Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sometimes We Edit Posts That Come In For Clarity and Elegance. And Other Times We Just Let It Fly! "Professor Knuckleball And The Take-Home Exam."

Dear RYS,

Longtime viewer here, first time writer...

I've not even finished my dissertation. I've been teaching in a fairly large State University for the past 3 years--mostly in the summers. But, this Winter I decided to teach fulltime, full well knowing that I wasn't going to get smack done on my dissertation (O well...). I've seen a lot of things in my three years here, but something happened the other day to top it all off! And, frankly, I just want to bitch about it. I don't need any advice, just an outlet to bitch; and perhaps someone to say, "You know, it really is okay for you to drink after this one!"

In an attempt to be kind to some of my students, I gave a take home essay exam. (For the record, I will never do this again, for apparently students have more trouble finding the spellchecker at home than they do when using the University's computers. Anyway...). I told my students that each question should have an answer between 3 and 5 doubled-spaced pages. I said "per question" mind you. Now, here's where the fun starts...

The day the exam was due--and we'll come back to this later--I received a flurry of emails asking me, "What do you mean by 3 to 5 pages per question?" Some students couldn't interpret "per question" to mean anything but "3 to 5 pages total!" I actually confronted a student who came to my office with, "What does the phrase 'per question' mean to you?" They looked confused, so I changed the subject and said, "I'll be at Starbucks; office hours are cancelled for today. Better yet, I'm going home to drink!"

Next, my admin. assistant came running down the hall and stormed into my office. I asked her what was wrong. O' faithful RYS readers, are you ready for this one? She said that about ten students were outside the locked, glass doors of the department pounding away and demanding to be let in so they could turn in their exams. Now, by way of some background, I'd told all of my students that the exams were due by Monday no later than 5pm. If they attempted to turn the exams into my office after 5pm or via email, I would not accept the exams and they would receive an "F." I thought it was a fairly empty threat, because I kept telling myself, "Everyone will get the exams in by 5pm. It's college, so how hard can this be?" I also consoled myself with, "Surely, no one will try to sneak around this by emailing the damn exams to me!" How wrong I was...

It was 5:20pm, twenty minutes past closing time for the Department. The doors were locked, and to my amazement my admin. assistant was right: Outside those glass doors stood ten students not only pounding on the doors to get in, but mercilessly attempting to shove their papers under the small space between the bottom of the doors and the floor. (Oddly enough, some of them actually succeeded, but that's another story for another time).

After the students went away, a young man who has attended every single class, including day one, showed up at the glass doors. He politely knocked at the Department's doors and one of the nicer admin's let him inside. (Big mistake!). He came down the hall looking like that guy, Lump Hudson, in the 2004 remake of Ladykillers. And, to make matters worse, he had tears in his eyes. I thought to myself, "O no! I'm just not in the mood to have compassion for a student at 5:30 on a Monday evening." Besides, a huge storm was getting ready to blow through the Midwest, and I really just wanted to get home and snuggle with my wife. To make matters worse, I'd just discovered that five people tried to email me their exams, because their cars magically exploded on one of the superhighways around the University. Somehow they survived the explosion--at least they survived long enough to email me their exams.

Well, after a few moments this "Lump-like" student calmed down and said to me, "I don't have the exam done, I only have an outline to give you." When I asked why, expecting some normal response like, "My printer blew up, or my IPod turned on me in a fit of rage like something out of one of the Terminator movies," I instead got, "Well... I noticed today in class that many of the students have four books for the course whereas I only have one." Dazed and confused I asked, "What do you mean you only have one book for the class?" The student responded with an ever so shaky voice, "I didn't know we were supposed to have more than one book." Before I could say anything else, Lump--and we'll just call him that from here on out--informed me that even though he'd been at every class from day one down to today, he'd never bothered to pick up a syllabus. (Syllabi were handed out five weeks ago). What I said next wasn't so kind, so we'll just skip it, but my mouth dropped open as my brow formed into a Bruce Campbell-esque look of utter confusion reminiscent of Campbell's character Ash in Army of Darkness, or, if you like, Evil Dead III.

Regardless of what I said, the student wanted me to reward him for never having picked up a syllabus starting five weeks ago on the first day of class. He proposed that I give him one whole extra week to work on the damn exam. It was 5:30 so I said, "I'll think about it..."

I've not yet decided what to do, but I did go home and have that drink. Today, I'm thinking of having another... And perhaps I will now that I got all of the bitching I needed to do out of my system.

Some prof. in the Mid West who's now thinking he should've kept practicing his knuckleball