No Backstage Pass: Student Presentations of Self to Professors
When I was creating my syllabus, I forgot to mention that there is one more exam covering everything we did for the semester—yes, it’s cumulative—and a 20 page research paper. I know that this is the last week of class but could you please excuse me? Pick whichever reason you like best from the following to excuse my lapse:
A. My child had a fever and I had to take her to the doctor and then to the hospital and I didn’t get any sleep at all that night. And my dog was hit by a bus. Plus, my computer was acting funny. I think it has a virus. (If you’re taking an on-line course, add this: I was having trouble getting into Blackboard and Blackboard kept kicking me out.)
B. I was focused on my career and really needed to get some other work done to make sure I get promoted.
C. I really didn’t understand that I was so supposed to put all of that in the syllabus. It’s so hard trying to figure out months beforehand what I’m going to do with a class. The university wants us to hand in the syllabus long before the class even starts. I didn’t expect all of this to be so hard. I’m really good at all the other things I do and get really good evaluations on all of my other work.
D. This is the last class I’m going to teach. I’ve always got good evaluations for all the other courses I taught and I really don’t want this class to bring down my overall evaluation grade.
E. I just need an extension. That way I can add this information to the syllabus and nobody will have to know that it wasn’t there when you first got it.
Do you think I have ever told the student version of any of these to my professors? In earning four degrees, I have taken about seventy university courses so I’ve had ample opportunity. I’ve pulled a few all-nighters, pecking away at a typewriter trying to finish papers on-time. I trudged to the library in snow to do research. I was up until 2 and 3 o’clock studying for exams. Eventually, I realized that the students hovering around my professors were not asking questions about the materials but instead were explaining why they need an extension on this or that assignment. An extension? I thought a deadline was …well, the point after which you might as well drop dead as far as your professor is concerned. I didn’t realize it was only a suggestion. I wasn’t familiar with the ritual of negotiating a new deadline or alternative assignment.
I complied because that’s what I knew. I was lucky in that though, because, let me let you in on a secret that your professors may not have told you: Most of us have worked very hard to complete our own degrees, and have done so despite a variety of personal problems, challenges, and frustrations. In fact, many of us struggle to meet deadlines (teaching, writing articles, books, conducting research) that cause us stress. So when you tell us your personal problems in the hopes that we will extend deadlines, it can be infuriating to us. When you go on about how good your grades are, but show little or no evidence of how you could have possibly attained those grades, we don’t feel sympathy for you. We feel frustration. And we tell each other jokes about the most outrageous excuses that our students give us. (We don’t use your names though.) It suggests that you don’t understand the concept of impression management. For sociology students, this is particularly egregious because the concept was developed by sociologist Erving Goffman.
Impression management is an awareness of how others view us and how we can manipulate that perception and ultimately shape the way others treat us. Goffman differentiated between front stage and back stage behavior. Front stage refers to our public persona, our “onstage” roles. Front stage is what we want others—our audience—to think, know, or feel about us. Back stage is our private self; the dressing room at the back of a theatre where we put on make-up, get dressed, and prepare before entering the front stage.
Back stage: We—faculty—talk about bizarre student excuses.
Front stage: You ask questions of your professors and make comments to them that illustrate how hard you are working to earn a good grade. You find ways to let them know that you’ve done all of the readings, exercises, and other assignments, even if they’re only “recommended”.
Front stage: We teach. And we act like we believe unbelievable student excuses.
As at a theatrical performance, the ”audience” should not be permitted to go back stage. Create an impression that you are a serious student, even if it is only an impression. Otherwise, make your excuse as good as this one in the video below....