The unchanging nature of cheaters.

I have a couple of classes this semester that some people would call “remedial”, while others use the charming pc epithet “upgrading”, with its jaunty similarity to “upcycling” of junk, claiming that a student’s previous poor performance is nothing that a coat of paint and some crackle medium can’t fix. Anyhoo, you get the picture: this is a room made up 50% of slackers, skateboarders and smokers who didn’t do any work in school; 10% of girls who got pregnant and dropped out,  15% of ESL students who are not going anywhere because what they need is more and better ESL, and 25% of people who fucked up or were fucked over and truly deserve a second chance.

This class is not rocket surgery. It basically exists to ask the question “are you ready for college?” The answer “yes” is demonstrated physically by 2 things: 1) Bum in seat, and 2) Face in book. Unfortunately for the vast majority of students in the room, this is not a hurdle they can get over. Most of them smash into it like QWOP guy on the second half of the course, limbs flailing.

A lot of them disappear. This is an okay outcome. They’ve paid a few hundred dollars (or their parents have) for a life lesson which is “stuff is hard and if you can’t be bothered, you shouldn’t pay the money”. It’s the gym membership model. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean; we’ve all paid for gym time we didn’t use.

Some of them flame out in spectacular and interesting ways like the dude who threw his blank midterm test in my face and stormed out of the room 5 minutes into the test. Some of them make up strings of more and more fabulous lies about how their uncle’s pet triceratops escaped and went on a rampage causing them to leave their textbooks unattended in an unlocked car, so that they were stolen by a gang of local ruffians who used said textbooks as firestarters in a string of mysteriously unpublicized and unsolved arsons.

Still others resort to cheating.

Here’s how today’s cheating incident went.

A dude who had previously tried to argue that he should be allowed to use his cellphone in exams because he needs to translate all of the test questions into his native language in order to be sure he understands them and needs an app for that, turned in assignment containing a paragraph in which he demonstrated an uncanny understanding of the feminist underpinnings in Margaret Atwood’s poetry. Because I have keen perception and literary critical abilities above those of a dead squid, this roused my suspicions. I hied me to the google machine. Sure enough, 5 seconds later, I discovered, in a moment of Sherlockian revelation, that the sentences about Atwood had been lifted from SparkNotes, and none of the information in the paragraph had anything to do with the critical article on Atwood he had cited. This, is what we call in the business “intent to deceive”. Some less able students will resort to SparkNotes when they struggle, but the honest ones will cite (aka admit) it. This dude was pretending to have read and understood something he hadn’t.

The assignment also contained a requirement to “list the names of all the people who helped you”. The idea here was to encourage students to internalize the idea of giving credit for help. Good students meticulously write down my name, the name of the librarians they consult and the names of the classmates they worked with. This guy had the names of 2 random classmates, one of whom is exactly like Bart Simpson in that episode where he tries to be a good student and Mrs Krabopple eventually tells him to stop raising his hand because he hasn’t got an answer right yet. So, no admission there.

I sent the student the Email of Doom, containing the words “SEE ME”. To give him the wee bit of credit he deserves, he did appear at the appointed time. The really weaselly ones tend to dodge for at least a round or two, and the ostriches stick their heads in the sand apparently thinking that if they can’t see me, I can’t  throw the book at them.

Anyhow, when he shows up, this dude says “I can explain”; followed by the absolutely predictable “I asked my buddy to help me and I had no idea he was a plagiarist” gambit. I am in no mood for this stupid bullshitty bullshit. For one thing, this must be something like the 67th time I have had that particular leg pulled, and as I have said before, I have a dodgy knee. I am not having it.

Because of the design of the assignment, I have the easiest counter in the world. I scroll down to the last question on his assignment, and I say “Which of these 2 people here you have listed was the one who gave you the plagiarized answer, then?” AH HA. Then he squirms and says it was someone else, which is fantastic, because then I say “So you just admitted that you cheated on the first question, and lied on the second?” His only counter to this is that the instruction “list all the people who helped you with the assignment” is ambiguous. MY ASS IS AMBIGUOUS. Also, he claimed that getting the answer from his plagiarist buddy was “like” cheating but not actually cheating. At this point, I got quite shouty. Doors were shut down the corridor.

I proceeded to fill in the cheater form, adding “lied about an answer” to the already listed crime of deliberate plagiarism. The dude, at this point, admitted that he was a bit worried about what was going to happen next. I said “Well, if this is a first offence, nothing more than a zero on the assignment and Cheater Re-education Camp. If you haven’t done it before, you won’t be in any more trouble.” He said “Oh, no, I haven’t done it before”, but like Prince Humperdink, there was fear behind his eyes.

After he signed the form admitting his crimes, he rallied. It wasn’t really fair to get a ZERO. Some of the questions on the assignment, he said, he had worked really hard on. I gave him a hard stare, and countered, “You probably should have worked really hard on ALL OF THEM.”


There are some new ones, including a thing that looks like a giant metal icecream cone which is so tall that shelves had to be moved to accommodate it. So far, no further smashination.



The Dean and his Trophies.

This is a story that happened last spring, but since every morning I am gloriously reminded of it, I thought I might share it with you.

I have no real idea what our Dean does, except that occasionally he has to rubber-stamp decisions that have been made by our Chair.

This one time, he came to a meeting with the department during which he was very gung-ho about how we all had to hire students to do research projects for us. When asked where these students might work in our already rather cramped for space environment, he was momentarily stumped, but then suggested that perhaps they could be squeezed in to some of the cozy shared offices. You know, like during times when faculty were in class or whatever. One of my colleagues helpfully pointed out that maybe he could go fuck himself on that front. It might have been Prof Darwin, who, according to the previous Dean, has single-handedly turned our shared office into a fire hazard.

I whispered to my awesome chum that maybe since all the Dean did all day was go to meetings, he wasn’t using HIS office all that much, and so maybe these research students could use his office. Instead of, like, mine. Awesome chum immediately stuck up her hand and repeated my suggestion, attributing it to “anonymous sources”.

One other thing the Dean does is spend money. Last spring he spent an amount of money, large enough to be described as “inordinate” at a Faculty Council Meeting, on some trophies. And a case to put the trophies in. The trophies mostly involved expensive crystal, and the case a lot of glass, including glass fronts, and shelving. This is an important plot point. (FORESHADOWING.)

I don’t know about your campus, but on our campus, when you want to build something like a drop box for assignments, or a case for your inordinately expensive trophies, you have to go meet with a lot of people, including (I swear I am not making this up) the University Carpenter. Assignment drop boxes requested by regular faculty need to go to at least 3 committees, and the process takes enough time that “progress on the drop boxes” becomes a regular item on the Department Meeting Agenda. The Dean, having more time to go to meetings, manages to get through all the meeting hoops in less than an academic year, and in due course manages to get his trophy case carpented.

The case is strategically placed outside the Dean’s office, such that it displays the trophies in all their glory to anyone entering or exiting the elevator. You have to pass them if you take the stairs also, but elevator riders get the whole framing effect. Whooosh, the doors open, and voila, trophies. I have a gimpy knee, and the stairs have an annoying tendency to fling me down them, so I ride the elevator, and thus was witness to a good deal of the drama I am about to relate.

Over a period of some days in the spring, the trophy case was constructed. It did have a slightly fancy-ass trapezoidal shape, and hinges on the doors, as well as a lock (security, which was to prove ironic). The University Carpenting Team works at about the speed of me grading a bunch of essays, which is to say quite slowly with a lot of breaks for browsing reddit. During the time of the trophy case construction, they were also replacing the doors to one of the main buildings, a project they worked on for about an hour a day for 6 weeks. Thus there was plenty of time for the regular elevator-rider, going to work 4 days a week, to observe the progress of the trophy case.

Finally, there came a morning when it appeared complete, whereupon it sat empty for several days. Glue drying? Trophies getting a last minute polish? Who knows. (As it turns out, the pause may have been related to the guy who was meant to do the last couple of jobs going on vacay, or an extended lunch break. MORE FORESHADOWING.)

A few days later, then, I was enjoying a pre-class chat with my awesome chum, minding our own business, and heading leisurely in the direction of possibly getting around to going to class, when there arose an ALMIGHTY SMASHING NOISE. It was a noise like when you are in the bar and a barmaid drops a big tray of glasses, except it went on for approximately 3 times longer than that noise would go on. Like maybe there were 3 barmaids, and they each dropped a big tray of glasses one after the other, domino-style.

“Man, I am glad that is not my problem,” I said to my awesome chum, as I gathered up my books for class, and she concurred. We walked in the general direction of the elevator, in time to behold the Dean, standing amidst the ruin of the temple to his vanity; smashed glass all around him, and a sad, dented trophy plinth atop the pile, its crystal doohicky contributing to the general tower of destruction.

What had transpired, as I am sure you have gathered, astute reader, is that the glass shelves had been insufficiently secured to the sides of the trophy case. When the Dean, in his pride, had come out to place the biggest and most crystalline trophy on the highest shelf, the edifice had given way, and each subsequent glass shelf had increased the momentum of the avalanche of glass as they fell through one another and finally on to floor, which, in the event, was rather unfortunately hard stone tile.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the smashing noise, when I got downstairs (3 flights down) to my classroom, the students in the room asked “Do you know what that giant crash was?” To which I answered in the affirmative. I also gave my permission for them to go and gawk at it, which a handful proceeded to do. “JFC” was the general consensus. Also snorts of derisive laughter.

Two hours later, when class ended, I went back upstairs, whereupon the elevator opened, rather like the curtain in a theatre, on a scene of the Dean berating an assortment of subordinates. The words “paid a lot of money for this to be built” were issuing from his mouth, along with a bunch of indignant sputtering. I loitered shamelessly to enjoy the show. When he got to the point of saying “AND I COULD HAVE BEEN SERIOUSLY INJURED” I could not resist a quiet “Dude” expressing chagrin at his hyperbole.

The broken glass was eventually cleared away, and the trophy case stood empty both of shelves and trophies for the rest of the semester.

On the second day of Fall semester, I was witness to the final act of the drama of The Dean’s Trophies, when the elevator opened on the scene of the Dean placing the replacement trophies on the renewed shelves. I lingered to watch him place the largest one on the top shelf, holding his breath, but sadly there was no repeat catastrophe.

The question on all of your enquiring minds, is, of course, “What does the Dean have trophies FOR?” If you are envisioning a mug with “Best Dean Ever” on it, I shall chide you for lack of grandiosity in your imagination. They are all chunks of glass (possibly crystal), or silver cups (safer, although possibly dinged up in the Grand Smash), set upon black plinths. The trophies bear titles, such as “Comprehensive Colleague,” “Outstanding Attempt at TeamWork,” “Most Improved Teaching” and “Best Attempt at a Beard”. The plinths all sport an array of shield-shaped silver plaques upon which can be engraved the names of the awardees. None of the shields is, however, inscribed with the name of any awardee, a fact which I find perversely satisfying. Kafka would get it.

PlayDoh, Part deux.

When I last left you, I was hovering on the brink of asking Miss PlayDohPants (hereinafter PDP) if she was mental, but restraining myself, on the grounds that “Are you brain damaged?” is not the kind of question that will have a happy answer. Of course, as you have all guessed, SHE WAS. Here’s how I found out.

It was the night before midterms, and I got a long email, full of fairly correctly put together sentences. At least from a grammatical point of view. From a containing information that had a grasp on university policy, the law, and reality, not so much. According to the email, Miss PDP normally (now here’s an interesting keyword, indicating, for those playing along at home, that this was not her first, nor even her second semester at university, and thus the “I don’t know the rules for accommodations” excuse could not be legitimately on the table) had accommodations for her unspecified mental disability. The email explained that she had not applied for accommodation because of “reasons”, said reasons being alleged in the email to be something to do with being on the wait list for the class before semester started. The email went on to suggest that since paperwork was tedious, and time had passed, and OH YES, the midterm was the next day, I could just go ahead and give the student double time for the assignment, on my own recognizance, as it were.

OH HELL NO. Readers, you know me. I don’t violate provincial law, as a general rule, for people I like, let alone students who disrupt my class with their PlayDohitry. I replied to the email pointing out that while the waitlist reasons might have prevented Miss PDP from completing her paperwork before semester started, she was now, evidently, in the class, and had been for 3 weeks, and whatever the holdup on filling in the goddamned web form was, it was in no way shape or form my problem. I also pointed out that university policy prohibited me from taking unilateral action, a position I still maintain, regardless of what idiotic actions may or may not have been taken subsequently by the fuckwad dean and his douchebag lackeys. But I get ahead of myself. To be clear, I declined the invitation to constitute myself as a mental health professional and/or disability advisor with godly powers to dispense accommodations absent any documentation. Professional conduct, dontcha know.

Miss PDP’s initial response was to email the Disability Office’s Admin person asking her to make me do it. The Disability Office Admin, a woman who, like me, makes her toast by breathing on it, promptly told Miss PDP to either fill in the requisite forms or go fuck herself. (I may have paraphrased the last part.)

Miss PDP turned up in the lab the next day to write her midterm. During this time, I invited all students to come get their MLA citation checked. Many did; Miss PDP declined. This fact will become relevant later.

At the end of the class, Miss PDP approached me with – mirabile dictu – her disability form. Do you see that? It had taken less than 12 hours to generate the required paperwork. Because I am a bitch who takes into account that the “P” in FOIP stands for “privacy”, I declined to discuss the paperwork in front of the class. I did have a burning need to discuss her disability, too, starting with the question – what the fuck is up with the motherfucking PlayDoh? “Bring it to me in my office hour,” I said, “because I won’t discuss this in public, for your privacy.” Miss PDP waited until the end of class, when she approached me in the hallway. “Nope,” I said again, “the hallway is not a place where I will discuss this. For privacy reasons.” She retreated.

When I got home, I had an email asking me what the three reasons were that I refused to sign her stupid form. This, gentle readers, is the level of comprehension we are talking about in every single one of my interactions with the student. “Not three reasons,” I replied, “privacy reasons. Come see me in my office hour tomorrow.”

I held out not a huge amount of hope that she would come and see me, and I don’t think she would have, except that the deadline for getting accommodations on the final exam was looming, and the Disability Office Admin person’s response to late requests for final exam accommodations was likely to be “go fuck yourself sideways”. I started the conversation by asking, perhaps foolishly, for a clarification about what the hell had taken so long with the paperwork. Miss PDP said it was “reasons”; reasons this time being defined as her grandmother, or possibly her mother being ill. Still not seeing the connection, I decided to move on, rather than dwell on the confusing.

It is my general practice, on these occasions, to go through the list of accommodations, and inquire, insofar as the law allows me, into what kind of help students require. This is why I also have a hard line on the “in private” part of the discussion. Experience has taught me that students with accommodations don’t really want to discuss them in front of people, and sometimes presenting the forms in public is a way not to have a conversation. They brush professors off with a “I just need extra time on exams,” and a lot of profs just sign the forms and shoo the students away. I get that. I know that’s common practice, but it doesn’t make it ethical. My response to that crap is “bullshit, you don’t just have ADD for 2 weeks of the year.”

So, rather than just signing the form, which made Miss PDP annoyed at me immediately, I took the time to read it. Which, possibly, in hindsight, was a mistake. Because there on the form it says that I am granting the student permission to record my classes. I have a problem with this, which has to do with running my classes as discussions, and usually I decline these requests after talking to students about whether they really need to record me. Mostly, they don’t. So I asked, just out of curiosity, if Miss PDP has BEEN RECORDING WITHOUT PERMISSION. “Oh yes,” she said blithely.

At this point, I did kind of lose my shit. I asked her about why she hadn’t told me, and first she said she did (astute readers will be starting to notice that this person is a liar liar pants on fire). Then we get into it a little more, and she revealed that she knew full well there are circumstances in which recording is not ethical, and that I am apparently supposed to trust her PlayDoh fiddling, word-find doing ass with making these determinations, and not even bother my pretty little head with knowing that she is doing it at all. I stopped the meeting at this point and refused to converse with her on this topic further unless her Disability Advisor was present. Also, possibly my lawyer, and some guy who might be inclined to rough her up.

After she left, I had an exchange with the university FOIP Dude, who, when asked about students recording in class said “they have to get the form signed, and then it’s okay.” I pointed out that the form had not been signed, and that it was well into week 4 of semester, and what was the sitch with regard to the unauthorized recording. “They can’t record unless they have the form,” he said. Because clearly, in the lawyerverse, there’s some kind of paper-related physics that disables the recording device. We went round and round on this for about 10 minutes, during which he asserted that no recording was possible absent the form signage. “What if she DID?” I asked. “There’s a FORM,” he replied. Okay. No help there.

Amazingly for someone who took 3 weeks to mention that she needed accommodations, Miss PlayDoh only took 30 minutes to let her Disability Advisor know that she needed a meeting with me and the advisor after class the following day. If you are suspecting the dread hand of some puppetmaster behind many of these actions, you are as astute as I expect my readers to be. There was indeed a puppetmaster, and he was to loom large in Part 3.


Okay, so imagine, dear Reader, you are a student. Or, if that’s too much of a stretch, you can, like, imagine you are a normal human being in a parallel situation that involves going to somewhere new.

It’s the beginning of semester. You are new at this institution, and quite probably new to university. You’ve missed the first day of class, because, like, it was on a Thursday before a long weekend, and, like, you really thought it would be a better use of your time to stay a bit longer on vacation in Costa Rica than come back for the first day of class at your new institution where you are taking classes that you need to get into the program of your dreams, which has something to do, no doubt, with interior design, or maybe ferret dentistry, or psychology. Either way.

So, okay, SECOND day of class, but you are totes prepared. You have looked up your schedule and the room number for the class. So you go to the building the class is in, and you go to your classroom. Now, this is supposed to be an English class. That’s what you signed up for. Because, like, that’s the one you totally need to get a C in, according to the lady in the advisings office. So, English class it is. You head into the room.

But wait! This isn’t an English class! It’s a class that’s already going and the teacher at the front of the room is fully teaching Accounting. In your classroom where your class is supposed to be! No way, dude!

So, obvs, you LEAVE. But what’s your next step? DO YOU:

A) Check your schedule and look carefully at the clock, and the room number and maybe even the name of the building just in case, and I know this seems totes unlikely, but it might just have been that you accidentally went to the wrong room, or (okay, this is, like WEIRD, but) the right room at the wrong time?

B) Assume that the English Professor and the Accounting, or maybe it was a Tax class? Professor are conspiring to change rooms or something, because they seem really shifty. Everyone in those classes is fully in on the conspiracy, too. Go to the registrar’s office and lodge a formal complaint that the professor for your class is not in the advertised room at the time the class was being held, and maybe someone should do something about punishing him for that. THEN, go home. Cry. Get your MOM to phone the English department to complain about this professor who was reprehensibly not in class when he was supposed to be, even though, like, it was TOTALLY the SECOND class, and what are these professors being paid for, anyway? Have Mom get absolutely livid when the secretary suggests maybe you went to the wrong room, or mistook the class time. What kind of people are they employing at these universities to make outlandish suggestions when CLEARLY what is happening can in no way be attributed to a simple mistake, or getting lost, or something. Regard the secretary’s reasonable suggestion that you email the professor to ask if there is any reason the class might have moved rooms as insulting. Have Mom call back a couple times asking to be moved up the chain of command. After an hour or so, finally give in and have Mom email the professor with a rude, accusatory email complaining about the lack of information and notification about the class. Do not, under any circumstances, check your university email, where you might find a copy of your syllabus, containing information about the room, which is, in fact, the one listed, and was, in fact, occupied by your English class during the hours advertised.

Did you pick B? Congratulations, you are this semester’s duly crowned Snow Princess.

I am desperate to find out what is going to happen next class. I replied to Mom’s email with a description of where the room was. I am hoping the student shows up and accuses me of being a Time Lord who has disguised my Tardis as the classroom. Feel free to speculate heavily in the comments. I’ll update you in a couple days.

Happy, as it were, Anniversary.

The other day my friend V pointed out that it had been a year since I last wrote a post. “So,” she said, “Happy  Anniversary, I guess?” Reader, she said “Happy Anniversary,” but what I heard was “You Suck” and it was a fully justified criticism. I have few excuses to offer. My main one is that I have been posting stories in other forums which have been fulfilling my need to vent, but mostly with fewer swears and less detail. I have also been working on a longer form writing project, about which I may reveal tantalizing glimpses later. Also, I blame Animal Crossing.

I had a fucking craptacular spring semester. I will tell you about parts of it, but such a marathon story there has not been since Pineapple Boy. I shall give it to you in installments. Here’s the teaser-trailer. In my class in spring I had a student who was a little, how you say, OFF. She tended to stare blankly during class discussion. When asked to report on her preparation for class which involved posting something to the class forum and then being prepared to discuss it, her responses were … well, peculiar. Let’s say I framed an assignment like “write a post about your opinions on the controversy surrounding GMO foods”; this student would post a picture of a carrot. When asked about it, she would say “I like carrots”.

Because of the student’s behaviour in class – she often had a laptop open, and she would also do word-finds during lectures or when we watched a movie, I was unsure whether her poor performance was the predictable result of  inattention. Shocking though it is, sometimes students just don’t pay attention in class. But there was … something … about her that made me reluctant to call her on it. I held my fire through the first 3 weeks of the 7 week semester. At times it was difficult, like on the day she pulled a mini pot of playdoh out of her backpack and started playing with it.  Followed by the day when she pulled out three mini pots of playdoh.

I’ll admit, the words “I’m sorry, are we BORING you?” hovered on the tip of my tongue. But so did another question, a question that there was no way in hell I was going to ask, not in front of the class. Miss Playdohpants’ behaviour began to hover dangerously in the realm of “is a distraction to others”, and a de-playdoh-ized zone began to appear around her in subsequent classes. None of the students who were moving seats voiced a complaint to me, so I didn’t even have that excuse to broach the conversation. The semester was half over, how bad could it get?

Dear Reader, I know you are boggling at my naïveté. OF COURSE IT WOULD GET WORSE.

I shall leave you in suspenders, though, awaiting Part 2.

In the meantime, here is a delightful email exchange that has enlivened my afternoon.

Hello Mr. Whatladder,
My name is Fedora Joe the Nitpicker and I’m a new student at brand name university. While reading over your coarse outline I couldn’t help but notice that the due date for the final project (page 8) was on September 9th. I thought I should bring this to your attention because it is worth a decent portion of our final grade and considering the date is tomorrow I believe that this must have been a typo. If you could possibly send out an email stating the proper date for the final project that would be excellent.
Could I let that one go without a reply? You know I could not.
Dear Fedora Joe the Nitpicker
Thanks for pointing out my typo. I feel like I need to return the favour: its MS Whatladder, not Mr; Brand Name (capitalization is required) and course outline, not “coarse outline”.
 I am not going to send an email as you suggest, because I have amended the document, and 95% of the students in the class haven’t taken their heads out of their asses yet to check their email.
If you had looked at the schedule (pages 6-7), you would have seen the project date was correct on that page.
See you in class tomorrow. I will know you by your fedora.
At least he’s pro-active. The ones who keep asking me where their moms need to go to sort out various administrative details are causing me rather more concern.

If you need me, I’ll be on the island, catching bugs.

Fun with Freshers

It’s week one of semester and the campus is crawling with noobs. A lot of noobs apparently can’t spot a prof at 2 metres, and then they say and do stupid shit. Illustrative example:

Privileged White Girl #1: I am going to ask to change my stats class. I am having a problem understanding the prof.
Privileged White Girl #2: Is he that British guy?
PWG#1: No, he’s Asian and he talks really quietly.
Me: Be sure to tell your Academic Advisor that you want to change classes because you are a racist.

Then there was the guy on the bus this morning. I live pretty close to campus, so by the time I get on the bus it is often a bit crowded, and I have to sit next to random dudebros, or old ladies and stuff. This morning, there’s a dudebro in the window seat, and I sit next to him (aisle).

As the bus pulls into campus (which is a good 2 minutes from the STOP), he tries to get me to move so he can get up to get off the bus. And I am like “DUDE, everyone is getting off. Hold your horses”. Well, dudebro is not going to take this from a FEMALE, so he just shoves at my legs until I move, which, I do, because OW.

Then everyone (as predicted) gets off the bus. Except maybe one old lady. I go to class, which is the first time this class meets. Guess who is there?

He left.

In other news, I invented a game, which it may please you to play on your respective campi. When you are walking in a busy traffic area (hallway, passageway, area between 2 buildings, you know the ones), spot the people walking with their heads down, texting, and see if you can get them to bump into you.


  • bumping into you (not you into them, that’s cheating) – 1 point
  • if they drop something – 1 point
  • if they drop their phone – 2 points
  • if they fall over – 5 points
  • blood – 15 points

Stuff dropped is non-stackable (ie phones dropped only get 2 points), but you get a point for each thing dropped.

If you don’t live in Canada, you can also get a bonus point if they apologize.


One for that guy who said I never say anything nice about students.

Okay, so they weren’t actually MY students, and only one of them was awesome, but let me lay it on you, anecdotally.

Yesterday I was at the Starbux stand getting a coffee because I had only had one coffee that morning at home, and I had a bunch of marking to do, and my current level of caffeination was not going to cut it. I was bantering with the barrista, as is my wont. (I love this guy ever since he told me that if people are rude to him he gives them decaf.)

As I was stirring my coffee, there were two female students having a conversation about a test they had just had (or so I surmise). Student #1 was bitching about how the test was, like , unfairs because it was hard, and stuff. Student #2 nonchalantly said “I thought it was, like, totally easy if you studied.”

PWNT. I could not help myself, I gave her a high five.

On Not Poking the Crazy

So there’s crazy, as in “hur, you so crazy” and then there’s the kind where you walk away slowly. I had three salutary examples last semester, which I shall now share with you.

This first one, I admit, I kind of poked it. This is what you don’t do, folks. So, there’s this student, let’s call her Edgy Ellen, and she asks a LOT of questions. You know, like “when you say 750 words, do you mean 750 words, or can I have 753? I can cut those 3 words if it’s a problem.” And I say, “no, that’s fine, word limits are a general guideline”.

Another time, when I had my students evaluating source materials, she sent me an email about the essay on the 123Write My Essay For Me site I had sent them to. “It says you have to pay to see the whole essay. Did you mean to send us to this site? Do I have to pay to complete the assignment? I don’t think I can complete the assignment without paying, but I don’t think you should make us pay. Are you sure you want me to pay?” and so on. The question I had asked was “would you use material from this site in your essay? Why/why not?” Which, I pointed out, was clearly answerable without paying, since she had essentially answered the question in her email. I was punished for this puckish japery by another set of questions in a subsequent email. “What do you mean I answered your question with my question? You still didn’t say whether I should pay or not. What do I need to put in my answer? I can’t see the list of Works Cited for this essay, so how do I decide?”

Following this barrage, I read some of her work, which really was very good; interesting ideas, mostly well-written, that kind of thing, but she continued with the tightly-wound questions. At this point, I made a serious tactical error. I suggested that the student relax. I said “You are doing fine, and I think you just need to relax a little.” OMG. Well, then I got an email saying, “What do you mean relax? Do you think I am anxious? Did you mean to make me self-conscious about my anxiety? What if I need to ask a question? Can I still ask questions?” Then we had to have a MEETING.

At this meeting, the student chided me about “attacking her personally” and “suggesting she had an anxiety disorder” and “being insensitive to her disability” (what disability? Being a psycho? Where’s the paperwork?). I had to spend half an hour explaining to her that I see a lot of students (mostly, but not all, female) who get really worried about the quality of their work, and what I was trying to communicate, from my perspective, was that she was doing fine, and that she didn’t need to be so worried, and YES, she could still ask me questions, but that she could also trust her own judgement, because she seemed to be DOING FINE.

In my other class, I had Martha the Mormon, who managed to work her mormonity into every single thing she wrote, and occasionally into class discussion as well. After a while, I was getting pretty tired of it, but before I could say anything, she had this massive outburst in class, where she said, “IN MY OTHER CLASS MY PROFESSOR SAID A SWEAR AND WHEN I OBJECTED SHE SAID WE ARE AT UNIVERSITY AND WE ARE ALL ADULTS AND IT IS OKAY TO SWEAR AND IF IT IS OKAY TO SWEAR THEN I THINK IT IS OKAY TO TALK ABOUT MY RELIGION AND PEOPLE SHOULDN’T BE OFFENDED BY MY TALKING ABOUT MY RELIGION IF I WANT TO BECAUSE WE ARE ALL ADULTS AND SWEARING IS OKAY.”

Tempted as I was to respond, “well bugger me,” or “no one in this class told you to shut the fuck up about being a Mormon,” I held my tongue, and suffered silently through a presentation about how reading the Bible was more important than reading her textbooks, and 1500 words on how she was keeping herself pure for marriage.

The universe rewarded me for my patience in this wise: Last week I saw Martha sitting on a sofa with a boy (who I know from a previous class is NOT in any way a Mormon), and he had his hand quite firmly on her ass, and she seemed to be quite comfortable with the position of said hand. I made eye contact, at which point she went red as a beet. A laugh not unlike that of Mrs Krabopple’s may have escaped my lips.

The last, and craziest, was Bus Girl. Bus Girl had a generally quite chippy attitude, often interrupting me in class. One time, when she interrupted me mid-sentence, I said “Yes, I will get to your issue in a minute,” and she responded, “Well, you don’t have to be RUDE.” So there was this history of contentiousness. To be fair, I had her tagged as belligerent rather than certifiable.

So, then we were in the lab preparing for an in-class writing assignment, and I offered the students the option to come up with their own topic. “Pick something you can take a firm opinion on,” was my instruction. Various ideas were tossed around, and then someone came up with “Transit,” in other words “Catching the Bus SUCKS,” which was a theme with instant popular appeal. There was a chorus of groans, which I took to mean general assent to the topic.

Bus Girl said “This is not fair. What if you have never taken the bus in this city?” I responded by offering her the opportunity to think of an alternate topic, and gave the room another 5 minutes to brainstorm. At this point, I called for suggestions. Bus Girl had none. I called for a vote on the topics suggested, and the bus topic won with a huge majority, Bus Girl abstaining. She made some more mooing noises about unfairness, and I pointed out that she had had ample time to think of an alternative. I refrained from pointing out that she had used her brainstorming time to complain, rather than think, and thus deserved the consequences.

I gave the class the rest of the instructions for their task, and set them to work. Bus Girl sat at her computer for a few minutes, then abruptly stormed out of the room. O-kay.

Class continued; the peaceful clickity-click of keyboards occasionally interrupted by quiet conversation as students consulted one another on why Mr Spellcheck persisted in putting a squiggly line under “definately” and “relateable”. I sat at the teacher’s desk on the high chair, doing important pop culture research (aka reading Gawker), and occasionally casting my eye across the room to ask “is that hand up to ask a question, or are you just stretching?” Peace reigned; work was getting done.

Some time later, Bus Girl appeared in the glass panel of the door, gesturing to me to come outside. I obliged. She looked agitated, and, on closer inspection, somewhat cried on.

“I feel like I owe you an apology,” she said, and I did not disagree. “The thing is, I have PTSD, and this is one of my triggers.”

SO MANY QUESTIONS, dear reader. I feel you may also be asking them. This, what? The BUS? Or being disagreed with? If it’s the BUS, then what kind of trauma does a person get into on a bus? Was the bus in Afghanistan? I am sure you can think of several more.

Unfortunately, I cannot supply you with further details. Seeing the crazy, I declined to poke it. Instead, I said “It sounds like you need to go to Student Counselling right now. You go do that, and I will excuse the assignment.”

Is that the smell of your pants burning?

On Monday, my students had an Important Due Date for a Thing they had to do. This is a date that was in the course outline they have had since the very first day of term (or in the case of Flakey McFlakerson, the 4th class when he eventually rolled up; a long time, regardless). The syllabus is very clear that this particular Thing is Important with a capital I, and that it has to happen with no excuses, absent being hit by a bus.

After class on Monday, I emailed them about class on Wednesday, also congratulating them for having completed the Thing. I then had the following email exchange with Flakey McF.

FMcF: Oh, hey Mrs LadWhatter, I thought the Thing was on Wednesday.
Me: Nope. It says in the syllabus Monday, and Monday was when it was.
FMcF: Are you sure you didn’t change the date? I am pretty sure it was Wednesday.
Me: Nope. [Thinking, given that you are the guy who told me on 5 separate occasions at the start of term that you had “no idea what I am supposed to do” I am going with you are an idiot.]
FMcF: Well, it so happens that I missed class today because I was at the hospital.
Me: Sorry to hear that. Hope you feel better. Show me some documentation, and we can talk about making up the assignment.
FMcF: Oh, yeah, it wasn’t me that was in hospital, I was there because I had to take my kid.
Me, startled at the sudden appearance of a child not previously mentioned: Okay, well, again, documentation, and we can deal.
FMcF: So, you are saying I have to go back to the hospital and get a note or something?
Me: No, I am cool with you getting a zero. If you want to make up the marks, you are going to have to show me some documentation.
FMcF: Okay, well, I think in that case you should give me full marks even though I haven’t actually done the Thing. And also, I want a make-up assignment.
Me: Yeah, that’s not what will happen, but again, I am not negotiating until I see a doctor’s note.

Some time passes. The next day, I get another email.

FMcF: So I went to the hospital and asked them for a note and they said they don’t do that.
Me: ORLY. Okay, well, too bad then.
FMcF: Given that I tried to get the note, I think you should give me the marks. Or I could write an essay.

At this point, I made a phone call to the mother of a school friend of my kid’s.

Me: So, I called the GM of the hospital, and she says yes they do give notes, and if you are having trouble, give her a call and she will make sure you get one. Her number is [redacted].