Empty-headed & empty-handed
The student came up at the end of class to ask me a question. He looked vaguely familiar, which is quite unusual. It's the end of the third week of the semester, by which point I recognize all of my students and know them by name. Another unusual factor: The student was academically naked. No, I don't mean anything that might violate the public decency standards. I mean he was completely unencumbered by anything that might tip one off to his student status. He carried no textbook, no notebook, no backpack, no calculator, no pen or paper—not even a sheet of paper. He had as much academic paraphernalia as the day he was born.
His question was unusual, too:
“Am I in your class, Dr. Z?”
“I don't know,” I replied. “Who are you?” He told me his name and I checked my grade book. He wasn't listed on my current roster, so I paged back to an earlier print-out. “Oh, there you are. I dropped you.”
He seemed surprised, even though his question suggested he had anticipated the answer. He had a follow-up question:
“Can I do anything to get back into the class? Could you reinstate me?”
“Why would you want me to do that?” I asked.
My reply stumped him for several seconds. I followed up: “We have been in session for three weeks. You did not show up for the exam we had on Monday. You were late this morning, so you missed the quiz I gave at the beginning of the period. In fact, you've missed all five of the quizzes we've had so far. You didn't even manage to do the very first assignment of the semester, which was to e-mail your instructor during the first week. I don't have a single point recorded for you in the grade book, so of course I dropped you.”
He pondered. I suggested he consider signing up for the class when he was actually planning to take it. He thanked me for my advice and strolled off.
It was a teachable moment.