By Kat Kiefer-Newman
I was late.
It almost never happens, but this semester I have an eight o’clock class and it’s sometimes difficult to get ready and out of the house in time. I’m waking up at five a.m. every morning, but waking up isn’t the same as getting out of bed and starting the process. The minute I walked in the classroom, one of my students informed me that they were all about to leave: “there’s that 15 minute rule, ya know.” Without much sympathy (I wasn’t more than 7 minutes late, as it turned out), I replied that our college had no such policy. As it had been explained to me, the students were required to stay the entire scheduled class time allotted, whether I showed up or not. They were stunned, and very disappointed.
Several told me they didn’t believe me.
Another recent debunking happened when I had to gently tell a new student that there was no perfect attendance reward in my classroom. To be fair, there are some college outreach programs for at-risk students. This young lady, though, was not in one of those programs. She was mightily disappointed. The fact is that I stop taking roll after the census is done, unless one of the outreach programs, work study, DSPS, or EOPS offices contact me and require me to track a particular student. Those students bring me forms to sign, though. I believe that we’re all grown ups in the college classroom and their grades are their incentive to come.
Still another story I’ve now heard at both of the colleges I teach at is that a student became so distraught during midterms (or sometimes finals) that she (or sometimes it’s a he) jumped off the tallest building on campus (or hung herself, or drowned in the pool). A memorial tree was planted in her honor and as a caution to all students to realize that testing days come and go and aren’t worth getting so upset about. Now, there are many memorial trees planted on college campuses and most of them have mundane origins, being named for a particular donor or organization. These stories are always begun “my brother knew a guy who dated a girl who….” People share the gory and sad details, sometimes elaborating on the theme. Debunking these are particularly difficult because the listeners want to believe.
How do these myths on the campus get started, anyway? As a student I was involved in Theatre Arts. Every stage I ever worked on had at least one ghost story that the old-timers told with gusto and relish and the newbies ate up. Is it a matter of one group of students, the old-timers of any community, making up stories because it’s fun to watch the new people fall for it? Who can really say.
Whatever the case, I have a class to get to even now. While I was typing this, I dropped a piece of apple on the floor. It’s okay; it was only there for a few seconds and that means it’s still safe to eat. I had a bit of a start, though, when I heard a rattling in the drains outside my kitchen. My father tells me that it’s a pet lizard the neighbors had that escaped and now lives in the sewers.
I have to be careful and walk around those.