Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Internet Savvy

It's the end of the semester, which is good and bad. Good that I don't teach again until August. Bad that I have a mountain of papers to grade, and a million students emailing me. The internet has changed the teacher-student relationship forever.

The worst is they expect an immediate reply. Waiting 24 hours is neglect to them. Can you imagine that in the business world? When I was in college, we had email, but I can't remember ever emailing a professor. I must have, I'm sure I did, but it was such a rare occasion, I don't even remember. I called them, I made appointments to meet with them, I stopped by during office hours, but hounding them on the internet? Nope.

It's the most annoying thing ever, this internet. It means that people constantly have access to us, or assume they do. Sure, it's great to reach out and connect with someone instantaneously without having to shower or change out of my pj's, but it makes it impossible to duck and dodge. Sometimes, I just don't feel like talking on the phone, but if I don't answer when someone calls or texts, they assume I'm ignoring them. The same thing is true of student emails. They think they have access to me 24/7.

Now the bright side of teaching in the digital age is that it's suuuper easy to catch cheaters. Because cheaters are stupid, and they leave a digital footprint easy to track.

My favorite stories are the ones about students who tell sob stories of dead grandmothers, suicidal sisters or long mysterious hospital stays. I'm a sucker, I trust everyone, it's a blessing and a curse. I feel sad when a student tells me something tragic happened to them. I want to help. That's why I love teaching. But one thing I'm learning is, wait for it, not all these stories are true. Gasp!

I believe wholeheartedly that if you lie about a death in the family, karma is gonna get you like the bitch she is. One professor told me a student once lied about a dead grandma to get out of a midterm exam only to have the grandma actually croak when finals came around. The student confessed and cried and cried, worrying that her lie somehow killed her sweet Nana. And it probably did.

So I never ask to see death notices or funeral programs. Too sad and too personal, and if you lie about death, sooner or later, it's going to catch you.

A few months ago, a friend told me a story about a student who made up this elaborate lie that her sister was studying abroad in Paris but was so lonely, she tried to commit suicide. She had to rush to be by her sister's side. Sad story, and my friend almost believed it, but on a hunch, she turned to Facebook to investigate. Sure enough, the girl was dumb enough not to have any privacy settings turned on and had a long list of status updates about how cute French boys were and how much fun it was to shop on Champs-Élysées. Busted.

It's also super easy to catch kids plagiarizing. I read a paper that seems too good to be true, choose a sentence and type it into Google. Voila! So easy it's almost boring.

I caught a student who plagiarized on two papers (not one, but two!) and found she simply copied and pasted the entire papers from a website. Yet another way Google is making life easier. She tried to deny it when I showed her the papers and the print-out from the website. She told me that she thought that was the assignment. For a writing class. Instead of writing, I wanted them to copy someone else's writing and put their name on it. Hmm.

She cried and then threw her snotty Kleenex at me and stormed out of my office saying, "Now I have to transfer schools again!"

I saw her on campus the next semester, and she glared at me like I killed her grandmother. Though that was probably the lie that caused her to leave the last school. Will they ever learn? I doubt it, but I don't mind, the internet makes it fun to catch them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Oh, The Places You Will Go

I think there's something about weddings that makes you reflect on your life, the choices you made and the people who influenced you along the way. Choosing bridesmaids and others to be involved in the wedding, for example, makes you remember all the times those people were there for you, how they supported you, and all that you've been through together.

I feel lucky to still be close with people I grew up with, and after decades of friendship, it's incredible to see how our lives have grown and changed. One of my best friends, a girl I've known since I was 10 years old, is pregnant with triplets right now. Whoa! Another girl I grew up with had her first baby a few months ago, another just had her second, and another spent the past two years living in London and traveling through Europe with her wonderful husband. These are girls that I used to play "Power Princess" with, roll houses with, and daydream about what our husband would be like, what our lives would be like as grown-ups.

I have friends who became doctors, lawyers, academics, and when you take a moment and look back at it all, it's amazing to see how it all came together, how we got here from there. Nothing is more humbling or awe-inspiring than to truly know someone and watch their evolution.

Of course, some friends I've lost touch with, but it's always fun to hear what happened to them. Facebook is great for that, right? I've re-connected with a few friends and now see pictures and updates about their children and careers. It's very cool.

Recently, I visited an old friend in LA and got to meet the love of his life, and I got it immediately - they fit together like they really were made for each other. He's in grad school now and wants to teach public speaking, he's teaching a group of high schoolers now in an after school program. Crazy that the guy who used to steal booster seats from fast food restaurants is now shaping the minds of America's youth! And another friend of ours from high school is on a show on the Disney Channel! The guy who used to tell the dirtiest jokes I've ever heard is on a show for kids!

Last night, MG and I went to a small concert with some friends. Oddly, and for the first time in years, I saw the Asshole Ex-Boyfriend. I caught him out of the corner of my eye a couple times, but he ducked and dodged, and then I got a good enough look to tell that yes, it was him. He looked awful. Shorter and fatter than I remember, with a frumpy girl with cheap highlights. The worst, though, was that he looked so dull and ordinary. I guess we're all ordinary, but seeing him was just so jarring - this was the guy that I loved so much I let him treat me like shit for years? Really? It's like learning that monster you were afraid of for so many years was just a shadow in your closet.

I don't know what his life is like, I imagine he still talks about leaving a job he'll never have the guts to leave or starting a business he'll never start or moving to a town he'll never move to. Maybe he's happy, I hope he is, and in fact, I'm sure he is, but it's so incredible to see how people's lives turned out just the way they wanted that it is sad if anyone's life isn't what they want it to be. I hope he's happy and changed. And I'm happy I don't have a clue.

After the show, we went up to talk to a friend who got heckled by the musician because he knows her. We teased her because he kept telling her she wasn't singing or smiling enough. She's one of those people that always knew what they wanted, what they were good at, and made the life she imagined. Really cool girl.

And I also saw a friend from high school. Probably the nicest person I've ever met. I haven't seen him in close to fifteen years, but as soon as we saw each other, we remembered that old friendship and the fun times we had immediately. He lives in LA now and was at the show because he's the promotions director for the record label. In high school, I remembered we both loved The Counting Crows. It seemed like almost every week, he'd come to school wearing a shirt from one of their concerts. So inspiring to see someone who always wanted to work in music made that dream come true.

I think everyone in my life, past and present, is inspiring. There are people and stories we remember as morality tales, reminding us to always buckle our seatbelt so we don't have a bad car crash like that one friend, to work hard and try hard unlike our friend who dropped out of college and works at the mall, to love with all our heart and cherish our partner because we know that couple in the bad marriage or the guy who got left at the altar.

I always focus on the good things, there is so much good, and there certainly are a lot of people in my life who've overcome so much, who accomplished what they set out to do, who are living their dreams - there are those who teach us how not to live and those who inspire us to live more like them. I hope I am a part of the latter because I truly am blessed and surrounded by many who are. God bless good friends! Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other gold!

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