If You Have to Ask

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” so the old adage goes.

Here are the top 4 questions students should never ask their teachers (well, at least, not me anyway.  Maybe they can ask these questions of nicer teachers, you know, the kind with wavy, Disney-princess hair and bubbly handwriting and little baskets of potpourri from Crate and Barrel in their bathrooms.)

  1. When is it due?

I have amazing syllabi.  They are freakishly thorough, clearly laid-out and pretty much on par with War and Peace or The Grapes of Wrath.  Seriously.  Civilizations of the future will discover my syllabi and weep that they couldn’t live in the era of my genius.

Really, though, my syllabi are pretty boss and I go over them thoroughly on the first day of class, which is why it really wets my socks (you know the feeling – that FEELING) when students ask this.

Other related questions:  “Do we have anything due today?”  “What did we have to read for class today?”

Dudes, seriously.

If you have ever asked any of these questions, it’s ok, we all make horrible, life-altering mistakes.  But. Dudes. Seriously.

Consider exiling yourself to Ball’s Pyramid



population YOU + a bunch of narsty, baguette-sized stick insects called tree lobsters.

3. Is it ok if. . .?

Here are some examples:

Is it ok if I go print this paper off real fast (usually asked 1 to 5 minutes before class starts)?

How am I supposed to respond to that?  I don’t need to give them permission to go use a printer, do I?  I think what they are really asking is, “Are you going to mark me LATE when I show up LATE for class with my LATE paper because I didn’t plan ahead like my more responsible, not LATE classmates?”

And I think what they want me to say in response is something like, “Sure, buddy, it’s ok.  We’re pals, after all.  I would never penalize you for anything. Ever.  Did King Midas grope you in the stairwell?  Because you are golden, my friend!  You can do whatever you want.  As a matter of fact, don’t even bother turning in the paper.  You get an A++++

Here’s another manifestation of this question:

Is it ok if I didn’t cite my sources OR staple my essay together OR  use any research in this research paper OR do some other component of the assignment clearly listed as a REQUIREMENT?

I’d like to respond, “Sure, it’s OK.  But as payment for this malfeasance, I will require the liver of your firstborn child, fried with some onions and served au jus.



Also, I’m still going to deduct points.”

2. Did I miss anything?  – OR – Did we do anything important when I was absent?

I get these two similar question ALL. THE. TIME. from students returning after absences.  Here’s how I want to respond:

“No, of course not.  In fact, when we realized you weren’t here, the whole class had an hour-long moment of silence in your honor.  We were really too devastated by the absence of your presence to do anything productive.  If you didn’t show up today, we were probably going to hold a candlelight vigil.”

Sometimes I wonder if my students are like peek-a-boo-playing babies who don’t understand object permanence yet – they think that unless they can see the class, it simply fails to continue existing.

Here’s another response I’d like to throw out:

“Nope, not really.  We just had a Candyland marathon and a pizza party with the Olsen Twins.  So I guess you missed the most awesome day ever.  Hope you had fun smoking meth with your uncle’s middle-aged girlfriend and forcing heartworm pills down her pug’s asthmatic throat.”

Or maybe this…

“Nah, we just did some writing bull shit.  None of this stuff really matters anyway.  We’re all going to die, someday, man.  Nothing in the world matters.  Not even this sentence.  Not even this breath.”

Seriously, grow some balls of initiative, read the syllabus and borrow somebody’s notes.  Yes, you missed something.  No, I’m not going to rehash an entire class session’s worth of material in five minutes.  Are you some kind of spoiled celebrity baby named after fruits or airlines or hemorrhoid cream?  Are you under the impression that I will give you everything you want on a “di-a-mond encrusted” (thanks, Kanye West) platter just because you are YOU? (P.S. Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller fame has a kid named Moxie Crimefighter.  I can’t decide if I want to give him windmill high-fives of bad-assery or report him for child abuse).

Hey Stillwells of the student world, don’t make me throw my baseball glove at you.  Because I’ll do it.

  1. Why did you give me [insert grade here]?

Taking the number one spot, we have the all-time, grand-mal-seizure-rage-stroke-inducing question.  “Why did you give me a C?  Why did you give me a B?  I’m an A student, dag nabbit!  I only get A’s!”

I think questions like this stem from the fact that college students now are from a generation raised on participation trophies (Congratulations!  You stood around on the soccer field like the little sack of vacant flesh that you are!  You win!) and teacher-blaming:

school then and now

Nothing is ever their fault.  As long as they try their hardest, they are winners and deserve all of the same rewards and accolades as the people who managed to get it right.

If this kid won that trophy for 'Best Mullet Tie-Dye Combo in History' then this trophy was actually well-deserved.

If this kid won that trophy for ‘Best Mullet Tie-Dye Combo in History (nobody else even try)’ then this trophy was actually well-deserved.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to explain to students where they succeed and where they fall short, which is why I provide extensive written feedback on every paper (and then a nutshell summary for the lazy).  Of course, nobody ever bothers to read that.  They just ask me why I “gave” them “that grade.”

I want to respond…

“You’re right.  You didn’t earn that C.  I gave it to you.  I gave it to you because I’m an evil, warty crone and you are the messiah.  I get my jollies from crushing your soul like a ripe pimple.  I gave you a C because I super enjoy when students ask me to repeat all the stuff I already painstakingly explained in writing.  These are the moments I cherish.”

You earned a C.  Be accountable.  Read the feedback.  Implement it.  Try to do better next time.  Move on with your life.  I’m sure there’s a game of Candy Crush somewhere with your name on it.  Don’t you have some meth to smoke?  Some skin tags to remove?

I would like to close this post by saying, in the words of Angelica Pickles,

If you have to ask, then you'll never know!

If you have to ask, then you’ll never know!


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