Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Ritualists

A new strain of tardiness

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.

This settling-in ritual, in its various versions, eats up at least two minutes, sometimes three. Sometimes there is a lengthy interlude with the smartphone, scrolling through messages and tweets received in the interval between breaking eye contact with the screen upon arriving at the classroom door and arriving at the desk, occasionally extended by the imperative of replying to urgent missives. I imagine most of them are in the vein of

L8 agin
prof :(
lol

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.”

10 comments:

Chris Hugh said...

Ugh, this makes me less nostalgic about teaching.

Chakat Firepaw said...

The question that leaped to my mind was:

How do the two types of latecomers compare in how well they do on the quizzes?

Anonymous said...

This does not help much on latecomers per se, but if (A) the university legal rep has deemed that a syllabus is a legal contract between the student and the instructor, and (B) you enforce this rigidly, the following statement included in the syllabus can help the Smartphone problem enormously:

A student found in POSSESSION of a wireless communication device or a device for playing audio recordings (including but not limited to: telephone, computer, tablet, MP3 player) during an examination or quiz shall be deemed to be engaged in ACADEMIC DISHONESTY and shall be penalized accordingly...

For those who want to shout "BUT WHAT ABOUT..." Emergencies existed before cell phones, and people dealt with them without cell phones. Yes, it's harsh. To the students: Deal With It. They'll do so.

Kathie said...

Zeno, husband reports that while he doesn't have the tardiness problems you experience with students, he usually administers quizzes at the end of class.

Anonymous, depending on the institution, a syllabus is not necessarily a legal contract -- sure, it carries a lot of weight in the institution, but wouldn't necessarily in court -- which can be a good thing if the instructor needs to make changes out of reasonable exigency. E.g., husband had to make changes due to a life-threatening illness, but a handful of malcontent students nonetheless tried to bring charges of academic integrity violation against him for changing the exam format to accommodate his hospitalization; you can imagine how fast their complaint was tossed out by the school.

Re "a wireless communication device or a device for playing audio recordings (including but not limited to: telephone, computer, tablet, MP3 player) during an examination or quiz" -- that's a violation of university-wide academic integrity. A student doing such a thing can expect to leave the institution for such behavior.

Anonymous said...

When I read your report, I focused more on the deliberate tardiness and slow, ritualistic response of your students than on the abuse of technology. Since you have been teaching for thirty years and have only seen this behavior recently, my suggestion is that these young people are using these behaviors as protective mechanisms. Pressure on children to excel keeps growing. Imagine all that pressure brought to bear on an undercooked person to do well in school, sports, music, scouts, religious studies. "We've just come home, hurry up so we can get to the next appointment on time!" Do it right! Do it now! Do it right now! The "privileged" child is not able to choose his or her own activities, or make his or her own mistakes. All this hurry and pressure may trigger a child to develop delaying tactic in an attempt to control the environment, and also may prevent the child from wanting to excel for themselves. Your "slow" students are probably quite intelligent and maybe even keeping their GPAs mediocre on purpose to stay out of the spotlight.

Kathie said...

CHEEP-CHEEP-CHEEP! It's time to feed the baby birds again, Zeno!

The Ridger, FCD said...

Yes, given that only a few of them look at their phones (how many other students do in the minutes before class starts?), I think it's a trivial feature of the 'new tardiness'.

Also - I really think that "possession" of a phone during a quiz would be a hard sell as de facto cheating. Having it out on the desk is one thing; but having it in your pocket? After all, what are you supposed to do with it when you walk in and see an unannounced quiz in progress?

Anonymous said...

FWIW I don't go actively looking for phones. Given the statement in the syllabus, the student knows that the phone should probably be turned off before coming into class.

I'm pretty sure the students realize I'm serious, because I haven't had to give a zero on an exam or quiz (for this reason) in years.

Monty said...

I don't know why anyone endeavour to teach their subject to a classroom? It's an existence of perfunctory regurgitation to a sea of dullards wanting any veritable passion in your subject. Dreadful!

Monty said...

I don't know why anyone endeavour to teach their subject to a classroom? It's an existence of perfunctory regurgitation to a sea of dullards wanting any veritable passion in your subject. Dreadful!