Saturday, September 17, 2016

8 Years Ago Today.

Car Wreck Pedagogy.

Two days ago I got a panicked call from the husband of one of my colleagues. My colleague had been side-swiped by another car on her way home from school. The car was nearly totaled, but luckily my colleague only suffered minor injuries, bruised ribs, and a strained shoulder. But she needed me to cover her classes the next day.

I went to her classroom, saw the usual muddle of drooling and blank freshmen and went to the front.

"Are you a sub?" one guy shouted out.

"Yeah, are you like a part-timer? We don't have to listen to part-timers." Then he laughed.

"Your teacher, Dr. CarWreckLady, had a bad accident yesterday," I started.

"Yeah!" two kids in the back shouted, and then - unthinkably - did a high five.

"She got hurt in the accident," I said, just absolutely stunned at the now-smiling faces. "She won't be here today."

One girl up front said, "Is she okay?" but most of the rest were packing their books up and getting ready to leave.

"Yes, she'll be fine in a few days, but - WHERE ARE YOU GOING?"

One student with his backpack already on said, "Well if she's not here, why do we have to be here?"

"Yeah," another one said. "I got up early for class, and if she's not coming to class why should I?"

I rubbed my eyes as if I were sleeping and having some sort of nightmare.

"Sit down," I said, in what I'd call my "outside" voice. They were starting to get it, I think.

Once they had quieted down I started my colleague's lesson, and over the course of the hour they looked a bit more sheepish - at least I hope.

At the end of class I said, "I may be here on Thursday, too, and I'll be taking attendance and doing Dr. CarWreckLady's normal schedule."

They slowly left class, and more than a few stopped by my desk to tell me they were sorry and that they hoped their prof was going to feel better soon.

"Could I send her an email, you think?" one student said.

"Yes," I said. "That'd be nice."


  1. I have slowly come to realize that the best way to avoid witnessing their disappointing reactions to certain information is to just not give them that information.

    "Are you a sub? Like, a part-timer?"

    "I am Dr. Carwreck's colleague. So that your education can continue unimpeded, I'm covering this class today, as Dr. Carwreck can't be here. You are responsible for all material we cover today, same as if Dr. Carwreck were here."

  2. Sigh, I'm jealous some of her students recognized that you aren't her.

  3. Oy. Another sign that students often don't understand the difference in high school and college culture. At least in my experience, at the college level, it's not at all unlikely that the short-notice sub will be the department chair or program or class coordinator (in other words, someone of equal or higher rank than the missing proffie, who stepped in hirself when contacted by the missing proffie). Other possibilities include a colleague with whom the professor is friendly (likely of equal rank) or an extremely-senior member of the department who has been coordinator, director, chair (and perhaps dean) and is now simply a good departmental citizen willing to pitch in on short notice.

    Also, the "we don't have to listen to part-timers" comment is really, really scary. I fear that students (and parents) are, to some extent, getting the word about the proliferation of adjuncts in higher ed, but they're not taking away exactly the message that many of us would like.

    1. Right - but that's why I'm a bit surprised by the "I took attendance" part. Isn't that a high school thing? It's got to be time consuming, unless you know them all by name, in which case you don't really need to do it to know a student has been missing a lot.

      Isn't the whole idea that you simply demand they perform (exams, homework, papers, whatever) at the required level, and if they skip the lectures, then they simply won't know enough to do it? Or do I misunderstand college?

    2. Taking attendance is pretty much required. Universities need to track their students' attendance due to federal student loan rules; th' gummint wants to make sure people aren't defrauding the system by enrolling in classes but never actually attending.

      At my university, for example, if we file a grade of F for non-completion of the course, we have to report the last date that the student attended class.

  4. There is a sense in which they are adults and responsible for their own inanities so you should just let them go.

    But I know I wouldn't have just watched them leave, either. For Dr CarWreckLady's sake, because she'd then have to try to make up the lost time latter; no doubt while still hurting. And because a significant fraction of them are only adults de jure, and still need someone to tell them what the grown-up response to such a situation is.

    1. ". . . still need someone to tell them what the grown-up response to such a situation is."

      Perfect formulation, PP. And the pinch-hitting prof did exactly that. And got at least some of them to feel deservedly ashamed of themselves, too.

  5. I'm still wondering if, having told the others to stay, I would have told the high-fivers to just leave.

    I understand that we all may experience schadenfreude, but it's usually accompanied by a sense that the person was due for a karmic bitch-slap. To publicly celebrate another's undeserved misfortune, seemingly because of misplaced belief that it would benefit one's self, seems to reflect lack of empathy severe enough to reflect underlying pathology, particularly given the close association between the parties involved.

  6. Some people outside the profession have no clue this is the attitude many of us face daily.

    And a reminder: THIS IS FROM 8 YEARS AGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. I have seen nothing in my current students to indicate that this event would be less likely today.