Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Tis the Season

I'm appreciating my Facebook Friendships with former students lately.  My page is full of college kids counting down days till they return to our hometown, snapshots of the bridge to our small city, and taggings of old friends with new:  "I wish you could meet my roommate/high school buddy; you two would love each other!"  Ahhhh, it makes me nostalgic. 

'Tis the season for lamentations about finals, too.  And I have some sympathy for my modern-day earnest scholar-friends.  I mean, it was hard enough to study in college during the age of doors with dry-erase boards and landlines, the time of no cell phones or computers.  Can you imagine the distractions these days?  The texts?  The TV shows and movies downloaded to the device sitting right there on your desk?  I can't!  Even without those temptations I managed to distract myself in the library, making new friends and talking to lampshades if all else failed.  But I also can't imagine how I found my friends on weekends in college, without phones and "check-ins" and such, what with the whimsy of "maybe I'll hit up that frat party...no wait, I changed my mind; I'm gonna go to the improv show instead."  Nevertheless, I somehow managed a healthy serendipitous social life. 

But I remember final exams.  I remember that when I made my airline reservations in the fall with a return ticket at the end of the semester, I'd always have to book my flight on the last possible day of finals, just in case one of the courses I chose scheduled a final for that 2:00 PM slot on December 22nd.  Most of the time, I had a day or two post-exams to pack and languish in the dorm with the few folks stuck studying, but fall semester junior year, I had the last final on the last day, with a flight out early the next morning.  I would be studying abroad in Italy during spring semester, which meant I had to pack All My Stuff and haul it into the basement that night after my final, where it would await my return fall of senior year. 

I wasn't looking forward to this packing and hauling at all.  I wasn't looking forward to saying goodbye to my boyfriend for an eight-month separation.  The only thing I was glad about was being done with my History of China final, which I thought I had rocked.  That class was my favorite thus far; I had actually read the whole book my professor wrote along with associated readings, and was fascinated by the twists and turns in Chinese politics juxtaposed with the constants of its culture.  To celebrate the end of finals, I planned to enjoy a leisurely Last Supper with friends in the dining hall and then burn the midnight oil packing. 

There's a joke that circulated during finals about a kid taking his exam who didn't heed the warning to turn in his blue books immediately when the exam session was over.  He sat, instead, at his desk and continued to write, even as he was threatened by the proctor that his exam would not be graded.  When he finally finished, he carried his blue books to the front of the lecture hall, where the exasperated T.A. stood beside a table stacked with completed exams. 

"Do you know who I am?" he challenged the T.A.

"No...?" replied the T.A. 

"Good," said the student, as he shoved his blue books into the middle of the pile of exams.  "Have a great holiday!"

Turns out I would have my own blue book mishap, no joke.  After dinner, I returned to my dorm room with my backpack to begin sorting, packing, cleaning, and lugging.  I emptied my backpack first.  I had a habit of grabbing extra blank blue books and using a few for notes or outlining while I was taking exams.  I had turned in the essays and answers and thrown the blue books with notes into my backpack.  Or so I thought.  I recall my gut turning over and blood draining from my face as I realized that instead, I had taken my exam books with me, and turned in my notes.  On the last day of finals.  By this time, hours had gone by, hours in which classroom buildings were being locked, T.A.s were loading up cars and heading home for the holidays, and professors were long gone.  Hours during which I, conceivably, could have been writing exam answers in my room with my course books open, only to claim later that I accidentally turned in the wrong blue books.  I felt completely, hopelessly, irrevocably screwed. 

When I was finally able to stop flapping my arms, pacing, and hyperventilating, I did the only thing I could do:  call my T.A.  She was my discussion section leader, and we had made conversation after class a number of times.  I admired her; she was wise and organized and kind.  She would actually know who I was.  Maybe trust me.  If I could find her. 

Her number was listed in the phone book, miraculously, and I left a long, rambling, and desperate message on her answering machine.  And then commenced worrying and packing and bemoaning my plight and stupidity.  By the time she returned my call I was resigned to failing the class, the class I loved with the professor who was legendary and my cool T.A.  But she returned my call, and she listened to me and believed me and we made arrangements for me to leave my exam books in her grad school mailbox.  I had probably never felt more relief and gratitude combined before. 

Ah, that T.A. with her mercy and trust in me.  Now an educator myself, I've never forgotten the value of those two gifts in my work with growing and developing humans.  But the real moral of the story lies in relationships.  Had I not connected with my T.A., and had she not made herself available to students, I might have had some insightful but worthless essays, short answers, and identification pairs to take home for the holidays, as well as a bad grade in that awesome history class. 

So, my Facebook friends with finals, make yourself known to your professors, T.A.s, deans, and R.A.s (in all the right ways, of course).  Stay connected with old friends (and teachers!) and bring your two worlds--former and current--together when you can.  Pay forward the strong connections you've cultivated by reaching out to underclassmen and younger siblings.  Share your wisdom and mercy.  Be honest.  Don't forget to double-check your tests and exams and slow down a little.

And while I am dispensing free advice, I'll throw in one more helpful hint:  If you happen to enroll in a class in which the professor announces on the first day that your grade will be based on either the midterm and final, or just the final exam--your choice!--TAKE THE MIDTERM, PEOPLE.  It turns out you can't read all the books about U.S. History from 1900 to 1950 in a week.  Trust me on this one. 

Good luck!  A full night's sleep is right around the corner.

No comments: