Two Minutes in the Life of the Eavesdropping Professor

Once upon a time, as I sat at my office desk in Paragraph City, answering the morning’s email from students curious about how to meld E.M.W. Tillyard’s vision of the Elizabethan worldview with Lear’s world which seems rather more suspended between will, nature, and love (You understand that I created Paragraph City to indulge such fantasies, right? In reality the email contained questions about when I would get to some extra credit and what the connection was between that limbo place we talked about where Hamlet’s dad is hanging out and the limbo song those penguins sing on Happy Feet, I was half listening to a faculty-student discussion going on just outside my door.

“I’m so sorry I missed class,” the student is saying, “but I got the notes from the lecture from my friend and the handout on the next paper….”

“Ok, that’s good,” the instructor says.

“…but I forgot to give my friend my paper to turn in…”

“oh.” I know that this instructor doesn’t usually accept late papers, and I can see what’s coming. But the student, on the other hand, is handling it pretty well.

“…and so I was wondering if you would please take my paper today?”

“Well, S____ do you remember my policy on late papers?”

“Yes, M.______, and I went back to the syllabus and saw that you don’t take late papers, and I wouldn’t ask you to take this one except I really want your feedback on this essay. The topic is important to me and I worked and worked on it but I don’t think it’s as good as I want it to be yet….”

I can feel the instructor caving in at this point: student got notes and handout from class, knows the syllabus, is concerned about her writing (or at least has the courtesy to say so), acknowledges the policy without complaint. I’m about at the point where I would take the paper.

“…and I think I want to make this my major revision paper, but I’m kind of stuck on what to do with it…”

“oh?” The student sees she’s winning her cause and her voice goes up an octive as the words come a little faster.

“…and I’ve got perfect attendance except for that one class. I wouldn’t have missed if there was any possible way I could be there…”

“oh?” Suddenly I sense the scales tipping back away from the student. She doesn’t know when to stop, and apparently doesn’t need to breathe.”

“…but that one day during your class time was the only, only time I could pick up my new dirt bike, and…”

At this point I laughed a shamefully unprofessional laugh, muffled but apparently loud enough for them to hear, for the instructor stepped into my office, said “Just shut up” and took the student down the hall.

“The penguins,” I write, “are actually singing a Chubby Checker song from 1962…..”


2 Responses to Two Minutes in the Life of the Eavesdropping Professor

  1. Siobhan Curious says:

    Last week I heard the following exchange through my office wall:
    Student: “Did I miss anything last class?”
    Neighbour/friend/colleague, blowing a gasket: “I can’t believe you just asked me that. I can’t believe you don’t understand what a rude question that is. Has nobody ever told you what a rude question that is?”
    Student, nonplussed: “Um…actually…no. Nobody’s ever told me that.”
    My neighbour/friend/collegue came to see me once the student had left, to let me know that my laugh, which she heard, was gratifying.

  2. Dale says:

    Good one, Siobhan. The most notorious student question there is. Is it a book title yet?

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