Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dr. Schadenfrau Takes Her Snowflakes Out in the Sun And Whilst in a Dream Discovers the Error in "Because."


Today in class someone thought it would be a good idea if we sat outside for our seminar. FYI, I’m not like a character from the HBO vampire series, “True Blood” — that means I won’t fry after sunrise like ravioli in a chain restaurant kitchen. But outside? Never mind the bugs and threats of death posed by every tool-wielding university groundskeeper, the sunlight is so…so…unnatural for academics. It’s quite hard to keep the sullen, overworked pallor going if there’s a sun-kissed glimmer on one’s nose. However, Dr. Schadenfrau’s open to all kinds of craziness in the summer so, WTF…let’s take our fatty arses to the outdoor concourse, get a frosty beverage and talk all post modern.

More compelling than iced tea and an “en plein air” teaching environment is the opportunity to wear sunglasses. Why? Well, I can close my eyes and let them roll back in my head while Adelaide blithers on about Derrida (not realizing he's DEAD). With quadruple chins to support my noggin, it never looks like I’ve fallen into an unconscious stupor. Rather, I think I appear as a pasty yet benevolent “Jabba the Hut, Ph.D.” via a few spastic and somnolent head bobs. Inadvertent sleep-drooling can be a give-away but the trick here is to keep the beverage straw in your mouth at all times. Makes a great spit conduit and emergency head prop should a chin or two give way.

Amidst the student and leaf-blower droning, my thoughts rambled over to posts by “Entourage” and “Grade Bump.” I’ve felt all that pain—and numbed it with bourbon and cat acquisition—many times over. Today, however, I think I’ve split the freakin’ atom and solved the problem for all of us. It’s a bit like Derrida’s erasure…except we’re gonna blow the word ‘BECAUSE’ right outta' the student excuse vocabulary.

Imagine course policies that said: “Students excuses—verbal or written—must end before the word ‘because’.” Think about the spare time we’d have. Hell, I’d have tenure twice over by now and probably a humanitarian award. Me and Angie Jolie, sitting together at the UN....yeah, Brad would be lookin' my way....yeah.

Anyway, for example:

My girlfriend, Buffy, can’t take the exam today because her mother’s cat’s worm medicine that ended up in Buffy’s Nyquil for her cold due to Jennifer doing something dumb has made her pass kidney stones through her eye-sockets and her mother thinks this is really bad for the cat and has increased Buffy’s intolerance for dietary calcium so she thinks the cat shouldn’t come into Buffy’s room and influence her decision to go to school today and talk to Jennifer.

Jam a period right before ‘because’ and damn, it’s the money shot — hot and satisfying. All I need to know is the Buffster can’t make the exam today. I don’t care why.Never did. It works nicely for the grade bump scenario, too! That pesky question, when ended before ‘because’, just begs for a resounding Dr. Jabba the Hut, “NO!” It's fast, it's efficient....why didn't I think of it before?

Monday, June 29, 2009

From Post Secret. Why English Proffies Drink the Most.

What Everyone Missed About Madison from Monona. The Bitchy Bear Visits to Wipe Away the Stink of Confusion.


Ok, I'll be honest: I'm too dumb to understand Madison's post. I don't know what she means by "taking it personally" when students do stupid ass crap. I'm pretty sure that I don't take a lot of stupid crap personally. I don't care if they call me fat on my evaluations. I don't care if they say things like "this proffie is mean and makes us turn in stuff on time and makes us look at books." I used to work in a job where I got death threats.

But what do I take personally is when people add to my already redonkulous workload, and a whole bunch of their stupid crap adds to my workload. Having to sort through endless emails begging for more time? Adds work. Having to sit through dramatic tantrums in my office because the little prince got a B? Yep, adds work. Having to explain in painful detail that missing six classes out of ten is not "only missing a few classes" and can affect their grades? Yup, time. Filling out reports for plagiarism, listening their whining and excuse-making. Check, it adds work.

It's my job, and I do all of the above, as patiently as I can, but dammit I also need to get tenure, and for those of us at research universities, the research expectations seem pretty damn daunting to me. So every minute I spend listening to Chynina or Mellissande (with an accent on the e) or Thor or Netalya-Nell or blither about her sad life and why she needs to gum up my grading schedule is a minute I am not working on my research, which means it's a minute I'm going to have to spend at night and on weekends on the research, because there is little flexibility on the numbers at tenure time. Eventually all those minutes accommodating their stupid crap erases any possibility that I might have of ever getting a weekend or a night free, leaving me to spend my stolen moments writing bitter screeds here rather than actually having a life.

So yeah, that gets on my nerves. When it's one student, eh, whatever. When it's half of the class...shit it makes me want to set them on fire. It's my job and I do it, but...it still pisses me off that I'm raising somebody's kid, which is what I am doing when I set limits and try to teach them that adults don't have bootyhootyhoo crying jags in front of other adults over anything that doesn't involve the words "cancer" or 'drive-by shooting" or "car crash."

But what really sent me into the land of confusion is Madison's claim that she is teaching them proper citation. Smokin' Jesus and his little sweet pickles. Are you really, Madison? Everybody stop being mean to Madison so she'll tell me how she teaches proper citation. Because I try like hell to teach them proper citation and this is like...man, this is by far the most frustrating thing in my already highly frustrated world. I'm not even talking about the difficult stuff like when you use quotations and when you use in-line citation, or when you need to cite versus when you can simply state a widely accepted conclusion (like price affects demand). I'm just talking about them making a reference list that doesn't make me want to jab out my own eyes. What is it about citations? Can somebody explain this to me? Because my students act like citations are...God, I don't know...arcane knowledge. I mean, there's Kate Turabian, who has spent her entire life working out how to do this, and there's this small manual, and there's even an online manual, and there is reference management software (our university uses RefWorks, which is free.) Why is proper citation the hardest thing EVER? Is this my imagination? When I was in English for Donkeys 100 years ago, our TA gave us Turabian and an assignment, and we handed it in. She wouldn't accept it until it was perfect. She just kept handing it back to us. I try to do the same thing in my classes and it's FRACKING ENDLESS.

Back in the day, I slopped through the first assignment, got it shoved back at me, and figured out the woman was serious and did the work the second time. My students? It's like I've invented perpetual motion: they hand in slop, I tell them it's incorrect and that they need to go back, look at the guide, and figure out what's wrong. I then sit through a shitstorm of whining that makes the hot air associated with Hurricane Rita look inconsequential, they hand it in again, having changing fonts and nothing else, and I hand it back, and we do the entire dance again and again and again until I just give in. The part that really kills me: in later classes they will say to my colleagues "I don't know how to cite properly, nobody showed me." It's enough to make me want to stay in bed for the rest of my life.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why Ed McMahon Gets So Little Coverage Here.

Our celebrity mourner from Friday generated a good deal of mail. Here are two pieces that best addressed the issues.


This is a website about sometimes-serious, sometimes-lighthearted issues in the realm of academia, it's not about EVERYTHING THAT GOES ON IN THE WORLD. You want to commiserate about Michael Jackson? Go to just about any other website in cyberspace right now. You looking for a debate about the Iranian elections, or global warming? Damn there's a lot of sites that'll cover those issues, why are you demanding that it be covered here too? If I'm feeling stressed about stuff going on in the world, I'll talk about it with my family and my friends, and maybe in anonymous cyberspace, but not on this particular site. If I want stress about academic shee-ite, this is the place to be, sweetheart. You don't like it, then piss off to the millions of other websites you can visit.

Damn, that student email nicely crystallizes what's wrong with students these days - such a skewed sense of what's important versus what's not important, and how everyone should agree with and change to suit THEIR priorities. This attitude is definitely leaking bigtime into the entry-level workforce now - a friend of mine who works in mid-management in the financial consulting sector was reprimanding a 24-year-old newly-graduated subordinate with a business degree, for deciding to sleep in because she partied late the night before, not bother coming into work that day nor informing anyone of her whereabouts, causing a missed reporting deadline to a client that resulted in a financial penalty to the company. Her response, which involved interrupting her boss in mid-reprimand: 'Why are you getting on my case? It's no big deal. It's not like I killed someone or something.' Sheesh. It oddly made me feel better to know that we don't suffer this shit from young turdlings just in academia.

[*]

Ah, thanks for your refreshing perspective and for focusing on the important things instead of being so negative. Yeah right! Your email matches the cynicism level that keeps me returning to RYS day after day. It’s obvious that you have no clue how frustrating it is to dedicate your life to higher education just to be stuck with a group of students who feel that being expected to read a “f*&^*(&king book” is too hard, silly, or unimportant. The bottom line is this: If you’re not interested in truly learning the subject matter, don’t take the class. University is supposed to be a sanctuary for scholarly research and discussion. Instead, it’s become a mass production facility where grades are inflated and failure to learn is overlooked so that every little snowflake can continue to feel good about him or herself.

Students should arrive on campus with an open mind and spend considerable time exploring new thoughts until they find their true passion. However, this is rarely the actuality for my students. They opt for classes that they’ve heard are easy or ones which they believe have a light attendance policy. My favorite, however, which hearkens back to your post, is that many students will avoid—at all costs—classes with a heavy writing load. Why in the world do we demand that young people be able to accurately, logically, and concisely express their thoughts? Because it’s important! Based on the inconsistencies and unapologetic misspellings in your email, I’m not overly surprised this point is lost on you.

Being a good writer is a sign of intelligence and maturity. Writing is a skill can and should be learned through continued education. It’s not a magical power possessed by only a select few. Further, learning to identify reliable sources, following formatting directions, and adhering to strict ethical guidelines is simply a warm up for life in the ‘real world’ where there are bosses who expect tasks to be executed accurately, on time, and with unfailing attention to detail.

Finally, I’m not at all certain why you feel that this blog — one with a clear purpose — should be actively mourning the passing of these celebrities. To my knowledge, none of them were great college students who deserve praise in an academic forum. Before you get all huffy, I’ll agree that we have witnessed the lives and now the loss of 3 very unique and influential stars. However, I do not read RYS to get the latest celebrity news.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


A high school secretary illegally changed grades in a school computer system to improve her daughter's class standing, according to criminal charges filed Thursday.

Caroline Maria McNeal of Huntingdon is accused of using the passwords of three co-workers without their knowledge to tamper with dozens of grades and test scores between May 2006 and July 2007 at Huntingdon Area High School in central Pennsylvania, the state attorney general's office said.

McNeal, 39, is alleged to have improved her daughter Brittany's grades and reduced those of two classmates to enhance Brittany's standing in the 2008 graduating class.

School officials corrected the grades before the students graduated, prosecutors said.

Attorney General Tom Corbett said the case involves "a serious violation of the public trust."

Full article.

Friday, June 26, 2009

We Just Work Here.


You people are such assholes. You spend all your time making fun of students when really important things goes on all the time. For instance, my mother called me to say that Ed Mcmann died last week, and he was one of her all time favorites on the Tonight Show. And then today Farrah Fawcett and the KING OF POP Michael jackson died. And you won't even mention it or focus on it because your all bad teachers and you think its your students faults for it. You should really focus on the important things and the good things instead of being so negative. My uncle Warren gave me a Michael Jackson CD when I was a little boy and I learned all the dances, and my pop was a big fan of Farah Fawcett. These are icons, even Ed McMann even if he wasn't a singer or actress. And the real world is harsh and unforgivable and all you can do is write about how a student didnt staple his paper or used wikipedia instead of a f*&^*(&king book. You need to get some perespective. I dont even care if you publish my e=mail but I thought you should know that I read your page and its full of shit just like you. I have so much anxiety and stress because of what goes on around the world and all you care about is plagiarism and if my roomate helped me write my paper. ITS MORE THAN U EVER DID!!!

Ed Mcmann rip
Michael jackson rip
Farahh Fawcett rip

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top 10 Reasons I'm Not Bumping Your Grade.


10) The syllabus specifically states not to ask for a grade bump. But seeing as you're asking, and you had to scan the syllabus for my contact info, you don't care what the syllabus says. To foster a mutually shared experience of ignoring written materials, I'm now going to ignore your email.

9) Several months after the fact you're now declaring that you were 'not feeling well' during a previous midterm, which affected your academic performance, and you now want an 'adjustment' to your grade that reflects that? Sure thing, as soon as monkeys or pigs, or some other type of animal, magically flies out of my ass holding a valid doctor's note dated the same day as that long-ago midterm.

8) It's all about the Benjamins, baby.

7) You want a grade bump from a D to a C+ so that you can make Science one of your 'Teachables' for your teaching degree? If you're getting a D in 1st year Intro to Biology, then I sure as hell don't want you teaching my kids science.

6) You'll do "ANYTHING" to get a grade bump? Unfortunately, the stress over my upcoming tenure review and the accompanying barrel of Scotch I've been drowning myself in for the last few months means that there's currently no urges nor active nerve endings down there, so that particular carrot on a stick won't work this time. If you'd taken the course last year...

5) There is no number 5.

4) If I don't give you a grade bump you're going to complain to the Dean? Go ahead, the Dean hates students more than I do, beeyatch.

3) You want a grade bump from A to A+ so that you've got a decent shot at getting into med school/dentistry/optometry/etc.? I don't want to be operated on by some schmoe who got into med school because of a grade bump. Then again, there is that old joke "What do you call a person who just barely passed every test in med school? - Doctor."

2) You want a grade bump because "it'll really help your GPA"? I got news for you, a grade bump will help ANYONE's GPA. Getting a higher mark than the one you actually deserve will ALWAYS do wonders to one's GPA.

1) You're a 4th year student with a major in a different science department, you failed miserably in this 1st year science course that you thought would be an easy elective, and your whole family has already bought plane tickets to come all the way across the country to a graduation ceremony in one month's time that you won't be attending because failure in this course means that you don't have enough credits to graduate. Um, sucks to be you, dude. At least have them check out the museums so the trip isn't a total loss.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"My Student Apparently Has An Entourage."



I've gotten used to having students make special requests, especially during finals week. There are always going to be those students who want extensions or alternate exam dates because of sickness, family emergencies, or whatever. I don't blame the students for asking for what they think they need to get the best grade possible.

But get this: Sunday night, I get an email, not from a student, but from her boyfriend. Not just that, but from her boyfriend who is speaking on behalf of her mother. The boyfriend wrote me to say that his girlfriend's mother wants her to take the final exam on a later date.

It was completely weird for me to respond to the boyfriend and not to the student herself, but here's what I wrote: I'm sure you, [student's name] and her mother can understand that, in a class of 200 students, if I were to grant a postponement to every student who has a sickness, family emergency, or other personal reason, I would be proctoring exams for days on end. If [student's name] is too sick to take the exam on Wednesday, her option is this: She can take an incomplete and get in touch with me in the summer or in the fall to take the final exam. Of course, as with any incomplete, she will need a documented reason (such as a doctor's note) for her inability to take the exam on its scheduled date. If she doesn't want to take this option, then I suggest that she try her best in these next three days to get well enough to take the exam.

Of course, what I wanted to say was this: Are you fucking kidding me? Is her cold rendering her incapable of writing emails? Or is perhaps her real sickness a case of overbearing mother and patronizing boyfriend? Should I be cc-ing this to her agent, personal assistant, and life coach as well?

This just goes to show that some college students do not want to be treated as adults. And, when they're trying to get away with shit, they're often so bad at executing it. It's like when my friend caught one of her students plagiarizing his paper and had to submit herself to a fucking parent-teacher conference (the student brought his parents with him to my friend's office hours, surprise!), during which she had to witness the mother lavish praise on her golden boy of a son while the student lies to his mother's face: "Maybe the website copied me!"

Fucking ridiculous.

God, it's so hard to stay positive sometimes. I really have to focus my attention on the students who have been awesome. I've had students come to my office hours to learn more about the topics I covered, to get a list of additional readings, and to ask about other classes on campus. That's always gratifying. I imagine that I have more good students than bad ones. It's just a bummer that it's always the asshole idiots who end up drawing attention to themselves by writing me ridiculous emails, watching Youtube videos during my lectures, and complaining (!) about the study guide that I didn't even have to write for them in the first place. The good students do as good students are supposed to, which is get their work done without fuss.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Three RYS Readers Do When They Have Free Time.


Dearest Cash,

Honey, you are the shiz-nit. We love you. Two of my BFFs and I have taken turns supplying questions for your answers of 6/22. Tell us if we're close, okay?

Oh, we're all single, though the tallest of us only dates athletes...tell us you at least play disc golf, okay?

Mitzi from Mobile, Margie from Miami, and Mimi from Miami BEACH!

Refer to your answers thusly:

1. How many posts have there been on RYS?
2. Is the compound nice, honey? Are you all sweaty?
3. You look gorgeous in your avatar. What's your height and weight?
4. Would you please twitter with us? 140 characters away from lovin'!
5. What's the best thing about working for RYS - and being so hot!
6. What makes your pretty eyes so sad?
7. Would it bug you if we kissed you all over? Touched you under your regalia?
8. Where would we go on our honeymoon?
9. What nickname would you give to us?
10. What's your fave Steve Carrell line?
11. If we poured you champagne in our slippers, how many could you drink for each of the three of us?
12. What would you say if another guy asked us to dance and say you came to our rescue, and he threatend our honor, and we blinked our eyes demurely at you?
13. Did you like Val Kilmer in "Heat"?
14. Say we were to greet you at the compound wearing just nailpolish and our librarian-style glasses, would you prefer we spank you like a naughty boy, or use the fingernails on your back?
15. What's the best advice your dad ever gave you? (Or, Mimi suggests: "What would your dad say if he saw us awaiting your arrival at a smooth Holiday Inn Express in Boca Raton?)
16. Favorite place to tangle with us?
17. Where do you teach, honey?
18. Have you ever been with an older woman? Did it make you feel like a gigolo?
19. Have you been getting our other mash notes?
20. Do you know who we are, truly, inside? Would it annoy you to know that we download single-girl-erotica and use Photoshop to place your darlin' face on the actors who resemble you?

Okay, so that was harder than we first thought... But, Cash...we tried...

XOXOXOX
M, M & M

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Dear Cash..." Compound Cash Takes Some Questions.



  1. Can't you add? 2301 posts, counting this one.

  2. Not bad, and it's a dry heat.

  3. Five nine. One Five Oh.

  4. Used to twitter, but then gal pal started tweeting and ruined my online rep.

  5. Best thing is I can work at home.

  6. Worst thing is the endlessly draining stories about how everyone hates the job, the students, and so on. I know the topic has been covered on the blog before, but it's truly awe-inspiring to see 40 emails in a row that start, "I CAN'T TAKE THIS SHIT ANYMORE."

  7. Nothing bugs me.

  8. Carlsbad.

  9. Debbie.

  10. That's what she said.

  11. I can drink about three, but then I'm buzzing.

  12. Well, if you don't like it, man, just swizzle.

  13. No, I never saw that. But he was good in that Mamet movie.

  14. The red ones.

  15. He said, "Go get 'em kid." That was pretty cool.

  16. Venice Beach, right about sunset.

  17. It's a SLAC in the west. I'm a LONG way from tenure, but I play drums in a band with two guys who have been here for ages, and they told me they're going to lead me along the path to freedom. So that's cool.

  18. Maybe once, but that doesn't make me one.

  19. I don't know, I just didn't post it. It was too freaking long, for one, and too freaking dull for two. And you can quit sending it, because it's not getting more exciting the more you forward it from different addresses.

  20. Yeah, I know who YOU are. You use the same email address to download porn at Xtube.com. And your predilections don't make me MORE eager to read more of your "ratings" of young students. Man, you gotta get a hobby.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Thanks For Nothing.


I want to thank the college who interviewed me and then hired someone else.

Mostly I want to thank them for saving me from the idiocy that they clearly have in spades.

They hired - instead - someone who was still an undegrad in 2006. Someone who got an MA at a complete shit school in 2008, someone who has NEARLY NUDE photos on her Facebook page, someone who has DRUNKEN PHOTOS on her grad student page.

I hope they all have a big whoopie party when she shows up.

I guess my fucking career doesn't amount to a hill of beans if that's the kind of idiotic hire they choose to make.

I wanted that job, pitched it hard, and came to the interview with knowledge and experience.

And they hired some mojito-guzzling whore instead.

I hope they enjoy the fuck out of each other. Thanks for nothing.

Bill from Bellingham

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Where Madison Gets One More Lesson.


Sorry, but I can’t help extending the Madison Madness. Since we haven’t heard from the employers for whom Madison’s students will one day work, I’ll just put some words in their mouths. Here’s what I think they may be saying to each other:

“Doesn’t anyone remember what it was like to get your first job?

“Don’t you remember the excitement of being on your own, the fascination that came from time to time when you had a ‘light-bulb’ moment in your cubicle, the realization that you could surf the internet whenever and for whatever you wanted? (Until you downloaded that trojan. Oops!) And what about That Event, the thing that suddenly showed you why you had to stop sleeping through meetings and scraping together last minute poor excuses for work, the thing that ultimately led you to management?

“I cannot understand why you take embezzlement personally, or absenteeism personally, or sleeping in the break room personally. I remember having to choose between working and sparking a spliff, and being dead jealous of all my friends who could go out. Sometimes I went with them and winged it at the presentation. I never made those choices because I thought my female bosses were too female, or other bosses were too short, or whatever you guys are so nervous about.

“As a boss, I give extensions if an employee is willing to ask before the work is late. I give as many paid vacation days as they want, as long as they contact me before 8:00 a.m. I feel it rewards those who know they will be doing other things, rather than those who sleep in. As a result, most of my employees don’t bother lying, calling in sick when they’re really going to party. And the few who do regret it when I remind them that all they needed to do was e-mail me before I had finished my coffee; even an instant message is okay: ‘sry. 2 drnk 2 wrk %*} lol.’

“Employees will always push their boundaries. They’re young. It’s what they do. I don’t take this testing of the authority waters personally, and I give them second chances that don’t involve my dedicating more time. I change due dates at the last minute so that workers have an extra two days to take that piece of crap and turn it into a two-day-older piece of crap. I listen to the cock-and-bull stories about sick children and interpret them as, ‘I screw around a lot, but you don’t appear to know the difference. Please let me work through this. Plus, my rent is due next week.’ And as a result, instead of finishing the work, they learn a goddamned lesson. But you know what? My job is. Er. Wait a minute. What IS my job?

“Well, anyway, getting personally insulted that they didn’t follow my instructions, or company policy, or state or federal law, or even basic common sense? NOT my job.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Programming Patty Wonders If Monona Madison Is Doing A Favor For Her Students.


Madison from Monona has a good point in that professors shouldn't take it personally when students flake out. I agree with her on that one, because there will always be flaky students, so why beat yourself up over it? I can understand that Madison would rather focus on teaching writing than enforcing academic policy, but I don't think she's doing her students any favors with these policies:

  • Extensions - as many as you want, all you have to do is ask!
  • Excused absences - as many as you want, all you have to do is ask!
  • Due dates - always extended, so no need to heed them!
  • Excuses - always accepted, no matter how implausible!

Her assessment is: "I listen to the cock-and-bull story about sick grandmas and interpret them as "I screwed up, but I don’t want to just give you shit. Please let me work through this." And as a result, instead of handing me shit, they learn a goddamn lesson." What sort of lesson is that? That she's a total pushover? That attendance, due dates, and extensions are completely flexible? That ditching class is fine as long as you plan to do so in advance?

This is not true of the vast majority of college courses, nor is it true of real life outside of academia. Her students may find that other professors are not so generous with unlimited absences, extensions, flexible due dates, and lame excuses. Nor are most employers. There are very few jobs in which employees are given an unlimited amount of time to complete a task. Keeping to deadlines is part of learning to be a grown-up, as is showing up when you are supposed to and being forthright about your failures rather than lying and fabricating excuses. Wouldn't it be great if we all got second chances, do-overs, extensions, unlimited days off work, and complete acceptance of any bald-faced lie?

But if Madison's students do actually improve their writing skill after taking her course, then I guess all mollycoddling is ultimately helping them. Learning to write well is a worthwhile goal, but can't it be taught without rewarding students for ditching class, lying, making excuses, and weaseling out of due dates? The real-world rewards for this behaviour are losing your job, your credibility, your reputation, and the respect of your peers.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's Almost Like It's Not Summer. Madison from "Moron-ia" Lights Up the Compound Switchboard.


Fantastic. Thanks for publishing the cat from Moronia. That shit was crackers and cheese, baby. It was like sticking a ballpoint pen right into your juggler! Yep, I remember being an undergrad, and during that time I didn't have a bunch of jagoffs letting me get away with the type of b-izzle-shit celebrated in the post.

I couldn't get extensions on every assignment, so god dammit I learned to do things on time. You'd be amazzed at how useful that bit of information is when you're an AH-dult. Oh, and absences. Yep, had I not learned it in college, I'd still be trying to tell my current employer that I needed a few more excused absences because I let that Grey Goose get on top of me t'other night!


[*]


Yes Madison, I do remember college.

I remember drinking and missing class because of it. I remember not doing essays because it just didn't sound like a fun thing to do. I remember all the other college mayhem.

But I also remember respect and responsibility. Unlike today's snowflakes - I never got upset with an instructor because I was absent for 2 weeks and didn't understand the material. I didn't bitch to instructors that they were unfair because they would not extend me special privileges denied to the rest of the class.

Okay, some are still teenagers. But most of them are over 18 and are therefore defined as adults. It's time they grow the F up. In my time it was at worst a snow flurry of snowflakes. These days it seem like the classrooms at my college are outright blizzards.

I do remember college, and that is what gives me the perspective to say that our snowflakes of today - are full of crap.

[*]

I ask Madison, what am I supposed to do to facilitate those "lightbulb" moments? Because if I let the students dictate the pace and the content of the course, there wouldn't be any shouts of "Eureka!"

When I try to structure my material to be challenging or--dare I say: thought provoking--I get nothing but grief. And why do I take plagiarism, not following instructions, or deadline aversion personally? Because they have the gall to try to turn these infractions into ammunition against me. "You didn't tell us we couldn't copy this from the web." (True. Let me add that to the script. Whatever line of instructions is subsequently omitted will surely be the source of next semester's debacle.) "You weren't available when I needed this to be explained to me." (True again, because I was sleeping at 3 a.m. the morning it was due. I could give you an extension, but I'm going to be asleep at 3 a.m. on that day, as well.)

And the evaluations go something like "Instructor wasn't clear with instructions. Instructor wasn't available to answer questions." And I'm about to tell Socrates to shove his method up his ass because the students only want answers, not more questions. Trying to encourage them to think about things with any type of depth, giving them time to struggle with ambiguity before guiding them, these things come back on evaluations as "This teacher doesn't know the subject matter." They never remember the fact that I was there at the end of the exercise with the post mortem. They only remember that I didn't serve the answer to them on a platter, so therefore I didn't know the answer either.

Oh, and let's not forget that I suggested that there could be a variety of answers, depending upon your approach, your evidence, your argument, etc. That just makes me more incompetent in their eyes. "Just give me the definitive answer so I can spit it back to you on a test." No lightbulbs here.

Next semester, I think I'll just have them dump vinegar into baking soda for 15 weeks.

[*]


I am certain the Madison from Monona is going to be blasted with the usual barrage of well-articulated profanity and outrage that seems so prevalent on this website.

Unfortunately, those individuals will miss the very valid points as well as some disturbing implications that can be gleaned from his (or her) post.

First, should professors learn not to take the kinds of activities listed by Madison personally? Absolutely. Students are rarely malicious. They are frequently thoughtless, ill-prepared, and lazy. Such adjectives can be applied at one time or another to the entire human race. However, it is also very human to feel affronted when students don't seem to care about your advanced degree, intense preparation, or dedication to the class. But that is life and it isn't unique to academia.

However, I do take issue with the idea that deadlines should be flexible, excuses are always acceptable, and the only criteria is "get the work done." I believe that without some kind of structure you do students (especially freshmen) a disservice.

There is value in producing a quality product. But there is more value in producing a quality product within a given time frame. The world won't wait for these students to get their act together. Assignments must be completed and time must be managed in order to be successful in almost any occupation or endeavor. Personally, I am unsure that Madison's students are learning the lessons that he or she has in mind. Do they actually learn to try and put together a better project? Or do they learn that an earnest and heartfelt story told to the professor will allow them extra time to procrastinate? I would hope for the former but suspect the latter.

[*]

Madison, those "Events" you blather on about -- the ones that ultimately teach students that they actually have to give as shit and try -- are provided by hard deadlines and actually holding them responsible for their work. Changing deadlines at the last minute, granting extensions consistently, allowing them to skip class with impunity...all this does is show them that you're a fucking pushover.

I bet if you were to read your ratings at the Other Site We don't Mention, you'll see that students think you're a fluffy little unicorns-and-puppy-asses pushover. "Teaching them how to write is my job. Teaching analysis is my job. Teaching citations again and again: it's my job."

Hey, dipshit: part of your job is ALSO teaching them to be responsible adults who can work within given parameters without getting whatever company is desperate enough to hire them headaches because they blow deadlines, call out unexpectedly or get the company sued for lack of documentation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Smattering of RYS Links.



Dubra from Dykemans Explains It All.


I am a 25-year-old senior. I started college when I was 21, and up until I was close to 24, I had the professor-aggravating, sluggish student demeanor. I sat in the back of the classroom. I pulled my beanie down over my eyes, disinterested (in reality, I was so wracked with anxiety and hopped up on benzos that I tried to shrink out of the professor’s view, afraid that he or she would call on me. I took class time as one takes community service, which is something I imagine many students do, attendance being that damn thing in the way of binge drinking and crotch grinding in ‘da club’). Long story short, I sobered up and became editor-in-chief of my college’s paper.

It was then that I slowly began noticing problems. The students who worked on the paper couldn’t write. Save for three people, the staff was disinterested. The layout director had absolutely no idea what she was doing, and had never taken an art course and was Mac-illiterate. The sports editor plagiarized, and when I brought it up at the meeting, most of the staff accepted his “I didn’t know!” and his “I had permission to plagiarize!” half-wit explanation. The longer I was editor the more I began to resent students. When I asked them to do something, it often came in half-done, late, or not at all, leaving me to pick up the slack.

But most alarming to me was how undeveloped and horribly written most of the articles we received were. There weren’t just tense errors or typos; entire articles had to be re-written. Sentences came in clunky and disjointed. I worked over 20 hours a week on top of a full course load just trying to get the paper to look coherent. Yet, when something went wrong, or when I cut a story (or in one special case of a diehard feminist writer’s article, changed a comma!), I was often given disgruntled looks, or taken aback by complaints. I quickly learned that this college’s paper was going to remain off the map and largely unprofessional, and it was depressing.

Faced with so many students who just don’t give a shit, I looked to my school’s writing department for support, seeing if they might shovel over a few people who could write coherently. There almost might as well not have been a writing department. The teachers, probably far too used to being subjected to incoherent papers, appeared to have stopped caring, passing nearly illiterate students along to the next course level. I found myself correcting at least one graduate student’s paper, and many soon-to-be-graduating students for a wide range of errors. And I’m only an above-average writer myself, with many more years to learn. Yet, it appears that English professors have given up trying to teach English because the rules being broken are so incredibly basic: don’t write in the first person, don’t write as if you were texting, don’t use a thesaurus just to sound smart, don’t write short and choppy sentences, place commas inside the quotation marks. In a way, I became to sympathize. How is a professor to teach critical theory if one’s students can’t produce something that doesn’t want to make a professor leave his college’s arches, crawling and bleeding from the eyes like Oedipus?

The transition going from apathetic beanie-wearing back-seat sitting student to an engaged and highly active one is something that will always stay with me. Sitting back in the class, I always hated most of my peers, and the professor. The class was almost always unresponsive, and the teacher would sometimes flounder in his or her efforts to elicit some kind of response from the zombies sitting behind fallen, wooden tombstones. It made for a tiring display, and one that would go on for a grueling dozen or so weeks. Sometimes, it’s no wonder why students are disinterested.

Yet while I can understand the apathetic students and the apathetic professors, and at the end of the day, I side with the professors. Why? Because some students simply should not be in college, and should be failed. The way that degrees are pumped out, facilitated by professors both who give a shit and those who don’t, is infuriating. It attributes to the cyclical snowflake syndrome of entitlement. Students simply cannot comprehend that they have done a terrible job at something: if they are told that their work is unacceptable, they don’t understand—how could they? Soon they will be a college graduate! If a professor tells them their work is junk, then what does he or she know? All of the other professors passed snowflake with A’s and B’s! It seems that once a student receives enough positive feedback—generated in bulk during lower level courses—any negative feedback, even if constructive, is ignored and the criticizer is considered any idiot or a person with a personal vendetta. This phenomena comes to a head mostly at upper level courses, when professors sometimes put the bottle down to do some real grading. An example: one of my fellow students and co-workers was graduating with about a 3.6, yet she was as confused as a dog with a stuffy nose searching for a stick in the woods when it came to writing; she couldn’t write a compelling sentence, much less an error-free paragraph if her life depended on it. She now holds a bachelor’s in journalism. She was one of those students who, instead of putting real work into a paper, insisted on using fancy font types to make her paper look more appealing and not boring like the rest of them. A senior and she hadn’t learned this freshman-level rule. Jesus Christ! And she has a 3.6 to show for it! That makes my degree look like even shittier shit!

Now, at the college newspaper, grades were replaced with paychecks, generated from our independently run advertising account. The result was this: the best editors and workers didn’t really care about pay, whereas the plagiarist and the moron journalist expected to be well-compensated. Sound familiar to you professors? Of course it does. I’m proud of myself for being a sneaky bastard and cutting their pay. Heh Heh.

So in the end, I came out bitter and wary of students in general, no matter their GPA. I finished doing my work at the newspaper with little enthusiasm, my hopes withered. Professors should fail more students, more regularly, at all levels. Destroy the snowflake syndrome; make the world a better place.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Madison from Monona Metes Out Some Moderation.


Doesn’t anyone on this blog remember what it was like to be an undergrad?

Don’t you remember the excitement of being on your own, the fascination that came from time to time when you had a lightbulb moment in class, the realization that you could eat whenever and whatever you wanted? (Until you gained the Freshman Fifteen.) And what about That Event, the thing that suddenly showed you why you had to stop sleeping through class and trying to scrape together last minute poor excuses for homework? The thing that ultimately led you to grad school and teaching?

I cannot understand why you take plagiarism personally, or skipping class personally, or sleeping during class personally. I remember having to choose between a paper or working a shift, and being dead jealous of all my friends who could go out. Sometimes I went with them and winged it in class. I never made those choices because I thought my female profs were too female, or other profs were too short, or whatever you guys are so nervous about. (Although I was suspicious of the flustered prof who seemed unfamiliar with their (sic) subject.)

As a teacher, I give extensions if a student is willing to ask before assignments are late. I give as many excused absences as they want, as long as they contact me before the beginning of discussion. I feel it rewards those who know they will be doing other things, rather than those who sleep in. And as a result, most of my students don’t bother lying and plagiarizing. And the few who do regret it when I remind them that all they needed to do was email me before class.

Students will always push their boundaries. They’re teenagers. It’s what they do. I don’t take this testing of the authority waters personally, and I give them second chances that don’t involve me dedicating more time. I change due dates last minute so that students have an extra 2 days to take that piece of crap and turn it into something halfway decent. I listen to the cock-and-bull story about sick grandmas and interpret them as “I screwed up, but I don’t want to just give you shit. Please let me work through this.” And as a result, instead of handing me shit, they learn a goddamn lesson. But you know what? Teaching them how to write is my job. Teaching analysis is my job. Teaching citations again and again: it’s my job.

Getting personally insulted that they didn’t follow my instructions to the letter? NOT my job.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Mournful, Short Enigmatic Free Verse That We Call the Academic Haiku, Returns.


Summer Session Eve
& I look at my syllabus.
My spirit is broken.

Season 5 of my career,
burned out,
sorrowing, despairing.

Where I see ground rules,
a map to the goal,
snowflakes see obstacles.

A dear oldtimer once said,
"Put it in writing,
& make them sign it."

But each year they game it,
find new loopholes,
& I add more.

Now the rules work against me,
not for me,
and every rule's a bomb.

So fuck it.
The whole thing now
will fit on one page.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Just Let Me Blow My Fucking Brains Out Right Now.



Dr. Schadenfrau Destroys Another Sorry Group of Flakes.


As many of you are aware, the first term of summer session is upon us now. And, I know we all hope that a summer class brings us joyful students who, by basking in the warm summer sun, are filled with endorphins that make them open to the compressed learning experience they’re about to have. Yeah, right….

Speaking of compressed, I believe I had an entire 10 working days between the end of the spring semester and the beginning of our summer term. That’s just enough time to get wickedly drunk once, clean up the aftermath of a personal bacchanal, and pull some semblance of a 6-week summer offering out of one’s ass. This is not the prestidigitation to which I aspire, by the by.

Right now, we’re two weeks into the semester and I could pretty much just fail half the buggers in my class right here and now. I really felt Froderich’s pain when his astronomy students don’t want to go out at night and, here’s mine: it’s a post-modern lit crit course AND they’re already whining that the dead, French guy stuff we need to read is too hard. What the phuck? If it’s post-modern and it’s literary criticism, there’s gonna be a dead French guy in there somewhere.

This sorry lot bellying up to the conference table thrice weekly is [insert shudder]: graduate students. Currently, Cornelius Cornhole is gunning for my prestidigitatious ass on a platter because I failed his first critical review. He wrote it in bullet form but wasn’t actually sure how to use the bullets in Word; thus, there are no bullets. There’s just lines hanging on a page. …nice po’ mo’ interpretation there, Corny.

Annabelle Asinine sent me some sort of liquored-up email rejoinder about the content of the day’s class. Her 2 am ramblings included a cut-down of the course, a curse on all of France’s citizens (especially the dead ones) and mention that she seems to be in some sort of early onset menopause. If this last fact was true, she’d know it’s actually spelled meanopause. Hormone shifts make you nasty, not stupid, Annabelle. It’s not Dr. Schadenfrau ‘cause I’m all sweetness and light.

Just moments ago, I received an email from Fernando Flagrante. Fernando would like me to know that the imposition of the MLA style on his prose causes him to have vascular constriction in the creative hemispheres of his brain. Judging by the tone of his email, I’d say the vascular constriction is caused by the bunching of his briefs in the nether regions.

So, the summer is off to a rollicking start. How many more weeks of this hell do I have?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Worn Down Winnie From Wenatchee Whines About a True WTFer.


Desperate Doug got a B in my spring class. A few days after submitting grades, DD phones me, near hysterical, begging me to lower his grade to a D.

WTF?

Seems DD does not want any "accolades" on his transcript, as in cum laude or whatever. To have a B in my class would be akin to ruining his life. He could not offer a cogent reason why a D would make his life sunshine and rainbows. I told him I wouldn't do it.

Then, he started haunting the department's office, scaring secretaries and the like, trying to see if THEY could help him.

He called me and called me. E-mailed me.

Finally, beaten into submission, I agreed to change his grade. I told him I thought it was unethical, but if it was that important, I'd do it.

I thought that would be the end of it.

But -- wait for it -- the university won't let a prof change a grade if it is to the student's disadvantage. (I indicated I made a "math error" in computing his grade) The form was kicked back to me. I debated contacting DD, but didn't want to inflame his hysteria.

So, I waited for the inevitable e-mail (thank God, it wasn't a phone call), wanting to know why the grade still hadn't changed.

I explained the university's policy, apologized for disappointing him and told him not to contact me about the matter any more because there is nothing I can do.

The following day, he terrorized the secretaries once again, and called my department chair. Get this: He told her I made a mistake and gave him a B, when he really deserved a D. No mention of the GPA and ruining his life.

My chair called me and I explained the story to her. She meets with him tomorrow. I doubt that the grade will change.

Yes, I'm a dumbass for cowing to this character, but WTF, people?

What is with this underachiever?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mid Career Mike Gets Taken to School.


Humbling. I can't think of anything else to call it.

For reasons too complicated to go into, I ended up attending nearly half of the sessions of a new colleague's intro level class during our Maymester. This is a course I've been teaching myself for years, and one that I thought I knew pretty thoroughly.

Imperceptibly over the course of 8 weeks, the professor began to see me more and more as just a regular student - something I'd insisted on. I did the work, sat in the small groups, ran the laser pointer (cool!) on our team projects.

And I felt stupider and stupider the longer it went. I found myself adopting the same kind of stances as typical students. I thought the prof was less than clear with his instructions. I imagined there was something he was leaving out to stump us. I started to distrust him.

None of that made any sense, of course, but the herd mentality swept me up.

And I saw my own flaws as a proffie in him. He didn't explain why we did things. He assigned them, he took them in, he graded them. We weren't told why or what for. I and my new pals wanted explanations. Why are we going this way? What good is this for? One bad student's attitude leaked onto everyone. One bad apple really does spoil the barrel.

Even when we had a post-semester mortem, along with our department chair, I found myself defending the students, their concerns, their confusion. It was something I'd not ever imagined happening.

The system is set up to be antagonistic. The proffie sets all the rules; they sometimes seem arbitrary. Even when the class rises up, proffie stays in charge. It didn't feel democratic or right. And once the class turns, they turn forever.

I began to scribble down plans for my own next teaching in the fall. Make students part of the planning of the class. Reveal my own intentions. Be flexible to changes they suggest, and listen to them.

Whether or not September will still find me in such a generous mood, this experience was surprising. Are students the way they are because the system does it to them?

Pathetic Project Pamela.


Last semester will (hopefully) go down in history as the worst. Amid the usual snow-flakery and plagiarists, were a few standouts.

It started out with a bang with virtual mutiny in an online class with students rebelling against actually having to complete tests within a time limit, peaked with a student lobbing the F-bomb at me, and ended with the snowiest of self-entitled flakes, who refuses to go away. Let’s call her Pathetic Project Pamela, or Pam for short.

Pam spent the entire semester doing nothing, failing everything, and generally being an unmotivated, disrespectful twit. On the final day of class, in which I returned projects after students finished their final test, she argued with me about the grade she earned on her pathetic project. Now, this was the worst example of a project I had ever seen. It was technically inaccurate, didn’t follow the instructions, was sloppy, and basically a disaster in every way. It was the kind of crap that I would have been ashamed to turn in, and one that my professors would have refused to even accept. But I graded it and included a detailed rubric explaining the grade.

While Pam’s peers continued with their tests, she wanted further explanation. I obliged in quiet tones, but she accepted none of it, and argued with me like a little brat the entire time. Finally, a bit ticked that she put up such a front of over-exaggerated indignation over what she must have recognized was a complete failure of an assignment, I told her that the project was the worst I’d seen. She snatched up the pile of crap and spat at me that I was rude. I shrugged and returned to my seat, where my assistant asked what the deal was. I just said Pam had a problem with her score and we proceeded to talk about some of the other problems I’d had during the semester with students.

A little later on I questioned a group of students that came in after she left, who I witnessed she held an audience with outside, if she had told them what was on the test. She must have just been bitching about me because as it turned out, I had nothing to fear as she failed so miserably, she likely couldn’t have told them what was on the test had she tried.

Flash-forward a couple weeks, when students get their grades, and Pam re-appears. Having failed the class, she gets up the nerve to email me about the incident, re-hashing all her pathetic excuses about her pathetic project (which apparently her friends thought was just fine), and accusing me of unprofessionalism and “gossiping” about her! I guess one of her buddies from class decided to regale her with embellishments of what I’d said after she left. It takes a hell of a lot of nerve to be such a whinny, lazy, sniveling brat all semester, turn in such a pile a crap as she did, treat me with such disrespect then take a pot-shot at me through email some weeks later. I’m sure this isn’t the last I’ll hear from her.

But lesson learned: next time, I will refuse to even grade crap assignments.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On Centerburg. Clyde from Columbus Offers Up His View.


The mail on the Centerburg high school cheating scandal went much like this:

You know, we all bitch and moan about the state of American education. But by the time my students reach me, they're already fucked.

What annoys me no end about the Centerburg cheating scandal you posted a couple of days ago is that it teaches ALL of the students terrible lessons.

For the half of the kids who were involved or who knew about the cheating - and then had the happy fete-ing by the deluded parents - they saw that cheating is okay. One kid got caught. Poor bugger. He was a hacker, so probably a bit of a dweeb anyway. But the rest had their little party and that was it. They even got SUPPORT from the parents and the townsfolk for it.

And of course for those kids who didn't know about it, or who refused the help, they learned that cheaters win. In fact they do the balloons in town square for you to celebrate your unique specialness.

They end up in my class, and I have to beat that preciousness out of them. Cheating is a failure. At least until someone's mom calls the dean. But that's a DIFFERENT fight than this one.

I'd be willing to take a big group of those Centerburg kids in my freshman class next term. Send them on. Let's see how the poor babies do.

This Is Why We Went to Modesto Juco.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Parents Throw Graduation for Ohio High School Students Caught in Cheating Scandal. "The Ceremony They Deserved."


By Meredith Heagney
from the Columbus Dispatch

All along Main Street, people stopped what they were doing to cheer for the Centerburg High School Class of 2009.

A gas-station worker stepped outside and whooped. A woman dropped a bag of hot dog buns in her front yard and applauded. A few people had made cardboard signs of support: "Way to go class of '09."

Ninety-three graduates in crimson robes and mortarboards filed past and smiled for pictures. They were on their way to Centerburg Community Memorial Park, where hundreds gathered yesterday in folding chairs and on picnic tables for a makeshift graduation ceremony.

On Thursday, the Centerburg school board canceled the traditional ceremony planned for yesterday, citing a cheating scandal that started with a student hacking into the school's computer system and stealing tests. About half the seniors cheated or knew of the cheating and didn't report it, district officials said.

All the students' diplomas except the hacker's were released to their parents, who decided to give their kids what the Knox County district wouldn't.

The sunny ceremony wasn't the formal affair that would've taken place at the high school, but instead a slightly rowdy yet heartfelt imitation of a typical commencement, complete with a recorded version of Pomp and Circumstance.

"I didn't think we were going to have anything," said Leeza Smith, 18, whose eyes were red from crying. "The parents, they really made our day."

Several seniors marveled at the turnout as they took their seats on metal folding chairs atop a concrete platform. Before them, a small wooden stage held silver balloons and a bucket of red roses.

A few feet from them, two TV cameras filmed the event, crowded by little kids in jean shorts who wanted a closer look.

No administrators or staff members took part in the ceremony. Several times throughout, the students were applauded for overcoming the adversity of having had their ceremony canceled.

One by one, the graduates were called by name to the front of the stage to receive a rose. They weaved through the crowd to find their parents, who handed them their diplomas.

Carol Andrews couldn't stop squeezing daughter Caitlin. As a mom, she still wished her daughter had had a traditional, more formal, graduation, she said.

But, she added: "I think this is even more memorable. I'm just very proud of the community and the way they came together to give these kids the ceremony they deserved."

Trinculo from Tampa Puts a Snowflake in the Plagiarism Pokey.


So even though I give my snowflakes a ten minute lecture on plagiarism the first day of class with follow-ups during the weeks prior to the first essay's due date, complete with the promise that I will fail anyone who does it, one snowflake decides to try me.

At least it was for the first paper and not the last.

I fail her, just as I swore I would, and she appeals because she felt our meeting prior to my notification of her failure didn't meet her criteria for meeting-ness.

The Director of Writing Programs explains that even if the meeting didn't meet her exacting standards, she still fails, because her paper was more internet than her own, even if we credit her with every single a, an and the.

Snowflake appeals to the Department Chair, who tells her the same thing. She appeals to the Dean, at which point I was allowed to stop driving 25 miles on my day off to sit in a useless meeting.

She's probably writing the Governor right now, a month after the end of the term.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bella from Burnt Hills Shares Her Migraine With Froderick.


I feel bad for Froderick. I bet astronomy really was very elite in the 70's. I'm not sure it isn't true now. But I went to college in the early-mid 90's, majored in chemistry, took three astronomy classes and got into Columbia for astronomy. And I can't be too smart, or I would have gone for it and had all those cool conferences in Hawaii and observing trips to the Canary Islands to go to instead of sticking with frigging chemistry and getting to work in a windowless lab and to whoop it up in a Ramada Inn in Ohio every couple of years.

But seriously...

I'm an adjunct with a crazy mish-mash schedule spread out between colleges and private high schools. I currently teach AP physics and the kids these days have been brainwashed to think there are "alternative" ways for their "special learning" and that as their instructor, I'm obligated to show them the "other way" to do every problem. Like with out any of that pesky "triangle stuff."

I even have kids who've stomped their feet and held their breath until they've been placed into physics, let me re-iterate, AP physics, without any trigonometry at all. And then it's my fault that they can't apply Snell's law in a basic problem designed to introduce the law; i.e. the easiest possible application of arguably the easiest equation in all of intro. physics. Never mind that they have no idea what "sine theta" means.

But that's not where it stops - when the AP exam is over, it's time to review for the Regents exam (an exam that used to get some kids a somewhat more prestigious HS diploma than their peers who opted out, but is now forced on everyone and is essentially meaningless). A time I expect to be the wake-up call - some practice tests where your grade in percentage terms is supposed to mean what you think it means. A time I expect them to sit with paper and pencils and discover that they don't know how to think. But what happens? I give a few practice tests and they get high 90's. They know nothing, but the state has decided you're a super-duper wunderkind if you can pick through a "reference table" and transcribe random facts to an answer sheet.

I've also taught Physical Chemistry at the local state college and the kids all hate chemistry. It's a junior level class, for crying out loud. It's not like gen. chem. that you might take for a quantitative requirement, or even orgo. which you might take for a pre-med req. It's a class for chemistry majors! If you hate chemistry, why would you major in chemistry?!!

They can't think their way past naming a class in which they got a B in HS. And thanks to an array of meaningless Regents exam setting the standard, it's not that hard to get a B in something.

It all goes back to the debates about the new "everyone has to go to college" culture. There is no curiosity. You can't read a physics paper if you aren't curious about it. But there is no curiosity. They can't live at home anymore if they don't go to college, and they don't want to get jobs, so they go. They have no passion about anything, so it doesn't matter what they major in.

They would hate economics, music, Spanish or history just as much and instead of Froderick wondering what they're doing there, it would be some other professor pulling her hair out.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Square State Suzy Just Can't Stand By While This Shit Goes Unanswered!


Dearest Whitney,

Duh. Yes. I know some of you just kiss up for grades. Did you think we didn't notice? Okay, I give you that some male teachers can't control their hormones, etc. but it is not that kind of friend I have been talking about. I actually enjoy playing a bit with the sucker-uppers. They can sit up front and raise their hand and quote my papers as much as they like and sit beside me in the cafeteria all they want, asking vapid questions. I grade hard, no favorites here.

And dear sweet Belinda from Bellows, heavens, no, I don't want the entire class in my home. Not all of them are house-broken yet. It doesn't happen often, but there is the *occasional* student who is intelligent enough and interesting enough for me to want to know more about them. This is usually not your average 19-year-old snowflake.

I'm sorry, Whitney, that you were a stupid, insecure freshman. I'm glad you have found happiness, which is not necessarily the goal of a college education, I've heard. But yes, dear, I know that my influence on students is often not felt to be positive *at the time they are studying with the old bitch*. I love it when they come back, years later, and thank me. Even then, they don't necessarily end up being friends. A quick count shows that I have enough fingers to count up my friends among former students and have fingers left over. In 16 years of teaching I have had a good many more in my classes.

So can we calm down and get on with our lives? There's a nice bottle of merlot on the counter, brought by a former student who is visiting with me and my husband.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Trimester Tim from Tulsa Learns a Lesson About Note Suckers.


I am taking a math course right now that I knew would be hard, which is why I've been taking very good notes and copying them over after class. Since my handwriting sucks, and I like beautiful things, I've been typing them, and they are lovely. Fucking lovely, if I may.

My proffie has no problem with me emailing them out to people who need them for whatever reason, so I sent them to a few people who were missing notes before the first exam. Two were very grateful, two did not even respond to my email. Not even a fucking thank-you. Lame, I know. But whatever, I imagine it is a lot worse for the actual prof, who is a very accomplished mathematician.

So the other day I have my computer in class to correct my homework, and I get an email. Turns out one of the flunky flaky fucks whom I helped before the last test wants my notes, and is emailing me from his blackberry. Instead of, say, looking at the fucking board in front of him, which is known to often contain the information that should be in his notes. Keep in mind that that his email went something like "can...notes" and omitted any "please" or "thanks for the last set of notes." So I send them to him, because whatever, right? It costs me nothing to help this guy, and my revenge is the knowledge that he will suck at this subject no matter what happens to him.

In the email, I asked him to let me know about any typos, and he never responded. So I print out the notes and what do I find? It turns out that I really did a not-so-hot job on the transcription, and it had a number of typos that happened to make some statements mean the exact opposite of the truth. Because I am not retarded, I caught on to these and highlighted them to remove later. Him? I have no idea whether or not he was even able to read the shit, and I don't care. You pay for what you get.

On that note, the other of the two ungrateful assholes tried to buy homework from someone else in class; I'd raise a stink, but I know that he is probably going to fail no matter what.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Absence Makes Athena More Alluring. One of the RYS Regulars On "Skipping School" Pedagogy.


I used to complain about student evaluations. You know, how little they mean, how they are just satisfaction surveys, how they don't actually correlate with learning, how students use them to get back at teachers of rigorous courses, etc. [Insert standard disclaimers here: my numbers are good, better than typical for my department and in particular the generally unpopular courses I teach, but there are always a handful who hate me, my guts and the horse I rode in. And they tend to like to use that other site that shall not be named.]

But this semester I did something that magically brought my students around to realizing I am the Best. Teacher. Evar. The miracle maneuver? I was gone for two weeks in the middle of the semester for medical reasons, and they had subs.

They could not WAIT to have me back in the classroom. Several emailed while I was gone to ask when I was coming back, saying that they couldn't understand anything the subs were saying, that attendance was down to a handful of students, and that there was no way they'd be passing the class if these people were teaching it. I mean, they LOVED me when I came back. I've never gotten so few negative comments (nor so many proclaiming "I LOVE Dr. Athena!!!!") in my evals.

Now, for the parts of the semester when I was there, I did all the same things I usually do - the same warnings and exhortations, the same chapter outlines, the same syllabus, the same lecture coverage (almost - we did get a bit behind). If anything, I was less of a "good" teacher than usual; I kept fewer office hours, gave one less exam and no quizzes, didn't keep up with the discussion boards as well, and was generally a little more absentminded and less available than at almost any other time in my entire career. I also did the best I could to prepare my subs to carry on - discussed the previous coverage, lecture notes and chapter outlines in advance with them, tried to get them ready for the level of detail warranted, etc.

And I'm actually quite confident that the subs actually did just fine; these are people with plenty of experience and classes of their own, and I am extremely grateful to them for being able to step in at very nearly the last minute. For my students' sake I wanted the class to be carrying on as nearly as possible the same as if I were there. It just apparently didn't quite turn out that way in the students' perception.

I didn't know how this was going to turn out; certainly it could have gone the other way - they could have been mad at me for leaving them in the middle of the semester, and have taken it out on me in the evals. They could have loved the subs and wished to be able to keep them. I'm certainly not going to try this every semester. But somehow, seeing the other side of things put it all in perspective for them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Toy Gun Shuts Down Princeton.

"I Have to Eat. I Have to Pack." On Daisy Dizzy and What Constitutes an Excused Absence.


It all started with Daisy Dizzy, who asked (via email, less than 24 hours before class) for an excused absence in order to "eat a quick lunch" and pack before traveling to an elective student "competition" AS AN ALTERNATE. As a matter of course policy, absences due to elective student activities, much less eating or optional travel, are not excused. Moreover, the impact of missing class was nil because students can miss 4 without penalty.

My mistake was detailing course policy for her via email less than 1 hour before class AND cc'ing the faculty advisor to the student club. The faculty advisor saw the unreasonableness of the request and instituted a professional conduct policy for student competitions and club travel. That was a good thing, imo. However, this student (and all the club members -- 4 of which were in my classes) knew the policy was a direct result from my email & discussions with the faculty advisor. From that point on, Ms. Dizzy and her minions were a nuisance in and out of class for over two months.

In a way, I have to thank Ms. Dizzy. I've made changes to my course policies and my MO: I only respond to student email during office hours (usually with "see me to discuss" or "take a look at page 3 in the syllabus and see me if you have questions"), I don't excuse anything but bereavement and serious illness per university policy (which means athletes are now SOL in my classes), and students will be graded on professional conduct in all classes (10% of final grade).

But the biggest lesson I learned from Daisy was this -- Sometimes, simply ignoring students is the best option.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Froderick On Staying Up Late, Nose-Wiping, And Lack of Initiative.


Although my RYS character "Froderick" wears a white lab coat, my field is in fact observational astronomy. It's lots of fun, literally a childhood dream come true. It wasn't easy to get here, since many other people want to become astronomers too. This worries me: the highly competitive nature of astronomy and modern students' attitudes don't go together.

I was an undergraduate in the '70s. Many of my professors were abusing their tenure, by coasting. They no longer did research, and they taught us lots that was out of date, badly. I resolved never to be like this, and despite having tenure now, I think I've succeeded. Life loves to spring ironies on us, of course: now, I have no shortage of students who squander the opportunities that I knock myself out to make for them.

I've had several students ask me to do research projects, and then, when I tell them what to do, immediately say, "Oh, I didn't know you had to stay up past midnight to do that!" For heavens' sake, this is observational astronomy: what exactly do they think it was that we -do- here? The killer is that, when I was an undergraduate, we had no problems at all with staying up past midnight. What do these people -want- from me?

I know that the transition from student to researcher can be difficult. The rules change, and they change so much. Still, the modern hooked-on-handholding approach in education is anathema to scientific research. Science is about doing -new- things, kids: if I have to supervise your every step, and wipe your nose every time you don't notice the snot running down your chin, we're not going to achieve much that's new, are we? I might, and perhaps I'll give you a share of the credit that you don't really deserve, but -you- certainly won't.

I'm also distressed by how difficult it is to get even physics majors to read anything, particularly scientific papers, never mind read them carefully enough to understand them. What on Earth do you expect me to do, wave a magic wand and turn you into an astronomer? Why don't you view what we're doing as fun? If you don't think it's fun, why even do this? Just about every other way of making a living will give you more money, for less effort. The lack of initiative engendered by an overscheduled, overstimulated upbringing obsessed with feelings at the expense of actual achievement is inimical to the curiosity so basic to science. How do I teach anyone to have initiative? But then, with fewer people able to "do science," maybe the crowded job market will improve. One can only hope.