We don't always know what's happening in the lives of our students. Sometimes we forget that their lives are complicated. They're not just our students. They deal with family problems, they have jobs, they have social lives and social problems. They deal with stress, just as we do. Often our students show up in class with the appearance of being bored, or tired, or disengaged. Sometimes they really are just tired. Hell, sometimes they're hungover. But in some cases there's more to the story. Much more. I think it's important to remember that students deal with a lot of different feelings and emotions, so we shouldn't take it personally when they are tired or disengaged in class. It's hard not to be offended if someone is "out of it" during class. We might rush to judgment and get upset when they aren't involved in class discussions and don't seem singularly focused on the class content.
So where is all this coming from?
On a few occasions this semester, students have confided in me about personal problems they've experienced. A few students have shared very personal information with me to explain why they've missed class or will miss an exam. I'm not trying to be mysterious here; it's just that I would never violate their privacy or their confidence. So let's just say I've learned that some of my students are going through (and have gone through) some very difficult situations. They are the kinds of things I would have had enormous trouble dealing with as a 20-year-old (or as a 30-year-old, for that matter). I admire these students for coping with significant challenges in their lives. I worry about them because it would be hard to get through such difficult situations. And it puts into perspective what goes on in the lives of students. More happens to them than we might think. As said, sometimes a tired student is just tired. Sometimes a student really is just bored. Sometimes they drank too much the night before. But a lot of times, there's more to the story. So I err on the side of reserving judgment. I err on the side of not assuming. I have come to understand that a lot goes on in the lives of students, and it's impossible for many of them to come to class with a clear mind and clear head. For my part, I try to be compassionate and sympathetic (AND FLEXIBLE) when it comes to extending deadlines for assignments or rescheduling exams (not in case of hangovers, obviously). In short, I don't automatically give a student a hard time if they show up late or if they are disengaged in class. I try instead to be understanding and helpful. In short, I try to be supportive.