Friday, September 28, 2012


This is one of those, "Maybe it's just me" things. Or maybe it's one of those "Death of a thousand papercuts" things.

I get really annoyed when students don't bother to staple their homework, their essays, whatever. When they just come in and drop a pile of papers with that crummy foldover corner thing on my desk. Or, worse, they ask: "Do you have a stapler?"

My "desk" in the classroom is an open-topped table. If there is not a stapler on it, I do not have a stapler. And I usually wear dresses to class that have no pockets, so it's not like I'm going to be able to reach into a pocket and pull out a stapler. And I do not carry a briefcase, purse, or backpack to class: it's me, the textbook, my notes, and chalk!

So, no, no, I DON'T have a stapler.

(On the last teaching day of my teaching life? I may well wind up responding, "Hang on, let me pull one out of my ASS" to the student. Because really? There is nowhere on my person I could have a stapler and that's pretty clear).

I know people who refuse to accept papers that are unstapled. And I can see the CYA aspect of it: "Wait, you didn't get the last page of my paper where I made all my brilliant conclusions? WHY, YOU MUST HAVE LOST IT! I deserve a better grade for your sloppiness as a teacher!"

But I can't quite bring myself to take up that fight. Because it would be a fight. And I'd have to deal with the students who whined about it. Or who said, "But just this one time? I couldn't find a stapler" or "My stapler broke" or who knows what.

(I tried bringing staplers and leaving them in the rooms. They were gone within three days. I refuse to be the supplier of staplers to whoever is taking them.)

But the thing is, this is just one of those modern-world problems: Is it really so unreasonable of me to ask that students staple their papers? Some of them act like it is. But then I have to make sure I keep them all together, get them back to my office, staple them's one of those things, like cleaning glassware: if each student in my lab cleans their own glassware at the end of lab, it takes each person MAYBE three or five minutes to do it. But if they leave it all (and worse, if they leave it all on the bench...or they wash it but do a cruddy job and I have to redo it), I may be stuck there for 30 minutes or more washing glassware. (We do not have a TA budget for TAs to be paid to do such things).

It's a question of, are you willing to put yourself out a little bit so you don't put out the other person in a bigger way? And what's even more: by not washing glassware, you are putting out your teacher - someone with more experience and authority than you are. You are saying, effectively, "I consider you to be equivalent to my servant, because I am expecting you to do the menial tasks I could just as well do myself."

I think that's what really gets me, especially with the dirty-glassware-left-behind bit. It's an attitude of entitlement - the students know I don't have a TA, they know that Custodial doesn't handle working with they know that if they leave it, it's on me to do.

I finally broke down this year and told them, "If I see a group leaving glassware behind, five points off for EVERYONE in the group. (And I saved back the "nuclear option" - that if there was LOTS of messy glassware, I'd penalize everyone). That seemed to do it, but golly, I shouldn't have to either threaten or bribe my students to keep a shared lab clean!

Also, and I think I've noted this before: the students who have small staplers they carry with them to use to staple their papers tend to earn very high grades. The students who go and seek out a stapler on their own (for example, going to the computer lab, where one is chained to the front desk) generally are people who earn good grades. But often, the people who don't staple their papers and act like it's my job to do so, their grades are not so good. Not because of the staples: I don't grade people down for not stapling. But not bothering to staple your papers is indicative sometimes of a lack of attention, a lack of caring, in other areas: it's related to the idea that the students with the best attendance usually earn the best grades.

1 comment:

Dave E. said...

I'll have to ask my dad's opinion on this one since he was the one who actually spent 30+ years in academia, but no way would I accept a paper that wasn't properly stapled. I would make that very clear at the beginning of the term and then be merciless about enforcing it. Assuming, of course, that the administration would back me up. Thirty some years ago that was a given. Now, I'm guessing not so much.