When one of the clerks at my local small-town store returned from college last spring, I asked her how her first year of college went.
“OK,” she answered cheerfully, and then added emphatically, “Only thing is, college professors just don’t care about you. High school teachers care; professors just want to collect that check, and that’s all they care about.”
I kept my groans and sighs internal. “What do you mean, exactly?” I asked. She just repeated the above. “Well, like what, for example?” I prompted. She didn’t know. Said she’d think about it.
I saw her again this week, back from school again. I didn’t recognize her until I heard her voice—she was at best “stocky” before, and in the past few months, she’s changed her hair style and color and gained at least 25 lbs.—now seriously obese. I was shaking my head about a few of my own students, students who had emailed me course work eight days after the last day of classes—no explanation, no excuse, no plea for clemency, just the blithe expectation that of course I could just accept it whenever they got around to submitting it.
“A problem with math skills, perhaps!” I joked with the clerk.
“Oh, I’m terrible at math—but I got an A, because my math teacher likes me.”
Still joking, I abruptly shifted my weight, placed my fist on my hip, demanding “And English?!”
“Oh—that was horrible!” she replied. “We had an adjunct.”
OK—not quite enough information (especially since she attends a community college—60%+ of the faculty are adjuncts)…
“What was the problem?” I asked.
“He hardly ever came to class,” she said calmly, and then with much more animation, “And he was the kind of professor who would assign a ten page paper on introducing wolves into the Adirondacks…”
I cut her off. “Wait a minute. He hardly ever came to class?”
“Yup,” she answered, “And he assigned this ridiculous ten page paper on introducing wolves into the Adirondacks…”
I sensed a pattern here, and sure enough, we repeated it a few more times.
“Never mind the paper,” I finally insisted. “Let’s stick with your first point—if he hardly ever came to class, why didn’t you talk to the department Chair? Or the Dean?”
She looked at me and shrugged, a bit confused. “Well, this paper was just ridiculous…”
A ten page paper. O the horrors. Probably involved research too.
“But why would you all sit there repeatedly when he didn’t come to class and not report it?”
She shrugged again. “I don’t know. We didn’t think of it, I guess.”
Critical thinking. Education in action.