“Hi there. I’ve been away the last couple of classes. I was wondering, can you send me your notes?”
We’ve all been there (if we’ve been regular attendees at school). You know who I’m talking about (maybe you are the person I am talking about), the stranger who asks you for your notes point blank. This scenario has come up in lifeatuoft meetings, where a clear division has been made between those of us willing to donate their notes and those of us who outright refuse. I’ve found myself a target for notes because I am a typist. People can clearly see what I’m doing on my laptop and figure it’s easier to get notes emailed than spend time photocopying and trying to decipher a stranger’s penmanship.
To be honest, I’ve always been more than willing to hand over my notes. Most of the time. The few exceptions to this policy is when a classmate sends out a mass email to the entire class begging for notes because they were sick (although some people admit they were on an extended vacation).
The only other time I flat-out ignored a person’s request for my notes was when a student copied my first and last name from the attendance sheet, stuck @utoronto.ca behind it and sent me an e-mail the night before a test requesting my notes. Drumroll, please:
I am writing under the spirit of familiarity and so I hope this missive isn’t unsettling or alarming. Speaking plainly, I need your help, in the form of notes from class. I attended every lecture and owing to my strong memory, I thought I could remember the key points made but I overlooked the issue of capacity: with other classes warranting attention, the torrent of information has proven too much for my brain to ensnare completely. And so I make this application. If I’ve offended your sensibilities I apologize.
STRANGER WHO I HAVE NEVER TALKED TO IN CLASS AND COPIED MY NAME FROM THE ATTENDANCE SHEET
Although I found this student’s impression of Mr. Darcy absolutely hilarious (and his refusal to admit he was exceptionally lazy), the request seriously came out of nowhere. I actually recognized the name of the student (because he would make general comments in class that didn’t relate to the readings) and recalled that he never lifted a pen or pencil to paper. I decided, he didn’t deserve my notes the night before a test. Amazingly, when I saw him the next day he totally denied sending me the e-mail the previous night!
But besides that one time, I’ve always surrendered my notes to students on the condition that they aren’t allowed to e-mail them to other students. After all, I consider my notes intellectual property and I don’t want to get penalized for an academic offence if someone copies directly from them. I made this rule when a student actually traded my notes with another classmate. I also sometimes make students do a teeny bit of self reflection when they ask me for my notes because I’ve noticed that my peers don’t even bother introducing themselves or asking me what my name is. Yes, I realize students don’t want to be my bffs but I find the whole “I’m only acknowledging your presence because I want your notes” approach slightly robotic. Also, I’m not trying to pull a power trip but create a little community here.
After someone asks me point blank for notes, I usually ask, “So…what’s your name again?” Most of the time, the student will recognize how rude he or she sounds. If you’re going to ask someone for something, have the decency to introduce yourself and maybe show a little interest in getting the person’s name.
The one thing I don’t ask, is why a student has missed class. It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t think it’s any of my business. I remember before an exam, a notoriously absent student who I sent notes to, plopped down beside me. I asked her how she was doing and she told me she was “coping”. With a teary smile, she not only thanked me for my notes but was particularly grateful that I never asked why she was away so much. She then revealed the reason why she missed so many classes; over the winter break, her boyfriend was killed in a car crash. One can guess the emotional exhaustion that comes from explaining and re-explaining an absence and tragedy several times to peers and professors. She also told me our professor asked her if she was able to get notes from a student and she mentioned my name, and made a comment about my generosity. The professor actually agreed with her.
I’m not saying you should give and expect recognition in return but I think simple acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed. You also never know when you’ll be in that situation. Imagine if, for some reason, you miss the first weeks of school because of something you couldn’t predict and you are in a classroom without a single recognizable face. It’s not your fault you were never able to strategically make a “note buddy” at the beginning of the semester. Now imagine, someone is nice enough to give you their notes, free of charge, suspision and hassle. I’d certainly be thankful to receive that sort of support in a time of need.
I understand that university breeds competitiveness and that we all want to end up on top, but I don’t think I’m willing to play the game in a vicious or selfish way. I always feel better knowing that I beat out the best which means helping the “competition”, whether it’s in the form of notes or extending myself in another capacity. I truly think we are only as good as those around us. And I’m not speaking in terms of marks, but as people.