Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Graduate

A couple of weeks ago I became the first person in my family to graduate from college. Moreover I was accepted to my top choice Ph.D. program for the fall, fully funded, and I am 21 years old.

But I have a confession to make. I used to be one of the students you commiserate about on this site. When I did make it to class at all, I generally fell asleep. I was typically wearing pajama pants and had a generally disheveled appearance. I cheated when I thought I could get away with it and never once had to face the music. Whether or not this was due to instructors not noticing or not wanting to deal with it I'll never know.

I came up with some of the most incredible excuses to get out of having to turn in certain assignments, many of which got me either excused or at least an extension. Other times I simply feigned illness, family tragedy or used my involvement with sports as a reason that my coursework continually took a backseat. When I didn't find an assignment or class especially compelling I did only what I needed to do to get by and generally wasted many a talented educator's time with barely passing drivel. All my life everyone around me had told me that I was smart and I believed it. Considering myself smarter than practically everyone else had become, in many ways, a core part of the way I viewed myself. My problem was the only way I saw fit to use my intelligence was to manipulate the system so that I could continue to be lazy.

Part of my problem was that I couldn't see beyond my own nose in terms of what value any of the material I was being offered might have. To me, schooling was compulsory and I was just going through the motions and waiting for it to be over so my life could finally start. I think this is the case with many of students referenced here.

But what I came to realize was that my life started the moment I decided to take responsibility for its direction. This was my life, this was my education and this was my future. Did I want to be just another mediocre person, still just going through the motions of living and wondering whatever became of my potential at age 40? Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I had incredible power to do incredible things. An absolutely fascinating world opened up and it was mine for the taking, limited only by how hard I was willing to work for it. Rest assured, I worked my ass off, aided by wonderful professors who went well out of their way to reach out to me.

To the students who read this, there is absolutely no joy to be found in choosing to be mediocre. What you do here and now does set the foundation for what you will continue to do throughout your life. If you can find nothing to inspire you here where your only job is to learn from masters, how do you honestly expect to survive 30 some years of the work force without it being a soul crushing experience? Wake up. Your only life is passing you by and you're barely present to notice it.

And to the professors who didn't give up on me even when I routinely disappointed them, and the professors who aided and encouraged me through my transformation: thank you.

More than you know, thank you.

Enough Regret to Go Around

I've just been alerted by one of your classmates that you left a less-than-stellar review of my teaching on that dreaded Other Site Not to Be Named. She even graciously copied and pasted it into an email message for me. Yes, you left it anonymously, but did you really think I wouldn't recognize your writing style after sixteen weeks of reading it?

I see you think that I "ruined" your GPA by giving you the grade you earned, a B. It seems that none of your previous English professors at my college ever gave you anything lower than an A, so that means all other English faculty must be bound by their judgment. You are dismayed that I actually graded you in a literature class based on the quality of your writing style. So you are telling the world that you are shocked your writing ability was the major component of your grade:
  • in a literature class, which is devoted to great writing

  • taught in an English department

  • presumably a place that upholds writing and documentation standards

  • in a course designated as writing-intensive, which means the majority of your grade must come from your writing

  • taught by a professor with a degree in rhetoric

  • who spent the entire first week of class reviewing what she expected from you in terms of writing style
I offered an entire week before the major paper was due for you to submit your work to me for a conference, either online or in person. You had nothing else to do for my class that week. Several of your classmates took advantage of this, but you did not. I work very hard to present my standards clearly and make myself available to students both online and in person. I care deeply about student progress and learning and would have gladly worked with you. But now, because you thought you could rest on your previous instructors' assessments of your freshman-level work, you judge me to be a terrible professor and "truly regret" taking my class.

I can honestly say that, given your lack of engagement with your classmates and me coupled with your attitude of entitlement, I truly regret your having taken my class as well. Students like you make me sit down to calculate when I could take early retirement (and I'm still in my 30s!).

Post #500 Since the Regime Change - Silent Young Girl

Dear Professors,

I'm going to try and clear up a few things, rather than go off and "rate you" on pointless websites.

If you intend to continue bleating on about how badly we've graded you on course evaluations, there actually is a possibility that you ARE doing something wrong. If a freshman has just handed in the first essay of the semester, you are going to have to realize that she needs constructive criticism. It does no good to write that the only good point of the entire essay is that she "handed it in on time" or "had an introduction." We're NOT expecting the world’s best grade. We're expecting the help that we're paying for, that's if you even really care.

Seriously, if you really don't care about what we rate you all, why whine on so childishly about it on this site with repetition?

Please realize, professors, that this isn't a student trying to pick out your flaws as a lecturer, but someone trying put up a mirror, to show you that our problems are very similar. Next time you're about to post something on RYS, take a breath and realize your own wrongs, or realize that you're lucky enough to have a silent young girl sitting in your front row actually trying to take in what you have to say.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Some People Really Get It: Where a Longtime Correspondent Takes a Whack At Closing Out The Semester

Hey kids! What time is it?

Time to admit to the bitter end of another semester of dashed expectations? Time to bust out some of Kentucky's finest, kick back, and slowly erase the name of every pajama-clad tuition payer from the collective memory banks, one jelly jar at a time? Time to spill gasoline and flip a match over every last robotic rehash spewed from the Wikipedia-fueled-cut-n-paste-cuisinart that is a freshman's laptop? Time to wash your hands of the collective assault on the Western Canon by the future cubicle-jockeys of America and re-read Robert Frost in the original English; not paraphrased into, like, dudespeak?

Not yet. It's time again for everyone's favorite end-of-semester ritual: Whack-a-Mole.

Fire up the e-mail and get ready for the fun to start.

"Yo, Tie-wearing bro. My page-and-a-half final research paper comparing William Shakespeare to that other great bard, Trent Reznor? I dropped it off two days late. Is that, like, a problem? Rock on."

"Can I have an incomplete for the seven assignments I couldn't identify on a dare?

"You may not remember me, but ..."

"Hey Prof, why did my grade nosedive from a B to a D-?"


In order: "Not for me." "Sure, but only if you submit them in Farsi." "You're right, I don't." "Of your final two papers, the first was proofread by rabid wolverines, while for the second, you out-lazied even yourself and Googled your way to an D-. Relying on sources such as and when I repeatedly implored the class to utilize sources from the university databases, plus your boneheaded willingness to bodydump Sparknotes into the mix THEN submit that mess to You, sir, are a moron. Sparknotes? You would have less chance standing out if you rolled into Sturgis, South Dakota on a razor scooter. You blow off office hours all semester, ignore my willingness to review papers via e-mail before the due date, and now, suddenly, you're concerned about your grade?"


"Take that!"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

We, Too, Are Pulling For the Widgets

When I accepted a one-year post at your university, I was happy and excited. Your school prides itself on its rising academic reputation and fiercely loyal alumni. Never mind that I had spent the past two years teaching your hated crosstown rivals (the Widgets), who you considered beneath you socially and academically. I thought the change would be refreshing. Boy, was I wrong.

Despite the fact that you all pride yourselves on being quite intelligent, you have the study habits and learning skills of retarded sea cucumbers. When I gave out homework assignments to your hated enemies across town, I’d expect—and get—about half a dozen e-mails and office hour visits about the material, usually within 48 hours of giving out the assignment. I always welcomed this, as it showed that they were actually taking an interest in their education. When I gave you homework, I’d hear nothing from you until the beginning of class the day it was due—and then all I’d get were complaints about how hard and confusing it was. There’s a reason why I posted my e-mail and office hours on the syllabus, people!

When I taught across town, it never occurred to me to grade on attendance. I assumed that students at an elite research university were capable of taking responsibility for their own education, and they were. I taught classes with about 40 students enrolled, and on most days, about 37 showed up (and out of the missing 3, usually at least one of them would e-mail me to say why he/ she couldn’t make it).

And you? Let me tell you how much I love spending hours prepping lectures and class activities, only to show up and find that out of a class of 11, only 2 bothered to show up. This happened on several occasions, too. And the only people apologizing were the honorable few who actually did show up—they told me that this was precisely because I didn’t grade on attendance and didn’t give pop quizzes. You’re paying something like $1200 a unit to be there, and you need to be tortured into going to class??

Of course, this isn’t all your fault. Some of the blame lies on a university culture that places more value on resume-padding “community service” than on academics. It’s pretty obvious from the kinds of excuses I’ve been getting for your half-assed class attendance and mastery of course material (desperate letter-writing campaigns! last-minute event-planning crises!) that you are used to profs giving you a pass so you can go out and Make A Difference. And that the B’s and C’s you got from me (which would have been D’s and F’s across town) were the first you’ve seen in your sorry little lives.

My fault was assuming that your school was an actual research university, as stated disingenuously on its website. This, I’m sure, is meant to disguise the fact that it’s actually Slytherin with a football team.

Of course, you’re all too arrogant and full of yourselves to recognize yourselves in this. To which I have a two-word reply: Go Widgets!


Dear student that I have only seen once in two semesters,

You have no idea. No clue whatsoever. You have no clue about this subject I've been teaching (programming), you have no clue about how you should go about learning to program, and you have no clue about how much I know about what you've been up to. I'm not stupid.

I know what you did for that assignment. I hauled you in along with your "friend" for an investigation into possible plagiarism, and I'm not sure whether you were nervous beforehand or not, but you must have been relieved when all we could get evidence for was your "friend" stealing a copy of your assignment off your computer. But I know you didn't write that program code. You got someone else to write it for you. Oh, you wrote the explanation bit all right, it was just the program code that you hired someone else to do. You haven't the faintest idea that it is glaringly obvious when competent program code accompanied by some meaningless drivel doesn't add up. You just think I'm stupid enough to believe that that's your own work. No, I just didn't have the evidence. BIG difference. I know you hired someone. So you pay all this for tuition, and then pay even more to hire someone to do your work for you? Isn't kinda cheaper to do your own work? Why would you pay all this money and not attend?

You didn't attend, not once, all semester. I keep records, I know these things. Fortunately you did abysmally on the final exam, and failed the course. I say fortunately, because I hate to see plagiarists benefit from their plagiarism. So a few months later, there you were again, back in my course. You decided that since you didn't pass the course last time, a different tactic was needed this time. But you still think I'm an idiot. You sent me a series of emails (you didn't show up to class once, mind, just the emails), spinning me the line "Oh I'm pregnant. I can't think straight I'm having an abortion that's why I had to miss weeks and weeks of classes" and I have to say you're obviously very practiced at this sort of email. You probably couldn't manage to conjure up the right degree of emotion in person, but in writing, you're very skilled at this wheedling thing. But you don't realize the giveaway, why I know it's highly unlikely you were really in abortion troubles: there's a big difference between students who have genuine problems and those who are trying to wheedle special considerations that they don't deserve. Students who have genuine upsets and who sincerely want to make up for what they've missed are not only more mature about the issue and contact you in advance, they tend to just mention the biggest issue that is affecting them, and downplay anything else for fear of causing too much fuss, and then when they say they'll turn up the next week and/or do the work, they usually do a pretty good approximation.

Students like you, however, one of the whining lazy variety, don't contact me until very late in the day, and then one excuse is never enough. Why use one excuse when five or six can be invented/exaggerated? And then the promises. Oh the promises! They promise they will turn up for every class from now on! They will do their work on time in future! They will work hard! And do they? Is the Pope Muslim? You, my lazy absent student, fit the latter profile. Not only did you talk of abortion troubles, but you also talked of your great fear of embarrassment, your financial difficulties, of how you couldn't get to use a computer at home to send emails with, nor could you use the laboratories, nor could you attend classes because of lack of lab access (a blatant lie, classes don't need lab access). Then you promised to attend faithfully (which you didn't, I saw you only once all semester and even then I had great difficulty picking my jaw up off the floor). You also tried to lay it on really thick, saying you didn't know where else to turn and I was the only person you were speaking to about this (this contradicted several of your earlier emails).

So yes, you did get the extension on the assignment that you were angling for, as you would have had sufficient evidence to denounce me in front of my colleagues as a heartless soul if I hadn't. And I replied to you in an exemplary email, written as if I had no doubt of your truthfulness, a long screed full of concern and helpful advice on what resources there were available and how you could best make use of academic opportunities in the future when you were up to it. So you probably think I am a naive sucker as well as stupid. My only hope is that you at least felt a little guilty about the time it took me to write the lengthy caring and supportive reply.

But then, you made a mistake. No, not the bit where you handed in the late assignment when it clearly says in the instructions that I DO NOT ACCEPT LATE ASSIGNMENTS. No no, that wasn't a mistake, that was what saved you. No, the mistake was where you, once again, on this freshly unique assignment, hired someone to do the programming for you. You didn't even bother to make much of an attempt at the documentation this time. You didn't bother doing proper testing of the file you received from your friend. If you had, you might have written over the electronic evidence which revealed the equivalent of "received this code from a friend" stamped all over it. Your friend thinks one of us is stupid though, I'm not sure which, you or me or maybe both of us? See, that code you got from your friend? That code you tried to submit as your attempt at the assignment? That code looked kinda familiar. Way too familiar. It turns out that it bears substantial resemblance to some code I've seen before.... MY CODE.

Yes, my code, not from my lecture notes or anywhere in the public domain, but from my private files. This programmer must have gone searching through my files, found a relevant file, and altered it to fit the assignment. Beautifully done though, I take off my hat to your programmer friend. If you had turned in "your" assignment on time, I'd have hauled you in for plagiarism, and then you'd have had nowhere to run: do you admit that you copied a file from someone else? or pretend that you did the copying?

You have one chance left to pass this compulsory course. I have the feeling you will turn up next semester for my course yet again. And I will ask you to come and see me, because I want to talk to you, not to accuse you but to help you. Because you are a student on my course and I have a duty of care towards you, I want to tell you what is the only way to pass the course, and how plagiarism is not part of that, and that I am not stupid and I do detect plagiarism and plagiarism will not help you.

But you are the one that is stupid, not me. You cannot program, and you will keep far away from my office and my classes, which will ensure you remain unable to program. Then if you do submit an assignment it will be plagiarized yet again and I will haul you in for questioning and then finally, you will realise that I am not stupid, that I do detect plagiarism, and that it is too late. You will realize that I could have helped you, but you didn't take the help when it was offered. And as you get thrown out, twice over, both for plagiarizing and for failing to pass a compulsory course, you will no longer think I'm stupid. Instead, you will hate me and you will think it's all your fault that you didn't manage to buy yourself a degree.

Yours sincerely,
Your programming professor

Aren't We All?

Dear Students,

T -- Writing "there was too much math in this class," for a pre-calculus class, is rather silly. Here's a hint -- the course is in the *math* department. It's not in the underwater basket weaving department.

G -- Why did you write 'slow down in lectures'? You only attended 8. It doesn't seem as fast if you know what we did yesterday, and the day before, and ...

H, C, and F -- You're super, hardworking students, and I'm glad you liked me. But why couldn't you have told me how wonderful I was on the evaluations that the department sees, too?

D -- I don't care whether you want to file a complaint with the dean, the course coordinator, or whomever you feel like. Write a letter to your Senator. But 68% doesn't round to 70%. It really doesn't. We round to the nearest percent, not the nearest ten percent.

A -- Getting a D last semester doesn't mean that you can skip class all semester, cram for the final, and magically earn that C. It earns you ...another D.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Mediocre Student Comes Clean And Asks For Forgiveness

I am sorry for being late to class pretty much the whole semester. It was rude and disrespectful. I am sorry for asking for an extension on the online test. My laptop battery really did die, and I really didn't have a charger, but I waited until the last minute to begin. If I hadn't waited the problem would have been easily remedied. I am sorry for surfing the web during class. I naively thought you wouldn't be able to tell what I was doing.

I'm sorry for emailing you excessively. While I never whined or made demands, your time is precious and I took up too much of it. I'm sorry for skipping class and then asking you to rehash what we did while I was gone. Again, a waste of your time.

Although I can't take back all of the rude, arrogant, inconsiderate things I have done in the first three years of my college education, I promise that for my last three semesters I will be a model student. Or, at least, I'll stop pulling the dumb shit I have in the past.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

When Students Evaluate a Course, Are They Just Evaluating Themselves?

Who are you, and how did I fail you? A week ago I got my student evaluations. Your scores stood out like a sore thumb. In a sea of goods and excellents, you were the "major improvement needed." I wondered then, after a semester of lecturing to smiling students - granted some were smiling in their sleep - who you were, and if you'd ever acted like you weren't enjoying my class.

I know you never said anything about these grievances. Nothing out of the ordinary showed up in the midterm evaluations, or on the anonymous message board, or in an email or office hours or a conversation. Yet, it showed up today in the written portions of the evaluations. After reading student after student who said that this was a great class or commented on how much they learned or on how great I am as a teacher, there was you. When asked, "Would you recommend this class to a friend or roommate looking for an elective?" You replied, "Yes, if they don't really care about teaching quality."

I immediately beat myself up. I focused on you, the one out of forty who had nothing nice to say, the one out of a class of students who found my class worthless. I wondered how I'd failed you. Only now, as I write this, venting as I often do here, do I realize the answer. It's right in front of my eyes. When asked, "What were your expectations about the course, and were the fulfilled?" You said, "A blow off class, sort of."

I am sorry that I don't offer a blow off class and that those who do blow off the class get a lot less out of it. I actually care about the readings that I assign. I actually want you to do the work. I actually test you on the material, from both lectures and readings. I want you to be in class every day. When you're not there, and when you don't read, and when you don't participate - in other words, when you blow off the class - you're blowing off a fundamental part of education.

It's not all about what I can give you. The quality of the student is a huge part of the quality of the teacher, and I believe that if you think that I'm a crappy teacher it's because you were a crappy student. I made an effort, an effort to design an interesting course, to integrate exciting activities and illustrations, and to be there every day, to facilitate learning in and out of the classroom, and to listen to each of my students. Since you didn't make an effort to engage me, it shouldn't surprise me that I didn't engage you.

Commiseration Leads Off Saturday's Menu

I teach art at a secondary school and experience many of the same problems others write about on RYS. I have, for years, thought that maybe I was wrong to not pursue a career as a professor (a stint as a TA and the reality of adjunct pay was enough to scare me off to the public school system). I take comfort in the fact that the same bullshit I deal with now goes on in universities all over the country, and that professors are equally as embittered and disillusioned as I am.

I too have students who, although seem bright enough, forget the full meaning of the word “plagiarism.” I too have students who forget that it is not acceptable for them to listen to iPods, text message their friends, and sleep during class. The best part is that they actually think they’re being sly about it, and are shocked when I “catch” them. They forget that the LED lights on their electronic devices illuminate their sweet little faces when the lights are off and we are watching a video. They forget the hours that tutoring is available. They forget their assignment, and complain when points are deducted for late work.They forget that I am only 26, have excellent hearing, and know when they’re calling me a bitch under their breath. They forget that my job is to facilitate their learning, not to do the assignment for them. They forget that my class does in fact require work (what?! In ART?!?!). They forget that I am not their friend, not interested in “hooking up” after they graduate, not breathlessly awaiting the latest chapter in their life story. But, they NEVER forget when I make a mistake. Although I am expected to have the patience and forgiveness of Christ, I am not allowed to make mistakes. Ever.

The saddest thing about all of this, though, is that the parents are worse than the students. At my “State Recognized” school district, the administration trembles and wets themselves like a bad puppy every time an angry parent calls. How dare I subject precious Lu-Lu Bell to the same requirements as all the other students? She’s Special. She Deserves to be excused. She has Needs.

So, if you’re wondering why your college classes are full of lousy students who can’t think for themselves, manage time or money, take responsibility for anything, or have an original thought, you can thank dear old mom and dad. They’re the ones that told Junior he could be anything he wanted to be when he grew up, and made excuses for him when he failed. They're the ones that told him it was okay to skip homework and run football plays until midnight. They’re the ones footing the bill for him to join the fraternity and drink away his allowance (and liver). They’re the ones who will allow him to move back in when he’s put on academic probation and goes back to community college for a half semester before deciding that college is overrated.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Something About This Time of Year Makes the Poetry (And the Sangria) Flow.

A Professor's Sigh

I’m trying to imagine how it went:
You right-clicked. Copied. Pasted. Fixed the font.
While conscious, right? You’d not been hypnotized?
You weren’t held hostage? Threatened with your life?
And then, you. . .what? Forgot to cite your source?
You meant to cite your source but put it off?
And when you tried—you really tried—to cite
Your Googled source you couldn’t figure out
Which source it was? That strikes me as odd.
I Googled just one phrase, and there it was.
Your source. But here’s the part that baffles me.
Quotation marks? You do know what they are,
I assume. Do they not use them where you’re from?

Or were you hoping that I wouldn’t see
What you had done? Or that I wouldn’t care?
Dishonest? Sneaky? Mean? Just sloppy? Dumb?
Or all of the above? Or wait—I know—
It really is my fault. You didn’t learn
And thus I didn’t teach. Just goes to show
How wrong so many folks can be. I’ve earned
The rank of full professor. My class evals
Are almost always good. I’ve won awards.
Ha ha! Stupendously, I’ve fooled them all.
I’d like to leave you with a few more words.
The ones I’m thinking of are all obscene.
Instead, I’ll simply finish with a sigh.
This mattered and you didn’t get it. Why?

Whingey Approaches the Record For Most Incredulous Readers. And We Love Him For It.

More often than not, when we post something that comes from an angry student, nobody believes it's a real post. Whingey's missive from yesterday certainly proved that theory to be true. Our mail skewed heavily to the "you must have made that shit up." But it's all real. And once again we decided not to edit it for grammar, not because we're meanies, but because we thought that presentation was part of what attracted us to the note in the first place. We often edit student work that comes in if it's got a handful of inconsequential errors in it that might deflect a reader. But Whingey's own style was part of what we loved.

A few of you believed it to be true, and we've cobbled together the comments below:

  • If I read your post correctly, your course consists of a two "short answer exams," a short essay, a medium essay, and the choice between another short essay or a final exam. Are you kidding me?! That's it?! THAT is what you are bitching about? As for your complaining that the 3000 word essay is due on a Monday instead of a Friday, here is why: if your professor assigned the paper to be due on a Friday, you would be complaining about not having the weekend to work on it, and how it should be due on a Monday instead.
  • I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for "Whingey." However, I can't help but feel a little responsible for it. I, as do many students I know, complain about a couple of things that Whingey has mentioned in his/her post. I don't like having a test two weeks before a final, and goodness knows I'm disappointed when I come to class expecting a lecture and the video bin is broken out. My friends and I bitch among ourselves about these things from time to time. There is a big difference between complaining to friends about a temporary frustration and a steamy wad of publicly self-righteous contempt. I mean really, Whingey, it must have taken a monumental effort to come up with all that, if you have such a problem with a 1,500 word essay. I offer my deepest apologies, and a pledge to be a little more careful, to all the professors who have ever experienced a Whingey of their own.
  • That you find an 11-week course with a two-hour lecture and tutorial each week insufficient time to "engage" yourself in discussion about the topic at hand is pretty ridiculous. Perhaps it's a problem because you don't listen? Quit whining and get to work. I hate to say it, but you're exactly the type of student the professors who post here hate. You have obviously not taken the time to think about your course. More than that, you want to be spoon fed knowledge on your own terms. If you don't mind telling me where you go to school and who your professor is, I'd like to send him or her flowers and a card as a sympathy gift.
  • Yesterday's "Whinge" post is beautiful. No, not for its rash sentiments, but for the delightful display of inattention and sloppiness with regard to spelling, punctuation, and grammar that reveal that this student's lack of intellectual development may have more to do with his/her general attitude and less with the quality of one (likely underpaid) lecturer. My own attention to these nitty-gritties is often criticized harshly by my students. "This isn't an English class," they cry. "But my computer has a spell-checker," they protest. As if reading and writing in their native language is an unfair and extravagant burden. But their consistent refusal to proofread their own work or accept feedback tells me plenty about their attitude toward learning and constructive criticism. Whingey complains that the lecturer doesn't put enough time and effort into course construction (especially during "movie" days. The horror!), but s/he can't be bothered to capitalize "i" or insert terminal punctuation here and there. It seems by this student's missive that no instructor who requires written analyses or exams to measure learning will pass muster. "What? You want me to learn *and* show you what I've learned? You've already stolen my weekend--what more do you want?" Ironically, this student wants the lecturer to tell the students what she thinks about the movie/lesson/text but finds it unacceptable that the students should be asked to develop their own thoughts on the subject. Expecting students to think and write with some average degree of critical thinking, creativity, and accuracy may make me a jerk. Go ahead -- write about my unreasonable grading and writing standards on the instructor evaluations. Better yet, make sure you write as incoherently as usual, so my supervisors and I can enjoy the irony. I'll just be here with my red pen.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I Just Had a Whinge, And I Feel Better Already.

A somewhat bitter reader am i, heres my opinion on something.

Why is it that lecturers feel they know the best way to engage with course material. Heres a hint: You Dont.

When you have an 11 week semester with 1 study break, there is no amount of assessment that is going to make a student even want to remember what you taught during the semester.

When you give your class 11 weeks worth of teaching, a 2 hour lecture each week and a tutorial jam packed with previous reading required, you are not going to get a student to critically engage with the information, because we have no time to do so. The thought of even thinking about what they hell your learning gets shoved out of the way with the stress of knowing you have 3 essays due just for that one measily unit, which for the majority of your students is an elective.

In terms of assessment dear lecturer you have made sure in those 11 weeks, you've given us 3 essays, one which is 1000 words, one which is 3000 and then a 1500 word essay as a choice between either doing that or sitting an over rated exam. On top of that you have 2 short answer exams, one during week 6 and one in week 12.

But wait, you say that isnt to bad? Timing is everything dear lecturer. The 3000 word essay is due in week 9 on a Monday why is it because you dont want people handing it in on a friday and actually allowing people a bit more time, or because you want your weekend? Your unit has no bearing on the world, id rather right about US Hegemony due the same week than worry about an event or theme that happened in Asia and what it represented in Australian Values. We certainly dont get our weekends and especially not from your unit. Furthermore, you have a short exam test in week 11? But we have a final exam 2 weeks after that! Whats the point? is it just to make sure that we study early?

You whinge and moan during the tutorials that none of us talk and engage and even rock up, well theres a probable reason for that. Could it maybe be because people are to busy trying to get assessment in? No wonder the quality of discussion has taken a dive on the weeks when assessment is due.

And what is it with the movies? Lets just slap on media and i can get paid for the hour while i sit on my backside and then ask your opinion. Funny weve never heard what you think. And throwing people out of tutorials isnt the best way to go about it either. Is there an element of xenophobia in you that you aim to teach out of everyone else?

And finally, when i do come up and talk to you about it, giving you feedback for the future, not for my own benefit, dont tell me im having a whinge. I gave it to you constructively, articulately and backed up every point i made with evidence of the shitness of your unit. Isnt that what your trying to teach us to write and think like.

Oh and one final thing, when i do come along and have a "whinge" dont have a go at me in class by stating that you have had other students come along and you have no idea why they feel like the unit is overassessed and long. And dont do it by snickering in my direction. Its bad form my dear lecturer.

I gaurantee you Ms lecturer, i'll be one of those "stupid" people that write 4 pages worth of comments on your student assessment forms. Bare in mind i have never bothered to write one before. Thanks alot for the semester, a unit that no one will ever remember because you tried to force them too

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

We're Always Happy When Someone Makes It Over the Wall

Wow, you honestly surprised me. That first day, when you raised your hand and asked “Can we cancel class every Friday?” I figured I knew your type. When you sat in the back row with your feet on the desk and your hair covering your barely open eyes, I had you pegged. And when you failed your first paper, I was pretty darn sure I knew how the rest of the semester would go.

But then you raised your hand and made a comment about the reading. I don’t know which surprised me more–that you made an intelligent point or that you had done the reading. And I noticed it surprised you as well.

I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I spent an hour goggling every sentence in your second paper, because I couldn’t believe the change. But when I compared it to your in-class writing, I realized that this was your work. This was a damn. And when I handed the paper back with a B, you were as stunned as I was. I realized you wrote that paper with no idea of how good it was; you just wrote it because you actually had something to say about the book.

After that, you took your feet off the desk. You went to the Writing Center for grammar help. You engaged with other students during class. Oh, you were still the surfer dude who would say things like “this writer is totally wack,” but that’s okay. Because after the last class you hung around for a half hour to tell me how much you’d changed since first semester. Apparently, your friends stopped calling you “Jack Daniels” and you passed all your classes.

I don’t know what clicked for you. Was it the readings? The particular mix of students? Me? I’d like to think I had something to do with it. But even if I didn’t, I wanted to thank you. I’ve had excellent students, and I’ve had horrible, slacker students. But until you, I’ve never had one cross from the latter camp to the former. Now, the next time a student puts his feet on the desk and falls asleep in the first week, I’ll have a tiny shred of hope that things can change.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Someone Goes Old School With the Smackdown

R: I teach, not indoctrinate. Yes, it really is OK to express your political opinion in this class. I promise I won’t ridicule you before your classmates or dock your grade if I disagree. Given your extreme nervousness when you approached me concerning this issue, I have a feeling that one of my colleagues once did so, and I apologize on behalf of the profession. As long as your opinion is well-expressed and based on careful thought and research instead of blank ideology, you may say anything you want. Really.

H: The next time you give a formal presentation and kick off your flip-flops on the way to the front of the room, perhaps you shouldn't come to me two days later demanding why your effort grade wasn’t higher. Also, I have no problem with you bringing your well-behaved child to a class because the daycare fell through, but I must admit that I wonder about your parenting skills when I lean down to warn you that we will be watching a couple scenes from an R-rated movie that contains adult language and you say, “Oh, we’ll just stay here. She’s used to it.” I suggest you reserve her “Girls Gone Wild” consent form in advance. Oh, and her suite at rehab. Maybe you can get a window room.

Z: When I put on the syllabus that I don't accept emailed assignments, it wasn't just because there was a blank space at the end of the page and I thought some additional typing might look nice there.

A: You’re hot. You also know it. But I know that hotness goes no further than your carefully tousled hair. Here’s a tip: Someday you are going to be wrinkled and saggy, and no amount of winking, wide smiles, and “Oh, c’mon’s” is going to get you through life. It certainly isn’t going to get you an A in this class.

P: Kindly stop dressing like a Hilton sister. You’re getting in the way of my raise.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"May Your Perfidy Ramify Through Your Life." If We Only Had a Dime For Every Time We Said That.

Dear Students:

The collective attitude you have shown toward reading and writing during the past semester is neither new nor surprising. You are not well-suited to do either. To your credit, you hate ignorance, as I do. To your discredit, you really only hate being shown that you are ignorant, through encountering words and ideas that are foreign to you and your immediate experience. Rather than look them up and learn about them, as is moronically simple these days, you disdain them, and then complain that you do not understand them. This complaint is disingenuous because you show no interest in having them explained.

Rather, you want to be relieved of responsibility for knowing them, and for reading the works that contain them. In short, you do not want to be educated, or even to go through the motions of education. What you want is a degree, and if there existed a system of academic indulgences, you would gladly fork over four years tuition to receive one without having to waste time going to classes. For a little extra, you could get someone like me to drop by and, for about a half-hour, confirm your base prejudices, the ones you've gotten from television and the movies and video games and life in general. You have written about these prejudices incessantly: why brute force is an answer for everything, why the whole world, with its little invisible workers everywhere, has come together for your material and personal happiness, why you live in the greatest country in the history of the world, led by its greatest leader, why your ethnic group has undergone suffering that leaves you preeminent over us, who are all racists... I will not go on.

I have read your stories about anime characters, complete with super-deformed doodles, your tales of extraterrestrials and werewolves and vampires. It is interesting that your eyes turn to the supernatural world so often, since you have such an impoverished notion of this one.

Randall Jarrell, in Pictures From An Institution, a book you'll never read, anticipated a world in which people could do without culture. He likened it to a kingdom, where the king and queen have always observed the rituals of piety. Then, a man - an advertising man - tells them that they need do no such thing. They are surprised, but, newly liberated, they go to Mass - real fast - and then have a swift one at the club afterwards. You are just as enlightened as they are; your only problem is that the term does not pass swiftly enough to suit you.

From your perspective, ignorance is not a curse, and so I cannot curse you with ignorance. Nonetheless, I curse you. May your mergers not merge and may your acquisitions not be acquired. May your perfidy ramify through your life, so that all your dealings are as twisted as you are. May your lack of concentration result in an accident that kills you. May your illiteracy prevent you from reading some crucial document. And may you be transferred to Europe, where your lack of foreign languages renders you deaf and mute, and where your lack of culture will be seen for what it is - barbarism.

Oh, and don't worry about the evaluations. What you have to say is irrelevant.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How Do I Loathe Thee. Let Me Count ... Er ... Enumerate The Ways.

Yes, I do have favorites, and no, you're not one of them. This is why:
  1. You ask bad questions. You ask questions designed to make you look smart, not to advance your understanding. You ask questions that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, simply to let other students know that you've already mastered these petty concepts, and are ready for something more challenging. You use big words that you learned just this morning because you think it projects intelligence. It doesn't. It makes you look like a pretentious jack-ass. I'm not smiling because I think you're smart; I'm smiling because you just used that word wrong.

  2. You are lazy. You ask me things that you could find by reading the syllabus. You turn in assignments with spelling errors. You leave out those segments of the project that are designed to make my life easier. You do this because you survey the world with lazy arrogance, and assume that the 3 minutes it would take you to format the project correctly are more valuable than the extra hour it takes me to grade 60 projects that ignore the formatting. You email me to ask for special treatment to accommodate your uniquely difficult circumstances, which look amazingly similar to the difficult circumstances of every other first year university student.

  3. Your knowledge is bounded by your bigotry. I get it. You're indie. You hate everything that reeks of formalism and conformity. You like bands with names like “The Decemberists” and “A3”, but you will immediately stop liking them as soon as you hear that I know they exist. Every time I give you an assignment like writing 4 part choral harmony, or programming a hip-hop drum part, you have to protect your indie cred by informing the entire class that this type of music sucks, and that you don't need to learn how to do this because your own unique artistic voice will always only consist of poorly played guitar riffs layered 50 times and washed out in reverb. Two things: first, the fact that you think Coltrane sucks does not, in fact, make Coltrane suck. It makes you a narcissist with a myopic range of cultural influences, which is basically the exact opposite of people I like. The second thing is this. Your parents are spending $30,000 a year to send you to this school, where you chose to study music in a formalized setting, from people who make their living in this industry, and where a significant portion of your education will come from imitating the artistic masters who came before you. I don't know what indie cred is, but I'm pretty sure that you lost all of it when you chose this path. Wanna be indie? Drop out, move to Silverlake, rent a room from a cross-dressing coffee shop owner, work at an organic grocery co-op in NoHo for minimum wage, and practice your instrument 9 hours a day. If you want to be the thing, be the thing, don't just wear the clothes.

  4. You only care about your grade in the last two weeks of the class. Here's the thing. If you don't care about grades, and just want to drift in and out of class to absorb the knowledge when it suits your whim, I can respect that. I honestly don't mind it. But if that's your mode, don't come to me two weeks before the final and ask what you can do to raise your grade up from an “F” to a “B”, so that you won't lose your scholarship. The answer is nothing. There's nothing you can do. I'm not going to grade 15 projects that you turn in on the last day of the semester for late credit, and there aren't enough points in the final to move your grade that much. If getting an “F” in my class means you lose your scholarship, there's a damn good chance that you shouldn't be here on scholarship.

  5. You assume that your approval is important to me. It isn't. I don't need your approval, or encouragement, I don't need to be hip in your eyes, I don't live or die by how you rank me on I couldn't care less what you think of me: I have friends for that. When your response to my policies, assignments, teaching method, whatever, is “that's so uncool”, I silently laugh inside at the idea that you think I might care. I'm 31. I teach at a University. I'm a dad. I listen to Jazz. I've played keyboards on songs for Radio Disney. I'm the opposite of cool. And guess what? I'm at peace with it. My job isn't to make you like me. In fact, sometimes my job goes better when you don't like me.

Please, be assured that none of this will affect how I teach you. I'm quite adept at swallowing my own bile and doing unpleasant tasks. I also realize that sometimes, my least favorite students end up maturing nicely, and actually become decent human beings. Here's to hope.

Until then, please stop IM'ing me at 2:30 in the morning to ask when the next project is due. It's due tomorrow. And no, you can't turn it in late.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Where We Advance Past Academic Haiku Into Actual Quatrains - Er - We Think These Are Quatrains - Four Lines, Right?

Some say their semester will end in flames,
Some say in a icey bumblesuck.
From what I've tasted of your essays
I hold with those who favor matches and gasoline for a bonfire of your papers.

But if I had to grade your shit twice,
I think I know enough of plagiaristic incompetence
To say that for destruction a cool D-Is also great
And would suffice.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Don't Come In Here With Reasonable Alternatives. This Is Where We Like to Flail Around and Scream.

I am a graduate student at Elite State University, finishing my first year working as a TA. Following my first semester, I thought I had done a fairly good job teaching the undergrads; they seemed more or less happy in discussion section, and appreciated the extensive comments I put on their assignments. Then I got the student evaluations. For a couple of days I was rather bummed out (a sample comments: "He's kind of a dick in his emails").

After reading through Rate Your Students, though, I realized the similarity of my experience to other college teachers and learned to take the evaluations for what they are (fairly meaningless).

I'm still surprised that this crude, inaccurate "tool" is used in actual hiring decisions. There is a pretty clear pattern among my students: if they did well in the class, I was a good TA; if they did poorly, I was a bad TA. Not to beat a dead horse, but the student-as-consumer mentality is clearly present in my experience. There is a sense of entitlement; if I show up to most classes, turn in my assignments, and do some of the reading, clear I deserve no less than a B+!

I find it hard to believe that college administrators (let alone tenured faculty members on the tenure committees) don't understand this. So why can't we do some simple statistics for student evaluations, if they are going to be considered in tenure decisions? It's not that difficult.
The null hypothesis is that there is a positive correlation with grade and rating: as the grade increases, the evaluation of the teacher will increase. We can easily maintain the anonymity of student evaluations by simply having them enter their ID number into the evaluation. Their final grade will then be associated with their evaluation. If the pattern holds up (and we can't reject the null hypothesis), the evaluations are a wash. They don't tell us anything. But deviations from the predicted pattern could indicate something relatively significant.

Professors who have students who receive lower grades but still get high marks on evaluations are probably fairly good at teaching. Similarly, professors who have students with high grades giving low marks on evaluations probably are not good at teaching. This seems so obvious that I shouldn't even have to describe this method.

But if junior faculty have to worry about student evaluations for their tenure decisions, we should recognize the relative arbitrariness of the evaluations. Such important decisions should not be based on 18-year-olds who were the big fish in the little pond in high school but find out in their first semester that they actually have to work to earn a grade, and thus take out their frustrations on evaluations.

If Another Dejected Idealist Comes In The Door, We're Going to Get Busted By the Fire Marshal

Dear President,

Congratulations on completing your first year. Perhaps there is hope for this university yet. After six years of community service in education, and voluntarily choosing to relinquish a six-figure package to spend time with my kids and family, I resign. I will continue to be involved in education and learning because the prostitution of our education system angers me to no end.

Rapid growth in student body and tuition revenue while increasing the layers of bureaucracy, increasing faculty workloads (see letter to Dean below), and adopting the latest greatest trends will lead to adverse selection in the student body and faculty attrition. From what I have seen you do not seem to be the kind of person who would voluntarily reduce academic standards, and pay heed to student needs to the exclusion of faculty needs; however, those around you seem to have a slightly different agenda. We are a society enslaved by benchmarks. Be careful how they are used - garbage in, garbage out. You give me hope that this institution may have better things in store.


Dear Students,

It has been a truly enlightening and a frightening experience to teach you these few years.

I have become enlightened to the challenges some of you face - some of them are challenges every student has faced, others are unique to one. Please do not forget that your teachers occupied seats in the classroom once, and that our relationship while a formal one need not be adversarial. Most of your teachers are there to guide your learning, but you must immerse yourselves in the experience to get the most out of it. It has been frightening to see the attempts some of you make at trying to work the system, the professor, the classmate. While this may be symptomatic of a wider societal issue, if only you spent of this energy more productively on task. It is not always about placing blame on someone else. Take some responsibility for your actions and choices.

Fortunately, some have brighter futures than their classmates. For the first time in all these years, it was this semester that some of you actually appreciated and believed that you could do something for which I believe you have had the capacity. Thank you for sharing your honest recognition of this fact with me using your anonymous writing exercise.


Dear Dean,

Who are you, really?

Are you the same person who was so enamored of my analogy that an educational experience should not be a trip to the fast food joint, but more like dining at a fine restaurant? An experience that one may not appreciate all at once in its immediacy. A culinary delight one pines for only after one has savored a few different meals with their exquisite blend of aroma, taste, texture, and the warm glow they impart to one's inner and external countenance. A place which one leaves richer for the experience.

Or, are you the individual who wrote me a note stating that our most effective teachers are characterized by high fill rates, low withdrawal rates and positive student evaluations?

Or, are you the individual who rapidly sided with a parent who accused me of having ridiculed his son's name with racist and terrorist undertones after I refused to discuss his son's class standing with him? Whose story seemed more believable because he was an educator who remained calm during your phone call to him?

Or, perhaps you are the leader of a college that insists that my tenure-track colleagues accept a 4-4 load with scholarship and research requirements when the rest of the University seems to be actually a bit more reasonable. Adverse selection will affect your college sooner rather than later if you keep this up. You will lose the good faculty and end up with clones of yourself - those who will do the politically needful and play the game.You have been a disappointment.


Dear Chair,

With each passing year since you arrived on campus as a corporate retiree, the department seems to have taken a few steps forward and then some backwards.

We have added programs, but then we have allowed less than qualified entrants to populate them in an effort to grow the program. What happened to quality and exclusivity? You are supposed to be a quality expert.

You lack spine to take a stand for your people. Even though you lead one of the largest departments on campus, you do not stand firm on issues. In fact, you would prefer the faculty in the department keep a low profile and not rock the boat. Why the avoidance syndrome? Of course, you may be cozy with the dean after your overseas summer trips to internationalize programs and attract unsuspecting students to this university.

As a numbers guy, you seem to have forgotten that numbers tell stories, and the stories might not always be as obvious as one might believe. Do you really believe that students who come in with below national average scores suddenly become much better students at our institution? How did we manage to attract all the "best" teaching faculty with at or below state average departmental compensation? Was it the work environment? Or, could it be that the teaching effectiveness is a result of some other phenomenon?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My Grandfather Died and All I Got Was This Lousy Grade

Please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your grandfather, which caused you to miss an entire month’s worth of class. I would have sent them when he actually died in February, but since the first I heard about it was last week in your grade grievance report, I was unable to do so.

You know, for a student who will receive a D- in a research course, you have become suddenly adept at locating the department office, the email address of the chair, and copies of months-old correspondence which I never received and therefore did not acknowledge. Well, hey. Perhaps you’ve learned something after all.

In your many emails, which as of today I am beginning to delete without even opening, you have addressed your utter shock that a rough draft was due while you were gone despite the fact that the turn-in date appeared on the syllabus I gave you on January and has been available online ever since; your sudden, deep concern over heinously low paper grades which have also been online since the day I handed them back in class; and your disbelief that I did not receive an email which you sent to the wrong address. However, no single aspect of this sudden burst of correspondence captures the source of your wonderful D- better than this sentence from your own hands: “I didn’t think attending your class was important that day because we were only talking about our paper topics.”

It’s really, hugely, mega-sad that this one grade might be “the deciding factor as to whether or not (you) return to college next year,” but seeing as holding to the evaluation you’ve earned will neither send you to a rice paddy nor necessarily doom you to a life of collecting used cigarette butts for a living, I think I can live with it.

I know it’s tough to lose a family member. My grandmother died when I was exactly your age. During finals week, as a matter of fact. My professors were generous and flexible, and made alternate arrangements with me to make up tests and papers.

You know why? Because for an entire semester, I had made it clear via showing up to class, turning in assignments on time that weren’t half-assed, and actively participating in discussions that I actually gave a rat’s ass about my own education. And when an emergency situation arose, I dealt with it like an adult. I went to my professors immediately, used their correct email address, apologized for the inconvenience I was creating instead of issuing orders, and then called them, spoke to them before or after class, or went to see them on their office hours to follow up. An amazing thing happened. They treated me like an adult in turn.

I’m sure that when you are forced to explain your grade to your parents and sniffle about this to your frat brothers which you once for three paragraphs described as “defining you,” you will no doubt announce that your English teacher gave you a D- because your grandfather died. But I will tell you this. Last week, when the department chair contacted me about your unhappiness with your grade on the day before I was scheduled to move across five states, I still, with an entire apartment to clean, my life packed into a car, and my Internet connection due to expire within hours, dug out my gradebook which detailed your many absences, and for an hour filled the chair in on a few facts which you conveniently left out of your description of the massive injustice you are suffering at my hands.

Wow. Those adult skills sure do still come in handy.

I might not return to teaching in my new hometown. Thanks for reminding me why.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Another Professor Lost

Dear Dean, Department Chair and my Small Town College President (who hit on me before he knew who I was and where I worked),

I quit. I’m done with the lack of parity and lack of respect. I’m done being your dancing monkey for chump change. I’m done with these poor morons who sit in my class and laugh at my half-baked jokes made at their expense. Don’t think I don’t notice the nepotism, favoritism, and outright sexism in your departments. I choose to not be a part of it. When you open your next full-time position (what’ll it be, 2010?) I won’t be there to give a “teaching demonstration” for your self-serving pleasure. The way you all sat there and grinned like Cheshires at me as I tried to get you to think outside of your respective pedagogic boxes was deplorable. Now you act as though it never happened when we pass in the hall, and that is even more painful.

I am sorry I don’t own a pair of testicles. Apparently you have to have them to get any respect in your institution. I would love to teach something other than bonehead classes, but I evidently lack the proper appendage, and furthermore, I am unwilling to affect a badass feministic attitude to fit in.

I leave you this: your students are lost, cynical, and under prepared to be proper human beings. I tried to instill in them a sense of wonder and human-sense. Many of them complained that I didn’t teach more classes at your institution. What could I do but shrug and recommend they take one of my tenured, ego-inflated, stuck-in-the-60s, self-obsessed colleagues? They’ve got job security and an office to hold hours in and money to burn; let them deal with the plagiarists and potheads. I’m out.

I’m off to dress up in a clown suit to twist animal balloons for six-year-olds. I’m sure my current CV will suffice.


A Dejected Idealist

Sunday, May 13, 2007

It's Never Easy

Remind me to never again celebrate the end of the semester before the semester actually ends. I am convinced that it was a trip to a local restaurant to celebrate the end of classes that is responsible for my fate - the end of the semester from hell.

First, there was the student who accused me of not offering him enough opportunities to do well and asked for make-ups - on the last day of class. Then there were the repeated emails asking again about the final paper and the endless meetings - does this sound okay, how about this, what exactly do you want?

But, as if it was their responsibility to remind me that I wasn't yet off the hook, there were the two students with last minutes requests to proofread their drafts. The first arrived almost 36 hours before it was due. At our meeting this morning, to discuss my feedback, the student looked so sad that it wasn't perfect and he had more work to do, and stunned that I noticed that he'd increased the font, and the margins, and conveiently stuck extra spaces between the paragraphs (like I was never an undergrad, they let me skip right to my PhD program?!).

The second student sent her paper just over 24 hours before the due date. She requested that if I couldn't meet with her late this afternoon (which I can't, imagine that!), that I just send my comments to her via email because she really wants to do well on this paper, but her finance final has to take priority right now.

Finally, this afternoon, with all those monkeys off my back, one of my star-students walked into my office. The end is near, I thought, and what a nice way to end it. She smiled and made small talk and handed me her paper, almost 20 hours before it was due. I smiled back, said goodbye, and sat down to read "a good paper." Well, the paper wasn't that good, and the one sentence that really nailed the particular subject matter stood out like a sore thumb. I googled it, and up it came, verbatim, written by an old colleague from my graduate program.

I only have ONE MORE DAY until the semester ends. Please, just let it end in peace.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Like Locusts, Plagiarists Emerge At Semester End

Dear Half of my Junior-level Writing Class:

You are a bright, responsibly, hardworking group of young people with whom it was a pleasure to spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons this semester. You turned in assignments on time and completed to the best of your ability, attended class regularly, and entered into the spirit of the in-class group work, taking the time to do each activity as thoroughly as possible so that you could learn from it. I wish you the best of luck.

Dear Other Half of my Junior-level Writing Class:

You stupid little shits. When I added up grades-to-date last class, I observed that almost everyone in the class--even you, you slackers who rarely come to class, text during my lectures, and hand your work in late--could get at least a C, and everyone could pass with at least a D, provided you turned in a reasonably decent long report. Apparently that wasn't good enough for you, because you decided to copy your long reports off the Internet, earning yourselves F's in the course.
  • CN, I may be the most disappointed in you. Your report on the structural design of the World Trade Center, complete with recommendations for how future skyscrapers could be built to withstand attacks such as those that occurred on September 11, 2001 was a well-written, thoroughly researched work of mature scholarship. How disappointed--but not surprised--was I to discover that it was the work of a mature scholar! Yes, it was an article, lifted lock, stock, and works cited page, from the web version of a structural engineering journal.
  • On the other hand, perhaps I should be even more disappointed in you, KS. I was initially skeptical about your topic, journalistic ethics, since it's such a broad subject. Your constant talking to your friend, along with wardrobe choices that have given me a near-gynecological acquaintance with you, had given me the impression that you were not a particularly serious student. However, when we had that long conversation in the library and you explained how your dream was to be an entertainment reporter, and the focus of your report would be the ethics of entertainment journalism--to what extent does the public have a right to know the intimate details of celebrities' lives? As an entertainment journalist, how would you balance the conflicting demands of subjects' privacy and getting a good story? I thought, after that conversation, that your paper might be all right--you would be thinking about an issue of real importance in your chosen field, and that's what the assignment was all about. How surprised I was, then, to receive, instead of the paper we discussed, my very own copy of Wikipedia's entry on the subject "Journalistic Ethics."
  • And then there's you, BP. You came to class every day, dressed nicely, participated in class....I would have assumed that you were part of the half of class I addressed at the beginning of this email. In fact, when you came into my office to hand in your paper, I even commented on how disheartening it was that so many of your classmates chose to cheat on their reports. I'll say this for you--you have an excellent poker face. That won't get you a passing grade in the course, though.

I was not born yesterday. Handing in a paper that you did not write does not just get you a grade of F in the class. It does not just cheat you out of a chance to learn. It also tells the teacher that you think s/he is a drooling moron. Recent psychological studies show that most people think others are about as intelligent as they are--so intelligent people think everyone is intelligent, and stupid people think everyone is stupid. I do not want to drive across a bridge designed by, work in a building built by, or live anywhere near a chemical plant supervised by, an engineer who is as dumb as you apparently think I am.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Waiting at The Door

I have read these pages with bemused indifference on and off. How can these people get so worked up, I often wonder? The kids are a hassle? Okay, not to worry.

But today was the straw on the camel's back, the finger out of the dyke, the last broken handle on the last decent coffee cup.

I get these emails this morning:

"Dr. R----, I went by your office today but you weren't there. I wanted to talk about my grade. I know they come out next week, and I thought you probably had already graded the final. I wanted to see what you thought the grade was now, and I wanted to tell you what I thought it needed to be. I don't know where you are, but I will come by your office again in another 30 minutes. Thanks."

"I did some extra credit for the class. I know you said there wasn't any, but I brought it by your office. You weren't there. I didn't know where you were, and couldn't find any of your colleges. Where can I turn it in? When will you be in your office today?"

Well, finals were a week ago. Office hours all over campus ended 2 weeks ago. I'm five states away, and not thinking at all about this or any other student. These two students successfully missed a total of 60 office hours this past semester (15 weeks and 4 hours a week). Why they expect to find me today is beyond me.

It's as if I wrote them: "Hey, students. I went by your dorm on Saturday night to see if you were working on your essays, but you weren't there."

Would I have been shocked? Why on earth are they?

A Point, Counterpoint On What 18-Year-Olds Can and Can't Know

  • "...18-year-olds are usually in no position to know good teaching from bad..."
    [from May 6]

I cannot get over the utter ridiculousness of this statement. I understand the author's point, that there are those who abuse student evaluations, those who write absurd and useless comments, etc. but to not know good teaching as opposed to bad? Never.

I would argue that it is the professors themselves who are in the worst positions to evaluate their own teaching. When one is so incredibly knowledgeable about a subject, it is easy to forget that others aren't as well. The sole point of having a lecture is to convey information to others, in a clear way that is intelligible to those who don't already know everything about a topic. And it doesn't hurt to do it in a way that is not so mind-numbingly boring that the students' interest slips away after a mere 30 seconds.

I know that there is a strong tendency to blame the listener for not understanding; when I was a high school debater I always wanted to blame my judges for not paying attention, not being familiar enough with the topic, or just "not getting it" when I lost a round. I never wanted to consider that perhaps it was I who was at fault, that maybe I needed to be clearer and explain things more thoroughly.

Thoughts and ideas are always crystal clear to the one who forms them. The only ones who can tell you if you are articulating them comprehensibly are your students.


I can already see the mild and generous professors getting ready to line up against the comments from Sunday. I absolve not to view this page tomorrow, because some absolute idiot will write something like: "Freshmen are better judges of our teaching than the professors themselves."

My freshmen and sophomores don't understand anything about what it is I'm trying to do. How do I know? Because 10 years later, many of them come back and tell me. "I thought you were just some hardass," one former student told me. "We absolutely hated you and thought you were dumb as a post," another told me last year. "It didn't hit me until I was in grad school how much you did for me."

And I could list twenty more in a minute. Students fight me and hate me and think I'm a forgetful fool who is somehow so dense that I can't make their class easier and more fun. And when they become seniors and grad students, or when they go into industry, I hear from them. "I'm so sorry, Dr. K------," one of them wrote. "I wish every professor had given a damn to make me work so hard. I told everyone I knew NOT to take your class, and now I feel like I made a terrible mistake."

I have not drunk the "student as consumer" Kool-Aid. And I know that offering huge doses of low-impact edutainment may raise the "pleasure" of my students for that semester, but that in the end it does nothing for their long term understanding or education.

The thing is, I don't worry about my evaluationsbecause I know that it will be a few years before my students realize that I was doing ALL of it for them, to make them better, smarter, and more able to contend.

18 year old kids are fun, great, and I love seeing a new group each year. But they don't have any idea what I'm doing. Not yet.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

If Only We Could Get the C+ Students So Involved

There is a special breed of student who irritates the hell out of me. They pop out immediately after grades are posted, trying to use their newfound powers of critical thinking against me.

I'm referring to the B+ student. There is always at least one student in my classes at the end of each semester who believes that I am in great error, and that he is, in fact, a superior writer, rather than the slightly above average thinker I've already judged him to be.

What seemed to be a reasonably responsive and participating student turns into a Machiavellian minor warlord, trying to out-maneuver me into admitting he really does have just those few extra points. The victory this student wants to declare is not over his grade alone, but over the entire teaching process--he clearly has more mastery of judging quality writing than I do. Getting a B+ is apparently like getting a backhand across the face.

I mean, obviously, that B+ can keep him from a number of important life goals, like love, peace and understanding. It's worth fighting over, dammit. Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh on him. After all, everything in his culture tells him that to be less than superior is to fail miserably. Most students either stare at me uncomprehendingly or slackjawed when I tell them that C = average, remember? It should be a compliment to be above average (B). It's tough to be superior. It ought to stand for something.

I ran his grade several times, making sure I wasn't screwing up; I actually expected him to get an A, and when he didn't, it surprised me. I listed out all the things that kept him from getting an A, because I knew he'd ask. I thought I was saving a step, and I probably was. I double checked his grade in spite of the fact that he wrote in several different assignments that he thought he was better than 101 and didn't see why he had to take it, and expected to breeze right through it. A B+ must be particularly deflating.

I expect this one has enough gumption to file for a grade review, where, I hope, he'll be taken to task. Grade reviews are successful only 3% of the time at my university, and they're usually accompanied by a self-esteem dashing list of all your faults as a writer that prevent you from getting whatever it was you asked for. I know most of the people that serve on the "blind" review. I've had my work judged by half of them. They take themselves very, very seriously. I can't wait.

I'll even make myself a drink and pull up my chair on the 50 yard line.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

No, No. Let Me Help You With That.

  • "I know you said we had a paper due on Monday. Are you going to give us the assignment for it? If it's in the syllabus, I lost that awhile ago and I don't know how to use the class website to download a new one."
  • "My mom is getting her kitchen re-done, and the man who is working cut the wrong wire. All of the power went out, and there have been like hundreds of people at my house trying to fix it. They finally got it back on at 2 AM, but I lost all of my paper...I only had two sentences left to write when the power went out. I can just turn it into you later this week, OK?"
  • "Thanks for helping me find that article for my paper. You know how we emailed a link to the article to me? Well, I logged into my email and the article isn't there. Can you go find the article again and email it to me again? Or if you can't find it, can you find another article that might work for my topic and send that to me? The sooner you can send it, the better because I really need to get started!"
  • "I don't know how to cite my sources in the bibliography, so I've attached links to the articles below. Could you put them into the right format for my bibliography and email them back to me? Thanks."
  • “I had a lot of personal problems this semester and think you should consider how hard I have worked with so much stress going on in my life. I need a higher grade.”
  • “My company will not reimburse me for my tuition unless I make a B or higher. Can you please help me?”
  • “I will lose my Teaching Assistantship if I don’t make a B in this course. Please change my grade so that I can continue to work.”
  • “I will be deported if you don’t bump up my grade to an A. My other prof wont speak to me about my grade in his class, so I hope you will change my grade in your class. You are a very good teacher. Please answer as quick as you can.”
  • “Would you please re-grade (and add points) to my first test from last January? I need to have a higher semester course average.”
  • “I have A’s in my other classes, could you please help me out and add extra points to my semester average so that I can obtain an A in your class, too?”

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

"I Would Like Students To Turn Colors When They Lie." A Little Flava From The Magic Swipe Call for Posts.

  • I would like students to turn colors when they lie...not subtle ears getting red or blushing, something more obvious--a greenish hue or purple polka dots. That would save lots of time. No more time listening to fake excuses because I'm too polite to say "Bullshit." No more laboring over plagiarism paperwork proof--I could just ask them and take a digital picture. No more pop quizzes to make sure they've done the reading. I could just ask them and take a picture for participation points. And maybe eventually, they would learn to just not bother lying.

  • I'd give anything if someone would just bring us new copiers.

  • I have forgotten how to wish for more realistic things. It has been beaten out of me. I've been teaching 5 years.

  • A thermostat that works.

  • I'd like the ability to eject students out of the room when they say stupid or offensive things. I'm imagining a catapult-desk of some kind and a big red button.

  • I would fire all the employees at the Parking Office. Doesn't matter if you are a student, faculty, staff, custodial service, or provost -- they treat us all like shit. Going there make getting a driver's license a joy by comparison.

  • I'd like a zombie doppelganger who could stand in for me at faculty meetings. (Preferably one who would occasionally fart and burp and fall over randomly - to show more of my disdain.)

  • I would ban the use of Powerpoint for lectures.


  • I would use my swipe on enlarging my office. I know it may not be very useful to the college at large, but I'd be able to actually reach out my arms without touching both moldy walls. (Oh, and I'd like someone to get rid of the mold, too. I'm a dreamer.)

  • Only the students that wanted to be here for the purpose of learning would be here.

  • I'd like the guy who runs the textbook store to have less power than me, so he would stop emasculating me and all of my colleagues.

  • I'd abolish the idea that students must be served whenever some need occurs to them. There's no reason why advising must be reduced to drive-through appointments or 10:00 pm email exchanges. Would it hurt students to learn to wait a day? To develop the patience that, in my day, was characteristic of the average elementary school student.

  • I'd put all of the administrators on a bus, and have them circle the campus indefinitely. They could watch over the university, but would never fuck it up by actually doing anything.

  • I'd resurrect the idea that the university is a place of ideas, learning and hierarchy - not a commercial, trend-of-the-moment enterprise designed to satisfy the customer, a 19-year-old who is "king." This would, of course, require firing of the pricey marketing and fund-raising consultants, who somehow never manage to earn their keep.

  • I'd like to never see another freshman again - except on "Girls Gone Wild."

  • I'd go for students who understand that adding to their human capital while in college has long-term dividends.

  • Video phones to take student calls so I could see if sweet Missy really is at the hospital with her brother and not actually at a bar getting liquored up.

  • I would send the HR Department (and all their supporters) to some as-yet-unknown circle of Hell.

  • In my perfect world, my students would know what exactly my job is and how I am evaluated. They would realize that teaching is only one-third of my commitment to the university, and that the "little" things I do that they think make me great are not my job but what I do above and beyond the call of duty. They would learn what tenure is, and why my life is different than some of their other professors who have it. They would grasp that the teacher course evaluations that they fill out do matter and could cost me my chances of renewal and promotion. They would understand that while I am thrilled summer is here, it doesn't mean that I'm on vacation until August.

  • It would be really nice to have warm water at the bathroom sinks.

  • Close, FREE parking!!!!!