Thursday, March 30, 2006

Feel Good Sentiments Make Someone Feel Bad - So It Is Thus Here and Everywhere

I've just come from an endless faculty meeting where we were told once again by our nearly Pentecostal President how wonderful the "dear children" are who come to our school. This is a not uncommon event at this liberal arts college in the Midwest.

We're often told how lucky we are to have these "dear children" in our midst. The fact that it's not true - any of it - doesn't seem to bother anyone. My students are hungover, disrespectful, vacant, TV-addled, and uninterested in anything other than satisfying their various libidinal urges - which I can tell you are gigantic. Beer cans and bottles line the road in front of the the major dorms. We've had a sexual assault on campus this semester. We've had at least 4 explusions for drugs. And once a month we gather and exchange lies with each other about these students.

Today was especially bad. There was nearly a "revival tent" feeling in the room as others around me nodded their heads at the inanity that was being passed around. Here are some quotes from the meeting:

  • from the President: "These dear children have been entrusted to us, and it's our job to act as mentors and scholars and role models to each of them. We need to act at all times, whether it be in class or out in the community, as leaders, aware that every minute they are looking to us for moral guidance."
  • from a fevered faculty member: "I know that these are good kids. I know that the drinking and smoking and bad behavior of other colleges doesn't exist here. We're blessed."
  • from our Academic Dean: "The students I see here are serious, concerned, determined to have a positive impact on making this world a better place. We don't have to deal with the problems that [big state school nearby] or [sprawling multi-campus community college 50 miles away] have to deal with."

First of all, none of this matches the truth of what I've seen at the college over 6 years. Faculty do not - and should not - mentor or teach students at this college anything about morality. Once I leave campus I'm on my own, and if I bump into a freshman at the liquor store, I just hope he's not in front of me to slow me down while I'm getting my beer.

And the notion that our students are anything other than louts with bad attitudes about education is laughable. Nobody I know believes any of this shit, yet it's publicly proclaimed at every college function I attend.

What bugs me is the hypocricy of it. I see the nodding heads in the faculty meeting and I want to stand up and say, "Tell the fucking truth." I actually think we'd all be better off if we admitted the truth, recognized that serious work has to be done if we really want to help our students learn something while they're here. This endless and duplicitous placating we do for ourselves (and of course for parents, trustees, and donors) is false and dangerous.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Using "Erudite" Almost Always Means You're Making Fun of Someone

Dear erudite undergraduate,

Thank you for your thorough assessment of this website. I can't imagine how we went so long without hearing your learned sentiments. However, let me mention a few things:

  1. "Sucky" is not a word according to 3 different dictionaries that I have on my shelf as well as But you, like so many undergraduates, believe that what you have to say and the way you say it is devilishly clever and important. I'm here to tell you it's not. I'm pretty sure I could make it through the rest of my life without additional commentary from you.
  2. I am posting something on this site, and I am not a "sucky" professor. I have won two different teaching awards as well as numerous research grants. My teaching evaluations consistently suggest that I am a good teacher without being an easy "A." I am also a woman. You seem genuinely surprised that of your three good professors that one is a woman. Welcome to the world, junior. There are a lot of great female professors out there. I hope to God that someday you wind up working for a female boss so that you can open your big, fat mouth at an inopportune time and tell her that you're amazed she got this far given that she's a woman. I might even pay to see her kick you in the teeth.
  3. You state that you can verify that two of your current professors don't know their material because "all they do is put Powerpoint slides up that come right out of the book." Do you honestly think that is the marker of how much your professors know about an area? Do you know that we have ridiculous publishing requirements, that we have to sit on countless college/university committees that take up valuable time, and that we often have to give up other time to things like advising, grading, etc.? Do you know that sometimes we get hammered in our student evaluations if we try to give them material that's outside the text? Oh yes, that's right; students have complained to me in the past that by using the majority of class time to cover things related to but outside of the required reading that they couldn't study it all. Plus, I've been told that any number of my students don't buy the books at all and just plan on getting by with the class notes. When they can't, they blame you, the professor, for asking too much of them.
  4. Lastly, you mention in your note that you couldn't drop your 2 sucky classes because of your scholarship, and then in the last paragraph, you state that as soon as you finish school you'll never think about college again. Let me tell you that we're all so glad they wasted money on putting you through school. Nothing like the distaste of lifelong learning to make all of us educators believe that we're fighting the good fight.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Reasonable. Seems Reasonable. I Mean We Can't Control the Spin of the Planet, the Tides, the Whims of Fickle Quarks. Why Can't Professors Help Out?

A professor of History at a college in Georgia sends along a student email:

Dear Dr. W,

I know that I probably deserve the grade I'm getting, but I have to ask you to help me. The reason I haven't been coming to your class all this time is because I feel embarrassed. After I had missed almost half the classes, I just couldn't bring myself to start coming. I have a lot of friends in there.

I understand that it is getting late in the semester, and it's inconsiderate of me to be asking, but I have no choice. I'm in bad shape grade-wise because I am on academic probation. If I get lower than 1.8 this semester, I will be kicked out of college. I thought I'd concentrate on my other classes, and not worry too much about History. But now I realize that I'm going to get an F in your class, and that will destroy my chances.

I would never ask to make up everything, but if you could let me take the midterm I missed, I'd really appreciate it. I missed it because I was sick for three weeks. I didn't even know I'd missed the midterm until someone told me about it a week later.

If you'd let me take the midterm, maybe that would get me prepared to do well on the final exam. I know I haven't been in class, but I've been studying really hard. You have to help me or all of this studying will have been for nothing!

Thank you, Dr. W. I look forward to your response.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Looking for Ideas, a Professor of Math Comes to Us on Hands and Knees Aching to be Schooled in Interpersonal Yada Yada

I admit that I'm a lousy communicator in class. I get a little worked up. I wear sloppy clothes that are 15 years out of date. I have a bowl haircut straight out of my grade 3 photo. I don't understand the current students and their ways, their manner, their language, their work ethic, yada yada.

But I love Math and I do my best to teach it well. And every semester I get below average scores in my student evaluations, and in the narrative sections I read things like these (which arrived yesterday from our Dean's office): "Prof {X} needs a public speaking course." "Prof. {X} thinks he's being funny, but we're groaning because he's not." "He needs to lighten up. Math is not all we care about." "He wants mathletes, and I just want my B."

And there are others. I dress poorly, I speak poorly, yada yada.

I've tried to do a better job. I even meet with my students after class and in my office to help them work out their processes, solutions, and yada yada. But then I get an evaluation like this: "It's so weird in his office because there's chalk dust everywhere."

I envy those professors who get along so well with their students. I try to be "one of the fellas" and it comes out wrong. I believe I know what I need to know to be a fantastic professor, but I don't seem to be able to connect with students. What should I do? Read Rolling Stone? Get my clothes somewhere hip?

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Professor in the North Decides That it's Time for Midterm Evaluations - Olympic Figure Skating Style

Red Rainbow: You started strong. Your program looked good and interesting, but by halfway through you tired, your movement became slow and repetitive, and there were just too many mistakes.
Technical: 8.5
Artistry: 7.7

Blue Misty: Your outfits certainly work for you, but your program is poorly designed, poorly executed. It's mostly unimaginative, but still, there's something about your flowing hair, the rhinestones, the sequins. You're like a shiny, empty, glittery purse. Lovely to look at, but nothing inside to buy a meal or a clue.
Technical: 6.6
Artistry: 8.1

Violet Violet: I like the chances you take. You're very bold. Of course with boldness comes high risk and reward, and you've stumbled as of late. Still, you're an interesting performer. When you landed on your ass at midterm, I kept pulling for you.
Technical: 8.6
Artistry: 8.0

Peacock Peter: You're maybe TOO bold. A little loud, too. But, at least you're active, and that's good. It'd be better if you didn't date half the class. That leaves fewer for the TAs to cherry-pick.
Technical: 8.7
Artistry: 8.8 (but I could ask around...)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Somebody Fresh Out of a Faculty Meeting Wants to Get a Little Something Off His Chest - We Hope He Doesn't Have a Weapon

I do my best to be a good doobie. But after 6 years of this SHIT I'm fed up. I get tired of people complaining about the students when it's the other faculty that makes this job such a trial.

C, you are a social misft, a gigantic idiot, who can fill up space and time with your blathering. I don't care what you know about quantum macroeconomic theory - or whatever - and your "reflections" on that shit just makes me want to get after you with my tennis racket.

S, you are our fearful leader, and your days are numbered. I can't stand how you cherry pick the majors for yourself, huddle together with your sycophants and favorites, and then look down your nose at any junior faculty who deigns to want to be involved in the life of the department. Why don't you go home to your rich real estate mogul husband and drink yourself even dumber than you are already.

C#2, I know you think that bullshit publishing house is really something, but we all know it's half an inch removed from being a subsidy press. You can print out your press releases all day, but we all know you wrote them yourself, and nobody - but nobody - gets to write that their readers are "waiting breathlessly" for a new tome.

M, you can stay on the 4th floor please. I don't want any Earl Grey tea. I don't want to hear how your tenure hearing was fixed. If you don't get it next month, it will because you're a daft loudmouth.

G, there's a reason why your classes are scheduled at night. The fright of you in daytime is too much for our freshmen weak hearts.

Friday, March 17, 2006

On Maintaining One's Sanity

I can’t agree more with the philosophy professor. This job isn’t everything I expected and sometimes I get dragged down by administrative garbage disguised as tenure and promotion policies. Sometimes I get discouraged by my students’ lack of interest in the coursework.

My latest favorite story deals with Student ‘R’ – he was one of a frighteningly large number of students who failed my midterm. He came clean and admitted that he had waited until 2 days before the exam to open his text to read 5 chapters and 3 articles. Do I take pity on him and work my butt off to help him pass the class? Or do I suggest he drop the class now and perhaps take it next semester from a different instructor? It is still Spring Break, so I don’t have to decide just yet. I am leaning toward the latter, however. Lord knows you don’t want an angry student taking his failure out on you when evaluation time rolls around!

I get discouraged by the petty office politics, by the colleague down the hall who I am quite certain must have gone off her meds last week (I am never quite certain which version of Prof. X will show up at the next faculty meeting, which does provide some entertainment value to what is usually a boring rehash of insignificant committee meetings and has little bearing on my day to day work life). I teach, I publish, I have bitch sessions with some of my colleagues about how immature and moronic the students can be at times. I still often rate my day in terms of how well my classes went…did I seem to reach a few students here or there?

So I don’t think I am burned out just yet. I may have changed my expectations since I first arrived just to maintain my sanity. I certainly don’t assign work over spring break – that is just asking to be disappointed!

So I choose my battles, engage those students who at least appear to be interested, and write because that is what makes me happy.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

California Examines Some Warts

I have to concur with most of what the Placid Philosopher has to say. When I read RYS, I’m troubled particularly by the “I hate my job” posts. We all hate our jobs occasionally – I’m a community college political science professor and I find myself sometimes thinking about a career change.

But mostly, I really love my job. I love my discipline and love imparting disciplinary knowledge. The payoff from teaching is especially rewarding when I “turn on” a student to the study of politics or influence an “undecided” or some other major to change to a political science concentration. It makes my day when I get a thank you letter from a former student saying that my class was a life changing experience for them.

I agree, the pay is pretty good (especially for someone who at one point worked a minimum-wage job as an undergraduate), and I too am moving up the social-mobility ladder, with a new house and all. Oh sure, free-riding colleagues in the department and college-wide are a real drag, as is most of the radical left-wing campus politics. Nor do I love the half-brained back-wall-warmers in my classes, many of whom attend school to collect a financial aid check.

But it’s all in a day’s work I guess. Despite the natural tendencies toward burnout, I usually remain able to reach out to those most in need academically with compassion. Those first few hectic weeks of the semester, when I hear all the standard excuses for the first-day no-shows, or for the excessive tardiness, or the line on the no-financial-aid-to-buy-my-books, and so forth, gradually and ineluctably give way to the remainder of a generally pleasurable semester, in which I get to know my students names, and they in turn repeatedly remind my what it was like to put myself through school, when I too struggled at times to overcome life’s hurdles.

For those of us who burn out occasionally, and especially for those job-hating, gravy-train riders who should find another line of work, I recall the reminder from James M. Banner, Jr., and Harold C. Cannon, in their book,
The Elements of Teaching (1997): “The first rule of ethical teaching is to do no harm to students.” Certainly words to live by in our profession, warts and all.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Where a Placid Philosophy Prof Schools All of Us on A Variety of Things

The guy who needs a hug needs more than that.

There may be some truth in his comments, but he sounds as if he's got other things going on that contribute to his mood. There's too much of the black and white in his posting. Of course there are bad students and petty faculty, but this all or nothing attitude is going to eventually poison every job this joker ever gets.

Instead, it's a wash of gray in any job, in any teaching position. I have colleagues who reside on either end of the continuum, but most are like me - in the middle somewhere.

I don't publish as much as I should, but enough to stay in good stead with my bosses. I put enough energy in teaching so that the better students get a little better and the middle of the road students pick up some stuff. I don't do anything extra for the bottom feeders who'd rather be watching Spongebob than going to school.

Nobody in my department is evil. Some people have a little evil in them, but I stay away. The committee work is sometimes draining, but I zone out when it's a drag, and I work slowly so as not to build up expectations or get that "extra" job at the end of the semester.

I have a schedule that most workers in America would trade for in a moment. I make enough money to own a little house. I'm not rich, nor will I ever be, but I have books which I love, and about once a year I turn some student on to my field (which is Philosophy) and that student occasionally goes on to grad school.

It's not exactly the career I thought it was, and I suspect a lot of people in my situation realize that after a while. But I'm an adult and I am able to understand the concept that the world is an imperfect place and that sometimes a little flexibility is necessary. I wish the same to everyone.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Where a Junior Faculty Member [Obviously] Is Dismayed by the Spring Break Work Ethic

Spring break is over and in my first class on my first day back, my kiddies have already pushed me to the limit. Their tans. Their smiling faces. They make me achingly sick.

I asked them for one thing over the 9 day break - please write in their journals on at least 3 occasions. (I'm a writing instructor at a large public university in South Florida.) I even said, "I don't care if you write your entries in lime juice, or sex wax, or Kahlua. But just do 3 5-minute free writings, so we can continue our progress on automatic writing." I didn't assign an essay. They had no readings to do. All in all, it was absolutely the lightest assignment I'd ever given. It amounted to 15 minutes of work over 9 days.

For the first few minutes of class we had free discussion, mostly people talking about which island they'd been to, and how close they'd come to getting video taped for "Girls Gone Wild" or MTV's "Spring Break Freakout" or whatever.

Then, in order to get on to the last half of the semester, I asked - as I always do on every Monday - for volunteers to read a portion of their automatic writings from the past week. No hands. No comments. Dumbfounded stares.

I smiled. I thought they might be embarrassed at their work, that maybe the debauchery of the week made them feel uncomfortable. "Listen," I said. "It wasn't that long ago that I spent every Spring Break in Cabo. I know what it's like. I was ripping it up down there when you were in middle school. There's nothing you wrote about that will shock me."

Still nothing. Nobody had their journals open - a bad sign. I asked for a show of hands. Who did the 15 minutes of work? Not a hand went up.

When someone finally fessed up that he'd been too busy, I just wanted to read them the riot act. Don't they know that school is in session? Couldn't they be bothered to do one thing I asked. I have colleagues who assign full papers over Spring Break. Do those papers get done? Do these airheads and assholes ignore any instructions because they get a week off to get laid, drunk, and stoned on the goodwill of their parents and me?

Am I wrong to expect them to care one tiniest little shit's worth about the assignments and duties of this class? Do we just give them a complete pass on things like this? Go ahead, fry yourselves for 9 days and then once you're ready, once you've got the sand out of your crack, we'll get started again?

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Just When You Least Expect It, A Student Can Change Stripes, Spots, Whatever, and Become the Student You Never Thought Would Arrive

I must confess that C has always been the worst of lunkheads, a dumb, slow, lazy, and good-natured kid who had no ambition beyond getting blitzed and watching the tube while his parents paid good money for an education he didn't give a shit about.

For whatever reason, after taking the world's most lenient D, he signed up for another class with me this term. I saw his big, greasy face coming at me and I just about said, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

But he's an amiable guy, a friendly guy, a guy I can talk to about sports and music, and so what can you do?

We're now halfway through the semester and I'm holding a test of his in my hands that is about as good a test as I've seen this semester. I watched him take the test in class last week. I recognize his own peculiar language (dude, etc.) and the ideas are good. He's been listening. I don't know how or why, but whatever it is we're doing in class is starting to get to him, and for even more inexplicable reasons, he's actually taking some care to show me he's getting it.

I have - for this brief moment - hope for C and his future. Sure, he's a junior, sure he's probably blown off more classes than most kids actually go to, but today at least he succeeded in this one test, in this one class.

I give him all the credit in the world. When I was his age I was a lunkhead, too, and somewhere along the line I got my shit together. I think I'm watching C make his own little turn on the long road.

A Community College Prof from Cali Tells Us That It's Time to Brace Up, As If We Didn't Already Get That Memo

My classes are large, so I mostly use multiple-choice tests. One day, being one question short of a nice round number, I used this question: "The answer to this question is D. Be sure to mark D on your answer sheet." The offered choices were: (A) This is the wrong answer. (B) This is the wrong answer. (C) This is the wrong answer. (D) This is the correct answer. Be sure to mark it on your answer sheet. (E) This is the wrong answer.

About 20% of the students got it wrong. One possibility is that they couldn't read any English. Another is that they didn't care. But one student had the courage to admit that he always marked B for every answer (true, that's what he did) in hopes that all the answers were B.

I have students who want to turn in scrapbooks with newspaper clippings, rather than take exams. These are some of the more motivated ones.

Students with any sort of goal are rarely a problem. Any sort of goal at all.

But really, who cares? You and I know that there is little opportunity for the educated person in the USA today, unless you went to the Right College and know The Right People. Merely studying a useful major isn't good enough, unless you're satisfied with unpaid internships and the like.

The problem is self-caused by the educators. Let the dropouts be dropouts. The only difference will be less employment for the educators. Oh, you say that you don't want that? Well then, it's your own fault, so stop complaining.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Michigan Considers What It Takes to Get a Message Through to His Lunkheaded Students, and Picks Out Two in Particular Who Will Now Receive Punishment

2 weeks before today, during class, I distributed a schedule for a research project starting on March 6th. "We will meet in the library in the 4th floor seminar room on March 6th, 8th, and 10th. During the whole week we'll work on essays, I'll help you organize and integrate your research, and after those three days we'll return to our regular classroom."

1 week before today, I sent all my students an email reminding them, and giving them the specific room number, 401B.

Last Friday I met individually with all of my students to look at their research topics, and at that meeting I reminded them of the library week, and asked if anyone need to know where the room in question was.

So today, when I get back from the library, I was more than a little surprised to find a voicemail message from - not the chair of my department - the Dean of the college, saying, "Dr. XXXXXX, I know you're rather new to XXXXXXXXXX College, but it's considered appropriate if you alert a department assistant or your mentor if you're going to cancel class."

When I followed up, I learned that 2 students, having gone to my classroom by mistake this morning, took it up on themselves to walk across campus (PAST THE MOTHERFUCKING LIBRARY) and did a walk-in with the Dean saying that I had cancelled class with no reason and they thought someone should know about it.

I'd like to keep my conscience clear, so I'm 'fessing up right now: These two students have entered a penalty phase from which they are unlikely to exit.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

A Reader from Pennsylvania Wonders What it's Going to Take to Liberate Her from Bad Papers and Limitless Unfulfilled Potential

I am sitting here with a mid-term essay exam I gave yesterday, reading through answers that could not have been written by anyone who's actually attended my classes for the first 8 weeks of the semester.

There are mistakes of such a variety that I'm tempted to throw the whole batch into a hole somewhere in my back yard.

Dates are wrong. World leaders are identified as being heads of state from other countries, even other continents. Two weeks spent on Cuba and I have a student who identifies the "Chairman" of Cuba during the Bay of Pigs as Leonard Brezhnev. My husband thinks I'm making that up for a joke.

My students occasionally surprise me with claps on the back and thanks for a good class, and even sometimes perform in class as though material is getting through.

And then this. I've graded five exams so far: 65, 70, 60, 50, & 45. It's so disheartening. My colleagues tell me that the students here are great! Our chair recently posted GPAs from our Fall semester, and students in my department averaged a B+ through all of our undergraduate courses.

I'm told in the faculty lounge that scholarships are at stake, fellowships on the line. Students "know" they have to perform at a high level.

And then this.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Wisconsin Checks In, Takes Our Temperature With Something Big, and Then Tells Us We're Off Track...and We Liked It!

I feel betrayed. RYS has turned from a pithy, often hysterically funny site where professors revealed themselves to be human, into yet another mea culpa, professional development piece of crap.

Let’s get one thing straight: I hate teaching, and I could not care less at becoming better at it. Yes, I should be doing something else. Yes, I tried. But economic conditions, a poor choice of majors—and no real skills (liberal arts type, y’know)—conspired to force me into the position, and now it’s a gravy train to retirement that can’t be matched elsewhere. But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t, not even a little.

I did try. I gave it a shot. But this soul-sucking community college where the entrance competencies are fulfilled by fogging a mirror makes me miserable. It’s driven me to the brink of suicide at least once, and as I vowed not to let that happen again, I had an epiphany: It’s okay to hate your job! While 53 percent in a recent poll liked their jobs, that clearly suggests that 47 percent don’t. I’m not alone. I’ve got 4 months a year to forget about it, which I do by working with my hands instead of my head.

Still, the semesters are long and cold here. And living a lie, smiling at students and pretending to give a shit while suckling at the golden teat of government-funded higher education, is still trying, especially at this time of the year. RYS offered a humorous respite, a wry look at others who sometimes wanted to yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Well, that’s gone now, replaced by just another piece of corporate, worker-improvement crap that keeps telling us that we must love our work, and we must draw identity from our jobs or quit. That’s bullshit. I’m not my job. I’m me. I’m outta here.

Thanks, yeah, thanks a lot.