Over the years I have lost enough Word documents to be a little over zealous with saving as I work. It’s one of those things I constantly tell my students. This morning I went to pull up my paper that was due tonight. I needed to add the conclusion and proofread before submitting it to my professor. I pulled up the document folder on my laptop, clicked on the paper, and waited for it to pop up.

Imagine my reaction when all that came up was the header and the research question. I think my heart stopped for just a minute, then I started mumbling to myself, a little hyperventilation, and a few not so polite words escaped. My husband was standing in the kitchen and asked what was wrong. When I told him, he asked what would happen. Would the professor give me an extension? Quite frankly, I wasn’t thinking straight enough to answer him. All I was thinking was that four pages of research based, properly cited work was gone. The hours I had put into it? Gone.

This made me flashback to my junior year in college. I was an education major with a certification in chemistry, so I had an interesting schedule. That particular semester I was taking Physical Chemistry and Art in the Elementary School (a methods course).  The art course was taught by a professor from the Art Department, and he was about as thrilled to teach us as we were to take the course. But, since it was a certification requirement, there was no way around it. This particular professor was very intense. He was a gifted artist, and sometimes I felt like he thought we were wasting his time. He was quick with the criticism, but a little slower with the praise. If you didn’t have the assignment done or if it wasn’t up to his standards, the whole class knew about it.

One week I had a chemistry test that just sucked all the energy out of me, and there was no way I could come up with two lesson plans and examples of elementary art projects. That was almost as frustrating as the test had been.  Knowing how the professor felt about late/incomplete work, I weighed my options. I decided I had three: First, go to class and let him rip me in front of everyone. Second, skip and hope to get the assignments done before the next class, or third, go to his office and let him yell at me in private.  I really didn’t want to be humiliated in front of the class, and I knew skipping would affect my grade (there were less than ten people in the class). So, I decided on number three; I went to see him a few hours before our class.

I was nervous, but I was honest.  I told him that I had studied so much for the chemistry test that I was just exhausted, and trying to come up with the art projects had been like beating my head against a brick wall. To my surprise, he told me sometimes art was like that. He said he wouldn’t call on me that night in class, and that I needed to get the assignments done by the next class. Then he asked about the chemistry test – it had been like beating my head against a brick wall, too. 🙂

So, while this is flashing through my mind, I willed myself to breath normally. After several attempts to search the document file (futile since I knew it wasn’t there), I did a full search based on the date saved. After what seemed like an eternity, the document popped up and all four pages were there. It had saved to a user file on the hard drive rather than in my document folder. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

In that moment I thought about my students.  How many of them had panic moments about lost assignments? How did I react? This was an aha moment. No two students are alike, and while I need to have expectations about quality and timeliness of work, I need to also remember papers get lost, things don’t make sense, and sometimes frustration sets in. How can I handle the situation so the student walks away with his/her dignity still intact?