Saturday, September 25, 2010


I have to come clean and tell you all that I’m kind of a dork. And, I’ve been that way all my life. I was the dorky kid who liked to read books instead of Tiger Beat magazine. I’m the dorky adult who would still rather read books than watch ‘reality TV’ (although I must be honest and say that I suspect there is nothing actually ‘real’ about the Real World.) I wasn’t a total dork. I did actually prefer a lot of the social aspects of school to the study aspects (math), and that was true of me in college as well as prior to it. But, I was dorky enough to always hand in my assignments.

I was fortunate in that academics came relatively easily to me (again, math excluded.) Reading was fast and I have one of those memories where I can actually remember where I read something – I mean specifically, where on the page it was located – and can often pull it back up and re-read it in my mind’s eye. I could write relatively well and relatively painlessly. I know you’re supposed to write a draft and go back and revise later, but that always seemed a big waste of time to me (and also required far more pre-planning than I was ever willing to do,) so I was the one who ‘revised’ as I went along. I acknowledge many a time when I started a paper at 11:00 pm that was due at 9:00 am the next morning. Would I have written better papers had I allowed myself more time – certainly I would have. However, I made decisions about where and how I wanted to spend my limited time allotment and rehearsals now always won out over the assignment that wasn’t due until then. But not handing something in? Never.

Maybe it was an over-developed sense of responsibility. Maybe it was growing up with parents who came out of the Depression and had that work ethic that didn’t allow you to not do what was expected. Maybe it was the Protestant version of Catholic guilt. Maybe it was my inherent dorkiness. Maybe it was a little speck of academic savvy that told me that ANY points were better than NO points and that no matter how good (lame) my excuse for not doing work, no one really wanted to hear it. Do something and turn it in.

I never tried to kid myself academically. I knew full well when I turned in sub-par work. I counted myself lucky every time I turned in something that was thrown together at the last minute to get the grade that I got. I didn’t complain. I didn’t whine. (There was one time during my freshman year at a small Christian college when I did succumb to the popular excuse of my classmates, “I’m having Spiritual problems,” but even as I was saying it I could hardly stand myself because it was such a lie – unless lack of discipline and too many beers constituted a spiritual problem - so I never pulled it a second time.) I took my grades and moved on.

This has all been coming back to me as I return to campus and am confronted with example after example of people not doing their work. Some show up with the lame excuse – “I had to take my boyfriend to the airport.” Some try to spin their ‘excuse’ to make themselves look like academic all-stars – “I just know that it’s not perfect and I’m willing to take a late grade in order to do my best work rather than turn in something that is sub-par.” Some simply don’t show up at all on the due date, and then return to class a couple of days later as though nothing at all has happened.

Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying that “80% of success in life is just showing up.” I have news for my students. The other 20% is handing in your work. Grades are about math (my old nemesis.) You will not pass if you simply show up and do nothing. You will not pass because you are pleasant. You will not pass because you are cute. You will not pass because I am nice. You will not pass because you have had a hard life and deserve a break. You will pass because you hand in work. And, the work you hand in, must show a minimum amount of competency and understanding. You do not need to be a genius. You do not need to be perfect. You do not even need to be interesting or insightful. You need to be competent. And, you need to hand it in.

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