High Maintenance

Whenever I teach large lower-level courses, I have at least one. Occasionally more, but one for sure, and it’s usually just the one.

The student who requires more mental real-estate than the rest of the giant class put together. 

The one this semester isn’t too bad; he’s not as demanding as some I had in the past, but it’s only week three… We might be in for a long semester.

Over a month before the semester starts, the student informs me he will miss the first class just because and could I send him the materials; I do, to which he complains they are last offering’s materials, and could he have this year’s (they don’t yet exist, kid). Also, when will the exams be, so he can plan his travel (FFS kid, it’s over a month till the semester starts).

Upon learning when the exams will be, the student asks that I accommodate his religious observance for one of the midterm exams, which sure, I will do it because it’s required, but it doesn’t make me delighted as the class is giant and I already have people needing extra time and/or a small testing room and whatnot. The university just wants us to go along with these accommodations without giving a shit as to whose time goes into it, or where these accommodations take place, or that humans cannot be in multiple places at once. But alright.

Then the semester starts and the student is somehow the only one who cannot upload his homework files using the online course management system and I need to worry about keeping track of his emailed materials. No one else in class has any issues with the system.

Then the kid can’t sit with the rest of the class in the large classroom, he has to pull in a desk from elsewhere so he can sit very close to the board. (I’m not sure he’s following all that well, based on the questions he asks. He hasn’t been to any office hours, though.)

Then the student just has to travel home on Thursday and miss the Friday lecture (it’s week three of the semester and it’s not a holiday; maybe someone’s sick or there’s another good reason, but it seems to be just because). Could I send him all the materials? How will he know what he missed? (Kid, you have course notes, you have the book, you have the syllabus, I write on the course website what we cover. What I say in class is what I say in class, that’s why we have lectures that you shouldn’t miss. Not sure what else to tell you — get someone’s notes.)

Any one of these is not a big deal, but together they paint a picture of someone who’s quite high maintenance.

I wonder what happens to these kids as they join the workforce.  I can’t imagine the ‘real world’ will have much patience with myriad requests for exceptions.


  1. Can you at least direct High Maintenance Guy to campus IT to get the course management system problem worked out? I’d bet they have experience with whatever problem he’s having (and/or scripts for use if it’s an, er, user problem).

  2. Yes. I have what is for me a large number of students this semester (~100), and the high-maintenance ones are already coming out of the woodwork.

    There are also the extremely medically explicit ones. And the Hermiones to manage. And the kid who wants to switch sections three times. And then the one who has a legit problem but feels bad bugging me about it and therefore waits and waits until what would have been a small non-urgent problem becomes a big urgent problem.

    This week I was reflecting on just how much more than physics I need to do my job well. And also the absurdity of the stereotype of the professor who hides in their office and never interacts with another human being. If only I could NOT interact with a human being for a couple hours in a row, I would be a much more well-adjusted person!

  3. These high maintenance people enter the work force and irritate the hell out of their coworkers. Sometimes, they manage to ingratiate themselves with someone powerful, and then move up to have executive assistants that everyone feels sorry for. Other times, they stagnate and wonder why they’re constantly passed over for promotion.

    (I never mind accommodating religious needs or family needs or “I want to go to the opening day of Star Wars” needs, so it is never any one of the requests… it is always the accumulation of needing special accommodations every damn project.)

  4. I’m so lucky in some ways that I teach in an *incredibly* rigidly hierarchical college where students generally don’t try to pull this. Like, they might ask to miss class for Pesach, or for a concussion (!) but I had to explain in detail to one of my first years that yes! She could get extra time on tests, no big deal, see this person for accommodations!

    That dude would drive me up the frickin wall.

  5. How awful!! I would totally fail his assignment the second time he doesn’t upload it correctly. I have 70 grad students this semester and I feel like a sergeant drill already, because at my institution grad students are way more high maintenance than UG.

  6. Yeah if students submit their assignments the wrong way I won’t grade them. It’s stated as such on the assignment, along with how many points they lose per day if it’s late. A student once attempted to email me a blank pdf at the literal last minute trying to pretend he had some kind of file error. I immediately emailed the student back saying “sorry dude, no – it has to be on paper as stated, and also this is a blank sheet of paper” (and you know it).

    I have more students this semester but I don’t seem to have a lot more “requesty” types than usual. I do have a couple people for the first time who seem to think it’s my fault if they don’t understand something (based on them seeming generally hostile). I mean sure they can sit there and think I’m a shitty teacher if they want, but they still have to learn the material and the amount of resources I provide for this course is insane (tutors, extra office hours, extra problems, extra readings, web resources…) so even if I just spent class talking about my pets they ought to be able to learn something.

    Rant over. Most of my students are great and I love working with them!

  7. My favorites are the excuses for grad students missing class: I have to go on a vacation with my family, what can I do? (Helpless look). I have to spend a week at a destination wedding for my 2nd cousin/college buds – I can’t possibly miss any of those party day events plus I need a Saturday night overnight stay to afford the plane ticket.
    Also – I planned my honeymoon for during the break but we want to spend more time on the beach so I have no choice but to miss the first week of classes of the new term.

    Then they act annoyed when I tell them that they will lose all their participation points for those days and also they will probably do poorly on the final exam from missing critical material. They argue that “its not their fault” and they have no choice but to be gone, I should provide a way for them to take the class despite missing big chunks of it. I ask them why did they plan a honeymoon that conflicted with their professional PhD program in which we actually pay them to be educated full time, and they actually get paid 15 vacation days per year? It’s not like the class schedule is a secrete – it’s published far in advance. They look at me uncomprehendingly – the idea that they might have to sacrifice a social or vacation event for a job or critical education and training is so, so unfair and very weird to them.

    I am baffled by their priorities.

    On the other hand students who have worked for a living before starting grad school don’t do this.

  8. Ugh I feel your pain. It is the high maintenance ones that make me so relieved at the end of the semester, even though I genuinely enjoy teaching. This last go-round, I had a student who was seriously baffled (and ended up resentful) when I told him that even though he couldn’t make my office hours, I would not make a weekly appointment with him to help him with the material. I tried the “unfortunately, I can’t offer you something (like private tutoring) that is not available to the other 100+ members of the class” with no luck. And that was not the end of the requests for extras, I was really glad to see the end of him at the end of the semester,

  9. I don’t see many high-maintenance students in my course, but the class has only 85 students in it, and I have many hours a week with them (3.25 hours in lecture, 3.25 hours with lab section 1, 3.25 hours with lab section 2, 3 office hours), so even minor irritants can get grating after a while. The ones that bother me most are the ones who can’t follow simple instructions and seem incapable of reading the book—I wonder what they are doing in college, much less in an engineering program.

    I do see a lot of the high-maintenance students (and sometimes hear from their parents) as undergrad director. Some of them have real problems that they are coping with surprisingly well, others seem to be just privileged snowflakes with helicopter parents. Sometimes it is hard to tell the two groups apart without more information—information which is often quite difficult to share (like medical diagnoses of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or family emergencies which consist of the death of all siblings and parents in an automobile crash). Incidentally, those are all from real examples, not hypothetical ones.

  10. They take up so much mental energy and distract from the joyful parts of teaching!!

    My most surprising one was the student who tried to argue that because s/he had only turned in 60% of the assignments and still managed to achieve a 40-something % grade in the class (ie a failing grade), s/he had clearly gotten more than 50% on the work attempted and therefore deserved to pass!

  11. There’s this concept called “reasonable accommodation”. When I was directing my industry lab I had to go to HR talks and this came up pretty frequently. And for the most part, this is at the discretion of the manager, but with some guidance. Unfortunately, from my “training” most of this seems like accommodation would need to happen. Except for the homework thing. Inability or unwillingness to use technology doesn’t really have a reasonable accommodation. We had online training, email (obviously), software tools, etc. And if everyone but the individual can use one that’s a line that can be drawn. This person is in for a rude awakening (at least with respect to that) when they hit the ‘real world’.

  12. Very frustrating. It’s not that any one thing is onerous or annoying (although some are: really, he complained because you gave him last year’s materials a month before the semester?). It wears you down, though. Isn’t this the 80/20 rule, where 20% of the causes (or people) cause 80% of the problems?

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