Dear Absentee Students,
During this early part of the term, I just wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to you — not to remind/threaten you about when/where class is and my Draconian attendance policy — but to thank you: for, first of all, saving me the painful task of having to look over your barely-thought-about assignments, but then also for making my life so incredibly easier down the line by not officially having dropped the class yet — thereby keeping someone else from registering for the already overstuffed class and saving me having to read their work too. This is the kind of gift that keeps on giving, all term long, and for that I offer deep, deep thanks.
You, you see, are in my most favorite group of students of all time. You heard correctly: it’s not the precociously gifted polymaths whose questions I have to pretend to know the answer to — I’m far too jealous of their talent and youth; or the French exchange students whose plumes of smoke I have to walk through to get in the building, with their Je ne sais quoi and perfect pronunciation of “Foucaultian” — as if it were the dirtiest thing that ever passed their pouty lips. Nor certainly is it the first-rowers, who ruin every office hours nap time by, you know, showing up.
No, by far it is you, over and over again, because every time I take attendance and see your empty chair, I know what it means: one less assignment, evaluation, course report, progress report, or midterm I’ll have to gird myself to mark. It’s one less time I’ll have to write “watch grammar!” or “tenses!” or “citation?!” on a paper I’ve read just the first paragraph of before banging my head against the desk and pouring myself “just one little” drink.
One less attendance verification, one less portfolio, one less final; one less “I’m just wondering why my grade is a quarter percentage point lower than I calculated it should be;” one less email explaining how, coincident to the week after Spring Break, your dearest nana has died.
These add up, my young mentee — in my liver, my lungs, the very minutes of my life compounding to hours, days in which I could pretend to be getting ready to resubmit my grant proposal — and every time I see that you are there-not-there I know deep down you are taking a bullet for me — probably in the form of just that scooch extra back-breaking student debt when you finally get yourself together and graduate — and I give thanks to thee.
You may have stopped showing up after that first day of class for so many reasons, and I empathize with them all, I really do. Maybe it was the 50-plus-page syllabus (my crowning achievement, and most widely read publication every year — consisting mostly of the rules and regulations and random dictats written not so much as a class guide but as a salvo against my all-pervading Gefühl der Ohnmacht, as it were) which I went over that first day with more than a soupcon of machiavellian glee. A ruse, I assure you: by term’s end I’ll be so defeated as to be enforcing none of it with any consistency at all.
Or perhaps it was the general “trigger warning” I gave that same day, a sort of waiver for everything that could possibly come out of my mouth for the rest of the term that might offend anyone at all; or maybe you actually have had some kind of sudden and important thing happening in your life — an ill relative, a housing or financial or identity crisis. If so, I’m truly sorry. But still also thank you.
Of course in this case the beginning does not determine the end: you might easily slip yourself from grace into its opposite: the worst kind of student, the kind who returns a month in and a month behind, who is “just asking for a chance” — and to whom I will give that chance, not out of kindness or empathy but simply out of my own fear of confrontation — and who will flit in and out the rest of the term, handing in papers totally unrelated to those assigned, but which I will have to grade anyway. Please do not be this person.
You might, also, end up making your way to the registrar’s office to officially drop the class halfway through the term. That is fine — nobody can take your spot then, after all — but a bit of a shame: with grade inflation what it is, you could have not shown up or handed anything in all term and probably still have gotten a B.
Your Professor In Absentia,
David Andrew Stoler