Friday, September 29, 2006

The Campus Mascot Ate My Homework, and Other Whopper Excuses

We've recently had a variety of student excuses from our readers, and our favorites are below:
  • A student turned in a late group report that he was responsible for typing, telling me that he had it done in time, but that he'd stuck it in the arm of his tiger costume - he's the college mascot - and forgot it there, unable to retrieve it for 2 days because it was locked in the sports department offices.
  • Student told me that he missed class because he was sitting in an empty classroom for an entire week (he told me he thought it odd that there were no other students present) and finally went to the department office and found out we had moved across the hall.
  • My student sent me a long and labored email about how sick her granny was, and how she was in Atlanta (100 miles away from here) at Granny's bedside, typing on her dad's laptop, and would be unable to meet with me to discuss her exam. The email popped in my email box at 3:42 in the afternoon. At 3:44 I walked out of my office and into one of the college's parking lot and found her sitting on the hood of her car, all pretty, catching some sun, chatting with friends.
  • A student on the verge of being dropped for lack of attendance brought me 6 of his speeding tickets to show me that they had all occurred in the late afternoon nearby, right before my class. "I was on my way," he said, shaking the tickets at me.
  • On a 5 question in-class writing quiz, a student left 1 of the answers totally blank (the one that was worth half the points that week). When I turned them back and asked her about the missing answer, she said her textbook didn't include that information. I told her I'd show her if she'd bring me her book. She said it was in her car, and that she'd bring it to my office later. 10 minutes after class she walked into my office and showed me her otherwise brand new textbook, and turned to the exact location of the information. Indeed, 2 pages were missing from her textbook, evidenced by badly torn edges, some of it still - almost comically - drifting in the air as she unveiled the gap.
  • One of my students asked for a week's delay in taking a major test because her cousin had died. When she arrived for the make-up exam she gave me an obituary notice clipped from the paper (not that I had asked for it). As she started taking the test I noticed that the date of the paper was on the flip side, and it showed June 11, 2004. I stopped her and noted the date and for a moment she looked startled, and then said, "I know. I just found out."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Freshmen, My God, The Freshmen - What Are We Going to Do About the Freshmen

I never wanted to be the one who turned his back on freshmen. As a junior faculty member, I always hated those older colleagues who ran from freshmen courses and spent their dwindling and precious time with upper level students and graduates. I always swore that would not be me.

And in the early days, of course, I had no problem keeping my vow. I had to teach a certain amount of first year courses, and so I found ways to do it, found ways to meet the challenge of what was basically a room full of high school students. I told myself I loved their freshness, their energy.

But now I find myself at mid-career (or so), and when my Dean sent around the Spring class schedule, I put a clean stroke through my name next to our department's intro level course, and replaced it with a senior-only course.

The freshmen. I can't do it another day. I can't tell them to shush, to bring their notebooks to class, to please quit bothering Kayla. To please put on something other than pajama pants and beach shoes. I can't take another one asking if we could have class outside, or "Can I use the bathroom?" (I don't know. can you?)

I don't want to teach "college" anymore to them. I don't want to explain where the cafeteria is or where the library is. I don't want to hold their hands. I don't want them to tell me their dad might be giving me a call.

I just want the freshmen to go away.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I'm in my fifth year as a college professor, currently on my 3rd year of a 6 year tenure clock at a liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest.

Fear runs my career. I am fearful that if I offend or challenge my students that they'll give me low evaluations, and that will make my chair look less favorably on me. I am fearful that this book I'm writing will not find a publisher, and that I will have spent 2 years on a project that will earn me nothing toward tenure.

I am fearful that if I don't laugh at the sexist and horrible jokes of my colleagues that I'll be branded an intolerant feminist. I am fearful that since I am not married, that senior colleagues and administration will not take me seriously.

I am fearful that my students think of me as too young to earn their respect. I am fearful that I have made the wrong choices about my career, and that I will wake up one day realizing that I've made unfixable mistakes.

I fear that I'm waking up right now.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Someone Needs to Switch to Something - Anything - Decaffeinated

It is probably instructive to remember that these people were in high school three months ago, having recess, smoking crack behind the bleachers, begging Annie or Andy to go to the prom, distracted by Paris Hilton video tricks and YouTube gross-out humor.

But has nobody in their lives ever taught them about being adults, about being citizens, about living in a world where there might be people from different places, different states, people who don't think every piece of ignorant drivel that spills from their mouths is worthy of a little 3rd place ribbon and a photo in the high school newsletter?

  • Rich, you can start wearing pants to class. Pajamas are for church camp breakfast. And if I have to smell your unwashed body one more time when you come breezing in at 10:05, I'm going to mail you a bar of Irish Spring.
  • Patty, I'm pleased that you had that big meeting with Jesus last summer in Boca Raton, but if you can quit asking why Muslims hate you, why Muslims wear what they wear, why Mohammed had 97 wives, or why the "Shah" of Iran hates a good man like George Bush, I'll pay you one thousand of my own dollars. This is, after all, a computer course, not Geopolitical Christian Advancement.
  • Tori, I don't give a shit how beloved you were at Whatever High. Here at the college we have to actually turn work in. I don't know why your mom's visit to our fair city means you get a week off. Didn't you just see her last month when she and you "bought out all the furniture stores" to furnish your dorm room?
  • Nick, I would call you a meathead to your face, but I'm convinced you'd think you were suddenly in the cafeteria and would try to eat me - or at least order an extra helping.
  • Taryn, you think joking with me in class is a sign that we're equals. It's not. It means you're a little bitch who has had every opportunity, every gift, and you probably watch with pitched interest every "My Super Sweet 16" episode, wondering why their parties pale to the one you get every time you drop a turd or burp up that strawberry yogurt permanently attached to your hand. I am not your pal, or someone so easily charmed by your claims that my "Goodwill-store-chic" is just like your dear old "Gramps."

Other than that, the semester is going great.

Today's image is an edited version of somethign found at

Friday, September 22, 2006

Someone Unloads - The Hose Post

I've just left my classroom and I'm exhausted. For three weeks I've had to battle bad behavior by a student. I've only been teaching for 1 year, and this has never been a problem for me before.

I'll call my student BM. BM thinks he's still in high school. BM is everyone's buddy, and acts as though he's my pal, even though I have to ask him to be quiet about 5 times an hour. He acts up, goofs off, eats in class, disturbs other people, and generally acts like a wild animal suddenly asked to live in a nice hotel. No matter how I ask, no matter that I've had a meeting in my office with him, he won't stop talking in class when someone else is talking, he won't do the work, and even bad grades don't seem to worry him.

After getting an F back on a quiz, he came up to the front of the room and said, "I'm going to do better. But you have to help, too." And then he smiled big and was gone.

Most days I can manage to keep class together. But today was the worst. He continued standing up front near my desk and chatting out the door with some buddies long after I asked him to sit down. Then when he did take his seat, he muttered to a classmate until I finally had to ask him to be quiet.

He gave me a happy look and was quiet for 3 minutes. When someone across the room made a moderately humorous insight about a reading we had done, he started to fake laugh loud enough to make me think he might be some species of hyena. All I wanted was to find a fire hose and spray him with it.

What am I to do? I'm afraid the other students don't respect me now, and I've started to notice that BM's bad behavior is encouraging other students to pay less attention, and react more slowly to assignments. I want to solve this, but I don't want to overreact.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Where We Hear From Someone Who Loves The Job And Who Deserves A Lot Better

I am a lowly adjunct who often teaches in large state schools and universities within the 100 mile radius of where I live.

My students have varying abilities, but I have high expectations of all of them, and I let them know it. I assign fairly large amounts of very difficult readings, and I expect them to come to class having read them and being ready to discuss. And by and large, they do it. I assign short and long paper assignments, and I grade very harshly, and most of my students work hard to improve their writing and research skills. I treat them as intellectual equals, and frame my class as a learning experience for all of us. Most of the students really respond to my course structure and workload by studying very hard (slackers tend to drop my courses). I have been teaching this way for a few years now, and I am receiving the best evaluations ever in 11 years of teaching.

I love my work, my classes, and my students. And yet I think about leaving academe everyday, not because of slacker/horrible students, but because I can't afford to pay my rent.

I get paid effectively less than minimum wage as an adjunct in the humanities, no benefits, and all this after working my ass off for almost 10 years and accruing more than $100,000 in debt (yes, like most of my students, I put myself through undergrad and graduate school). I have a degree from a respected graduate program, and I am a great teacher, but I am in that window between graduating and getting a tenure-track job that is so debilitating it makes me (and most of my colleagues in the same position) want to slit my wrists. In short, I wish that full-time faculty, administrators, and the academic institutions I work for would appreciate me half as much as my students do.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

We Recommend the Margarita. Actually A Couple of Them. Step Away From the Computer, And Go Get Something to Drink Right Now.

I'm wondering what to do with my life now that I don't think I can stand teaching any longer. My complaints, however, have less to do with the students themselves. I like them, in general. Sure, there are some who are lazy and some who are not ready (intellectually or emotionally) to be in college, but, for the most part, they are fairly enthusiastic when approached with my own enthusiasm.

Herein lies the rub; I cannot stand the crap that goes along with teaching. I hate the meetings about how many pens we need to buy (who cares?). I hate the meetings where colleague A has to ask a question that clearly ONLY pertains to her and about which I have to listen for an extra 20 minutes when I could be grading / reading / writing / running / sleeping / drinking a margarita / doing any other damned thing I please.

I hate the paperwork and the not-even-thinly-disguised "students as customers with a return policy" thing that allows my students to drop my class during the LAST week of classes!!!! Why the hell should Joe Student be able to "return" 14 weeks of my time and effort? That's time and effort I could have been spending on Jane Student, or again, on myself. The school's desire to rope that sucker student into having to pay for my class again is unethical on so many levels that it makes me want to tell all of my students up front on day one that retaking the class simply because you didn't like your grade is playing right into their hands. And sometimes I even DO say that.

My thoughts are, that when I actually calculate how many hours I spend in administrative meetings etc., and work that into the salary, I really am getting bilked myself. And hell, if I'm going to have to sit in meetings and listen to marketing plans (thinly described as retention management), I might as well get a 9-5 job that PAYS a lot more.

But the sad part is, I love the teaching part and I'd really, really miss my students. There's no real way out of my cage; is there?


An interested reader sends in this terrific advice as a follow-up to today's posting:
  • always bring grading to any meeting with more than 10 people
  • never be on a committee with fewer than 10 people

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

One Big Crazy Freaking List of Suggestions Designed to Make the Classroom Better...Really...We're Not Joking. This is Stuff People Send Us.

Recently we've been getting lots of lists, lists of things students should do in order to be more successful, lists of things faculty member should stick up their asses because we're notoriously (or famously?) tight-assed - at least in the view of the modern and hip students who apparently aren't.

We've decided to put together a compilation list of advice for students, drawing from several submissions. If you'd like to play a game, try to guess which of these are real, which are phony and fun, and which were composed by people who need to start doubling up on the meds. You'd be discouraged at how many are real suggestions from students and faculty. We won't even bother telling you.

  1. Go to every class. Being present is often more important than being a good student. You'll pick up a lot just from being there. It's important never to miss class. Missing class is okay, as long as you do the work that is assigned. Call the professor before you miss class. Call the professor after you miss class.
  2. Do all the assigned readings before class. If you read in class, you won't be able to highlight the things the lecturer says. Read aloud all of your assignments to a roommate or friend. Do the assigned readings in a quiet space. Do all reading in your normal study environment. Try to stay after class and read before going to the cafeteria or your afternoon job.
  3. Do the homework as close to the time of class as possible, so that the material will be fresh in your head. Do the homework the night before. Do the homework with a classmate. Do any homework after showing a rough draft to the instructor. Type all homework. Keep your homework in a binder.
  4. Do professional-quality work. Type your assignments. Make them look good. The appearance of your final project is more important than the content. Do not worry about typing formats. The content of your work is far more important than its presentation.
  5. Use standard English spelling, grammar, and usage. You look terrible if you don't, because they really do help communication. If you need help, a copy of The Elements of Style by W. Strunk Jr. and E. B. White costs only about $8 on eBay.
  6. If you can't get to class, go to the professor's office and ask for help. If your professor doesn't have any office hours listed, go to the office of the Dean of the University or the Chair of the Department to request the hours.
  7. Be organized. Enjoy your youth and party hard, but only on the weekends. Manage your time effectively. Always have something to write with and on. Don't let time get away from you. Don't forget to enjoy each sunrise.
  8. Make sure you keep your phone set to vibrate.
  9. If you need to use the bathroom, just go. This isn't high school.
  10. Don't sell your books at the end of the semester. Don't buy your books until it's clear which books your teacher is actually using. Buy your books on Don't buy used books. Buy only used books. Find books in the library. Don't write in your book. Write in the margins of all of your books.

photo from

Monday, September 4, 2006

This is the Kind of Posting That Makes Us Want To Chew On a Pistol and Create a New Tenure Track Position At Our College

So. Let's talk about this grade thing. First off, let's get one thing clear. I am a rock-star student. I am the person who understands allegory and allusion as well as computers and circuits. I am the person to whom you refer other students for help. I am the person who speaks up in class--better yet, I bring up other, related avenues of intellectual inquiry instead of going, "huh, when did you say the midterm was?"

I come to your office hours to continue our discussions, and what's more, I have a clue when I do. My papers are sparkling examples of intellect and wit, effortlessly mixing both the classics and pop-culture references. My writing makes you laugh! And occasionally cry! And then nod your head and say, "wow, great point!"

What's more, I work my adorable little tush off. I am finishing a double major baccalaureate degree in two and a half years. I average a load of 23 credits. I work 20-30 hours a week, depending on projects at work. When my cell phone goes off (on vibrate) in class and I leave to answer it (which has happened once in two years), it's my employer, and the shit has just hit one hell of a fan.

With very few exceptions, you all love me. Many of you want to adopt me, or at least give me a big, warm, fuzzy hug. Then you would like to clone me. Because in addition to all of the above, I smile and I learn your name and I show up to class and I talk to you about your day and your other interests instead of treating you as a faceless, unimportant professorimaton.

For most of you, I love you back. As a rule, I think you're a pretty awesome group of people. I definitely think you should get the hell out, because 1) you don't have tenure and you never will because of school policies, 2) the engineers just don't get your subjects, and 3) you can do way better than this midwestern city. With that said, I'm honestly grateful that you don't. At least not until I finish my degree. Then, hell, man, flee! Flee like the wind! I know I will.

But loving you and thinking that you're awesome doesn't mean that I won't ask about a grade if I can't understand why I got it. Will I be an asshole about it? No. Will I even argue for you to change it? No, I won't. But if I don't understand why I got that B, if there are no comments or feedback, or if what's there doesn't make sense to me, I will ask you. If you can back it up, then hey, awesome, no problem. I still love you. I'll take my lumps, learn from the experience, and knock you out on the next assignment.

However, there's a little principle I live by: if you can't explain why it's *not* an A, then it *is* an A. Now, I don't expect a comprehensive analysis. I know that you're busy, I know that you've got lots to do, and I know that a lot of an A is indeed that wow-factor. But the other eight professors I have this term say that my work does have that wow-factor, and suddenly you disagree? Yeah, I'd like to know why, and I'm going to find out. "This just didn't have the punch." "This just didn't have the insight." One of those are good enough.

But if you write "Excellent!!!" at the bottom, then put a B at the top, with no intervening comments, I will come and ask you, and you had best be prepared to defend your answer. If you can't defend your answer, and you don't do something about it, *then* the fangs come out. Yes, I care about learning. No, I'm not just here for the piece of paper. College has done a lot for me; it's opened my mind to several subjects I love, it's connected me with some really interesting people. But do I worry about GPA? Yes, I do, and for that I won't apologize. I'm most probably going to graduate school after this. My GPA is on my resume. As of the end of spring term, I was .01 point away from summa cum laude, and yes, I want to wear the honor cords when I walk across the stage. I think I've earned that. And 99% of my professors agree. If you don't? If you think that we're supposed to foster an air of intellectual discourse in the classroom, then *not* discuss the very assignments that are intended to further it? If you were grading late one night and transposed a quiz grade, making my curve-breaking A into a B? If you think that not being a "grade-grubber" demands that I silently accept any of the above? Then yes, you are wrong.

Or perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps, much like the hokey-pokey, shutting up and taking whatever mark you're handed back (even if you don't understand it) *is* what it's all about. But I don't think so. Not only that, but I think most of you will agree with me. We're not so far apart, you and I; we both want students to learn. Here, I wanted to write "so detach the hostility surrounding questions about grades"... but that's not really fair, is it?

I know I'm exceptional. I know that the vast majority of students who dispute their grades are not like me and do not act like me. I've seen it. I've heard it. I've been told about it by some of my current professors. And I have no doubt that if I do go to graduate school, I'll experience it first-hand. So given what you're asked to deal with, the hostility is fair and even apropos. Why am I writing this, then? Because there are always exceptions, and I am one of the exceptions. Rant all you want about the other 99% (Dog knows I do, too), but be open to said exceptions when they come along. Oh, and one last request.

Can you tell that guy simultaneously clicking his pen, tapping his foot, and chewing his gum to shut the bloody hell up?

photo from