02 March 2009

A really important post

Not mine. Tenured Radical's about students with problems. And the comments, too.

To the comment that the years 18-24 are when a lot of personal demons come out to play, I'd like to add that these are also years when, demographically speaking, it is quite likely that grandparents will die. I was not particularly close to my grandparents, so I have had to remind myself that many of my students come from very close families, and either are hit hard by the deaths of family members or need to be present for other people who are grieving. Moreover, everybody starts with four biological grandparents, and with re-marriage and step-families, it's not hard to double that number: so I wouldn't be surprised if some people report the loss of three or more grandmothers. Shoot, I had three myself, and that was a lot less common in my generation than it is now.

To show compassion is to take the high ground. Last year I had a student, for the second time, who in both classes seemed to be a bit of a flake. Hir grandmother died just before a major paper was due. I was not sympathetic, due partly to past history with this student, partly to pressures in my own life that meant I had a very tight timeline on the grading. Ze brought the obituary, listing surviving grandchildren. I apologized abjectly, and granted the extension. And wished I had just been more gracious in the first place.

Certainly it is a hard balance to strike, between compassion and needing to keep a class together. It's harder to grade a paper fairly if you're not doing the whole pile together, and if a student lags behind for a whole term, or, worse, lags further and further behind, at some point it may be better for that person to drop the class or withdraw from school. We professors have a responsibility to the whole class as well as to individuals. So I think professors who feel they may have taken too hard a line in the past can show themselves some compassion, too.

But I wouldn't joke about dead grandparents. In the past few years, I've grieved for both a very dear colleague and for my mother, and while the first prepared me somewhat for the second, in both instances I was surprised by how stupid death made me. I really could not think, could not concentrate or make decisions. And in the aftermath, whole chunks of things I was working on (essays I'd read, for example) disappeared from my brain. I'm having to re-read a lot of things, and start over from scratch on some writing. And that's as a high-functioning adult in a steady job and supportive relationship, without the extra stresses of college life.

Thanks, TR. We needed that.

1 comment:

profacero said...

Very good point on the multiple grandparents and the fact of having to take care of parents who are grieving their parents.

When I'm smart, I handle this in a practical way by having staggered deadlines for papers (in a class with papers, the easiest example to explain).

Example: a total of four must be written for a grade, but there are six due. You can either write all six and I will average the four highest grades, OR you can just miss two of them. That way, when your grandmother dies, you can just take a mental health day or two and miss one of the papers.

18-24 demons coming out of the woodwork, gosh. Let me see - by 18 I was in college, and by 24 I had an M.A. and was on my first funded grant, a research trip to points south. Things were very competitive and you had to keep those demons at bay. The Ph.D. was next, 5 more years. No wonder my demons are here now. ;-)