A System Broken
I have a policy for all exams: I will accept latecomers (one word? Two word hyphenate? Anyone?) until the first person finishes his or her exam and leaves the room. Then, if I am feeling kind, I will reschedule a make-up exam that will be hellishly more difficult than the regular exam. So don't be late. That simple. This is in my syllabus. I remind students of this the class meeting before every exam.
Guess who strolled in 35 minutes after the final exam started? Yes, Inappropriate Sister. Somehow I just knew this was going to happen. I knew it. After I brought Kiki to class, I was greatly elevated in her eyes, but I just knew we hadn't finished our head-butting festival. Right before the final, I looked around the room and noticed her absence. I asked her brother, "Brother, where is Sister?" He was perplexed. "I dunno. She's on her way. She was with me in the parking lot across the street a minute ago." Whatever. Can't keep track of your relatives for two minutes while crossing the street? That's for their family to work out.
She literally strolled in 35 minutes late. No tears, no panic, no "tragedy struck and that's why I'm late." Just smiling, "I'm here now." Hooray. Let's have a ticker-tape parade. I was not happy. "Sister. Half the class has finished the exam. You are officially 'Too. Late.'" I'm sure you can guess what she said. Because it wasn't her reality, it couldn't possibly be true: "I didn't see anyone leave." I was pissed. And I didn't handle it well. "Here," I said, "Are a stack of finished exams. What more proof do you need?" Now she was pissy right back, "I didn't say I didn't believe you. I just said I didn't see anyone leave." What-fucking-ever. Tomato, To-mah-to.
So, I go through the hassle of trying to schedule a make-up exam. We agree on Friday at 9:00 a.m.
And here, my friends, is where the system breaks down. This is WHY I offer make-up exams and second chances and third chances. But let me back up.
J. used to teach part-time at another local university. Freshman Calculus. For fun. gob bless him. When I first embarked on this ridiculous endeavor called grad school + teaching fellowship, he said, "You will have students challenge you but as long as you have a good department chair, you'll be fine."
But the thing is, ladies and gentlemen, I don't have a good department chair. I don't even have a good department stool. (Ha, ha! With the rage comes the potty humor.)
I can't blame him (the stool) entirely. I know some (or half or all) of the onus is on me for being too spineless to stand up to him, so the system is broken all the way down.
What the hell am I talking about? Here is an example:
After the cheating incident, I spoke with some of my more experienced colleagues. Each of them shared with me example after example of a student cheating and the department chair siding with the student. For example, one of my colleagues said she was reading a paper when about three paragraphs in, she read, "We here at Planned Parenthood blah, blah, blah," and she thought, "Wait a minute. This kid doesn't work at Planned Parenthood," and she paid a visit to their website. Lo and behold, this student's paper, lifted entirely from a Planned Parenthood Fact Sheet. She gave him an "F" on the assignment (which happened to be an extra credit reaction paper to an off-campus speaker) and threatened to take him to Judicial Affairs. He complained to our department chair, who said, "It's just an extra credit paper. Give him a break." The same student was busted for blatantly cheating on the final and did get an "F" in the class, but that's another story, I guess.
I have story after story after story like this: Student fucks up. Instructor puts foot down. Student whines to department chair. All is forgiven. Instructor looks like bad guy; students fails to learn lesson of accountability for actions and department chair is benevolent hero.
Friday morning, after waiting for an hour and a half for Inappropriate Sister, I tracked down my advisor. She's been doing this for 30+ years and is very practical and no-nonsense. Her response? An hour and a half is an hour and twenty minutes too long. She's pushed you all semester and this is bullshit. You have other things to do. But before you go, just check in with the department chair so he knows what you're going to do. Then follow up the whole thing with an e-mail so you have some documentation.
I met with the department chair and he said, "I completely support your decision, of course. But, might I recommend for the sake of peace, just leaving the final exam here with our department secretary. She can administer it to her if she ever shows up." What did I say to the man who holds my career in his hands? I asked, "You really think I should still give her the opportunity to take the exam, even though she is going on two hours late and didn't e-mail or call?" He said, "Well, things happen. Now if she doesn't show up today, but does show up Monday, then I definitely wouldn't let her take the exam at that point." Wow. Way to put your foot down.
I left. After giving the exam to the department secretary. I was torn between hoping she'd show up and hoping she wouldn't. I also had my own school work (take-home final, etc.,) to do so I tried my best not to think about it.
Yesterday I spoke to the department secretary. Here's the skinny:
Sister showed up at noon. Three hours late. She asked the secretary if she could have a few minutes to look over her notes before she took the exam. Secretary said yes. Sister went out in the hallway and read her notes for an hour. Came in at 1:00 pm. to take the exam. Said she couldn't take it until she went and got some coffee. Apparently, we were out. My department chair showed up to save the day. He made her some coffee!!! She got a 72 on the exam. I picked up the exam today. She had written across the top, "Thank you for your grace."
Grace, my ass.
This makes me want to quit. Or cry. Or both.
Also, please don't blast me for being a spineless wuss. At least not today. Can I have a make-up blasting on Friday?