Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Please Don't Drop Me...."

As I mentioned once before, my students are truly normal and good for the most part - there haven't been many "classic" stories over this semester.


There is one for whom the ability to weave together narrative threads of bullshit has become an art form. Around midterm time, I received a huge email address to me and the student's other professors. And this did it for me from the get-go - don't you hate it when a student sends a pleading, let me tell you my life story email to ALL their professors? Anyway, apparently this student had gotten it into his head that one or many of his profs had notified his parents that he wasn't doing adequately in his classes. Now, he was making a D in mine, but it's against school policy for us to discuss a student with anyone else - including their parents. So, he writes this tome to all of us and the basic gist of it is that he wants us to lie to his parents and tell them that he was passing his classes. An excerpt:

I am on the verge of being dropped from one of my classes and my parents fear that I shall make a mess of things as I have in High school, but between you and I, if I may be so bold to include you all, I have no intention of continuing the perpetual failure that was my high school transcript. But I digress...I have small aspirations. I dream of teaching English and/or History in a local university while residing happily in my near-campus apartment. Returning home for any amount of time is not an option.

So that I might appeal to you as a sentient and feeling human being I shall tell you a small bit about myself. I do not wish to boast, but I am in fact very intelligent. No lie, I have an IQ of 132...I don't want to get too haughty, and pardon the language, but writing is my shit. If I get pulled from school things start to get a little shaky. The balance of the universe will falter under the wrath of my father and mother. I may in fact die.

This e-mail is not a long appeal for sympathy begging for mercy, nay it is much more. This e-mail is a plea; a promise. This e-mail is a venture into a brave new world of education I have only recently woken up to...I would be much obliged if you were compelled to spare the defiled soul of a young lad gone astray.

After all of this, I still told him he was making a D and he emailed back that he thought that was "disappointing." I told him that he should be disappointed in himself, not in my reply.

Now, of course, this kid missed way too many classes and I eventually dropped him. But he wasn't taking no for an answer:

Please Professor MW, I really need this class. I have rededicated myself to the best of my ability. I fell down an elevator trying to get to classes this morning...I will keep showing up to your class until the end of the semester. If you deem that my work in your class has not rectified any inadequacies I showed before than fail me. Give me an F. If I do, if I prove to you that I understand this course is more than a privilege; that it is your baby, that you are the goddess and creator of all that is good and divine about this literature, then I challenge you to give me less than a C. I shall prove my worth. I am not one to give up. If I had not been dragged back to my dorm by my roommate and my RA this morning after blacking out and spitting out blood and bile, by god I would have been sitting in your classroom this morning.

Isn't it amazing how students can be full of shit, pleading, condescending, and vaguely threatening all at the same time?

I still dropped his ass...


Hilaire said...

God, that's astonishing. He sounds a bit scary, actually...

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I particularly love the bit about "spitting...bile." Completely oblivious.

On a more practical note: notify your chair immediately. Nine times out of ten, the student slinks away, never to be heard from again. But that tenth time? You want to have backup ready to go.

What Now? said...

Those are some unbelievable emails. (And I agree with Notorious's suggestion to notify your chair; also, of course, save all of the emails.)

I love that he thinks of teaching English or history at a university is a "small aspiration" -- way to ingratiate yourself with your professors!

heu mihi said...

WN is dead on there--what a modest little ambition the fellow has!

Definitely keep the emails--not because he's likely to be threatening (though that is, of course, a possibility), but because you'll surely enjoy looking back on them in 20 years!

Susan said...

Yes, like WN I was floored by his "modest aspiration". And he thinks you get to be a teacher how?
Yikes. But yes, do make sure the chair knows about this.

Oh, and how did he fall down an elevator?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

You know what never ceases to amaze me? It's not that one or two of our students might honestly be capable of walking into an open elevator shaft. Rather, it's that *after* falling down an elevator shaft, or being laid low with a virus that had them vomiting and running a 103-degree fever for four days, or something else equally serious, they never seem to have gone to a doctor when you ask them for documentation.

Seriously? You've just described being on death's door, but you didn't think that was serious enough to see a doctor?

squadratomagico said...

Cry me a freaking river! I wish I could drop kids from the rolls, but OPU doesn't give me that option.

Though I must confess that I do think the kid has a certain flair for purple prose, of a quaint Victorian sort!

On the other hand, I took the fall down the elevator shaft bit as a joke: a hope that, in amusing you, you might relent. Do you really think this happened, MW?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I know this is the third time I've commented on this post, but I just keep coming back to it and seeing new things.

The latest is that I've put myself in this kid's head while he was writing what is obviously a well thought-out bit of prose. He didn't just dash this off. He put some thought into it. "What will be most compelling... Ah! Quote an IQ score! Tell her I want to be a professor! What else... need some drama... Oh! Tell her I may die! Yes!!! Pure gold, baby! This one can't possibly fail."

It's kind of cute, when you think about it.

medieval woman said...

I'm glad this has amused! I thought it was particularly creative - and I think he's used to writing this stuff (all lies and exaggerations) and having his profs see through it, but letting him skate by with a hearty laugh and a ruffle of his moppy hair. Like, "ha, ha, well done, son! That was a good one...okay, I'll let you by one more time..." I envision him having done this so much and that, actually, irritated me. For all his quirkiness and supposed intelligence, if he'd just brought his ass to class and read the frickin' texts, he would be passing! How long did it take him to craft that funny, slightly self-deprecating, inventive, but still with a touch of condescension email??

This actually happened about a month ago and I've already printed out the emails, given them to my chair and sent the dude to the Dean of Students, who supported my decision to drop him for failure to attend an adequate number of classes to pass.

But it is amusing, eh? The class is my "baby"?? Sure thing, kid.

Unknown said...

While I had to laugh, because he does have an amusing style, why do they do it? If he had spent as much time and effort going to class and doing the work as he did on these emails, his grades wouldn't be an issue! I agree, MW, that he's used this before and it's worked, so good for you for dropping him! Maybe he really *will* have a realization that he needs to "rededicate" himself to his education now!

Bardiac said...

I'm glad to hear you've talked to the dean, too, because those folks can actually help students get back on track sometimes. (In this case, hopefully during the coming semester, or maybe after a year of actually working, so that he learns what that means.)

But the creativity, isn't it amazing? And Barbara hit it exactly: if he spent time on his studies, he'd probably do well.

I detest the IQ crap. Binet did the world a disservice, for darned sure. Maybe offer him a copy of SJ Gould's Mismeasure of Man?

And also, be sure to send him the data on PhD employment, because he needs to get out of his stupid little fantasy world.

Matthew Gabriele said...

I had a friend who said he got a long email from a student, asking him to excuse said student's absences for the semester because the student was suffering from constipation.

I don't know what that has to do with anything except, well, students tell their professors weird stuff sometimes -- but usually not in such elegant prose...

This Ro(a)mantic Life said...

Wow ... I haven't gotten any e-mails like that this semester, but I *have* had an inordinate number of students with truly challenging life circumstances thrown at them (documented chronic illness, deaths of immediate family members). And they still come to class as best they can. I'm kind of irked on their behalf by this other student's antics. What cheek!

Good Enough Woman said...

Yep, sounds like this guy has a pattern--and a creepy kind of arrogance and comfort with lies. I've seen this kind of thing before--in students and, once, in someone I dated. It really creeps me out.

Also, when I used to have a job counseling students about how to do effective job searches, I would tell them, "Don't try to make excuses for less-than-stellar GPAs. There are always students who took 21 units, worked two jobs, and had mono who got a 3.8 GPA who are competing for the same job. So just state your GPA and move on to the next question." I tell my students a version of this story when it comes to attendance, etc. I have great sympathy, which is often necessary at a community college, but the assumptions about the power of the "excuse" need to be disabused.

I also tell students about a friend of mine who--as a 19-year-old punk rocker with a mohawk--once rode a neighbor girl's banana-seat bike 10 miles (on the shoulder of the highway) to get to class because his motorcycle broke down. The guy didn't often enroll in classes, but when he did, by God, he attended.

Good Enough Woman said...

Oops, sorry for the grammar in that last one. Can't really disabuse an assumption, I guess.

Michael said...

In my experience, students who have been sexually assaulted, have had parents die unexpectedly, have been in serious car accidents and been injured themselves (sadly I've had more than one of each of these)...they tell you what they need to tell you in a couple of sentences. When the email gets long, it's a lie.
(This fits perfectly with what I learned back when I was waiting tables and then when I was managing a pet store: when someone calls in and give you gross, elaborate play-by-play descriptions of what is happening with stomach or intestines, it's a lie. When he or she just calls up and says "I'm really sick," it's the truth).