Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sheila is so very Sorry

Sheila, when you sent me that e-mail, the one where you told me in a scolding manner that you would not be in class today because you had been up late completing the essay assignment that was due today, you said after working that hard, you simply had no energy at all for class or for anything else.  None.  Your tone implied that it was all my fault.

I could care less, really, Sheila, if you make it to class or not.  I'm sorry to say it.  I suppose if I were a better professor, I'd care or something.  But I don't.  I also don't care that you are trying to blame me.  Whatever.  That's what students like you do.

But, I do care about my doing "right" by you.  For some reason I care about that.  So my knee jerk reaction to just ignore your e-mail did not sit right with me.  I deleted it, and was just going to ignore it.  But a crazy little bird, maybe it was a duck, would not just shut the fuck up in my head.

So I sent you an e-mail back, reminding you of the conversation we had just last week about how you wanted to do anything, anything, have sex with me, sell your soul, kill a duck, anything at all, to pass this class.  I reminded you of how close a thing it was going to be, and that every little bit counts.  I told you I was going to be giving out the last essay assignment in the class you said you would be missing, and answering questions about it, storyboarding it for the class.  All the ridiculous things I do to make it very clear what I am looking for in an essay assignment.  So I told you I thought, really that you should drag your ass into class so you would not miss all this great stuff.  I reminded you that if you miss that class, all you get is a stinking handout that you have to actually READ and then ask me specific questions about.  I reminded you of how much you hate that.

You replied that yes, of course, you wanted to pass, and that you WOULD drag your ass into class.

When you did not show up (and that makes your essay late as well, I also told you in that e-mail that you should e-mail me your essay by the start of class, properly formatted as a word document blah blah blah, to avoid getting that late penalty) I was not surprised.  I was not upset.  I was not disappointed.  I really did not care. 

So when you came a few hours later to my office, and wanted to apologize profusely, I told you not to worry about it.  I was not upset at all.  I understand that after you sent that e-mail, you fell asleep and just slept right through that alarm clock of yours.  I do.  In fact, I honestly did not miss you one little bit.

You got more and more intense in your "I'm so sorry"s as you went along.  I was trying to get you to stop apologizing, but you had such a hard time.  You seemed to want me to forgive you.

There was nothing for me to forgive sweetheart.  I wanted to avoid the trite "it is yourself you let down, not me" but in the end, I said it.  That made you apologize all the more.  You wanted to get down on your knees, Sheila.  Ouch.  Please.  Never make that offer.  What were you thinking? 


  1. 99% of the time, when a student says "I'm sorry," what that means is "Since I'm sorry, you shouldn't penalize me." They believe that being sorry should translate into some sort of mathematical atonement.


  2. Stella is so right. And so as a parent, I spend a lot of time saying, "Thank you for apologizing; of course I forgive and love you. But the consequences stand."

    1. Tough love, in other words. And for some of them, this is the first time they're getting it.

  3. My students never apologize for anything. I can't decide if that's better or worse.

  4. I tell them not to. I tell them their success or failure is a matter for their own concern, not mine. I tell them that pass or fail, there will be a new class next semester. I tell them to please not share their trials and tribulations with me, because I don't care whether they didn't show up because they were sick or because they got into a really intense game of frisbee.

    They still give me excuses. They will not stop.

  5. It took me a while to get used to my students here actually apologizing to me for bad grades. Like somehow they've failed me. My partner assures me it's part of the culture, and I've learned that the apology alone doesn't make them a grade-grubber.

    Indeed, the grade-grubbers never apologize.

    1. This is closer to my experience. Admittedly, their apologies always come with a little ring of hope that maybe I'll let them off the hook just the once? But we're not asking for it? But we're sorry?

      The question marks are implied, but they're only question marks, and not the reason for the apology. Rather, they have been raised in a culture where failure is not acceptable, and so need absolution that we cannot grant.

  6. They all do the things they do because they work. At least that's my experience.

    After having published the final exam date on the syllabus, LMS, through email, and on the whiteboard for weeks, a student emailed me 2 days late.

    He was confused. I hadn't been clear enough. He knew, just knew, that he was not alone, and when was the makeup going to be for people who were so baffled by my lousy instructions.

    It gave me considerable pleasure to look him up and realize that he would have needed 130 points out of 100 on the final to pass my class.

    But he had to try, I mean, HAD to try, because he's done it somewhere else before, and someone has bought it.


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