Monday, April 20, 2009

End-of-Semester Personal Tragedies

I of all people know the worst things in your life happen without regard to convenience, or to college schedules. It was during the last week of classes one semester that I received a call from my father telling me that my mother had had a heart attack and was in a coma. I was fortunate in that I was a graduate student, and only had to survive telling my advisor and one other professor. My undergraduate students have to deal with four or five different teachers, hoping that all of them will be reasonable.

Several of my students are having difficult times this semester. I have managed to avoid a deluge of dead grandmothers (or -fathers). I have a student whose son has been diagnosed with a neurological disorder; a student suddenly going in for back surgery; and a student whose great-grandmother had a stroke. All have provided or offered to provide documentation. I certainly have no personal interest in forcing them to do school work during their respective difficulties, or in reading papers written with whatever parts of their brain they can spare. It's frustrating for them, and frustrating for me.

Still, part of me looks at these emails and thinks come on. If you've known since Thursday, why are you writing me the day the paper is due to tell me? Just how close is your relationship with your great-grandmother, anyway, and at what degree of consanguinity do we declare that an excuse is no longer valid? Where is the line between being a mentor and agreeable teacher, and being a pushover?

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