The stage is set. The magician is going to make something or someone disappear and then reappear to an astonished audience. This is what the audience came to see. Seats are filled with those prepared to expect, wait for, and then applaud the famous disappearing act.
In school, an instructor hopes not to see magic from students. Unfortunately, a student’s work will disappear, and then the student will even disappear. The difference from a magic show is that neither the work nor the student was supposed to disappear.
Most classes have a student whose work stops coming in, and if that continues, there is a good chance that the student stops coming in. Sometimes, both the work and the student unexplainably disappear. Honestly, at a certain point, an instructor thinks, “I hope the student just withdraws or does not return because the chance of success is slim.” This is especially true in an eight week course, even more so in a shorter summer course.
A number of students who disappear do, however, reappear, and with explanations ranging from the unlikely to the heart rending. Probably the course syllabus outlines late penalties and attendance policies intended to indicate the point of no return. Maximum tension ensues when a student is just short of that point, and the tension is even greater when the situation happens in the closing weeks of a course.
Students have life, job, family, and school to balance. It is not my aim to tell students how to adjust their priorities. What I do often say is this: “Suppose I write the checks at Kroger, and a truck of lettuce has an accident, losing five cases of lettuce, but I ordered ten cases, so now only five can be delivered. Guess how many cases of lettuce the check will be for.”
The driver or his company can have the best reason in the world, but a five case delivery gets a five case check. There is no intent to be insensitive, or even tell the driver or the produce company what to do, but checks are written for products delivered.
This is one place where it is not over-commercialization to mix business and education. An assignment is a product.
What about forgiveness or leniency? These figure in, but at a certain point, the integrity of a course will break down if a student passes or achieves a certain grade without sufficient competency. Let’s face it, even at a magic show, if a certain number of rabbits disappear, the audience expects the same number to reappear. And if the magician disappears, the audience expects the magician to reappear. That’s the magic.