Monday, October 22, 2007

Just Deal

Today was frustrating. I walked into English class simply to watch a little play being enacted, a power struggle between teacher and student. Despite the fact that our English teacher has been kind enough to extend the due date for his paper by a full two weeks, a particular student wanted more. She felt she had to inquire as to whether she could submit revisions for the paper and thereby earn back credit. The teacher thought about it- he is a truly nice man- and then said no. But the student wouldn't leave it alone. She actually had the gall to argue with him and try to accuse him of not being fair. She explained that she isn't an English major and she's very worried about this paper because she's not sure that she'll be able to give him what he wants. And therefore, or so her argument went, he should feel sorry for her and not only keep on extending the deadline but indeed allow her to correct her paper so that she could receive a higher grade.

Is this not ridiculous? I find this behavior to be childish, immature and indeed, a form of chillul Hashem. The girl would know better than to try this on an experienced teacher, but since my English teacher is new and has a tendency to be kind, she tries to take advantage. I find that to be disgusting. Indeed, I find the sense of entitlement that many students to have to be completely offputting. What entitles you to this special treatment- why do you deserve an extension, to be able to revise your paper? And if the teacher says no, how dare you continue to push the issue for another fifteen minutes? Fifteen minutes worth of telling him that you disagree with his pedagogical methods and that you personally believe that revising a paper that he has already corrected for you is better than learning from your mistakes and simply implementing your new technique on the new assignment.

We spent at least forty minutes, all told, on this issue. Forty minutes while I sit there, angrily contemplating the various ways in which I would like to strangle this student and the others who rise to her defense and all lend their voices to a whining, complaining cacophony of sound. Finally I mutter (intending the teacher to overhear, as he stands right in front of me) "Just deal." The teacher looks at me, smiles and says "Could you repeat that, please?" Hadn't expected that but did so. "Just deal," I said loudly and the subject was closed.

This is a phenomenon I have only encountered in Jewish schools, although perhaps it is more widespread. There is this strange belief that the student doesn't need to take responsibility for her actions, decisions or choices. There is this sense of entitlement- obviously the teacher needs to give me an extension to make things easier for me, obviously the whole purpose of this exercise is to allow me to get the better grade. Such maneuvering and whining and complaining to get out of doing homework- why? This is one of the best things about North Shore. We were assigned homework (and plenty of it) and people just took it. You took it, you understood you had to do it, maybe you complained to your friends but you didn't spend half of class arguing with the teacher. You dealt with it. That's what you had to learn to do.

I make it a point of pride never to ask for extensions on anything. There are certainly times I could use extensions. But the fact remains, and this has been drilled into me by my family, that I'm the one who needs to take responsibility for my own actions. I'm the one who needs to manage my time. If I choose to go on a Shabbaton or participate in an extracurricular activity, I'm the one who has to figure out how I am going to get my schoolwork done- not my teacher. The responsibility rests on me. This is my problem, not theirs. My parents would be ashamed of a child who fought with a teacher about homework, who argued that the teacher was somehow being unfair in not handing them grades on a silver platter. You have to learn how to deal. You take something on, you agree to do something- you do it. And if you have problems or you can't hack it, you figure out what to do from there. But the fact is, you deal. You don't whine. You don't complain. You shut up and take it and get whatever it is done.

Let me make a distinction between whining and complaining to friends and family and complaining to teachers. My parents know that I will sometimes call them with a list of things I have to do and complain that it is impossible and that I am going to die. They will hear me whine that I don't want to do my homework or study for my test or whatever it may be. They will listen politely for a little while and then my father will tell me to get back to work. The fact is that they know that I will do the work and that I just need to vent- I need someone to understand how crazy everything is. So it's not truly whining- it's not truly asking someone to give me something or feeling entitled to something. It's simply part of my homework process.

I have even been in the ludicrous position of having teachers offer to give me extensions because they see that I am going to have a nervous breakdown otherwise! I hate taking up such offers. There have been only two occasions where I have taken an extension. In the first scenario, I did not end up using it and instead had my paper finished by the original deadline. The second occasion had to do with the newspaper, and though I owed the editor two articles, I made sure to get her four others a full week early, so I didn't feel bad about it.

I simply find it amazing that people think it is more productive to waste an entire class arguing with the teacher about how he is being cruel and unfair by refusing to spoonfeed them than to simply get down to work and get their paper done. See, I don't mind if they waste their own time. But they are wasting my time by having this argument in class. And I value my time. I did not come to class to have you talk back to the teacher and effectively prevent him from teaching any new material today.

Then the girl had the chutzpah to suggest the reason I said "Just deal" is because I'm an English major and it's easy for me to write papers. But if it were science or math apparently I too would be trying to find out ways to get better grades and talking back to the teacher and making this his problem rather than mine. Sweetheart, that's not the way I operate. I do my work. I do my work whether I want to or not. You think I wanted to wake up at 5:30 in the morning the day after the Medical Ethics conference and write a paper? You think I couldn't have gotten an extension if I'd told the teacher I was going to be there all day typing up notes so that he and others could benefit? Oh, I know I could have gotten an extension. But I also knew that it was my own fault for not having managed my time properly and having written the paper in advance and therefore I was the only one to blame. It was upon me to resolve the situation and I did.

Accepting responsibility, blame, the consequences of one's actions and learning how to deal are all very important parts of adulthood. If you're in college and still whining to your teachers, you might want to reconsider your eligibility to be here. Perhaps you truly belong in second grade.


Erachet said...

Amen. I agree 100%. I also really, really, really bothers me when students argue with the teacher over something like the deadline of a paper, unless there is a real, valid reason why the paper can't be due that day (for instance, if it is accidentally scheduled for the same day as the midterm and the student feels overwhelmed). But then again, if the teacher says it's due that day, then it's due that day, and if you have a personal problem, go over to the teacher afterwards. It's SO frustrating when people waste tons of time over nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Why was it a chillul Hashem? Is the teacher not Jewish?

I don't know whether this sense of entitlement is a 'Jewish' problem. I don't remember encountering a lot of it at my (Jewish) secondary school, although there was a bit. I may be remembering incorrectly, though.

On the other hand, no one, Jewish or otherwise, would have dared do it at Oxford. Ask for an extension, maybe; take up everyone else's time arguing, no. People would (and did) write essays while drunk and go to tutorials while painfully hung-over rather than hand in work late.

Maybe it's a cultural thing, or maybe it has something to do with how much work you expect to do on a course.

rescue37 said...

What's the problem? She was asking for an extension to do a useless paper in a course that is useless to her. If you're majoring in anything other than English and pre-law, of course a Shabbaton is more imporetant than the exotensiolism prudence of the main characters of Beowolf.

Ezzie said...

Eh. As someone who would use extensions all the time, I think that unless you're in the other person's shoes or know them well enough to know what they're doing, it's hard to say that they don't need it. Some people truly are overwhelmed by assignments, particularly in fields that are not their own. Being an English major helps in just about every class that you need to write a paper in; being good at math helps in almost none. An essay which might take me 20 minutes to write would take (smart) friends of mine 2 hours; other people would spend as much as 5-6 hours. Throw in the analysis needed of a reading assignment, and it gets exponentially longer.

By the same token, it would bother me seeing some people try and get extensions or grades raised with just about nothing to back it up.

Most importantly, it sounds like this was something that was being done at the expense of others' time; that's simply unfair. After the first no, the student should ask for a private meeting to plead their case.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question - Why isn't the teacher (also) to blame for not telling her to deal with this during his office hours? Why did he let this girl go on for 15 minutes? It seems to me like everyone here is a loser, but the girl walked away with the following lesson - Even if I don't necessarily get what i want, I will at least be given the floor, at times inappropriate, to make my arguments.

Teacher is acting as enabler here too.

Anonymous said...

Another cultural factor that occured to me after my previous comment is that in the UK, most people don't have a major and other subject(s). They have one or maybe two subjects the whole time at university, so you shouldn't be doing anything that is neither interesting nor important to you. That probably makes people more dedicated.

Sarabeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ezzie said...

Oh, it's also not just a Jewish thing, though it sometimes seems like it. When I took courses at a CUNY college, it was exactly the same.

Sarabeth said...

I agree with Ezzie, this isn't a problem just at Jewish schools. I've never seen it in my 1 college class, but I seem to remember certain people who would always ask for extensions in my secular high school.

SJ said...

Hear hear!

Moshe said...

I've seen this throughout Graduate School and even in Medical School!!

It's certainly not just a Jewish matter...

Anonymous said...

“This is a phenomenon I have only encountered in Jewish schools, although perhaps it is more widespread.”

A few things. First, this isnt unique the Jewish schools at all. I went to a regular (ivy) college and graduate school, and this kind of stuff happens all the time. And it isnt considered “chutzpa” or “audacity.” Its common place for student to ask for extensions, re-edits, and to argue grades, and its completely acceptable. Just because you havent been exposed to it, or don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean you should think of at as childish behavior. And this isnt limited to college. In professional settings people asks their bosses and clients (even judges) for extensions all the time. Sometimes for good reason, and others for no reason at all.

The way it played out in your class is entirely your teachers fault. Its his responsibility to end it, or ask to continue the conversation in office hours. If anyone’s actions were inappropriate it was probably yours, for interfering and trying to help your teacher out. Society has a name for people like this, and its not too complimentary.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:34 pm,
it's clear(based on your comment) how you are "climbing" the ladder of success.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an awful thing to say, but, um, is this almost exclusively a girl thing? That's what I've noticed, but admittedly from a very tiny sample, so I'm curious about others' experience.

yitz said...

that's why i didn't go to YU.. i didn't want 4 more years of high school... which is what it is, which is why people act like this.

i do think the nasty annonymous commenter had a point which was:
the teacher should have told her to come discuss it during office hours, and left it at that.

and i think I agree with Ezzie, while I was like you in school never asking for anything from teachers and ready to acknowledge when I was wrong, part of the school experience is developing and balancing relationships with teachers--a very practical part of real-word business situations as other people pointed out. There's technically nothing wrong w/ getting extensions, grades, extra credit, anything else out of a teacher if you don't tread (incl. expose everyone else unnecesarily to undo whining) on anyone else to do it.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I went to YU and didn't realy see this type of behavior. At the risk of sounding sexist (and I still stand by my first comment that the teacher was to blame), I thik this might be more of a "girl thing".

Anonymous said...

Obviously you've never read

This sort of thing happens everywhere.

rivkayael said...

You asked if it was a problem specific to Jewish schools--on the other end, YU was the first Jewish school I have been to, and the only school where I have observed students behaving this way. It's a chillul Hashem when my non-observant friends (who are great as people and as students) read Commentator and ask me "why is this a problem in a so-called frum school"?

Anonymous said...

The problem is not limited to Jewish schools. I am third year public school teacher in NYC and encounter this problem all the time. For example, the marking period ended last Friday. I assigned a project to my students that was due 1 month ago. A few students never handed it in, despit my reminders that they need to complete the project to pass the class. (A lowered grade for lateness is better than a 0.) On the last day of the marking period, a student came over with a note from him mother requesting that I give him an extension and allow him to hand in the grade on Monday (when grades were due.) I refused. The request was unreasonable.

Anonymous said...

as a teacher, my response is a consistent "you asked me once and I gave you an answer, why do you think continuing to ask me will change my answer" followed by a "sit down now, please."

If there's a good reason, they'll give it to me on the first request.

G said...

Why am I not surprised that you sit towards the front of the classroom :-)
Hey, if you can get an extension by playing the taecher more power to you. However, as you correctly note, do it on your own time.

As for Chillul Hashem:
1. Relax, it's just a student trying to work the system. So long as jewish ideas were not used as reasons/defenses/excuses.
2. Daniel - This may be wrong (and someone please correct me if it is) but I believe the textbook def. of chillul hashem is specifically when dealing w/ other jews.

Anonymous said...


I could be wrong, but I thought a chillul Hashem just had to be in public, and to give the idea that Jews/Judaism/the Torah permitted forbidden types of behaviour.

In a class of frum Jews, one person kicking up a fuss over something trivial is not going to give the impression that such behaviour is sanctioned by Jewish law, but a non-Jew present might draw a mistaken conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I read this yesterday at the office, but didn't dare comment there. In the interest of keeping my job, I'm commenting from my home computer.

I work for a Jewish institution of higher education. (Don't get excited folks--I can think of several in several metropolitan areas.) I know for a fact that we've had students by the score requesting changes of grade from, say, B+ to A- in the hope of improving their chances of getting into grad school. (When my kid got a C and finally got knocked off the Dean's List, s/he didn't say a word to the prof--s/he knew that that was the grade s/he deserved, and if it lowered her/his GPA, s/he had no one to blame but her/himself.) And let's not even talk about all the folks who request make-up exams because they've nonchalantly scheduled their wedding day for the day of a final. (What, you couldn't wait another week?) Some of our students think that, just because we're a Jewish institution, we're supposed to be "understanding" about just about anything. Imagine their shock when they get out into the real world and discover that they have to use most, or even all, of their vacation days--or get pay-docked, depending on the job and/or the circumstances--for Jewish holidays.

Anonymous said...

"they've nonchalantly scheduled their wedding day for the day of a final. (What, you couldn't wait another week?)"

What you learn in most colleges isnt really THAT important. The purpose of almost all colleges is to get a degree to help them land a job or get them into grad school. Unless you go to schools like Harvard or Princeton, youre not going to college for the learning or knowledge. Problem is, too many people today are just strivers and cant accept that they really werent meant for the academic experience. They convince themselves that shitty schools like Georgetown, NYU (or any other striver school) are worth the time and money and that the learning is worthwhile, when really they’re just wasting their time around other mediocre intellect striver students who are pretending they are in a good school.

Newsflash for YU students: stop studying subjects like philosophy and science. You weren’t meant for that. Get your accounting or speech therapy degrees and live a happy fulfilled life.

Scraps said...

Amen. I think the practice of nagging the teachers into extensions and other such leniencies--and worse, as you mentioned, the accompanying sense of entitlement--is despicable and a chillul Hashem in a school where the majority of the student population is some variety of religious and the majority of the teachers (outside the Judaic departments) are not.