It’s the lines! She hates the lines!

It is 1 p.m. SEK will be spending the next five hours in his office helping STUDENTS revise their essays. At no point will there not be a line of STUDENTS outside his door.

STUDENT #1: I have a class at 1 p.m. Can I just drop this off, have you comment on it, and pick it up after class?

SEK: I’ll try to have it done by then, but six of your classmates are waiting in line, and I have to get to them first.

STUDENT #1: See you at 2 p.m.

SEK spends the next hour in conference with the STUDENTS who waited patiently outside his office. It is 2 p.m.

STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.

SEK: I’m sorry, I haven’t had a chance to get to it yet. Do you have any more classes today?

STUDENT #1: No.

SEK: So if you can just wait, I’ll get to you as soon as I finish talking with your classmates.

STUDENT #1: I’ll just come back at 3 p.m. See you then.

SEK spends the next hour in conference with the STUDENTS who waited patiently outside his office. It is 3 p.m.

STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.

SEK: I’m sorry, I haven’t had a chance to get to it yet. Since you don’t have any more classes, maybe it’d be best to take your place in the queue and we can talk as soon as I’m done with your classmates.

STUDENT #1: I’ll just come back at 4 p.m. See you then.

SEK spends the next hour in conference with the STUDENTS who waited patiently outside his office. It is 4 p.m.

STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.

SEK: I’m sorry, I haven’t had a chance to get to it yet. If you’ll just—

STUDENT #1: Come back at 5 p.m.? Yes. See you then.

SEK spends the next hour in conference with the STUDENTS who waited patiently outside his office. It is 5 p.m.

STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.

SEK: Have a seat, there’s only one person in line at the moment so it’ll just be a—

STUDENT #1: FINE. I’ll come back at 6 p.m.

SEK spends the next hour in conference with the last of the STUDENTS who waited patiently outside his office. It is 6 p.m. SEK has just finished what he thought was his final conference of the day. STUDENT #2 is packing up her stuff and preparing to leave.

STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.

SEK: Good timing. STUDENT #2 and I just finished so—

STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.

SEK: We can go over it right now.

STUDENT #1: It’s too late.

SEK: I’m more than happy to stay a few extra minutes and look over your paper with you.

STUDENT #1: No, it’s too late. Give me my paper back.

SEK: ?

STUDENT #1: !

SEK: I can send you comments via email if you’d—

STUDENT #1: IT’S TOO LATE. JUST GIVE ME MY PAPER.

STUDENT #1 grabs her unmarked essay and storms out of SEK’s office. STUDENT #2, who hadn’t finished packing up yet, looks as confused as SEK feels.

STUDENT #2: What the

SEK: Your guess is better than mine. You kids don’t make any sense anymore. I just don’t understand—

STUDENT #2: The things we do on your lawn?

SEK: Out!

76 comments on this post.
  1. Craigo:

    How many of your students know you blog?

    More importantly, how many of your students who do crazy shit that you blog about it know that you blog?

  2. SEK:

    All of them. I teach writing as process, and use my blog as an example of me honing my craft, blah blah blah. But the ones I blog about don’t pay attention, except for the ones like STUDENT #2, who insisted, as I was kicking her out of my office/off my lawn, that I write this up. Probably because she knows she got off the best line, but still…

  3. Craigo:

    Ahh, I see. I’m just really hoping that Student #1, or someone similar, shows up in one of these threads someday.

  4. Joseph Slater:

    Great story, but did you really use the word “queue”?

  5. SEK:

    A whole host of similar someones responded to this post, lo those many years ago.

  6. SEK:

    I did. It’s what I call the line of kids outside my office. Is this one of those “on line at the supermarket” vs. “in line at the supermarket” distinctions that my wife’s always harping on about? Because I’m “on line,” damn it, I don’t care what my wife says.

  7. montag:

    Ah, that’s much funnier than the mother who arrived during office hours to inform me that I was solely responsible for her daughter’s car wreck. (In fact, thanks to an incompetent recruiting policy adopted by the director of the college who told enrollees that going to school full-time and working full-time was easy, she was trying to go to school days, work second shift at a factory stamping out emergency brake levers for Ford, and she’d fallen asleep at the wheel after work and had driven into a farmer’s field.)

    After a few minutes of conversation, it was fairly apparent that Mama was living off her kids’ paychecks and what was left of their Pell grants after tuition and books, and my insistence on some homework was interfering with her livelihood.

    *sigh*

  8. SEK:

    See, that I could be sympathetic with, because there’s a logic to it. I honestly have no idea what this kid’s issue was, besides maybe not wanting to wait in line during my insanely extended office hours like all of her classmates.

  9. Tyto:

    She definitely got off the best line. Bravo.

  10. SEK:

    (Also, I should note that most of my kids quickly discover that I’m the urban legend, only real. Actually, most of them know that coming in to the class. I’m really hoping that’s a UCI thing.)

  11. Joseph Slater:

    Interesting. I think of “queue” as more of a British-ism, but I like British-isms, so more power to you.

  12. rea:

    Well, of course you’re on line; otherwise we couldn’t see your posts.

  13. NonyNony:

    No, you used queue correctly.

    But “on line at the supermarket” means that you’re updating your blog at the supermarket.

  14. SEK:

    Not even the ones that take place in the supermarket?

  15. SEK:

    Except I’ve been saying “on line” instead of “in line” since before there was an “online,” or at least since 2400 baud modems were bleeding edge. I just assumed it was a New Jersey locution. My wife just thinks it’s me being difficult.

  16. montag:

    Maybe she thought her tuition also paid for express service.

  17. el donaldo:

    Six students lined up for you to help them work on your essays? I keep looking out my office door into an empty hallway. Unless I actually require conferences, I won’t get a line until its the day before the last assignment of the semester is due.

  18. Murc:

    The part that really makes me facepalm is that “Hey, can I just drop this with you and you can send my comments via email? I know you have a million people in queue today, this’ll make it easy for all of us” would have been substantially the same process, only without the freakout.

  19. malraux:

    Personally, I tend to think of queues as lines that make sense. If its at a supermarket, and there’s 5 or 6 different lines such that you can pick the wrong lane then you are in a line; verses a queue where a single line feeds all the lanes and the person doing complicated coupons and price checks doesn’t hold everybody else up.

  20. SEK:

    As I said above, I teach writing as process, so everything’s not really really due until the last day of final’s week. But they have drafts due throughout the quarter, and they’re allowed to revise those drafts as many times as they’d like, as long as they do so substantively…meaning I always have lines five or six deep for the last five weeks of the quarter.

  21. rea:

    Your wife sounds like a wise woman . . .

  22. SEK:

    I’d agree, were it not for her choice in men.

  23. SEK:

    I do stress that face-to-face interaction during office hours is far superior to comments delivered via email, not just because I can go over the papers sentence-by-sentence instead of holistically, but because they can ask questions when they don’t understand my comments. Not excusing the freakout-I-don’t-understand, just noting that I do stress the importance of live commentary.

  24. Malaclypse:

    I just assumed it was a New Jersey locution. My wife just thinks it’s me being difficult.

    That would be what the kids nowadays call a distinction without a difference.

  25. joe from Lowell:

    She was clearly just waiting for you to finish up so she could “use the office.”

  26. NonyNony:

    Ah Jersey. If I’d known that English was a second language for you I wouldn’t have joked about it.

    Though that still doesn’t explain “queue”.

  27. Clint Eastwood's Chair:

    or that SEK is a concierge professor

  28. cpinva:

    i’m still trying to figure this out.

    “No, it’s too late. Give me my paper back.”

    too late for what? did she have a job to get to, dinner to prepare for her family, a date she was late for? frankly, if it were me, i’d have just handed her back her paper, after she came back the second time, and been done with it. she clearly had no real interest in your critique or help, so why waste everyone’s time? but hey, that’s just me, i teach adults, who are already professionals.

  29. SEK:

    I’m sure I got “queue” from Patrick McGee, the best undergraduate professor I had — sorry, Protevi! — who always had lines of students wending out his office.

    But actually, English sort of is my “second” language, given that I’m deaf and did so many years of speech therapy … in which I learned to speak like Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and everyone else in Iowa. (Or so it was described to me at the time. I was learning, they told me, “perfect” English.)

  30. SEK:

    i’m still trying to figure this out.

    You and me both. The best my wife and I could come up with is that whatever charm she’d casted on the paper had worn off, and that said charm was labor intensive, so it’s not like she could just cast it again in the hallway…

  31. SEK:

    Damn you, Occam!

  32. FlipYrWhig:

    It’s definitely a thing (we) Jersey folks say, and did long before there was an Internet or ‘nets.

  33. FlipYrWhig:

    It sounds like she didn’t want to have a face-to-face meeting of any kind. She only wanted written comments she could pick up and then walk away with.

  34. Rhino:

    Scott, I just want you to know that I like you. I really like you.

    I wish I could take your classes.

  35. Rhino:

    Queue is Canadian as well, but due to unfortunate contamination by southern barbarism, ‘lineup’ is gaining traction.

  36. KWillow:

    Where did she get the idea she could turn in a paper and have it back within an hour (or 2 or 3)? Very odd, and ill-mannered of her.

  37. Rhino:

    I think I see your problem, friend: you’re actually teaching. It gets so much easier if you stop.

  38. elm:

    Yep, it’s a NJ locution. I get made fun of all the time for “on line,” but as Flip says, it long predates the internet. There was a brief moment when “in-line” could have referred to skates and maybe on-line would have won, but that moment passed. I fear the current generation of NJ kids will start saying in line and the proper phrasing will pass into history, but so it goes.

  39. SEK:

    Flip & elm, y’all just helped me “win” the longest standing argument in my marriage. I owe you both an Internets.

  40. SEK:

    Well, if she was willing to look over it with me, she could’ve had it in twenty minutes. I think she just applied some principle to that that doesn’t, well, apply.

  41. Matt_L:

    Yes, please stop that SEK. You are bringing down conditions.

  42. asdfsdf:

    These are good ideas. We should go into business. Talk to Campos, make a killing in the law school customer service game.

  43. rm:

    You won’t be earning the big tip money with that attitude, Scott.

  44. SEK:

    The Donalde,

    You and I have a legal agreement, and even if you don’t see fit to abide by it, I do. So please stop commenting, or I’ll tell on you to your lawyer, and he’ll yell at you again.

    Also, as an adult, you really shouldn’t need to be reminded of this stuff, or at least have enough impulse control to not violate legal contacts in the “heat” of whatever random “moment” you’re having.

    Best,

    SEK

  45. American Tumescence:

    “Professor Office Sex”!!! Ha, and Kaufmann dares to criticize me for posting soft-core porn on my website. Typical liberal hypocrisy. What a bunch of boobs. Boobs. BOOBS!!!!

  46. Malaclypse:

    American Tumescence says:

    Holy crap, The Donalde is having issues. Donny, they have pills to help you with that now.

  47. Anonymous:

    Hah! You wrote “in line.”

  48. SEK:

    I blame hypercorrection.

  49. max:

    STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.
    STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.
    STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.
    STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.
    STUDENT #1: I’m here to pick up my paper.
    STUDENT #1: IT’S TOO LATE. JUST GIVE ME MY PAPER.

    It’s a good thing you don’t owe her two dollars.

    max
    ['Or she'd be on your lawn.']

  50. joejoejoe:

    Wouldn’t you prefer your students be productive with their time instead of standing around doing nothing in your hallway? You can make this utopia happen through the magic of appointments.

  51. Dave:

    You haven’t been paying attention to the subtext, have you?

  52. john (not mccain):

    i like to think of that kind of speech as clarified english because it’s like butter.

  53. john (not mccain):

    makes sense to me. i get stressed out by any in person social interaction. pretty much the only thing i can think about is making it stop as soon as possible. responding intelligently to comments from someone in the instant situation is just not something i could do so email makes more sense. i would not have freaked out like this though because i would never have shown up.

  54. StevenAttewell:

    Well, you need to take an extended rest before your spells refresh. Until 4th Edition came out…

  55. joejoejoe:

    Is SEK stricken with some kind of alien moon ray at the end of every (mis)communication with Student #1 that prevents him from explaining the situation clearly in 5 separate encounters? Is his office hour policy a secret homage to the Department of Motor Vehicles? Is Student #2 actually a time-travelling Ricky Schroeder bringing adorable back from 1982? Please share.

  56. guthrie:

    It’s obvious the student wasn’t British.
    Although our tendency to form queues is slowly dying out, I’m sure that no British person could have resisted the temptation to stand in a long queue for however long it took.

  57. J. Otto Pohl:

    I have students complaining about grades and demanding that I upgrade them all to As all the time. So there is always a line outside my office. This is especially annoying on Tuesdays when I teach graduate students in my office. Yesterday, I lucked out when one of my co-workers actually intervened to throw two students out of my office when they refused to take no for an answer. I especially liked her offer to regrade their finals with a guarantee that she would give them a lower grade than I did. Both the students were in the C range and like most other students here seemed to think that their work was automatically A quality. Duke has set a very bad precedent.

  58. Mark Jamison:

    A professor friend likes to share the story about a student who came to his office in tears. His office is actually a suite that three professors share with a common room in the center.
    Larry was at the drafting table in the common room when a young lady appeared before him teary eyed.
    “Professor Jones, I’m failing your class and I just don’t know what to do. I always got A’s in high school. Please can I have some extra credit or something to save my grade”
    Larry: “Well perhaps you ought to come to class once in awhile.”
    Student: “I do, I come to every lecture and listen and take notes.”
    Larry: “Then how is it you don’t know that I’m not Jones”

    She had no answer and left quite angry at “being tricked” as she called it.
    Another friend talks about students who spend classes on their phones and laptops doing e-mail and whatever else suits their fancy. When he insists that they actually pay attention they respond that they’ve paid for the class and will therefore do as they like. Their subsequent failure or poor grade is then taken as a customer service failure rather than an individual failure.

  59. Bill Murray:

    Another friend talks about students who spend classes on their phones and laptops doing e-mail and whatever else suits their fancy. When he insists that they actually pay attention they respond that they’ve paid for the class and will therefore do as they like. Their subsequent failure or poor grade is then taken as a customer service failure rather than an individual failure.

    I have an electronic device policy on my syllabus to combat this — laptops can be used in note taking mode or in doorstop mode. If your phone goes off, you’re bringing donuts or other treats next class period. We go over it first day and little more than an occasional reminder is needed. But South Dakota is a few years behind the curve so maybe this will become a problem

  60. Anonymous:

    Yep, #1 needs a little help in the tantrum department, but I’d probably have bailed too at some point. I’m sure SEK is a wonderful teacher (I mean there’s the evidence right there), and at the end #1 should have realized her previous time was a “sunk cost” and ignored it, but if I’m #1 I’m going back at six intending to pick up my paper and get done what I can. Of course, I’m also irrationally aggravated by long lines….

    Having been through grad school also, I’ve avoided the advisors who are so popular they don’t have time to help the ordinaries even if they took them on….not an exact analogy but it might help see the situation from the student’s point of view.

  61. Anonymous:

    I’m from Jersey as well, and I guess I say “on line”– I’ve never really noticed.

    Alls I know is I like to type the word “queue”– as an email admin this comes up fairly often. queue queue queue!

  62. SEK:

    Is SEK stricken with some kind of alien moon ray at the end of every (mis)communication with Student #1 that prevents him from explaining the situation clearly in 5 separate encounters?

    The student knows perfectly well how it works: if you want me to look over the essay you turned in on Thursday, you can come to office hours on Thursday and I’ll look over it with you. Otherwise, you’ll wait until next Tuesday to get your paper back. I do this because the sooner they begin revising the better; however, there’s still only one of me, so a queue forms. This student essentially wanted to cut the line she didn’t want to wait in. (And it’s not like there’s nothing for a student with his/her backpack to do while waiting outside a professor’s office. As they’re fond of telling me, they have other classes, you know.)

  63. SEK:

    Having been through grad school also, I’ve avoided the advisors who are so popular they don’t have time to help the ordinaries even if they took them on…not an exact analogy but it might help see the situation from the student’s point of view.

    This is a bit different, inasmuch as popularity doesn’t matter so much with required freshmen composition courses. I think they’re lucky they ended up in my course, but they have no idea who will be teaching their class when they register.

  64. FlipYrWhig:

    I distinctly remember my parents arguing about it in 1979, after we had just moved to NJ.

  65. matt:

    As someone who teaches voice and speech to theatre majors here in Iowa, I hope that you don’t speak like them.

  66. P Jones:

    I returned to school as an adult (late-thirties) and was shocked by how many students spent their class time goofing off on the Internet and on their phones. It’s pretty common in the larger lectures to see students playing Starcraft, emailing, shopping, watching shows, or taking phone calls (sometimes *and* taking phone calls). This is at a top-tier engineering school. Despite all this, I’ve found that even the most obdurate in-class slacker is generally pretty knowledgeable and capable; I guess classes are less important when the coursework is entirely subjective. Maybe that’s why it’s tolerated. Anyway, maybe this is just my own get-off-my-lawn-ism showing, but the Internetting particularly rankles me, and I appreciate the professors that do put effort into stopping it, few though that they are.

  67. P Jones:

    opps, *objective

  68. PBF:

    Actually, we implemented an express service for the sole purpose of eliminating student’s asking staff to make an exception for them (just this one time) with a service that was handled on a first come, first served basis.
    It turned what was often a frustrating interaction for both the staff and student into a straight forward business transaction. If you didn’t want to wait for your request to taken care, then you had the option of paying a ridiculous fee for same day service. Cut the requests for exceptions down by 90%.

  69. joejoejoe:

    You are being generous with your time as a teacher and I applaud that as a student. I go to night school with a lot of older adults with families and jobs and your office hours policy would not be a hit with my classmates. Your dedication and ability to stay late with ad hoc review sessions would be seen as a burden to students who have to schedule just about every other aspect of their lives. My classmates have very little margin between getting from work to school, getting the kids to a sitter, dealing with winter delays, etc.. I have no idea how some people do it and if I am being crabby in this response, it is because I am thinking of how hard some of my students work to even be in class. Sure you can always do a little reading in the hall while you wait. What you can’t do is pick up your kid from day care or see your partner after a 12 hour day.

    While you are spending 5 hours reviewing papers and all of that time is productive, your students are collectively spending 10 hours of time given an average 20 minute wait + 20 minute review, 15 hours of time for a 40 minute wait, and so on.

    If you tried laying out a sign-up sheet with your 4 hour block IN your Thursday class with X minute blocks for Y number of students you could roughly keep to the same schedule, give your students more flexibility, and get home from work an hour earlier yourself. It’s win-win-win all over.

  70. Law Spider:

    A NY/NJ-ism, actually. I grew up in the Bronx (with relatives on LI and Northern NJ, natch), and I’ve always said “on line”. Just in the past couple of years (now that I live in the midwest, tragically enough), I’ve begun to slowly give in and move to “in line”.

    Now, however, you’ve given me the idea to transfer to “in queue” and confuse the heck out of the folks around here, who consider “queue” only to be a letter of the alphabet. Thanks!

  71. Tybalt:

    English, please, not British. Scots don’t like queueing any more than anyone else.

  72. SEK:

    I’m sensing that we’re on the same page here, but it’s really more of a lose-lose-lose situation in which I’m trying to somehow salvage a win. If I only had one class, I could do a sign-up sheet and have my 24 students attend in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately, I have five classes and 143 students, so there’s no math that doesn’t involve me camping out in my office that works. I’m making the best of untenable maths, basically. In other words, I think we’re describing the same frustration from the opposite end: I wish I could find an equitable way to treat each of my students in the manner they deserve, but in the end, I have to settle for being as available as I can be when I can be.

    For example, one problem with the scenario you describe is that a lot of my students are only on campus T/Th, so they’re in classes all day, which is why I arrive as early and stay as late I can. (And it’s not like I can just meet up with them wherever they live on the days they’re not on campus.) I also offer G+ and Skype conferences, but it’s just not the same. In other words, I think we can agree that it’s not an optimal situation, and that making the best of it involves some sacrifice on everyone’s part. I hate putting it like that, but honestly, I’m doing as much as I can to help as many of my students as fully as I can, and I admit to being a little annoyed when someone asks me to go above and beyond the above and beyond I’ve already gone to.

  73. joejoejoe:

    143 students?!? Holy crap. That is a lot of students to be giving personalized feedback. I was thinking more like 4 classes and 80 students. I was trying to be constructive and offer some feedback that would be better for all parties. I think it is amazing that you are so dedicated to your students.

    I’ll close by saying I used to work in logistics before I went back to school. I’ve had many jobs with hard deadlines where you simply could not add time to deal with a problem. It can be liberating to not have the option of spending more time to fix something. You still have plenty of tools to address change and you end up finding new skills you never imagined. Doing well under time pressure feels good too, kind of the inverse feeling of procrastinating.

    Walt Whitman had to file under deadlines as a journalist and he was a poet. Dave Winfield played basketball on a clock for Minnesota and baseball for a living with no clock. Three minute 45s are great and so are three hour operas. Time pressure gives a different perspective which can be valuable (and fun). It’s not only about schedules and efficiency.

  74. Cody:

    +1 for a snipe at Duke.

    I was very pleased to see Purdue’s GPA creep was non-existent. The average here is still a C… which makes a lot of sense. I think that was school-wide, not just engineering. I’m too lazy to look up the link though.

  75. SV:

    British-ism? Do you mean… English?

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