Today my writing students turn in their formal papers. It is the last day of the regular semester, and since we don't have a final, this is the last day Usually this is a happy day, in which we don't have class and they come to my office to drop their papers off - exhausted and relieved to be done with my rigorous course - and we all say "have a great summer!" and "I hope I see you around next year!" and things like that.
A student just came in, paper completed. He had multiple deaths in his family this week. He has spent this week attending funerals. He told me this by way of apologizing for his work, and for not being in class. (And to think that I was pissed off that he didn't show up for peer review. God, I'm an asshole.) He seems like he hasn't slept. He seemed like he was on the verge of tears. But he finished his paper. And he turned it in on time.
And I was on the verge of tears, as I am whenever this sort of thing happens with a student. There was nothing I could say - no way that I, his writing teacher who doesn't ultimately know him in a real way, could comfort him. And there was no way that I could communicate to him adequately how impressed I was that he got the paper done at all. Will he do well on the paper? Probably not. But because he got it done he will not fail the course. And that won't be a gift that I give him because of a sob story: it will be something that he earned.
Do you ever notice how students who have real tragedy, real obstacles to doing the work of a course, always seem to pull it together and to get it done? I've had a student diagnosed with leukemia; I've had a student find out that she was pregnant, have the grandmother who raised her pass away, and the next week have the father of her child be murdered (yes, all the same student; yes, in my first semester on this job; yes, this was another time where I had to stop myself from crying in front of the student; yes, she passed my course); I've had students with ill family members (cancer, CF, etc.); I've had students with deaths in the family; I've had students with as many as 11 children. These students don't look for me to cut them breaks on deadlines or on required work. They apologize because they're not doing their best work. They kill themselves to turn everything in.
I wish that I could tell those students who ask for extensions because they have a final they want to study for or because they broke up with their boyfriend/girlfriend these stories in a way that would get through to them. I wish that I could explain to them that I'm "mean" about these things not because I'm heartless but because it's not fair to those students who manage - in spite of much greater obstacles - to do the work.
So these are my thoughts on my last day of the regular semester.
4 years ago