Monday, October 7, 2013

I'm turning into Hiram: On Bafflement and Baffledom...

OK, I'll admit it: I'm flat out baffled. This Fall I'm teaching two sections of remedial literacy for hamsters. I've taught these classes before; they're not usually a surprise to me. And yet... this year... something is different about some of the students. Some of the student behavior is so completely baffling that I don't even know how to respond to them.

Questioning Quinton: instead of posting assignments on our LMS where they should go, QQ likes to uploads odd unrelated stuff  in that slot instead. Instead of the reaction piece to an article he was supposed to have read and turned in last Tuesday (for which he earned an F because he didn't do it), today he uploaded a link to a Wikipedia document about the Mexican Revolution (we aren't studying the Mexican Revolution). In the spot where he was supposed to upload a summary, he's posted a lovely poem he wrote in the 9th grade (it says so at the top of the page). He doesn't seem to require any response, so aside from letting him know that he needs to do the work when it is due, I have ignored his posts. It's like he thinks the LMS is his personal facebook/twitter/tumblr/whatever account.

Genuflecting Janet: she's sweet, oh, so sweet. And very polite. But I have no idea what's going to emerge from her mouth at any given time, aside from an apology. Before and after each question, she apologizes and then proceeds to ask something completely out of the ballpark: "I'm so sorry, Professor Cynic. I know you're busy and you just finished explaining that point, but, I'm so sorry! Um... do you think it would be OK if I parked on the street next time instead of in the parking lot? I'm sorry." So far, of the things I can remember, she has asked about parking, about how to identify poison oak, and about what part of the brain stores dreams, about Harry Potter's wardrobe (i.e. what is the robe called?), about golf clubs (where to buy), and about Of those questions, I could answer two. But I didn't, because none of the questions had to do with class discussion.

Iraq-serving Ira: Yes, we know you served three terms in Iraq for our country. We are grateful for your service to our country. No, you cannot get an A on the assignment you didn't do because you served three terms in Iraq. Yes, I'm sympathetic to your needs as a veteran. No, you cannot get an A on the assignment you didn't do because you served three terms in Iraq. No, I'm not unpatriotic. Yes, I will be happy to meet with you after class. No, not if you want to discuss if you can get an A on the assignment you didn't do because you served three terms in Iraq.

F is for Franny: Franny has turned in no out-of-class assignments. And yet Franny sends me emails  asking for information on how to do assignments that I think are pretty self explanatory. She makes appointments to see me during office hours to talk about why she's earning an F (because she hasn't turned anything in) and then never shows up. And then she sends me more emails asking for explanations on assignments she doesn't do. For each daily assignment, she has emailed me 3-4 times asking things like "Do you want our headers on the left or the right?" and "Should I double space?" And yet she has yet to turn in a single assignment. When I've asked her in class about this behavior, she shrugs and says, "I will get on it," and then requests to come see me during office hours and never shows up. It's a sad, confusing cycle.

When describing these students to my Significant Other, what little sympathy I got was in the form of: "You know you're teaching Peter Griffins this year. Good luck with that."

And so the bafflement continues...


  1. I've had Franny before, quite a few times.

    It seems to be some sort of academic law that students who ask the largest number of procedural questions about how to do the work properly are the most likely not to do it at all. On the whole, students like this are fine, because their disinclination to do the actual work results in less grading for me to do.

    Regarding Ira:

    I live and teach in a region with a large military presence, and I have at least a few ex-military students in each of my classes. I've never had one that tried to play on his or her service in an attempt to game the system. In fact, I think that my life as a teacher would actually be considerably easier if all of my students were from the military.

    In my experience, students who come from a military background are almost invariably polite and respectful, they don't chatter or text in class, they do the reading, most of them participate well in class discussions, and they put in considerable effort on their written work. Not all of them are A students, of course, but most of them make an effort to get the best grade they are capable of, and it's generally been a pleasure having them in my classes.

    And I say all of this as someone who gets annoyed with the excessive deference accorded to the military in American society, and who wasn't really looking forward to teaching military students when I took on my current position.

    1. I know! We don't have a huge military contingent on campus, but of the few I have had in classes, this is the FIRST I've ever had demanding preferential treatment in this way. It completely baffles me because he SO doesn't fit any of the previous models I've encountered. I've noticed that they either do the work and finish it, because they have the discipline to do so, or completely tank because of factors to do with emotional health and well being.

    2. Oh, I have military students who don't do their work, but I've never had any who think that military service exempts them. I have plenty who think the work is stupid and that in a just world they wouldn't have to do it, but veterans know they don't live in a just world and they are used to putting up with requirements that make no sense.

      I had one who thought my standards utterly unreasonably and would continually write me upbraiding emails. I am very good friends with his (then) brigade commander, so I said, why don't you and I and the Colonel meet, we'll review your work (and your absences, and your failure to turn things in) and if he agrees my standards are unreasonable I will change them.

      Student came back the next day with his drop card.

  2. I've definitely had Fannies, and quasi-Janets (questions have something to do with the class, or at least academic matters, but are seriously off the topic currently at hand). Quinton sounds like he might be experiencing the onset (or continuation) of serious mental illness; I'd be inclined to put his name into the "student in trouble" reporting system if you have an at least semi-functional one.

    My experience of veterans is similar to yours, Cynic: they're either extremely organized, hard-working, and responsible (not necessarily A students, but good students), or they're struggling with PTSD and/or related issues (usually substance abuse), and sinking academically as a result, but still taking responsibility (perhaps a bit too much in some cases) for screwing up. However, given the tremendous need for soldiers in the last decade+, I'm not surprised to hear that the psychological screening missed a narcissist or two, and that the military made the best use they could of the resulting recruit. On the other hand, it's possible that Ira might be in great psychological trouble than he's letting on, and unwilling to admit it (perhaps even to himself); I'd be inclined to send his name to whatever veteran support service you have available (yeah, I know, I'm being a softy this morning. Mind you, I'd still flunk both Ira and Quinton. My guess is that both need to take a semester or so off to get some help.)

    1. We don't have an office of veteran support, but I will send his name to our Counseling Center. I am concerned about his overall attitude (the narcissism scares me).


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