Sunday, April 29, 2007

At Least She's Got Some Ambition

Cherry has not put forth much effort this semester. She had fairly regular attendance for the first several weeks of the semester. Then she missed the first exam. I told her I would make an exception this one time: I would allow her to make up the exam (in essay format) with a 50% penalty, and she should not expect this kind of leniency ever again.

Eight weeks later, she still hasn't made up the exam.

Then she failed to turn in her first term paper. Nearly one week after the due date, she emailed me her paper. When she came to class, she inquired as to whether I had received her paper. I told her that I could not accept it unless she had some documentation excusing her absence. "Fine, if that's how you're going to be..." she muttered before storming out of the classroom.

I hadn't seen or heard from her until yesterday. I received an email from her apologizing for missing class and telling me she probably wouldn't be able to make any of the remaining classes. Why? Because she is a "gamer." She plays video games for a living, and, as she explained in the email, she is doing very well in her career. She is doing so well that she has been traveling all over the U.S. for tournaments, which prevents her from attending class. She hopes that I can understand that she needs to do this, and she will try her best to turn in work on time.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Let it All Out. We Come Here to Feel Better. If It Helps To Tell Them to Catch a Greyhound, Then We're Right There With You!

  • No, sweetie, you cannot take the final now that you missed it. I'm sorry that your scatter brained roommate told you the final was tomorrow and not yesterday. The exam schedule was published at the beginning of the semester and the exam time was announced about five times in class. The fact that you can't read, listen or use a computer on your own tells me something. Oh, and please make good on your threat and leave the college. Your five professors of this most recent semester will buy you a bus ticket.

  • I really am sorry that you are experiencing personal difficulties this semester that are causing you to behave in an academically uncharacteristic manner. I’m sure you’ve been an academic powerhouse in every other course you’ve ever taken, but, in my class you suck. I don’t consider your past performance in other classes to be reason enough to spend time coming up with (and grading) “extra assignments” for you when you have not demonstrated the ability to complete “the” assignments. You know, the ones the rest of the class did.

  • I’m sorry, but I just don’t know how to make “it” any clearer. I don’t even know why you don’t get “it.” The rest of the class gets “it.” I’m not telling them anything different than I’m telling you. In fact, I’m telling you more because you come to office hours or approach me after class. I’m happy to do that, though. I will not, however, prepare extra special notes just for you, that spells “it” out exactly as it will appear on the final. I’ve walked you through “it” many, many times. I’m afraid if you still don’t get “it”, you will just have to accept that you will get that question wrong on the final and move on with your life.

  • Twice now you have made appointments with me to come to my office to “discuss your paper.” Twice now you have stood me up like an ugly prom date. I don’t really mind as I have other work to do, but please don’t email me after final grades are posted asking why you got a D and begging me to change your grade. My answer will be no.

  • I know that you're planning on graduating this semester, but when I repeatedly tell you that you have something wrong and need to change it, and then you steadfastly refuse to do so because that would necessitate more work for you, you forfeit my sympathy. Trying to take the "easy way out" on your senior thesis is not a good idea.

  • Hey, jackass, your golf coach sends around a list of all the days you are permitted by the college to miss class for golf. Therefore I am QUITE SURE that those other 5 or so days (making it 13 in total) you missed for golfing must have been FOR FUNSIES. Or sleeping. Or drunk. Don't care. Unexcused.

  • "But, Professor! I didn't plagiarize! I paid someone to write the essay for me, and that person plagiarized!"

  • Yes, my late penalties are stiff but I have laid them out in the syllabus, which you received on the first day of class and is also available on the webpage. You were gracious enough to admit that you had no good reason your paper was late. It was “personal reasons” and not excusable. I admired you for your candor. However, this is a small campus and I also heard that you were drunk off your proverbial arse Friday night, unable to get out of bed for an athletic team trip Saturday morning, making them late for the game. Was the assignment a "waste of time" as you said before you tossed it into the garbage can? Why yes, it was. For me.

  • A student came to me after a report was due and said he wasn't able to turn it in on time because he couldn't get it printed. Our school had just switched from a free-printing campus to a pay-per-print campus, so some students got caught unawares that they had to now pay for printing. In an effort to be helpful, I told the student that he could print the report out on my printer. He replied, "Oh, I haven't written it yet."

  • Okay, I admit it. This was a film class. We watched films, discussed films, researched films, critiqued films. How absolutely mean of me to show a film for the final exam on which you would be tested. I know, I am a son of a bitch.

  • I'm awfully glad you love Jesus and want everyone else to love him like you do. The paper was not on Jesus but on Islam. Can you understand that? It was a World Religions course and not a course in loving Jesus. Your paper never mentioned Islam once. That's why you got an F and not because I hate Jesus.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Season of the Plagiarists

It's that time of the semester again: desperate students resort to plagiarism though they've been warned of the penalties all semester. At first, I feel bad for them, but then, as the e-mails start pouring in, I'm reminded of that scene in Casablanca, the one where Claude Rains' character - the deliciously despicable Captain Renault - says, "I'm shocked. SHOCKED...that gambling is going on here" as he is being handed his winnings by the croupier.

Of the six plagiarists I caught in one class, five immediately e-mailed me to beg for a meeting to explain why he or she didn't plagiarize (though I have a copy of the crappy, free on-line essay with the plagiarized passages highlighted for each of the plagiarists). Four of these began their e-mails with the words, "I'm shocked!" Really. They could have at least had the good grace to be ashamed.

My favorite e-mail, dripping with unconscious irony and lapses in logic, suggested that the student has plagiarized on many papers in other classes, but his crime was simply made note of in the comments at the end of his essay. Though he's just admitted that he plagiarizes all the time, he follows this with the comment that he's never had an issue with cheating before, and he is shocked to be accused of it. He also laments that all his work has now gone to waste - not because he plagiarized, but because I reported it.

Just once I would like to receive a plagiarist's e-mail that says something like, "What must you think of me? I cheated, and you caught me. I am embarrassed and ashamed, and I apologize for putting you in this position."

I discovered the plagiarism five days ago. I have lost five days when I needed to be grading essays and exams, but instead have been dealing with the bureaucracy of plagiarism and the endless e-mails from students who cheated, but refuse to accept their penalty. On top of that, I know from experience that when I see these plagiarists in the halls next semester, they will give me the venom-filled stares of victimhood.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Seriously, If We Want Things To Get Better, We Really Must Start Sending These Unsent Letters

Dear undergraduate who constantly interrupted me during the conference that I was generous enough to give you, outside of my normal office hours, for half an hour:

I'm not sure why you think it's acceptable to interrupt. Didn't anyone teach you that it was rude? You'll notice that I don't interrupt you, even when your opinionated generalizations took over parts of our class. I steer you politely and firmly back on topic, because I have stuff to do in that class. Because I'm your instructor. Remember that bit? Where I'm supposed to teach you things? That's one reason why you shouldn't interrupt.

Let me make that more obvious for you. We are not peers. I am ten years older than you. I'm willing to be friendly. I'm not willing to be interrupted by a little gobshite like you. I have two more degrees than you. Two. Having read your academic writing in all its forms for three months now, I can say with certainty that I know more about how to write an essay than you. You could really use my advice about how to structure these paragraphs, and how to adjust your tone. Trust me, you could.

No, really! After all, I'm the one who's going to grade this on Tuesday. Don't you think that my advice about how to transition might be useful? You'll think it when you see my comments under your final grade, including the one that says: You need to work on your transitions.

In conclusion: Don't talk over me when I'm talking, and don't interrupt when I'm doing you a massive favour. You don't know better, trust me. And you are extremely rude.

Your underpaid instructor.

A New Week, A Little Smackdown

A – Yes, I know how extremely overworked you’ve been at your very important job lately, so much so that you have asked for yet another extension of the due date on an assignment that all the other students (who also work full time) handed in last week. But judging by your loud conversations with your friends before class, I gather you’ve managed not to miss a single episode of “American Idol,” “CSI,” “Law and Order,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Office,” “House,” “Dancing With the Stars,” or myriad other TV shows all semester. As adults, aren’t we supposed to be able to prioritize our tasks? Or is college merely a petty nuisance that interferes with your real life?

R – The answers are, respectively, no, yes and no. No, it is not OK for you to leave lab two hours early every week to pick up Junior from soccer practice. Yes, you will miss important things if you do leave anyway. No, I will not come up with alternate assignments for you to make up for labs you don’t finish. If you want to get a college degree without attending classes, try one of the online universities. Or just buy the appropriate piece of paper from one of those guys on Craigslist.

B – I deeply sympathize with you. I know how hard it is to lose your mother. It must be doubly hard on you because this is the second time she has died. I remember, though you apparently do not, that you were in another class with me several years ago and had to miss the last week and the final exam to take care of her funeral arrangements in another city. I allowed you to submit a reduced final assignment via email then so you wouldn’t have an incomplete to deal with along with everything else when you came back. This time I want to see an obituary and/or a dated funeral program first.

C,W, I, and H – What part of accelerated program do you not understand? In order to get your degrees in four years as opposed to the eight to ten it would take going to school part time in a traditional program, you have to cover the same amount of material in half the time. You were told this when you signed up for the program. I know it’s a lot of reading, but you only have to take one frigging class at a time. Stop whining and deal with it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Last Word On The Kid Factor

I taught a night class that met one time a week (15 meetings), for three hours. A student missed twice because his kids were sick, once because he had to go to a recital, once because he had to go to a hockey game. He missed the equivalent of four weeks of classes for his kids. He assumed that I would teach him, one on one, what he missed. He was astonished and upset when I told him to read the book and get the notes from one of his classmates. Many parents put their kids above everything else; some parents assume that their kids are that important to other people, but missing the equivalent of four weeks of class (for any reason) destroys whatever learning was meant to take place.

An earlier poster wrote: "My empirical data suggests that [students with children], as a cohort, attend more regularly and perform significantly better than "traditional" students." I agree with this, but it's correlative, not causative, and (in part) due to small sample size. People who have children and go back to school strike me generally as more mature than students without children; it's possible that parents who choose to go back to school are drawn from the more mature half of the set of parents as well. That being said, there do seem to be a number of parents who expect any kid-related dereliction of academic duties to be cheerfully waved off by the professor.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Don't Give Up On Them

Having been in school for seven years now, I am definitely feeling the lag that comes with being an undergraduate turning 25. As I browsed through RYS, I've had laughs and frowns at all sorts of the subjects talked about. I laugh and feel a twinge of guilt for offering the very excuses you guys list, I feel sad for the engineering student whose professor thinks it better he drop out, and of course I feel bad for the professor as well.

At one point in college, I pointed my fingers at anyone and everyone but myself. It was a very brief period of time. Denying that the problems were my fault was stupid, and eventually I came around to that conclusion: it was just me and my laziness. Still, I could not bring myself to work hard. The simple truth? I was not college material. However, this is not said with any sense of finality in it. It merely suggests that at this time period, I was not suited to be in college. There are many other students out there who are the same way. Sometimes they can know beforehand they are not suited for higher education, but sometimes they have to play the game to find out.

In the past half a year, all this has changed for me. All of a sudden I can attend my 8 am class, study, and be on top of things. Delivering good results has never been easier. And why? I find a couple of simple reasons have made this possible.

I was reminded of having a dream. A goal. A purpose. And I thirsted for it, moreso than the social club of college. I wanted to go somewhere, explore new territory, figure out the world a little more. Professors who handled adversity well kept me at it. Those few who didn't tell me to bugger off, had something they wanted me to learn. They were tough but fair.

Then there were professors of great character and elegance. Those people had students of all sorts of levels and helped them develop their promise. I recognize the results of the Pygmalion effect and am proud to be a product of it. In these classes at the end of the quarter, it was good to see that good reviews did not come with easy grading, but was equated instead with a good grasp of knowledge and a solid set of developed fundamentals.

So to you professors, thank you very much. As Rober Wolders said, "Having known a few elegant people, I think in all of them their personal style is a result of their unwillingness to compromise on their values and their ability to focus on what's basic and real." And these are the amazing professors one recalls even after decades.

Perhaps some of you are right. Not everyone belongs in college. But don't lose hope and never fail to be the pillars you are. You never know when a diamond in the rough will pass your way.


This week’s events at Virginia Tech have shaken me up badly. The whole thing is causing me to have flashbacks of a traumatic experience that my colleagues and I had with a sociopathic student.

In Spring of 2004, our fiction writing professor had this student in her class. She is a five foot woman in her 50s. He is a body builder who can bench approximately 350 pounds, a known steroid abuser who had written an essay for his composition class about the benefits of steroids, contending that the media had falsely propagated claims that steroids are harmful. The student terrified her. He was disruptive and hostile in class, using obscenities in every sentence. He turned in a story in which a man inserts a gun into his girlfriend’s vagina, which excites her sexually. My colleague was so intimidated that she had security guards posted after class at one point. She kicked him out of the class, only to be told by the department head that she had to re-instate him. I was sitting in the next room when he met with the department head, and I heard him say, of my colleague, “She’s proof that they’ll give anyone a Ph.D. She’s an idiot.”

The next semester, the student enrolled in my poetry writing class. His first poem contained the lines “She’s begging for a condom that never existed / but it isn’t rape, is it?” His second poem contained a racial slur. He used the class Blackboard page to engage in obscenity-laced flame wars with classmates. Several classmates complained that they felt intimidated by him.

At the end of the semester, he wanted to include a poem called “Fat Stripper” in the class book, and perform it at the class’s public reading. He printed it across a photo of a 300 pound African-American woman in a g-string, pole-dancing. The poem compared the woman to “the last piece of rotisserie chicken that nobody wants.” He read the poem at the class reading, after I asked him not to, and our creative nonfiction writing professor could be heard saying how distasteful he thought the poem was. The next day, outside the building where we work, the student yelled at the creative nonfiction professor, whom he had never met, “Hey [professor’s name]! You piece of s---. You got a f------ problem with me?” The creative nonfiction professor called the police, and the student was escorted off campus.

I failed the student because he hadn’t done any of the assigned reading for the class and because he had been tardy fifteen times. My reward for this was (a) relentless badgering from his parents, demanding that I change the grade; and (b) I had to have the student in class again two years later. In fact, in addition to re-taking the class with me, he enrolled in another of my class, the required capstone class for all creative writing majors. At this point, he had it in for me. He had posted vicious things about me all over the internet. He posted the following response to another student’s creative work, in a non class-affiliated online forum: “Hey! You suck! ________ is perhaps the worst short story I have ever read, and your fanfiction is no better. Please quit school. You will never succeed as a writer, and your major in English is truly ironic (meaning you are an imbecile). Or, better yet, just die. Yes, die please. I think that would suit us all.”

I was afraid for my own life. I met with the university attorney, the dean of students, the department head, the dean of my college, and the assistant dean of my college. They said there was nothing that I could do, besides flunking him again, in the absence of direct threats, e.g. “I’m going to do X to you.” The dean of students actually told me, "You may be in danger of physical harm here," but didn't offer any help. The bottom line is that they were more afraid of lawsuits from the student’s deranged parents than of what might happen to their faculty and their other students.

Again, I had several complaints from students who felt intimidated by his presence in workshop. He turned in hostile poems directed at me, with lines like “Your Ph.D. means s---, / something you masturbate with." In the capstone course, he wrote a senior thesis that was nothing but a hit job aimed at me. It was about an untalented Ph.D. in creative writing who could only get a job teaching second grade. He had a genius student who was already a published children’s author. The teacher’s wife was hairy and was having a lesbian affair. I had to listen to him workshop parts of this story every week. Administrators told me that it was fiction, that he could be writing about anybody. One student became offended because the lesbian character was named “Ivana Hole” and because the story included a gratuitous insult aimed at Italians: “If he had been Italian, he would have slugged her.” She told him that she found it offensive. His reaction was to write a blog entry on MySpace, personally insulting every member of the class, especially the one who had spoken up. He described her hair as “the ugliest haircut on a girl I have ever seen (besides a bowlcut on an Asian chick). It looks like pubic hair tangled up in a shower drain.”“Ivana Hole” and because the story included a gratuitous insult aimed at Italians: “If he had been Italian, he would have slugged her.” She told him that she found it offensive. His reaction was to write a blog entry on MySpace, personally insulting every member of the class, especially the one who had spoken up. He described her hair as “the ugliest haircut on a girl I have ever seen (besides a bowlcut on an Asian chick). It looks like pubic hair tangled up in a shower drain.”

There’s a lot more I could say about what my colleagues and I went through with this student. The dean, assistant dean, and department head have all contacted me over the last few days, saying they are looking into revising their policies and seeking my input. I just hope that now, after this horrible massacre at Virginia Tech, universities will do more to protect professors and students from this kind of harassment and to insure that it doesn’t escalate into something bigger.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Life's Rich Tapestry

Random student observations from a large, intro-level course on a random Tuesday in April:
  • eating (3 - sandwich, salad, muffin)

  • drinking (too many to count - coffee, fruit smoothie, diet coke, bottled water)

  • cell phone ringing (3 different phones rang during the 1 hour and 20 minute lecture)

  • texting on cell phones (3)

  • leaving class to use the restroom (5)

  • leaving class to use cell phone (1)

  • tripping over a backpack while leaving class to answer cell phone (1)

  • leaving class before the lecture ended (7 - the first person left a mere 45 minutes after class began)

  • kissing (1 pair)

  • sleeping (too many to count)

  • sleeping while snuggling (2 pairs: 1 lovebirds, 1 platonic, friends-with-benefits?)

  • having a 1-hour-and-20-minute long conversation with two friends while laughing and pointing at a laptop, texting, AND sitting next the to the T.A. (1 trio)

  • having shorter conversations with friends (4 duos or trios)

  • dropping a pen/pencil/back-pack/notebook (3)

  • e-mailing (4)

  • shopping online (1)

  • watching an online video (1)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Would You Please Relax?

Are modern students all set on a sort of hair-trigger for panic?

Today I was 6 minutes late for the start of my office hours. I was coming in the door to my office building carrying a $9 cup of coffee and my cell phone rings. It's my wife who says, "Two students have called here. They're worried about you."

And sure enough at my office door are three students all ashen in the face. "We didn't know what had happened to you." "It's not like you to be late." "We thought you might have been in a car accident."

I didn't even get into how they got my home phone number, but I didn't like the idea of their hysteria floating over the phone to my wife.

Six minutes? This is the tolerance level? And it has to be a car accident? They can't imagine a scenario where I'm taking a piss, talking to a student on the quad, stopped in traffic, or just getting a drink?!

And had this been the only instance, I wouldn't even mention it. But my students also seem to "go off" at the slightest provocation. We had some snow here last week, surprisingly. That day we were going to have some group presentations. About 1/2 of our students are commuters and it's not uncommon for real world traffic and weather to get in the way of arriving in class. Three students didn't make it and I just moved the reports for their groups to the next day. When I got back to my office I had panicky phone calls and emails from all three: "Can you prepare an extra-credit assignment so that I can make up the grade?" "I can't reach the other group members. I know they all failed because of me. Can you give me their numbers?" One just wrote me: "OMG. THE WEATHER AT MY HOUSE IS TERRIBLE. DON'T FAIL ME!"

Listen, it's 10 points out of 500. Get some perspective.

A month ago I docked half the class 5 points for not doing a project in the correct manner. It was on the handout, we talked about it in class, and I had reminded them. It was a minor thing. It's 5 points out of 100, okay? Two students were at my office before I was. Could I call a tutor for them? Could I make up some extra credit? Did I know that they had been sick? Did I know that they were on the college's debate squad, and that the weekend before they had been to Cincinnati and that's what went wrong?

I'm a pretty easygoing guy, so it's not as if I'm railing at them in class about these minor missteps. And each time they come up I find myself mollifying them all. "It's okay," I say. "We're all all right."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

We Really Expected To Be Next

Dear Fellow Students:

I realize that you have a hard life, what with your parents footing the bill to put you up for a college degree then refusing to send you more cash when your beer fund runs low, but I must take issue with a few aspects of our daily interactions with one another.

First, I am a non-traditional student. Get over it. I chose to give birth to three beautiful, healthy children. This does not give you the right to repeatedly insinuate that I do not belong in an academic setting due to my role as a mother. It also does not make me a freak of nature for you to interrogate mercilessly about the daily workings of my household and marriage. You may inquire as to the health and well-being of my children, and I will be happy to entertain you with a short anecdote about my daughter repeating the "f-bomb" after one of your less that brilliant classmates stepped directly in front of my vehicle without looking, however, if you would really like to know more about sexuality post-pregnancy please visit the library and locate a book on the subject as I am not inclined to participate in a lengthy discourse about the inner workings of my bedroom affairs with you.

On a more specific note, I urge you to find some semblance of collective intelligence since it has become obvious that you are incapable of mustering any individual intelligence. To the music major in last semester's literature class: how do you not recognize the name "Carnegie Hall" when it is presented in the text? Furthermore, how do you get to senior classification in the music program and not know the location or function of Carnegie Hall? My only consolation in this situation is that you have selected a course of study which will require some talent and ingenuity on your part in order for you to succeed.

To the fashion major who lurks around the studios after hours: it is admirable that you have found the courage to pursue this particular course of study after donning your very best ripped (and stained) thrift store t-shirt, grubby jeans and moldy tennis shoes, however, I must suggest to you that your bravado may not be serving you well when it compels you to march into the painting studio and announce to those standing before their canvases that they are not true artists since they are not operating sewing machines.

To the ego obscuring the student seated next to me in Life Drawing: you are considerably and fantastically talented. Your rendering of anime characters and fantasy landscapes are breath-taking, but this is "life" drawing. Please stop antagonizing the professor with pencil sketches of Snoopy on top of the stack of boxes we are supposed to be rendering in charcoal. This course is not beneath you. It is part of the classical, apprenticeship style program you willingly signed up for. Stop being a dick.

Also, to the Adjunct-of-the-Month: You must have hit paydirt when the art department became short-handed and desperate. I've seen your work, and, no, your shit-eating grin does not make it better or clever. I don't care if you're Mapplethorpe reincarnated you cannot take underexposed, poorly processed, poorly composed, barely intelligible photographs, frame them and call them art. I'm sorry. The label "art" allows quite a bit of latitude, but it still maintains some standards.

And finally, to Professor in Black: You're a taskmaster and a half. Are you aware of that? Are you also aware that you are a compete asshole to your students? That said, are you also aware that despite these complaints you are the best teacher I've ever encountered? Somewhere along the way you managed to get past my thick skull with your informative and entertaining insanity. You have earned my undying respect, admiration and eternal recommendation to other students. Thank you.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Somehow We Don't Think This Student's Grade Should Be The Focus Of All The Attention

No, there is no way you can earn a "B" in this class. You have earned an "F." I have listened to your arguments for a "B" multiple times as you have followed me across campus, pounced on me as I walk to other classes, and the time you tried to get into my car with me. Your arguments that you should get a "B" because I didn't email you before each quiz to remind you to study are unpersuasive. The other 224 students in the class somehow knew they had a quiz without a reminder email. I also didn't email you to eat dinner last night, but you probably remembered to do that without my assistance.

Your other arguments as to why you should get a "B" for the class are more disturbing. I am aware that you are an international student, but you chose to come to college in America. In America, women are indeed professors. Your statements that you don't have to take tests in my class because I am a woman do not hold in America. You have also told me that you do not need to take any tests, quizzes, or write any papers because such activities are "servant's work." If you manage to show up to class sometime this semester you should look around. You will note a decided absence of servants in the classroom.

While your multiple complaints to the department chair and dean about "having" to take a class from a woman who assigns to much reading (according to you) and the audacity to insist that you take your own quizzes have let me get to know them better, it is time to accept the grade that you have earned. I have informed the police both of your attempt to get into my car and your unsolicited pornographic emails to the course teaching assistant. I don't think anyone in America will miss you should you be told to leave.

I only wish that I could make you write an apology to all the decent, hardworking students I have had this semester. I could have put more of my efforts into assisting and developing the students who would benefit from some extra attention if you had not taken up so much of my time.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

You Mean You Had Class Without Me?

Yesterday, my Speech class's big group projects presentations were due (they have been working on them all term). H was absent, not to my surprise or that of her teammates. Today, though, she graced us with her presence. I could not help but grin when she was shocked to hear that her group had presented yesterday without her.

"I can't believe that," and "but I wasn't here," were some of the insightful pleas she made to me and to her teammates. She did ask if there was anyway they could do the presentation, they were due yesterday, you have known this for 2 months, your group already presented yesterday. (Although it could have been entertaining if I said okay, just to see her teammates reaction they would need to present a second time.)

This was followed by an even more amusing discussion with some of her teammates as to why they did not recieve her information that she swears she emailed to them. Her teammates did not buy her BS. Then she again came back to me with "but I worked really hard," "can you look at the stuff I did." Again, my response, 'No, it was a group project, it was due yesterday, your group presented yesterday'.

Poor thing looked like deer in the head lights.

Will she fail? No, I am going to D her. Why on earth would I want to punish myself by having her repeat in my speech class again next term?

Friday, April 6, 2007

A Lesson On Avoiding Hyperbole, And An Appearance Of The "Rare Double Whammy"

Dear Miss M,

I have read your email, and I heartily agree--we should change your grade. Below you can see the particular arguments that motivated me to reevaluate your grade:

I did all of the expected work, recieved a good grade on the paper, and memorized my section and particated in a winning presentation.
Poor observation of reality, -10. Lines were not memorized, presentation was not "participated in" in any meaningful sense and class was not attended.

I could have gotten a D by doing nothing at all and it is really frustrating to try to enjoy Christmas when I'm stressed out over how this is going to completely alter my plans.
Overestimation of my interest in your personal life AND oblique insult (rare double whammy), -20.

It just doesn't seem fair to have to retake the course and do it all again, when I did it already.
lack of comprehension of how college works. undermines all credibility, -15

I don't want to make excuses or have anything handed to me, but I just feel as though I could have gotten a D by not even writing a paper or anything.
Poor reasoning, immediate contradiction of opening clause, second oblique insult, -20.

I honestly put a lot into this class by doing work and driving 3 nights in a row to practices from an hour away and paying for parking.
Mistaking this class for a correspondence course, -15.

I tried my best in this class and I feel as though I was graded unfairly especially after I was informed of other student's grades in the class.
Poor comparison with students who showed up, worked hard and didn't text message all class AND sad statement about your estimation of your own abilities (again lowering credibility), -10.

I know there is probably nothing you can do and I respect that, but I had to make an effort because this is my life that we are talking about here.
Massive hyperbole, -5 (and I'll spot you the third oblique insult).

If I have to retake this class then I have to drop my other class that is at the same time and I need that class because it is only offered certain terms and I was lucky to get into it this term, plus the reciation is during my other class so I will need to drop that as well and find something else to add and everything is most likely closed or will interfer with my work schedule.
Generally incomprehensible, -10.

This is just a huge mess.
Insightful reflection! +15 AND -50 for having the gall to write this pathetic missive over a grade in a class on PERSUASION.

You have learned nothing. I have adjusted your grade, however our current grading scale cannot accommodate your new score. You now have a "J+." You can use the rest of the break to figure out how to explain THAT to whatever organization was foolish enough to give you money while you stayed home rather than come to class and pay for parking.

Your Overworked and Underpaid Instructor

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Smackdown

K, I didn't kill your kitten. For the first two weeks of class, I thought you were just horrified and taken aback by the nasty hypotheticals every philosophy class is required to provide. You made this terrible, disgusted, get-me-out-of-here-this-woman-is-a-psychopath face. Now I know that's either the face you make when you're thinking, or that you think I killed your kitten. I didn't kill your kitten. And having read your written work, I'm pretty sure you don't think. You might need some Ex-Lax. Or some serious psychotherapy.

J, it is so sweet you want to sell me weed. I was totally not cool enough in high school or college to know anyone who sold weed. That's why I teach philosophy. It's not going to get you a better grade, but I do appreciate the illegal gesture.

M, I'm counting your grandparents. You're down to two. We have five weeks left of class.

G, it's true that you outweigh me by 100 lbs. and I couldn't take you in a fair fight. You still have to take the midterm. Sorry.

S, I realize that you are soooooooo brilliant a comic that you deserve your own late night talk show. Still, I'm not sure that's a reason for disrupting class every 20 seconds to share your hilarious insights. Yes, yes, we all get that you're hysterical. That dude sitting next to you, whose hair and clothes you like to mock repeatedly for being too preppy? He's a marine just back from his hitch in Iraq. I'm seriously considering asking him to beat your ass. I think he'd enjoy it. I know I would.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


I am chagrined to report that my cover has been blown by a Chronicle article that will appear online tomorrow morning.

I started Rate Your Students as a bit of a lark in November of 2005. After a brief but intense series of interviews and national attention, I started to receive a great deal of nasty mail. During one week in February of 2006, the site was hacked several times. I decided it had been too much of hassle and so I took it all down. A few weeks later, I came up with a fake back story that three moderators, all at different colleges, had taken over the site and were running it.

Things then continued very quietly for this past year until about ten days ago when my office phone rang and a reporter from the Chronicle called and started to ask me specific questions about the site. It seems that they had tracked me down by using a trail of IP addresses from this site's Hotmail and Blogger accounts. (Oh, and the tipping point appears to be an innocent clarification I had made to a spurious attack on my page.)

So, the cat is out of the bag, and I must admit I think I'll have to shut the site down. I am embarrassed, in fact, and reeling still. I have tenure at my college, and I am simply the moderator of RYS, but I suspect my fine colleagues will think my relationship with the site is inappropriate.

Below is - as I say - a little flava from the Chronicle article mentioned above. I have made an appointment to meet with my Dean today to tell her the whole silly story and get her suggestions for what I should do. Limbo, is I guess what you'd call it.


Academic Blogger No Longer Under Cover
Rate Your Student Founder Found Out


Rate Your Students, an increasingly popular blog for academics, has led a brief but interesting life online. Started sixteen months ago, the site has attracted hosannas from beleaguered professors and venomous attacks from students.

The moderator of the site had been a mystery up until this week when Chronicle researchers matched Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from the site's home to a account from which a number of emails to this paper were generated.

Martin Bell, 52, a Classics professor at Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville, confirmed on Saturday his role as the site's sole moderator since inception.

"I'm a little embarrassed it has come out this way," Bell said. "I never intended the site to be demeaning or condescending to students, because they are the life-blood of my own career. But I always felt that a little venting made for a more reasonable and even-tempered faculty lounge."

Bell had hidden his identity on the site, and could not say what the future would be. "You're catching me a little off guard. I need to get my ducks in a row, or 'on the road,' as my students often say. I'll likely need to consider taking the site down."

Confirmation of Bell's identity came through a further match to a comment he left on "It's awfully ironic, of course, that a harmless attempt by me to correct an anonymous lie on that blasted site has been part of what outs me. I still regard what I do on RYS as a rather harmless and good-natured enterprise, certainly not like what happens at RMP."

As of press time, Rate Your Students was still online.