Friday, January 27, 2006

A Few Gripes, A Few Shoutouts. Our Post of the Week.

An English professor from the mid-South is stil not sure about what we're doing here at Rate Your Students, but has helped things along with a truly excellent post:

Although I'm charmed that anyone cares what professors think of their students, one real failing of this concept is that students are at least rating us as individuals. We're rating them in the mass, and that means error and generalization. That said, and large students are the best part of my job. A lot of the quirks of the so-called IPod generation are the vinyl generation's quirks in another register: dare we say it, I too cut a certain amount of class back in the day, especially on sunny days or when I was falling in love. I too have occasionally been known to skim when I should've read.

One of my colleagues complained recently that "this generation¨ seemed to have no work ethic, but I think that when we're talking moderately privileged middle-class kids, the person with the hard-core work ethic has generally been the exception and not the rule.

Even though the best way to respect someone is sometimes to fail him (it really is), comfortably-off eighteen-year-olds really haven't changed that much since Plato's day. That's the bulk of my students: maybe less committed or focused than I'd like them to be, and annoyingly unwilling to be clones at eighteen of the person that I've become at forty (how inconsiderate!), but by and large okay, even good, people who will go on to do okay, maybe good, things. And that doesn't even count the alumni who're already doing more okay things with their lives than I ever intended to do with mine.

Or the returning students with kids, the ones whose work ethic puts mine to shame--no one's mentioned them yet, or the way the professorial spirit lifts in joy and hope when we see a middle-aged woman sitting in the classroom.

But in the spirit of the cathartic gripe, I'll also admit that the good stuff doesn't count the few who bring out my what's-wrong-with-this-generation gene. Given the study demonstrating that the incompetent don't know they're incompetent, those who fit this profile probably don't know who they are, so I'll mention a few, just in case any of the guilty are listening:

Pajamas to class? I mean, folks, we don't ooh and ah at your radical savoir-faire; we snort coffee out our noses laughing. For which we should probably thank you, come to think of it, so never mind.

Calling each separate member of a department you've never visited, on Sunday afternoon, looking for someone to proofread your doomed-to-failure law school application because you were too busy¨ to go to the writing center on Friday and too incompetent to proofread your own work in high school? As we used to say in the Pleiocene, puh-leeze!

Lying about the death of your brother? Yeah, and you even intercepted one of our just-slightly-suspicious condolence cards to your parents, but you didn't get the other one, did you? Bummer, how badly your parents took that.

And you plagiarists, a new vocabulary word: when you believe we're so stupid we can't spot your five-minute Google rip-off, that's known as contempt, and contempt is what you get back. If somebody insulted you and made work for you, wouldn't you have some feelings about it?

And do you really have to pee slowly and deliberately twice in a fifty minute class, three times a week? Now, do you? Give us a little credit here. And if you do, for God's sake go get that test at the health center. It¡s free!

Yawning in class: my parents would say that maybe you should, oh, I don't know, learn to yawn with your mouth shut as a matter of common courtesy, the way we did back in the day. Me, I'll settle for your covering your mouth. That's all. Just a good-faith effort not to share the gum, the tonsils, and the dental plaque.

That said, though...the ones I'm complaining about, along with a bunch who don't merit those complaints, are also the ones who have to watch me deal with my messy cold in front of them (sorry about that miss with the hanky, folks), the ones who must wonder why my mother never taught me any posture, and the ones who really wish I had to put a quarter in a jar every time I swear. Dumbass moments are pretty universal. And some of us always have to learn things the hard way. Many an eighteen-year-old dumbass has become an impassioned activist at forty, or even a teacher.

So, you know: a few gripes, a fair number of shout-outs, but mostly a pretty good life. And generally, kids, if state and federal administration gave me as little worry as you do, I'd feel like I was having a banner year.