Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Strangers On a Plane." Overheard Post-MLA.

This conversation was overheard on the flight home from MLA, one row behind me. The reader should know that Friendly Professor Frieda was approximately the same age as Hesitant Harriet the Harried Applicant, and that the two bore a striking resemblance: sallow complexion, dark hair, rectangular glasses... the recent RYS description of our "unfriendly tribe" comes immediately to mind.

Friendly Frieda (loudly, as she takes her seat): Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice, is that a book about Shakespeare?

Hesitant Harriet (from within her introvert's cocoon): Yes, it's a sort of a scholarly book, though.

FF: That's great. I teach Shakespeare.

HH: I wrote my dissertation on [unintelligible/unmemorable] in Shakespeare's plays.

FF: So were you in San Francisco for the MLA?

HH: Yes.

FF: Did you have interviews?

HH: No. I tried. I sent out to dozens of schools. But I didn't get a interview.

FF: That sucks. I was just on a search committee, and believe me, it's really hard to pick who to interview.

HH: Where do you teach?

FF: [Small liberal arts] College.

HH: Oh. I applied there.

FF (suddenly less boisterous): Really? What's your name?

HH: [Hesitant Harriet].

FF: You know, I think I remember your application.

Awkward Silence. The plane is now approaching the runway.

FF (laughing nervously): Our committee had one person on it that is super-traditional, a real [name dropping of obscure critic]-type, and another who's gone the way of Cultural Studies. And then there's me. So it was really hard to decide on candidates. There was lot of disagreement.

HH (with the tone of someone wishing the plane would fly off the end of the runway and into the bay to relieve her of this tremendously embarrassing seating-related misfortune): I see.

FF: And we also had to make sure that none of the candidates were too similar to anyone already on faculty. I think that might have been the problem with your CV. If I remember it right, I think your work was a little too similar to mine.
HH (with the tone of one who wishes to end the conversation): I understand.

Liftoff. Passengers as a whole go quiet.

For the 5 hour duration of the flight, at no point did these two rekindle their originally quite warm conversation. Friendly Frieda bantered with the fellow in the aisle seat beside her ("books? I used to like to read, but movies are so much quicker"), but poor Hesitant Harriet disappeared into the wall of the plane.

The moral of the story? If you're returning from MLA having not had a single interview, you should probably read the latest Twilight book or the Skymall magazine on the plane.

"Out of the Mouths..." A First Sampling of Some Job Seeker Experiences at the MLA.

We'd be happy to hear from some more job seekers at the recent MLA convention in San Francisco. Send your thoughts here.

  • I have been tied up in knots for months waiting for these past 2 days. And.... It was nothing. The interviews were actually fun. People wanted to know what I had to say. They wanted to hear about my research, wanted to know what classes I wanted to teach. It was like Christmas and my birthday all at once. Three interviews and each one was friendly and just like talking to friends. I'm stoked for the future.

  • The single worst thing was seeing my folder pulled out of a gigantic box full of my competition. I had my nerve up high and I was ready. Then I saw a big "#17" on the folder with my name on it. 17? 17th to be interviewed? 17th ranked? What the hell did it mean?!?!? Ugh. I couldn't get it out of my head.

  • I went in with a really good attitude. I'd been prepped by my mentors; I knew my material cold. I even knew all about the school. And the 4 dullards who sat in front of me seemed to be more interested in getting the thing over with than anything else. I feel as though I've been working toward this day for years, and the people who interviewed me were just going through the motions. I'm sick to my stomach.

  • After all of the horror stories and warnings and panic-mongering advice, my interviews were fine. The committees were sane and friendly - they'd actually read my materials and were genuinely interested in talking to me. I'm ***cautiously*** optimistic. Why am I surprised? This is what we do - we terrorize each other with worst-case scenarios and urban legend-like tales of the Interview Gone Horribly Wrong. I'm sure I'll continue the cycle of abuse after I have my very own TT job...

  • The search committee chair didn't actually reach out to feel my breasts, but his eyes sure did their best.

  • This is how it works? I felt like a piece of meat - and not in a good way. The first day of interviews was so disorienting that I can hardly remember a thing about the process. By day 2 I felt a little more able to process, but then for my first interview of the day I arrived an hour late. I don't know what happened. I knew the time. I had it written down. I just walked in at 11 when I was set for 10. No excuses. They didn't take me either, and they didn't offer a new time. The rest of the day got better, but this is no way to hire someone.

  • I didn't learn anything about the search committee. You can't possibly do these things in 45 minute shots. It was like a race from when I sat down until I was being ushered out of the way. I had questions I wanted to ask, but we never got there. I know nothing about the job, really, beyond the ad. They asked some canned questions; I gave some canned answers. We're strangers still.

  • Piss on me if you want, but I nailed the interviews. If I don't get at least three offers than there's something screwy.

  • There are NO jobs that fit my interests. I might as well just stay in grad school if these people think I'm going to teach 4/4 until I die.

  • I met some nice people, but woefully unambitious. One school had a committee made up of people all in their 50s or above. Nobody had taught anywhere else. It's not some garden spot either where they live. Why are they still there? I can understand someone like me going there. But do they really not want something better? Mystified.

  • I've spent about $800 on this week, and I might as well have just thrown the money away. I did lousy at the interviews. I had been told by my advisor to prepare to talk about my research and my dissertation, but all anyone wanted to know was about teaching strategies. I'VE TAUGHT 2 CLASSES...I don't have ANY strategies yet.

  • I had some good interviews this week, and I have no complaints about how I was treated, but the questions and the follow-ups were more suited to an experienced faculty member. I was asked about developing courses, taking part on committee work. What are my preferences? I don't have any idea! Did you not notice that I just graduated? Is there no breaking in period? I can't get a year or two to get up to speed before you want me to actually know everything? Really unreasonable.

  • Frightful. Some of the people who interviewed me knew less about the field than I do, and I KNOW I know nothing.

Diaper Dave from Dallas Points Out Our Anti-Youth Bias - And Justifies It All At the Same Time!

I get so annoyed with the anti-youth movement on this site. I was cheering hard last year that the Gumdrop Unicorns would beat down the annoying Silverbacks last year, and now I see you've doubled up efforts to make fun of younger faculty members with the post yesterday about ten "candidates" and their mistakes. I call bullshit on the whole article, but let me show you where your clear bias reveals you:

Candidate 1: So what, the candidate prioritized teaching somewhere other than #1. I'd bet you he/she was asked to prioritize. Why wouldn't any faculty member give teaching 2nd or 3rd. The younger generation of scholars is ambitious and our own scholarship SHOULD be the priority.

Candidate 3: He's exactly right. Wasting departmental expenses - which could go to faculty for travel instead! - on a student newspaper or magazine is stupidity. You know senior faculty wouldn't have to give up something so little Susie Sophomore could have her anorexia poem in the paper.

Candidate 4: Sure, this candidate could look up the time zone, but I'd bet the question was just an intro into learning more about the area. You'd bitch if the person wasn't interested in the local scene.

Candidate 5: So what. Classes don't make sometimes. That person did have the syllabi for the classes, though, to prove that the effort was made on his part. If admissions or the registrar couldn't fill the class, it's not the faculty member's fault. And that reminds me. How many times did a senior faculty member "not have a class make"? None. That's the number. It happens to the young faculty members all the time.

Candidate 6: Asking about the chair's retirement shows a keen awareness of the professor in question and concern. I can't see how you can spin that negatively.

Candidate 8: Eating at an interview? How scandalous. That you were bothered about it tells me much about you than it does the interviewee. (And I will add that I've done similar, especially when I have as many interviews in a day as I do.)

Candidate 10: Okay, maybe it's bad form to ask for graduate courses now. Better to wait until the ink is dry on the contract. But that shows ambition, and not just sitting around taking what is given. I'd say that's a candidate who's ready to really move up. You don't seem to realize that the upcoming generation of scholars and faculty are very ambitious. We've succeeded throughout school and we want to succeed in our careers. All of what you annoyed you in your post was simple ambition by hungry and talented new members of the professoriate.

It's all perspective, of course, and I think you saw those candidates as young and unschooled (and nor worthy of your MANY years of service), and so you were persuaded to harshly judge their actions without recognizing that a new generation of faculty - the ones now REPLACING YOU - are going to have their own way of doing things.

You might as well get used to it, deadwood, because me and Candidate 10 will likely be your bosses in a couple of years. Spin on that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Does Anyone Know How to Interview? Ten Mistakes from Yesterday's MLA.

We had ten interviews yesterday for our asst. prof position in English/Creative Writing. The job ad says the teaching duties are 2 comps, one 400-level seminar in the candidate's field of specialty, and one intro CW class. We had more than 150 applications, from which we've set 20 interviews for MLA (although two opted for phone interviews instead because of costs.)

This is my second time on a search committee, and I was baffled by some of the things that happened. Back when I was in grad school (in the wayback of 2002!) my grad mentors gave me some hints and tips about the interview process, something our group apparently never got.

I could do pages of mistakes, but here are my favorites:

Candidate 1: Admitted that teaching was relatively low on his priorities. "I really don't want to lose the momentum I have in my own work." Also apologized for arriving at the wrong time becaue he assumed the time we set for the interview was his local time, not the time in San Francisco.

Candidate 2: Said he didn't read much contemporary fiction because the major presses only published "populist fops." Our search chair (and MFA chair) has published 12 novels with major presses.

Candidate 3: When asked about working on our magazine (which is nationally distributed and mentioned as a duty in our ad), said, "I think there are too many literary magazines already."

Candidate 4: When asked if she had any questions for us, asked, "What time zone are you in?"

Candidate 5: Admitted that although his vita lists CW teaching over the past year, neither class actually made, but he did have syllabi if we wanted them.

Candidate 6: Asked the chair how close he was to retirement.

Candidate 7: When asked about his most current writings, said, "I have an idea for a new sort of short fiction, but I'm waiting to find out about patenting the forms before sharing it with anyone."

Candidate 8: Brought out a banana and a yogurt (with metal spoon!) mid-interview, and said, "I have an interview right after this and no time to eat. Do you mind?"

Candidate 9: Told us that one of the reasons he was so interested in our job was because of how close we are to [Big City], which I later Googled and found was only 490 miles away from our city.

Candidate 10: Came one hour early, explaining that he'd never been out of "NYC," and couldn't find a clock in the hotel showing local time. Also asked if he could substitute his comp teaching for graduate courses in fiction.

Can't wait for tomorrow!! To be fair, candidates 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 had pretty good interviews, otherwise.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Getting Along with People. MLA Update from Overhearing Olive.

I'm on a search committee this year, my very first year on the tenure track. I'm happy to do the duty and love seeing the world from other side of those insane interview tables at the MLA convention.

I begged my colleagues to let me quietly overhear at the interviews, saving one small question for the end. I'm just too green to really engage with the interviewees AND get all the notes down, which it turns out is my favorite part of the job. (I type stuff up so that our search colleagues back home can have as accurate a record of our 15 interviews as possible.)

Anyway, we had a remarkably nice morning with interviews and then started the afternoon session with a real mood-killer.

One of our committee members is the grand dame of our department, an absolutely stunning professor of many years, a kind, grandmotherly, and very vital force in all that we do as a department. (The rest of us were all hired by her over the past 1-10 years.)

Our 12:45 interviewee showed up in the standard MLA garb, heavy framed but TINY black glasses, black suit that would look great in a 1972 Italian movie, etc. No smile. Weak handshake.

After a dismal 30 minutes with condescending answers that sort of made us feel the interviewee had no desire to come to our collegial and chummy school, we had the following exchange.

Grand dame: Would you be at all interested in working with our undergrad society? They meet once a month to study relevant new ideas in the field, but really, it's more of an event to keep everyone in touch with each other.

Sour Sarah: Would it be a part of my tenure review?

Grand dame: Well, not officially, perhaps, but everything we do as a department and as colleagues is part of the life of the department.

Sour Sarah: I can't imagine I'd have the time. It seems that you people are the only school I'm interviewing with who still require scholars to teach a 4/4 load.

Grand dame: Well, yes, that's in the ad, in fact. I've been at [BLANK] College for 38 years and I still teach 4/4. I love the classroom. How else, then might you be a force in the lives of our undergrads?

Sour Sarah: I'd teach them rigorously, but they need to be left alone to fend for themselves. You're not doing any good organizing events for them.

Me: I think what Dr. [Grand Dame] is asking about is how might you play a role in helping develop our majors. I've only been at the school a year, and it's been a duty that I've come to understand is a challenge but also a reward.

Sour Sarah: I believe I've answered that. I'd teach my classes rigorously. The truth is my research agenda is full, and anything that takes me away from it is hurting my career. I am rather ambitious.

There was quiet at the table. My colleagues sort of looked back and forth. We had other questions, but nobody seemed interested in going on anymore.

Finally the grand dame said, "Well, we've enjoyed meeting you. You have a really wonderful background, and we will do our best to get back with you after the new year."

Sour Sarah stood up quickly, no proffer of handshakes and began stuffing her materials in her bag.

Grand dame: Well, we hope you have a nice time here for the rest of the conference. We were saying earlier that the timing of this is such a shame as a lot of us got pulled away from time with our families over Christmas.

Sour Sarah: It's okay for me because I don't believe in fairy tales anyway.

And then she was gone. After about ten seconds, the whole table just sort of started breaking up. We watched her disappear out of the hall and the grand dame said: "How does she get around with that stick up her butt?"

Conference Report from Schenectady Skeptinautika.

Skeptinautika here, reporting from The Onanistic Thinkers Association's annual flesh fest... um, job market conference? Well, *I* plan on making extensive use of the hot tub, anyway ;-) Can we say last-minute bikini purchase to combat the pre-interview jitters? I wonder if alcohol's allowed in the pool area...

Yep, three interviews. Count 'em: uno, dos, TRES, fuckers, all on the same day. I have friends with nine and twelve, so I'm under no illusions that I am *not* Elle Superstar this year, but I'm pretty pleased with the yield. And here's the deal, bitches: I ACTUALLY love teaching. I would be perfectly blissful at a reasonably liberal SLAC in any major metropolitan area (or any SLAC, really, were it not for El Partner). So how do I convey that effectively in an interview without sounding like I'm trying to plant my lips on the committee's collective hind parts?

Enough navel-gazing; I know what you came for. Backstabbing! Angst! Bitchiness! Skin skin skin! Well, the registration line was (as usual) out the door. People, is it REALLY that hard to register online ahead of time? You can figure out, but not the professional organization's website? Asswipes. And similarly for the placement line. Dudes, if you read the conference program, you already know everything that the nice lady in the front of the line is going to tell you. Promise. She will not be impressed if you throw a tantrum because of the "inefficiency" of the system, and you *really* don't want to get on her bad side. Promise. Rushed a Greek house in college? You already know how this works, then, so don't be a dumbass.

And yes, I'm going to play the on-site interview game. I already submitted two requests, in fact, though I'll wet myself if I actually get one. I got all kinds of hairy eyeballs from the other people in the placement line for making small talk with the (shockingly friendly) guys next to me in line. People, I know that we have a reputation for being arrogant bastards, but can we at least pretend like we don't hate each others' guts? Cuz that would be AWESOME. This goddamn conference is about the only place where even *I* feel like a Pollyanna. Just because some of us will walk away and never get a call for a flyout does NOT mean that we have to treat each other like assholes.

And now for the obligatory hating on the hotel: I have to *pay* for wifi?!? SERIOUSLY?!? (I'm stealing a signal now.) You mean my $400 wasn't enough to get me access to a weak-ass Internet signal? Lame, Marriott. LAME, forcing me to go off in search of unprotected signals to poach. Fuckers.

Off in search of sustenance...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nobody Gets Tired Of the Old School Smackdown. Well, Some Do. But Lots of Folks Like To Tell Us That This Is What We're SUPPOSED to Post. Every Day.

Cuddly Carla: You're cute and you're stupid. You've gone a long way on a quarter tank of gas. Be grateful for what you've accomplished and now leave the university. I hear Starbucks is hiring.

Addled Angela: You are an overly anxious student. Get some pills - fast.

Kenny Keener: Yes, you passed. You have an A. You always get A's. I checked your transcript. You have straight A's. Maybe I should give you a B so you know what it feels like.

Busty Bertha: No, you're not cute. No, you're not funny. You are annoying. And please put on a shirt that fits you. I'm tired of looking at your cleavage. Everybody is tired of looking at your cleavage.

Teasing Trixie: I know you like me. I read your review of me on I knew you wrote it. You're the only student this semester who has had the balls to call me by my first name. It still won't work. You have a B! Deal with it.

Itchy Ian: I will have dreams well into the next decade with you in them pulling at your dick. Take a shower and use powder afterwards. Scratching and pulling at your crotch every twenty seconds is annoying to everyone around you.

Annoying Anthony: Get a fucking life and somewhere far from me. Your cute little comments before and after class were the verbal equivalent of water boarding.

Patty Pal: Oh, my little snowflake, I'm sorry but have you mistaken me for a friend? I'm not interested in seeing pictures of your boyfriend, your parents, your sisters and your kitty cat. I'm really not interested in you. You have mistaken me for someone other than a professor who is paid crap to teach you a subject you really don't like. Go away, little girl.

A Morality Tale - In Three Movements.

To: Professor X
From: Trusty TA

Soooo sorry about the message from Snivelling Sick Snowflake that I just sent on to you. What a brat! She seems to have no respect for authority! I have no idea why she felt the need to write all of that to me. It made me sooo mad, especially the part about discrimination! Let me know if there's anything I can do to help you with this situation!!


To: Trusty TA
From: Sniveling Sick Snowflake (aka Bratty McBratty)

Hi Trusy TA, I went to e-learning and that should be where the grades are supposed to be, but lately the My Grades tab isn't showing.I've attached a photo showing what the screen looks like on my side. Secondly, I've already spoken to [evil instructor] before I wrote to you or dropped the report off in your mailbox. Although she said to you that she'll give me half credit, I will emphasize that she did write in her own syllabus that she'll give full credit to those who have a valid doctor's note and turn the assignment in at least within a week. Unless she has plagiarized that syllabus and made it her own and does not know what her own syllabus is, I suggest she look over it and realize that that is what she wrote as a policy. I can continue taking this argument up with her and the chair and any other [school] policy maker and continue to shorten her vacation or she will fairly grade my report with full credit. I've made it convenient for her to e-mail her about my last missed exam and walked to her office and dropped doctor's notes off in her office. So she takes extra work upon herself to check if the notes are real and continue to accuse me by e-mailing and interrogating why and how I got sick. People get sick. There's no motive behind that. Once again I've given her a valid doctor's note and she can check up on it's validity once more. Unless she wants a written letter from the Pope, I've gotten enough validity to receive full credit. She cannot make up some bullshit about her syllabus or policies or attendance last minute especially if it is an attack singularly on a student like me. I again can take this up with a higher authority due to discrimination. I have a doctor's note, the doctor exists, he did write the note, I was sick, I was present in the doctor's offices, I did call-in sick, and I turned the report in within a week. Therefore there should be no problem in giving me my full credit. She cannot judge me for my illness or absences due to my illnesses. That is unfair treatment and again this can be taken up by a higher authority. I really do hope you give her a copy of this letter since she wants me to go to a T.A. first and she doesn't want to fairly talk to me personally.


To: Bratty
From: Professor X

Brat, Trusty TA just forwarded me your message. You don't think I'm willing to talk to you? An interesting criticism, coming from someone who doesn't have the guts to e-mail her threats to me directly.

And you ought to thank your stars that I 've been letting Trusty TA deal with you so far—if I had been getting your crap in my in-box every day, I would have ripped you a new one by now. Please allow me to explain why.

First, it's interesting you just happened to be terribly, tragically sick at precisely the times when the midterm and a major research paper were due. Yeah, this would be possible. No reason why I should be suspicious about a doctor's note from a city 400 miles away from campus, where you somehow managed to be in the middle of the term, nowhere near any long weekends or other academic holidays. Oh yeah, you said you had to go there because you don't have insurance, so you mom had to come to campus and drive you home to see a doctor there. The free student health clinic here on campus, affiliated with a respected medical school, is apparently not good enough for you.

Well, I was intrigued enough to call the doctor's office to check out your excuse. Weird how the teenybopper who answered the phone knew your name immediately when I mentioned it, but froze up when I asked what dates you were there. She said your charts had been lost. Isn't that convenient?

I've never been to a doctor's office where the schedule book wasn't right by the phone in the front office. Either you travelled 400 miles to visit the world's worst-run doctor's office, or you need to prep your friends a little better when they're covering for you.
Still, I gave you the benefit of a doubt and let you take the midterm three weeks after everyone else, and you surprised me by actuallty passing it, albeit by a narrow margin.

I thought that after this, you might actually get your act together, and in your own special way, you did. Your next series of doctor's notes—which you barged into my office unannounced to give me—were from the student health clinic on campus, whose existence you must have just discovered. You were there two days before the final paper was due, and got a note from them three days after the paper was due.

Trusty TA points out that the student health clinic is within walking distance of our department—if you were well enough to get there on Wednesday (even in subpar condition) you were certainly well enough to drop your paper by our offices on Friday when it was due. Or at the very least, well enough to e-mail one of us to let us know what your situation was. But no. Instead you come waltzing into my office a week later with your Leona Helmsley-level of entitlement, telling (not asking) me that I had to give your unexcused late paper full credit. And of course you're doing ME a huge favor and doing ALL THIS EXTRA WORK by blowing into my office and telling me how to do my job!

And I love how you're threatening to take away my vacation time (I don't get any, honey) if I don't give you full credit. And how you're going to complain to my chair and anyone else in authority that I'm discriminating against you. I'm sure the three other students from your put-upon minority group who are pulling straight-As in my other classes—and who are planning on taking classes with me next term too—would find this claim highly entertaining.

Oh yes, I've talked to my department chair about this. I actually mentioned you to him a few months ago, just after the midtern incident, so he knows your story. And would be delighted to talk to you.

And just so you know, the last student who was brought before out chair for academic misconduct was arrested and expelled for making threats and disturbing the peace. The chair didn't tell me if the arrest was related to the meeting or not. I'm just saying.

So bring it on, Brat. We're waiting for you.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

We Often Get Fan Letters Like This, And We Feel Badly If We Don't Post One Every Now and Again. Tina From Topeka: PWD.

File under "wish I could say this to my prof" but I can't. :P

It's like...I know her. We chat in her office all the time. (I work up there, so I see her beyond class.) I know that she left a mostly research job because she is really interested in teaching. I'm in a pre-medical field. Most profs are like ---) this, this, and this. Here's my awesome point-by-point PowerPoint. It's so black or white. It's more of a quantity over quality, rote memorization.

So when this Very Smart Lady kind of wings her's not what is expected. (Most of my peers: "she's too smart to be teaching this, we don't understand what she says!") She doesn't tell you what to write down in your notes. Maybe that's why I got an A in the class. You have to listen, parse, write it down in your own words. I love it.

I know that ya'all know about the good students but really. I love this prof. Not in a weird super-keener sort of way. Her teaching made me want to change my major. I want to emulate this incredibly smart woman. I want to know what she knows.

I may or may not being PWD (posting while drunk) but still. The best profs make you want to know more. But I love to read, love to learn. My: "so what else should I read?" are not the sucking-up stuffs. Some of us want to learn. Some of us even own library cards.

So yeah. THERE!

111 :D :O

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bewildered Belinda With Some Boxing Day Smackdown.

Present Patty, an online student who never participated in one discussion, never did one assignment, and didn't take a single exam. When I dropped her at midterm, she wanted to know why, so I responded that she was not participating in the course. She responded, "But I've logged in each week and pressed the 'click here for attendance' button." I've apparently been teaching finger aerobics and didn't know it.

Hard to Remember Rodney, who claimed that he was failing my course due to a "short term memory" disability that made it difficult for him to remember and recall things on an exam, especially since mine were so hard. If I really cared about my students, I would make my questions easier and not require so much "memory skill." Well, howdy doody buddy. I support accommodations for learning disabilities, but this is ridiculous. I hate to break it to you, Einstein, but years ago, your problem wasn't called a "short term memory disability," it was called STUPID.

Gail with the Gall, who missed the final exam because she didn't pay attention to the syllabus or the gazillion announcements in class as to when it was. When she came begging to make it up, I reminded her that the syllabus indicates YOU CANNOT MISS THE FINAL EXAM. The little snot filed a grade complaint, which was later denied and her grade kept the same as I had given it. But here's the kicker---a few weeks later she came to me because she couldn't get into one of my higher-level classes since she had not passed my introductory course....would I be willing to waive the prerequisite for her? Um, I would rather stick a fork in my eye. In my other one too.

Bitsy Bladder, who came into class 15 minutes late every day, only to get up to "use the restroom" 15 minutes after that, and then leave 10 minutes early. I'd like to think that her skin-tight-camel-toe-creating jeans were pressing on her bladder and thus causing her to have bathroom issues, but it's more likely they were just cutting off oxygen to her already atrophied brain.

Gordon-Needs-A-Guide, who called me in my office 10 minutes after the final exam ended to leave a loud and rude message on my voicemail that said, "Your study guide was bogus. You had stuff on there that wasn't on the exam, and stuff on the exam that wasn't on the study guide. That's not fair! That's not how study guides are supposed to work!!!" Thanks to you dipshit, I will no longer be giving out study guides. Hope your friends kick your ass when I mention this in class.

Heartbroken Hattie, who found a way to relate every single topic covered in class to her loser ex-boyfriend. The sheer number of eyes rolling every time she opened her mouth almost made me motion sick.

Ralphing Rita, who missed the last 3 weeks of the semester due to "drinking too much" and then called the day before the final exam, asking if I would reserve a classroom and teach her everything she missed. Rita, if I did that, I would be the one with the drinking problem.

And finally, Ludditic Lisa, an online student who emailed me 3 weeks into the semester and said, "I'm not sure I'm getting this online class thing. I'm not very good with computers. I don't even have one."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Angry Archie from Allentown Dusts Off the Wiki Generation.

Archie, one of this year's convention correspondents, is off to a big convention in a frozen solid city somewhere. But on his way he's filed this wacky wiki post that we'd like to share with you. We think we're in love with him.

Raise your hand if you know about the Job Wiki. If you don’t, check it out: it is an unguided tour through the rocky shoals of upper-division snowflakiness. I discovered the thing because some of my grad-flakes mentioned it to me. Big mistake that was. Don't they know never to let their flake-flag fly in public?

Anyway, I’m on a search committee this year, so I went to see what the world of wiki-flakes was saying about our search. Afterwards I felt dirty and soiled, kind of like when you slow down to rubberneck at the scene of an accident and what you see is an 86 Camaro that rear-ended an 86 Mazda pickup, and two dudes with mulletts who just escaped from the trailer park and clearly have no insurance are duking it out because they both wanted to play real-life Grand Turismo 5 on the freeway at rush hour. So to spare you the pain, or perhaps to get you to go rubber-neck too, I am offering the following guide to the job wiki. Caveat Emptor: I looked at the wiki in my discipline, but it looks like there is one for every discipline. So just choose your particular poison and enjoy snowflakery at its finest.

The putative purpose of the wiki is to disseminate information that those evil search committees refuse to share with the precious and sensitive little applicants. People post when they get solicited for additional material, or when they are called for a conference interview or campus visit. Some people post really useless queries like “so who has heard what they are looking for?” as if any of the other grad-flakes on the wiki would know, and as if this information would actually be helpful given that the committee members won't really know until they actually dive into the giant pile of raw sewage otherwise known as the search files. Then other wiki-flakes respond with totally inaccurate information—at least in the case of the search I’m on—but they state it with such conviction that all the other wiki-flakes believe them.

Going back through the search files, I can now see exactly who the ten credulous knuckleheads who like to check the wiki are, because rather than respond to the ad we posted, they applied for the job the other shifty snowflake who was talking out his ass described. So here’s a hint to get you through the day fucknuts: when you write your letter, respond to the ad, not to what some shitneck who very probably wants you to fail posted on the wiki. Haven't you ever heard of sample size? We got just south of 200 applicants for our job, while there are probably fifty people engaging in a non-stop circle jerk on the wiki, only five of whom were applicants to our job. They can't know anything of any use and neither can you, so stop pretending you can. You are like conspiracy theory whackos who only talk to other likeminded idiots.

Job searches are not linear. That is to say, writing samples turn out to be insanely bad, conference interviewees wet their pants in the interview room in ways you never thought possible, and campus finalists turn out to be raving alcoholics who can’t hold it together for the entire q&a session without self-medicating in front of the whole room. You cannot conclude anything from the fact that we solicited circle-jerker number two for writing on November the 4th . You just can’t. And if you do, you are laboring under a serious misapprehension about how the whole process works. We might still call you, and we might be willing to take you seriously, but now you’ve done gone and fucked the dog, by convincing yourself that you are second or third string because you read it from one of the other onanistic conspiracy theorists on the wiki. Then you show up and act all sullen because you've decided we suck, when we were probably desperate to find even one candidate who is able to answer the simplest and most direct questions about his or her work without drooling on the floor, going off on idiotic tangents, or lapsing into a convulsive fit of uhms and aahs while stalling for time. See how that works? Everybody loses unless you just say no to the wiki-crack.

But to witness the real grad-flakiness in action, go to the discussion section of the wiki. This is where the little weasels go to cry about how they have sand in their panties and the search committees are all a bunch of big nasty unfeeling bullies. Among the things these little wiki-flakes would like are personalized rejection letters in which the committee explains the specific, individualized reasons for their rejection. I have never seen so many pussies sitting around complaining about not getting a rejection letter before.

Here's another hint to get you through tomorrow, schlongmeier: if a couple of years go by and you haven't heard from us, you can pretty much stop daydreaming about what it would be like to have the office next to the men's room in our building. You really don't need a piece of letterhead to tell you that. How does that soften the blow anyway? Do you really want me to tell you that you could be Edward Fucking Gibbon reincarnated and it wouldn’t matter because the dissertation topic you chose is so fucking lame that I couldn’t get through the first paragraph of your job letter without choking on my bagel? Or do you really want to know that your writing sample sucked worse than Greg the Grade-Grubber’s undergraduate thesis, and I don't give a fuck that it got accepted at the southern states quarterly newsletter for retarded librarians, and that at this point I'm mostly curious to know exactly what kind of heroin your dissertation committee was mainlining before your defense? Or do you really want to know exactly how you wet your pants in the interview room and how big the stain was?

If you stop and think about it for a minute, you probably already know, so hearing it from me on letterhead would just serve to further humiliate you. Or would it help to know that you seemed pretty competent, but there was this other person who was just a little more competent, or whose research we liked just a little better, or who filled a bigger hole in the department than the one you would have filled, or who had a book out and another in press, and that I actually think you will get a job sooner or later? Maybe it would, but you would just reject that as bullshit boilerplate, so why should I fucking bother? You either don’t want to know, or you wouldn’t believe me anyway.

Hey man, the job market sucks. I tell every under-flake who comes into my office wanting to become a grad-flake that they are in for seven or eight years of poverty and humiliation in grad school, plus another two or three post-doc years of job searching before they will be able to dream of a regular paycheck that might cover their expenses; that they will likely fail at some stage; and that their grad school won't give crap, because by grading papers and running sections/labs they will have fulfilled their function as the academic equivalents of the Guatemalan dishwasher over at Wendy's.

If no one told you all that, well shame on them. If you didn’t figure it out on your own by the end of your first year of grad school, then you are a fucking sub-moron or you weren’t paying attention while Big-Name-U was reaming you without even offering you a courtesy reach-around. The truth is that you all knew what you were getting into, but you just figured you would be the one to beat the odds. Now the odds are giving you the beat-down of a lifetime, so you are blaming me for the fact that you spent most of a decade in deep denial about the viability of your shitty dissertation about the cultural semiotics of Joe Namath, and are now entering the phase of deep denial about the fact that you got a pity-pass from your heroin-addled dissertation committee, none of whom had the heart to give you a little reality-check. Perhaps it is a testament to the bitterness of the readership of RYS that one of the whiners in the discussion section of the wiki posted a link to it as an illustration of what a shitty profession this is and what assholes we, the people with jobs are.

Then there’s this guy who decided to put his wiki-generated disillusionment to work in a righteously indignant blog. I was with him right up until the point when he pulled the “white men can’t get academic jobs anymore” line out of his pants and started spraying the walls, just like my Camaro-driving cousin does to his trailer after a couple of six packs of Busch lite. But that’s another story. He also lost me when he petered out after five pathetic days and four posts. Five days? That’s all you’ve got bitch? If that’s all the concentrated rage and indignation you could muster after eight years of getting bent over the desk, then I can pretty much tell you why you ain’t getting a job this year ... or ever. You lack stamina son. If you don’t believe me, ask your girlfriend, if you have one after eight years in grad school. Or did you stop posting your rage because you got called for an interview at Southern Ozarks Mining College (school motto: where students go for reading knowledge), and now the sun is shining on your ass again? Either way, you suck donkey ass and so does the job wiki.

Bite me,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Shloyme from Sacramento Blogging from the Association for Jewish Studies Conference

This isn’t really the blog I intended because the f***g hotel (Grand Hyatt indeed!) didn’t have internet service unless you were a registered guest and I was staying with grad school friends in Georgetown. Charging extra for using the internet at an academic conference is about as obnoxious as the fee I had to pay to check my FIRST bag at the airport.

On the morning of the conference I woke up at four to double-check the time for my interview and realized that I had screwed it up by several hours—confused a coffee date with the interview time. Got up and spent the next two hours on the web reading up on the department that is doing the hire. My first thought is: I'm fucked. I forgot that someone in the field whose work is utter shit—outdated exceptionalist triumphalist shit—is a bigwig in the department. Luckily he wasn’t at the interview.

The position is a really big step up from my current one and I want this job. I’ve been at my current one for 2 years now—a 3-4 teaching load at a college that thinks it’s a serious research institute but does nothing actually to support research other than to tell us we’re not doing enough research (while yanking our research funds). Happily, the interview went really well. But like every search that I’ve heard about, they weren’t confident that there will be any money to make a hire—even if they are allowed to do flybacks. Friends with interviews at other schools were told the same thing. I learned that some schools skipped the conference stage altogether so as to lock in their pick before the well runs dry. They actually held campus visits during finals week.

Like everywhere, the buzz at the AJS was all about the economic crisis. Surprising, however, was the extent to which people were really freaking out about it. Besides that, there were very few jobs available—the whole Madoff affair means that Jewish philanthropists are cutting way back on their annual donations to programs. Worse still is that endowments for Jewish Studies programs are in freefall. Yeshiva University—as was announced in today’s NYTimes—is out 110 million bucks. One of the serious bigwigs who has supported dozens of academic programs around the US is reportedly out 1/3 of his money because of Madoff. We’re fucked. People who are on the market for the first time are doubly-fucked, because postdocs (which were once in abundance and were a reliable backup plan) are going to dry up even faster. Judaic Studies had been a great field (job-wise at least) for many years. Since the early 1990s, it was expanding and as a student I watched my more advanced classmates get positions and move onward and upward. There were lots of donors who sought to make their name by endowing chairs and departments in Jewish Studies.

The problem is that Jewish Studies programs are so often overly-dependent on private sponsorship. Universities have looked upon them as potential cash cows, and often launched them recklessly—even before serious money was in the bank. I have a colleague who, when on the market a couple of years ago, was told outright at the job interview that they weren’t interested in her field of study, but that they were looking to hire a Jewish Studies prof. in the hope that it would bring money to the department. The gripe was always that these donors used to dictate what we taught. More Holocaust! More Israel! Now we are waking up to the fact that not only have we created entire programs to satisfy the whims of donors, but the programs are also fully dependent on the whims of the marketplace. We could probably weather a mild recession ok, a serious one like now makes it harder. Something like the Madoff affair has got people using apocalyptic language.

Fitting highlight of the AJS: at 6:30 on Monday night, people began to gather in the hotel’s Starbucks to light Hanukkah menorahs. Candles apparently were forbidden in the rooms. About a dozen small groups gathered around their respective menorahs, lit the candles, and began to sing the prayers. Then somebody opened a side door bringing in a huge blast of arctic wind—blowing every candle out. Legal discussions ensued about whether it was kosher to relight them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Edna from Evansville Stands Up But Falls Down. Big Fuckup Redux.

There’s one moment that stand out so clearly that, looking back now, I can’t believe I did it. It’s a two hour class. One hour in a classroom, one hour in computer lab. My goal? Make ‘em write good. At the beginning of this particular classroom hour, I’m dragging stuff out of my carry bag. At the back of the room is Annoying Annaminsky, the international student who was a thorn in my side from the first moment she said ‘I’m international, what this mean?’ and her sidekick.

Having been absent due to a school sponsored function the previous meeting, AAsky has had a scowl on her face from the get go because it has become evident we have veered from the syllabus into an area the rest of the students found more interesting so I can, in a desperate attempt, get ‘em to write gooder. As I pull my precious white board marker from my bag, Annoying Annaminsky says “there is homework.” I look around the class and see blank stares. I hadn’t given the assignment embossed on the syllabus. Annoying Annaminsky and her sidekick glare at me because, obviously, they have done said homework. As I try to explain that the points we’ll be getting for this will be based on the paragraph we’ll be writing in just a few minutes, and AAsky and SK are not pleased. They glare throughout the hour.

At the end of the hour, Annaminsky makes her demand. “I should get points for homework.” I’m already packing up for the move to the writing lab, and I say…and here’s the Big FU…I’ll look at it and see what I can do. I can probably give you some points.

Fast forward. The semester has ended. Annoying Annaminsky has received, you guessed it, a B. She appears in my division chair’s office. I assume it has to do with her good but not excellent final exam essay which kept her from the A she told me she wanted all semester. I am summoned. As the discussion progresses, I’m accused of: forgetting 5 extra credit points I said I’d give; being prejudiced against second language writers because I wrote ‘these are common ESL errors – keep working with the tutor’ on one of her papers; not staying with the original syllabus and not calling each student personally when the syllabus changed; and, you guessed it, she should have gotten 20 points for homework because I told her I’d give them to her.

I’ve forgotten all about this. No matter what, she isn’t producing A material, so I won’t budge. I hold my ground, she got a B, not an A, because I’m in a great place where admin actually backs faculty, but there are hours and hours I’ll never get back tied up in listening to her apply the three years of law classes she took before she came to the US. I’ve been cross-examined before, so I knew how to hang on, but I kept thinking…what if I’d just said “No.” My division chair only says “it’s okay. Just try to be clearer about points, okay?”

Who knew that a side comment, meant only to shut someone up, would result in this kind of shakedown. On some level, she was probably right. I, however, wasn’t going there for no reason other than I really didn’t like this girl, her pushy attitude and the way she continued to come at me as if I owed her something. A slightly different attitude, and I would have folded, admitted my mistake, and given her the grade she had probably earned. She remains at the college, as far as I know, so I’ll run into her again, even if I try not to. Our biggest mistakes don’t go away.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Yo, Proffie. You're Disturbing My Meal."

I have a strict "no cell phones in class" policy that reflects the University's policy. My class meets once weekly and the second half of class is a feature-length film screening. What really galls me is when students use their phones during screenings, thinking somehow how those bright lights are not visible and therefore not distracting. But that is beside the point; it's NOT ALLOWED.

One night a student repeatedly kept using his phone even when I asked him to put it away three times! His excuse that night when I spoke to him after class? His dog was having health issues and his mother was texting him updates. I said it didn't matter--if he felt he had an emergency he was to leave the room. And he brought the phone out again later in the semester and got yelled at again. This nimrod also failed the mid-term by failing to properly read the instructions.

He wasn't the only one to violate this rule. But humiliating them in front of their classmates and interrupting the film screening didn't seem to faze anyone. My mistake, and the one which led tot he ruination of my authority in the classroom? Not asking these inconsiderate assholes to leave the room and not bother coming back.

Students also took advantage of my relaxing the "no food in the classrooms" rule by taking extra long breaks (they are normally given ten minutes) and taking twenty or thirty minute to get food and saunter in late. I repeatedly commented that this was not acceptable. The behavior continued. At the last class, which consisted of only one screening, two students came in thirty minutes late toting free burritos given away a local eatery. When asked if they had a reason for being so late, one of them said "No."

This same kid also mocked the cell phone rule by turning it on every class just as he was leaving and playing some loud piece of video and holding it up in the doorway. Nice, That would be a ZERO for your class participation portion of the grade, moron.

Next semester is my last semester. I plan to implement these rules more strictly. Any violation of the cell phone rule will be met with a request to leave the class for the rest of the night. Anyone coming in late from the break will be marked absent. My failure to be more strict during this past semester with a particularly rowdy group resulted in my authority becoming a joke among the yahoos, and a source of irritation for the engaged students.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What One Student Can Do. Whitney from Wichita Withstands a Whiner.

I am notorious for being a little too happy in the classroom. What can I say, I truly do love my job, and love what I teach (humanities/English at the CC level, by the way, year two on the TT). Most students enjoy my classes and appreciate my efforts to make composition fun and meaningful -- okay, not fun. But as painless as possible. But this girl was different. This one actually resented, nay hated, me for being happy. ("I don't understand happiness. I've never been happy, and I never will.")

I noticed her immediately when I entered the classroom. Which just so happened to be NEXT DOOR to my own office. Oh my god. This is going nowhere good. She sat and glared at me with the kind of scowl I had never actually seen before except in the movies. That was on Monday. On Wednesday, as I prepared myself for class (got in character, if you will), she appeared in my door, with her lovely frown on. "I have a problem." She stated. To be honest, I don't remember what her problem was, but I definitely remember my response (well, the response in my head): So do I: You! But alas, I smiled and asked her what her problem was and how I could help. (I mean really. Did she think an English class would not require her to save a fucking file??? And just how is that an unreasonable think to make her do?) I didn't know then what this person had been through, or just how much she hated me and the world around her, but I knew she would be trouble.

I had no idea how much trouble, and it haunts me to this day. Without going into any details, which would assuredly give both our identities away - but entertain the hell out of RYS readers - her conversations with me and her first paper were so disturbing that I had constant visions of Virginia Tech. The colleagues who share my corner of the world were all aware of her. My office mate - thank god - was on office hours during the time I was in this class, so he was a witness to 99% of her shit. (Not the way she looked at me in class, but by the way she treated me in the office before class every fucking day, he could figure that part out without too much trouble.)

I wanted to get my boss involved, but was concerned that this chick had served her time and paid her dues, and she just needed someone to be nice to her. (Messiah complex anyone?)

But it seemed to be working. By conference time for Essay #2, she stopped being mean and hateful, and I was introduced to her alter-ego, SuperWhiner. (Honestly, in my 4 years of teaching, hell, in my 33 years of life, I've NEVER heard whining at this level before, save perhaps from my 7 year old niece 3 years ago, and even she has nothing on this chick.)

But in the face of it all, I stood my ground. Twice I decided it was time to bring in the big guns and get the dean involved. But the first time I got my nerve up, Dean chose that day for a little vacay. The second time, I caught her teaching her own class and just never made it back.

Things actually seemed to be getting better until the last two weeks of the term, when, well, I'll spare you the details, but now the dean is involved and she knows everything. And here's the kicker, and where my regrets come full circle. In the course of our conversation, which started out with me practically to tears, but ended with a bit of schadenfreude over who gets this one next semester and how they're going to Kick Her Everloving Ass, my dean mentioned that she wished I had come to her sooner because, having heard the details, it sounded as though this student was harrassing me and would likely have been removed from my class by midterm.

They can do that?!?!?!? Actually, I am thankful that I have a dean who has my back and, though she's no more perfect than I am, she will back me all the way. If memory serves, the words "Bring it on" came up. And, for the record, as much as this little darling scared the everloving shit out of me, I honestly don't believe she would shoot up the campus. She seems more likely to poison my coffee than to go all out ballistic. Had I believed she was dangerous to anybody but me, I would not have hesitated to bring in somebody else. Oh, and the girl could write! Had she been getting grades that reflected her personality rather than her ability, had she not had so much promise as a writer, I definitely would have brought in the dean before I gave her back her paper.

And here's the deal. The little &$%#@#% really did make me a better teacher. I stood up to her and never let her see me sweat (or cry). I dosed up a little smack-down of my own on the last day (sampling: "This is college. This is not high school. This is not GED school. This is COLLEGE, and my job as an English professor is to grade your work, not give you 100% just for turning in some crap. If I did that, your Comp II teachers would eat you for lunch!" -- I mean honestly, 100% just for turning in something that is "close to the topic assigned"???? In Comp I? Are you KIDDING me? Doesn't she know what English classes are for?) I learned not to take this shit from anybody, no matter how hard they are trying to intimidate me (that might work in prison, but this is the real world, sparky!) And I learned that my dean really does have my back, and I really can do this job.

But gawd. How much better might that class have been if I'd just gotten rid of her? And on the days she was absent, it became clear that it really was a wonderful class. There were some losers and a few slugs. But there were some wonderfully gifted students in there, who got the short shaft from me because I ended up teaching the whole class on the defensive from the wall of hate sitting in the front row.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When The Pain Comes, We Just Let It Out.

From the opening two sentences of M's paper: "Jane Austen did a great job on writing this book [Pride & Prejudice]. It had tense moments in which all I wanted to have happen was to see how the movie would come to an end." OK. So you didn't really read it, but couldn't you have at least faked it? Did you have to let me know up front that you'd just watched the movie? At least tell me which one: the 1948 Olivier version [doubtful]? Keira Knightley's [probably]?; either of the BBC versions from the 80s or 90s? [probably too long]. Sigh.

B: You were so worried about the third exam and how you'd do. But you haven't turned in either of the papers [40% of the course grade], and you haven't been in class often enough to even register on the 'preparedness and participation' scale for the course [10% of the course grade]. Why worry about the 50% that's left? Didn't you learn to figure percentages ['per cent' means 'per 100', or in the case of a grade, 'out of 100%']? I put a little 'refresher' course about this in the syllabus, but then you seem to have lost that the first week. Is this F you're getting going to be a shock to your system? Will I have to deal with a plaintive email asking why you flunked?

S: [Currently in critical condition and recovering from emergency surgery]: Get well soon! I can't believe the first thing you had your family do was to contact your instructors to find out how to deal with finals. I'm just giving you the grade you've earned so far [A-] with no need to do the final paper. The last thing you need now is the pressure of completing an 'Incomplete'. Here's to a speedy recovery. And I hope to see you in future classes.

T: When I emailed everyone to check their email the morning of the final regarding the possibility of bad roads, I didn't mean that the final was optional. I meant for everyone to check to see if I'd cancel it for the scheduled 7:30 a.m. time. As it turned out, the roads were fine, and everyone else made it to the final. And then you were annoyed when I wasn't in my office later for you take the exam at your convenience.

P: It's not up to me to custom grade your exam so that you can get your final grade before the already ridiculously early date it will be posted next week. Faculty would like to get out of here as soon as possible, too, but we've got hundreds of papers and exams to grade first, and we don't do it on the basis of 'he/she who hassles the most gets theirs first'. Everyone wants to 'go home' and get ready for Christmas / Hanukkah / Solstice / whatever mid-winter ritual or holiday we celebrate, but we've got to get through this stuff first. Wait your turn; it will come soon enough. And it isn't bright to hassle faculty with red pens hovering over stacks of papers / exams; it just makes us crabby. And you never want your faculty to be crabby when they're grading.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"The Regulars." Dana From Decatur Examines the Teacher Popularity / End of Semester Axis.

I am, as it turns out, insanely popular. I spent most of the semester thinking that my students considered me a useless waste of space. But for some reason, when December 1 rolled around, they all started talking to me. I mean, they’re staying after class, they’re COMING to class, they’re emailing me incessantly…I guess they really love me after all.

I can’t quite figure out how to use my new found popularity. I could, of course, try to get the nomination for Homecoming Queen that I never quite managed in high school. I have a feeling these kids would nominate me for about anything right now. I could also just laze around, watching them scatter and genuflect around me like little drones. That might be pretty fun. Or, I could go fishing for some compliments and see who will be the first to tell me how much they “loved my class,” and that I’m “the best teacher they’ve ever had.” And to think, just a few short weeks ago I was staring at a bunch of blank expressions, rolling eyes, and under-table text-messaging! Ah, what a difference December makes.

It’s just so odd. I mean, up to this point, I’m pretty sure they thought they knew everything, and I knew nothing. But now, they clamor for my advice and input. They treat me like someone who has something to offer. They admit that they don’t have a clue. I can’t possibly say why they’ve changed their minds about me. Of course, it would be insulting to imply that this has anything to do with the looming end-of-term grades I’m about to dole out on the poor little suckers. I’m sure they’ve just seen the light, with no kind of ulterior motivation.

For now, though, I’m enjoying this far too much to worry about such things. I will let them flounder and flap, enjoying my three weeks in the sun, letting them think that they might be making some kind of meaningful progress with me. What’s that, Lazy Lucy? You can’t tell me how much this class has helped you? That’s wonderful! How’s that, Slacker Steve? You’ve really appreciated all my patience with you, and you think that I’m a great instructor? Super! And you, Asshole Aaron? You really think that I might have been right about that first paper after all? Fantastic! Keep it coming, kids. Your grades will remain absolutely unchanged, but keep it coming. If only it could be December all year round.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Madge From Madison Sends In Pet Peeve #43, The Lazy Ass Student.

In the last 48 hours, I have received four increasingly frantic emails from a student wanting to know not only the titles of the books I have assigned for my persuasive writing course next semester, but also the ISBN numbers.

I know she's trying to order her books online to avoid paying full price at the book store. I do not begrudge her for that -- I did the same thing in college, and especially in grad school. What I do begrudge her for is bothering me with something so trivial during finals week when I have a million papers and portfolios to read, grammar exams to correct, and grades to calculate.

It's not as if the information isn't out there. She could trot over to the book store -- at most a 5 minute walk from every other building on campus. If she's too lazy to do that, she could look at the bookstore website, which lists the books for each course by both instructor name and section number.

I don't have my copies of next semester's books in my office. They're on my desk at home. Frustrated by email #4, I replied that I didn't have the ISBNs handy, but gave her the book titles, the names of the editors, and the edition numbers -- more than sufficient info to look the books up on Amazon, or, or -- gasp! -- the textbook publisher's website. (And she could have found all of this out two days ago, when she sent email #1, if she's just taken the 2 minutes she spent to write me looking the information up instead.)

My cordial and relatively detailed reply was apparently not enough for this girl. Oh no. Within 5 minutes, she replied to my message with, "The website I'm using won't let me look up books without the ISBN so I need you to get those to me a.s.a.p."

On principle, I am not going to reply to that email even once I get home and have the books in front of me. I refuse to facilitate laziness and do her work for her -- the babying cannot begin before the semester even starts. If she wants to buy her books online, an exceedingly simple task, then she can look up the damn ISBN numbers herself. Or just type the info I kindly provided into -- I am certain she will be able to find the books that way.

Only Two Idiots? Sounds Like an Honors Class to Us.

Last week’s idiot (and we’ve got a 1960s TV theme going here):
Hoss Cantwrite plagiarizes by taking an essay from Five minutes with Google, and it shows up on my screen. I print it, contact student affairs, and am told I have five options. I choose the most severe: failure for the course and a record of the incident with student affairs. I write him a letter telling him of my actions and his (limited) options.

  1. Drop some coin and buy decent essays.

  2. Don’t try to convince me you decided to rewrite a two and a half page essay into a five page essay, with multiple sources, on a totally different topic, because you didn’t find the first one interesting. (Oh, and in your evaluation, proofread, because one clue was that you consistently wrote about your “papper,” not “paper.”)

  3. When I hand you the letter telling you you failed the course for plagiarism, don’t ask, “Well, do you still want me to take the quiz?”

This week’s idiot:
Today, My Favorite Moron says to me, "Uhm, could I have an exemption to this exam question?"

"What for?"

"I didn't get this one at all."

"What do you want me to do?" I ask, incredulously.

"Let me write another question."

"No," I say, "that wouldn't be fair to anyone else. Besides, I gave the questions a week ago, went through them and asked for any questions about them in class, and cancelled class on Wednesday to hold additional office hours specifically so that I would be available for help. And I passed out discussion questions on this essay, spent two days going through it paragraph by paragraph, and illustrated it on the board. It should be in your notes."

"Frankly, I don't have any notes."

Duh, I'm thinking. You sit in the front, and I can see you don't do a fucking thing. But I say, "MFM, does that sound like what an average student does to succeed? It doesn't? Well, then that's below average."

Shuffles back to seat. One minute later, shuffles back to me. "Uhm, would it be cheating if you told me what the thesis of the essay was?"


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Terrified TA From Tazewell Emails a Semester's Worth of Pain.

I worked as an undergraduate TA this semester, and boy, there was a lot of pain. Though departmental policy prevents me from grading the real juicy stuff, I did get the titillating opportunity to get to know these students... personally, through their daily assignments and their excruciating behavior in class.

By "personally," I refer to seeing all the shades of 'wrong' amongst them. I learned that Dimwit Derrick sounds coherent and thoughtful in type, but can't scrape together two correctly spelled clauses to save his life without the omniscient power of MS Word's spell-check. I stopped to think once, "Am I a dick for writing 'You're better with spell-check'" on one of your hand-written masterpieces? ...nah. And poor Bawling Belle! She must have been bawling, anyway, to take advantage of Perky Prof's lenient late-work policy four unique times due to separate medical emergencies - none of which were hers - and deaths in the family - none, of course, in her immediate family. Those grandmas and aunts are just hardwired to drop off as deadlines approach.

I won't forget you two either, Sorry Sarah and Belligerent Beth. You sat right by each other in class, and when I began to see your assignments handed in together, Sarah's sorry ass half the time of Beth's, I scrutinized your assignments a bit more carefully. The structure of your answers identical, the tenor of your opinions embarrassingly similar, one differing from the other not in ideas expressed, nor in their order, but only in vocabulary spluttered, I clearly remember availing Perky Prof about the situation. All the circumstantials fit: Beth was the better student, doing the homework for the less gifted roommate. They had let on they were friends in class. What a bullet you two dodged when Perky Prof regretfully told me they just weren't similar enough to make the call. I think he just wanted to let you off easy.

There's always the obligatory cell-phone whore, this semester played by the part of Clueless Collin, the bored major who showed up for every other class, sat in the front row, and messed around with with his iPhone every time he deemed to show. You told me you dropped your most challenging class. If you can't stand making it to this one, why the hell couldn't you have dropped it instead? Ah, that's right. No conscience about education. Oh, and who could forget Skater Sean, who walked in every class period at least 15 minutes late, sporting aviator sunglasses in November -- after six inches of snow -- clearly still tuned in to his ear buds, until gallivanting out two minutes early. Every class. The only intelligent thing you did this semester was hand back your evaluation sheet blank.

There were also those embarrassing personal moments, when by inviting me into the depths of their souls, I realized that these snowflakes were really scraping the depths of their brains to get past incoherent theistic conceptions of the mind, consciousness and personal identity. You couldn't even get the well-argued theistic positions! If you don't even understand what you believe, chickadees, can you really expect that your intuitions, poorly stated in class, will hold any weight? Dear Perky Prof: THIS is why the folk don't matter -- the folk are drooling into their purses at 1 in the afternoon, ignoring their professor's meticulous explanation of why their last paper sucked and exactly what they ought to do to improve their performance. They aren't intelligent enough to understand the value of taking classes outside their major (which is clearly pathetic, having taught them zero critical thinking skills), and they're certainly not coherent enough to aim for basing our theories around conformity with their intuitions. When you ask a question about the readings, Perky Prof, the folk sit around saying "I don't care" while I, the obvious TA-plant, raise my hand yet again to give the scripted response to the argument that they should have had no problem understanding.

The saddest part of the whole ordeal, the most terrifying at worst, is that these darling little inflexible snowflakes are my future. They are my future financial advisors and second-grade teachers for my kids (god forbid those ever happen). Their obvious lack of adaptation skills will just make them great lawyers, won't it? Oh well, I suppose they'll learn or drop out anyway. I sure as hell know they can't be my friends, though. Anyone so certifiably dimwitted as to not only not recognize but to staunchly deny the value of reaching out beyond one's current beliefs and actually interrogating them is a static, worthless excuse for a human being. You can't grow into real individuals, or have real relationships -- you'll only grow in your inertia and become further caricatures of the husk of potential your darling Pissy Parents may have once raised in you.

Perky Prof is a hopeful man. He lives in a world where we can make a difference in these poor kids' lives, and his optimistic, comprehensive research/service projects reflect that fact. But my poor Perky Prof is just setting the bar simultaneously too low and too high for these incorrigible little demons. After all -- they really can't be that high up on the food chain if I, the future poor, overworked first-year grad student, get to decide their fates next year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A New "Regular." Katie From Kalamazoo On The Market.

I am not convinced I even want to do this. Katie is not my "real" name, nor is it my "blogger" name. It happens to be the name of my BFF from grad school, and she's letting me use it.

I'm not a big fan of this site, but recently I was turned on to a few posts that I thought showed some promise. So I've been checking it out. When you posted a few of my pieces - for which I was grateful until I saw the "funny" titles you gave them - I never imagined the vitriol with which my very modest suggestions and ideas were met by your following of depressed academic goons.

So, I'm surprised you're interested in my voice, and I decided to take you up on the offer purely to show the other side of things. Perhaps I'll learn something from the process. Perhaps you'll learn something from me, as long as you listen and not judge.

My first posting will be on the job market. It's a pet peeve of mine how poorly junior faculty are treated. Your abominable "gumdrop unicorn" dustup from last year showed a great deal of what's wrong in our profession. Talented young blood is forced to stagnate. The deadwood rules, and people like me hop to a new job as soon as we have the wherewithal. And then of course we're blamed for that as well.

But, that's too bad. The truth is that my generation of teachers IS the future of the academic profession, and we WILL be the powerbrokers of universities and colleges for the next 25 years or so. So what we do, how we handle ourselves, and the courses WE chart will make the American academy what it will be. You don't like it? You don't have to. Attrition is a wonderful tool. Step aside now or later. It makes no difference.

So, I'm on the market this year, despite the fact that I'm at a decent enough state university now. But I'm on some kind of treadmill-track nobody told me about. I strive and achieve - even publishing a book in my third year! - and I get little or no notice. If I weren't so kind, I'd say my colleagues are jealous of me. Oh no, not little ole me, the junior faculty member with the WORST OFFICE IN THE BUILDING.

Yet, that's how it's gone. So I've got my application in at several excellent SLACs nearer my home in the northeast. (Oh, I went to [a famous private uni in New England], in case you're wondering.) And getting back there or its environs are what I'm eager to do. My BFF got a job in counseling in [that city], and my mother and father still live nearby. But any school within a morning's drive will suffice, and at 30, I think I've got more than enough credentials to pick and choose a job. I suspect - and my dissertation advisor [an extremely famous British Lit scholar] confirms - that I'm doing exactly the right thing, searching for a department that will welcome me, my scholarship, and my leadership, not a department where I'm simply a cog in the wheel.

But the market is tough. When I took my current job, I applied to several nondescript schools just like it. Some were wowed by me, and some could care less. I knew then I was looking at the wrong academic homes. I didn't trust myself to shoot for the highest level of schools, and I kick myself to this day about that.

But I've thrived here. My student evaluations are higher than anyone else's in the department. (Don't ask me; I just know.) My students love me. I have four peer-reviewed articles, and of course my book, which was a quantum leap revision of my dissertation - which I was told was of publishable quality from the start.

But if you will allow, I'll chronicle the market this year, starting with my upcoming visit to San Francisco at this year's Modern Language Association meeting. I'm not only taking on interviews, I'm also presenting a paper on [a scholarly look at a current reality TV show]. It's sure to turn a few heads. From San Francisco I'll report on the conference activities, the networking, the schmoozing, the panels, and of course my job interviews.

Just for record keeping, I've applied to 12 asst. level jobs and 2 assoc. level jobs. I will push hard on any of the asst. level jobs for those positions to be converted to assoc. level, obviously, having the background I have. I only have one interview set so far, but it's a slow year - what with Thanksgiving being so late and all. This week all of us job market folks should hear the good news of those deadly (but sometimes fun) hotel interviews.

Thank you for this forum. I look forward to checking in regularly.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Part-Time Poe Checks in from The Pacific Northwest, Where He's Clearly Not Doing Enough For His Students Who Apparently "Deserve" Better.

I'm one of the low people, a bothersome and annoying adjunct who gets in the way of big full-timers, even though I park on the street, don't have an office, and usually make my copies at Kinko's because the adjunct workroom is locked when I'm on campus.

Anyway, I teach freshman composition at a bullshit community college that is run so poorly that I often have to call campus security to open up the classroom building at 8 am, even though that's when class starts. (My students and I huddle together under the awning staying out of the persistent and pissy rain here.)

We're closing in on the final days of the semester - and that last beautiful $498 check! - and my students are working on their last essay. As I try to do a couple of times a semester, I've offered one on one conferences for all students during our normal class time, so that they can get some immediate feedback before next week's due date.

Today I had scheduled nine 10 minute conferences. Last week I passed around a sheet and the students chose any day they wanted, any time they wanted.

Of the 9 scheduled for today, 2 people came, 1 of them 30 minutes after his time, as I was leaving the building. (And he got a conference all right, in a fucking rainstorm. I didn't even share my umbrella.)

During my earlier wait in the classroom, the English department chair stopped in my room. He teaches next door at the same time and was the person who hired me.

He asked how I was doing and I expressed my dismay that the folks weren't coming in. He said, "Well, they have a lot on their plates. And it is quite early in the morning."

And I said, "Yes, but this IS the time of their class. We always meet at this time."

He says, "Perhaps you could give them a little treat for coming, like an extra 10 points on their essay, or maybe something sweet to eat."

I thought to myself, what a fucking idiot, but I didn't commit to such an answer out loud.

He left.

I waited some more, had my one and only good conference, and then waited some more.

Then the chair came back again. "I was thinking of options for you," he said. "Why don't you call all the students who missed and invite them to come back this afternoon. You can meet them in the lobby of the building, or in any empty classroom you could find."

I said, "That would work, but I've got other things going on this afternoon." (I teach another class at a slightly better college 55 miles away, and it's common for part-timers to teach both places.)

Then he sort of shook his head. "Well, we really encourage all of our instructors, especially the part-timers who don't have very good footing, to go the extra mile for our students. They deserve it."

And then he left again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One of Many Notes We've Received About Walt.

Maybe I'm a buffoon, but I really care about the whole Walt problem.

I admit that I'm a fan, and I come back to RYS fairly often hoping to see his name (and disturbing likeness). What "really" happened with his recent departure from the site is really not my concern. (I'm about half sure that it was all an act, anyway...)

But what I do want to say is that Walt, whoever he is, is one of my academic mentors. I beg you to find a way to let his voice ring out again.

Okay, he's a nutjob. He's likely a little insane. But his posts have actually encouraged me to be less fearful in my career, and no advisor or colleague or mentor has ever been able to do that for me before.

What Walt does (and what this whole page does, really) is offer up the courageous path to all problems. He doesn't recognize fear or weakness. He blusters through acting as if he were right, as if the work he's done to become Professor Walt entitles him to lead the way in his own career, his own classroom, and in his own research.

Of course it's overblown and hyperbolic - what on RYS is not? But whenever I finish a Walt post I'm more prepared to face my own situation here at Mediocre and Sad College Where Dreams Go to Die.

Some Walt-isms that I love:
  • If you can touch three walls of your office at one time, you're a BIG FUCKING LOSER.
  • If you get an office in some building's basement, then you went to the wrong grad school, girlfriend.
  • Finally, a special shout out to those cretins on the job path. Oh, they are lovely, sweet dears, so persecuted, so incredibly sure that the system is out to spoil their chance at success...all the search committees have ganged up to find ways to make them unhappy, and when they do get interviews, they imagine senior faculty Stanley is flicking boogers at them, and not playing along with the modus operandi which is supposedly: "We welcome you and your intellect, and can't wait for you to show us how it's done, you 27 year old fucktard."
  • It seems that all I do is write to you assholes to tell you to get all four wheels on the highway. You're always veering off, taking little pictures of the scenery, buying trinkets for the folks back home. Fill it with gas and let it rip. Burn up the 4-lane, and quit looking in the rear view mirror to see if your passengers are happy. The shitheads and the weenies will hop out a window on a curve, and the folks who want to take the trip will be back there anyway. Turn down the voices in your head, and turn up the Foghat. Don't make me come down there and kick your asses.
  • You know what people should see when they look at your [office] door? Wood. That's it. Maybe a small piece of paper with your hours and name. Anything else is just jerking off.
  • least those of us who are real American professors, sure of ourselves, not crouched in a permanent fetal position like 95% of our kind, standing strong, teaching it right, calling it crazzy when it's crazzy, and being real when real is like so out.
  • I mean, do you ever go by the faculty club and see the losers in there? If they aren't wearing bibs, they should be. And lately I've been spending a couple of minutes each day hitting the academic blogs to see what's out there. I can barely contain myself. I end up snorting, retching, and peeing my pants so much you'd think it was 1975 and I'd just gotten back from an Eagles show in Riverside.
  • Oh, and English profs. They're delicious. They always have the nice Shakespearean fonts on their websites, a big quill next to their unbelievably white faces. They're always writing about how summer will bring them to England or Scotland, where they will trudge down some muddy trail to where Wordsworth once smoked a big bowl, or where Coleridge once ate a beaver because he thought it was Mary Shelley.

It seems to me that I've been surrounded my whole career by folks who don't say what they mean, folks who play the academics-as-politics game. I feel that I've been encouraged by colleagues and administration to let students walk over me in favor of higher evaluations and more FTEs!

Walt is one of the few people I've "met" in the academy who says it like it should be, and I think we're poorer for not having his voice on the site.

Lex from Lakeland Swats Away As the Semester Crumples.

  • To Worried Wilbur, whose concern for his grades leads him to ask "Can I pull a C in class?" as I'm collecting quizzes but has never yet managed to lead him to my office door for a real conversation about his performance, grades, and future: Your desperate email begins by addressing me as "Mr," a perfectly innocent slip that I could let pass except that I don't want to. You've come crawling at the end of the semester, desperate for an eleventh-hour gesture of unearned mercy, and to my mind that level of desperation calls for some serious ass-kissing. So let's "Dr" it up, shall we? You got a D on the midterm, the second-lowest score in the class. You turned in only half of the short written assignments, managed to lay claim to only 19 of the 70 quiz points available over the course of the semester, and stopped attending class altogether three weeks ago. Having not done the work and not made any effort to seek my assistance, you email me, 16 weeks into the semester, to ask if you can still turn in your assignments (even though some of them are nearly three months late), take make-up quizzes, and perform extra credit work. I'll save you a trip: the boat has done sailed, and you've been left standing on the F dock. Irresponsible banks and carmakers get bailouts, slacker students don't.

  • To Ballsy Brenda, who sent to me--a week after our last class meeting--all of the assignments she had failed to turn in on time: Let me get this straight. You did only the second half of the first assignment and the first half of the second assignment? And you did the third assignment on the wrong text? And you thnk I should give you partial credit for all this partially completed work, even though the deadlines were weeks ago? Do you realize that the first assignment was due in September? How much credit should I give to half an assignment turned in nine and a half weeks late? (I use the rhetoric of "giving" rather than "earning" because, let's face it, your half-assed, slacker efforts haven't earned you a damn thing.) I'll make you a deal: I won't bother to read this hopelessly late work, and you'll accept with grateful heart and tearful eye the 4 ¾ points (out of a possible 100) I'm writing next your name in my gradebook.

  • To Dumbass Dick, who stated rather than asked, "You're offering opportunities for extra credit, right?": Listen carefully Grasshopper, because I'll only say this once: In my class, there is only credit; there is no "extra."

  • To the Six Kings and Queens of Slackertude, who couldn't manage, over the course of 16 weeks, to complete an assignment that required nothing more than a simple Google search and seven minutes of partial concentration: You are all pathetic. I could not design an easier assignment. I'm guessing that if I just gave you points, you couldn't manage to hold out your hands to take them. The assignment asked you to do what you already do all day, every day with your friends: surf the web and write a short note about what you saw there. While you're posting and blogging and twittering away to your friends, you might have managed to complete the assignment and learn a little something you didn't know before. But you preferred to spend your internet time on activities that taught you nothing and that earn you no points towards your degree. And to the two of you who have emailed me asking for more time: check your Facebook walls for my very special "sucks to be you" reply.