Friday, April 28, 2006

Smackdown On The Whole Donut Thing

A reply to the donut post.

I refuse to think of college students as "kids." They aren't kids, though each is someone's child. They're young to be sure. But they are also old enough to vote and old enough to die in battle. Some have already been to Iraq and back with National Guard units. Who are you calling "kid"?

I'm impatient too with donuts. And candy, whoever is giving it out. As one of my students, seemingly going mad, said to me, "It's demeaning!" I'm tired of, "He's a great teacher, he always lets us out early." Oh, and pizza. Especially on filling-out-evaluations day. I think that a professor should use class meetings as intended (or replace them with even more-time-consuming stuff like individual conferences). Don't pander with "treats." Have students over for a meal, if you'd like to share food and conversation. That's a genuine learning experience. Let your students see where and how you live. They'll likely be nervous as hell, but it'll mean something to them, and they'll remember it.

And I'm impatient with crayons, and drawing pictures in class. I'm impatient with classroom games: wordsearches, bingo, and the rest of it. And the dreary "group presentations" followed by weak applause. I'm impatient with faculty members who semester-by-semester cheapen the value of an education by turning college into an extension of grade school.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

With May Approaching, and With a Bit of a Sugar High, Someone Is Feeling All Gooey

My students today brought in donuts for everyone and a giant mocha latte for me today. It was just a regular class, 2 weeks to go in the semester, and the 4 or 5 who arranged it said it was "Just because."

That's the kind of thing that makes the amount of work I have to do all seem worth it. I have my days like any other university professor, and I think about the private sector, the money to be made, getting out from under my 3 committees, my task forces, my dinners with Trustees, and those sometimes troubling and needy students. But on mornings like this one, with a group of 15 happy and laughing students, white powdered donut mustaches on us all, I couldn't ever imagine leaving.

You made my day, "kids," and although I'm pretty sure none of them will see it, I just want someone to know that it meant the world to me.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Someone Is Worried About the Future of America

I try very hard to accept the modern student. I've been teaching for almost 30 years now, and still remember the halcyon days when students actually dressed for class, when they arrived on time, and took part in class actively. These notions are apparently completely outside the bounds of what the modern student thinks to be civil or possible, so we get what we get.

And I've modified my teaching in all the ways I've been told I must. I offer entertaining classes. I challenge them less. I hand out grades like they were Halloween candy; students get them for just ringing the bell.

But last week's 3 pm Business Communications class about did me in.

  • B walked in carrying a Sports Illustrated and a muffin, but no paper, pen, or textbook.
  • C took her shoes off as soon as she got into the room and put her bare feet up on a neighboring desk.
  • D, and this was not unusual, arrived in "pajama" bottoms with Spongebob Squarepants all over them.
  • In the middle of class, E wondered if we might go outside and sit on the grass because it would help her "concentrate better."
  • F said, apropos of nothing going on in class, "Man, those Chinese are really getting powerful."
  • G laughed out loud once during my lecture, and when I peered over to see what had happened, saw a wide open newspaper on his desk.

I'm not saying that this is typical, or that the modern student has doomed us all, but is there anyone out there being successful in getting students to take class seriously? It seems that the only time I can get my students' attention is when I holler "midterm exam" or "final exam." And even then it takes a bad grade to get them motivated and willing at least to argue about that.

Some of these students are seniors, presumably on the cusp of entering the world, being in charge, taking over, leading whatever will be the future of the country. Am I the only one worried?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Advice to Parents: Which College Major is Best?

Here’s a quick guide to which major holds the most promise for your child.

With college fueling the fun factor in young adult entertainment these days – just look at the pizza boxes and beer bottles littering dormitory hallways every morning – it’s no surprise that youngsters are flocking to college. In fact, over 91.6 percent of all college students are between 17 and 22 years of age, according to statistics.

The biggest question faced by new college students is what to major in. Each major touts different benefits, from self-actualization to automatic entry into the upper middle class, and each major can help young adults in different ways. So which major is best for your child? We asked D. Thornley Asparagus, Ph.D., associate professor and author of numerous unread publications, to match typical childhood personalities with majors:

The bullied child
The major: computer science
By majoring in computer science, you’ll be able to get revenge on co-workers who think you’re ugly by remotely downloading child pornography onto their desktops and then notifying the company’s IT administrator of ‘excess bandwidth usage.’ Computer science majors earn large incomes and work long hours, so they can easily meet their material needs while having no friends. For the bullied child who majors in computer science, adulthood will be a very familiar experience.

The chubby child
The major: business

Just like the chubby child, the business major draws attention, appears important while consisting mostly of flab, and consumes resources that could be more productively used elsewhere. These qualities enables an obese recipient of a business degree to feel self-important despite being a cost liability to any employer’s health insurance provider.

The child who needs to find inner peace
The major: religion

Religion majors learn that slaughtering – or at least condemning to Hell – anyone who doesn’t think exactly the way they do is completely acceptable because that is God’s will. Nothing produces peace of mind better than learning that faith in a Supreme Being absolves you of any need for independent thought or for taking responsibility for your actions.

The ill-mannered child
The major: athletics

For the ill-mannered child who needs more sunlight than employment as a prison guard can provide, athletics is the perfect major. Students who major in athletics (sometimes alternatively known as ‘physical education,’ ‘sports management,’ or ‘let’s create a major so you maintain your NCAA eligibility’) learn that it’s not how you play the game that counts, but whether you get probation for your third sex offense. Ill-mannered children who major in athletics receive all the assistance they need, in the form of cash, cars, and when all else fails, grade-fixing, to successfully complete their college education.

The distracted child
The major: education

Distracted children are well-suited for the education major, because in college those who major in education don’t really learn anything anyway. The education major represents the triumph of form over substance, so paying attention, mastering unfamiliar material, and acquiring new knowledge are totally optional.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What Should Really Be Given As Instructions On the Day You Pass Out Student Evaluations In Class

To be Read by the Instructor:

Each quarter, Xxxxxxxxx Colege asks students in every course to complete a Course Evaluation form. Your honest, thoughtful responses provide us with vital information we use to evaluate and improve courses. We also use the information to gather data on your instructor. If he likes to wear dresses on the weekend, for example, the data we get from you will allow us to fire him for something other than being freaky-deaky.

Your responses provide important information we use to evaluate part-time instructors for re-hiring and scheduling of future classes. Although, to be fair, part-timers are so cheap and pliable, that unless you report that your instructors have been sodomizing animals in lieu of lecturing, we'll probably hire them all back and put them in your classes again next semester. It gives a nice break to our real professors who are trying to get ready for tenure and promotion.

At the same time, part and full-time instructors use your responses – and particularly your written comments – to help improve our courses and our teaching. At least in theory. Some just toss them in the bin right away, cackling at how silly your little concerns are.

It’s important for you to know, however, that we instructors will not see your responses, or the summary of them, until after your assessments have been submitted. In other words, the anonymity of your responses will be protected. We ask that you be fair, candid, and constructive in your comments. Besides, we've saved some innocuous class quizzes from early in the semester so that we can match your handwriting, and if you make even the slightest negative comment, we'll find who your next profs are and collude to give you so much hell you won't believe it.

At this point, I’m going to turn the process over to [student volunteer/person too stupid to avoid the job], and I’ll leave the room while you complete your forms. Thanks for your cooperation. I'll be out in the hallway, relishing an extra 15 minutes away from you and your criminally small brains and bad attitudes.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Someone Wants to Talk About the Correlation of Easy Profs and Good Evaluations

I began teaching 3 years ago at a mid-sized undergraduate college. It's amazing how much I've changed in that amount of time and what I've learned regarding human behavior.

Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who worry too much about my evaluations. It's not that I really care what college students think of me, it's just that I work very hard to be a good and fair teacher, and I get frustrated when students don't see that. Besides, student evaluations are the primary indication of teaching ability at our school.

I also get annoyed by the correlation between good and easy when students rate professors on student evaluations or on Rate My Professor. When I read comments like "XXX is the best professor at XXXX. It's impossible to make less than an A. Exams are the study guides. I wish all teachers were this good," I get frustrated.

My classes are particularly challenging due to the subject matter. I do what I can to make the material as clear as possible. But, no wonder students sometimes say negative things about me on my evaluations....not everyone makes an A in my courses and you have to work particularly hard in order to do well. How can I compete with other professors who give out grades like they are nothing?

Just once, I'd like to see one of these 'good because they're easy' professors get a comment like, "What's the point of this class? I do not have to go to class or study to make an A. I have learned nothing new since taking this course.... what a waste of time!"

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Student Wants to Clear Something Up About Student Interest in Your Damn Course

I admit that I've had some fun on this blog. I like to know what some of you profs are thinking of us, and I cheer when you take on the lazy and disrespectful students that bug me, too.

But one idea that keeps coming through that I don't think profs understand is how "engaged" you want students to be in each class. I'm a Business major, and in most of my major classes I'm pretty involved. I do the reading and assignments, and I see how Finance and Accounting will be valuable to me later on.

But when I'm in my Music Appreciation course or my Advanced Composition course in English, I know that stuff is just part of my "college experience," and not really a part of what I'm going to do in my career, so I occasionally pay less attention than my teacher wants. I do the work I know I have to, but I don't volunteer or go to office hours. I don't see the point. I know I'm supposed to get a well-rounded education, and I do pick up stuff in all of my classes.

But when profs get bent because I don't LOVE their specialty, that's just useless. I don't have an interest in every damn course, why is that so hard to understand?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Three Quick Blasts From a Professor Who Has One Thing On His Mind - And While It IS a Good Thing - It's JUST One Thing

Here it comes, kiddies.

R: You cannot take the final exam early or late. It's been announced since January. It's a normal day, a normal time. You haven't offered any reasonable reason why you can't attend the event. So, no, you have to be like all the rest of the people. You are not special.

G: No, I'm not going to find you a local pharmacist to whom you can pose your lab report questions. Am I in your lab group? Do you imagine that all of the other 79 people in class are having me do their legwork for them? You are not special.

C: No, I will not stay later on Thursday to "go over" what you missed last week while your team was in Texas. I know for a fact that we spend a shitload of money on those tutors who travel with you and who have access to all the class info that I post in the lab databases. Your schedule is rough. I get it. I did the triple jump in college, and sometimes I missed assignments and quizzes. That was my choice. I lived with it. I dealt with it. In order to help all of my students I'm in my office every Tuesday and Thursday from 11-4. You are not special, and I'm not going to treat you like you are.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

One Professor Is Starting to Get Comfortable

I would grade my abilities as an instructor in the B+/A- range. I'm still learning how to be a teacher, but I work really hard to teach my students what I know. I'm slowly breaking bad habits, things like failing to make eye contact during lectures. I don't always project confidence, and I've never been comfortable in my own skin. A number of students are put off by this. But I'm into what I teach.

I work my ass off to build rapport and open dialogue with my students. I spend many hours a week preparing for my classes. All of this is accurately reflected in my class evaluations. So it can be disheartening to receive a bad review online.

Actually, whether they're good or bad, very few of these online posts offer constructive feedback. But yesterday, I received the rare negative review that told me that I am heading down the right path as a teacher.

"Does not look at students. Told us that B is the highest grade possible, except if you do outstanding work. 3 books. 2 Exams. 3 Papers. 4 Quizzes. Now you make up your own mind."

Now, as it turns out, the syllabus mentions only one exam and no quizzes at all. The papers are responses to essay questions, not research papers. However, this is not a 100-level class. We have work to do. If you don't want to do it--well, that's what add/drop is for.

I guess I'll keep working on the whole eye contact thing. But I'll be goddamned if I'm ever going to give another A for work that isn't outstanding.

Friday, April 7, 2006

Someone Wonders If There's a Limit to How Much Class Students Can Miss, Even if They Have Really Really Good Reasons, Or An Unsual Amount of Bad Luck

I do my best to put myself in the shoes of undergraduate students, new adults, away from home, a little confused about living in a grown up place with grown up rules, but this year I've been plagued by a wide variety of reasons keep students from attending class regularly.

Some of these are the typical "dead Grandma" stories that I've long since learned are about 75% true. (Once I had a dead Grandma story and then a month later was told she had died, saw a white light, then came back to life - thankfully - and then died later, resulting in two absences each time.)

But some are new for me. I'm trying to get my head around what it is we're supposed to do with students who "can't" come to class and do the work. It's so vexing because every student I have - and many advisors on campus & my boss - think that we should move heaven and earth to keep these students in class, on track, fully paid up, and passing.

Here's a sample of this year's stories. You should feel free to play along at home and see how you'd handle them:

  • Fell at the cafeteria, separated a shoulder, took a bunch of physical therapy, which resulted in missing 3 classes, then physical therapist changed times to coincide with my class, and missed 3 more. Still wants to finish semester, and is dumbfounded that I don't agree.
  • Uncle broke a toe so she went home to be with family during the day of the operation. Since it was a Wednesday, stayed until the weekend, missing two classes.
  • Grandma had an MRI on her hip, so went home and missed two classes. Missed important quiz, wanted to take the quiz by phone at the hospital.
  • Boyfriend's mother's car broke down out of town and had to drive with boyfriend and boyfriend's brother to "rescue" her with gasoline and a meal. Missed mid-term, expected to take it at her leisure.
  • Went with volleyball team to Florida for tournament, then because father lives in South Carolina, stayed an extra week before coming back. Was alarmed that I had counted her absent, and said that I should be more respectful of her family.
  • Dead grandma. Missed two weeks.
  • Dead grandma. Missed one week, and when I asked him to do some make-up work, called the Dean of Students and told her that he was suffering from stress, and that my insensitivity should not be allowed.
  • Dead grandma. Lingered in the hospital for longer than expected, so stayed away from school for three weeks. When came back, refused to take a make-up midterm, saying her head wasn't into school, but then cried when I asked her if she considered maybe dropping the class and taking it when she would benefit from it. Told me she dropped the class, missed another week, then showed up for class on Halloween dressed as a stripper (along with several of her sorority sisters), and told me she was ready to take the midterm.

Am I crazy, or are they?

Monday, April 3, 2006

Some People Just Won't Save Themselves

One of my hardest working students turned up this morning with an 11 page essay on NASCAR racing and the technology used to keep drivers safe. Fine. It's a fine topic. I would have approved it. But for the past 4 weeks this student has been working on a paper about siblings and birth order. I've seen him in the library 3 times. I've read an annotated bibliography. I've given advice and help on drafts, an abstract, etc.

So when he showed up today with this new paper, I had to ask:

Me: What gives? I thought you were doing the birth order paper.
Student: Yeah, I know. But I got a little short of time and I had some research already on this NASCAR paper.
Me: (Scratching head.) But you spent 4 weeks on that one paper, then you wrote this new paper over the weekend?
Student: (grinning) Yeah, I really worked hard. I was up until 5 am!

Well, I've been to the rodeo a time or two, and this sort of mini-drama is usually a pretty good sign that the student has panicked and is going to turn in a plagiarized paper - bought, found, googled, or just borrowed from a frat brother.

I held the paper and looked it over and said:

Me: This is pretty unusual. I haven't had a chance to see all your notes and sources like I did for the birth order paper. You know I'll have to check this paper out, right?
Student: (no longer grinning) Oh, I wrote it.
Me: I didn't say that you didn't. But just like your other paper, I need to make sure you're using sources accurately, legitimately. Are you okay with that?

And I actually held the paper out to him, just in case he wanted to grab it and run. But he didn't.

Student (smiling again) It's a good paper. I think it's the best one I've done.

So, I walked back to my office after class, typed a part of the first paragraph of the student's paper into, and in 3 minutes had found 2 other student papers online where my student had liberally copies huge portions - one section was 2 pages long word for word.

I'm not even mad because I see this at least once a year.