Monday, October 30, 2006
That may come to a screeching halt after Saturday's cake-winning experience.
Student C got her mid-semster (failing) grade notification on Thursday. After tears, drama, more tears, and wailed appeals, we agreed upon a tutoring session. She made an appointment to go over her previous papers, as well as the first draft of an upcoming paper worth about 15% of her final grade. Said appointment was for Saturday afternoon, lasting from 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM.
I reserved the library classroom, procured and paid a baby-sitter, and hiked into campus, only to sit all by my lonely self in the basement of the library for two hours.
As the baby-sitter had already been paid, I took advantage of the time and graded papers. I stayed for the entire two hours (and then some), hoping she was just running late. At 3:45 PM, I packed up and went home to cook dinner, and play with the kids a bit -- pretty much what I wanted to do all day today.
Predictably, my cell rang at 4:45 PM -- C had gotten hung up at the mall, and lost track of time -- could I still meet with her this evening? I explained that I had sacrificed the afternoon, and was unwilling to give up my evening, as well. Plus, the library was closed.
C asked if she could come to my house, because it was really, reeeeaaaalllyy important that we go over her papers. No dice.
She asked for a Sunday appointment. Politely, I said no -- Sunday is the only day my husband has off, and it is reserved for church and family time.
C proceeded to throw an Old Testament-style temper fit, complete with rending of clothing and tearing of hair, complaining that I "didn't care" if she flunked out of college, it was my fault she was failing the class, and she ended with the grand pronouncement that she was going to tell her father, who would "handle my bad attitude."
Oooh. I'm shaking in my boots. So are my department chair and the Dean. As we went over all of the documentation this morning, eyes were rolling like slot machines.
As I walked out of the office, I met C -- on her way to lodge her complaint. She gave me the self-satisfied smirk of someone who thinks thay have the upper hand. I wish I could have stayed to see her crestfallen appearance.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Where We Try to Sort Out the Whole Pajama Situation - And Today's Correspondent Gives It Up On the Fashion Tip
What you are all reacting so violently to is what I call "cozy pants," the flannel baggy pants that I put on the minute I get home. So I don't teach in my cozy pants. That's because I'm the teacher. When I was a student--and I was a good student, otherwise I wouldn't now be teaching at a research university--I, too, would roll out of bed, wash face, brush teeth, pull hair back into a ponytail and put on cozy pants and a T-shirt and run to class. I didn't think that how I dressed made any difference to the dude in front of the class who was himself wearing pants circa 1972 and a moth-eaten sweater or the woman whose bizarre collection of animal prints, gigantic faux African jewelry, and halitosis gave me a headache.
I was in college to learn, and I was up til the wee hours studying and trying to get just enough sleep before class that I could pay attention to what was going on. Hence the cozy pants. The well-dressed students were usually the ones who cared about being well-dressed and not about what was actually happening in the classroom. As a teacher I see this holds true today. There is little correlation between who is wearing cozy pants and who is doing good work. If anything, it's the students who look a little rough who do the better work. These cozy pants expose nothing that needs to be censored, unlike many of the other ensembles the students wear, and they keep the students comfy and help them get to class on time, so why on earth is everyone here at RYS so worried about whether or not the student is wearing cozy pants or not?
And please, every one of you, look at what you are wearing. Are you over forty and wearing a miniskirt? Are you wearing lycra/poly turtlenecks over pleated pants? You are, aren't you? Everyone here should 1) relax about the cozy pants. 2) watch What Not to Wear on TLC and think about what image their own disastrous outfits are projecting to the cozy-panted student body.
Friday, October 27, 2006
A couple semesters ago, the confidence had solidified, and I was grading the 8-10-page essay of a student we'll call R. It was about 2:00 in the morning, and her essay was terrible - her thesis was basically that "different religions view science differently." That's not a thesis, as one can argue it in about one sentence, not 8-10 pages, and we had discussed in class many times what a thesis ought to look like.
While reading, I encountered a few passages that seemed to deviate from her normal writing style. Ordinarily I'd Google anything suspicious, but it was 2:00 AM, I didn't have a computer nearby, I wanted to hand back this essay the next morning, and I felt the paper's quality was going to sink it anyway. I ended up being slightly kind and giving the paper a "C," reserving D's and F's for students whose essays lacked effort rather than persuasiveness. After handing the paper back, R - who had otherwise been very pleasant - sent me an e-mail in a very officious tone, requesting a meeting to discuss the "C" she claimed not to deserve. I agreed to the dreaded meeting, but before meeting with her, I asked her to e-mail me a clean copy of the paper. After it arrived, I went to Google. Two could play at this game.
Sure enough, the passages I had suspected were indeed lifted from online sources. In fact, about a quarter of her paper could be found verbatim elsewhere. It killed me that she had the nerve to steal other people's writing and beg for a higher grade, but I still wanted to make sure she understood what was wrong with her thesis. So I printed a copy of everything she stole, highlighted the relevant sections, and kept it in reserve. The meeting began exactly as I thought it would. She bitched and moaned and insisted that her thesis was valid, since it's what she did in high school and no one ever reprimanded her then. She was perfectly willing to accept my definition of a thesis, but she refused to accept that hers did not meet the standard.
"It's a research paper," she kept saying, as though that was a fact I had overlooked. Finally, after about half an hour, I gave up. She wasn't going to budge. So I whipped out my ace in the hole. "Okay," I said, "you got me. You're right. You don't deserve a 'C.' You deserve an 'F.'"
Then I showed her the evidence of plagiarism, and it felt very, very good. The unfortunate epilogue that accompanies what would otherwise be a tale of sweet revenge is that she spent the next hour and a half crying and having me assure her that she'd still get into medical school someday. Never drop the plagiarism bomb on a student without bringing a box of tissues. But the "F" stuck.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
1. You are not to abuse your Xerox machine privilege and make more copies than is absolutely necessary. This helps us save money in ways that you'll never see on your paycheck.
2. You may not sleep with your students. No, not even if they're "totally begging for it." Please note: Sleeping with the Xerox machine or making copies of your students is, however, acceptable. When making copies of your students, we recommend only those that are getting a "B" or better. When sleeping with the Xerox machine we ask you call the next day. And would it kill you to send flowers?
3. If a student asks a question and you do not know the answer, simply say "I don't know, but I'll get back to you." The following are not acceptable responses: -"What? Sorry. I don't speak retarded," -"Sounds like a question a terrorist would ask," -"You know, your mom asked me that same thing last night."
4. You are entitled to one free punch of any student you like during your career, but only ONE. So make it count. If you can hit more than one student with a single punch this will be acceptable.
5. The following do not count as official reasons to cancel class: -"No Pants Day" (We found that this is not an official holiday either in the US or Canada) -"Let's see if I can chug my way to a better profession day," - "Wednesday."
6. If you must cancel class for personal reasons, you are required to provide an alternate activity to your students. Please show discretion for what qualifies as an alternate activity. This University has found the following previously given excuses for canceling class to be unacceptable alternatives to lecture: -"Praying my hangover goes away by Thursday," -"Applying the lessons of Machiavelli by punching a hobo and stealing his change," -"Going to Hell."
7. You are welcome to ask for a raise, but we prefer you do not ask us.
8. You must conduct class in the classroom you were assigned. Class may not be held outside, in a bar, or in your student's pants (no matter how much he/she "is still totally begging for it.")
Thank you for adhering to our policies. Please enjoy a fulfilling semester!
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
I admit, long ago, in a pay scale far far away, I once glimpsed the elusive high school freak. At the time, we called them “Duel Enrollments.” Too smart for the Kumbaya crowd in their corduroy jumpers or the tattered coats on sticks who clog the teachers lounge back at Riverdale High, they would appear in my writing class and effortlessly mop the floor with the freshmen. In a land where remembering to wear one’s drool cup was considered class participation, it was frightening how bright they were.
But, alas, they never stayed. They were off to slay giants at colleges that had neither “U” nor “State” affixed to the brand name, and I was left standing by the window with a tear in my eye and dreams of following them to that magical place where students read because they knew how, where raised hands were followed by insightful questions that didn’t involve restroom privileges, and a roomful of scholars made me want to run to the library every day after class to keep up with them, and not to McGreevy’s tavern to escape them.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Why, oh why, do they think using "u" instead of "you" in a formal writting assignment is appropriate? Aren't they taught the difference between they're, their and there anymore? Are paragraphs passe now? Why don't they take notes on what I say during lecture? Why do they think test questions from the book, but which I didn't cover in lecture, are "trick"questions? Why do they act as if me not giving them a study guide for an exam is a crime? Why do they have the NERVE to ask me for a pencil and a Scantron form on exam day? Why do they ask me if I'm going to"curve" their grades, and why do they think said "curve" is simply adding 10 points to everybody's score? Why do they think it is appropriate to take a phone call in the middle of my lecture? And why are they shocked when I throw their ass out for doing it?
Administrators in some school districts insist that students be allowed to not only carry their cell phones into the classroom, but have them on in case mommy calls. And if mommy does call, students need to be able to take those calls. Students who are disruptive, etc. can be sent to the vice principal's office, but what's the point? They are sent right back with no consequences and a smug look on their faces.
The little one's every whim must be indulged, or mommy or daddy will be on everyone's backs.
In short, they are ill prepared, immature, pampered brats, who have been told by their feuding or guilt-ridden, over-committed parents, that they are special and deserving of special treatment, all their lives. The kids complain, the parents react, the administrators attack the teachers. The teachers get no support - they are fighting an uphill battle.
We were not expected to read the textbooks or even pay attention in lecture. You get everything drilled into you through simple repetition, and if you can parrot the teacher on the homeworks, quizzes, and tests, you're golden. In fact, having an original thought in high school is seemingly forbidden. Despite all this, some people thrive there.
I graduated with a 3.9 cumulative GPA. I studied occasionally, but I also read books on serial murderers and college science textbooks. I wrote my notes and the odd worksheet or two backward or upside down just to show I could do it. I argued with my teachers about religion, politics, ethics, and human rights when things got too repetitive. I participated in all the requisite getting-into-a-good-college extracurricular activities, but I also started parody religions, plotted world domination, wondered how many boxes of gelatin it would take to fill the school, staged zombie gummy bear re-enactments of major Civil War battles, and performed crude voodoo ceremonies on a Barbie doll at the lunch table.
We are told from the time we start sixth grade that everyone has to go to college to get a decent career, but we never hear how different it really is from all the spoonfed drivel of K-12. I'm a junior now, majoring in a science. Was the change from high schooler to undergrad drastic and occasionally quite difficult? You bet it was, and not everyone makes it. Many get weeded out in the first two years of general education, and the ones who didn't are mostly hanging on because Mommy and Daddy are subsidizing Junior's partying.
Graduating high school and coming to a university, though, was great for me. Much of the repetition is gone, I get all the textbooks I can handle, and I've really started to love research. I no longer need to amuse myself because the fresh, shiny, new ideas keep me busy and engaged. I'm planning to go on for my PhD.
Professors, we're out there, we love you and your ideas, and you represent some of the best things that have ever happened to us. We just don't know how to say it to your faces.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Now I'm pretty sure that attending a party with your undergrads is generally a bad idea and the repercussions of said dalliance might prove messy. I suspect, however, that the mess might be more our concern than theirs.
So, here's a story about a spectacular collision between work and pleasure. On a Saturday night after lots of teaching and stupid administrative work, I went out with friends to a fabulously dark and seedy gay after hours club. Loud music, sketched out party kids, and fetishes left, right, and center. Without divulging *too* many of my social predilections, I showed up in leather chaps, a leather harness, and not much else. I hardly stood out; sleaze is de rigeur at said club.
After getting royally ripped in a variety of ways, I found myself crushed up against a wall in the clutches of a very handsome, slightly older man. Heaven. In and amongst the groping, the loud music, and the lip smacking, I managed to come up for air. I wanted to know the name of my hunky catch. Between the small talk I happened to look over his shoulder, and who should I see but Terrance, a student of mine who I last saw in class on Friday afternoon. He was, obviously, slack jawed. In shock I think. I did all that I could in such a context: I winked and went back to the crushes of my handsome lucky find.
The next time I came up for air, Terrance was there with two of his friends. Over the music and noise of the club, I could see one of his friends mouth to him, "That's your prof?" to which I waved and smiled. And then I dragged my hunky find into the mess that was the dance floor.
The following week Terrance showed up in class. After agonizing for the week, I decided to be casual and up front. During the break, I asked if he enjoyed himself on the weekend. He said, "Yeah, it was fun." we talked about the music, the crowd, and the scene. Neither of us batted an eye. I have no idea what he and his friends talked about. But there was nary a ripple in my life as a result of that collision. Maybe they can be adults.
Friday, October 13, 2006
- What is wrong with you guys? That's a put on. No professor with any brain in his head would get drunk and drive around with a student looking for ice cream. I know you want to be edgy and all that, but this has to be a con. If you're just some unrequited creative writing major who wants to get jollies, do it on another blog.
- This is bullshit. The writing of the ice cream post is clearly that of a sophomoric moron. Take it down and do a better job of vetting your posts.
- This can't be real.
- Today's post is clearly a sorry attempt by some misguided undergraduate to show profs in a horrible and potentially dangerous light. Do better about checking the identity of your authors.
A few folks held out the possibility that ice cream man was really a prof somewhere, and that mail went something like this:
- You're a loser. You -- and you alone -- think this is funny. You probably thought a lot of the stuff you did in high school was funny too. But you weren't -- that's why you didn't get laid back then, that's why you're not getting laid now -- and now every last person at your school knows you will never get laid OR respect. Never. Marisol couldn't wait to get rid of you and every minute she was planning her escape without suffering the nerd's revenge in the classroom (read: her grade). I'm all for getting drunk and doing stupid shit, but with grownups. WHY were you at a party with 20 undergrads? I wish you a heart attack from high-fat ice cream. Yesterday.
- On a website normally devoted to the silliness and immaturity of students, we have been presented with the spectacle of a colleague who is not only an imbecile, but an imbecile without the good sense of discretion.
- If you like being employed, don't go to undergraduate parties where students are drinking. This will not please administrators, colleagues, journalists, legislators, or human beings with reason in general.
- My advice to faculty going to a student party -- DON'T!
- You're one sad fucker, my brother. I understand the drinking, the ice cream, even the driving around. But do it with someone your own size, you lecherous cretin.
While we can't tell you for sure that the ice cream story is real, we can assure you that the author is indeed a prof. We checked his identity using two of the normal avenues we follow on things like this. He is indeed working happily in our profession, perhaps looking forward to his next party!
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I was at a party with about 20 undergrads. I must confess I had more than one drink that evening. For some reason I crave ice cream when under the influence of alcohol. I immediately began my search for someone at the party who also wanted ice cream at one in the morning AND was sober enough to drive to Dairy Queen.
The only person who satisfied both of these conditions was Marisol, a student of mine. Unfortunately, no one else at the party was interested in joining us. I was a little hesitant to go with her without a "chaperone," because in a small town it's possible that we would be seen together and the rumors would begin to fly. But I figured, "What the hell!"
When we arrived at Dairy Queen and exited Marisol's car, Dairy Queen had just locked their doors for the evening. In my frustration I exclaimed, "I want ice cream!" Right as I was saying this a bit too loudly, a crowd of students turned the corner - one of whom was enrolled in another of my classes. The student immediately started whispering to her friends, I assume something along the lines of, "Hey, look. That's my professor!" They all started to giggle. As if that wasn't strange enough, here's what happened next.
I made the suggestion to Marisol that instead of giving up, we could go to the 24-hour grocery store and pick up a pint or two of Ben & Jerry's. Sure enough, after taking two steps into the grocery store we immediately ran into two other female students from Marisol's class. Looks of terror immediately appeared on their faces. I imagine they were thinking, "Oh my god, our professor and a girl from class are going to the grocery store together at 1 AM on a Saturday night... something is very, very wrong with this picture."
What does a professor do in this situation? Hiding behind the stack of soup cans was no longer an option. So my response to their horrified faces was to smile and say, "Hey, you're in our class too! How ya doin' tonight?" They were too shocked to respond. Luckily, no scandalous rumors ever started.
My advice to faculty going to a student party - bring ice cream!
Monday, October 9, 2006
Students fill out a short form with demographic information before testing. This year, one student could not spell her last name correctly, another student didn’t know if his first name was spelled with one T or two, and a third one had to call his father for his address because “We moved two months ago and I haven’t learned it yet.”
I had two mothers and one father following their little darlings into the testing room because this is all new to the little ones and they didn’t want them to be upset.
The tests are timed so I tell everyone they start promptly and to be on time. One student came in 15 minutes late and I told her she could take it later that day or reschedule. She decided to reschedule for the next week. The next week she came in 25 minutes late. I asked what’s the problem she was 15 minutes late last Tuesday and now this Tuesday she is 25 minutes late. Her face lit up and she said “ Oh, Tuesdays are when I take the garbage out.”
Friday, October 6, 2006
We Have a New RYS Correspondent. Around Here We Call Him Prof. Cranky, The Number Man. It's With Love, Though. We're All About The Love.
Q: My TA can't speak English.
A: Before graduate students become TAs, they are required to pass a spoken English test. If they fail this test, they don't become TAs. So apparently somebody thinks your TA can speak English. I did not hire your TA, choose them from a pool of candidates, nor do I have the power to fire them. So you're wasting your time by bitching to me.
Q: Is there any way I can get a C in your course?
A: Sure, just get 70% of the possible points. I thought I made that clear on the first day of class.
Q: I need this class to graduate.
A: Guess what - every single person enrolled in this course needs it to graduate. Did you think your classmates were taking it as an elective? Needing this course to graduate does not make you a special case, so don't expect special consideration or treatment.
Q: I need this class to get into my major.
A: See previous answer.
Q: I work 40 hours a week.
A: See previous answer.
Q: My TA is an asshole.
A: I hope you don't think you're the first college student to have an asshole for a teacher. It happens to many students every semester at basically every university on the planet. Face it, there are a lot of assholes out there. Do you want to know what I did when I had an asshole for a TA? I studied hard, then I walked away laughing at the end of the semester because I got an A, despite my asshole teacher. I got a lot more satisfaction from that than from whining.
Q: Could you tell me my TA's name, office hours, phone number, etc.?
A: I do not know your TA's office hours or phone number off the top of my head. I am not a secretary. On the first day of recitation, your TA told you these things and if you didn't write them down that's your problem. Here's an idea - go to recitation, and ask yourself.
Q: Everything seems easy when you do it on the board in class, but when it comes to the exam, I don't do that well.
A: You know why it looks easy when I do it? Because I'm good at it. I've been doing these problems for years. If you want to become good at them, study your lecture notes and do the practice problems in the book.
Q: I never miss class, study like crazy, get extra help, I do everything you tell me to do, but I'm still failing. What am I doing wrong?
A: How the hell should I know? Maybe you're not paying attention in class, not studying correctly, or getting help from the wrong people. It's also possible that you're just not that bright.
Q: I'm done with this homework problem, but can you just tell me if I did it right?
A: You'll find out when you get it back after it is graded. What's important right now is whether or not you think it's right. If you think it's right, leave it. If not, change it.
Q: I do well on the homework and quizzes, but fail the exams. I guess I'm just a bad test taker. Will this affect my grade?
A: Well obviously it will. Why do you assume you're a bad test taker? Maybe you're just good at taking quizzes or copying your friend's homework, and your exam scores reflect that you aren't learning as much as you thought.
Q: I didn't have enough time to finish the exam.
A: Tough. If I wanted to, I could put 1000 problems on the exam, just to see how many you could do in 50 minutes. As the instructor, I have the right to write as many problems as I want.
Q: I had no idea homework was due today.
A: Baloney. I make announcements in class constantly about when your next homework is due, and it's on your syllabus.
Q: The real exam wasn't like the practice exam.
A: I don't remember promising you it would be. I hand out a practice exam because I think it might help you prepare for the real one. If you feel it didn't help you, then don't take a practice exam next time.
Q: Your class is full. Can I get in?
A: What do you think "full" means?
Q: Sorry I haven't been to class lately, but I'm not a morning person.
A: So why are you signing up for classes that meet in the morning?
Q: I think I'm about to fail this class. Is there anything I can do?
A: Yes. Take the class again.
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
I can’t take it anymore! Maybe this is just another one of my quirky eccentricities, but if I assign work, I expect it to be done as per instructions. For instance, I asked the students to read a particular article (on declining summer camp attendance) and then summarize the argument. One student turned in a page long, fictional account of camp life—automatic “F.” She was pretty cheesed off at me [gulp]
This is an e-mail I received from another student regarding the same assignment:
“We want to know if we have to do the exercises in the book it was on the slyabus but in class u didnt metion it and it was alot of extra work. and we also want to know what exercises we have to do. Reading the slyubus we think we have to do exercise 1 on pg 13 and exercise 2 on pg 38 if you could please email me asap that would be great because we dont want to do all that work if it isnt required for next class. Thanks.”
And my reply:
“If work is on the syllabus, it is required. I will only discuss assignments listed on the syllabus if I feel they need a greater degree of explanation. You are correct about the assignment itself: complete exercise 1 on p. 13, and exercise 2 on p. 38. Also: I realize that for many people, e-mail represents a form of casual communication. However (as clearly stated on the syllabus), communications directed towards professors--including myself--need to be grammatical, include a proper salutation, and show correct capitalization and spelling. To not do so is inappropriate and disrespectful.”
I must say, my “evil professor” alter-ego cackled with glee as I hit the send button on that one [sob].