Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Stapler Angsty From Alfred in Anaheim.

After nearly 20 years of banging my head against the wall of declining student accountability, I about lost my shit today in class.

I teach Business Communications. It's a field, I have to admit, in flux. Many students for the past few years cannot get their minds around the need for traditionally formatted letters and projects. They want everything online, including homework, presentations, etc. The idea of printing something, formatting it, making it nice, etc. is just too much trouble.

Nonetheless, I require some projects turned in on paper with formatting, margins, and, oh God, please forgive me, a staple. I make it sort of funny. "If you give me a 10 page presentation without a staple, I'll put that on the dash of my car, I'll drive really fast home, and whatever pages are inside I'll grade. Everyone sort of chuckles. Maybe they're on the Tweeter. I don't fucking know.

Anyway, I took in 40 projects last week, multi-page, and 10 of them were just loose stacks of paper. One student had done that ridiculous origami paper-folding trick that is worthless.

Today I gave those 10 back. "Listen," I said, "following formats and instructions are part of the requirements for this class. I'm knocking 5% off of these and returning them to you until you turn them in as requested."

Most took them back without incident but one student stuck around.

"What did you think of it?"

"Of what?"

"My presentation. I worked really hard on it."

"Oh, I haven't read it yet. Once you turn it in as I requested, I'll give it a good read."

"Because of the staple?"

"Actually, not really, because you didn't fulfill the requirement."

"I don't have a stapler."

"Yes, I figured. They're handy. They're in most of the offices on campus, too, and I've seen students beg a staple or two in order to keep the machinery of the college going."

"You should make a stapler a requirement on the syllabus. That's sort of a trick."

"Yeah, I guess I'll add that next term."

"Oh okay," he said, suddenly smiling. "So you'll take my presentation now?"

54 comments:

  1. Have you considered taking a stapler to class if this is such an important requirement?

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    1. Yeah. And if paper is such an important requirement, why don't you bring them paper? And new ink for their printers. And pens. Buy their books for them. Jesus, just bring in a whole fucking shopping cart of office supplies for their use, if you're going to be so unreasonable to expect them to follow simple directions.

      Or the lazy gits could shell out a dollar fifty and buy a goddamned stapler and keep it with their other office supplies.

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    2. Pretty much what P.C. said. Jesus, Hector, what special corner of hell did you escape from?

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    3. Jesus, Hector, what special corner of hell did you escape from?

      Eugene.

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    4. Pat FTW. That was worth a hearty chuckle.

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    5. We have a stapler bolted to the front table in the classroom. God help the instructor when it jams or runs out of staples.

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  2. I fought that fight for years, and no matter what I said, I kept getting homework with unstapled pages. (I think the reason is they copy the hw from someone 20 min before the class when it's due, and don't have a stapler on them.)

    Until this semester, when I announced on my syllabus "1/2 extra point per HW if it is turned in with the pages stapled". Worked like a charm! Haven't had a single one turned in unstapled yet. (The poor souls who do so little of the assignment that it fits on one page don't get the 1/2 point.)

    They'll do anything if you "pay" them. And they don't even realize this tiny reward will make no difference to their final HW grade.

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    1. See, I don't care about the staple, but MY GOD do I hate being asked if I have a stapler. So I just say to the first person who asks, "NO, and the next person who asks gets a D". They think I'm joking.

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  3. I wrote about this somewhere else on this blog, but my friend teaches engineering. We have been friends for years (since high school). She was out in industry, and used to kind of get....condescending, implying that I cared too much about stupid shit like staples and that people out in the world only needed to get the job done. I learned to not complain about my misery around her (so few people to complain around....that's why this blog ROCKS). When she had her fourth kid, I told her she really should think about applying for the engineering teaching job opening up at the Community College right near my house. The one five minutes away. The one I part timed at for years and had three second interviews at. The one that never hired me. I could never get that job, she said. I have no teaching experience. You could get it, I said. You have the right degrees, you are a chick (in a field dominated by MEN MEN MEN), and you are willing to accept the shitty pay after making tons more out in the workforce. She got the job. Within a few short semesters, she was PISSSED...about the staple thing. She ended up making it worth five points. Not extra credit points. Screw that. She was PISSED. (I let it go and did not remind her of her former attitude about "stupid shit.") No, she took five points off it they did not staple their work.

    End of story. They managed to staple it after they knew she really meant it.

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  4. I just made it part of every assignment. I say I will take off points, and I take off points. Either they learn or they don't. I will never bring a stapler to class.

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    1. I also will never bring a stapler to class. I don't really mind the origami thing they do. I don't know why. I kind of let the unstapled essays go. But there are so many things I DO mind that others don't that I don't feel guilty about letting that one go. I admit to not really caring about the whole stapler issue. I put their essays into a folder, and they stay there, neat and tidy, and somehow, in the way I do things, it makes no difference at all to me whether their work is stapled or not. I care about other stupid shit (that my engineering friend used to be condescending about) but not actually staples themselves. I know this is a big issue around here, so perhaps I should run for the hills now.....

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    2. I don't mind the staple part. What I do mind, is after I call for the assignment to be turned in, students jump up and run to the stapler. I will not accept a late assignment, so running to the stapler means that they are not prepared to turn it in, so it is considered late. That is lesson number one, in how to turn an assignment in on time.

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    3. Why exactly do you find that fair? Don't you think that missing the deadline by a few seconds when the paper is right there, just stapled or about to be stapled, could get some people really angry or make them disengage from their studies? If they learn to do things right, they may not even learn the lesson you want them to learn. They may just become jaded conformists who see assignments as a chore and do them rather efficiently until they "finally get education off their back" (graduate and stop learning).

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    4. Well, some of us include "learning and demonstrating professionalism" as part of our learning outcomes, which includes (among other things) behaviors such as courtesy, promptness, appropriate language, and yes, conformity to professional standards of submitted work.

      Whether they become jaded or not, they have to learn and demonstrate that conformity in my classes in order to meet the learning requirements. They are welcome to choose their own standards when they leave and good luck to them in the workforce.

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    5. Still, missing the deadline by the time it takes to have the document stapled immediately, and in the very same room, doesn't make sense. In the real world, if the boss is asking for a report, he won't just send it back if the employee took the time to staple it.

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    6. Maybe not, but s/he WILL remember the ill-preparedness and unprofessionalism when performance reviews (the equivalent of final grades?) come around. For certain MINE did.

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    7. @Monica: Speaking from the "real world," yes, your documents might get sent back (or simply thrown away) if they don't arrive exactly on time exactly in the format specified. Have you ever seen a request for proposal by a state or federal agency? They're not joking when they say they will not accept anything that is submitted after the deadline or that doesn't fulfill the directions to the letter. I would not have a job if I thought I could waltz into the state agency's office at the deadline and ask them for a stapler for the proposal I'm about to hand them. Not only would that be completely unprofessional, but the expectation is that your work is ready to be submitted when you submit it. Requiring students to read and follow directions and assigning point deductions for not doing so is absolutely fair, and it's absolutely relevant to the real world.

      Where is the line, anyway? If requiring a staple is stupid and nitpicky, why shouldn't students start protesting when we ask them to use a particular formatting or citation style? That's just so nitpicky, since we don't use MLA style in the "real world," right? What about when we ask them to write complete sentences in their academic writing? Or when we ask them to have a minimum number or sources or meet a minimum word count? These are all seemingly arbitrary requirements that don't have a "real world" parallel.

      We regularly ask our students to do work that they may not see as relevant, but that nonetheless is relevant. Requiring staples not only serves the practical purpose of ensuring that professors don't lose students' work (thus preventing a whole other set of time-consuming problems), but it also helps students practice the very useful and relevant skill of reading and following the fucking directions.

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    8. But those students who ran to the stapler in the very same room and stapled their papers or were just about to do so actually met the requirements. I don't see how what may have been a few seconds or a couple of minutes would make any difference. I realize that government agencies do reject bids received late by one or two minutes, maybe by a few seconds, but the existence of some particularly rigid set of rules somewhere else does not mean that everybody should live that way everywhere else. If submitting an assignment is as strictly regulated as those bids, one might as well implement prison rules in the classroom. There are prisoners on work release, thus deemed trustworthy, who nevertheless have to submit to a strip search every time they come back from work. It's a good thing that, even in this day and age, the world at large is not governed by the most stringent rules that exist somewhere.

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    9. @Monica: I don't think anyone here is saying that all professors should have such stringent stapling policies (there are a lot commenting here who don't care about staples, and I'd be among them if I were still teaching in a classroom). Your question was whether such a policy was fair, and you appealed to the "real world" to make your point. I replied that in the real world, yeah, there are examples of such a policy being enacted. What do prisoners on work release have to do with this?

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    10. It's just an example of a strict rule similar to the rule on rejecting bids if they are late by even one minute.

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    11. I think this highlights a difference between "hard" deadlines and "soft" deadlines. I need my students to learn to err on the side of caution and assume all deadlines are "hard" deadlines. This issue for me is I have hundreds of students that I have to treat fairly. If you accept a paper 2 minutes late, why not five minutes late? Why not hours late? I wish I could "be reasonable" about such deadlines but after 15 years of teaching what seems to work is actually having rules and enforcing them. Allowing students to be sloppy doesn't help them. Better to learn about staples and deadlines when the penalty is only a few points. It is called education after all

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    12. Then, the problem is that you have more students than you can handle. Education does not have to be based on an assembly line or cattle herding approach. No wonder so many students reject formal education.

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    13. What really bothers me is that Cindy would penalize students even though a stapler is available right there, in class, and students have just used it or are about to use it when their work is suddenly declared late. If that's how the professor is, it would be better not to have a stapler in the classroom in the first place (except, of course, whatever staplers may be brought in by some students). After all, no stapler was provided when I was a student and classroom allocation is not set in stone and the next classroom may not contain a stapler. What bothers me so much is how, with the stapler right there, the professor seems to snatch away the opportunity to submit the work, or to submit it with no late penalties. I wouldn't feel that way if there was no stapler in the first place, which is exactly the way it used to be when I was a student.

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    14. The rule encourages students to come to class prepared. Because stapler distribution in classrooms is inconsistent and unreliable, the logical thing for students to do is to staple their fucking papers before they arrive in class. This is really not that difficult.

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    15. Monica, stop being a freaking troll and staple your freaking papers.

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    16. I agree that they should not count on borrowed staplers. However, the way that particular professor is snatching away the opportunity to submit papers looks extremely unfair, dishonest even.

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    17. The point is not staples. The point is paying attention to detail, knowing what is asked of you, being responsible for doing what is asked of you before the last second, and being respectful of authority. These are all important in the real world. A staple might not matter in the real world, but attention to detail, responsibility to doing the job you are assigned the way you are asked to do it, and being respectful of your employers are all very important if you want to keep your job or advance at your job.

      Honestly, quit coddling to the kids. If they want to take their education and future seriously, then they will learn to staple the freaking paper as asked. We're not asking them to cut off a classmate's foot as a sign of loyalty, or cure cancer to show they can handle the subject matter of BIO101. We're not tricking them by not telling them beforehand that it needed to be stapled. We're not asking them to find a rare artifact or purchase an expensive product to get credit. There are staplers all over the place. If you can't find one, buy one with 100 staples for less than is wasted on a 6 pack of beer!

      And if they don't manage to come up with an elusive stapler, what is the penalty? Are the stoned? No (well, not in that sense). Do they receive zero credit for the paper's contents? No. The penalty is a relatively minor percentage of the grade. Or worse yet, having to actually fulfill the requirements of the assignment by being banished from the class for the tens of seconds it takes to find one of the dozens of elusive staplers hidden in plain sight around the building, only being allowed to return to class after suffering the ordeal of asking a person who is possibly a complete stranger the soul wrenching question, "May I borrow your stapler, please?"

      If they can't handle such a simple task as pressing a stapler down to seal the pages together prior to the class in which it is due (I mean, they only have weeks to figure this out. If confused, I'm sure there is a youtube demonstration of how to properly use a stapler), then they should do themselves a favor and drop out before they waste any more money not to learn (just don't tell the administration you suggested it). They are always welcome to come back when they are serious enough about their education that they would be willing to do a very simple task that is asked of them, or take the penalty as a learning experience (as we all mess up occasionally). Otherwise they are wasting not only my time, but their own time and money!

      Monica, what is more unfair? Telling students that an assignment will be considered late if they do not have it fully prepared at the beginning of the class at which it is due, and then A) Following through by counting it as late if they do not have it fully prepared, or B) not following through and letting them get a free pass.

      As a student who made the effort to do assignments properly, I can think of one time when I was very discouraged that my hard work studying for a test went out the window because a lot of people did not put in the work, did poorly, and the professor let everyone retake the test. How was that "fair" to the two of us who heard him say that it would be a difficult test, took notes about how the test would be laid out, including tips on what would be on the test, studied for hours, and made an "A" the first time?

      Not penalizing people when you say you will is not fair to them (they only learn they can get away with it), and it is not fair to the people who did the assignment properly.

      The End

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    18. @Monica, really, get over it. Cutting students slack doesn't do them any favors at all. In the real world, they won't always get slack cut for them.

      @Micah: my hard work studying for a test went out the window because a lot of people did not put in the work, did poorly, and the professor let everyone retake the test. How was that "fair" to the two of us who heard him say that it would be a difficult test, took notes about how the test would be laid out, including tips on what would be on the test, studied for hours, and made an "A" the first time?

      I resemble that remark. The reason I do it is that there's likely to be a ton of shit rolling down ("You made it too hard!" "You have to teach the students that you have!" meaning that professional standards are not to be adhered to if students won't or can't meet them) from admins and colleagues. But the students who did get their shit together are rewarded: they get a day off. The students who screwed up the exam the first time don't get full credit on the retake. And I don't curve, so your grade isn't affected by someone else's grade improving.

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  5. I got tired of "losing" pages in unstapled homework, so I began requiring report covers with tangs (or prongs or whatever you want to call them. At least I don't get the do you have a stapler question anymore.

    Unfortunately, the students that would ask for a stapler are the same ones that can't seem to get the report cover thing correct. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

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    1. I find that really funny because if not required otherwise, I used to staple my papers but place them in report covers anyway. If report covers were not allowed in a particular class, I was using them to protect the papers before I handed them in. I used to carry my stapler everywhere.

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  6. There was a great post some years ago on RYS about a student who ran into a prof, handed them an assignment which was a pile of unstapled pages, and moments later a gust of wind took that assignment and scattered it to the four corners; the student merely laughed and ran away. I always wondered how that story finally ended.

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    1. Easy. The student gets graded on whatever survived the wind gust.

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  7. It's easier to swat a camel's nose out of your tent than the whole camel. Which of your clearly stated expectations do you not really plan to enforce? Either clearly state that on your syllabus to save yourself the trouble of arguing, get rid of them to save yourself the trouble of arguing, or enforce them without the trouble of arguing. Works for me.

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  8. Ugh, the origami folding trick. Last time I saw a student doing that, she was actually licking at the corners to make sure everything stayed together. I was like, "STOP."

    As a sidenote, I have to say that business communication was the worst. I taught it years ago, as a working professional, well before electronic submissions became the norm. Even back then it was almost impossible to get students to follow formatting guidelines or proofread their stuff. I tried to apply a "business ethos" to the class by saying things like, "This unproofed resume would go immediately into the trash" or "handing in a memo this late would get you fired" (i.e. you've just failed this assignment), but to no avail. That kind of leverage did not work.

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  9. I try not to compare my younger self to students because I know that just a few of even the best will become chemistry professors, but Geez Louise, who cannot love the process of properly formatting a document? The aesthetic beauty of a well-written memo? Don't even get me started on resumes with the right amount of white space. I loved business writing. It was my favorite English class. Some kids liked the freedom of creative writing. I liked knowing that I could type something that was EXACTLY right.

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    1. This reminds me of how much I loved crafting my CV for grad school applications. I carefully adjusted font sizes, indentations, and spacing to create clearly defined sections with appropriate white space. I made sure the page breaks fell in sensible locations. I checked that the font was easily readable on a variety of computer screens and on paper.

      Then I looked at CVs from others in my program that are two pages of single spaced 12 pt Times New Roman and wondered if I'm the only one who really cares about these things.

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  10. STAPLE THIS IDIOT'S DICK TO THE FLOOR!

    AAAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And then KICK HIM IN THE FACE, HARD, and giggle with MALICE as he spins around the pivot!

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    1. @Frod: don't forget to switch to the Strelnikov persona when you're going to do over-the-top violence. Inconsistent use of personae makes us look unprofessional.

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    2. It's funny, but the older I get, the more undergraduates look like that retarded kid in the graphic.

      @Cassandra: I'm Yaro, remember?

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    3. Wait, I thought we arm wrestled and I got to be Yaro. Dammit. I was enjoying my retirement in the Beehive State with Mrs. Yaro. I guess I have to go back to being Hiram and Archie and Ben.

      Those guys, they don't have the Mrs. Yaro!

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  11. I finally started enforcing the electronic version of the staple: a standardized file name.

    CMers will correctly anticipate that nothing has changed. Despite instructions at multiple points about how to correctly name the file, students whose papers were not accepted had their obligatory freak outs.

    (Actually, a sizable minority haven't noticed that said incorrectly named submissions have not been graded. Guess I have to wait until final grades before they have nuclear freak outs.)

    And I am still waiting for the aftermath of the student who complained that refusing to accept the improperly named submission was tantamount to abuse because I should have known about the massively stressful challenges life is throwing at the student. At present, said stressed student has stopped submitting work -- in protest, I guess.

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  12. Oh, god! All the garbage I received electronically before I put BOTH feet down and insisted on it MY way:

    -30 emailed files, all named "Homework1.doc" (three of them without the idiot flake's NAME on it ANYWHERE);

    -Margins ranging from 1/4 inch to 2 1/2 inches;

    -Font sizes ranging from 8 point to 20 point. Sometimes in the same document;

    -Ditto for font types (I will, if possible, destroy all genetic traces of the next person who sends me a report using MISTRAL font). Again, sometimes six or seven fonts in the same doc;

    -Ditto for font styles: mixed italic, shadow, underline, embossed;

    -Ditto for font COLOR - mixed black, blue, red, green, purple, and once: YELLOW; and

    -Once I even got a doc with BLINKING text.

    I gave up: I now give them a template with the margins, font, size, & style I prefer to read. They still screw it up, but less so. And I only accept electronic submission via Blackboard, which, in spite of its many irritating features, DOES manage to keep the work with the name.

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    1. A few years back, I taught one section per semester online and required file names in the form "lastnamefirstnameassn#.doc". I even gave students two examples of a proper file name: "doejohnassn2.doc" and "patfrompeoriaassn1.doc".

      Anyone care to guess how many students each term used the examples instead of their proper file names?

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    2. Oooh, oooh, I know! the same number that filled in my template block labelled -student name- with "student name."

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    3. I make similar requests, and get similar results, and, yes, am basically just relying on Bb's download naming system at this point. I do tell them that, in the real world, documents named things like "cv" or even "prestigiousinternshipcv" aren't going to work as well on the recipient's hard drive as on their own (it's an audience problem), and I think a few of them actually listen/absorb, but most don't. At least maybe I helped out a future employer (or non-employer, as the case may be) a bit.

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    4. Did you check for plagiarism in the documents with varying fonts? Nothing screams "copy and paste" quite as loudly as random font changes.

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    5. In one case it WAS plagiarism; in several others it was horribly misplaced attempts at 'creativity.'

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  13. Pat & HMP: I do not accept emailed submissions, ever. Files have to come from the LMS, which helpfully puts up their picture next to whatever file they submitted, and I just put their names in when I download the file to my machine.

    If I ever opt for paper (which has become quite rare indeed), students tend to use those flimsy plastic sleeves rather than staples. Not book-like report covers, just 6-10 pages stuffed into a sleeve that I then have to remove in order to read. This irritated the hell out of me at first, but I have gotten so used to the practice that I've become addicted to the damn things myself. And on occasion, students will ask me if I have one they can use. I don't carry extras, but they usually manage to bum one off of a classmate or the department secretary, who has a stash of them somewhere that she doesn't mind sharing.

    The only time I carry my stapler with me is when I give multi-page exams, because our tea-partying office copier does not have the capacity to staple them for me. Lucky for me, that about sums up my stapler angst.

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  14. I don't accept emailed submission either, NOWADAYS. All of the above just represents the various kinks in my learning curve. (It was a really steep curve and I almost skidded off several times!)

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  15. You need to be more of a dick about it. Announce that submissions without a staple will go in the trash without being looked at, and then when everything is handed in do just that...right in front of the class. They'll get the hint.

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  16. These comments made me laugh so hard I pissed my pants and shed tears. I feel rejuvenated. Thank you all.

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  17. After grading their paper, fold it accordion style and staple it in the middle.

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