Saturday, May 27, 2006

A New Correspondent for RYS Checks In With Some Summer Advice

Call me Professor Patrice from Pennsylvania, though 2 parts of that are phony! Allow me to offer some advice for professors over the summer:
  1. Don't read your email. In fact, compose a little vacation reply so that you'll be spared the endless questions about grades. There's no sense in you worrying over it. I know you did a good job with grades, and letting the students stew over their Cs and Ds for the summer will do them some good. Most of them will have forgotten your injustices to them by September, so why get involved in it now.
  2. Resist the administration's pleas for summer "help" in registration, advising, and the rest. I know this is a delicate thing. But once you become a 'go-to girl' for problems in June and July, you will be hounded forever for 'extra' duty. Disappear from campus - and from town if possible.
  3. Prepare a LITTLE bit for next Fall. This is probably not your FIRST summer break as an academic, so don't spend a great deal of time worrying about Fall 2006. It'll come. You'll be fine that first day. You know what to do in a class. If you have a brand new offering, then by all means do some reading for it. But a sure recipe for burnout is to worry away summer while thinking about Fall.
  4. Keep in contact with a few grad school friends, especially the ones who have good jobs at good schools. It's always good to see how the 'other half' lives, and it's even better to stay connected to a little network of other profs who can be useful to you for future job searches, setting up of seminars, etc.
  5. Do something mindless. Do a lot of things mindless, in fact. You've chosen a career of the mind for some nutty reason, but the job has a built-in 'recuperation' period. This is it, baby. Go bowling. Put on a floppy hat and go get some margaritas. Drive to the ocean and put your toes in the sand. Let your brain have a break.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Someone Got An Extension And Didn't Screw It Up

As a recent Ivy League graduate, I've been reading this blog with a healthy dose of skepticism. Lately, though, I've had a sneaking suspicion that some of my professors had just about had it with some of the spoiled-rich-kid-who-will-rule-the-world-someday antics of my fellow denizens of the ivory tower. After all, why care about a lecture when your father is about to hand over the reins of a multimillion dollar company?

I tried not to be that kid. I read every page of the reading for every class. I hardly ever skipped a class. I turned in every assignment on time, properly formatted, spellchecked, and executed to the best of my somewhat limited ability. I studied for all my finals and showed up to take them at the appropriate times.

During my last semester I was the president of a student dance company, and during the week of our show, I was in the theater from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. every night. Then I would go home, work on the programs, multimedia fillers, and logistics for the show, and try to do the reading for my classes. There was a paper due in my American West class that Friday afternoon, and I kept trying to start it, but I was so drained every night that I kept putting it off. I really loved the class. The professor was young, enthusiastic, and highly respected. I was lucky enough to have him for my instructor, and wished on many occasions that I could find a way to show him.

But, in a desperate e-mail sent at 4 a.m. the day the paper was due, I asked for an extension on the paper. He never commented or complained, but just gave me the extension. That Saturday, after I slept for an ungodly length of time, I wrote the paper. When I got it back I'd earned an A-!

I'm sure that to him I was just another one of the spoiled kids who thought they deserved a break anytime they wanted it, and I'm sure he'll never read this, but I have always wanted to thank him. Because he bent therules just a little bit, he let me keep my sanity.

And our show was a hit, too!

A Variation of the "Did I Miss Anything" Dynamic, And An Object Lesson Of Being Aware Of One's Surroundings

I taught an English Literature class last semester. The class met once a week for a three hour session of lecture and discussion.

One night, a little over half-way through the term, a student who I did not recognize approached me during a break in the session. She asked me if I was, indeed, Professor XXXX and then stated: "I think I'm in your class. I've been going to the class across the hall all semester by mistake. They were talking about poetry and stuff too, so I thought I was in the right class. Did I miss anything?"

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Pleasant Tonic To the Sometimes Dreary Tone Of These Pages - Actually It Reads A Bit Like It Might Have Resulted From Too Much Gin & Tonic

I want to give my advanced seminar perfect scores, chili peppers, cookies and every other accolade I can bestow upon them.

Your papers are wonderful. Your lack of grade-grubbing is refreshing. The memory of cramming three or four of you at a time into my office so that we can talk about the class (and life in general) will stay with me for a long time. The stories of your dinners, meetings and other escapades involving our class will always make me smile. The way in which you embraced the class truly moved me, and I am fortunate to have had the chance to work with you.

I have only two regrets. The first is that I was blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime group of students in only my second class as an instructor. Your standard will be difficult for others to surpass. The second is that I had to teach you guys in a temporary building. It makes me very sad to know that I will not be able to come back to this place in 10 years, and just sit in that classroom for a moment and remember.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Two Quick Stories About Students And Their Silly Grades

An intro to literature student asked me to doublecheck his grade on the final. He said he only remembered missing one question, not four. He said he didn't have time to walk to my office to pick up the graded exam and double check it himself, but could I please doublecheck it? He's really close to getting an A, he said.

A senior creative writing major turned in seven pages of poetry for her senior thesis, which was supposed to consist of a fifteen to twenty page sequence of poems. I gave her a D, and she argued that the grade should be raised because there were no grammatical errors in her poems. She argued that I was grading her on quantity rather than quality. I invited her to complete the rest of her pages by joining a group of independent study students over the summer. I told her I'd raise the grade after she completed the five week workshop and turned her seven pages into at least fifteen pages of good poems. No reply.

I find that usually students want their grades raised, but not if it means doing extra work - or walking.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Common Tale With the Usual Results

I decided that I was going to offer a final review session for my class. Since I wanted everyone who wanted to attend to be able to come, I sent around a notice with the time, 6:30, a time when classes aren't in session, when I was pretty sure most folks could come.

Person X wrote me to tell me that 6:30 wouldn't work, and could I offer a review session at 4:30, too. Person X is pretty reliable, and usually comes to these things, so I wondered if maybe 4:30 might work for more people. Well, of course, Person Y wrote to say that there was no way she could come at 4:30. She could only come at 6:30.

So now, I'd gotten myself backed into a corner of having to offer 2 review sessions over a 4 hour period.

Guess what happened? Neither Person X nor Y showed up for either session! Person X showed up at the end of the session I had scheduled just for her to tell me she couldn't stay because she was burned out from her other classes. I am sorry, what? Did this matter at all? And then she had the nerve to ask me, while standing in the doorway, poised to make her getaway, if I was free the next day to offer ANOTHER review session.

Is this really what the world is coming to?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gradegrubbing Season Is In Full Swing, And This Guy Is Immune to The Pressure

After avoiding my office for several days since the end of finals, I stopped in to find a torrent of gradegrubbing emails. Grades are in here. I'm not changing grades at this point. I don't grade things when I'm drunk or half-asleep. I really grade things right, give the grades the students deserve, and I check my work before turning it in.

So why is it that students think that emails like these two below will work on me?

I've just checked my grades and I can't believe you only gave me a B. I'm pretty sure I'm an A student, and I know I worked harder than anyone else in class. I know I didn't take part in many discussions, but that's because someone else always said something I thought too. I worked harder in your class than in any of my other classes and that should be worth an A.

and --

Dr. Xxxxx. I apologize in advance but I think you've made a mistake in my grading. I'd like you to look at my final exam and the midterm again to make sure you haven't missed any points. If you could bump up my grade to a B, I'd be more happy. I need that grade to keep my scholarship, so you can tell how sincere I am. I think if you would look at my work again you would tell how hard I worked in your class. Could you let me know this afternoon when you can do this because I need my grade to be higher as soon as possible. I am going to be at my dad's house all day, and I can check email here. Just email me what my new grade is. Thanks.

Effort certainly is important. Effort can help a student get better. But the effort isn't worth nearly as much as the actual results of what the student turns in. Maybe other disciplines vary, but for me, I look at hard numbers on finals and midterms. I can't make a 78 into an 80 because someone says they worked hard. Not hard enough, is what I might reply.

The second email is just insane. It minimizes what I've already done. It suggests I'm incompetent and presumes that my only job is to make sure students get the grade they think they deserve. Oh, and step lively while doing it.

And, in case anyone's wondering. I deleted both emails and didn't even put down my Pepsi.

Where We Begin to Wonder if Maybe All Hope Is Lost

Every so often, I receive an email from a student, an email that shocks me out of my stupor and reminds me why I do what I do, why I teach a 4/3 load for far less than $45K a year, why I bother to memorize the names of my 250 students every semester, why I put thought into my syllabi and attendance policies. Yesterday, I received one of those emails:

well i will still appeal the grade because i PAY YOU TO TEACH ME AND NOT TO PENALIZE ME FOR BEING LATE also whether i was late or not i still earned a B in your class and that is BULL SHIT that i am not recieving the grade i EARNED.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I cleaned out my office over the past two days. No more teaching. Today's the first day that I'm not a college professor. I've been teaching a dozen years, the last 6 at a medium sized state university in the northeast.

I tell my friends outside the academy that I just got tired of babysitting, and that's as close as I can come to explaining it to anyone.

When I was in college, it never occurred to me that I was there to be placated and entertained. I wasn't brought up in a time when every spelling bee contestant got a ribbon, and where every soccer team went home at the end of the year with a 4 foot high trophy. College was tough, and it was worth something.

But something happened - or so it seems - between the end of college and the end of grad school. As soon as I started teaching I was pressured in minor and major ways to ease the students through the big educational machine. Low student evaluations - always a result of tough classes or "honest" grading - resulted in ominous visits to the chair's office or the Dean's office.

And so I slacked off like my colleagues had done, became popular, and taught less and less. I won a teaching award 2 years ago. We have 350 faculty members and I was chosen professor of the year. I'm glad I didn't have to make a speech because I would have choked. I knew I wasn't a good teacher. I had become an entertaining facilitator and that was all. That I was good at that brings me nothing but unhappiness.

And so I got sicker and sicker of it. Sicker of the entitlement and the low expectations of everyone around me. My colleagues have drunk up the Kool-Aid and they look at me like I have two heads when I say I can't do it anymore.

I don't have a job, but thankfully my wife has worked a long time in the bio-tech world and I can probably have a year to figure out a new career. But it won't be teaching. At least not in a traditional college or university. Those places are now - by and large - jokes. So little is expected that drunk and horny students make the Dean's list, and we all smile and pat ourselves on the back for making it so.

I guess I shouldn't say "we" anymore. It's your problem now. I quit.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Another Student Who Passes When He Shouldn't, And It's Only Us Profs Who Feel The Pain Of It

Hey you, my student in the required for English majors course, a senior. Yes, I'm talking to you. Couldn't really do that in class, since you missed most of the class, for which your big excuse is "I'm a senior." Just so you know, I've got one student in my other class driving home every weekend to help take care of a parent with a serious illness and another who is undergoing rounds of medical treatments in a hospital and is in constant pain and they've missed (much) less class than you have, and also handed all their written work in.

But I wouldn't expect you to respect this maturity on the part of your peers since you've demonstrated complete disregard for everyone in our class. You didn't contribute to any one else's workshops of their papers, and yet, because it's 10% of your grade to turn in a paper and get it workshopped you emerged from whatever senioritis ward you've been confined in to get them to put in work for you. And then, on the day itself, you left them sitting there waiting for you for 20 minutes. That was the last day of class and the only reason they had to be there was for you. I wish I had let them go just five minutes before you arrived. I would hope you felt shamed by their generosity, but I fear you did not even notice it.

Also, yes, I did notice that you never did the reading. The big tip off wasn't that you never had a book in class (I understand that some students can't afford all the books and go to the reserve desk) but that the things you said were utterly stupid and ignorant and would never have been said by someone who did the reading. Here's a tip for the work world: Sometimes bullshit works, but not if your boss knows the subject better than you do. Here's another one. Leaving your phone on the table in a class of 10 people and tapping messages out on it or checking messages on it when you're supposed to be paying attention is not subtle. Doing it after you're asked not to is even less so.

But I will thank you for one thing. You might be thinking that your argument that you should get a D because you are a senior impressed me with its depths of passion and insight. Nope. I had to give you a D because of the way I set up the equations on my grade book program. You should have failed, but mathematically you made it past the breakpoint by about 2 points. Now I know how to reword the requirements and mathematical percentage information on the syllabus to make sure that someone like you can't take advantage of my predilection for treating students like people who want to learn something rather than just purchase their degrees.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Monday, May 1, 2006

Someone Appears to Be In the Throes of Doing That Last Minute Grading, and Essays are Piled Up, and Tolerance is at an All Time Low

T: The full page of comments stapled to the back of your assignment when I hand it back is (among other things) an explanation of why you got the grade that you got. Please take a few minutes to read and digest it before raising your hand and saying "Professor Xxxxxxx, why did I get 87 out of 100? My friend said that this was perfect." And, going into the hallway after class and yelling "Professor Xxxxxxx is an asshole," does not make me feel more sympathetic to your needs.

D: Misspelling "activities" as "activates" every single time that you used it in your paper (10+ times) strongly suggests to me that you are either extremely careless or borderline illiterate. Also, a very important part of writing is making sure that what you said can be understood by a reader. If a given sentence looks like you took a bunch of words, threw them in a blender, and poured the result onto your assignment, you should probably go back and fix it. Also, it's best if all or nearly all of the semantic units in your paper are actual English words, as opposed to ones that you made up yourself.

E, N, P, & R: If you sit in the back and giggle through my entire class, it is not my fault if you miss things. The purpose of coming to class is to learn things. If you're not going to pay the slightest bit of attention to what's going on, you might as well not come.

N: For your latest assignment, you were supposed to use at least two books. I emphasized in class that these are to be actual physical books that you can hold in your hands, and that they can be obtained free of charge in the campus library. So why is it that when the class was in the library, you raised your hand, pointed to a New York Times article on your computer screen, and said, "Does this count as a book?" Books are those rectangular objects made out of many sheets of paper stuck together. Are you just an idiot? Or is there something I'm missing?