Thursday, March 10, 2011

Toddler Benchmark

My New Year's Resolution this year was to not accept any behavior from students that I would not accept from my own children.  This doesn't seem like it should be a very high bar to reach, given that my youngest child is not yet 2, but you'd be surprised.  Or maybe you wouldn't.  My sisters, Real World Skipper and Stacy, tell me horror stories about colleagues and subordinates who think "I lost track of time." is a legitimate reason for a 3 hour coffee break or that sharing the gory details of your last vodka binge with a virtual stranger is an appropriate work behavior.  So now I am on a quest: to do my best to make sure that the young people who pass through my door are at least marginally prepared to go out into the world and, if nothing more, pretend to be grown ups (which in reality is what most of us are doing anyway--pretending).

My first battle in this war has been over cell phones.  Now don't get me wrong; I love my phone.  Well no, I love the concept of having a cell phone, but I'm not particularly enamored with my current model. That's not relevant.  The point is, I have no objection to the concept of a cell phone.  What I do object to is having to send messages like the following:

Just a reminder that cell phones/smartphones/Blackberries should be turned off during class time.  Midge (obviously not the TA's real name) and I have both received emails sent from a student's Blackberry during class time this semester, something that is not an appropriate use of classroom time.  From now on, emails sent during class will not receive a response.  If you have a question or problem related to class material or an assignment, please ask during class or speak to us afterward, otherwise please wait until after class to send emails.

What is troubling is that I'm not sure whether it bothers me more that this student was obviously way too busy texting during class to bother stopping to ask her question in real time, or that it did not occur to her that the message was going to come in stamped with both the time it was sent and the ubiquitous "Sent from my Blackberry" signature.

Then there was the conversation I had with an otherwise very bright young woman after I asked her to put her phone away during class.  She came up after class was over to apologize for texting during class and then added "but I was really angry about something and I couldn't stand it, so I HAD to get it out," which left me wondering what would have happened if she hadn't had a cell phone handy.  Would she have exploded?  Would she have suddenly jumped out of her seat during class and begun screaming about whatever made her so angry?  Probably neither.  She would probably have come to class, complained to the friends sitting around her briefly, and then either seethed about it during class or been distracted by work and forgotten about it until she left. 

And THIS is what it is that bothers me about cell phones--confusing immediate with imperative.  Just because you CAN broadcast every thought that wanders through your head at the nanosecond that it does, does not mean you have to.  Just because you don't have to wait to transmit whatever it is you've just now thought of, doesn't mean you shouldn't.  The idea that my phone is ringing, I MUST ANSWER IT NOW baffles me. Human ingenuity invented answering machines for land line phones to avoid this very idea!  Your phone and mine and pretty much every other cell phone traveling around in someone's pocket or bag came with this very cool feature.  If you don't answer it, a very nice lady will answer on your behalf and tell the person calling that you are unavailable and will record whatever it is they have to say for you to listen to at some more convenient time.  Preferably a time when you are not sitting in class, taking an exam, driving down the interstate, checking out at the grocery store, or sitting at the dinner table with your family.  And texting is even better, because there is no middle man (so to speak).  The message goes right to your phone and there it sits, patiently waiting for you until you get around to reading it, again, preferably not at any of the aforementioned times.  Honest.  I swear.  They do not have expiration dates.  I know this because I have text messages left in my inbox from 3 years ago, and they're still sitting there waiting to see what I will ultimately do with them.  They've go nowhere else to go.

Perhaps I should have mentioned all of this to the young woman who was called into my office to meet with me after she plagiarized not one but two papers and skipped two exams in class.  When she showed up in my office, a minor miracle in and of itself given her difficulty in making it to the classroom, she waltzed in and sat down while she was talking on her phone.  I instructed her to please go back outside and finish her call before coming in to meet with me.  She stood up, sighed, rolled her eyes, walked just outside the door and while looking at me said "I gotta go, Babe.  She's making me hang up the phone."  I considered telling her I was not making her do anything; she was welcome to go elsewhere and carry on her conversation.  I also considered yanking the phone out of her hand and tossing it out the office window.  In the end I did neither, because I recognized that someone who feels put out by being given the chance to salvage their college career after plagiarizing two papers and skipping multiple exams is well beyond the aid of voicemail.

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