Thursday, February 17, 2011

What's a deadline?

Talking to the wall

She was on my waiting list, but she didn't have proof of prerequisite. In its ebb and flow of procedural enforcement, my college is currently at a high-water mark of insisting that students demonstrate that they have passed their prerequisites. I informed my potential student that she could enroll in my class if two conditions were met: (a) she provided proof of prerequisite and (b) I made it down the waiting list as far as her name.

Like most students who are eager (or pretend to be eager) to get into a class, my potential student dutifully attended each initial class session as I took roll, checked off prerequisites for students who presented their transcripts or verification slips from counselors, and gradually worked my way down the waiting list. It usually takes only a few days for things to shake out. Some students slip quietly away, blocked in their attempt to take a class for which they were not prepared, and others are too impatient to wait more than one day to get admitted. The attrition benefits those who stick it out.

Each time I called roll, I reminded students who had yet to present their qualifications. Each time the number dwindled. The student in question was particularly slow in clearing up her paperwork, but at last the glorious day arrived. When I called her name, she handed in a verification slip to which a counselor had affixed a signature. Since the class had thinned out to a manageable level (in other words, everyone had a desk to sit at), I grandly presented her with a permission slip to add the class.

“Use it right away,” I informed her. “We've come up close to the end of the enrollment period and you need to add before it closes.”

She made some kind of noise, which I hoped was intended as an affirmative acknowledgment, but I wasn't sure. She was the last of the students in attendance who had yet to enroll. My roster was all but complete and I was happily contemplating the end of this particular flurry of paper-pushing.

On the morning of our next class meeting, I checked my on-line class roster. My student's name was still on the waiting list. She was not on the roster of enrolled students. I went to class and observed that she was present, so I asked her to come up to talk to me at the end of the period. This she did (perhaps because I called out to her by name before she slipped out the door with her classmates).

“You know, I hope, that this is the last day to enroll in classes using the permission slips,” I reminded her. I gave her additional detail: “If you don't use it today, you'll need a late admission that requires the signature of an academic dean. The deans do not like doing this and aren't obligated to sign, so let's not go there, okay? Go directly to enrollment services now and get added to the class. Do it today. Tomorrow will be too late.”

She made that odd noise again and headed toward the door. I fancied that she had nodded her head ever so slightly. In any case, I had explained things with a particular lack of ambiguity.

Two days later our class met again. That morning I discovered that her name was still missing from the roster. Surely she had decided against taking the class. A pity, but these things happen.

My surmise was incorrect. She showed up for class, strolled up to the front of the room, and presented me with a late-add form.

“You need to sign this for me,” she announced.

I admit that I was displeased.

“My signature isn't enough,” I replied, rather tight-lipped. “This will have to go to a dean.”

“Oh. Okay.”

I pressed her a little: “Why didn't you use the permission slip?”

She shrugged. She kept her gaze carefully averted.

“I tried, but they gave me this. They said you have to sign it.”

Yeah. Exasperated, I took the form. The date on it showed that she had waited till after the deadline to try to add via regular permission slip.

“I'll see what I can do,” I said.

After class I took the late-add form to my dean and explained the situation. The dean rolled her eyes.

“There's one in every crowd,” she said. “Has she been attending class? Do you have room to accommodate her?”

When I answered both questions in the affirmative, the dean picked up a pen and scrawled her signature on the form.

“All right,” she said. “Give this back to her and tell her to return to enrollment services with it.”

On the morning of the next class session, I was surprised when the student showed up in my office. She had discovered that her financial aid check would not be released until she was properly enrolled. She earnestly asked me if her late enrollment had been approved. I handed her the form.

“Yes, the dean signed off on it. Take this to enrollment services and they will let you in this time.”

“Okay. I'll go now.”

“Actually, it's nearly time for class. You should wait till after class.”

She hesitated.

“I better go now,” she said. “I have a family emergency and I can't go to class today.”

I considered expressing the hope that no one was bleeding to death at home while she came on campus to visit my office, but I waited too long. She was already gone. Her regular attendance became a thing of the past.

Not long after this incident, I gave the class their first exam. My late-enrolling student didn't pass. She lost several points because she couldn't seem to follow instructions.

It was not exactly a surprise.


Unknown said...

(undiagnosed) ADD I'd bet

Dr24Hours said...

Wow! My ex-wife is taking classes at your college!?

Dr24Hours said...

rhatcher: That's certainly possible of course. There are some people who are simply paralyzed when told to do something. My aforementioned ex, I'm not really making fun of her, because it's a pathology. She's sick; when someone tells her to do something, she will not. It doesn't matter if it's a physician saying she has to take a pill not to die, practically. Telling her: "You need to do this right now." is the best way to guarantee that it does not get done. I think it's a bizarre form of self-undermining. It surely has some kind of psycho-neurological underpinning. But I've met a lot of people with the same problem, and even felt its tinges myself: I hate opening the mail, even though I know it has to be done. It feels like a massive chore, and it's a little scary.

Of course, the difference is, I can do it. I just don't like it.

Disturbingly Openminded said...

Egad, I sure hope this isn't my boy in 6 or 7 years. He has an obvious aptitude for math, a tremendous love for nature, and just an incredible intution about relationships.* He is in the advanced sections. But getting him to do the simple stuff -- writing down assignments, turning in completed assignments, etc. -- is so damned hard.

He has diagnosed ADHD, is medicated, and very carefully monitored. We have to change the regimen about every 6 months as he grows. We've helped create structures and systems for him. And he tries, at least for a while.

It is frustrating for us and it has got to be frustrating for him. When we try to deconstruct with him why something didn't get done or got done incorrectly, he usually says, "I don't know." And I believe him. I think he literally does not know WHY he folded the assignment into a wad of paper the size of a 50 cent piece and put it into his pocket instead of the yellow pocket folder that he takes with him to every class for express purpose of holding assignments.

Zeno, if you ever see a student who seems to have handled this problem, I hope you will post about it. I need some hope.

*When he was 7 years old, he informed me as we were walking toward the Home Depot front door that the best place to look for loose change in the parking lot was the handicapped spots. He explained that he had noticed coins there more often than he did in other parts of the lot and that he figured it was because the drivers who parked in handicapped spots might not be able to bend down to pick up change. "I bet you're right," I told him.

And ever since then, I keep my eyes open for change near the handicapped spots.

Anonymous said...

this is so common! I get students like this every semester. Usually several each semester, a couple in every class. They need the class so badly, but they get my signature and don't turn in the paperwork, when they finally do, they stop showing up.


I really do not understand.

Unknown said...

DO, oh how I feel your pain. And then some. I'm not a medical doctor but there was just something about how Zeno described her that sounded so much out of the ADD mag that we get and I read for several years; now we just pay for the subscription - I'm not sure why, probably undiagnosed ADD of my own. Yup, 5-6 years away for us. [sigh]

Anon, like DO said, if my diagnosis is right, neither do they.

off-topic: Zeno, any new word on "The Book"? As well as anxiously awaiting the day I can purchase a copy I am also very curious about the family's reaction ... or is that too sensitive a topic?

Zeno said...

rhatcher: Ah, yes. "The Book." I was working on the manuscript this afternoon, trimming away a few thousand words in accordance with an editor's recommendations. I plan a follow-up post soon. My novel could be in print in less than a year (just barely). (In time for Xmas shopping?)

Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

At this rate you'll be published before PZ.

cody said...

AnyEdge, that describes me "to a T." It's weird, it comes and goes, but often times I can't bring myself to do the simplest of tasks, somehow they grow into feeling like enormous unmanageable problems, despite the fact that anyone could complete them in one focused afternoon.

At work they struggle to keep me productive, and like Disturbingly Openminded said, usually I can't explain why I couldn't (didn't?) complete a certain task. At work I can frequently do 90%, but then the last few details grow into an overwhelming problem as I delay them for weeks or months on end. I suppose part of it is perfectionism.

Growing up I had similar problems, I got a lot of 'C's in high school by never doing homework but getting by on exams/tests/quizzes. My work only keeps me around because I'm fairly intelligent and their remote location limits their access to the talent pool. Otherwise I'm a real hassle.

No real insights into prevention, though maybe encouraging a down-to-earth view of the tasks and a nuanced emphasis of importance? You know, it's important that we learn how to do certain things, and do them, but we shouldn't let concern for failure get to our heads. Hard to keep that in mind all alone in your head though.