Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Definition of a Snowflake

from our Glossary:

1. Overly entitled student. Over-inflated sense of self-esteem and self-worth comes from being told that they are precious and unique, just like each snowflake.


Every now and again someone from outside my profession hears me refer to students as snowflakes and asks what I mean. "What do you mean?" they ask, being unfamiliar with the kinds of behaviours and attitudes that you and I, dear reader, experience on a daily basis. And I try to explain, often using (as I recommend to my snowflakes), examples to illustrate my thesis. Sometimes people get it, especially if they have jobs which put them in supervisory positions over gradflakes. But sometimes they just think it is me being an old crank, and hating my job, and not understanding the current generation, or whatever.

Today I had a student who absolutely crystalized the definition of snowflake behaviour, and I will be using him as an example in the future. It happened in this wise:

Today was the final of Writing Like a Hamster 101, and students had the traditional 2 hours to produce some artefacts of Hamsterology by writing with their little paws in the fabled blue books. Things were uneventful until the last 5 minutes of the exam time, at which point there were a handful of students reading over their papers, and half a dozen still scribbling feverishly.

Suddenly into the silence there was a terrifically loud banging, as if someone had body-slammed into the wall. Startled pens were dropped, and I took a turn around the room to investigate. Turns out, the slamming had been caused by a student knocking violently on the closed but unlocked classroom door. Said student, let's call him Flake Snow, was in my class, but had not turned up for the start of the final.

Dude was not bleeding, and all his limbs appeared to be attached, so there was no visible reason for the disturbance. "WAIT HERE UNTIL IT IS OVER," I hissed. I went back into the room, sat out the last 5 minutes, and collected the papers. The other students left. I invited Flake to come in and explain himself.

So, it turns out, he had misread the exam schedule, and thought the exam started later in the afternoon. Okay, dude, whatever, stupid shit happens. The thing that made this such a seminal snowflake moment was his choice of actions.

Having made an error that was entirely the result of inattention or sloppiness (the schedule is perfectly clear), he then interrupted a room full of people who were stressed and trying to concentrate. HIS problem was so important he couldn't wait even 5 minutes to have it addressed. Those other people obviously didn't exist for him, and nor did the concept of taking responsibility for his action.

When I said, "I don't see how this problem of your own creation justified interrupting everyone else's exam," it was like I was speaking an entirely foreign language. Other people don't matter, and he wanted attention right then. 5 minutes be damned. Opening the door and coming into the room quietly be damned as well.

The thing is, it wasn't even that big of an emergency, and he knew it, since the first thing out of his mouth was not an apology, but a demand for a new time to sit the exam.


  1. I am grooving on the idea of "crystallizing the definition of a snowflake."

    I had 10 out of 75 students not get that no late papers meant no late papers. I had put it on the prompt, said it in class several times, etc. They came in with their papers, and I said no late papers. It was indeed as if I were speaking in not just a foreign tongue, but another galaxy's.

    1. By not accepting those late papers, you may have given those 10 students a wake-up call that may be the best favor anyone has done them in their entire academic careers.

  2. I had a student stop writing in the middle of an essay exam because his pen ran out. He didn't tell me until class was over.

    You know, like how we get in the car and drive, and when we run out of gas, look around and say, "Well, I guess I live here now."

    1. Ayup. Ain't no problem so small you can refuse to look for a solution.

  3. I'd give some slack. Presuming it's a freshman we're talking about, he/she not really old enough to understand that the universe doesn't revolve around him/her. They also do dumb shit when under pressure.

    1. Eighteen isn't old enough to understand this? Really? That attitude explains a lot about why the problem is rampant.

      Children start learning - excuse me, children are supposed to start learning - that the universe doesn't revolve around them when their parents and teachers say things like:

      "No, you have to wait your turn."

      "Those toys aren't just for you; you have to share them with your playmates."

      "Say 'thank you.'"

      "Say 'please.'"

      "Please don't interrupt."

      "Sshhhh - we have to be quiet because other people are trying to watch the movie, too."

      I know parents who still do this and their children have been aware that they're not the center of the universe since they were about two years old.

    2. Yes, you'd give some slack, but you're not a professor, are you?

  4. Clearly this flake wasn't feeling enough pressure if he can't even read a schedule right.

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  6. Oh, employers who work with recent graduates often know very well what snowflakes are. They are often furious at us proffies for allowing such lazy, sloppy, self-centered, entitled, immature, innumerate, and above all illiterate snow detritus to graduate from college. The observation that the college degrees of today are often worth less than the high-school diplomas of a generation ago is now quite common, and, unfairly or fairly, we proffies are being blamed for it.

    And yes, I hate it whenever I feel obliged to point out to some snowflake that other people need to live on this planet, too. This is particularly so whenever dealing with a student whose FIRST course of action is to disrupt a class: that there are 50 other people there matters not a whit, indeed, apparently it isn't even noticed. God help the future of society, if any.

  7. Wow. Just wow.

    Maybe I'm just too damned intimidating, maybe it's being in the rural midwest, maybe it's the fact that this is a church-affiliated SLAC, maybe it's just dumb luck... but this never happens to me.

    I have students come in late, including for exams. I have students get up and leave to go to the toilet, then come back, without saying anything. I have LOTS of students who are less articulate than the proverbial bumps on logs, and I have students who e-mail me a month after something is due and ask whether they can still get credit if they do it now.

    But I have never had someone disrupt an exam in this fashion. Maybe it's because I chew 'em out for talking in class, right away, in front of their peers, during the first week.

    1. There's my problem: this one hardly ever came to class.

  8. The "solve my problem right now while the rest of the class watches/waits/is interrupted" incidents are definitely increasing in my neck of the woods, too (though like introvert, I'm relatively lucky).

    In my day, standard procedure was to slink into the room if the exam was less than 1/2 over; after that, one waited and slunk into the proffie's/TA's office just afterward, to beg for mercy (which was, I think, often granted if someone else was giving an exam that afternoon, and was willing to proctor one more person, and the timing was such as to bolster the impression that the student wouldn't have had a chance to learn the contents of the exam. Cell phones do, of course, change the picture somewhat.)

    Narcissism definitely plays a role in present-day behavior. So, oddly, does a lack of desire for privacy when they do screw up (which is counter to the behavior of earlier narcissists, or maybe just a sign that present-day students really don't realize, on some level, that they *have* screwed up?) And, yes, as Stockstalker points out, anxiety in response to pressure and immaturity play a role. Also, I think, a lack of the critical/independent-thinking skills that would allow the student to think through the situation from the perspectives of all involved and come up with an appropriate response. For all that they don't follow directions when directions are provided, they are also completely lost when the directions run out.

  9. Yikes.

    I wonder if this behavior has anything to do with the gender/demeanor of the proffie. Does this happen more if you're a woman? Or a soft-spoken man?

    Like ^, I have yet to experience this sort of behavior--partly because I think I intimidate them a little bit--but like ^CC, I have a sneaking suspicion that it's coming...

    1. I think it does happen more to women. Even tough/intimidating types. I'm a hardass and I have a scary syllabus, etc., etc., I think some of the narcissistic snowflakes take that as a challenge. "I'll show her." mentality. I have one now, he is a dick, a textbook narcissistic, immature snowflake. Fortunately (?) I have had worse so I can shut him down. But I am sick of it.


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