Tuesday, April 26, 2011


"I know this is late, but will you take it anyway?"  It's not typed. It's handwritten on raggedy-ass notebook paper with those edges that make it impossible for me to keep papers straight. I try to look sympathetic.

"I don't accept late work." My student glares at me.

"I was at the doctor."
"Are you alright? You're not contagious?" I feign fear and back away a step or two. My student is probably fine. The next student asks me to accept his late paper; almost a week late.
"My Grandma died." Mine died too and I didn't miss any work. We all grieve in our own ways.  His grandma dies twice a year: once before Thanksgiving and once the week before Spring Break.
"My internet was down."
"I didn't know it was due."
"My computer died!"
"My free subscription to Word 2010 ended and now I can't open it."
And my personal favorite: "You let turn last week's in late" (uh, no I didn't).
All of these earn the same response from me.  I am sympathetic.  I wish I could help, really I do, but I don't move boundaries for anyone unless they are either a) having a baby in front of me and I see a leg or something, or b) their academic advisor/veterans dude calls me or c) they just found a conjoined twin on their leg and it's going to take more than a week to have that little problem taken care of.  I'm still waiting for c to happen. Don't ask me about a.

After all, don't we all just want to be an exception to the rule?

I am not without compassion: students may miss up to an entire week of school with no adverse effect, provided they keep up with the work. I don't repeat class discussion and I don't accept late papers.  Athletes who have to be gone still have to turn their stuff in on time.  These parameters, contingencies and guidelines are all laid out in the syllabus and I do not protect my students from their consequences. I also do not ask for protection when I do stupid things.  I do stupid things all of the time, I just don't ask to be let out of it.

Those boundaries aren't in place for my students.  They are there for me.  I'm drawing a line in the sand and saying that this line shall not be crossed.  Sometimes I wish I had Gandalf and a giant sword, beard and Balroc to protect me and yell "You shall not pass!!"  because indeed, a student shall not pass without towing the line.  In some ways, I do.  I have a second, professional social networking page so that I can interact with my students.

One student skipped class on Monday.  He posted the following on my wall: "I didn't go to your class today.  Can I turn in my reflection and bring my items to you Wednesday?"

Another student replied on my behalf: "No!!! It was your responsibility to get to class and get that stuff turned in, what about all the other kids who turned their stuff in on time? Are you better than them?? Do rules not apply to you?? Why should you be able to slack off and not get punished for it? And another thing, if you're gonna ask for something you should go to her office during her office hours and talk to her face to face, not thru facebook. Teach him responsibility Mrs Dieu!!"

I couldn't just let that go, so I replied as well: "I name [Student's Name] as the Composition Bouncer.  Forever!"

I know that I'm not alone in the setting and enforcement of boundaries. Others want clear boundaries too.  But here's the thing I know about human nature: If you draw a line in the sand, someone just has got to got to got to fucking cross it.  It calls to them.  It's a guarantee that if I declare an absolute, someone has to break it. Let's take my friend Leah, for instance.  I freaking adore her and her writing.  But she is impulsive and loves to break societal rules and, you know, sorta push boundaries.  I think that secretly, she wants to get caught, to know where the absolute boundary lies, to see where she cannot push past.  I hope she doesn't die looking for that. But part of me really hopes that she just keeps pushing those boundaries because I'm the same exact way. Minus all of the drugs, illegal shit and uh, ok, minus anything that isn't particularly acceptable, like breaking stuff.  She's short and funny and I'm tall and needlessly academic.  But you get the idea- I'm totally Miss Rebelwithoutaclue. 

The boundaries I care about most are the ones I set around me.  I have a certain level of behavior towards myself that I expect from others and when they cross lines and make me uncomfortable, it's my job to enforce my own boundaries.  Before that happens, though, it's really my job to clearly communicate those expectations.  Let me give an example.  I love punctuality in others.  I need routine and dependability and someone who tips well and doesn't go on a stupid power trip with the wait staff at a restaurant. I like it when people are faithful, kind to animals and can carry on a conversation just like a human being.

I especially like a schedule.  If we make plans, my little brain only wants to do that thing.  I remember some poor date of mine who wanted to spontaneously change the plans we had made for that night.  And he was five minutes late.  Seriously, this is a problem with me. We were en route for the activity and he just wanted to change that.  For many people, this is not a problem.  Given enough time to recalibrate, I could have been ok with it.  But no, no time to ponder, consider wardrobe, or get my head in the right direction.

I could have said "No, I think we should follow the plan."
I could have said "Yeah, maybe we could do that other thing another time."
I did not say "I'm not really comfortable with that."

I said "Fine." And the night ended in disaster.  I can't even remember that poor guy's name but I do know that I never spoke to him again.  Seriously, who shows up five minutes late without letting me know he's going to be fucking late?

Yes, I am aware that I'm crazy.

I also try to always do what I say I'm going to do.  Because of this, I am reluctant to commit to things unless I'm sure I can do them.

When someone crosses a boundary that they and I both know I have set in place, I have choices to make.  The first and most healthful choice is to reiterate my own position and enforce the boundary.  No harm, no foul; all is well.  My second choice is to silently cut the person to pieces and live with a transgression that they may or may not care that they have committed. I'd expect them to do it again, too.  I do so enjoy pouting and resentment. The third choice is to accept the behavior, take responsibility for my part in allowing that boundary to be crossed and either re-think that rule I have made or enforcing it more consistently next time.

It's a wonder that I'm still single.

1 comment:

  1. I just loved this post. Very well written and thought out!