The Late Semester Student

whyIt’s late in the semester, which means that I busy with paperwork, presentations, and prepping finals. When I am not doing those things, I can be seen at my desk caressing the July 1 box on the desk calendar and silently weeping at the thought of an extended holiday.

When I am not doing that, I am looking up symptoms and treatments for teacher burn out.

I love my students and teaching, but there are times when it becomes clear that some students have an, oh, interesting idea about how the world around them works. And that time is almost always late in the semester, when these students start popping out of the sky like biblical plagues.

Here are some habits of the late semester student.

I Need Help…

Every university teacher on this planet has that student. That student never comes to class. That student has never written to you. You don’t know that student exists until he knocks on your door at the end of the semester. After months of being blissfully ignorant of that student, they then becomes the largest thorn in your side because A) they need you to explain a semester worth of information in thirty minutes and B) they are mystified as to why this might be an inconvenience.

In my case that student’s name is Martin (names changed to protect that student).

Martin’s specialties include arriving unanounced and three minutes before I have another class, being unprepared, aggravating my colleagues, raising blood pressure, being a human herpe, and failing tests. You all have a Martin. Let’s take a moment and mentally jab a protractor into his spleen.

Letters of Recommendation

One of my favorite aspects of being a university teacher is helping and encouraging the personal, academic, and professional development of my students. I love it when a student advances and succeeds, it puts me in a good mood for a month.

I am able to directly help these successes at times by writing letters of recommendation, and when I am asked to write on behalf of a hard-working, conscientious student, I put a lot of time and energy into it.


The hard-working, conscientious students are not the only ones asking for letters of recommendation. Often the students who ask are ones you have very limited, or no, exposure to or knowledge of. Some variation of this interaction takes place more than I’d like to admit:

Student A: “Hi Professor Damien. (AKA: Mr. Damien Matthew, Mr. Damien, Professor Daniel, and, once, Professor Garret Daleone)

Me: “Hi?”

Student: “Can you write me a letter of recommendation?”

Me: “I don’t know who you are.”

Student A: “I am your student. You must write about my skills and success in your course.”

Me: “Yes…but I have never met you, I don’t know what kind of skills you have.”

Student A: “English.”

Me: “Sigh.” (Yes, I actually say “sigh”)

Students. In order for a teacher to write you a recommendation, we actually need to know what to recommend you for. And your nice shoes don’t count.

Story Time

It’s late in the semester, otherwise known as story time. When there’s a knock on our door late in the semester, all eight butt cheeks in my office clinch as we uniformly glare at the door. Often, late in semester, there’s a face nobody recognizes, this is when we know that one of the four of us is about to get one hell of a story.

“I am looking for Mr. Galeone?”

“Damn. OK, what happened?”

I’ve heard them all. Sickness. Plight. Zombies. One guy claimed to have been deported, which would have garnered my sympathy had I not seen him every Tuesday of the previous three months at my local pub.

I have been thinking of making this more interesting. The next time a student tries to tell me a story, I’ll hand them a card with a word or phrase on it, like tarantulas, ventriloquist,  or migratory birds. If they can come up with a decent story involving that word or phrase, I’ll go over the syllabus with them.

Students, we are not dumb. And we don’t believe a word that comes out of your mouths at the end of the semester, this is when fairytales are told. If you really want us to buy a story, tell us in the beginning of the semester. Think ahead.

Public Speaking

Seeing a student you know in public is usually a brief and friendly affair. A quick hello or a very quick chat and then you go on your ways. The student you know always seems to have respect for your time and space outside of the university walls.

The student who doesn’t come to class, sees this situation differently.

When this student spies you in public, on the tram, in a pub, waiting for a bus, he decides that this is the best time in the world to give you an excuse. It is a perfect opportunity, admittedly. They can assuage their guilty conscience, and they don’t even have to travel to the university to do it.

“Sorry I haven’t been in class, but….”

When this happens, I start singing in Odetta Holmes’ voice at the top of my lungs. When they run away embarrassed by and for me, I go back to my kindle and the blissful quiet.

The other variation of this is the student who decides to ask you about the class.

“Did we do anything important last time?”

“Nah, we just sat around talking about how you weren’t there.”


Since I probably did half (or all) of these things as a student, the Karma Police are tagging me pretty good. I suppose I am just enjoying my just desserts. And with all its aggravations, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. In the meantime, I’ll just continue my mantra.

July 1. July 1. July 1.

Teachers out there, what else do they do to get to us?

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