Friday, February 28, 2014

You want smack? I'll give you some smack.

I wanted to use an Eddie Rabbit picture instead.
A couple weeks ago, here at Wossamatta U, we had an ice-storm: this isn't unusual, but it hit mid-day and the administration (suddenly jolted out of its collective turn at the bourbon water-cooler) decided to cancel classes from mid-day, precisely eight minutes before mid-day classes were supposed to start. That was annoying enough, given that I had already clomped across campus with ice-cleats strapped to my boots so that I'd be sure to get to class on time, and given that I had to cancel our class midterm, which had already been delayed a week and a half due to weather.

More annoying was the fact that Gregarious Gilbert had started to take the exam early, on the other side of campus, in order to accommodate his need for, uh, accommodation (extended time). That was not, per se, a problem at all. However, he started the exam a full half hour before the rest of the class, in a separate room with a separate proctor, and thus he was well into the exam when the administration canceled class.

I raced slip-sliding over to the other side of campus where he was hunkered down in a tiny office with the proctor. "Gilbert," I said, "I don’t want to interrupt you. But class has been canceled. I'd like you to continue taking the exam, because you've already started and it just makes sense to finish now. OK?" Gilbert nodded in slightly baffled agreement and went back to work; I left him and his proctor and went back to my office.

Several hours later, long after the proctor had delivered Gilbert's exam to me, I received the following e-mail from Gilbert:

"Dear Prof. Snugglebunny,
I'm feeling uneasy about the test I took earlier this morning, and I know that if I had more time to study I would have been able to do a much better job overall, especially on the essay portion. With everyone receiving these extra four days to study, I wanted to see if there was any way I could get extra points or if I could do some kind of extra credit assignment to improve my test score. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, I just feel at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the class. Thank you for your consideration."

Hey, at least he said 'thank you,' right? I mean.  .  . uh, WTF? Yes, Gilbert, bro – technically you are right: everyone else gets "extra days" to study, even though they probably all wish the frigging thing was over and done with, and now they have to wait until next week. But wait: at a disadvantage??? Why? Why would you think this? Oh, let's check your record of work thus far in the class, shall we?

First, the essay was taken almost word for word from our first in-class assignment. Oh, wait. . . you didn't do the first assignment. You weren't in class that day, and you got a zero. Bummer, dude.

Second, as I gaze at the BlackholeBoard Site thingy for our class, I see that you never downloaded the reading for that assignment, either. Or any other readings from the previous three weeks. Total bummer, dude. I can see how you think you would be better off, NOW THAT YOU HAVE SEEN THE ESSAY QUESTION AND WOULD HAVE FIVE MORE DAYS TO DO THE READING. Oh, you already had an extra week and a half due to weather-related delays earlier in the term, and you still couldn't be bothered to do the reading or get a copy of the first assignment. Life sucks, doesn't it, Gilbert? Or as good ol' Stella from Sparksburg would have called you: CHAFFEE!

Warm hugs from,

Prof. Snugglebunny


  1. Well, at least the problem that I anticipated when you named him "gregarious Gilbert" -- the possibility that he might leak info about the exam to the rest of the class -- seems unlikely. Otherwise, aargh.

  2. You'll say no, no re-take. He'll go to the dean. The dean will back him. *shit* You'll change the essay question for everybody and let him write about it. The vicious cycle will continue...

  3. It's all about the grade. Knowledge means nothing: it's about the grade. So whatever you can do to game the system and get the grade, is justified.

  4. Shortly after I started teaching, I shared a course with a colleague, taking 2 of the 3 sections. Midterm time came and he insisted that we give the same exam to everyone, even though the lectures for each section were at different times. I expressed my misgivings but he was adamant, claiming that the students were adults and they could be trusted to keep quiet. I didn't think so, but, being a rookie, I wasn't about to object.

    Guess who was proven right? Guess who set separate exams for each group the next time he taught a course with multiple sections and, thereby, had much more work because of it?

    That incident should have taught me a lesson about that colleague. The following year, he was appointed assistant department head and, whenever I had a dispute with a student, he never backed me, even though I was probably right.

    Later, though, whenever I had more than one section in a course, I made arrangements to have them write their exams together. Sometimes it would be outside of scheduled hours, but I often was able to swap timeslots with a colleague. It made for much less work for me and ensured that nobody would blab about what was on the exam after it was over.

  5. Posted on Behalf Professor Snugglebunny

    I wondered whether I should write a new exam for the other forty students. Then I stopped wondering. The type of material I teach in this particular class, which is a survey of a subfield in my social sciences discipline, doesn't lend itself easily to entirely new questions for a midterm (there are only so many ways to ask what are essentially the same questions about the introductory material I cover in this class). I did think that Gregarious Gilbert might leak the questions to spite me. Then I realized that it would be strategically stupid for him to do that, because his work would just look worse in comparison to everyone else's work. Then I realized that I have no faith in his ability to think or act strategically. But I said f--- it, anyway. I'm not writing another exam.

    Turns out I didn't need to worry. The exam magically managed to do the trick of separating the wheat from the chaff (thanks, Stella). Or of sifting and winnowing, if you Badgers prefer that.