Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house
Ran a tired professor and nary a mouse
The projects were graded and put in the car
And the drive to the college wasn’t too far
Some of the best parts of being a teacher are the flexible schedule and time off, especially around the holidays. The not so great part of of it is the very busy time right before that time off occurs.
For many of my years as a college professor, our fall semester ended on the third weekend in December when graduation was scheduled. Graduating student’s grades were due, faculty attended a full weekend of graduation activities, and then the rest of the class received their grades by December 23rd. The entire college closed for about ten days starting on the 24th, so all of the administrative parts of your job also had to be settled in addition to the grading. No matter how much I prepared in advance, there was no way to anticipate everything that could go wrong during that busy time.
Case in point would be the year I promised my students that I would have their graded projects available for pick up outside my office by December 23rd. This was in the days before all assignments were submitted online, so I had a lot of notebooks filled with legal documents, research, and reflection questions that were the culmination of the class. They deserved my undivided attention and feedback. I also had Christmas dinner planned at my house, and all of the usual holiday preparations. By the time I finished, it was in the wee hours of the morning. But they were done and loaded in the car so I could lug them into the office.
I set out bright and early on the 23rd. It was about a 30 minute drive on that very cold Nebraska day, but it was sunny and I had carols playing in the car. I parked in front of the building where my office was located, which included the campus information center. I parked in a spot the info center director could see, and there were other people coming and going. I had to carry some of the projects that wouldn’t fit in a suitcase, so I decided to hide my purse under the front seat. The small evening bag I took to the recent office Christmas party was on the floor. I hurried inside, dropped off the projects, and got back in the car. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a broken passenger window , shards of glass everywhere, and a gale force wind. Both of the purses were gone. I know I wasn’t in the building more than 10 minutes, so whoever took my purses worked quickly and must have been watching the car.
I went into the campus info center, and the director said she hadn’t seen anything. But she was very helpful as I notified my bank, the credit cards I could remember were in my purse, and lamented the loss of around $30 cash. I also tried to call some window replacement companies and my insurance company. Needless to say they weren’t able to help me on December 23rd. So after a very chilly ride home, I had to put cardboard with duct tape in the damaged window, and drive the car for several days before it got fixed.
None of that was funny, but what happened in the ensuing weeks was. First, the campus security director thought my mishap presented a teachable moment about safety. When we got back from break, he started posting every week about ” a recent break in of a faculty member’s car on campus”. Initially, it was just a reminder to lock your doors, and not to leave a purse. Then he started adding details- my purse supposedly contained hundreds of dollars, and the car was full of Christmas gifts. Lots of credit cards were stolen and received fraudulent charges. I think he also added about thirty minutes to the time I was actually in the building. This made for interesting emails, but none of it was true. And since I worked on a very small campus, everyone knew who the negligent “faculty member” was before he sent the first email. After several weeks of this, I finally contacted him and asked that he stop. Everyone knew it was me. I also mentioned that the details he shared weren’t remotely accurate, and that while I certainly learned my lesson about the purses, I was on campus to return graded projects. In other words, I was doing the proverbial good deed. I also mentioned, ever so politely, that we might need some additional patrols by the security department since I knew I wasn’t the first person to have her car broken into. I am happy to report that his emails stopped shortly thereafter.
But the saga continued. In February, I received a call from a police officer who had found my billfold, and the small evening bag. Since the billfold wasn’t inside the evening bag, she asked me to identify what was in it to verify it was mine. I really didn’t remember, so I started guessing. Tube of lipstick? No. Hairbrush? No. She finally took pity on me and told me what she had logged on her report- an IOU for $20, signed by a friend’s husband, and a tampon. When I go out for the evening, I travel light! I was able to pick up the purse and those valuable contents about a week later. She also shared that they had arrested the culprit and he was what they called a “frequent flyer”. Breaking into cars was his specialty, and he usually waited in parking lots until he saw a woman leave her car without her purse. Health clubs and college campuses were his usual targets.
Several welcome changes occured in the ensuing years- our fall semester ended a week earlier, so not as close to Christmas and the campus being closed. We installed a learning management system, so that even though most of my classes were traditional “face to face” courses, all assignments could be submitted and graded online. The learning curve on these systems could be steep, but it made grading and communicating with students much easier. No more racing to campus with graded projects or papers.
I can also verify that I have never left a purse of any type in a car since that break in. And the projects I took to campus that fateful day? They were all still sitting in the box outside my office when I returned in January. But my teacher halo was bright, because I got them to campus on time, just in case.
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. I plan to take a week off, then share my next post on Monday, December 28th. It will be a farewell to 2020. Heaven knows we are all ready to say goodbye to this eventful year!