ago. I wonder what committee established that little bit of institutional insanity? I mean, I always tell my students that one of the worst things they can ever say to their professor is “Hi. I wasn’t here on Monday. Did I miss anything?” Yet, that is the message in an email that reads something like this:
“Hello Professor. I was told I needed your permission to add this class. I need it to graduate. Please put me in. My student number is #########.” Thanks! See ya soon!”
Translation: “Hi. I wasn’t here on Monday. Did I miss anything?”
“Monday? Oh, no. We played a little Farmville. Checked Facebook. And I brought 14 pizzas. You’re cool.”
Did I miss anything?! Did you check your brains at the door? Of course you missed something!
A college class – even an online class – is not like a bowl of M&Ms that sits there for the semester so you can just waltz in and scoop up a handful anytime you want. Bowl empty? Class over. Bye! No, it doesn’t work that way.
From my point of view, a good college course should be designed like a high-end dinner party. It begins with some finger food and a light beverage until everyone has arrived. Then you move to the dining room when the serious eating begins. You start with the Amuse Bouche, or second appetizer, to get the brain working. Next the salad. Then you cleanse the palate – a little sorbet is good. Now the entrée and sides. And finally, dessert. The host/professor should match the wines with each course of the meal, and keep the conversation rolling. It's about lectures, papers, quizzes, assignments, final projects, an exam. Ta da! Dinners over! I am the chef and the student’s host. It is my job to provide the student with valuable, thoughtful content, well-considered and well-prepared.
The student/guest should make sure to be on time, not to spill on themselves, watch the host to know which utensil to use, pay attention, and be respectful. It is the student’s job to listen, think, absorb, question, respond – and appreciate.
The mature, focused student does not walk in, or email in, to class two weeks late toting an “apology six-pack” and ask “Did I miss anything?” It is just rude. Your host may, as etiquette demands, smile, but the truth is they are angry.
But that type of rude behavior is precisely the kind of behavior that this two-week long "add window" encourages. I think I know where it is coming from. Our cousins over in the small liberal arts college community have become enamored with the idea that students should be able to “shop the curriculum,” try a few courses at the beginning of the semester before settling in to the ones they really like – or will be an easy A. And I suppose that’s fine if you are teaching 13 to 25 students who are paying 40 grand a semester for the privilege of shopping the curriculum. That can probably be explained as “fiscally necessary accommodation.”
In my world it is simply “enabling.” The “late-adders” AKA "LAs", waltz in blithely, hand you their “apology six-pack” explanation – or not – and ask “Did I miss anything? Where do I sit?” They are often quite winsome; it is a necessary survival skill for an LA. And their late arrival is always “someone else’s fault.” Their schedule “got cancelled”, their “advisor” forgot to put them in the course, “they” lost my records. The “I” word is rarely attached to any culpable behavior. And the LAs expect to be accommodated as, I suspect, they are at home and were in high school. The LAs expect that all the other students, the ones who came to dinner on time, will get put on hold for awhile while everyone scurries around to make sure that the LAs are comfortable.
I know, I know, I should just chill. The LAs are a handful among hundreds. Yet, soooooo irritating, because experience has taught me that I will hear from them again at the end of the semester when their computer will have crashed, or their roommate will have run off with their girl/boyfriend, or their puppy will be sick and can they please have an extension on their paper? And that is yet another reason why, in these last few days of potential “guess who’s coming to dinner” abuse, I turn surly, I stop enabling:
The Would Be LA: “I want to add your class. Did I miss anything?”
Surly Me: “Yes, too much to make up.”
The Would Be LA: “I don’t understand. Where do I sit?”
Surly Me: “Anywhere you like, as long as it is not in my class.”
The Would Be LA: “But I need three hours to graduate.”
Surly Me: “Have a good day.”