It was a late afternoon and I was to teach some research nonsense to a smallish class of law students. It was unpleasantly hot. If the sun caught you alone, he’d burn you to death.
I was irritable and tired. My shoes had become uncomfortably small through the course of a long day standing and I was questioning my life choices.
But when I walked into the classroom, the students – with whom I’d established a pretty good report – started humming some song. At first I couldn’t make it out. I could tell something fishy was afoot because they were sitting suspiciously still and behaving themselves like humans. I’m not stupid, I watched Sister Act 2 just like everyone else…
Then realization descended and I burst out laughing.
My loser students were humming the theme song to Jaws.
I told them that to pass my course they’d need a bigger boat. They laughed, I laughed, we all laughed…it was nice. But that sort of magical chemistry does not happen with every class and it doesn’t happen every year.
Some classes are 600 students strong, half of whom watched Suits and now believe they are meant to revolutionize the world of designer-suit-wearing, witty-repertoire-having legal world. And I don’t care who says what, you cannot teach law adequately to 600 students.
I know students think I’m tough. Some think I’m too tough. But I don’t think I’m unreasonable. My students were supposed to submit assignments on Tuesday. Yesterday, excuses started flooding through my computer screen, regaling me with stories of dead grandmothers and stolen laptops. I don’t know why the laptop stealing syndicates in this country always wait until my assignments submission dates roll around…
Anyway, I don’t buy half their excuses but after a proper talking-to, I accept their assignments. Then I’m labeled ‘difficult’. But then days like today happen. I received an email from a young man asking for personal advice. He lives alone with his alcoholic father in very difficult financial circumstances and his father beats him up. His complaints to the police went unheard.
He submitted his assignment in time.
The young girl who e-mailed me yesterday – also for personal advice – also managed to submit her assignment in time, despite being date raped the weekend before and being told by the local police to go ‘sleep it off’ because they throught she was drunk.
I really wasn’t drunk, ma’am…
Then I have to sit and wonder why a young, female law student would still think that mattered and that she owed anyone an apology. And I wonder in awe how she still had the pride and resilience to complete a stupid assignment.
Then there’s the young man who has to study by candle light because he and his family live in poverty. He arranged with me to write his assignment on paper, take photographs of it and e-mail it to me because he only has a phone. But he would rather do that than fail to complete an assessment.
Terminal cancer was diagnosed with one female student a few years ago. She requires chemotherapy every so often to extend her life. She fails almost all her subjects. But her ability to return and finish what she started has left me astounded. And she never complains; she never seeks special favor…
Don’t forget the dozens upon dozens of young people who study on behalf of their entire families. The first generation to go to university. The younger brothers and sister, mom and dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins…all wait patiently for their future lawyer family member to finish law school so that all of them can be lifted out of poverty.
No-one, and I do mean no-one, can know what level of pressure that unloads on a young person’s shoulders.
And there is not one damned thing I can do about any of it. I can give pep talks. I can try to motivate. But in the grand scheme of things, I’m useless in the face of their challenges…
Then Prince Phillip van der Fancy the Third rolls up with daddy’s Merc and complains about the stress having been dumped by his girlfriend and the utter inability to finish his assignment.
I’m not suggesting Princes and Princesses do not also suffer hardships in life. Or that those living in difficult circumstances do not also take chances to mitigate their procrastination. But after 10 years in academe I’ve learnt that not all excuses were created equal. Some are more equal than others.
And now I will have a chococino and think up an excuse to give my boss as to why my assignments are not yet fully graded…