No one knows . . . [Rerun Sunday]

My friend Elena likes to tell a story about grading student papers while some Jacques Cousteau special was playing on the TV as background noise. While she was gawking at what her charges had managed to do to logic, reason, and the English language, Cousteau was commenting on one of the eternal mysteries of the sea. I’m not sure (and I don’t know if Elena remembers) just what bit of maritime biology Cousteau was talking about, but the phrase he used — “No one knows why they do what they do” — rapidly became our standard response to whatever baffling student behavior manifested itself in our classes.

I’m teaching two courses this semester. Both of them are filled to capacity, which means that students who want to get into either of those courses either have to hope for a fortuitously timed drop by someone currently in the class, or they need to ask me for a permission number to get added to the roster. Since registration for spring courses began a couple of months ago, I’ve probably had two dozen queries along these lines. Most of which have been pretty straightforward and easy to handle: the student in question sends me an email, asks about one of my two courses by name, and I tell them I’ve added their name to the relevant waitlist.

But I’ve also had at least half a dozen queries by students whose requests to get into my course ignore “little” details like specifying which course they want to join. At least three queries from students who don’t provide me with their full names (’cause, of course, there’s only going to be one Chris or Elizabeth or John who might show up in my classroom (either of them) on Day One). And at least two queries from students expressing a strong and profound interest in taking my course . . . in an email that’s actually addressed to the instructors of three or four different courses that the student in question wants to get into.

No one knows why they do what they do, indeed . . .

PS: How did I forget to include this bit? About 25% of the students who I’ve written back, asking for (a) their full name and/or (b) the course they want to join, have never written me back again. I suppose that’s good. If you have a hard time answering either of those questions, after all, you’re going to have a helluva time with an actual exam or a research paper.


You can find a brief explanation of “Rerun Sunday” here.

The post above originally appeared on 15 Jan 2009.

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