So I teach a class in which I have an assignment whereby a student has to work with a volunteer among their friends or family network who is nearing or over the age of 70. It is not a hard assignment. But this assignment has broken a new personal record for me: this assignment has prompted an outraged student complaint to the undergraduate program chair the very first week of school.
Let me digress for a bit. Do you have personal records? I've always been a competitive little SOB, and so one of the ways I entertain myself in this rotten business is to document points where the job has driven me to new highs or new lows:
- Earliest in the day I have made a student cry: 8:13 am
- Shortest number of blue book pages I read before they drove me to the drinks cabinet: 1
- Highest number of bathroom breaks I have to take in a faculty meeting to prevent the words "would you people STFU" from blurting out of my mouth: 4
- Highest number of times I have had to tell the same parent that I am not going to discuss her child's grade with her: 5
- Highest number of "I learned a lot but she was a mean meany meanpants" on one single set of evaluations: 30
- Highest number of lies I have caught a single student in: 7
- Highest number of my students I have seen, ever, in the library: 0
- Highest number of times the same student has threatened to have me fired: 3
- Highest number of times the same student threatened to sue me or the university because of me: 1, so far
Anyhoodily, you get the drift. Sometimes I think I am my own little Rainman, keeping these little tallies on the Things In My Life that Shouldn't Be.
But back to our little friend who has gone to my director to complain. I teach in two programs, and this program director is one of those delightful senior faculty you basically dream of having. He's a kindly, grey-haired gent with the tweed jackets and with smile lines around his eyes and a distinguished career of work behind him that he himself never refers to. He genuinely listens to students' complaints and then, based on the content, either tells the kid to grow up or comes to talk to you to get your side of the story. He's totally got your back. He has the patience of a freaking saint and/or bottles of Jim Beam hidden all over his office. He is also 72 years old. I can only imagine how this complaint sounded to him based on the class interaction I had:
Snowflake: You mean, we're supposed to talk to AN OLD PERSON. (Said in the same tone I'd imagine young flake would use were he discussing the possibility of panning for gold in a sewer).
Dr. B. Bear: Yes.
Snowflake: Can't we just ask anybody?
Dr. B. Bear: No.
Snowflake: How are you going to KNOW that we asked AN OLD PERSON?
Dr. B. Bear: Because the assignment requires you videotape the interaction.
Snowflake: But I don't know any OLD PEOPLE.
Dr. B. Bear, tiring of the interaction: You have a choice of doing 3 out of 6 assignments. Just pick different assignments then.
Snowflake: But the other assignments make you READ A BOOK. (Said, this time, in the same tone he'd use were he confronting the possibility that he'd have climb Everest with only his boxers and a can of chocolate-covered cashew nuts).
So, dear director, I am terribly sorry that one of my assignments prompted this little gem to come see you, an older person who epitomizes the gift that older people can be, about how wrong it is that I expect students to interact....with older people.