Now that the first frenzied week of school is over here at my university, I’m enjoying a Friday afternoon in which I can focus on fitting out my twink druid with heirloom gear rather than worrying what percentage of the total points available in the class will be assigned to attendance and participation. While my normal MO is to make sure that what happens in the classroom stays in the classroom (the classroom is like Vegas that way) so that my students don’t feel like I am going to ‘out’ them online, I do feel like I want to share a brief piece of advice to students — undergraduates and graduate students alike — about something that occasionally happens with students (although I’m not referring to any particular student here I promise promise):
Never tell them how it was supposed to taste.
I remember reading this advice in a cookbook some years ago. Only you know how the recipe was supposed to turn out, and only you are disappointed by how the dish you cooked currently tastes. Everyone else thinks it tastes just fine.
I bring this up for students who find they sometimes want to apologize for being late for class, for not doing the reading, for the quality of the midterm they turn in. Do not apologize — just turn it in, come to class next time, etc. etc. If you are really disappointed with the quality of the work you did, then why did you do that quality work in the first place? Why didn’t you get it sorted out? If there was something beyond your control that happened — your computer crashed — then I suggest just explaining this briefly to your professor and moving on.
If you feel really consumed by guilt by the fact that you smoked out, ate two large pizzas, and watched Iron Man three times in a row instead of writing your paper then, frankly, you probably should feel guilty. In this case what you cooked really does taste bad… but telling me that you know that isn’t going to change how it tastes. Guilt is you telling yourself that you know what the right thing to do is. Take the energy unleashed by that guilt and use it to shoot yourself at great velocity along a more productive and optimal trajectory. Do not let your hate and anger consume you, for that is the way of the Sith.
Sometimes — again, not yet this semester, but sometimes — I get students who explain to me about how sorry they are that they didn’t do X, Y, and Z correctly. Sometimes at length. I think that students who do this think they are doing emotional work to make me feel better. But in fact — and this is sometimes hard to explain — having to act all accepting and reassuring to students is in fact emotional work I have to do to make them feel better. Making me feel better is actually a selfish thing to do because it gratifies your need that I feel better, if you see what I am saying. In fact when students turn in papers late, or turn in poor work, the last think I want to do is perform acceptingness to make them feel better. Making me pretend to feel better about how good people’s intentions are is actually adding insult to injury. If you really want Love And Acceptance From Professor 1) do good work. On time 2) when you do bad work late, then remember: the moment you turn it in is the moment you begin to get to atone for your sins, turn a corner, start again, and begin doing good work. On time.
I don’t know — perhaps I am alone in this. Perhaps other professors feel differently about how best to manage turning in late/substandard work. I’d be interested in hearing what people have to say. Perhaps some people appreciate understanding that their students are penitent?