Tuesday, January 24, 2012

High Anxiety

The first weeks of a term are stressful for lots of students. It's especially stressful for students dealing with new stuff: a new area of study, a new instructor, a new level. The stress comes out in weird behavior. They aren't necessarily bad behaviors, but just a tad off in some way.

For example, in one class, we started looking at the syllabus. We're supposed to list and talk about the whole NWU goals thing, and I'm actually obedient enough to do so. So we've started, and a student's hand shoots up. I give her the go ahead to ask, and she says, "are we going to do X?" Where X is a campus activity towards the end of the semester. She's looking at the course calendar, and X is listed, because it's handy to know when X is. But that's it.

So why ask about that at that point? I guess she was bored by the goals stuff and skipped ahead, and was anxious and needed an immediate answer. I probably should have told her to wait until we got there.

I got an email this morning asking if instead of writing a paragraph about a word in a passage of lit, the student could write about a line. Writing about a line would be better, the student wrote. Except the assignment asks you to write about a word, so I probably think a word will be a good thing to write about. And I know it's just the student being anxious and wanting to do really well, but it's a paragraph that's going to work out to be one percent of the course grade. Try to do the actual assignment before asking to modify it, please.

I've also had the email about what they were supposed to do with this reading I'd asked them to do and given instructions about. (Read to short pieces, grade them as essays, and make some notes about why you'd give the grade you gave.) Sometimes students are too anxious to really hear stuff in class. That's okay the first day, because it's normal to be anxious and we teach the students we have. But it strikes me as inattentive.

Then there's the person who has to give the answer, but doesn't really know anything deeper than a word. What happened during this period (in a class on early modern lit, to get some context going)?

Student: Humanism!

Me: Great, what's humanism?

Student: Ummmm.

Do you not know what the word means but you use it as if it's the answer? Do you not expect a follow up question? (The same thing happens with "renaissance" and "reformation." Those are good words, but you need to know something about them if you're going to bring them up.)

And then there's me. You know how sometimes you say something mildly (or perhaps not so mildly) inappropriate and then dig yourself deeper? I did that. We were reading over the required statement about plagiarism, in which I say that I'll follow through with the NWU policy to an appropriate conclusion. That wasn't inappropriate. What was inappropriate was that I made a verbal aside that I thought drawing and quartering was an appropriate conclusion, but the university wouldn't go along with it. And then of course I had to explain what drawing and quartering were/are.


  1. If it makes you feel better, we were discussing Newt Gingrich and his habit of divorcing and marrying his mistress. One student said that it wasn't the woman's fault and I said, "She has agency. It's not like she tripped and fell on his penis."

  2. Oh, that's brilliant! You win!

  3. In Old English last semester, some one translated "little" or "small" in the wrong place, making it incorrectly modify man or king or some such, in a passage about being "in company" with someone (nudge nudge), and I blurted out, "What? This isn't dwarf porn!"

    Though perhaps indirectly threatening students with drawing and quartering is a tad more inappropriate than revealing you know about the existence of dwarf porn.