Saturday, March 09, 2013
The old pattern was very familiar, especially since I tend to give my students lots of short quizzes, often at the beginning of a class period: A student arrives late, sees a quiz in progress, and leaps into action, yanking a pencil out of the old book bag, snatching a quiz off the table in the front of the room, and scribbling quickly in a desperate attempt to catch up. That's the old pattern and it's not a surprising one.
Lately, however, I've seen several instances of a new pattern that is, frankly, utterly bewildering. In over thirty years of teaching, I had never seen this behavior until the last few semesters. A few of my tardy students have an unprecedented sang froid. They arrive late, see a quiz under way, and then progress casually to their desks. They never rush up to the front of the room to pick up a quiz. Their leisurely saunter gives me plenty of time to stroll over and hand them one. (Service with a smile!)
This new breed of tardy student is calm and generally unruffled, except sometimes a small moue telegraphs the unspoken thought, “Oh, here we go again!” The serene latecomer positions the water bottle or energy drink or Starbuck cup on a corner of the desk, carefully tucks away the cell phone or iPod, peels off the coat and rolls it up to tuck in the book cage under the desk, rummages about in the book bag for a pencil or pen (sometimes deliberating over his or her choice of several writing implements—mustn't pick the wrong one!), digs out a calculator and places it precisely in the corner opposite the beverage (whether or not the quiz requires number-crunching), and then finally (as if in surprise) takes note of the quiz sitting atop the desk and begins to ponder it.
Strangely enough, the explanation does not appear to be the simple one: Such casually late students are the class's losers, doomed to fail, and have fatalistically accepted their fate. Nope. That describes very few of them. My unruffled tardies are mostly C students mired in mediocrity. Perhaps they've figured out that they're doing enough to survive and it would be too much trouble to put in the work necessary to rise to the B level. I really don't know.
One thing, however, has not changed. After arriving ten minutes late and getting only five minutes to work on a fifteen-minute quiz, many chronically tardy students are quick (for a change) to complain: “I didn't have enough time!”
“Yes, you did,” I explain. “You just chose to use most of it for something else.”