Friday, September 26, 2008

Coffee Cup, or, a Commentary on Student/Teacher relationships

As part of my TA-ship duties, I met with a student today to talk about her upcoming assignment. It was a "student is frazzled and unsure" type of meeting, which is honestly one of the best kinds, since that sort of student is at least eager to improve. Much better than the "I'm above this English stuff" type student. Last time I had one of those in the office, the conversation started with "How dare you?" and did not improve from there.
The origin of today's ruminating comes from what happened about five minutes after, which was when I found this on my desk:(Note: talk about the ubiquitousness of Tim Hortons on another occasion.)
Now, I knew that I didn't leave it there, on account of the fact that I'm too cheap to purchase a beverage on school grounds. Which meant that the student left it. (Or, as just occurs to me, my office mate left it on my desk. Unlikely, but possible.) It was unopened, and still warm. What to do with this drink filled my mind with moral intrigue and possible scenarios:
  • Too much time had passed for me to catch up with the student.
  • Similarly, too much time had passed to expect the student to return looking for it, since returning after this length of time would imply a disproportionate attachment to said coffee on the part of the student, and would thus be a bad impression to make with someone who marks her papers. And I couldn't wait around, since I had my own meeting with a professor ahead.
  • Taking the coffee myself is technically stealing.
  • Coffee should not be wasted, especially when free. (That's the rural Someplace Else influence coming out, BTW.)
  • I don't actually drink coffee.
  • Was the student attempting to bribe me?
  • How would drinking the coffee affect my relationship with the student? Was there now a sense of obligation on my part towards her, one that disrupted the authoritative basis for our future interactions?
  • Was it possible that the coffee was actually hot chocolate? (This is a crucial point; any action is morally defensible in the pursuit of chocolate; it's the Klondike principle.)
My first attempt to deal with the thorny issue was to "accidentally" leave the coffee with the professor I was meeting, even though that merely added new dimensions of interactional difficulties. Unfortunately, she saw through this plan entirely. As the beverage was rapidly cooling, I decided to be decisive (no, that's not redundant.) and drank it. Okay, guzzled it. Then, being a responsible person who is concerned and attentive to his potential carbon footprint, I threw the remains away.
Ok, this is a fairly trivial event in the larger scheme of things. But in a way, it's a microcosm of the awkward side of student/teacher interactions, and my own unease in being on the teacher side of that equation. If the student had been a friend, I wouldn't have hesitated in chugging the Tim Hortons cup, and just paid them back later. If she had been a stranger, I wouldn't have touched the cup with a ten-foot pole. (Although how a stranger got into my office raises a different set of hypothetical questions) But because the encounter happened in this quasi-undefined context, I went through an entire discourse of labrythian proportions in figuring out the "right" course of action. (And the assumption that there is a right course of action suggests an absolutist perspective of social engagements that bear investigating elsewhere.) So...
So buttons, I guess.
Additional question: I'm considering paying the student back next tutorial class. Is this the proper course of action? Discuss.

Later Days.


Ms. D said...

Was it coffee or hot chocolate?


Person of Consequence said...

I don't know! I couldn't figure it out! Which is either a sad reflection on my taste buds or a possibly a canny move in the Tim Hortons flavouring department.

Peter_Applebaulm said...

That's a palatable hot beverage they serve at Tim Hortons, in both the "chocolate" and "coffee" -flavoured varieties, and I bear no grudge against the people who enjoy the stuff, but, please, let's not call it "coffee" or "hot chocolate." In deference to "Timmy's" people and their loyalty to whatever it is Mr. Horton squirts out his serving pipe, let's just call "a tasty hot beverage."

Lilia said...

I was looking up what "person of consequence" exactly meant when I came across your blog and ended up scrolling down and reading for a while. I really enjoyed this post, I like your insight about the way such a little detail can raise questions about interactions on a bigger level. I just applied to a few grad schools and hopefully I'll have stories like yours to share too. All the best, L