Monday, October 31, 2005


When I was a senior in high school, one of my friends hated our physics teacher. One of the rules in his class was that food and beverages were not allowed. It was a science classroom, and experiments were conducted there. Eating and drinking was simply not safe. But it was the first class of the morning, and my friend was tired at 7:30 in the morning. So one day she brought a 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew to class. The teacher took it and dumped it out in the sink at the front of the classroom, in front of everyone. It was probably an overdramatic way of handling the situation, but he was really just enforcing his rule. She hated him for the rest of the year.

So I have first-hand experience of how sensitive and fickle students can be, and I hate not being liked. I've come to terms with the idea that, as a teacher, being liked isn't really my job. It's more important to stick to my policies. But I'm a writing teacher, and I think most students do their best writing for teachers they don't hate. But I may have made a student hate me today. It wasn't entirely my fault, though.

A woman in my class emailed me about a week ago, to tell me that her grandpa had died and she was going to miss a week of class. We had a paper due last Tuesday, and she asked if she could email it to me. I told her that I was sorry to hear about her grandpa, and that she should definitely email me her essay. But I had to receive it by Tuesday, because my policy is not to accept any late assignments, no matter how valid the reason for missing class.

I didn't hear from her until today. Today she emailed me her paper, with a note that said another instructor told her that she should turn the paper in to me late, "due to the circumstances." I promptly replied that I still could not accept the essay, but that she would have a chance to turn it in at the end of the semester, when I give everyone a chance to either revise or make up one essay. I also mentioned that it is my prerogative, not any other instructor's, to decide whether I will accept late work in my class. In her next email, she told me that her other instructor told her to try to hand the essay in, and "if it wasn't accepted, to let them know, and they would take care of it" for her.

So now I'm left to wonder what that means. In the immortal words of Beavis, "Are you threatening me?" This will in no way damage her grade in the class, and I can defend my decision completely and confidently. I'm not punishing her for making grieving for her grandfather and being with her family during a hard time a higher priority than writing an essay for me. I allow students to make up one essay so that they have the freedom to do exactly that.

I'm actually not upset with her; I'm mildly irritated that she complained about me to another instructor instead of making an appeal directly to me, but that's where it ends. I won't hold it against her. The other instructor is the one who's grating my cheese. He's stepped out of his (or her) classroom and into mine, where he (or she) is undermining my authority despite not knowing all the details of the situation. I've become the bad guy because some professor can't mind his (or her) own beeswax.

I hope this other professor approaches me about this. I'd love to explain things, plainly and respectfully.

Of course, the damage has already been done. That student is probably already determined to hate me for the rest of the semester. It's too bad. Her writing has been good so far.


Anonymous Becky said...

You know, your student was well aware before she handed her essay in late that you would not accept it passed Tuesday. You made it very clear. And considering that she can re-do one essay at the end of the semester, she can turn it in then. I say that she hasn't got a leg to stand on. If she can't follow the rules, she should have thought a little harder about it before she knowingly broke them.

10/31/2005 11:08 PM  

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