Friday, February 26, 2010

Where We Return to From Whence This Page Came. (And Jesus Freshman on a Pony...is "Bass Fishing" A Euphemism?") The Old School Smackdown.


Traffic Tammie: I'm sorry but, "There was ice on the roads, so I didn't want to speed and be all dangerous and stuff, so I missed my exam," isn't an acceptable excuse. We all knew there'd be ice on the roads - funny how that happens when it's cold, eh? But thanks for emailing me...4 minutes before the exam began...from your car...while driving. "But, I live in [a really nice area of town known for its rich-bitch kids, surgery-addicted soccer moms, and traffic jams worse than the 3rd circle of hell]. And I just couldn't make it in." Funny, again - since I live 3 times farther away from campus than you, and yet I arrived...early. Oh, and your classmate, Punctual Patti, is your friggin' roomate and she miraculously made it here on time. Seriously, go get a drop form. Like, now.

Pwned Petey: I think it's great you want to "be" Dr. Herpetologist when you grow up. But, just being "cool" and going bass-fishing incessantly (and bragging about this to Dr. H) will not help you in the least in *my* lab. You're going to need to know way more than how to gut a fish to pass your lab practical tomorrow. If I were you, I'd start planning for a career in swamp tourism...

Anal Annette: Ok, I get it - you want to know every-fucking-thing under the sun. But, honey, that doesn't mean shit if you do a brain-dump immediately after every test. Remember, you're the one who wants to go to med school - which involves passing a *huge* standardized test - about stuff you learned...in...my...lab. I strongly suspect my lab course will be the first "B" to maim your impeccable college transcript. If you need the name of a good therapist once that happens, I got the hook-up, yo.

Registrar Rita: What the fuck?!? I filed all my employments form in December, and I'm still not getting paid? Oh, right - I had to put in 2 sets of forms - 1 for the TA job and 1 for the instructor job (which makes no fucking sense whatsoever, by the way) - and now these competing forms are mutually excluding me from getting a paycheck...til June...or later. Awesome! Guess I'll be dining at your place til the term's over, since I'm too broke even for ramen. My dislikes: fish, coconut, melon, whole milk, and your bureaucratic bullshit, twinkle toes. Let me talk to someone with actual authority or I swear I will lace your monstrous mug o' joe with ethydium bromide during your next pee break. Intercalate this, bitch!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sure You Can Make Shit Up. But It's Never As Good As the Real Shit. Suzanna Needs a Proffie GPS.


Suzannah Snowflake: I’ll be at your office hours 4pm! I really need your help! Where are you again? 3:50 PM

Patient Proffie: Well I'm sitting in my office. It's listed on the syllabus, of course, but it's room 610 in Hallowed Hall. 4:01 PM

SS: u fool! there is no such thing as 610 Hall, i've asked everywhere! (original wording preserved). 4:35 PM

PP: (after taking deep breaths): Its ROOM 610 in HALLOWED Hall. I am sitting there. Just to clarify, did you just call your professor a fool? 5:02 PM

Office hours are over. 5:30 PM

SS: I still can't find ur office. I'm on the fifth floor but nobody is here.... can we meet tomorrow at another office? 6:03 PM

Already home and drinking. 6:04 PM

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Downsized Darla from Dandy County.


For several weeks, we've been corresponding with Darla, a 5 year adjunct at a large community college. Because her situation has been quite contentious, and because she had been optimistic it might be worked out at some point, she had opted not to share it on RYS. But a recent development and her recent hiring of an employment rights attorney has encouraged her to share the following cautionary tale:

[+] [+] [+]

My name is Darla, and since I was 8 years old I've wanted to be a professor. I excelled in high school, struggled a bit as an undergrad, but got my shit together for a decent State Uni masters and then a Ph.D. from one of the top 10 programs in my field in the country.

And then I waited. I took 2 VAPs and a postdoc in the first 3 years on the market. And then I waited.

When a community college in my parents' home town offered me a couple of classes 5 years ago, I took them. There are no benefits, and the money sucks, but I've had a great time. I now teach 4 classes a term, and although it's not guaranteed work, it does earn me enough ($28,800) to feel as though I'm not just draining my family's nest egg.

I still apply to jobs in my field, but it's been 2 years since I've even got an interview - yes, the humanities.

Anyway, at my college it is typical for us to get a preference sheet several months in advance of a coming semester. We look at the complete list of TBA sections and request ones we'd like. The various Deans work through this and assign us our sections. In the 5 years I've been here I've never gotten exactly what I wanted, but it's been steady work and I've been happy to have it.

When several weeks had passed after sending in the Spring 2010 preference sheet, I still hadn't gotten the normal, "Here are you sections" note. I called Dean Doris who I work with the most and asked if they'd been delayed.

"Uh, Darla? Oh, hi. Yes, well, let me see. I think, that's been turned over to Dean Daniel. You might want to call him." Then she paused. "And, I want to say that no matter how things turn out, I'm thankful for all you've done for us." And then she hung up.

For some reason I still can't fathom, her last line didn't hit me. In retrospect it should have set off warning "alarums," but I just dialed another number and asked for Dean Daniel instead. My only real contact with Daniel had come in a faculty forum where I'd been asked to be a part of a group presentation to students about graduate school. I had talked about my middling undergrad career and the culmination of graduating summa cum laude from one of the top colleges in the nation. I remember clearly after the panel Dean Daniel saying to me, "All that firepower, and you're right here with us. Isn't it strange how things work out?" It struck me as odd at the time, but I hadn't thought much about it since.

"Yes, DOCTOR Darla, I'm sorry to tell you that you've been downsized. That's certainly a common thing nowadays, even here at little Companionable Community College. We just don't have the demand to offer you any sections in the coming year or so. But we'll keep your name in our records. Thank you."

And that was it. I kept running things through my head. I felt as if in a fog. I woke up a bit when my mom reminded me about a recent front page newspaper article that reported record high enrollment at the college, especially among incoming freshmen who need exactly the sort of freshman intro courses I made a meal on.

How could I be downsized in a market that was growing?

I called the chair of my department, someone I know a bit, but truly not someone who I had much contact with. (In our college's culture, adjuncts deal directly with the deans.)

Chairman Chuck said, "Darla. Well, I did have a conversation with Dean Daniel. It seems that we simply didn't have the need this term."

"But what about record enrollment, surely those students need the classes I teach."

"Yes, that's right, I suppose, in theory. But let's say that the Dean decided to use some different options this semester."

So now it was a different answer than I began the day with. Chuck continued.

"Well, I think it might have something to do with your most recent student evaluations. There were some scores there that scared us, frankly. You understand we're just doing what we think is right for the college. Dean Daniel made the call, but I admit I went along with it. I'm sorry."

This was not what Dean Daniel had told me earlier, and against my better judgment I called him next.

"Oh, DOCTOR Darla, how can I help?"

"I just spoke with Chuck, and he tells me there's something in my recent evaluations that led to me being fired."

"Well, you haven't been fired. You've NOT been RE-hired, that's all. It's quite common. The English chair and I did have a conversation, but I'm really not at liberty to discuss what goes on in those reviews. I have to admit I'm surprised you're so interested in teaching here, what with your stellar credentials. Surely you must feel like you've been slumming here all these years. I'm sure you'll catch on somewhere else. And I haven't seen your evaluations. That's Dean Doris's job. Goodbye."

My recent evaluations? Had they come in? Had I even seen them? Did I get them and file them with the rest? I have a stack of them from the past 5 years and I dug them out. I often got dinged on grading fairness, a result - I always thought - of my tougher standards. But the most recent ones weren't there. I got on the phone to the departmental assistant. She said, "I just put them in your mailbox right now, after Dean Daniel brought them to me."

WTF? Daniel said he hadn't seen my evaluations, yet somehow today he had them just minutes ago?

I was at school in less than a half hour and I pulled the evals out of the envelope right by the boxes. I scanned the numericals and they looked okay; even my fairness number was at the department average.

Then I flipped them over.

Two different students wrote these comments: "If she thinks she's slumming here, she should try my neighborhood instead! :)" "If she wants to see a slum, she should try my room!"

I remembered the word "slum" then. I knew I had used it in class. My best friend from college had come to visit me 2 weeks before the end of the semester. She had studied in a much different - hotter - field and had gotten an amazing tenure-track job at an Ivy right out of grad school. She was a dynamo and had risen to the top of here field in the 5 years since we were sharing a dingy apartment in New York together.

I had said in class, "My buddy Amanda is coming to stay with me for a few days. She's going to be slumming it at my parents's house with me for a few days."

That was it. That was the text, subtext, and context.

Time passed. I talked to other adjuncts, even finding a website where other Dandy County non-re-hires had gathered to commiserate.

And then I got a lawyer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Flakemail of the Day.


Dear Ms. [Blackboard Insert],

My name is Cindy Snowflake, I am in your class on W, Fri (1:40-2:55). I have not been able to attend class on the first two weeks [uhm...two and a half, but who's counting?] because I have been very sick with flu like symptoms [I understand that the duration of H1N1 is, on average, 7 days, but I guess you can never be too careful]. I know I have a lot to make up [knowing the obvious is half the battle] and will work hard not to miss any more classes in the future [I'd rather you worked hard in class] . Thank You [you're welcome; please come again, or, better yet, DON'T. I've got 23 other snowflakes to deal with already.]

From Cindy Snowflake [In case you didn't remember my name the first time, because I certainly don't know what yours is.]

[+]

Dear Cindy,

I'd really love to tell you to suck it, but I was hoping the F on the in-class essay you would have bombed today had you showed up to write it would have spoken louder than any of my words. But I had been instructed not to mark you "absent" provided you mentioned the magic words: "flu-like symptoms." Sheer dumb luck.

Quick question, though: what the hell were you thinking when you decided to waltz into my classroom 6 minutes before the end of class, proceeded to sit down, and then, upon my asking you, repeatedly, whether I could help you, mumbled something like, "Is this Com...pa...rative Lit...erature?" and, upon my responding that this was, indeed, 6 more minutes of Comparative Literature, you said, "I guess it's the wrong class, then" and waltzed right back out?! Please get back to me at your earliest convenience, because, dude, I've no clue what to expect now.

Baffled Ms. Proffie

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chicago Charlie on Teaching Virtue and Value.


I was teaching Plato’s Apology to my students last week. Well, actually, I wasn’t teaching. I’ve been demoted. Yes, you see, I was an adjunct lecturer before, where at least I had my own class. Now I am an adjunct instructor, which means I am overglorified TA. So the Professor gets up and gives the pitch to the 400 student avalanche, and I get my little recitation / discussion / whatever you call it group of 20 snowflakes. So in addition to losing my health insurance, I have also lost, more devastatingly, any creative or intellectual control over the course material, the content or the way in which it is taught. Now I am just a hired goon. I go to the poor urban public school across the way, so this, coupled with the fact that I am a TA, leads the fancy kids at the rich private school where I “teach” as being one step up from the janitorial staff they never see, but whom they so blithely disrespect when they leave their garbage all over their immaculately wrought classrooms.

But Socrates was poor (well, by the standards of Athenian citizens). And I have proven myself willing to endure a sort of poverty in order to pursue wisdom myself and to try and help others find it too. I am, after all, an adjunct. And when they asked him, after putting him on trial and convicting him, what he thought a fitting punishment would be for “corrupting the youth,” which he considered nothing less than providing them a moral education and a means for living an life of virtue and self-examination, he asked to dine at the public expense, the highest honor the state could give. Instead they gave him a shot of hemlock.

I watched / listened to the professor give a fancy power-point lecture, listened to the professor discuss Socrates’ rhetorical strategies, listened to the professor discuss the Socratic method and the elenchus, the political backdrop to the trial and everything else about Socrates without ever mentioning that he wanted nothing more for the Athenians to live virtuously. And when he asked what reply he would give to someone who asked him“are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end?” he said “To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong - acting the part of a good man or of a bad.”

What is the purpose of what we are teaching? I frequently read posts on RYS about people who claim they are there to teach a skill, nothing less, nothing more. To me, this strikes at the very core of what the Humanities, as bequeathed to us by Socrates, Euripides, Thucydides et al sought to do. The tragic poets considered themselves nothing less than teachers of Greece. And Thucydides believed his work would be a lesson whose value would only increase over time.

I no longer conceive of the role of my profession as being one of teaching facts and figures, of teaching history or literature. I no longer care if my students can distinguish between a tragedy and a novel, whether they know whether or not Greece came before Rome. Maybe later, maybe in higher level classes. But first, we have to teach them how to think, how to live an examined life. We have to teach them that virtue, in whatever way they define it, is more important than money or power of fame. No one else will teach them that. In the Gorgias, a dumbfounded Callicles asks Socrates: “If you are in earnest, and these things you’re saying are really true, won’t this human life of ours be turned upside down, and won’t everything we do evidently be the opposite of what we should do?” And, though Socrates never says so, yes, it should. This world needs turning upside down. This world needs a gadfly like Socrates to irritate it out of a self-destructive complacency, a self-congratulatory righteousness that preaches we all take as much as we can and leave the rest to fend for themselves. A world in which people assume that what they have is because of virtue, when it is based on random circusmstances of birth—class, gender, race, geography, parents, even time itself.

When I was a teenager, I coached youth soccer and, ironically, it was much like teaching today’s college students: they couldn’t follow directions, they couldn’t perform basic tasks, they couldn’t work well together, they lived in a culture devoid of personal accountability where every mistake they made was someone else’s fault and any criticism directed at them was a personal threat to their own perfection (and their parents’ image of their perfection) rather than an attempt to help them improve by someone whose job it was to help them do just that. But these kids were six through ten, not eighteen through twenty-two. I came home one day, particularly discouraged because I spent all of my time teaching them how to be teachable, to follow directions, to stand in line, when I myself am the least stand-in-line-able person I have ever met. “Dad,” I said, “I feel as though I am socializing them,” and he said, in the only words of wisdom he has ever given me, “Who would you rather entrust the task of socializing them to?” And, honestly, the answer is no one. The bankers? The politicians? The soldiers?

The fact of the matter is this: when we signed up for this job, we signed up for much more than simply teaching them facts. We are responsible for socializing them. We are responsible for teaching them virtue and its value, even when that value cannot be measured. It is a responsibility I take seriously. And in today’s academy, it means being an irritation to the business-model adminsitrations wage slaves and the fundraising athletics-program whores and the crawl-over-each-other-to-get-to-the-top adjuncts and the self-righteous self-satisified tenured professors and the helicopter parents and the students too stupid to know they’re stupid and too deficient in critical skills to realize they have no idea how they could even discover the fact of their own stupidity. That is our job. That is our mission. And when I think of all the opportunities that I have lost because I adhered to that mission, and I think of all the opportunities I no doubt will lose out on because I won’t compromise myself in this way—all Socrates had to do was apologize and promise to stop!—I remind myself of the great man’s words. Nothing matters but a life fully lived, and in each case, I ought not think of my own profit or advantage, I “ought only to consider whether in doing anything [I am] doing right or wrong."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Plainsman Phillie Warns Against Being Too Pitiful to Peer into the Pines.


I'll agree with Dana that some of the responses to Dale were less than lovely. But, honestly, Dana, the death of your ideals? Just because some, or even most, of your students are half-wits and slackers? I wholeheartedly endorse your dream that higher education can change people, but I can only put down your disappointment in the reality of being an educator to the malaise of modern society, that insistence on instant and total gratification that makes us loathe our snowflakes so much. Seriously - your student body sucks? Aw, who'd have thought THAT?

You mention you were transformed by higher education - as were, I'm sure, many of us; didn't you ever pay any attention to the people you were in school WITH? Were most of them "transformed"? I'd bet money - and since I'm in the Humanities, you know how serious I am to make THAT offer - that they weren't. Moreover, I'd bet that you knew even then that many, if not most, of your classmates weren't getting from the experience what you were getting. So why did you think it would be any different from the other side of the desk? If I get one kid a semester who winds up a little more enlightened after taking my class, I feel pretty damned good for having beaten the odds.

Honestly, if you come into this profession thinking you're going to wave your chalk and/or whiteboard marker and get a scene from an overrated Robin Williams movie, you deserve your angst, just as much as the snowflakes who think everything they want and/or need will be handed to them on a silver platter deserve theirs. This isn't an unrewarding job if your standards are realistic. Make some kids turn some stuff in on time that doesn't suck, so they can learn that it can be done. Period. That's it. Being some student's inspiration? Gravy, purely a lagniappe - not something, in other words, you should be expecting.

Hell, even if you do wind up giving some student a warm fuzzy and inadvertently changing his or her worldview, who's to say you'll even know? My advice to both Dale and Dana is to scale down the pity party. You're missing the forest for the trees, here. Do you, each semester, manage to improve, even if only marginally, a handful of kids' grasp on your subject matter? Well, great - that's all you're here to do and all you can reasonably expect. And, let me say in closing, it wouldn't hurt to ponder for a moment if your students' generally bad attitudes might have something to do with the sad sack at the head of the class, standing there giving off waves of self-pity, 'cause some of us, even those of us with less-than-stellar student bodies to work with, are still doing okay overall in terms of the snowflakes' attitudes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Brianna in Bio Wants To Know Exactly What Sort of Profession She's Gotten Herself Into.


As a student and instructor in the Univeristy of Alabama system, I simply cannot properly express the huge range of emotions I've felt over the past 2 days concerning the shootings at UAH. First, I felt absolute shock - the kind of jaw-dropping, gasping-for-air empty numbness usually reserved for mass casualties. Then anger. And fear. And now a sadness I don't feel I can properly express. Perhaps it hit me so hard because I'm from Alabama and because I'm in the Biology Department and we're talking about academics killing other academics. I know we are *all* thinking, "My god. That could have been me, dying during a routine faculty meeting."

But it all just seems so....obscene. I may spend my limited free time ranting about my students' snowflakery (and sending those rants to RYS so I can confirm I'm not the only one going crazy by teaching), but I do so because I'm an idealist. Quite frankly, if I can bitch it out here - about my students, my colleagues, my advisors, my mentors, my own professors - then I can *leave* it here - and walk into class and give it my absolute all. And I don't have to depress my boyfriend or my girlfriends with my whining about teaching. I *love* teaching. It's the one thing I don't mind getting up at 5:30 am to do. And, until now, the worst thing I could imagine was a student shooting other students - which is horrific. But that still feels like it's someone "outside" the Ivory Towers of the Academie. I suppose I thought the worst thing I had to expect from colleagues was snarking behind my back - and perhaps the occassional overeager, Machiavellian type gunning for whatever job and/or status I might have. I know I have to watch what I say around students - and cover my ass when I grade, with reams of evidence - so I can diffuse any student anger issues before it becomes postal-level. But now I have to guard myself against those people whose work I revere and respect, for fear of offending someone so deeply that my life is made forfeit?

And all of this is over...tenure? 3 people are dead because someone was essentially fired and black-listed by not getting tenure. I would love to know why it was denied - was it a budgetary consideration? was it some chair or dean thinking they could milk a few more tenure-free years out of a respected researcher? or was it something she did, which we'll never truly know about? It doesn't matter - 3 people are dead. And I'm scared that the profession I've chosen is not just competitive - it's downright cutthroat.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Donzo Dale from Denver Kills It.


I'm so done with this career. Donzo.

Each semester of the past 5 or so has brought more and more depression. The classes. The stupid students. Lazy. I know this page gets off on the lively and spicy reports from the field, but I don't think I can summon the energy.

My students don't want to be there. Does anyone else see that? Why am I beating my head against the wall for them? Every day there's a new tragedy that keeps students from class, from doing their work, from taking part. "I had a stutter when I was in 5th grade." "My boyfriend has a split toe." "My mother can't find a babysitter for MY BABY." "I didn't know we had class today because it was snowing everywhere." "Do we have to?" "Do we have to staple them?" "Do we have to stay all class today?" "Do we have to type these?"

And I get these long emails from students who won't talk in class. "What did you say at the end of class. I wasn't listening." "I know you said the projects were due on Monday, but can I do mine on Wednesday instead?" "I'm having a hard time with my History class. Do you know someone over there who can talk to my professor?" "I'm having a hard time concentrating on my homework because I have undiagnosed ADHD."

And my boss brings in last semester's evaluations and closes the door. "Two students said you were very unfair in your grading? Do you think that's right? Don't you explain how grades are given? Maybe you better add that to your syllabus. Do we even have your newest syllabus? What is this comment here about, about how you told one student her idea was wrong? Do you remember that day? Could there maybe be a better way of helping that student? They really are the whole reason we're here, you know?"

Uh, yeah? Is that right? Jesus.

I smoke more than I used to. I drink more. I sit in front of American Idol and just stare at the flashing images instead of prepping class, because I get a knot in my stomach otherwise. Oh, and the bacon I eat. Just big plates of it. Bacon and toast. It tastes good. It never disappoints.

I walk the dog at midnight because I can't sleep. I stand under the stars and just wish that a fire would break out on campus and burn down my office and my classrooms. I want to get a disease so I can quit my job and go buy a boat in the Florida panhandle and just sail out into the Gulf. I want this one fucking student named Alicia to quit sending me her Twilight fan fiction because I made a joke one day in class that they should stop reading that stuff and read the textbook more.

I spent half my life in school. I devoted time and energy and passed up countless other opportunities of love and business and money and location so that I could teach what I loved. And now I just want out. But these past years have beaten me down so badly.

What have I done? What am I doing?


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Motor City Mitch Uses Some Down Time to Write Some Snowy Letters.


Dear Campus Response Team,

Next time you plan to close the college at noon when the weather is clearly horrible and everyone knows it's coming, please send your closure notice before I second-guess myself, get in my car, and take 45 minutes to make what is normally only a 25 minute drive to campus. Do you have any idea how pissed I was to find that you'd sent that email while I was probably still in my garage? I screwed around for as long as I could stand it while I was waiting for that email -- I even graded a few papers while I was stalling! -- and you just had to wait until you knew I was out the door.

[+]

Dear Student,

When the college announces that it is closing the campus at noon due to inclement weather, I will not be in my office during my afternoon office hours. I will even send you a courtesy email to tell you what you ought to figure out on your own. I will do this because experience has taught me that, sadly, you are not smart enough to figure it out on your own. Yes, I realize you have a paper due in three days, and yes, I realize that you might have been planning to stop by, but it is not appropriate to send me a bitchy email about how I am not meeting my obligations to students "right" before a deadline.

I would like to explain something to you. When the college is closed, it means that I don't have to be there -- in fact, the college's closure notice encouraged me NOT to be there. When McDonald's is closed, can you go through the drive through and come out with a Big Mac? No, you cannot. When the mall is closed, can you wander from Abercrombie to Hollister to Banana Republic with your bff? No, you cannot. When the library is closed, can you head over to the video section to rent Scary Movie XXVII? No, you cannot. So when the college is closed, why on earth would your brain tell you it's logical to expect the same services you receive when the college is open?

Here's the real kicker about your snide little email. Unlike McDonald's and the mall and the library, I actually do provide limited services during closure. For example...I respond to email. In fact, I even sent my students -- including you -- an email saying that I wouldn't be in my office due to the campus closure. Then I offered to answer questions and look at paper drafts via email. (If you don't check your campus email because you prefer to correspond solely via Hotmail, that's not my failure. I did what I could.) I think it's pretty nice of me to piss away my snow day for your benefit, especially since your paper isn't even due for another three days.

So please don't give me the business for not being in my office when the campus is closed. It just makes me ornery, which does not bode well for you and your paper grade. Do you really expect me to stay at school when the campus response team has deemed that it would be unsafe for me to be there? Do you really think I should sit in my office for an extra 3.5 hours during a blizzard so that I can drive on roads that are in even poorer condition than they were in when the response team decided they were bad enough to force closure? Maybe this makes me a bad person, but I don't think that helping you with your paper in person is a pressing enough concern that I ought to risk my life for it.

I know you don't think the weather is that bad, but they didn't close the campus because it would be dangerous for you to be outside for the 90 seconds it takes you to get from your dorm to the classroom. They closed the campus because the commuter students come from Suburb A (30 minute drive), Suburb B (45 minute drive), and Suburb C (1 hour drive). They canceled because the professors and staff come from City A (60 minute drive), City B (60 minute drive), and City C (60 minute drive). The campus response team was not worried about you and your commute from Beer Pong Dormitory to ADHD Hall. They were worried about me and my 25-minute-turned-45-minute drive...and I just live in town. A lot of my colleagues, and a lot of your classmates, do not. So shut up, email me your paper, and cry about it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Top 10 Signs That Grading Your Exams is Going to Suck.


  1. A student writes a long note to you on the back of the exam explaining why she didn’t have time to finish the exam.

  2. There’s a Facebook group dedicated to you. Comments are not very nice.

  3. A student complains, “I forgot my calculator!” Lucky for you, I’ve got this trusty slide rule that you can borrow.

  4. You’ve never seen 20% of the class prior to exam day.

  5. A student sobs quietly as you collect the tests.

  6. Everybody gasps when you tell them that they have five minutes left.

  7. You realize that the calculation questions were so hard that nobody could answer them, including you.

  8. Rumors circulate that students in the dorm passed around a voodoo doll with your likeness.

  9. After the exam, you receive a thinly veiled death threat from a student, majoring in social justice.

  10. Before the exam, somebody asks, “Do we have an exam today?” Yes, now go back to bed.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sometimes It Helps to Break the Tablets in Half. A New Arrival in RYS-Ville, Bipolar Beth Swings for the Fences.


Whassup bitches?! Bipolar Beth from Boise here (I thought I'd add in the Bipolar bit for some increased alliteration - and it'd be more realistic to call me Bipolar Beth from Biloxi - I say "y'all" too frequently to qualify as an Idahoan). As of January, I'm in grad school at a large, urban, medical-center-based Uni! (Read: The non-biomedical biology department is screwed for funding.) And as of this week, I think I am officially a teacher in every way:

  1. I got a lab coat, so I look all official and shit. Seriously, people are parting like the Red Sea in front of me. Do I smell of formalin, or does white-coat-hypertension exist in the classroom, too? And why do the janitorial staff bow their heads to me like they're genuflecting? Did I miss a memo??

  2. Every damn professor in the department insists on waving at me every one of the 400 times they see me each day. Oh, and is there some unspoken of hazing ritual whereby professors (with CV's I'd kill baby birds for) ask me to help them prep for their labs (read: prep their labs for them), even if I have no training in their area of study? "Why, sure, Dr. Someday-I-might-need-your-recommendation, I'd be happy to dissect a lamprey and a mudpuppy! Did I tell you I finally picked a thesis - on the comparative histopathology of Alzheimer's Disease vs. other dementias - in humans - not in freaking mudpuppies. But, what the hell? It's gotta be pretty close to a human in anatomy. Oooh, what're those freaky things on its neck that look like gills???"

  3. I finally got keys to the science building and the labs that I need to access for prep, teaching, and (presumably) research. I guess the research will start when my advisor returns from her month-long vacay back to India...

  4. I just wrote my first exam. Why the hell didn't anyone tell me how friggin' long that would take? All those dilemmas: Is that one too hard? Is that one two easy? Well, shit, I told Section A about 5' and 3' ends of DNA and I got that O-Captain-My-Captain feeling when one actually used the term "BRCA gene" in a question...but Section B looked like a bunch of cows headed to slaughter (the fact that 3 students were chewing gum as if they earnestly wanted to develop Schwarzeneggar-esqe temporal muscles helped with that mental image...), so I stopped after their eyes crossed at the words "a ribosome is really a kind of RNA." So I guess I'll change the questions on page three so the Cow-Girl-Trio won't throw a hissy fit to the lecture professor about how I test on things I didn't cover...even though the dear little things are gonna flunk themselves silly no matter what.

  5. I just sat down to grade my 2nd set of papers. You aren't confused - I am a biology instructor, but I'm assigning written papers. I have to. This Intro Bio course is now a QEP class - "Quality Enhancement Plan" - some stupid SACS crap that means this course "reinforces proper methods of communicating effectively for life." You can't make this shit up. I HAVE to make these sullen, bleary-eyed, anti-science, who-needs-to-communicate-effectively-when-I-can-just-Twitter super-flakes write in complete sentences...all the time...with no partial credit if they fuck it up. So, last week I just figured the grades would go up once they started paying attention to the exceedingly simple rules. Um, well, last week's assignment was on significantly easier scientific concepts. Break out the DNA and their brains apparently atrophy instantaneously. And I quote: "DNA is made of proteins. Proteins are used to make RNA. RNA is made of amino acids, which gets turned into fat if you don't use it right away." What the hell?!? Is that really your final answer? My only saving grace is that (a) I assigned the paper *before* my lecture and (b) it was based entirely on their inderstanding of the reading. So, woot! QEP roXXors!

  6. After grading the 4th abysmally, depressingly, unflinchingly stupid response paper, I broke out a dram of my boyfriend's Laphroaig. And as of tonight, I define a "dram" as about 4 ounces of liquor, give or take a tumbler-full. I pray that the peat-moss-infused fumes with act like ether vapor and make me not give a shit about how much I want to strangle the Administration for lowering the ACT-score cut-off by yet another 4 points. At this rate, low double digits will soon be highly competitive for University scholarships. Christ, this tastes like gasoline...
And the angst/ennui dichotomy begins...

Sometimes "Good Luck" Just Means "Go Fuck Yourself." FlakeMail!


Dear Professor Disrespecty,

I understand your [sic] concerned about [my cheating on 6 essays] in reference to the exam [of 20 questions]. However, I am [middle aged]; I have [a sophomore's lifetime of experience] in the military; have a degree; own a business; and in the process of launching another business. I refuse to be disrespected by your opinion or anyone else. I could have easily voiced my opinion on you as an instructor who I felt reacted totally unprofessionally. I have never been so humiliated in my life.

The first exam I took didn’t seem like the answers you were looking for; therefore I went into an extended research [see:eCheat.com] to try to give you a better answer. The exam did not say essay questions, I was given twenty questions and I answer [sic] twenty questions. You as an instructor did not specific [sic] whether it was an open book test or whether we could use other resources such as the internet. Therefore, I used the textbook and other resources for my exam, which did not specific [sic] an essay type exam. I have been attending Online U since [a long time ago] and never had this problem before. I will continue to strive to do the best I can to past [sic] your class and will be appealing this exam. You have a blessed day.

Very Respectfully,
A desperately aging mother and ex-military who feels her life slipping away


[+]

Dear Desperate,

I'm so pleased that your military training has taught you respect. You see, by being disrespectful in the email but ending with respect, I can only conclude that you respect the authority you have been trained to idealize for over 2 decades. Great job!!

I now see how idiotic it was for me to nail you for cheating from an elementary school website on our subject. I mean, you own a business! You might soon own two!! You've been here for years!!! Clearly, this is my Bad. And by blessing my day by god, you really laid the shame on thick. God must really be disappointed in me for calling out one of his True Believers(TM).

The thing is, when you cheat, shouldn't you use a thesaurus to cover your tracks, preventing Google from helping me find your source? (You could really use a dictionary too, just in general) And speaking of source, Really?! An elementary school put together a brief overview of our subject and you felt it answered the essays perfectly? It didn't. It led me to google your answers. How you stretched a single page description of the subject into 6 different essays on disparate issues is truly a feat to be proud of.

I'm a bit excited for your appeal. There's been a spike in Plagiarism lately, and my Dean has already begun contacting faculty about it. Dean Tough wants us to strengthen our resolve and fail all people found pulling answers off the ol' internet without citation. Dean Tough sends us faculty some warm words of support when we're diligent about it. I can't wait to see your explanation: "I was not formally told (despite all the plagiarism warnings online, in the student handbook, in my syllabus) that using other people's words to answer a question about my comprehension of a text would be cheating!!"

Hilarious. Good luck, Desperate!! You might pray for a little divine intervention.
v/r
Professor Disrespecty

Friday, February 5, 2010

Abe Comes In From the Cold.


I work in a department which traffics in a handful of adjuncts. About 25% of our classes are taught by a rotating pool of part-timers, most of them barely post-grad, on the job market, young, and quite willing to take the 7:30 am and 6:00 pm classes that nobody else wants.

Of these, I've met only a couple; our hours usually don't intersect.

But, Abraham, I've met Abraham. Abe, he tells me to call him.

Abe teaches at 9 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm. All on the same day. He lives a good distance from SodaPop College, so ends up spending about 10-11 hours on campus each day. He's always in good spirits, a little older than the rest of the part-timers, and he is thankfully one academic I can talk to about sports. (Oh, dear, that's another topic for another day.)

Anyway, I saw Abe a couple of days disappear down a hidden hallway, pitch black, and open a squeaky door that led to stairs going down. The mystery was too much and when I saw him an hour or two later I asked him where he was headed.

"My office," he said.

He motioned for me to follow and down we went together.

He opened a heavy blue door into an open room, tiled with bathroom tile from floor to ceiling. Closed off spigots hung at about head height all around the place. A large drain in the center of the room was covered with a piece of awful looking plywood - it was once painted brown - I hope. Six metal desks, the kind you'd see in a movie set in a 1930s newspaper office, ringed the room, each one comically poised under the closed off shower heads. It was an old shower room. And the lights! Giant silver cowled things that were at least 12 feet above our heads. Bulbs bright enough up there, I suppose, but only a ghostly pall fell on us and the surfaces of the desks.

I don't know if you've ever been in an old shower room, one that likely washed thousands of soiled bodies over decades. But perhaps you can imagine the smell. Think a YMCA before the invention of disinfectant.

And it was cold. I don't mean chilly, or "let me put my sweater on." It was bone chilling cold. You could keep dairy products here year round.

Abe sat at his desk and I pulled up a chair. He didn't know the history of the shower, or when it went out of its original use, or for how long part-timers had resided there. He popped open his cooler which he transported 2 meals in every day.

"Look, no ice," he said. "It's cold enough in here I don't have to worry anything's going to spoil."

Later that day I was at the Buildings office trying to make a copy of my office key. I had to argue and fight for 10 minutes with someone before I offered to get someone in the Dean's office on the horn. The kid made me an extra key, one for Abe.

Today, after my office hours end at 11 am, Abe is going to take over my office. It's a pleasant and airy room with windows that open, and fresh breezes that pour in off of SodaPop Bay. There are nice chairs, a decent collection of books, and - he doesn't know it yet - a mini fridge under the desk.

I can't do anything about what the college pays Abe, or his schedule. But I can bring him in from the cold for part of his day.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Terri from Topsfield and a Rec Letter She Probably Won't Write. "Senorita Suzy is a Snowflake. Sorpresa!"


I am a high school Spanish teacher at a "prestigious" public school.

I am in the midst of recommendation letter hell. I have written 30. I have 5 more to go. I figure I have put in 60+ hours of uncompensated time so far to write these letters and stuff envelopes. I am feeling guilty at the thought that some of these students may end up in college classes next year. Some of them should not go anywhere near a college campus except to deliver pizza.

Please know that they come to us like this, and nothing we do seems to matter anymore. This is my 20th year in public education, and it keeps getting worse. I have a reputation of being a bitch but fair, and kids are usually flabbergasted after a year in my class to discover that if they actually do the work, they will earn the grade they deserve. For some, the message never gets through. Hence, the letter I would love to write.

Dear Sir/Madam:

It is with nearly ecstatic pleasure that I write this letter on behalf of Suzy Snowflake (it's snowing in my school too, near blizzard conditions). Suzy has been a student in my Spanish 1, 2, 3 and 4 classes during her time at Prestigious HS. In all my years of teaching, I feel blessed to have had a student like Suzy in my classes. Strong-willed, creative and destined for stardom, Suzy quickly makes a lasting impression on you compared to her peers.In terms of her attitude, Suzy was strong-willed and didn't hesitate to share her opinions with you, the class, the wall or any inanimate object nearby.

She was quick to assert her independence by doing only what she felt was important to her. Self-expression is outstanding and she was quick to express her views on the value of homework (none), the value of actually studying before tests and quizzes (none), the value of learning the grammar (none), and the value of learning another language (none). Suzy never hesitated to make her needs known, frequently interrupting class to shut her phone off, ask to go to the bathroom, comb her hair, take a nap--it amazed me how in tune she is with herself compared to some of her peers. Her level of confidence in either her persuasive arguing skills or being able to use those of her parents show that she is able to stand up for herself--never did a term go by that she didn't seek to change a grade because she had "put so much effort" into her assignments. Her strong will also allowed her to manage to do just enough work to not fail the class and she continued to move up a level each year. Her determination still impresses me.

Suzy was also one of the most creative students I have ever had. In class, Suzy found ingenious ways to avoid turning work in on time, and in some cases to avoid doing any work at all. She was able to play with the language in such a way that it almost resembled Spanish, even after 4 years in my class. Her oral presentations were an artful use of Spanglish and quite entertaining. Her range of reasons for not getting anything done were head and shoulders above the rest of her peers. When I checked her notebook at the end of each term for evidence of notes or work, I can honestly say that her doodles and organizational skills were a sight to behold. Her creativity didn't just stop with written work. Suzy was able to cobble together enough comprehensible Spanish to give short oral presentations where the visuals and Power Points would just blow you a way and make up for the fact that it was nearly impossible to follow her train of thought. Suzy tended to be quite creative with her interpretation of grades as well. Nothing fazed her at all, and her strong will and confidence enabled her to bounce back time after time from one failing grade after another. No consequences seemed to be able to break through her image of how she thought her life should be--no detention, no phone calls home, no Fs in conduct, no failing grades--nothing can get in the way of Suzy's creative version of her life. Usually someone else was responsible for her not doing well, and as long as she is in class and breathing, what more can a teacher want?

Suzy also strikes me as someone who is destined for stardom in whatever field she chooses. Again, her strong will, determination and creative way of thinking will come in very handy. Suzy has expressed an interest in becoming a pediatric nurse because she cares so much about other people and is a good listener. Her people skills are just under the surface and she would work with her peers when prodded repeatedly. Her involvement in clubs and teams at school is non-existent, but her parents say she is "charismatic" and a "strong leader." I am sure with time and maturity, she will allow those qualities to come to the forefront so that everyone can really get to see the real Suzy.

In terms of weakness, Suzy says her one weakness is that she procrastinates, usually from one term to the next until we're already into the following year. She struggles with both short-term and long-term assignments, even when they are posted in the room, online and on a piece of paper spelling everything out in English and handed directly to her. However, she puts a great deal of effort into the work she does; for example, she brings her book to class most days along with a notebook and pen. Based on her effort, she clearly deserves to have grades that are higher than her GPA of 1.7 indicates.

I have some serious reservations about Suzy's abilities to cope with college-level work, but we have a 98% graduation rate and we are proud to say that 99% of our students go on to college. Suzy will surely make her mark and will be a nice addition to your campus community. She'll probably need some extra time to complete assignments due to that procrastination issue, she might need some one-on-one tutoring and might need a few extra years to finish her degree, if she makes it that far. Please do not hesitate to contact me regarding this wonderful young lady's potential.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nicole from Needville Confirms that Snowflakes Come to 9th Grade As Snowflakes Already.


I'm not here to defend high school teachers, but I happen to be one. I teach fine arts for grades 9-12 (studio art and AP Art History) at an "exemplary" high school. I too think that the public education system is broken and the education programs offered by most colleges and universities are worthless. There seems to be a knee-jerk, finger-pointing reaction among some professors when asked why college students are so terrible, and often that finger is pointing at secondary teachers. I think we all face the same challenges (that's why I read the page).

In the spirit of commiseration, here are some things we have in common. My students also:
  • think education is a waste of time

  • think that B stands for Bad

  • think that due dates are flexible

  • think that "I worked really, really hard" always justifies an A

  • think I don't know when they're texting or surfing the internet during class

  • think they should be allowed to text and surf the internet in class

  • think that I should give them the answers or ideas needed to complete every single fucking assignment

  • think that my class is completely useless

  • think they should earn credit for my class just because they show up most of the time

  • think I should reward them constantly

  • think I have no real authority and can be threatened or guilt-tripped into giving them what they want

  • dress terribly, smell awful, and have horrible Frodo haircuts

  • have no regard for my personal space, belongings, or privacy
Unlike you, however, I actually have to deal with parents. It's a requirement. Not on occasion, or when the parents contact me. I have to deal with them constantly. I have to upload grades once a week so they can check on their darlings' grades. I have to call home when darling hasn't turned in an assignment. I have to call home when their precious has been tardy to class two times (no shit). I have to call home if their child misbehaves, even though I'll probably just get blamed for their behavior. I have to document all of this shit to cover my ass. If I haven't called home and a kid causes a problem, then my administration will not pull them out of class to handle their disruptive behavior because I haven't taken to appropriate steps to redirect them. If the kid fails and I didn't call home to let mom and dad know, then administration changes their grade and gives them the credit they didn't earn. Etc, etc, etc.

Many of my students shouldn't be in my class at all. Why did they take shop and auto mechanics out of high school? There is a whole demographic of students that need to be guided toward trades that can provide financial security for them and their families without a college degree. Unfortunately, counselors, administration, and parents no longer promote that mode of thinking. College for everyone is the motto.

The problem really does start early and at home. Children develop their personalities and values early in life. Parents make excuses for and justify every false step their children make, and refuse to allow them to fail and learn from their mistakes. By the time we get them, there's little we can do to melt a snowflake. So, even though there are major, MAJOR problems in secondary schools, don't pass the blame to us teachers. We're fighting the same battle.

Curt from Conyers Is Not Afraid To Be Evaluated. But He's Not Taking Your Shit.


Some Things Students Do Not Like about the Course (and the Way that I teach it)

  • “Better Communication” – My in-class communication style is direct and streamlined. I expect a certain amount of self-sufficiency in my students.

  • "Abrasive/Abrupt/Mean" – My in-class teaching persona is direct. This directness translates, on occasion, as abrupt, abrasive, or mean to some students. To others this directness translates as eccentricity or dry humor. As a teacher, I fully intend to engage my students in a direct manner.

  • "Less Scary" – See the above. I am not intentionally scary, but I am not inclined to add gratuitous fluffiness or cheeriness to a college-level mathematics course.

  • “Lighten up” – See the above. I’d rather maintain an active emphasis on work in the class and come across as being a bit mean rather than tread too lightly and promote too much slack.

  • "Condescension", "Be Nicer About Questions" – At times, students will show a lack of preparation, or a lack of due diligence, or both. There is a clear distinction between a legitimate question from a student acting in good faith (including questions arising from honest confusion), and questions arising from willful laziness or lack of care. I will generally deal compassionately with questions from students acting in good faith, and reasonably tactfully with questions of the latter type. Questions from students are welcome, and are essential to the learning process. Exercise discipline and effort in studying what I make available, and most of your questions will be answered by your own efforts. Make a good faith effort to answer your own questions first, and ask them if you cannot find a sufficiently good answer yourself.

  • “Yet More Condescension” – I minimize the level of mathematics used in this class for three reasons: the mathematical prerequisites for this class are minimal, the typical mathematical interest among the students in this class is low and the mathematics required for the course topics is modest. If you want a more quantitative approach, take the more advanced courses. This is a core course aimed at primarily non-mathematically-inclined students.

  • "Too Much Writing" – Students write in college courses. The required writing in my coursework is non-negotiable, and is supported generously in my materials. There is a modicum of technical writing required in this course. If you have some sort of documented problem with writing, I can refer you to an alternate testing process where said problem will be accommodated. If you find the amount of required writing in my class to be excessive, then you'll find yourself in dire trouble in other classes where writing is the central focus.

  • "Be More Patient" – I’ll be patient with you, if you’ll be patient with me. This is a required mathematics course, and a number of students have long-standing issues with mathematics. While my course is streamlined in terms of its mathematical content, the remaining mathematics is essential, and must be endured. My first priority is to teach statistics to those with proper mastery of the required prerequisite courses.

  • "Too Complex, Simplify?" – I’ve simplified what I can simplify – the rest is appropriately complex. I do reconsider things on a continuing basis, though, and balance simple examples for teaching purposes versus realistically complex examples.

  • "Put Course on WebCT" – Posting the current website where it is should be sufficient. I typically update or modify my webpage two or three times per week during an active semester. Maintaining current content on two platforms is too much work.

  • "More Reviewing" – I allocate a full review day per hourly test, and several review days at the end for the final examination. Given the complete posting of sample tests, students should have plenty of time for test preparations. The key is to study for single cases over time, rather than trying to study for everything at once.

  • "Tests are Too Long" – A few students have one or more issues with test taking, with prerequisite mathematical skills and with writing skills. If these issues are documented, then accommodations can be made. Writing four cases in 75 minutes is not unreasonable, given appropriate preparation.

  • "Tedious Lectures" – I only lecture in a handful of sessions. The rest of the sessions are dedicated to active learning in student groups, using case studies. Having said that, the purpose of a lecture is the delivery of information – entertainment or flair is not relevant in a lecture, and part of the skill base acquired by successful university students is the ability to apply mental focus in a variety of situations (including boredom).

  • "Too Many Big Words" – This is a university. We use big words here. The correct student behavior when encountering “big words” is to look those “big words” up in a dictionary. A successful student’s knowledge base will increase in university. Building vocabulary and expanding knowledge are part of university life, and is expected behavior in literate adults.

  • “Intense Vocabulary for a General Education Course” – My basic premise regarding students in my course is that they are likely not strongly interested in either hard science or mathematics as a major, but that they are quite capable of learning the core concepts of statistics. My primary concession in my course is that I refrain from beating my students about the head with calculus. “Gen. Ed.” course content need not be “dumbed down” or gratuitously over-simplified.

  • “I had to teach myself all of the material” – That’s the point. You teach yourself – it’s called learning. At the college level, we’re guides, advisors, referees, … we’re here to define the scope of the work, and to evaluate the quality of your work.

  • “He doesn’t like stupid questions, so it’s hard to ask a question” – There are stupid/lazy questions that could and should be resolved by a student thinking about the issue, and there are questions that persist despite good faith effort on the part of the student. I welcome the latter type.

  • “The tests are very hard and take a long time” – Welcome to college. Part of your preparations should involve careful work involving the actual posted tests – also, the length of the classes are clear, and part of your preparation should involve getting a sense of testing strategy. Being surprised by the difficulty and/or time reflects inadequate preparation, or problems with fundamental skills or pre-requisites.

  • “Exercises/Practice/Drill” –I will not reduce this course to Skinnerian conditioning. I teach the course in a series of case types, which I link to the keyed tests. You can learn by working through the tests, one case type at a time. I favor comprehension and quality over quantity.

  • “Unapproachable/Scary” – If you think that I’m mean/unapproachable/scary/not as nice as your favorite teacher from wherever, then I’ve got some very bad news: we get worse, more-so as you start your upper division courses. Get over style or user friendliness, and focus on substance.

  • “Not Open to Questions” – Well, at least to the lazy/careless/stupid questions (the ones you’re supposed to handle with a modicum of thinking). The other kind, the ones that persist after you’ve attempted to answer by thinking about them or by looking them up, those are fine. Some students find merit in asking questions – questions are a tool in the learning process. So is thinking. I like the questions that are driven by thinking and by effort. I do not like questions that reflect and/or enable volitional stupidity or laziness.

  • “Lacks ‘passion’ or ‘interest’ in teaching” – I’m not here to meet some sort of romantic, clich├ęd, theatric role of the exalted teacher. I’m here to help students learn (to teach themselves, under my guidance) the required material in this required course.