Monday, December 24, 2007

When Being "Student-Friendly" Gets In the Way.

On the day before our final, one of my students asked me what kind of grade he was going to get. He had not showed up the previous week and in fact had not visited with me at all concerning grades the whole semester. This in spite of the fact that very low scores were present on most his tests. He told me the he needed a specific grade in order to transfer to another 4 year institution. I knew this was not going to be pretty.

That night, I again looked at grades and confirmed that even if he received a 100% on the final, that he could not achieve their desired grade. As requested, I emailed this news to him.

The next day, he came in and wanted to know how it was possible to achieve such a low grade. I told him that poor attendance, poor tests, poor performance, and a poor final project all contributed.

He told me this was unacceptable. I, of course, agreed. He then started telling me what a horrible teacher I was. Well, folks, I've been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares," and have learned a valuable lesson. If we want to help people do a better job, we have to tell it like it is and stop worrying so much about their self-esteem. For a student to go through the whole semester and not take responsibility for his grades is ridiculous. It's time to put a stop to this nonsense.

Now I know that doesn't sound student friendly, but the more I teach, the more I recognize this false world our students live in. Nobody is telling them to grow up! They think that just attending is enough.

We eventually had another meeting and this time I included the chairperson. (In fact, I had offered the student the opportunity to increase his grade if he was willing to: 1. Work a large number of problems in the book. 2. Prove to me that he learned what he did wrong on the tests. 3. Take an incomplete an re-do the class online. He tried option 2, but wasn't even close on getting the answers correct, and refused options 1 and 2). He was adamant that his inability to learn was entirely my fault. For 30 minutes, I sat there listening to illogical reasons for his failure.

At no point in our discussion did he ever accept responsibility for his actions. The next day, however, he emailed me and asked me to change the "D" to a "W." That's not going to happen.

Students are fooling themselves and we are letting them get away with it. We as instructors have to put an end to this madness. Next semester, feedback will be immediate, public, yet respectful. Students will be uncomfortable and quite frankly, so will I. But I can' t continue feeding their egos when they don't deserve it!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"It Is Never Too Late."

I've never been so moved by a posting here as I was by yesterday's writer who wrote the chilling and sad piece, I've Done It To Myself.

I have mixed feelings about this site, but when I see something like that, I see that RYS can do a lot of good. Where else could that writer say those things and be really heard and understood? His fear and discouragement just jump off the page, and I must confess I know how he feels.

I wish I could reach out to him and tell him that others feel that way. I, in fact, went through the same self-doubt, and the same self-loathing, and I can tell him that there is light and air on the other side.

Once I realized I'd done nothing but try to please everyone else - and never myself - I took over my own life again. I stopped worrying about bowing down to my students, stopped worrying about scraping apologetically around my superiors. I did what I'd been trained to do, and if it wasn't good enough, I didn't care.

I'm lucky. I have a husband who loves me, two grown children who live near enough to visit once in a while, and a dog named Ricardo who I take for long walks in the woods. And now I go to work feeling confident. Confident that I'm doing what I know is right, and unworried about what others think. They, I assume, have their own problems. Let them worry about that. I'm fine.

I feel younger, lighter, and better about the world and my teaching.

It wasn't like flipping a switch. I got just as low as yesterday's writer. I felt the same way. And at some point I said, "Enough!"

To you, my brother in arms, I hope your realiztion will be something that will save you. Your life has not been wasted. It is never too late to stand up.

Friday, December 21, 2007

"I've Done It To Myself."

I don't blame anyone else for it.

I've done it to myself, turned myself into a fearful and timid professor, tying up my whole self-worth in what others think of me: students, colleagues, and administrators.

All I wanted to be since the time I was a middle schooler was a teacher. I loved college and grad school was a blast. Then I was in the profession, and every bit of my courage and soul got stripped away.

I kissed ass and catered to my department to move along the tenure & promotion track. I dumbed down my classes to get student approval. I wrote incomprehensible gibberish in "hot fields" in order to publish things I wouldn't read myself if you put a gun to my head.

And I found myself stooped and depressed more and more.

I would come home from a day on campus and it would take longer and longer to be able to face my family, my wife, my sons, my friends. By Saturday night I would be closest to my old self, facing the barbecue, tossing a football, catching a new movie with my sweetie. By Sunday afternoon the gloom began to fall. More boot licking. More stooping.

And it was all on me. I could have said no to things. I could have said, forget the student evaluations; I'm going to do what I think is right. I could have told my chair to rope someone else into doing the work that nobody else would do. And if by standing up I would have lost my job, lost my good name, lost my credibility, what would I have been losing?

I'm a nebbish, a toady. And it happened because I let it all happen. If you can't be human, be strong, be engaged and confident, what good is the $56,000 I make. I should have gotten down on my knees and begged them to fire me, just so that I wouldn't have wasted all of these years.

One Reader Nailed It. "Pete Is So Icky." But Why Oh Why Did One Reader Have to Take a Crack At Anthro. You Won't Believe The Smart Mail We'll Get.

  • I think this should be the next prime time drama: The academic equivalent of Grey's Anatomy. Like Prurient Pete points out, there are endless variations on who could be sleeping with whom. There are all the sexy conferences we all go to to get laid. We could include grade-grubbing bridery, cheating scandals, and embezzlement of department funds. The show could also make some commentary on which departments are getting the most sex. I'd wager a guess with Anthropology. Anybody have a clever name for the show?

  • Hey, Pete. You're interested in prof/undergraduate hookups? Are you serious? Sure, let's flush 8 years of student-loan-leveraged higher education for a little backseat bump-n-run with Hannah Montana's slightly older sister. Later, we can bask in that post-coital glow sharing Skittles, while she names every stuffed animal in the rear window of the car her dad bought her. Tell you what, Oliver Wendell Dipshit. Tell your colleagues to pull their hands off their pipes and get a grip on something beyond their protracted adolescence.

  • I wonder if Pete could answer some questions. What really interests me is the reaction he describes from fellow lawyers to his teaching freshman comp: [T]he other lawyer responds as follows: "I'll bet you got a lot of poon, right?" Let's assume that when Pete says "lawyer," he means "man." Do any of these lawyers have daughters in college? Do they view their own interns as sexual prey in a similar way? Or does this high-fiving reflect their fantasies, not attitudes or behavior? I don't have access to this sort of man-to-man exchange; I'm genuinely curious.

  • Yeah Pete, we have fight off advances from students all the time. There's nothing the youngsters find sexier than exhausted and neurotic academics. Really, it's almost as good as being a rock star. I'm also pleased to see that lawyers, in addition to metaphorically fucking folks up the ass, are taking an interest in how other professionals go about it for real. Anyway, I'm off to see a student about raising his "grade," if you know what I mean. After that, it's off to the Dean's office for some discipline, as I've been a very naughty girl.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"I'll Take 'Dumbasses' For $100, Alex." (Where We Use the Title Bar To Give a Clever Shout-Out and Best Wishes to Monsieur Trebek.)

The first class I ever taught was an upper division anthropology seminar. One of my students, let’s call him D (for dumbass) came to class regularly (attendance was part of the grade), but sat in the back row, never participated, and often appeared to be sleeping. The couple of times I spoke to him about it he explained he had a full time job at his father’s business, a new baby at home, and a middle school teaching job lined up after he graduated that semester. (This was all true; he brought his wife and new daughter in to meet me. Isn’t that sweet?) As he was fulfilling the minimal requirements of the course, he looked poised to get a D – which is a passing grade at Coast Through Life University – and everyone seemed fine with that.

Then comes the final paper. Don’t these people realize that we get to know them, their thought processes and writing styles over the course of the semester? The paper was full of complex ideas eloquently presented, albeit a little unclear on the thesis statement, interspersed with ridiculously inane statements like “So why aren’t Africans successful?” Which I can only imagine were meant to tie the beautifully-written passages together. Something was clearly wrong.

A quick Google search revealed that the entire paper, inane insertions aside, was copied from various sources on the Internet. A consultation with the department chair concluded that I had full authority to pursue or ignore this as much as I wanted. So I met with D. He apologized profusely and explained that he hadn’t actually plagiarized the paper. He had paid someone to write it for him, and *that* guy had plagiarized. He was very contrite and so busy and tired. So I allowed him to rewrite the paper. He did, and it was original, and mediocre, and he earned his D in the course. And he went away content.

The icing on the cake? He emailed me last semester and asked me for a letter of recommendation.

This is Your Wardrobe. This is Your Wardobe on Drugs.

A student of mine paid me quite the compliment today: "Dr. X., you always dress like a business woman when you come to class. How come the other faculty do not do this?" I was bowled over. First, because I always thought I wore rather average clothes. Second, because my students apparently are peering out from behind their laptops and paying attention to the front of the room. Third, because I had never noticed what my colleagues were wearing.

The comment made me think though, "Shouldn't all faculty endeavor to look as professional as we can when we come to class?" We faculty liberally complain about the pajama clad, flip-flops wearing students but, are we doing much better? Certainly few of us are wearing our nighties to lectures, yet are jeans, a T-shirt, and sandals that much better given our status in the classroom?

I do not propose that we should all wear academic regalia to classes (though this would make getting dressed for lectures much easier!). I do suggest that we ought to upgrade from "everyday is casual Friday" garb to business casual, at the very least. My own preference-- and maybe this is because I wish that everyone had the same dry-cleaning bill that I do-- is that we all wore suits. I do not believe this would stifle our academic freedom or our innate creativity. Far from it! There are so many variations of the classic suit, whether for men or women, that, at worst, we would look like a bunch of well-dressed, highly individuated, individuals. Indeed, wouldn't a spring green pant suit and classic loafers in pale pink, or a navy blue pin-stripe suit with a yellow holographic bow-tie make a much more interesting statement than jeans, Doc Marten's and a black turtle-neck? The worst that could happen is that students pay attention to us for non-academic reasons and write nasty comments about our fashion sense on their evaluations. But, they would have had to pay attention, and that is a start.

We have all heard that we should "dress for success" with the implication that by dressing ourselves well, we will be successful. Perhaps it is our task as educators to turn this about: we should dress ourselves well so that our students might see the representation of success and strive to imitate accordingly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Dear Becca..."

  • Becca's claim about the editors of this page proofreading everything shows she doesn't pay much attention. The moderators are likely too besotted after margarita orgies to do anything but cut and paste our ramblings and put them online. If you're looking for our professional writing, Becca, why not pick up a scholarly journal or one of our books?

  • When swotty snowflakes write lengthy posts criticizing barely noticeable typos, professorial attitudes, and the scheduling of exams and papers without reference to the fucking "partying weekends" (we're such meanies!), then I just remember that if their professional future is in academia, they will either learn the error of their ways or else be hated by all their colleagues. Really, either is fine with me.

  • Becca closes her post from yesterday by dropping some knowledge on us. Apparently we are all committing the "fundamental attribution error" and maligning the students' "permanent selves." Not their permanent selves!! I imagine Becca would be mighty surprised to discover how little time we spend thinking about their "permanent selves." In fact, in this post-humanist world, I imagine very few of us even believe in something like a permanent self. But that's the subject for a different post. We are not frustrated with rude and entitled behavior because we give a shit about anyone's permanent self. We are frustrated by rude and entitled behavior because it's annoying. And time-wasting. Every time some little darling emails me at 3 am asking if I can give him some feedback for an essay that's due at 11am, I guarantee I don't think one damn thing about his permanent self. I think, "Well that's just great. When I don't answer he's going to sulk for a week, sucking all the life out of the seminar." When I give someone a C, I am not thinking one damn thing about her permanent self. I am evaluating her work.

  • We are bitching to each other. No one's asking Becca to do anything about it.

  • I wish I taught at Becca's school where the administration is apparently planning rock and roll ("partying") weekends where they spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars" bringing in bands. I would be there rocking out. Of course that college sounds like it's in fantasyland, but no matter. The last band our college brought in was two guys with acoustic guitars. And neither was named Sting or Bono.

  • The students that writers on this blog are complaining about are in some way pathological. Perhaps they are disrespectful, perhaps they cheat, which is unfair to all the students who play by the rules. Some of them might not turn in their work, or turn in such shoddy work that it is clear that they don't care about the class. Students of that sort used to be rare in college, as students were both selected and self-selected for academic seriousness. With ever-increasing enrollments and some politicians' goal of universal college education, greater numbers of marginal, unmotivated students are being swept into the system and making life more difficult for professors.

  • Becca's post made me just let out a long sigh. I don't even pretend to understand this: "I am an undergraduate, and I wanted to point out a few things I have noticed while perusing the site." So what? Why would I give a shit? Why on earth did RYS even post this junk?

  • You are most certainly not qualified to judge me as a professor. Let’s be perfectly clear about that. You never were. You use the phrase “to facilitate my learning.” Where, exactly, did you get this? Who poured this poison into your ears? You might be in a position to judge my performance as a “facilitator,” but not as a professor. Get off your horse. Again, when you join our ranks, you will know exactly what this means. And, yes, other professors are more qualified than you to judge professors.

  • Becca claims that there are "frequent" errors on this blog, and I have to say she's just flat out wrong. I wish she'd pointed some out, in fact. The truth is, as someone who reads the site every day, and has for months, I "rarely" see a typo, and it's often inconsequential. When I have typos in a student paper - and I don't know why I have to even qualify this - I might see 9 misspelled words in a single paragraph. That's frequent, honey. Plus, this is a blog for profs to let off steam. It's nothing at all like a paper you or we would be evaluated on.

  • While you make some good points about being a college student, and how you are superior because you are a student at "a rather selective school where the students are more concerned with their school work than most." (And btw, I teach at a school that is supposedly selective. I know that really means "grade grubbing.") But I digress. The one fact that you neglected to consider is that we have all been college students, and you have never been a college professor. So stop pretending that you have some great insight into our lives, work, and effort we put into our jobs, because you have no clue.

  • Hey Becca. I'm sure that it escaped your self-professed, more than capable attention, but this site is not all about you.

  • With regard to paragraph one of Becca's post, there is a remarkably simple explanation for why you see grammar and spelling errors in some of the posts. Reading papers written by undergraduates (particularly “freshpeople”), makes you stupid. In paragraph five, you mention joining our ranks. When you do, you will know exactly what this means. There is help for us, however. It is called phosphatidylserine. Buy it in bulk.

  • There are Beccas everywhere, of course. My own "Becca" was Rachel, someone whose parents had so filled with entitlement that she came to my office frequently to "help" me by giving me her impressions of how class had gone. That I was 10 years into a teaching career, and 20 years into "college life" apparently escaped her. Becca, honey, we don't want your insight. Go suck an egg.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Becca From Baltimore Peers Into Our Empty Soul.

I am an undergraduate, and I wanted to point out a few things I have noticed while perusing the site. First of all, there are a surprisingly frequent number of grammar and spelling errors. Considering a number of posters complain about this from their students, that highly educated people are writing these posts, and that other highly educated people are proofreading them, the number I have seen is rather high. I probably don’t even see all of them, as it is easy to miss a typo when the meaning is still clear. If people who care so much about grammar and spelling mess it up, is it really surprising that students do too? I know that I can easily miss typos when I read over my work, partially because I know how it’s supposed to read. In fact, there are probably errors in this post. I understand how reading an email with multiple and blatant errors is annoying, but perhaps you could cut students some slack for typing then vs. than, or for vs. to.

I get it. You don’t care about how hard I work on my paper. If it’s not cogent, analytical, and well-organized, I don’t get a good grade. That’s fine. I agree to a system where only the final product of my work counts. But I need you to agree to it as well. That means no complaining that students don’t understand how hard you professors work. If the final product (conveying the material) is all that counts, then it doesn’t matter if you hold office hours every single hour of the day if you can’t effectively communicate the material. (I understand that different individuals write different posts, but I see so much of both sides that I suspect a number of individuals think their professorial effort should count, but that students’ effort should not.) Also, if the final product is all that matters, then why do you care if students skip class? It will presumably hurt them in the creation of the final product, or if it doesn’t, then either they compensated for the missing material or are simply very smart. If you want students to stop assuming that effort will bump their grade up, then perhaps you should stop punishing others for lack of effort.

Yes I AM qualified to judge you as a professor. To qualify this statement, I mean that I am able to evaluate your job performance in the classroom and in any other situations where you are trying to facilitate my learning. You might be the most insightful researcher in your field, but that doesn’t make you good at teaching others. I should note that I have skipped fewer than five classes in my 3.5 years of undergraduate, and that two were for a job interview. I do the reading, I’m attentive in class, I work on the homework, etc. I also know many others who work similarly (Note: I am at a rather selective school where the students are more concerned with their school work than most. Understand that I don’t reflect the average undergraduate, but I still believe this point has merit.) When I, and my fellow classmates, fail to grasp a concept, it might just be about you. If we all find your lectures boring, it might just be about you. If you get 200 comments asking you to please slow down during your explanation of difficult concepts, well, maybe you should slow down. And we ARE qualified to make those statements. Saying students are not fit to judge the quality of the TEACHING of a professor is outlandish. Who else is supposed to judge? Your fellow professors who are equally knowledgeable?

Not all of us are in your class because we are excited about the material. We are there to satisfy a distribution requirement, because it’s part of the curriculum for our major (but we are really interested in another area of the discipline), because we are pre-med, or because it fit into our schedule. This does not excuse cheating, or any other unethical behavior. But are you really that surprised when people zone off in class? On this site, I have seen countless references to people zoning out during boring administration meetings. It’s not comparing apples to apples, but if it’s not a moral/personality/cultural problem when professors neglect some of their commitments, why is it such a big deal when students zone out in class?

Look, I love school. I want to suffer through grad school, and then join your ranks (likely as a Pollyanna, but you never know how life twists). But I still think it SUCKS when you schedule an exam/paper the day after our big concert/partying weekend. It’s an official university event, whose date is planned out years in advance. The school spends hundreds of thousands of dollars bringing in bands and creating a very lovely weekend for its community (which includes the faculty I see rocking out to the music.) Scheduling a major evaluative event is just mean. I will get the work done. I will do it well (but not as well as if I didn’t have the event). This is particularly hard for exams, because papers can be done in advance, but it’s hard to study well for a test (because some material hasn’t been presented) without spending a lot of time immediately before the exam preparing.

I know you are blowing off steam, that you have a lot of shit to deal with one aspect of a job that you did not ask for. But one major thing, which encapsulates a lot of the above points, is that when students flub, you often see it as a permanent flaw of the individual representative of their attitude in all other endeavors. In psychology, they call it fundamental attribution error, or the tendency of people to attribute their own flaw or defects to the situation, but the flaws of others to their permanent selves. When you zone out in a meeting, it’s because it’s boring. When we zone out in class, it’s because we are ungrateful idiots.

Overall, we are developing adults. I say adults in that we have a fair amount of autonomy, more responsibility (relative to a few months or years back in high school) and are legally considered adults. But we are still growing, still changing, and we are not our final selves yet. By all means, kick us in the ass for cheating, fail us when we deserve it, and challenge us. But don’t hate us.

(And if you manage that, please, please, please, please do not schedule a major evaluative exercise right after Spring Weekend. I’m a senior-it’s my last one.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ode to An F.

Earth drinks autumn rains;
My carpet accepts your tears:
Dripping, dropping, drop.

As the cottonwood
Beside the rain-swollen stream
Unmovèd am I.

Late work; incomplete;
Poor attendance; excuses.
And now, you're weeping.

Grades do not measure
Good intentions or talent:
Only performance.

Birds not migrating
Get caught in the winter's snow:
So your work falls short.

A "D" is sixty.
You gave a push at the end:
Fifty-eight point eight.

If you were a bird
You might have reached freezing rain:
You would not be warm.

"It's only one point!"
"No, my dear, it's one point two.
"Take your bitter herb.

Fall turns to winter;
Seasons change; college terms end:
Too little, too late.

Unmovèd am I
Beside the rain-swollen stream
As the cottonwood.

Dripping, dropping, drop;
My carpet accepts your tears:
Earth drinks autumn rains.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's Not Nice to Make Fun of Subway Sandwich Artists. While You're Picking Your Vegetables, They Can Spit On Your Salami.

My dear students, I regret to inform you that we will not have a pizza party, or any sort of party for that matter, on the last day of class.

While I might be willing, on my most charitable day, to celebrate and dine with four of you at the most, in our final meeting I will feel physical elation at the idea of tossing the vast majority of you out the door of my classroom never to return. This is not to say I wish you any particular ill will; in fact, I hope you manage to achieve all your dreams with the little common sense the universe saw fit to afford you. However, I hope that you achieve them far from my future course schedule and, preferably, in another geographic location as the idea of your serving in a medical, judicial or educational capacity near my place of residence terrifies me to no end.

Furthermore, considering that the vast majority of you will squeeze your dense heads through the doggie door of the Academy with a whopping "C" in this course, I question whether you should find yourself celebrating at all. While the so-called "instructors" at the last intellectual morass you haunted might have awarded you with a deep-dish for not stapling your final portfolio to your forehead, take assurance in knowing that "not failing" does not indicate any sort of success in my thinking. I see no reason to celebrate your staggering mediocrity and, the more I think about it, I see how the concept of an obligatory pizza party predicated your level of performance in this course.

However, rest easy knowing that I will be celebrating with a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey as I enter your final grades, and once more when I watch in glee as you sear the skin on your tender, dainty fingers, unblemished by all that difficult page turning and key punching, on the steel pan you will use to toast my Subway Club in your future career as a sandwich artist.

Who Knew There Was Such Drama In that Big Building At the End of the Quad?

As you know, the library is usually one of the very best places to avoid students and get some work done. Yesterday, however, as it was the end of the semester, many students had dragged their overworked selves to the library. These are the sights and sounds that greeted me, Professor Bean, as I tried to work:

Scene 1 in library, 3rd floor:
Young person, lady parts barely covered with a micro-mini; she also sports shearling boots. She eats Skittles and talks into a pink phone: "I am at the library. I am going to get a book." Pause. "No, this is the best way. Turnitin can't catch you if you use a book."

(Professor Beans wonders at these comments. Students tell her they have no idea that it is wrong to copy, and yet when speaking to friends they speak openly of it and hand out tips for dodging anti-cheating software.)

Scene 2 in library, other side of 3rd floor:
Young person, also female, hair in ponytail as an obvious sign she has been working too hard to groom. She has an entire sack of fast food folded out on the table in front of her; has gotten ketchup on the table and her chin. There is palpable disdain in her voice as she says loudly into her cell phone, also pink: "Gah! Like that's going to happen. Look, I just need you to get here so I can copy your math."

(Oddly, Professor Bean feels slightly better knowing they treat their friends exactly the way they treat her.)

Scene 3 in library, fifth floor:
Two young persons, both male, with what appears to be Korean barbecue in styrofoam containers. Boy howdy, that sure looks good. They are dressed in College gear; one has jeans so dirty Professor Bean thinks of scabies. Between bites of sauced beef, one remarks: "I should have gotten a soda." The other one does not respond as he is scrolling through his cell phone looking at texts and emails and says in return: "This professor is such a douchebag. It sucks we have to stay for his stupid class."

(Wha? Classes just ended yesterday. No finals during finals week? It says in the faculty handbook that professors may not schedule finals before finals week. Professor Bean is confused. Is Professor Bean the douchebag of which the young man speaks? Professor Bean peeks out from the stacks to check to make sure she doesn't know him. She does not. She feels no better knowing she is a douchebag in somebody else's world. The university scheduled her final for Thursday, of all days. Thursday.)

Scene 4, library front desk:
Professor Bean observes many signs that say: "No food or drink" and "Please turn off your cell phones." She wanders down to the person sitting next to the front door. There sits a young man with inexplicable hair and earbuds screwed into the sides of his head. Professor Bean stops before him, obviously wanting his attention. He ignores Professor Bean, staring into his book. He appears to be painting the entire page with yellow highlighter. Professor Bean feels a bond: She always enjoys coloring, too. He gives up and looks her way; Professor Bean smiles encouragingly; he sends Professor Bean a filthy look and grudgingly takes off his earbuds.

Professor Bean: "I see that a lot of people are breaking the rules about food around the library. Is there any way we can get them to clean up and avoid eating in here? The second floor smells like eggrolls."

He rolls his eyes and looks at poor Professor Bean as though as she has a third eye in the middle of her forehead. "It's the end of the semester. Students are busy. They have to eat when they can."

Professor Bean: "But they don't have to eat in here. It's not good for the collection or the common areas. The weather is nice. They can eat outside on benches. They can eat at the union."

He looks at Professor Bean: again, then slides his eyes off to the sides of his head: "Yeah, I'll get right on it."

Scene 5, deep stacks on the 6th floor:
Professor Bean takes her books and notebooks into the stacks, deeper and deeper, up many flights of stairs, to the carrels on the 6th floor, where only graduate students and librarians roam.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Lot of Sad Stories at Semester End, and Chester Ends Up Under the Wheels of A Proffie Who Hoped A Lesson Had Already Been Learned.

Oh, Chester the Cheater. I really thought you had learned. Last semester, when you handed in a paper whose introduction was taken verbatim from an online encyclopedia and I promptly caught you, I thought something had really gotten through to you. You apologized (despite claiming it was meant to be an epigraph), took your zero without a fuss, and managed to pass the class anyway, despite my intense scrutiny of every single thing you turned in thereafter. I was pleased--proud even. I thought perhaps you had learned some kind of lesson, if not about academia, life, and honesty, then about plagiarizing web sources for me.

Why did I allow myself these delusions? Maybe because you were smart, engaged, and had a respectable grasp of the English language. Maybe I thought that your choice of me as an instructor in this second semester was your way of saying that you were glad to have been caught in your cheating and had learned the error of your ways.

And then I opened up your final paper. I thought it was extra dandy how you included a quote from the source you were plagiarizing a book review of. Boy, would I have been impressed if I hadn't had Google. I must say I was further impressed by your willingness to go the extra mile and change the introductory phrases to sentences so that they wouldn't be perfect matches. It's a shame that I'm actually not a moron and choose phrases from within the sentences to check.

Since this paper is the largest proportion of your grade (which wasn't that healthy to begin with), I don't think you're going to scrape that pass this semester, and I must say that you're one of the few students for whom I'm almost willing to do the paperwork to get your ass in additional administrative trouble. Did you seriously imagine this ending well for yourself? If so, I hope the ending that you imagined was being taken outside and told that you might as well just go home, since you weren't going to pass. Because that's exactly what you got.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Someone Goes Old School With the Smackdown, And Gets RYS-Cred Points For Getting In a Zombie Reference.

K: I've received your final paper, and I just want you to know that it is truly adorable of you to turn it in. On its own, it's a fine piece of work: the 17-point font really shows off your flair for the whimsical, and the lack of any citation or a bibliography demonstrates a true knack for simplicity and spareness. As the final assignment of the semester, this paper represents the culmination of all your hard work. Indeed, I imagine you busily typing away at this masterpiece since the end of September, which was the last time you turned in any work for this class. And your mastery of the material beautifully reflects your attendance record: those three weeks of missed class really enhanced your ability to think about what we've read. But most of all I'm impressed that you went to all this work at the end of the semester to show me just how much you've learned in my class. That you turned a paper in at all shows that you still believe you have some hope of passing this course. And that is just precious.

D: You've achieved this semester what no other student has ever achieved: you've managed to get caught plagiarizing in my class not just once, but twice. No other student has ever managed to do this because no other student has managed to stay in my class after having been caught once. But after catching you the first time, your belligerent attitude and your completely incoherent protestations that you knew not what you did convinced me, in a moment of weakness, to cut you just the tiniest amount of slack. Like the hard worker you are, you took that slack, promptly fashioned the world's tiniest noose with it, and somehow managed to squeeze your over-inflated head into it. Bravo!

To my morning class: Six or seven of you are great: you care about the material, you do the work, you talk in class. I love you, I love you, I love you. The rest of you, however, may actually be in comas and simply not realize it. When I came to this school, I was warned that some of our students are under the mistaken impression that they are actually auditioning for "Dawn of the Dead." If this is indeed what you are up to, you need to work on your acting—zombies *want* brains, remember? Your glassy-eyed stares, total lack of response to stimuli,and ability to remain completely mute and motionless for extended periods of time would make you much better suited to roles as vegetative patients in hospital dramas. Of course, at some point during your four years here, you might consider stretching your dramatic repertoire to include the part of "student at a university," too.

Someone Who's Done 25 Years In the 'Real World' Shines a Light on the Privilege He Feels as a Prof.

I’ve been reading RYS regularly for about a year now, and I would like an opportunity to inject a different perspective to the discussion.

I am tenure track at a large, private university east of the Mississippi. I’m in my fifth year here, and that is also the sum total of my teaching experience, and, for that matter, my academic experience, subsequent to earning my B.A. in 1978. I teach in a small arts college that is kind of a stepchild at this university, which is known mostly for engineering and the hard sciences. My college hires primarily from industry rather than academia. In my program, we all have had substantial professional careers, as have most of the faculty in the other programs.

I was 47 when I took this teaching job, and still carry on with my outside career as much as teaching full time will allow. In my “other” profession, the 70-hour workweek is fairly common. ALL jobs are freelance, so everyone in the business either operates at a high level or doesn’t work. Having a bad day at work can mean losing a client permanently. All compensation is negotiated on a “per job” basis, and your rate varies with the client, the circumstances, your expertise, how badly you need the work, etc. Even after you reach a point where you are regularly getting work, you often have to jump through hoops to actually get paid (usually after 90 days), and every year there is always a small percentage of clients who stiff you, leaving you with nothing. You need an iron will and very high level of self esteem, as there is very little in the way of respect for or acknowledgement of your talents, save that next phone call with a gig from a satisfied client. No collegiality. No tenure. No departmental awards. No raises except for whatever you are able to negotiate for yourself each job. No peer review. No grants. No administrative help. No holiday parties. No spring, summer, winter, or Thanksgiving breaks. And, or course, being freelance means long periods without any pay at all.

At school, I come in, teach two or three classes per term, and take summers off. I only teach Tuesdays and Thursdays, and once I’ve put in my 5 hours of teaching, I see students for an hour or two each day. I come in one other day (usually Wednesday) per week for a full day of meetings and extra office hours, and once in a while, I need to do something on a Monday or Friday in order to accommodate someone else’s schedule. I advise a dozen seniors on their year long Senior Projects. I run a club for students who want more experience in the field, and we meet once a week.

I’m on two search committees, the Admissions committee, the Faculty Development committee, and I’m involved in some other small projects aimed at improving our young program. I work a bunch of extra weekends each year helping out with recruitment functions.

Guess what? I love it here, and compared to what I did the first 25 years of my career, it’s a BREEZE. I probably put in about 40 - 50 hours total each week, but a lot of that work is done at home, at my convenience, and in my pajamas. I get to teach what I know to students who (mostly) want to learn it. My work is respected by my peers and by the administration, none of who feel the need to micromanage what I do in the classroom. You should all try working with some know-nothing client who feels entitled to backseat drive every detail of the work because “I may not have your skill or experience, but I’m paying the bills, and I’ll know it when I see it.”

We have tuition remission here for faculty and staff (my son is attending the University at virtually no expense right now), and a generous retirement benefit. Before I started teaching, I paid for my family’s health insurance out of my pocket, and had to do the same for any retirement saving.

I get the feeling that many of you who contribute to RYS are substantially younger than I am, probably in your 20’s and 30’s, and have gone directly from B.A. to M.A. to PhD to the ivory tower. I have two children, a “tweener” and a freshman in college. As a parent for the last 20 years, I’ve had more than ample experience dealing with bullshit excuses, outright lies, sullen mumblings, rude interruptions, poor personal hygiene, disrespect, and underachievement FROM MY OWN CHILDREN. With that kind of “on the job” training under my belt, my students’ lapses don’t bother me at all. They’ll either learn or fail, and I have no problem being “Professor Hardass” (holding their work under the microscope, taking attendance, not accepting late work, requiring professional behavior), because I know how the world will treat them. If all goes to plan, I’ll have tenure in a year and a half, and a guaranteed income for the rest of my working life.

Try finding that one outside the ivy-covered walls. I’m not saying that there isn’t anything to bitch about here in the Academy. People can get very intense and political, and there is a high level of drama among the faculty, with much jockeying for position and attention from the higher-ups. Administration is obsessed with the bottom line, and most of our college’s programs have funding issues and are understaffed. There is a lot of petty bullshit, and a ridiculous amount of paperwork needed to get even small things accomplished.

All I’m saying is that for so many of you, this is all you know, and I think it’s pretty easy to become jaded and dissatisfied without much in the way of comparison. I read entry after entry in RYS, and usually chuckle and empathize with most. Sometimes I get mad at students and colleagues and feel the urge to add my voice to the choir, but it rarely lasts. After I got my B.A. thirty years ago, I had lots of jobs while struggling to build a career in my chosen field, including working at a fruit stand, stringing tennis rackets, managing a small shoe store, and serving as a prep cook to a crazy screaming Romanian chef. Call me a Pollyanna, but I think we could all take a step back and realize how privileged we all are to do this for a living.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It Should Not Surprise You That We Get a Lot of Manifestos at the Compound. Few Have All of the Words Spelled Correctly.

Dear Students,

This might surprise you guys but a lot of profs around here—gasp!—complain about the students. I'm here to say that a good chunk of this complaining stems from a mistake on our part.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm as tired of you indignant little unliterates as the next prof. (The Urban Dictionary defines an "unliterate" as a person who appears to know how to read and/or write however refuses to do so either knowingly or unknowingly.) I'm so jaded by you and your excuses that I don't even give a crap when MY OWN grandma dies. But I'm not here to bash you or your whiny excuses. I'm here to bash me and my whiny colleagues.

The gist of our whining is this. You people have no interest in learning anything. This is why you never really do the reading or any of the assignments—hell, you don't even the read the syllabus. If you do anything at all, you do what it takes to make it look like you've done the work. What that amounts to ranges from doing the absolute bare minimum, to not even doing the absolute bare minimum but pathetically trying to give the appearance that you have (16 point font anyone?), to outright criminal activity. (A few semesters ago a student plagiarized her 3000-level philosophy course term paper from something written by Wilfrid Sellars. That's a little like handing in the U.S. Constitution as your poli-sci paper.)

We know, we know: there are exceptions. And we love you who are the exceptions. You are what keeps us going—both of you. (I promise to pass on the next easy shot.) Even though exceptions exist, this is the rule and you people really ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Seriously.

What's wrong with this complaint about you people is not that it isn't generally true. It is true. What's wrong with it is that overlooks the fact that your behavior is not only understandable but perfectly rational and justified. Here's why. All your life, you've been given very good evidence that the rules you live under are, for the most part, completely ungrounded, enforced more or less at whim, and written up and represented by people even dumber than you. So why should you bother following them?

You can fill in your own examples. Think about all those times you knew that some rule or practice was silly and unnecessary. When you asked why you should follow it, they said, "Because it's the rule" or "Because I said so." And you knew those aren't really reasons. If you decided to break the rule, maybe you got caught, maybe you didn't. When you were caught, the punishment wasn't what they said it would be. It was usually more lenient or it was nothing at all. In the rare case where the punishment was stiff, it might have convinced you not to break the rule (or at least not to get caught breaking it). It didn't convince you that the rule isn't stupid. And why should it? But, assuming you aren't reading this from inside a correctional facility, you learned to put up with it and follow the rules anyway (or at least make it look that way).

Your experience at this place is more of the same. There are a bunch of rules and requirements that look really stupid to you. This is because they are. (Don't forget to use your new 28-digit ID# when you register for that mandatory health class.) But even when they aren't stupid, no one can really prove that to you. And even if they can, it doesn't matter because you learned to stop asking about that kind of thing a long time ago. You learned to get along by following (or pretending to follow) the rules even though your heart isn't really in it. And that, you've found, is good enough for us.

That's why you don't even read the syllabus. And why should you? You've got really good evidence that a syllabus consists of either vapid nonsense ("this course will facilitate critical thinking skills necessary to face the critical problems in tomorrow's world of critical tomorrows bleh, bleh, bleh") or policies that are never enforced. (What did the syllabus say would happen when you didn't bother to show up for the exam? What really happened?)

If the syllabus isn't a bunch worthless nonsense, the course is. It's nothing that you are interested in even if it is part of your major. That's because your major is uninteresting. Why major in something uninteresting? That's another question you've learned not to ask. And, unless it's one of these clueless right-out-of-grad-school-I'm-here-to-make-a-difference hardasses, it looks like the prof is privy to the whole thing. That's why he lets you and everybody else pass even though none of you did jack all semester. He keeps his stupid little job; you get your stupid little diploma. In an environment like this, the only thing harder than getting a really good grade is getting a really bad one. That's why you never bother doing any real work. And why should you?

Our whiny exasperation over your pathetic behavior stems largely from a failure to understand this very understandable rationale. Now, what could we (students, profs) do about all this? Profs could probably stop bitching so much about the students. But we won't. For one thing, it's a helluva of a lot fun. (Next time you're at the off-campus pub and you want a good laugh, sit next to the dorky looking "old" guys in the tweed jackets. But don't get offended when they laugh and tell the one about when you cheated on your Ethics exam and then cried like a little nancypants when you got caught.) On the other side, students could probably take their own education and lives seriously. Although I believe everything I've said so far, I also believe that you could get an education at this place and even come out a better person than you were when you came in. But you won't. For one thing, your experiences in life prevent you from taking any talk about "education" or "bettering yourself" seriously at all. And why should you? That's just the kind of meaningless crap you read on a course syllabus. Isn't it?

Mr. Dr. Ass. Prof., Ph.D.


  • Adult returning student who decided mid-semester he'd rather work than go to class, said nothing, than e-mailed me the day finals week started to ask if I could "pretty pretty please" (you're a 45-year-old man, why in hell is "pretty pretty please" in your vocabulary???) "give" him a "D" so he could get the hours towards his degree. I told him to turn in his final paper and take his chances like everybody else.

  • A mass of students who left at the break because they decided my class was just too boring for words. I sort of feel their pain, because both the textbook and standard syllabus are fairly excruciating, and it's a required course relatively unrelated to their program of study, but I do go out of my way to make it interesting and relevant and use as little of the textbook as humanly possible. So for the seven who stuck around, I went point by point through one of the essay questions on the final exam.

  • Student who showed up just long enough each class period to inform me her sitter had flaked out YET AGAIN and then left. Didn't do any of the tests or quizzes, not even as make-ups. Turned up on her presentation day (worth a big chunk of the grade), unprepared, and told me, "My sitter flaked out and I have to go home. Is this going to affect my grade?" Hasn't appeared since, nor turned in her final paper, but does not appear to have taken my advice to take a late drop.

  • An apparently imaginary death in the family. Not only an apparently imaginary death, but an apparently imaginary PARENT FIGHTING IN IRAQ death. Student seems to have spaced on the fact that I know her family and that she went out of her way to remind me of this repeatedly throughout the semester in the hopes I'd treat her like the Precious Little Unique Snowflake she is. This one was too hot for me to handle, so I bounced her to student services and told her they have processes for handling students with deaths in the immediate family and will contact her faculty with instructions to give incompletes/allow late work/etc. Haven't heard back.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the booty."

I have a surprise for you on this last day of class. I understand from a recent Newsweek article that your parents have been keeping journals for you *your whole lives,* chronicling the specialness you exhibit every single day.

To make the transition to college life easier, I have also been keeping a journal for each of you, all semester, recording the very very special things you do.

Ryan: Your first entry is on the first day of class, when you showed up a very fashionable ten minutes late, with a darling expression of pained boredom on your face. You seemed so above all this first day crap as you rolled you eyes at the syllabus. Unfortunately, I have no other entries for you, as you never appeared in class again. All I have are the precious assignments you submitted online. Apparently you thought this was a correspondence class. Isn’t that cute?

Megan: Your journal is quite full, as you have arrived to every class with so many wonderful things to contribute. Remember that time when you said,“Maybe, like, the Industrial Revolution had something to do with the political changes in the 1800’s?” I couldn’t believe the level of insight! And I’ll never forget the time when you compared Kant’s ethical theory to a Beyonce song. As you said, “They’re kind of the same, but different.”

Josh: I simply had to record your very first words. You did not speak until just before the first big paper was due, and I was worried that you might have some sort of developmental problem. But then you wowed me with, “Are you gonna be, like, real picky about spelling and stuff like that?” I was so proud of you! And that pout you gave me when I answered your question was the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.

Ashley: Your journal is a carefully assembled scrapbook, full of photographs that record the amazing variety of drool strings you have formed between your mouth and your desk. You are so creative! I hope you will all take your journals home to show to your parents, so they can put aside their worries that your professors are failing to appreciate your wonderful uniqueness!

Like This Person, We Learned Long Ago That the Cocktail Glasses Simply Aren't Big Enough Come Final Exam Time.

Yes, I realize that it has been a full 21 hours since you completed your final exam. Since I have no life outside of teaching intro-level courses to the children who weren't left behind, of course I have set aside most of my other responsibilities to focus on your grade, and your grade alone.

Could I have given it more time? Probably so. What was I thinking when I decided to sleep eight hours rather than staying up late to grade your ruminations on your belief that God has been thrown out of the public schools? And when I was enjoying my breakfast granola this morning, how could I not have pondered that perhaps the answer to question 35 could have been"b" rather than "d" if we look at your interpretation of the words "is" and "compelling state interest"?

At any rate, don't worry your pretty little head, because the registrar requires your grade to be submitted by close-of-business tomorrow. (Isn't it overly generous that they give me a full 48 hours to finish grading? Have your mommy call the dean to complain about that.) At that time, I'll post your grade in Blackboard just like the syllabus says, but I'm sure you'll still want to stop by my office to argue about the D you made on the first exam three month sago, or to insist that you should be allowed to turn in a research paper 6 weeks late without penalty.

Thank goodness I won't be on campus. I'll just be at home drinking and figuring out how to curve up your grade just enough so that you won't be in my course again next semester.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Newbie Proffie Is Already Wise Beyond Years Concerning Student Evals.


You've written some mean things about me on the "Grade Your Professors" section of MySpace. I'm sure it was cathartic, soothing, fun, or whatever exactly you had hoped it would be. What's strange about this is that your peers seem to disagree with the things you said about me.

Many of my other online evaluations are beyond good -- they're actually quite stellar. What I find particularly interesting, however, is that the official written, signed evaluations collected by the university were overwhelmingly complimentary. Even the ones that expressed a desire for something to change did so in a generally positive, constructive manner.

In particular, in response to your "Lectures are SO boring" quip, I could present 5 signed student evaluations denoting that I, unlike many of my fellow math teachers, went out of my way to bleed my enthusiasm for my subject and to make my classes engaging.

Anyway, you can feel free to write whatever you like on your online forum. I realize that you begrudge me because you were forced by your degree requirements to take college algebra. I know that math isn't your favorite subject, and I'm truly sorry about that. I know that your view of college is akin to a vending machine; you insert your thousands of dollars, press "B9," and it spits out a degree. I understand that challenging you in any way offends you to your very core, and I'm willing to bet that I was guilty of this.

Actually, I'd like to thank you for teaching me a valuable lesson. Last year was my first year in graduate school, and I sincerely hope that it was the first in a long sequence of years of teaching. I would like nothing more than to make a career out of what I'm doing right now. If I'm going to survive these years that I hope are before me, I am going to have to grow a thicker skin. It's going to be important that I am able to ignore your cheap shot from behind your protective cover of MySpace anonymity.

That's why it's important that you understand the following: If you would like to make a comment about my teaching, yet you lack the chutzpah to sign your name to it, then you are a coward -- but more importantly, I am simply not willing to give a shit about you or about anything you say.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wayne the Weatherman from Wicomico Walks In With a Big, Big Schtick!

Good morning, fellow RYS-ers. Professor Weatherman reporting from the balmy mid-Atlantic. Temperatures in this region have just dipped below freezing, and the change has had some startling effects on the local college students. No, the sudden drop in temperature has not caused them to run like mad to the library in hope of staying warm while they study for finals. No,the frigid climate has not caused these students to stay in class for the entire class time or, for that matter, to get to class promptly so as to maximize their time in a heated environment. And no, the insanely cold December air has not caused these young intellectuals to cozy up next to their professors in office hours, hoping for last minute clarifications on research paper requirements. No, my fellow teachers,this horrible, horrible change in climate conditions has made students concerned about a much more serious issue: tanning.

Yes, you read that right—tanning. Since we’ve crept under the 30-day mark to the Winter Solstice, more and more students have been seen strolling around campus with that weird orange glow shining outward from their bright, but strangely dyed, faces. There have also been reports of students going for the two-for-one deal on tanning and hair highlights. Some students have even gone past the highlighting stage and moved straight to full-on bleaching. Professors have been frightened by these students and the incomprehensible metamorphoses that they seemed to have undergone overnight. In fact, I’m just receiving word now that one professor in the history department just taught his class wearing sun glasses! “The glow was just too bright,” he writes. He continues: “The combination of the oppressive fluorescent lighting in the room and the grotesque gleam of artificial skin dye were just too much for my poor old eyes to bear.” When asked if any of his students brought their final papers to class, he morosely replied, “I didn’t see any.” Truly, truly frightening.

That’s all for now, folks. As always, stay classy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

One of Our Chief Correspondents Sets the Sarcasm on Stun.

Wait a minute, what’s that you said? You don’t think that you deserve a D on your paper? Oh my god. This sounds serious. In all my time teaching, I have never had a student complain about a low grade before. You’d better tell me exactly where I went wrong grading this, so I don’t make the same mistake again!

What? You put a lot of “time and effort” into this? I had no idea! That changes everything! I mean, I know you wouldn’t be lying to me just to get a better grade. Not only that, but I’m pretty sure that I wrote on the syllabus that I would be grading on effort, since grading on intangible ideals is always a good idea. No, it’s not on the syllabus? Looks like I screwed that thing up too! How stupid of me!

Oh, and you didn’t think the page length was “really strict or anything”? You “saw it more as a guideline” than a rule? I see!! I don’t know why I let the fact that half the paper is missing get in my way! I’m an idiot!

What’s that now? You thought that the fact that you told me that you had “relationship issues” over Thanksgiving break would make me “go a little easier” on your paper? OMG! I totally didn’t adjust your grade for your relationship issues! I just assumed that your personal business had no bearing on your work for this class. When will I learn!!

Man, the next thing you’re going to tell me is that you have some kind of scholarship riding on your grade in this class…WHAT? You DO??? Holy shit! I cannot believe I ignored this! To think, you almost had to drop out of school because of me.

Another Semester Teaches Us How to Further Idiot-Proof Our Syllabi.

Attention Snowflakes:
  1. You are not as fascinating and intelligent as your mother tells you. Academic papers are not based on opinion. I don’t care what you think about behavioral analysis or psychological theories, what I care about are your ability to understand what those wiser and more experienced than yourself think. This is why I do not want to see the words “I think” or “I believe” leaving your keyboard. You can barely dress yourself and stay awake in class, much less have a coherent thought.

  2. An online class is just that, a class that happens to be online. Tests are still tests. No you cannot discuss the questions in the forums; no you cannot email me and ask me if the answer you want to choose is right. It is to test your knowledge, not mine. I already know the answer; this is why I am teaching the class.

  3. You cannot turn in assignments repeatedly after making revisions until you get the score you want. If I am feeling giving I will allow you to make some changes if I think you will learn something from this interaction. Otherwise you get the grade for the work you put in. This is why you don’t wait until 10 minutes before it is due to finish the assignment.

  4. No late assignments means just that, NO LATE ASSIGNMENTS. I don’t care that your house flooded after the kitchen started on fire when you received a phone call that your second cousin removed was admitted to the hospital and you spent the whole week there, which is why you weren’t at home to put out the fire that killed your dog. Yes I know that you are SO concerned about your grade and that you have NEVER done this before and it will simply ruin your GPA. No I don’t believe you. As the syllabus says, no late assignments. Deal with it.

  5. Plagiarism is plagiarism. Threatening to tell my boss doesn’t make you any less academically dishonest, it just makes you a blackmailing asshole. Do you think I am going to give a break to a blackmailing asshole? Why don’t you take the time you are putting into an attempt to bully me into not reporting you and actually research your paper and write it correctly. You will get a lot more out of the experience.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

POW! Nothing Baffles The Student Mind Quite Like: "Everything's On the Final!" [Post of the Week.]

Dear students,

I guess I wasn't sufficiently clear in class when I told you, about ten times over three weeks, that EVERYTHING is on the final exam. Everything. All lectures and all assigned readings.

To be fair, I'm guessing that the dozens of you writing me emails to ask the same question had trouble dressing yourselves and heading out to find the classroom where I repeatedly let you know, in simple terms, that everything is on the final exam.

But what in the hell are you hoping to hear from me?! That those textbooks I had you buy and read aren't really important, so don't worry about being asked about them? That my lectures are really just an exercise in blowing smoke up your asses, so ignore everything I said? Or that you should dedicate 45% of your time to the readings, and the balance to the lectures (as though I do the math on this sort of thing, and as though you are sufficiently organized and intelligent to allocate your "copious" study time accordingly?!).

And where, out of curiosity, did you all suddenly obtain a vocabulary that includes words like "cumulative" and "comprehensive"? I read your essays. Half of you misspelled my name. Some of you misspelled your own. The concept of a paragraph seems to have escaped you. Many, many of you would be challenged by the prospect of writing a "Dick and Jane" book that wasn't in the form of a bastardized text message (C Dk run, C Jn ROFL...). I hope you appreciated the brevity of "F," BTW (LOL). Why is it that you only pay attention to complex ideas when it involves minimizing your work?

Here's the deal. Know the shit I taught you. Read the material. Stop trying to second guess what's on the fucking examination and apply your pea-sized brains to learning what you ignored all term. I swear I could give you all the questions in advance, and that a third of you would find a way to fail anyway.

Stop being so strategic about your "education" - those of you who do so excessively are among the stupidest of your cohort anyway. The good and intelligent students have been working hard all term to understand the ideas and content, and will work equally hard to walk into the final exam with a decent knowledge of the material. They don't care about "what's on the exam," because they are too busy making sure they understand everything we've read and discussed. And I don't actually need to ask questions from every section of the course to sort out the students who take this approach from those who do not. Deal with it.

I can't think of much worthwhile in life that comes from trying to find loopholes in the fine print or through focusing on ways to do the least amount of work possible. So, dear students, just study your texts and lecture notes (I understand this will be a problem if you have none, LMFAO...). Or don't. It doesn't much matter to me. And leave me the fuck alone if the only contact I'll have with you all term is to find out what is, or is not on the final exam. Everything is.

Your professor.

P.S.: I guess I could tell you that the final in no way involves Chapter 22, or that funny anecdote I used to illustrate an idea in week 3. But honestly, I know it wouldn't help you one fucking bit.

My Shredder. My Friend.

We all receive excellent open-ended comments from students on evaluations that help us with our teaching. Here are a few of mine:

  • “talks to only one side of the room”
  • “penalized me for a late paper….such a bastard”
  • “the book sucks, the teaqchehr sucks, such a waste of time”
  • “the tests are to hard”
  • “the classroom is too warm…not enough a/c”
  • “the classroom is too cold…not enough heat”
  • “will not discuss problems with us during the 10 minute class break”[professor comment here: during a 3 hr class, I do have to go to the bathroom sometime!!]
  • “I already know this material but the university makes me take this course”
  • “the prof missed one class this semester and I really needed a lecture that day”

Yes, folks, these are the kind of helpful comments from students to improve your teaching that do end up on the dean’s desk. I even had one dean state on my report that I should utilize some of my student’s comments. And this particular evaluation contained some of the silliest and asinine comments to date! Thank God, I do not work in that pitiful department anymore! But, the dean never hears those students who come up to me, face-to-face, to say:

  • “thanks for your patience”
  • “that was a tough test, but a fair test”
  • “you are always so good to us”
  • “ I have a friend who wants to take this course from you. What sections will you be teaching next semester?”

I always have the shredder plugged in upon receiving my evaluations. They make wonderful litter for pets.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mary from Minneapolis Has Been Defeated. And She's Not Alone.

Where I go to graduate school, the senior faculty members have an abysmal publishing record, yet advise the graduate students to ‘publish or perish.’ They take a year’s worth of sabbaticals, while graduate students teach three first year composition classes and attempt to write a dissertation in their ‘spare time.’ My alcoholic dissertation advisor lives in another state, and I've been left without any sort of faculty mentorship.

The reality is this: perhaps at other Universities, graduate students are brought in to actually be trained as scholars. However, my people (the defeated, the disillusioned) know that we are cheap labor, period, doing the jobs no one else wants to do. I’d be far less defeated if I felt I received an actual education: just one-quarter of what I give to my students.

At my University, the course selection is narrow, the faculty is unavailable to confer and rarely leave comments on our exams and projects, and professional development is unheard of. This is because we’re not being trained as scholars, and we’re defeated because we know this. We signed on to receive an education, and instead we received 60 first year students. Without any training, we waltz into classrooms and attempt to teach these oftentimes difficult freshmen, for a pay rate of less than five dollars an hour (but you’ve heard this story before; I won’t go on).

In our free time, we field criticism from the faculty, such as ‘you’re teaching too much content’ and ‘you’re not getting through the program fast enough.’ Graduate school, at least in my experience, is not about the quality of one’s research: it’s about efficiency. I was even advised, in one of those rare moments in which I received something that vaguely approximated mentorship, that I should switch my dissertation to multicultural studies because it’s 'hot right now.'

We are defeated because we came in the door, with the love of our discipline fully intact. We are then told to ‘give up the individuality thing and package yourself, because it’s a corporate world, baby.’ It’s the corporate world and we graduate students are the bottom feeders. In my discipline, there are very few jobs available and in all likelihood, I will be working at Sears next year. I’m defeated, because I’m a devoted, good teacher. I’m defeated because I see faculty members with twenty-times my income spend a year on sabbatical, while I write countless letters of recommendation on behalf of my students. I ask one student, “why aren’t you asking an actual PhD for this recommendation to law school,” to which he responds: “I don’t know them, they don’t know my name, they’re never around.”

These same faculty members shoot off emails, telling the graduate students to ‘hurry up and get out,' because we’re an abstraction, and there’s a whole line of new students ready and eager to replace us.

We leave graduate school defeated because we’ve been force fed the corporate model of higher education. We leave graduate school defeated because we realize there’s no such thing as professional integrity. Our faculty members bicker and wage war on other faculty members, and in term, all the graduate students with Stockholm Syndrome start cutting each other’s throats to incur the favor of distant, unappreciative faculty members.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's Only One Student Apology, But We're Grateful For It. We Will Alert You When We Get Another. For Now, We Will Bathe In This One.

Please know that there are students out here who agree with you, who hate the lazy, grade-grubbing, plagiarizing, Daddy-dialing little bastards who populate our classes.

We want to learn. We want to be good students. We want to be respected as intellectuals. Heck, we want to do good work and want you to like us. When all of those things happen your job is a little less hellish and our grade just might be shinier. And, in the process, we sometimes inadvertently get an education!

I apologize for the kids who plagiarize and then act like they don't know what that means. Isn't that an eight-grade vocabulary word? I apologize for the guy in the front row who asks pompous tangential questions in a painfully loud voice just to prove How Smart He Is to his peers. I apologize for the Little Grade Grubbers who ask why they got a 58 instead of a 90 on their exam, or the PreMed Grade Grubbers who gulp and sob over a 98. I especially apologize for the Beastly Grade Grubbers who call in Mommy, Daddy, the Dean, Daddy the Dean, or all of the above, in an attempt to prove to you, by a sheer display of Other Grown-Ups, that you're being So Unfair.

I can't really apologize for the kids who forget their pencils, their paper, or their pants, or who answer their cell phones during class, as this level of rudeness really is beyond my comprehension. I simply wish for your sakes that they disappear.

I apologize for department chairs who base your worth on the evaluations of bitter D students who just wish you'd inflate their grades a little more because "really, who does it hurt?" I apologize for the favoritism shown to professors who can't teach for crap but hand out A's (and evaluation-day candy) at the drop of a hat. I apologize for any persons in power who treat a university like a business and think that "the customer is always right" when in fact "the customer" is a spoiled dumbass who thinks that his tuition is seriously paying your salary.

But hey, all this apologizing isn't just because we, the ass-kissing students, want to empathize with you, our beloved professors. We're the self-centered know-it-all spawn of the baby boomers, after all - we apologize because the awful students are our problem too. When Johnny Moneybags the Third needs a two-week extension on his paper draft because his business-major self has had a stressful Greek Week at the frat, it hurts us all. Their 20-bullshit-excuses-per-week dilute the one situation per year that some of us really do need a break on. My idea throughout undergrad was to never EVER ask for an extension unless it was a ridiculous level of emergency, precisely because I figured that when I finally needed help, the professor would know it wasn't "just another excuse."

I eventually realized that most of my professors were not ogres with hearts of stone; they'd look at my past record and help me out if it seemed reasonable. And if they didn't, incredibly, the sun still managed to rise the next day.

Finally, I personally apologize for any time when I might have BEEN that student - emailing you about something I could have answered by looking at the syllabus, writing a grumpy evaluation because I wished I had done better in the class, or maybe asking an annoying question just because I wanted to prove to you that I was Listening, Attentive, and Smart. I hope you took off and bitched about me as you rightfully should have, and I hope that I have learned from my mistakes!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Some Last Day Suggestions From the Center For Touchy-Feelyness.

Like many campuses, ours has a Center whose purpose is to promote teaching and learning. I won't even get into the irony of a college that has to have a special center to promote *teaching and learning*!

But this center does have some events and resources that have been somewhat useful to me in the past. One of the services they provide is sending teaching suggestions periodically through a listserv. Very occasionally these have proved useful to me; most often I read them and delete, as the suggestions are things I already know, or that are not appropriate to my field or my classes. Most of the time, the submissions are not particularly memorable, for good or bad. The most recent one, though, stopped me in my tracks:

The last day of class can be hectic for students as well as instructors. This is a stressful time for all of us, and students may lose their focus just trying to make it to the end of the semester. Many instructors feel compelled to squeeze in those extra gems of knowledge on the last day. There are,however, more productive ways you can spend your time. One suggestion is a last day of class party. Have fun and plan some closing activities.

WTF? A "last day of class party" is a "more productive way you can spend your time"?!? A way to keep students from "los[ing] their focus"? The message goes on to list other variously educational and touchy-feely things we can do to wrap up the semester.

Maybe I'm hopelessly old-fashioned, naive, or pedantic (or maybe all three!) but I just can't believe that the last day of class--at least in a course with some actual content--isn't best spent maybe reviewing that content, or reinforcing concepts, or making connections with the earlier material, or, I don't know, helping students prepare for the final exam. Then again, it seems a lot of classes here (though not those in my department) don't bother to have final exams either.

A lot of my students seem to think that: (1) nothing really happens (should happen) during the first week of classes, (2) nothing really happens (should happen) during the last week of classes, (3) they shouldn't have required assignments or exams during the week before or the week after a holiday or break, (4) final exams are optional, and (5) they shouldn't be tested on anything that wasn't said out loud in class.

In short, a lot of them appear to think themselves entitled to at least a B for showing up in class at least half the time and breathing in and out. They take it as an affront when we actually start presenting material on the first day of classes ("What? You're not going to just pass out the syllabus and let us go?") and meet on the last day ("None of my other classes are meeting that Monday.") I can only assume their other profs are the ones saving the last day for cupcakes, letters to next semester's students, and a big group hug.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Oh, We Get Lots of Lists.

We get a lot of lists sent to us, funny final exam stories, 10 outrageous lies students tell, you probably know the drill. But the one we get all the time is this one, a list of between 10-50 funny things for professors to do on the first day of class. (Our favorite entry is this one: After turning on the overhead projector, clutch your chest and scream "My pacemaker!")

We get that list from someone at least a couple of times a week. We love it, but have read it so often now that it's not nearly as funny as it was the first time.

But last night someone sent us a new version of the list that we've never seen, and while it didn't make us pee our pants, or anything, we were glad to see some new material. Here are the ones that tickled us most. Enjoy the flava.


Ten Things to Do In Class.

  1. Bring a trombone to class and hand it to the student closest to your desk. Say, "You take care of Mr. T-Bone, and I'll take care of you."

  2. Whenever anyone asks a question, just reply: "I don't know. What does your monkey think?"

  3. Announce the start of the exam, but don't pass anything out. Put your head down on your desk and say, "You're all on your own. I'm turning on the radio in my head."

  4. In the middle of lecturing, stop, look around and say, "My mama. Did you hear my mama? You, there, can you see her? Let me know if my mama is behind me!"

  5. Tell the class that if anyone says the words "bacon," "dishwasher," or "panorama," that you've got a sock full of nickels in your briefcase that you'll smack them with. Hold the briefcase up and say, "If it's a trip to nickel city you're looking for, then I'm the man to send you there!"

  6. If any sound comes from outside the classroom, check your watch and say, "My wife will be here any minute. And then we're all in trouble."

  7. Pull aside a student and whisper, "That guy behind you? Man, he looks crazy!"

  8. All semester long, whenever any student comes in late, say loudly, "And so that's where we buried the gold." Then laugh a little too loud and a little too long.

  9. When anyone else is speaking, tap the top of your head with your palm. Stop when they stop, and then smell your hand.

  10. Bring a big tray of food for yourself. Start eating from it, and occasionally point to various students and say, "These are my beans, baby. You may want some beans. But you'll have to get your own."

Ralph from Rutabaga Ranch Revels in Retirement. Recommends Against Restless Reaching.

I dare say I'm one of the older readers here, retired for 5 years now after 37 years as a professor, the last 25 at a large research university in NYC. I've left that behind now, and live on what you might call a "gentleman's farm" in upstate NY where I raise tomatoes, potatoes, rutabagas, and occasionally the finest squash in the colonies. I've not written to you before, but after having read this site and many other academic blogs, I couldn't help myself.

I believe I reached the top of my profession, articles, books, awards, and a certain notoriety in my field. I published 12 books during my academic career, 8 of them solo. The last one, the one we call the "BIG" one, was nominated for a national award. I only mention it so I can reveal this. It sold 412 copies over 5 years, and I daresay that many of those rest in libraries uncracked to this day.

Sometimes at conferences people would recognize me. Maybe one person would. My work was important in my own life, but hardly at all in anyone else's. I was ambitious, sought tenure and promotion, and found that there was no reward for either. I wanted to make a mark, but I discovered that a scholar has so little value in our culture, that my ambition was mostly wasted. I lived in an expensive and wonderful city for most of those years, and while my salary was large compared to the AAUP averages nationwide, I could barely afford to insure and park my car and get a dozen or so bottles of good port a month.

When I look back on the charging I did all those years, I just chuckle now. There's nothing up there, darlings, at the top of the ladder. Not if you're looking for acclaim or respect from without. It's true, what I did rewarded me personally, but that was not something I realized until I was nearly gone from the academy.

I read these academic blogs where the young scholars are looking for respect, notice, for their work to mean something. And I am wowed at their professionalism and achievement. In my day, one never heard of graduate students with publications and awards. Now it's commonplace. Even before I left the university I would sit in junior faculty offices and marvel at the tremendous new insight they brought to my tired old field. I think they should pursue their scholarship with vigor.

But I must tell you, unless you're studying celebrity culture or high finance, your work better fill you with pride, because nobody will ever care about it, not even one dram.

I don't say this to draw your wind, but to let you know that it makes sense to focus on the elements of the job that bring you personal happiness. Don't worry about what others think. The truth is that almost nobody will ever think of you, not even if you publish widely. Do it for yourself, and quit thinking about being ahead or behind of your peers - or even long-gone scholars like me.

I had a wonderful career, but too much of it was wasted worrying. While I was at a top drawer university, I always wondered if I should go somewhere else, to the west coast, or maybe the Midwest. I was wooed several times at a large school in Texas. The questions were with me my whole career. Will I get a good job. Will I impress my mentors. Will I publish the dissertation. Will I rise. Will I get tenure. Am I good enough. What about another book. Am I better than So-N-So.

It was for nothing. So-N-So had his own worries. Leave him and them to it. Do it for you, and quit frantically reaching for the top rungs of the ladder. What's waiting up there is not what you're chasing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Chiefiest of all Chief Correspondents - Weepy Wayne from Waterloo - Waxes On Why We're So Woeful!

Regarding the question of academic unhappiness. Without question, there are worse jobs out there. I know. I had one of them. I was at the bottom end of the construction trade for 10 years before working my up from a community college, to a state university, to a private college for my graduate degree. My grad experience was comprised of long hours, genuine poverty, sketchy urban housing, malnutrition, and a lack of genuine human contact. Having said that, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I sacrificed a great deal for something I considered worthwhile, and it showed me what I was made of.

After graduating at the top of my class, I arrived at the gates of academe, and was shunted into a janitor's closet as an adjunct. There I stayed, watching dedicated professors twice my age being drained of their vitality by an exploitative system that sold promises to tuition payers and larded administrative sinecures with pensioned hacks. In the classroom, I encountered students who were lazy, arrogant, and aggressively apathetic. They yawn at Dostoevsky, wince when confronted with a five page essay, and glare at me when I implore them to step it up for the challenges of that "Real World' they are so impatient to embrace.

Along the way I discovered how to make students succeed in spite of themselves. My reviews are often five-star. The best students who do care learn in spite their surroundings and make this all worthwhile. I am welcomed back to teach part-time every semester; however, despite my success teaching the "Big Kid" lecture classes in literature, I find that more and more I am offered "remedial" courses (i.e., Commas for Comas). These students I encounter are crassly materialistic and blithely delusional about the world beyond their dorm. As a result, my contact with buttercups who are openly hostile toward reading, thinking, and the possibilities of a university education has multiplied exponentially. Preparing them for the threshold of College Writing I is nothing short of draining. I find myself discussing TV shows I don't watch, and celebrities I couldn't identify on a dare. If I reach for Rimbaud, I will lose them. Instead, we deconstruct Britney Spears as I try to wedge in the Fisher King Myth.

In short, I left a brutal job, clawed my way up the hill, and found myself surrounded by the very people I wanted to escape when I was 20. There are many aspects of this job I enjoy, but I do understand when some of my colleagues feel cheated. We were never waved off by our English professors. Grad school happily took our money. And the current system is geared to exploit a glut of English majors. In a number of ways, I'm lucky to have this job. Hell, I could be installing insulation in a sub-zero crawlspace. But I'm not blind to the larger picture.