Friday, September 28, 2012

No-Neck Norbert

In my Ancient Hamster Masterpieces online class, I have a student we will call No-Neck Norbert. He actually has even less of a neck than the gentleman pictured on the right. I find this fascinating for some reason. Norbert strolled into my office three hours past my stated time for students. I was on the phone assisting a colleague at the time.  Since I was unsure whether Norbert was there to see me or my office mate (having never seen Norbert in person), I asked quickly which professor he needed. He pointed to my name on the door rather than saying it. I got off the phone, invited him in, and asked how I could help him. The conversation went something like this:

NNN: You gave us a reading that's not in our books.

EnglishDoc: Which class are you in?

NNN: That hamster lit class.

EnglishDoc: I'm EnglishDoc. And you are...?

NNN: Norbert. [Thankfully I don't have more than one.]

EnglishDoc [holding out hand]: Nice to meet you, Norbert. 

[Norbert looks at my hand as if he's never seen one before.  I retract it after about 10 awkward seconds.]

EnglishDoc: OK, Norbert, let's take a look. What is missing?

Norbert: It says to read Book VI of The Great Hamster Journey. That's not in my book.

[I grab my desk copy, turn to the table of contents, and, lo and behold, Book VI of said epic is listed.]

EnglishDoc: Yes, it is. The table of contents says it's on page 56.

[I turn to page 56. It's there. I show Norbert both pages.]

Norbert: That's not the same as my book! [Norbert has his book in his hand.]

EnglishDoc:  Let's look at your book. 
[I flip the cover of my book to show him it's the same book. I then turn the pages to show him they are identical to my book.]

Norbert: Oh, I didn't see that. Book VI is too short. That's why I couldn't find it.

I asked Norbert if I could help him with anything else. I reminded him of when campus and online office hours are and encouraged him to take advantage of them. Then I sent him on his way, saying, "Good to have met you!" with a grunt in reply. 
He never did write anything about The Great Hamster Journey. In fact he has done next to no work. His average is 9%, not an easy feat in an accelerated class that has already had a dozen low-stakes assignments. He has contacted me several times, mostly to complain he doesn't know how to do X when the directions to X are right in front of him. I told him each time where to find the directions. I asked him to look at his classmates' work that I commented on favorably on the discussion boards. Norbert has also emailed me to ask for page numbers when the assignment sheet said, "Read all of the Ancient Tibetan Hamsters chapter." I pointed out to him he should use the table of contents, find the chapter, and read it all. None of it mattered. Norbert was hopelessly confused. 
I might be slightly more tolerant of this snowflakery if it weren't for the fact this is a class that requires having made a C or better in both halves of College Writing for Students of Rodentia. Norbert is not a first-semester snowflake; in fact, he's only about a dozen years younger than I am and has been putzing along at Large Urban Community College for five years now after having flunked out of Local State U.

The drop date is approaching. I sent Norbert a note telling him I advised he drop. I explained he had missed too much work and was too far behind on the research project. He has also exceeded my college's absence policy.. He can see what his average is in our LMS. Mathematically, he could earn a D if he did everything nearly perfectly. Given his track record, that's about as likely to happen as his neck is to appear suddenly.

After I explained all this to him, I got a note today saying, "So even if I do every assignment, I still can't pass the class?"

I did something I rarely do: I exercised the one small bit of power community college professors still have at Large Urban Community College and dropped him myself for lack of progress. This will hurt my retention rate at term's end, but not having to deal with him for the next several weeks is worth taking the hit.


  1. You can drop students yourself? That's fabulous! We can't even get, belligerent, abusive students dropped! Apparently: "We don't do that here on this campus," the dean tells me.

    With that kind of power, I commend you on lasting THIS long with No-Neck Norbert!

  2. Here's a little playlet:

    WotC: So how would we figure out how many neutrons are in a C-14 atom? First we find C on the periodic table. Which number do we want, the integer or the decimal number?


    WotC: Can we count particles?

    Most of crowd: yes
    Some of crowd: no

    WotC: Yes - they're things we can count so...

    long pause - lightbulb flash - a keener or two: the integer the 6, the 6!

    WotC: Right. The integer is called what?
    Keener: Atomic number
    WotC: Which represents which subatomic particle?
    Keener: The protons
    WotC: Right. [looks away from keener so no one accuses her of playing favorites] What does the 14 in C-14 mean?


    Reluctant Not So Keener: The protrons and the neutrons?

    WotC: YES! So we need the neutrons. We know the protons and the neutrons, and we know the protons, how do we get the neutrons?


    WotC: Ok, if there are 5 kids on the bus and 2 of them are girls, how many are boys?

    Indignant Ida: Three, what the hell does that have to do with this?
    Trembling Teresa: Is this going to be on the test?

    WotC, speechless and forced to write on the board:

    protons and neutrons 14
    protons -6
    neutrons 8

    So what does this have to do with English Doc's story? This:

    On the way out II turns to TT and says "I don't know how WE'RE supposed to know this stuff when even SHE didn't know it. I can't believe she had to figure it out right in front of us. She complains that we don't do our reading before class, but then she comes in and doesn't know the answer to her own question. I can't believe she had to do the math in class. Shouldn't she have done that BEFORE class?"

    Right now, somewhere, NNN is telling his roommate: And she's so incompetant. She didn't even know where it was in the book.

    Because... you didn't "know" it, you "had to" use the table of contents.

  3. Watch out he doesn't splash pineapple all over you.

  4. Holy mother of God. You have my deepest sympathy. There are several students I would probably drop right now if I had that kind of power (like yours, several 15 point assignments with 0s).

  5. Almost literally, a week ago:

    Me: Could you please read verse 2358?

    Clueless Charles: In which page is that?
    Me: We have different editions, look at the verse number.

    Clueless Charles: I am sorry professor, I have verse 2355 and verse 2360, but I cannot find 2358.

  6. I wonder what the total of Norbert's loans is at this point? And who is profiting by them? It certainly doesn't seem to be him (or Wombat's similar students). I strongly suspect it's a case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions (and then attracting highwaymen because there's money present), but something is very rotten in the state of US higher ed, especially, sadly, at the end that endeavors to serve (and, to a considerable extent, *does* serve) the underprepared and others who would not have gone to college a few decades ago. (The other end, of course, has its own problems, mostly related to star proffies not actually teaching, but at least it attracts/chooses students who are more likely to get something out of being set down in an intellectual playground and left more or less to their own devices for four years). My bleeding liberal heart wants them to have every opportunity, but stories like this, especially coupled with stories about the student loan crisis, make me think we've taken a wrong turn somewhere in creating a road to opportunity, the American Dream, etc., etc.

  7. Wombat, Englishdoc, I'm not sure there are even words for these situations. I sincerely wonder how in the world these students are even able to get into schools and what are the ethics of allowing them to stay when they manage to find their way in.

    You have my deepest sympathies, and I truly hope I never have to meet a Norbert or a class like Wombat's.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.