Tag Archives: politeness

Death by a Thousand (Paper) Cuts

Today was a day of small annoyances. I must confess, I kind of let them get to me, which I blame on a) not feeling well and b) just having had a week off making me ungrateful. Let me lay some instances on you.

Augh. Now, I have one more, which is that my craptacular internets combined with WordPress to eat half this post as I was trying to publish it.

You all know by now my feelings about the stapler. Students who don’t have staplers wanting me to produce one out of my ass, students who staple dead ducks to their essays, students who take my stapler without asking: sometimes teaching is just one giant carousel of stapler madness. This being week, I dunno, 6 or something, of semester, you would think my students who have lab classes once a week, would, after 6 of them, during which they write assignments on computers, and then print out 2-3 pages, which extrude from an ordinary printer, and not some kind of magical machine which puts their pages in the correct order and staples them… Hem. As I was saying, you you would think that these students might also be getting the hang of the stapler thing. But no. Every time they come up to hand in their papers, it’s a string of “do you have a stapler”s. “No,” I say. Every time. You would think after, like, 4 times, they would get the message that I am not going to produce a damn stapler. Dude, if you care that much, bring your own.

Today was no different. I had a string of stapling requests, which were fraying my already headachy nerves. I think I might have started to look a little bit tetchy, because the next student who came up tried a variation on the theme. “It’s okay if we don’t have a stapler, right?” she asked. At this point, I kind of lost it. “Look,” I said “we go over this every week. We are in a lab; you are printing out papers; there is no stapler in the lab because every time we put one in here, some bastard steals it. So yes, it is okay if you don’t have a stapler. What is not okay is this constant harping on about your stapling desires. I have had enough. The next person who says the word ‘stapler’ will lose a whole letter grade off his or her mark for the assignment.” I know: crazy and harsh, and possibly also crazy harsh. But the thing is – it worked. Not one further peep did I hear about staplage.

My next annoyance came in the form of a rather grubby student, hereinafter referred to as the Unwashed. It’s not so much her person that is revolting, though it is, it’s that her work is constantly grimed over with a slightly sticky film of dubious origin. (I could speculate, but some depths are better left unplumbed.)

Today’s offering was partially typed, although single spaced (a paragraph formatting choice guaranteed to raise professorial ire, saying, as it does – “your comments, I have no need of them”) slightly crooked on the page, and after the first two paragraphs, suddenly transitioned into an off-kilter, handwritten scrawl. The paper was also crumpled and slightly grubby, as if the Unwashed had been holding it in her sweaty paws, or possibly had shoved it into her pocket, along with unpleasant substances of a dusty nature.

Previous work from this student have included an assignment which was typed but had had the citation scrawled on in crayon, and a handwritten assignment on what appeared to be slightly greyish, lined toilet paper. This latter, mind you, consisted of questions and answers painfully transcribed because they had all been initially provided in electronic format. “Wouldn’t it have been easier just to copy and paste?”¬† I had asked, incredulously.

So you see, today’s effort was not without history, and I had commented on the importance of the impression given to the instructor by work that looked like the student gave a shit (this comes under the “dead duck” rules, really). It was 10 minutes in to a lab class, and I suggested that the Unwashed might like to use some assigned class time to have a stab at cleaning this mess up. “Oh, no. I have to be somewhere at 1,” was her reply. Class was scheduled to run until 1:50, but because WTF guy has so schooled me on the unreasonablness of expecting students to spend all 110 minutes of class time actually in the classroom, I let this one go by with scarcely a raised eyebrow. I was, however, goaded into being petty. “Well, since this is not the first time I have mentioned the importance of presentation, it will affect your mark.” Her only response was a glance of withering scorn and a “Whatever” thrown over her begrimed shoulder as she left the room.

In other news, not all my students are this rude. Hulking Ethnic Guy #1 raised his hand in class to ask a question. “Excuse me, Miss,” he said. “What did you say?” I asked. “Miss. I wanted to ask a question,” he replied. “I know you wanted to ask a question, but dude, did you seriously just call me ‘Miss’?” To me, “Miss” conjures images of 19th century urchins in charity schools; well, either that or the opening of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch. “What do you mean, Miss?” “I am sorry, I have a cold.”

HEG#1 (as I will refer to him, rather than giving you a clue to his ethnicity by giving him a name like Hakeem, or Dimitri) went on to explain that he was trying to be polite. Much as I appreciated the impulse, I suggested that there were perhaps better ways to express it. I turned to the room for support. “Room,” said I, “how might you address me if you were trying to be polite?” Thinking, as I did so that it seemed rather a gratuitous conversation to be having.

The complete and utter silence with which my question was greeted suggest that in fact it was a conversation that we needed to be having, much to my chagrin. I have heard several of my colleagues going on about how they have to give lectures on classroom etiquette and manners, and I have tended to dismiss them as partronising and fuddy-duddy-ish. Although, given recent events, it may be that I have just had my head in the sand. In any event, the discussion eventually came around to the conclusion that since I had said they could call me by my first name that it was actually okay (even polite) to do so, and that they could, for special occasions, bust out a “Professor Whatladder.”

A few moments later, Hulking Ethnic Guy #2 entered the room. “Sorry I am late, Miss,” he said.