I'm probably too young to have so many pet peeves. The list seems to get longer every year. So, naturally, the longer I teach, the longer my list of class rules seems to get. In addition to rules of class conduct, I also have to develop rules concerning over-disclosure of information in emails and office visits. Such over-disclosure is always geared towards one goal for the student: transforming personal deficiencies into legitimate disabilities in an effort to attenuate workload expectations.
Whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed by these excuses, I take time out in class to reiterate the rules concerning over-disclosure. Note that I always go over these rules at the beginning of the semester but I have to repeat the exercise at least twice during the semester. My two basic rules follow:
1. If you believe you have some kind of disability then go to disability services and let them decide if you are right. If this requires anything of me, they will let me know and I'll make whatever accommodations they require. No need to share the details concerning what your disability is or how it came to be. All I need is an official form with clear instructions.
2. If you experience other life difficulties that are temporary then there's no need to worry. I'll allow one week of absences and one make-up exam. No need to explain your emergency. Just use your week of free absences as you see fit. Again, there is no need for details. If one week is not enough then these are not really emergencies. In all likelihood your life is one long emergency and failing my class won't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
Before the first half of the semester is over, I always get bombarded with demands for extra emergency time. Even after I reiterate the rules, I still have some who feel the need to challenge my overarching principle of keeping private (usual medical) information private. Here are some examples of challenges I have received in recent semesters:
- One student came by and began his plea by saying "I know you told us that if we had a disability, you don't need to hear the details. But I have two disabilities." Now this kid will make a great lawyer, won't he? I told students not to talk about a disability (singular). But technically I really didn't say anything about disabilities (plural). Clearly, this kid was born to litigate.