Thursday, June 19, 2008

Aggressively Inattentive

I have an attendance policy most of my students like: I don't differentiate excused and unexcused absences; you just get 1 or 2 freebies (depending on the class) and I don't care if it's because you have the flu or you have a great tee time, you're an adult, it's up to you. (There is a bonus for perfect attendance; after missing 2 you start to lose points, but you can do extra credit.) It drove me absolutely mad in college when I'd have strep throat or something and have to get a doctor's note to be allowed to miss class. I was pretty sure that at age 20, I knew whether or not it was a) appropriate and b) necessary for me to be in class. And some of those classes I skipped, I was much better served academically by studying during that time. And one in particular, well, it was just much too sunny to be in class. (Longest South Bend winter ever, most perfectly beautiful spring day in the history of the world.)

My students' lives are quite a bit more complicated than mine was. I was an on-campus traditional student; they're all commuters, more than half of them have kids, nearly all of them have jobs. They're not just contending with the possibility of a nasty flu knocking them out of commission, but with sick kids, work demands, divorce court dates, car breakdowns, even sick pets. (If you have a pet, you know a veterinary emergency can take way more time than you'd think!)

Contrary to what some of my colleagues suggested, the world did not come to an end, nor did I have entirely empty classrooms due to this policy. They pretty much attend class and skip class for exactly the same reasons as they do in other classes, and at exactly the same rate. The difference is that the bad eggs feel far less obligated to invent sick and/or dead relatives, and the good eggs don't have to call me with panicked dread when their kid has to go to the ER.

(Side note: Do students invent dead relatives? Yes. Apparently it's pandemic to academia. And Peoria is such a small town that I already had a situation where I knew the allegedly dead relative. (Reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.) It's terribly awkward. I give them my condolences and bounce them to student services; student services can make all the arrangements for make-ups for students. I have yet to have a student who misses two or three weeks of class and several assignments, shows up, claims a dead relative, and gets bounced to student services with my condolences actually get back to me through student services to arrange make-ups. Because student services wants proof. The ones with actual dead relatives miss two days, e-mail their papers, and come back looking haggard and awful and like they should be anywhere but in my classroom. The ones with fake dead relatives who skipped two weeks of class usually look tan. I'm 30, I'm not stupid.)

At any rate, my other policy is that I don't care if you don't pay attention, as long as you do it quietly and undistractingly. If you want to sit in the back row and do a crossword puzzle because you want to put a butt in the seat for the attendance grade, that's fine. It comes out in the final grade, because I test on lecture, and God knows I sat in the back of classes and ignored professors on occasion. (Honestly I'd prefer a somewhat more European model of attendance: You get the syllabus, you show up for the final, and whether you come to lecture in between is up to you. If students don't want to be there, forcing them just makes for a bad atmosphere in the classroom. Some students can go through some classes without ever showing up, especially Gen Ed requirements or really bad teachers where you learn it all from the book anyway; other students probably should learn the lesson of "get your ass in gear if you want to pass, nobody's going to babysit you" quite a bit earlier in their collegiate careers and general life. But we babysit them, so they really don't.) I can't abide people who sit there and whisper all class; that's maddening for me, and for the paying-attention students. I also keep an eye on laptop-using ignorers, because, yes, some students take this opportunity to look at porn, and that's ridiculously distracting for the students behind them. But as long as they're not bothering anybody, I generally ignore them too.

Anyway, to the point: I have one student this semester who comes in every night, sits in the front row, puts his head down on the desk, and promptly goes to sleep. Every night. I stand by everything I said above, but he's doing it in the front row. Not only is this just aggressively, obnoxiously inattentive, but it's really hard to restrain my whiteboard-marker-throwing impulses when he's sitting right there. It's driving me mad.

He's probably working third shift or 12-hour days or has some other excellent my-life-is-crazy excuse, but, seriously dude, front row?


Ms. PH said...

I was always amused at the different attendance policies during law school. Seriously, all of the students were sooner or later going to be lawyers. I think the time to start trusting them to organize their own lives was law school. I aggressively ignored all attendance policies and, if I had to miss a day, I missed a day. I really didn't think it was anyone's business why I was missing a day. The bottom line was, I rarely missed class and still got decent grades. I think professors who try to micromanage their adult students are just asking for more headaches.

I actually did have a dead relative during the fall of my third year of law school - my grandmother. Her death was sudden and completely unexpected. I called the administration the day I found out and said I was going to be gone for week or so (she lived in Washington State) and everything was fine.

When I got back, one professor demanded proof of said dead grandmother. He requested the obituary and proof of how she was related to me. What an ass.

Billy Dennis said...

Allow me to put on my grouchy currmudgeon hat for a moment:

Any school what feels it necessary to institute an attendence policy is a school beign run my namby-pandy suck ass wimps who are afraid of their students, their students parents and, probably, their alumni.

How the crap is any college student going to learn how to be a responsible adult of they aren't given the opportunity to regulate their own behavior by whether or not there are inherent (not articifial) consequences to their actions?

I would be the most libertarian of college educators. I would have no attendence policy. The rule simply would be do the work, pass the tests and you pass the class. If you don't you fail. Life lesson learned.


Diane Vespa said...

We should go out some night and plan out some of the really fun things you could do to get even with the guy that sleeps in the front row during your class. Heh heh...

Hayseed said...

This might be one of those "best of intentions" people. Each time he has the best of intentions- he intends to stay awake, he intends to take notes, he wants to do well, so he picks a seat in the front row. Intention be damned, his exhaustion gets the better of him each and every time. I know, sounds like a heaping load of crap, but I swear to Gwad this was my experience in Analytical Geometry. I just suffered a head to toe yawn just recalling it.

Michael said...

Shortly after my wife and I were married her maternal grandmother passed away and I missed work one day for the funeral. I had the personal time but my boss seemed intent on running my life not just managing my employment. About six months later my wife's paternal grandmother died and again I took a day off for the funeral. The idiot boss accused me of lying because I had already used the "wife's grandmother excuse" and unless she had been resurrected, the grandmother can only count once. I told him everyone had TWO grandmothers unless they have been cloned and he went ballistic swearing he only had one! Duh?

Eyebrows McGee said...

Wow, classy! I actually had to withdraw from a class in college a week before the final because I'd been hospitalized with mono AND had a grandparent die, and the professor was an enormous ASS about it and accused me of making it up. He was so appalling about it that the dean gave me a late withdrawal (very unusual) and him a dressing down.

b said...

I had a theatre history professor who was legendary in the dept that would throw things or say drop the very heavy theatre history text book at choice moments.

Very entertaining for the rest of us.

But then again you could also hear him coming from hundreds of yards away because the whistling of broadway show tunes would proceed him.