Friday, December 12, 2014

To Fumble on the One

This week I've been charged with telling a final exam horror story. We all have them. Finals Week is a rough time on campus. The teachers are all psychotic from lack of sleep and a bitter disappointment with the papers they've been grading. The marginal students are just beginning to realize how badly things are going to end for them. Unlike Olympic Gymnastics, one cannot expect 30 students to "stick the landing." So what story will it be? The "How to make a pipe-bomb" speech that cleared the building where I had to give  final? The Goth who did a self-penned graphic rape scene where she got revenge on her fictional father? The snake owner who took his pet out of a bag and caused a screaming panic? Nah, I'll narrow it down to two labor-related nightmares.

Being an adjunct is hard. You fly around the freeway all day carrying a big pile of papers in the passenger seat eating out of vending machines hating everyone. Well, I did at any rate. I had a hard enough time memorizing where I was supposed to be during the semester. During finals week I had no idea what was going on. The spreadsheet weasels who work out the double-length class times without overlapping them didn't care about what was happening with the rest of MY week at all. So on the penultimate day of class at Palomar when somebody raised their hand and asked when the final exam was to be held, I honestly couldn't tell them. The answer was scribbled on a piece of paper stuck to my fridge. Luckily this other student was able to help. He confidently told the class that the final was on Thursday at 8am. Except he was either a sociopath or an idiot because it was in fact Tuesday at 8am, and I gave the final to a room with 5 people in it. Luckily we now have the ability to tell them to look it up themselves on their freaking phones. Adjuncts have it rough, but I was even more exploited and resentful when I was a grad student.

I'm a California boy at heart. So when I finished my final semester at UNM I was eager to get home to San Diego. I was exhausted, drained, and emotionally beaten down. I hadn't eaten anything but ramen and bun-less dogs with stolen Ketchup packets for weeks. I had scraped enough change out of the couches to pay for the gas home. All I had to do was grade the final exams for my Rhetoric of Dissent class and I'd be ready to submit my grades in the morning and drive 18 hours to my Grandmother's refrigerator. The grading was easy: the test was all fill-in-the-blank with terms from a list on the back of the test.  So the question would ask, "________ was famous for her overcoming disability, but she was also an important socialist activist," and the student would write in "Helen Keller."

Well the grading was coming along fine until I got to a student who got 2% right. The answers were so bad they didn't make sense when you read them out loud: "Eugene Debs was Helen Keller for sedition during WW1." It was completely awful; they didn't even think to look for matching parts of speech or context clues. It was the Worst Test I Ever Graded. Until I got to the one directly below it and the answers were EXACTLY the same. Now there is no chance that two students would just randomly guess exactly the same 100 nonsensical answers. So I figured that one student blew the test worse than if they had randomly assigned the answers and the second student sat next to them and cheated off their test. What's dumber? Turning in the worst test in history, or copying the worst test in history? Was I supposed to hang around for another week while the Dean and I met with them asking them which one was dumb and which one was crooked? They both failed anyway, right? I should have followed through with the ethics violation, but I needed to get out of dodge so I failed them and slipped the grades under the department office door. If they wanted me to follow through they needed to pay me more Ramen money.