Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Would You Please Relax?

Are modern students all set on a sort of hair-trigger for panic?

Today I was 6 minutes late for the start of my office hours. I was coming in the door to my office building carrying a $9 cup of coffee and my cell phone rings. It's my wife who says, "Two students have called here. They're worried about you."

And sure enough at my office door are three students all ashen in the face. "We didn't know what had happened to you." "It's not like you to be late." "We thought you might have been in a car accident."

I didn't even get into how they got my home phone number, but I didn't like the idea of their hysteria floating over the phone to my wife.

Six minutes? This is the tolerance level? And it has to be a car accident? They can't imagine a scenario where I'm taking a piss, talking to a student on the quad, stopped in traffic, or just getting a drink?!

And had this been the only instance, I wouldn't even mention it. But my students also seem to "go off" at the slightest provocation. We had some snow here last week, surprisingly. That day we were going to have some group presentations. About 1/2 of our students are commuters and it's not uncommon for real world traffic and weather to get in the way of arriving in class. Three students didn't make it and I just moved the reports for their groups to the next day. When I got back to my office I had panicky phone calls and emails from all three: "Can you prepare an extra-credit assignment so that I can make up the grade?" "I can't reach the other group members. I know they all failed because of me. Can you give me their numbers?" One just wrote me: "OMG. THE WEATHER AT MY HOUSE IS TERRIBLE. DON'T FAIL ME!"

Listen, it's 10 points out of 500. Get some perspective.

A month ago I docked half the class 5 points for not doing a project in the correct manner. It was on the handout, we talked about it in class, and I had reminded them. It was a minor thing. It's 5 points out of 100, okay? Two students were at my office before I was. Could I call a tutor for them? Could I make up some extra credit? Did I know that they had been sick? Did I know that they were on the college's debate squad, and that the weekend before they had been to Cincinnati and that's what went wrong?

I'm a pretty easygoing guy, so it's not as if I'm railing at them in class about these minor missteps. And each time they come up I find myself mollifying them all. "It's okay," I say. "We're all all right."