Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mini Thanksgiving Misery (Flashback to Maybelle's past)

I've shared this story with other colleagues, so I hope posting it here doesn't "out" me. Here goes nothing.

Back in the dark ages of my graduate TAing career, I went to Far Away from Family School which only gave two days for a break. I had a graduate seminar on Wednesdays, and despite the rumors that Kindly Old Professor usually let classes out early that day, my family and I weren't willing to risk me missing a flight home.

The painful decision was made that since I would be home in three more weeks, it wasn't worth flying me home on Thanksgiving proper either. I was going to stay at Far Away from Family School. It was the first time in my life I would not be with my family. I was heartbroken, but I knew I had bigger responsibilities.

The professor I TAed for scheduled exams for the day before Thanksgiving. (Another reason I did not leave early, even though all the in state grad students were willing to swap Wednesday TAing for Monday with the out of state grad students for that week.) It was not a surprise; it was on the syllabus from DAY ONE. I also warned them every month to plan their travel schedules accordingly as "leaving early for the holiday" would not count as an excused absence, plane tickets or no. (Besides, an exam the Monday when you return from Thanksgiving is just as bad for the little brats as it "ruins their holiday.")

One of the more obstinate little bastards decided that an exam before Thanksgiving was the end of the world. He was sullen and surly. The week of Thanksgiving, he tried to incite an insurrection in the discussion section I was leading, sans prof. He started saying that it was "bullshit we had an exam the day before Thanksgiving." I said, "Watch your language. It has been on the syllabus since the first day of class. It is not a surprise."

 I don't think he was expecting that I would (to quote my lovely Nana) shut that shit down.

Taken aback, he said, "Why do you have to ruin our Thanksgiving? Don't you have a family that loves you or something?"

It hurt like a slap across the face. I felt tears welling up. In order to do my job well and not be a snowflake, I wasn't going home. I was aware that being grown up required personal sacrifices. I didn't have a snappy comeback. It was my first year as a TA, and I had never truly encountered an entitled snowflake in my capacity as instructor before. I managed not to cry in front of my class.

Fortunately, the other students in the class rallied to my defense. I think one of them even hugged me. I don't remember everything the other students said, but it was putting the jackass in his place.  I just gave the jackass a look of death and repeated that there was an exam on Wednesday and if he missed it, he should withdraw from the class because he wasn't going to get a makeup exam from me, ever.

It's been years, and that interaction still gnaws at me. I am much better prepared to deal with that level of hostility and rudeness, but it still bothers me.


  1. I've had several similar experiences with students brought on by exams immediately before holidays, and even reading weeks, spring break, etc. When my spouse was a M.A. student and away from home town for the first time as a student, one of his/her professors had all the graduate students in similar situations over for Thanksgiving dinner. She/he has never forgotten this kindness. So we've done the same a few times....

  2. As faculty, my Mom routinely had students who had no place to go for Thanksgiving. We always had 2 or 3 extras at the table.

  3. When I was in grad school, the out-of-state TAs would all gather to eat at just about the only place open on T-day: the university hospital cafeteria. We were young, we made it fun. And unlike my non-grad student friends, we didn't have to go to work the next day.

    I love spending the holidays with my family, but Weeping Jeebus, it's just dinner. (And I'm sorry, Maybelle, that student was a total jerk and I'm glad you put him in his place). But. Lots of people have to work really hard and shitty jobs on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Perhaps those of us who work far from home can be grateful to simply have the time off at all?

  4. I was the student who attended Weds.-afternoon discussion sections despite the fact that I was scheduled to fly several hundred miles that evening to my grandmother's and cook Thanksgiving dinner -- with ingredients my father brought by car from another state -- the next day (because my grandmothers were too elderly to do so and my mother was dead -- that would make a good sob story/excuse, no? But I never used, or thought of using, it; I just did my thing and slept late on Friday). Obviously this experience has left me less than sympathetic to most student excuses re: Thanksgiving travel. But I'm also realistic, so I'm just as glad that my institution doesn't have classes on the Weds. before Thanksgiving, and when I have control of my own syllabus (which I almost always do), I tend to schedule something like individual student conferences on Mon. and/or Tues. I'm not sure quite what I'd do if I had TAs, and had to set an example of good citizenship, but I wouldn't schedule an exam; that puts the TAs in too difficult a position. I probably would say the section needed to be held, but allow for the finding of substitutes (or even teach an extra section or two myself if I wasn't traveling -- a variation on the invite-'em-to-dinner approach, and it might be kind of fun to hear the snowflakes who cut out early complain that those who attended got special privileges, i.e. being taught by the professor).

  5. I hate when students make it personal. They think that our setting boundaries has something to do with our inadequacies and hatred for them. What immaturity. What is wrong with people? Why are they such assholes sometimes?

  6. Student was lucky to get to take his exam before break. I always spent my Thanksgiving studying and writing papers. I didn't know that there was any other way, really. My proffies never seemed to suffer any kind of moral crisis about asking us to study over the break.

  7. Maybelle, your experience reminds me of my first teenager and the way he knew exactly how to push my buttons and exploit my insecurities. My son grew out of it, and I've forgiven him. But I hope your former student spawns offspring who learn how to push his buttons just as nastily as he pushed yours.

  8. HA Proffie Galore! That is quite a curse you just placed on that student! Nothing worse than a teenager with an ax to grind who knows how to push your buttons! I agree he deserves it!

    I just love exclamation points.

  9. Maybelle, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving with family who love you this year. You sure deserve it.

    How is that job opportunity you wrote about some time ago coming along? The one with "lots of travel and little time at home, but really, really nice pay"----it sounds like just what the doctor ordered and I hope it is still a possibility for you.

    1. No dice. I applied never heard anything back, but those are government jobs for you. Other friends have said it can take up to a year to hear back, which is unfortunate because I know I will be moving again in a few months.

      I'm applying to academic jobs around the area, but the fact that is it mid year makes it hard to find something.