Monday, April 4, 2011

Lorenz from Los Alamos Tells the Tale of Timesuck Tammy.

Tammy the timesuck had gotten me again.

All semester long I'd spent a good portion of each class working with her instead of other students. She always had a question; it was always something everyone already knew.

"I just wanted to confirm," she'd always start.

So of course today I was not surprised to see Tammy standing by my desk at the front of class at 1 pm when class starts.

"I want to ask you about this essay," she said, holding up the essays I returned in the previous class meeting.

"Of course, Tammy, let's talk after class," I said, gesturing to the full room of other students.

"But you said I could ask questions before class any time," she said.

"Yes, and you can, during the hour of office hours I have before class every day."

"Well, I have to have time to eat my lunch."

"Okay, Tammy, but like I said, I'll talk to you after class then."

She harumphed and went and sat down.

Class was uneventful, but true to her word she reached me as soon as class was done and threw her essay on the table in front of me. It was a B. It wasn't horrible, but there were some major parts of the assignment she had avoided, namely providing evidence or support for any of her claims.

I reiterated what I'd written and asked her if she understood.

"That I got a B? I understand that."

"No, I'm not talking about the grade at all. I'm talking about the value of the essay, the worth, whether it does what the assignment requires. You haven't provided evidence or examples. You can make claims okay, but you never support them."

"But I got a B," she said, unblinking in her focus.

"Yeah, that's what it's worth like this, with no examples."

She opened her bookbag and pulled out a mess of papers. "This is one of my other drafts. I think I used lots of examples here. Could you look at it?"

"Sure," I said, thinking about the other classes I had that day, the other grading that would have to take a back seat.

I took her messy stack of papers back to my office and during the day I worked through it. It wasn't at all like she had promised. There were no examples or evidence. It was a slightly different version of the B paper she had turned in.

But during the day I identified 5 places in the essay where specific evidence was needed, and using the finished draft and the messy draft as guides, I showed her where she could revise the paper, and, indeed, the kind of evidence that a reader would need.

I spent about an hour on the project and took the batch of papers and notes to our next class.

She wasn't there. I taught, went back to my office, and there I found an email from the registrar. Tammy had dropped.


  1. You get an email when a student drops? Luxury!

  2. The solution to this one is never, never to review anything that it doesn't say in the syllabus that you will review. If they are to turn in a rough draft, they get one rough draft. If they don't get a draft (common enough for lab reports), they'd damn well better read, mark and inwardly digest the fucking rubric.

    When students bring such things to me, I look over them for 5 minutes max, then point out any obvious problems. 10 minutes invested, and the student feels better.

  3. This is why I will review absolutely anything a student asks me to review, but only in my office hours and only with them sitting there. On my own time, I will never look at anything but assignments that are to be graded.

    When students want to know why, I smile gently and tell them the truth: that it's much easier to pose and answer questions about their writing in a conference, and that they will learn more by talking to me about their work.

    I leave out the fact that I don't want to look at their shitty writing any more than I have to, and that if they can't spare me a portion of their important "sandwich time" I certainly can't spare any of my "Fringe" time to help them further.

  4. I've had tons of Tammy. Mine usually cornered me in the hallway, backed me up against a wall, and shouted at me that they don't get Cs.

    After carefully and calmly explaining, point-by-rubric-point, what they missed or did wrong, they usually then began ranting about what a bad teacher I was.

    Did I mention this usually happened on the same hallway as the chair's office? And no one ever came to investigate the yelling?

    I wasn't trained as a crisis counselor, but I sure as hell wasn't going to get gunned down because Nutty Nathan couldn't handle constructive criticism (most of this happened after Virginia Tech).

  5. I've had a few Tammys. Some of them dropped; some of them I just *wished* would drop. Either way, the semester eventually ended.

    And I, too, would love to get an email from the registrar, or any sort of sign, when a student drops. I spend more time than I want to think about comparing rosters to each other, trying to figure out who, exactly, has added and/or dropped. It's not so bad for face to face classes, where attendance patterns provide some clues, but it's a real pain with online ones. I don't know who, if anyone, our online registration software was designed to serve, but it's not the professor. Even importing a class roster into a spreadsheet or Word document is a time-consuming process. Even Blackboard can be set to email me any time a student submits a paper (not a feature I enable); why can't our registration software give me a few add/drop notification choices?

  6. Dude, didn't we warn you??

    I will not allow students to email me drafts to "look over". They have to meet with me during office hours (or at some other mutually agreed-upon time that I'm on campus anyway) with the draft in hand, and they have to have specific areas they'd like me to help them with.

    Otherwise, no frakkin' way I'm doing it on what little "free" time I have.

    Set boundaries, and stick to them, or this kind of shit is going to keep happening, because there are Tammys EVERYWHERE.


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