Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mac & Cheese

Ask college students what they love to eat, and, among the answers, you will likely get “Mac & Cheese.”

The reader textbook that I use for English 101, which is the introductory writing course at the community college where I teach, begins with a unit on foods. I suspect the editors know that most students will pay attention to food. During a class discussion on the subject, I asked what favorite foods the students have. And one of the first answers was macaroni and cheese.

Yesterday, when I entered the classroom for my 8 a.m. class, I was greeted by the sight of a small table set up with a large baking dish filled to the brim with newly baked home-made macaroni and cheese. Next to it was a stack of paper plates and plastic forks.

Sitting in the front row in her usual seat sat the beaming cook—a somewhat older student than the typical college freshman. She had decided to make a huge batch of macaroni and cheese, because of the students’ discussion.

Well, let me tell you, folks—macaroni and cheese at 8 a.m. is not what most people want to eat. BUT to be polite, I took a very small helping, and invited the students to help themselves. Only one or two students did.

Other than the humor of an unusual food being introduced into an early morning class, what’s the point of this story? The cook seems to have very little sense of what is going on in class. That’s what. I have all students write an essay the first day of class, for diagnostic purposes. After I read her diagnostic essay, I had a sinking feeling that here was not a potential college student. She did not have the rudiments of college writing, and I told her so. Well, she informed me that she was very persistent; she said she will stick with the class. And, she informed me, even though she had trouble with her introductory reading course, “the dean” assured her she can write. (Lord only knows what that means.)

Now we come to the real nub of the issue. In addition to bringing mac & cheese to class, she also handed in her first paper. The problem is—the paper was due last week, not this week. When I informed her that I would take the paper, but that it was late—she told me she didn’t know it was due last week. Well, I said, the due date is in the syllabus. She then said—I never got one of those. I was so flabbergasted that I didn’t think quickly enough.

Afterwards I thought—wait a minute. Didn’t she wonder when I said to the students, pass your papers forward? Didn’t she hear when I kept reminding students—now your papers are due. . .? Harrumph—no syllabus, indeed!

Well, guess what—tonight, as I sat down to grade her paper, I note that it is not even the correct assignment. In fact, she is so far off topic that I can’t even imagine what she thought she was writing about.

(Can you see my finger wagging back and forth?) Tomorrow, when class convenes, I will tell her—don’t go trying to bribe me with mac & cheese. It isn’t going to work. Only good writing counts for anything in this class.


Mary said...

Donna, this needs to be a continuing saga of the Mac & Cheese bribe. Please? You are on to her...take your time and nail her. Don't mean to sound mean...

How interesting about the Dean. Miss Mac & Cheese must have been dreaming.

cat59 said...

That is sad, but funny. She was probably doing what she does best when she brought in the mac and cheese--maybe she likes to cook and share. Too bad she doesn't listen or write well! Maybe she will improve under your tutelage, but it's not starting off well if she can't even follow the syllabus--er, the one she doesn't have! (BTW, I think the mac and cheese looks great and would make an excellent breakfast food.)

Mary C said...

Wow - I would have thought about giving her another chance, but it sounds like she's living in another world. I sure hope she gets on track. As Mary suggested, this sounds like something you might want to continue sharing with your blogging buddies. ;-)

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Going to college or university is game. Your student has not learned to play the game yet. She may in time although she does seem to be in over her depth.

You student deserves credit for going beyond the course syllabus.

Are you sure you did not do anything to encourage her. Do you remember the scene in "John Browne's School Days. "Spell Window." "W.I.N.D.O.W." "Good now go and wash them."

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I was torn between smiling and wincing for Miss Mac and Cheese. Like Mary I wonder how she'll handle the next assignment! Cinnamon rolls?

KGMom said...

Hi All--I am writing this before class, so I don't know what today will bring. First, you may be interested to know that my policy is to allow students to REWRITE the first paper if they miss the assignment--or even misunderstand. So I will be having that conversation today with Ms. Mac Cheese.
Second, I really enjoy non-traditional students. They have life experiences that are so much richer than the average 18 year old. What I can't/ won't tolerate is outright dishonesty. Since I always begin class by reminding students of deadlines, there is no way that she SHOULD have missed the due date.
I am strict--for this reason. Most of the jobs these students will go to are strict. If you have a degree, and your boss asks you to write something, your boss will assume you know how to put sentences together. (Whether your boss knows how is another subject.) And most bosses won't say--oh, never mind that you completely missed this assignment. So I hold students accountable for standard English and for deadlines--because that is what the future holds for most of them.
Here endeth the lesson!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Donna,
This story made me chuckle. The first word that came to my mind was "clueless."

I hope she's just having a hard time getting into the groove and will get a clue soon. You have a tough job, Donna, and my hat's off to you!

Anvilcloud said...

I suspect by Mac&Cheese most students mean Kraft Dinner. I also suspect that I might like real M&C for breakfast -- on some days anyway. As for the other thing. I say give her a break (but let her know). If she's up to no good, she'll hang herself sooner rather than later.

Ginnie said...

I agree with AC. She'll fizzle out quickly enough, I'd imagine. Being a teacher is one of the toughest jobs there I don't envy you.

Anonymous said...

hmm mac and cheese!! I need to go eat dinner now!

Beverly said...

The photo would have made me hungry, but I just ate. I understand your rules, but my heart aches a little for the student. Hopefully, she will catch on soon or have the sense enough to know that the class isn't for her.

JeanMac said...

I would say she is unrealistic and has been successful manipulating other people in the past.
Probably she realizes you are on to her. Personally, I don't have much patience with manipulators!
Lay on the big green machine.

Pam said...

I'm with AC and Ginnie on this one.

I admire most teachers, you being one of them. There's so much to consider; your students capabilities, their personalities and their lives. It is obvious that you take a lot into consideration when dealing with your students and that you keep an open mind... even in the face of mac and cheese. Which, by the way, my husband would absolutely LOVE for breakfast.

Climenheise said...

You've presented a fascinating situation. I wish I knew so much more about the principal characters. Not about you -- I know that you are NT, and I'm borderline NF, so I tend to want to understand what's going on inside and help the student work something out (compared to your more business-like "get it done"). But about the student -- is she a manipulator, or someone searching for acceptance, (or both); I wonder what's really going on inside. We probably won't ever know, but I am still curious.

LauraHinNJ said...

Hmmm.... cooking as a coping skill - that's a new one!

I sense that our students are quite similar, Donna. Mine usually cook for me at the end of the semester, right around the time final grades are due!

By the way - I love mac and cheese - especially the cheap stuff that comes in boxes from Kraft - yum!