18 November 2009

In Sickness and In Stress

Today it seemed like everyone was sick or in a crisis, or both.

On Monday and Tuesday, I noticed that more students were absent than I would normally expect. And, in one of my classes today, only half of the students were present. Other profs have told me that a lot of their students been missing, too, this week.

Last night, two students came to my office before one of my classes. Before they could say anything, I told them to go home and to send in the next assignment by e-mail. They looked sick; there was no point to demanding that they come to class.

Today, my between-class office hour was taken up by two students who were on the verge of tears. One thought I was "picking on" her because I spilled lots of ink on her paper. I wasn't "picking on" her, but I was certainly was making demands of her. As I explained to her, I think she was trying to express ideas that deserved no less than the kind of work I was demanding of her.

I guess that teaching is supposed to have moments like that. At least, that's what teaching seems to bring my way sometimes. I'm not complaining about that; if I didn't want to have encounters like that, I would've stopped teaching after the first month. And, even though her reaction wasn't unique, it still surprised me a little: She thanked me.

Thanking someone is not always easy. Nor is getting thanks.

Then another student actually broke down while talking to me. I won't get into the particulars, but it didn't have to do with my comments on her paper! Suffice it to say that she's just having a very difficult time for all sorts of reasons, none of which have to do with her work ethic. I mean, when you're in a country that's not the one in which you were born and raised and are working 50 hours a week while you're taking organic chemistry, human anatomy, my class and another class (I forget which), you're going to have at least a little stress.

Other students talked to me after classes about one thing and another. They, and everyone else, seemed to be suffering some combination of fatigue and stress. No wonder: They're all working, and some are raising kids or caring for other family members.

This sure ain't college the old-fashioned way. No wonder so many of the students--and some faculty members--I've seen during the past few days look sick or stressed or both.