Extra credit?

One more week of class (not counting today), and between now and then, about fifty million research papers, essay revisions, final essay exams, quizzes, crying students, university transfer acceptance stories, awards nights, frantic stories about broken printers, group presentations, indignant stories about how someone didn’t do any work in the group presentation, tearful honors ceremonies, incorrectly cited sources, excuses for absences three months ago, pleas for extra credit, and other delights await me to be crammed into those few multilayered days. Like everyone in academia this month, I am awash in a sea of tasks.

It’s also the time in which professors start to really hit their limits with student excuses and expectations. I think it’s pretty symptomatic of this that all of a sudden, lots (LOTS) of people in this profession are circulating videos like the ones below. This first one really smacked me between the eyes the first time I saw it.


Then more started flooding in. This one has made the rounds at my school and I have to say, it was a little too realistic to be entirely funny–the author doesn’t even bother to add in anything extreme or comical because the actual conversation is enough on its own.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVvKnq5XT-g&feature=player_embedded [/youtube]

By the time I got halfway through this next one, I started to get a little depressed; mind you, that may be because in choosing these four, I also watched about twenty others that fed-up teachers had made, most consisting of the unspeakably tedious exchange: “Extra credit?” “No.” “Extra credit?” “No.” In this one, like the first, at least the teacher speaks her mind, the way many people fantasize about doing with their colleagues in the privacy of their own offices.

And finally, the one that hurts the most, and is actually the least true of my own experience but is also the funniest and the most nihilistic: “So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities.” (Ouch!)
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obTNwPJvOI8&feature=related [/youtube]

If you managed to get through all of these, I assume you are a teacher. People, I think most of you know how much I love my job. But certain buttons can only be pushed so many times before any person would snap. Most students are not anything like this. But every semester, enough of them are that eventually the teachers, beleaguered, overwhelmed, and oft-bullshitted bunch that they are, begin to get a little cranky with repeated excuses and refusals to follow the simplest directions. After you give the same instruction ten or twenty times AND put it in writing AND send it in an email to the whole class AND print out on a checklist of things to remember, yet several of them still claim to have no idea you wanted them to do it that way, it can feel a little hopeless. Realistically, though, in a class of 30 people, 27 or 29 are not like the students depicted in the videos above. One or two or three are, although that’s often all it takes to push ya over the edge.

I have to say, though, the extreme glut of these types of videos made by angry teachers is a little discouraging to me. I completely understand why they feel the need to make these videos to vent their frustration. There’s not one comment or question by the imaginary students in these videos that I haven’t fielded, and the more times it happens, the more intensely frustrating it becomes. But I dislike the “us against them” mentality that so many students seem programmed from high school to perpetuate and that so many teachers, though they rarely begin that way, end up driven to. I see this happen even when the students clearly like their teacher and vice versa. The end of the semester is really challenging for all of us (and I am including “them” in “us”). We’re all a little testy; let’s be honest. No pun intended.

However, I need to mention that it’s also the time of year that students offer thanks, come for a last visit, become more fun in class because you all know each other by now, get accepted to other schools and are all triumphant and excited, and are generally in better moods (even during finals week) because they feel accomplished and they know they are soon to be relieved of many burdens. We feel that way too. Those mountains of papers, no matter how high they will pile next week, all have to be graded by May 30. It sounds impossible, but they always get done. No matter what, it will all be over by then. And with the exception of the students like the ones in the first three videos above, I will start to miss them.

Between now and then, though, I will be begged for extra credit one more time than I might be able to handle. I just hope for the inner strength not to drop an F bomb, and instead to smile patiently and say “I’m sorry, no. Enjoy your break!”

10 responses to “Extra credit?”

  1. A White Bear says:

    I fully agree with and have been in the midst of feeling all of the above, Swells. It’s been a brutal semester, and when I’m not dealing with 100 emails asking me to pre-approve or fix all the papers before they hand them in or beg for “extra credit” (areyoufuckingserious?) because someone “needs” an “A,” or dealing with students who disappeared after attending four sessions and now suddenly realize they do “need” this class to graduate, I’m getting students who come in saying this material has been life-changing for them, and that they’re thinking about the world and their place in it in brand new ways.

    One of my students was talking about how he wanted to get out of his job in a bank because it’s always the same, every day, and while most of me says, yes, get out and do something fantastic with your life! there’s another part that is weary of the drama.

    100 students is too many, because I really do care about them. I wish I didn’t.

  2. A White Bear says:

    Girl, did I step on your spot today?

  3. Nobody says:

    My favorite excuse of the semester: ” I text in class because it’s the only thing I can do to keep from falling asleep.” OUCH!

  4. A White Bear says:

    Nobody, keep in mind that that is someone who is more entertained by reading the words “I know LOL!” than by whatever fascinating subject you’re teaching. I’ve got a few like that in my American lit course, and I have to remember that there are three or four students sitting in the front row every day who are actually taking the material WAY too personally. They balance each other out.

  5. swells says:

    “100 students is too many, because I really do care about them. I wish I didn’t.”

    AWB, I know that isn’t true (not that 100 is too many–it is, way way, and I have more)–that you wish you didn’t. If all we cared about were the literature, which we care about a lot, we could stay home and read it. Caring about them too (the 27 or 29, not the one or two or three) is why you go back. You don’t wish you didn’t, because without that, what would there be? Those in your front row taking it so personally–doesn’t it give you chills and hope and love?

  6. A White Bear says:

    It really does. But love is exhausting.

    A few years ago my girlfriend was coming back to town after having moved away for a while, and a bunch of her former students were desperately trying to make plans with her; they just HAD to see her. And she was sort of baffled. She needed to see me, her mom, her own friends, and these students were demanding her attention. We started trying to theorize what it is that former students want. As she said, “They act like they want to fuck me, but that’s clearly not what anyone literally wants.”

    Learning can be a really intense experience of self-confrontation and transference and all that, and it does feel strange to be on the receiving end of that attention when you know that (a) maybe you haven’t done the world’s greatest job, and (b) they’re mostly responding to the literature or to their own writing, or maybe even to some words you said, but it’s not like they know you in any meaningful way.

    After the semester ends, I have become friends with a few former students, but I think we’re both surprised by the difficult transition period. I had lunch with one of my MA students from last semester yesterday and, while we had a great time, I think he was slightly shocked by the fact that I’m not exactly the same person outside the classroom. I’m not performing, and I’m not making pronouncements. I’m kind of shy, less positive-attitudy, not dominant or bold, and I’m more careful about the kinds of jokes I make. I remember feeling similarly weird about seeing my own professors in social settings. As the student, you have to reconfigure your perception of that relationship if you actually want to be friends.

  7. A White Bear says:

    One of the reasons I love teaching is that, in the classroom, I am my best self. I’m fucking hilarious, and ethical, and really positive and supportive. I like that person, and aspire to be more like her in my everyday life, but it’s also a performance.

  8. F. P. Smearcase says:

    I’ve been really discouraged and sort of put off by the onslaught of videos like these, too, so it’s reassuring to read your characteristically warm and measured take on things and consider that probably a lot of these thigns are just kvetching within the context of love. I get this from AWB too, of course. And it’s not like there’s something particularly excusable about the behavior that is mocked here. Just stuff like the last video in particular makes me want to say “if you hate it that much, you should get out.”

    There are indeed some landmines in the student-teacher relationship, it seems. There’s an uncomfortable ambiguity in professorial authority, I think maybe. Does that make sense at all? It’s fine when things are going well, but there’s this real terror that is exposed if a student isn’t doing well, probably just a sudden and unfortunate clarity about people’s stated vs. actual reasons for going to college.

    Personal to AWB re 6: I suspect you’re not as different outside the classroom as you think. Maybe this is because we were both wearing towels when we met so there was no room to be shy or careful!

  9. Rachel says:

    As someone who regularly reads papers about “Hamlet. And death.”, I find that last video particularly hilarious. Then again, I turned in my final grades yesterday, so maybe it’s just euphoria.

  10. jeremy says:

    It’s not possible for me to comment on this while saying something that you haven’t already heard me say ten million times already.

    It’s almost over, though. “Hand in there.” You’ve heard me say that only, like, 40 times.

    Rad post.