Tuesday, April 19, 2016

They Weep

Me: So, you've said that "Many wizards do a lot of magic because magic doesn't exist." What do you mean by that? If magic doesn't exist, how can magic work?

Student: Uhhh.

Me: [long pause] So, you're saying that magic work because magic doesn't work. Maybe that's like a really cool thing you're laying out, about how people think it works, so it does?

Student: Uhhh.

Me: [long pause]: Do you think magic works?

Student: Uhhh.

Me: 'cause if you do, that's cool. Wiccans all think magic works, and lots of religions get behind magic, so if you think it does, we can talk about why people might think so . . . even if. . . you know . . . maybe other people might not . . .

Student: Uhhh.

Me: I'm just saying, don't be afraid of what you think is true. People might argue with it, but you know . . .

Student: Uggghhh.

Me: Okay. You're upset. I can see that. You're . . . okay. Overwhelmed with things. Me too. It's a thing that happens at this point of this semester. I'm -- yeah.

Student: [openly weeping, long string of snot hanging from nostril]

Me: Seriously. If you think magic is real, I won't judge you. I've seen weird thing, and I know --

Student: [sobbing openly]

Me: I . . . You need a thesis that is clear, and doesn't, I mean, unless you, uh, you know . . . like, you can't really contradict yourself in your thesis unless you . . .

Student: [wiping nose on sleeve]

Me: I -- uh. This . . . paper . . . I . . . like the way you point out that people need belief to feel . . . uh . . . connected [none of that is in the paper] to a community.

Student: Okay.

Me: Any other questions?

Student: no. [exit]

Me: holy shit, I have been doing this for nearly twenty years, and I am a goddamned failure. I don't even know what just happened, other than that a nineteen year old snotted some tears at me and I was moved, because watching people suffer sucks. I should be a fucking sadist, rather than a raging masochist, and maybe this job wouldn't suck as much as it sometimes, with no warning at all, does. And, for the record, I'm no materialist or atheist, and I think magic isn't beyond the limits of possibly, so why all the tears? I was sympathetic, goddamn it. If she'd said she was a witch, i'd have not blinked. And yet, a flood of tears.

Oh. Did she use her tears to influence me? Was that the idea? Oh.

Yeah. I suck at this. I should quit my job. Well, wait, no, fuck that sociopathic bitch, trying to influence me with her tears, and . . . yeah, but . . . what if she was really upset, because I was questioning her rather unconventional beliefs but also not entirely that bizarre, 'cause really, I don't know, we don't . . . know . . . that much about the world. I mean, I'm a rationalist, but also I know we have limits to our knowledge, and maybe. . . Jesus, she seemed so upset. . . I don't . . .

I should quit my job. But what else could I do? Not this. That's for sure. Who the hell makes perfectly innocent people cry? She's probably broken fewer laws than I have. I once, long ago, hired a reentry!!! She probably never did anything that sleazy. But . . . she's not thinking. She wrote gibberish, and then cried to get it past me. But . . . I don't . . . fuck.

I never used to hate my job.


  1. It's a rare semester when I don't have a student cry in my office (I have 3 boxes of tissues in there just for that purpose). But I've learned over the years that it's usually not me. They've been up for 3 days or their boyfriend just dumped them or they got a D on a test in another class and just hit last straw at my door. So I don't take it personally, but if they can't pull it together after a tear or too, I do offer to meet at another time and try again.

  2. Tears happen. Students often get stressed out and faculty who they deem approachable often bear the brunt of it. I go through a lot of tissue, like Dr. Amelia does. You're not a failure. You're just human. Take Amelia's advice and suggest they come back tomorrow to talk. That'll be enough time to get their stuff together.

  3. The student might be certifiably nuts (sorry to throw around technical jargon) and the student might not know what they hell she's saying. Maybe the former influences the latter. You can encourage the student to get some counseling. In the end, this is the student's problem, not yours.

  4. Magic does exist, we just call it electricity.

  5. You just reminded me that I need to restock my tissues, for crying season is upon us.

    What if Weepy Wendy wasn't upset that you were questioning her beliefs, but instead because she is an "A student" and you were the first to say her precious baby is ugly?

    You haven't graded the paper yet, have you? Refutation or confirmation of my previous hypotheses may arrive when she reads your comments.

  6. Perhaps, for the first time ever, the student realized s/he is a moron?

    1. The thing about morons is, they don't always have the smarts necessary to come to a realization like that.

    2. Why does this make me think of our leathery-faced and/or vehicled president here?

      In other news, we're rebranding ourselves from Batshit U to SNAF U.

    3. In which EC1 and I banter about:


      Leather Upholstery

      Those were good times.

  7. Sometimes it's hard to tell what just happened, other than that you did your best, and, as others have pointed out, there's almost certainly other stuff going on in the student's life. But that doesn't make this sort of encounter any less emotionally exhausting (and such encounters are, indeed, more common at the time of year when we, too, are pretty much wrung dry).

    I seem to get more anger/frustration than tears from my students, but it probably adds up to the same thing, and I try to remember that, and be the (more mature) adult in the room, but that doesn't always solve things, or even make me sleep better.

    Hope you got a chance to dive at least briefly into the escape of your choice, whether that's located in the great outdoors, or at home, or out on the town, or in a bottle. Sometimes when this stuff begins to get to us, it's a sign that we need a break, and will be better teachers for taking one.

  8. In searching for other comments and posts on a different subject, I ran across this:

    What do you do when they cry?

    It seemed apropos.

  9. Here's apropos fer ya:


    1. HAH! I wonder if that would work on students.

      Oh, you need a tissue? Here's a paper towel. HTFU!

      Oh, you couldn't see the video I assigned on the LMS because the link wasn't "clickable" and copy/pasting it into the address bar was "tooo haaaaarrrrd"? HTFU!

  10. She's probably broken fewer laws than I have. I once, long ago, hired a reentry!!!

    Color me intrigued. I've heard the term "reentry" used in contexts of freed prisoners reentering society, and aliens reentering a country after being deported or removed from it (see 8 U.S.C. 1326). It would seem hiring one of the the former is legal in many or most cases, but hiring one of the latter may not be if the reentry was itself illegal (making the reentrant's presence in the country illegal). In fact, NOT hiring an otherwise qualified person on the sole basis of a prior conviction can put you in arrears with the EEOC, unless certain exclusions apply.

    (Not a lawyer.)


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