Today a student handed me a note purportedly written by his mother, excusing him for leaving class early a couple of days ago. I teach college English. In the 20 plus years I have taught, this was a first.
In the last 2 years teaching at the same college I have taught for 16 years, my plans for at least one class per semester have been interrupted to remind students that they are in college. They don’t have to be in class like they had to in high school by state law, though it is probably a good idea, especially in my class. I do lots each class to justify my existence–that is, graded assignments and answers to eventual final exam questions–and missing a class is not recommended.
However, students who must miss class are assumed to be adults responsible enough to find out what they missed and resourceful enough to recoup their losses. Big assumptions. They still ask me questions like, “Did we do anything while I was gone?”
Though less disturbing, I cannot count how many times students ask me permission to leave early, arrive late or miss class altogether. At first I believed they were simply not mentally out of high school, where their attendance was strictly required though their attention to the class while attending was not so strictly required. I can only assume so from the in depth, lengthy text messages I have received from my children while they were in class. Many students have confirmed the same, and judging by the persistent, nearly obsessive habit of texting or gazing into their phones–activity banned in my class–I believe the phone habit is a long-instilled layover from high school, or merely the product of living now.
Ironically, high school mandates attendance but not attention while college is just the reverse. Since I teach freshman, their education includes breaking the high school habits and convincing them that they truly are free now, free to succeed or fail–whether I give them permission or not.
I’ll admit that my jaw dropped and my face clearly had “wtf?” written all over it when I read the penciled note on a sticky note sized paper that asked to excuse her son for missing class the other day. Have I gotten much, much older recently or have my students gotten much younger? I am now convinced that the number of coddled college kids have increased and they have a tougher time growing up, thus the odd permission requests and absence notes. Or is it simply time for me to retire?