Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yeah, my grandmother died over the weekend too.

I had TWO dead grandmothers this weekend.  It's a shame to off your grandmother on such a trivial assignment.  You'll blow off much more weighty assignments later; you should have saved her for one of those. 

Meanwhile, I've sat on these crappy lab reports for two weeks now.  I haven't graded them because they're such shit.  I can handle a class average at the D/F border - but this stack contains nothing of merit.  It's all crap.  I never thought about how many points to deduct on which questions for these because they're supposed to be the easy no-brainer first labs of the term.  I'm supposed to get to flip through them and throw a couple of -2s here and there for units and hand back a bunch of As and Bs and give a few morons Cs.  These are like negative number scores.  I've taught these labs before.  I've never needed an actual scoring plan before.  What the fuck?

So can I kill my grandmother too this afternoon?  I'd rather hand them back tomorrow in the actual lab while they're face deep in the hood and high on ether fumes from the morning's organic lab.

Bonus question:  How many labs could I have graded in the time it took to photoshop a bonnet on a dead wombat?


  1. And here I thought she was just sunbathing. But I was wondering what that thing on her head was (or what her head was resting in/on). I guess context -- both the post and the telegraph pole and yellow line in the background of the photo -- should have provided a clue. RIP grandma wombat.

    If they're all really bad, maybe some sort of group approach/remedial exercise -- reading them through with an eye toward the major mistakes they're all making, and figuring out a replacement exercise that would help them start dealing with some of those -- rather than individual grading is called for? I know they'll want to know, individually, why they failed, but, if learning is the goal, that might not be the best use of your, or their, time. It might also help to think of them as not having earned enough points to pass, rather than having lost so many that they failed (and if there are a few partly-decent ones, writing +whatever here and there might be quicker than writing -whatever virtually everywhere).

  2. P.S. I've actually got a student dealing with a real dead-relative situation at the moment: her sister was stabbed to death by the sister's estranged husband, leaving behind 4 young children, and the student is caring for the children while her parents deal with funeral/legal/custody arrangements. I didn't ask for confirmation, but, as she mentioned in passing (and with some horror), it's all over the local news (and the last name matches). But the student has emailed twice not just to apprise me of the situation, but to suggest a specific timetable for catching up with work that she has missed, and she was on top of things before this happened. She may still have trouble finishing the semester, but it won't be because she didn't do her best to be responsible; it's just a horrible situation.

  3. There I was naively thinking, "Oh, how cute, the bear is taking a nap with his head in his food dish." Then it turns out to be a poor dead wombat - dissappointed!

    Nothing to say about the lame excuses except these students make it absolutely impossible for tiny percentage of hardworking students who do occassionally lose a grandmother or get a stomach virus or have a legal and entirely legitimate reason to miss class. No student who is truly sick likes to sit at her desk with a bucket ready for involuntary spewing, but that's what it's come down to - there are so many liars than the handful of honest students don't even bother trying to get out of class no matter how grief-stricken or delirious with fever they might be.

    A few months back, someone posted about their grief-stricken foreign student from an Asian country who soldiered on through class despite the fact that her mother had just died. Poor kid.

  4. In my experience, the more dire the crisis, the more firm the student's resolve to get back to "normal" life. I've seen a student write a final in the morning and begin chemo in the afternoon. One student missed two classes -- and apologized profusely -- on the days of her mother's death and funeral. I had a student turn up to write a midterm hours after his father died (I sent him home). A colleague had a student whose father murdered his mother -- and the student refused any accommodations.

    In fact, I cite all of the above to my students who want to know what my policies are for late/missed assignments.

  5. Sorry, dead bonneted wombat grandma. I thought you were a drunk groundhog!

    Does anyone else feel utterly awkward to have to request proof of death? I have in my syllabus that I require a program from the funeral or a death certificate, but feel terrible about asking for it when students email me with their news of a family death.

    I had a case last year where a student's next-door neighbor had died and was "like a grandma to me" during finals week. She actually DID bring a funeral program, but then I was stuck wondering if I could excuse her for a non-relative death.

  6. @Lucy: I'd say the same, and I'd say that those of us who have been through a crisis or two ourselves recognize the combination of shock and longing for normality that can leave the recently bereaved/diagnosed/otherwise emotionally fragile going on auto-pilot, and sometimes mistaking obligations that are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively insignificant for major ones. It's definitely one pretty common form for grief/shock to take. Maybe there are other forms, and maybe some of them account for the rather breezy "somebody died and so it's okay for me to blow everything off and maybe even not be in touch until weeks later" approach that some of my students take, but shock is the one I recognize pretty quickly, even between the lines of an email, and believe immediately, without need for further documentation. I also very much doubt that it can be faked, especially by a 20-something with little experience of loss.

    @Cynic: I'm inclined to take students at their word about the importance to them of someone who died. The more complicated or tenuous the student's support network, the more he/she needs people not to ask skeptical questions when part of it disappears. If the next generation starts pulling random obits off the internet and claiming a relationship, I may have to rethink that philosophy. But a paper funeral program is still pretty good proof (but not always available -- my own grandparents were old enough to have few or no friends who could come to a formal service, so we just had a graveside one, with a very few people who had a religious tradition in common, and so knew the few responses necessary by heart. I imagine there are also religious traditions that eschew the sort of formal funeral/memorial gathering that Americans, even secular ones, consider the norm). For the most part I don't ask for proof, just express sympathy and move on to a discussion of making up missed work (an easier approach for those of us who use papers as the primary means of assessment, and one that is generally welcome to the bereaved longing for a bit of normality, and squelching to those hoping to create or prolong drama).

  7. Dear Professor Rdbike2229,
    My girlfriend's cousin took his own life Sunday night. They're trying to produce some bran avtivity right now, but it's not looking great.

    I'm very certain this my last class i can miss. I was hoping you may be able to give me contact info for Jeff who's in the same Basketweaving II class as me, we also took Basketweaving I togther. Im just wanting to get caught up on notes and check my workbook answers from chapter 4 review.

    Thanks for your time.


  8. A student's dad dies, he asks for and gets a makeup midterm, he writes it, there's an answer key to instantly tell him what he got, he nails it, best mark in the class (and this is a big class, 200+ students), and he's told he got 98% on it. He's looking at the floor, not saying anything, then looks up and says "You know, when I'd find out how I did in my courses I'd immediately go home and tell my dad how well I did." He briefly stands there doing nothing, looking off into space, I'm guessing because right now he's thinking how he shouldn't bother going home right away because dad's no longer there. He turns around and walks out. It takes a long time before I'm able to form words.

    I'm thinking about moments like these when I get really pissed off at students with bogus Dead Grandmother Syndrome.

  9. @PP: I do ask for paperwork for deaths, illness, prison, court, etc. I do realize that not everyone goes to the doctor for things that may legitimately keep them out of class. I use the "at the discretion" phrase to allow myself to decide when to be understanding about things, and when to hold a tough line. I err on the side of understanding, but am not a pushover.

    It is hard, dealing with all these assholes, and I know they make it hard for the handful of wonderful students as well.


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