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Saturday, 26 July 2014

Open Letter to my Students

Dear student

It's that time of the year again. You haven't opened your study books throughout the semester, too short and disrupted by the Nowrouz holidays (which, by the way is not two weeks but one whole month long). You have suspended all normal activities of everyday life for the last couple of weeks, trying to cram into your brain material that should really have taken months to absorb, trying to keep your droopy eyes open with endless cups of tea and coffee and shoring up your flagging motivation with the mantra "It will soon be over." But will it?

In a couple of days, the first marks will appear on the university site. How will you react? Will you be pleased, disappointed, dispirited, angry with me (more likely) or yourself (less likely)? Will you accept your defeat, seeing it as a result of your actions (or lack of them) or will you pop into my office to plead/argue/wheedle/fight to the bitter end for every scrap of .25 of a mark?

In other words, which of these types do you fit in?

1. The goody two-shoes student: If only all classes were made up of the likes of you! You haven't missed one single lesson, never been late even once, have volunteered to answer most questions asked in class, handed in every written assignment, and got full marks in the exam. It was only expected, and both of us are pleased.

2. The lazy breezer student: You have a good background in the subject and/or you are good at winging the exam by using other students' notes. Despite less than impeccable attendance, punctuality and classwork, you get a mark that others less fortunate would envy, and which, considering the minimal effort you put into the subject, you do not deserve. You are pleased altogether – who wouldn't be?

3. The plodder-who-gets-there-eventually student: You are determined to get a respectable mark, no matter what it takes. You've been at every lesson, paid attention all the time, answered what questions you could. On the metro on the way to and from the university, you bury your face in vocabulary lists, while other passengers choose hairclips or stare at each other. Before the exam you fussed and fretted, only too aware of your weakness. At the exam you also scored a respectable mark, which nonetheless does not reflect the time and the effort you put into the subject. You recognize that your achievement is down to your own weakness and is nobody else's fault, least of all mine.

4. The I-couldn't-care-less student: You are also known as "the tourist": you drift occasionally into the class, stare into space or, more likely, into your mobile and have no clue about the subject. You either drop out during the term, or if you come to the exam you only write your name on the answer sheet. Or you forget to turn up at the exam.

5. The what's-the-use student: You are weak, but unlike student no. 3 above, you lack the determination to give it a go. You know you will fail, and you are resigned to your fate. You either fail the exam, or score just a pass because I feel sorry for you; at least you came to the lessons, sat quietly and had your mobile on silent.

6. The extenuating-circumstances student: You attended erratically, often came into class late, kept popping in and out of the class to answer your mobile (could it really have been that important?), occasionally paid attention and answered a couple of questions. You may have just scored a pass or failed deservedly, but you think you might as well try your chance by turning up to my office offering all sorts of tried and tested excuses, from family problems ("my father was imprisoned and I have to take care of the family"; "I got engaged during term and had to go for wedding shopping"; "I am busy with divorce proceedings") to medical issues ("I am pregnant and the doctor ordered full bed rest"; "I have chronic migraines and got an attack the night before the exam") to social duties ("my fiance's grandfather passed away and I had to travel to Qazvin for the funeral"), to emergencies (" my cat was taken to hospital";"my brother had a car accident). The list is endless. Some of these excuses are true, but, alas, they have been tried too often to bear any credibility.

7. The failed-but-I-want-my-God-given-right student: You admit that you have been (physically) absent too often and mentally even more often, you have been chatting with the student next to you throughout the lessons, haven't got a clue what the subject is about, you possibly haven't even bought the book. But, you argue, I have to give you a pass mark, or you won't be allowed more than 14 credits next semester, or you will be kicked out of the university, or won't be allowed to enrol on the MA course, or you will have to go to military service. In other words, a pass mark is your God-given right, and I, the devil of a professor dare to deny it. You huff and you puff when I explain why I won't give you what you ask, and when you leave my office I go through a severe crisis of identity: "Who am I and what am I doing here? Might I do better at hairdressing or mini-cabbing?"

Now these are options that everyone might want to consider.