Monday, February 26, 2007

Persistent Penelope

I complain about student apathy as much as the next person, and after ten years of teaching I've only seen that get worse. I often proclaim to whoever might listen that I'd give anything for a truly engaged and dedicated student, someone who'd challenge me in class, come to office hours, do the work happily, and treat the job of being in my class as a serious and important enterprise.

Until I met Penelope.

Penelope has wrung me dry in the first half of the semester. I had an inkling on the first day that Penelope might be a handful. After class - during which she dominated things by asking clarifying questions about almost everything on the syllabus - she quizzed me for 15 more minutes about my background, my degree, etc. It was, at the time, flattering. Who doesn't like to talk about herself a little every now and then.

When the first projects started, Penelope wanted special treatment, extra face-time, more feedback than I was giving others. And when she came to office hours I gave it. But on her most recent visits, she's become more and more demanding.

We're working on a minor project right now, something that occasionally extends to 2 pages of text and a few slides of buildings which the student then presents to class. Last week after coming to my office hours (where she always is 5 minutes early, waiting), she reappeared 40 minutes later for some more feedback. "I want you to tell me if this is better now," she said, handing me the draft that showed a variety of handwritten corrections. I explained to Penelope that what we had talked about the first time - earlier that hour - was something she needed to think about, put into effect, and spend a couple of days on.

"Oh, I just sat out in the hallway and did the changes right now. I knew you'd want to see me as soon as you could."

Well, I didn't, and I tried to explain that, but she took the criticism badly and stormed out.

Then on Friday she was back again. I was in a colleague's office down the hallway and I spotted her headed toward my door. I selfishly wanted to run the other direction. At 1:02 pm - my hours start at 1 - Penelope peered into my colleague's office, spied me, and then turned on her heel.

At 1:04 pm, when I arrived at my door, she was waiting with a grim look of determination and her new pages. I read through them, made some comments about some things that might be made more clear and I passed the paper back.

"When can I come back for another review," she asked. "Is 1:30 okay?"

"No," I said. "And we've talked about this before. I think it's important that you give serious thought to my suggestions, but I also want you to have time to figure out how much input fits with your own ideas. If you go sit in the hallway and scribble in changes, I don't think you're giving you, your work, or me enough value."

Penelope picked her stuff up and left. When I got home at 2:15 that afternoon, she'd emailed me those same 2 pages with more corrections, changes, and a pleading note to make extra office hours the next day so she could come and get more feedback.

Am I wrong to want to hide out until May?