I got a call from Number One Daughter yesterday at work. I was in the middle of proofing pages and pages of mind-numbing data, but stopped to talk because she sounded distraught.
NOD had just taken her astronomy final. She has to take a year of science, and she chose astronomy which pretty much equals physics, and has been struggling with it. But she studied her brains out for the final, and thought she aced it, so why was she upset?
Because she had signed up for the second semester of this class with the same professor, only to find out afterwards that he had switched times and wouldn't be teaching the section she signed up for, but another one which was already filled up.
So why was she upset? Because after struggling for the entire semester, she finally has this guy's teaching style down, understands him, and feels she can learn from him, rather than from the old retired guy who hasn't taught in a few centuries they had brought in to teach the session she'd signed up for.
So why was she upset? "You might love this guy more than the one you have," I said.
She talked. I listened. And got convinced that this request—to keep the same teacher—especially when the sign-up system is wrong and still has the wrong professor listed for the wrong times—didn't seem way out of line to me.
So, I called.
I never call. N-E-V-E-R. You're in college. You deal. I don't jump in and Fix Things.
But this time, I just thought, this is such a little thing, such a small request, such an honest request, a request that will make such a difference in the life of one struggling non-science science student. NOD had already been to the astronomy office to request a change, and got totally blown off. So she had tried, and failed.
She didn't ask me to, but I did. I called the chair of the department. Who told me he didn't understand what the problem was, after I explained it twice. I had to ask him "Which part are you having trouble with?" He said he was sorry my daughter was such a POOR STUDENT, and man, I was off. "Poor student?? WHO SAID SHE WAS A POOR STUDENT?? I just told you she had a hard time with this class and struggled through it, and just pulled off an 'A.'" Him: "She has to learn how to accept change. These kids play these games all the time. [????] You can't always get what you want. [Yes he actually said that.] We don't guarantee anything. Life is not fair. [Insert platitude here.]"
You know what? I know all that. I teach occasionally for a living. And you know what else? NOD has been dealing with change and "life is not fair" all her life. "Surely," I said to him, "surely you know, as do I, a fellow professor, that some kids do better with certain professors than others. Surely you are not telling me you do not know this? NOD does not really need to learn that life is unfair. She's pretty much had that lesson shoved down her throat since she was born. Can we save that lesson for another time?"
Round and round we went. He was on auto-pilot, I swear, reading from a script. Me: "Well, I'm sorry you cannot have a bit of compassion here and since you are having so much trouble understanding students, who do I talk to next?" He said, oh-so-maddeningly calmly, "Well, you should call the Dean," knowing full well the Dean will Stick to the Rules.
So I put a call into the Dean, who, funnily enough, was not "in" at 4:50 p.m. on a Friday. I left a message.
I know, I know. I should have let her work this out herself. I know, this is not a Big Important Problem. I know, if this is her worst problem, life is pretty good.
But sometimes, ya know, just once in a while, can we just break a Rule and respond to one student's need with Compassion? Please? Especially when you are a Catholic college? Charging a huge chunk of change?
No, I'm guessing not.
Life is unfair.