Friday, August 31, 2007

RYS as Therapy

Prof. Earnestness asked: Why do you do it? Why are you here?

  • For the same reasons as you, and then some. I love my job. I love this core group of students I have that take all my classes. I even love the majority of the rest of them. At the end of the semester when I get the notes, cards and emails telling me how great the class was, how I influenced a life, changed a major, encouraged the disheartened, I print them out and keep them in a file (a growing file I might add). Just ONE of those at the end of the semester makes it all worth it. It IS really enough. But NOTHING is quite as satisfying as pounding out my frustrations on this public forum. What I write to RYS is my occasional, but possibly lethal, frustration. It is my therapy to work out the kinks in what is otherwise the perfect profession for me. I need it. What I don't need is some mealy mouth telling me I'm naughty for needing it. So bug off.

  • It's easier than working for a living. I used to work in industry, and the academy affords such flexibility and creativity, that I'd never go back. The students drive me batty, but the hours are great and I can spend part of every day reading and writing about what I love. But, the students really are worse than they were 10 years ago when I started. And it makes me feel much better to know I'm not alone when I'm thinking about throwing them all out of class for being rude, insensitive louts.

  • I'm the most negative person I know in my department, and I still wouldn't change professions. I get so freaking mad at my students some time that I just want to send them packing out of a class when they aren't engaging. (And I have!) But I love the subject matter that I teach, and I love turning students on to it. There is no outlet other than this one for me to voice my frustration, and as much as my husband and friends want to understand, they work in business, and don't understand why a student emailing me at 3 am for a grade bugs me. So I come here and let fly when I'm at the end of my rope.

  • I'm here to do math. In exchange for lots of time to do math, they make me teach. I accept that. I take my teaching responsibilities seriously; it's part of my job, and I take pride in doing my job well. But teaching is not why I got a PhD in math, nor is it why I became a professor (not a teacher) of math. I'm here to do math.

  • I love what I do. However, teaching is my hobby-that-pays rather than my livelihood (I have a full-time job at a financial services company). I do find teaching rewarding; I created lesson plans in my head constantly in the five years I was out of academia; I enjoy watching my students succeed. I also enjoy being able to take it or leave it—it takes a lot of the stress out of evaluations, politics, and general BS—and I adore being snarky about it. Is it a rewarding job? Absolutely. Do I like to bitch about it anyway? Yup. Do I enjoy hearing others rant and realizing that I’m not alone in not being Professor Pollyanna? Yes! It’s life and sanity saving. I have no clue why others get their undies in such a bunch about it, but really—I can be cynical, snarky and still love what I do (and even, I hope, be good at what I do!).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Where's the Line Between Venting And Just Needing a "Good Rest"?

  • So you bought the wrong books. Frankly, my dear student, I really don't give a damn. While I'm honored that you want to spend five minutes after the conclusion of class telling me your harrowing experience with the bookstore and how they conned you into buying the books for the wrong section, it's really not my problem. And I've got places I'd rather be. Go buy the right books. Return the old ones. And then stop your whining and start taking some responsibility.

  • Okay, I see you. I see you with your snarky little eye roll every time I ask a question, mention an assignment. You've made sure I would see you, haven't you, by placing yourself right in the front row. Great. We can keep this up all semester buddy, but don't think for a second that I will ever change anything about this class because you've bothered to sneer inappropriately at every turn. If you don't like the class, quit. I would love to have fewer papers to grade.

  • Wow, you seriously stayed after class to ask me if you could write your one-page response on a 3x5 index card. Wow.

  • Oh, you and I are going to have such fun this semester, aren't we, overly-involved girl in the front row? I bet you think I just love how you answer every question, how you send me long and detailed emails about every reading, how you stay after class to talk to me every goddamned day I bet you think we're going to be best friends, and that the A's will flow like honey. Well guess what? I'm not impressed, and if you send me one more email or corner me one more time about nothing in particular, I'm going to have to file a restraining order. Stop being annoying. I don't buy the bullshit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

This Earnestness Goes to Eleven.

We get a steady stream of email like the one below. It makes us think that somehow people still don't get the point of why we're here. Complaining about a kid in pajama pants who shows up to class with a muffin but no textbook does not mean we have no enjoyment for teaching. The site exists so that like-minded folks who get vexed by the modern student can vent off a little of the steam that might otherwise be taken out on a family pet, a car door, or the gradebook. We even receive a sort of post that we call "save your souls." These are usually shot through with guidance and piety, and they usually end with something like, "I pray that you find your true calling." We actually are interested in the answers to the questions in the last paragraph below, but we're not too interested in being saved from our own - delicious - misery about the profession.


The upcoming semester seems to have generated some discussion/stress/griping within the confines of these blog pages. I'd like to speak to the words I've read within these pages in the recent weeks. There seems to be an overwhelming sense of negativity, or more to the point, bitching about workload, miserable students, terrible schedules, stress, anxiety, and overall misery.

What happened to the enjoyment of teaching? Have we all been reduced to cynical people who despise what we do and who we do it for? Can all we do is talk about the negative aspects of our jobs?

We all work hard. I'm an Assistant Professor who is not yet tenured. I work my ass off on a daily basis all year around. I don't take summer off, I work through it, both doing work for my university based obligations and freelance work in my given field. I have a full load of classes chock full of students - some good, some not so good. Do I get stressed? Absolutely. Do I feel the need to vent? Hell yes. Do I want to murder various students at time? Lock me up now. Do I get to the point where I ask what I'm doing here? Yes. Yes. Yes.

But, I love my job. I'm part of a good Department. They're supportive and caring. We help each other out and we're there for each other. If things get tough I have people to rely on. If I encounter difficulties, I know I'll have support. If I just need an ear, someone is there to listen.

I love my students. Save for one or two bad eggs (we all have them), I have great students. They work very hard for me and I, in turn, work very hard for them. I focus on the positives in the class and try not to let the negatives get to me. They all have potential and when treated with respect, are very enthusiastic about showing that potential as best they can. They learn from me and I learn even more from them. While I give them grades, I always remember that I am not "better" than them—I just have more experience and knowledge in my field.

I love what I do. My job rewards me everyday. Watching my students succeed makes my job successful. I love to see them do well and I love to teach them what I know. I enjoy passing on the knowledge I have. If I didn't like what I did I wouldn't be here, I'd still be back working in industry instead of teaching.

So let me ask you this as we're approaching the start of fall semester in many Colleges and Universities. Why do you do it? Why are you here? Are your answers enough to help allow you to focus on the good students and the rewarding aspects of your job? Is it really enough?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We Fear It's Going to Be a Long Semester For This Longtime RYSer. Too Soon For Such Agony. Yet, We Relish the Chance to Listen In.

Despite the plethora of tuition-and-tax-dollar-sucking programs deigned to ease tomorrow’s leaders into the monolithic horror that is their first semester of college, a more economical and instructive orientation might begin with some of the following:
  1. This is a state university with well over 20,000 students. No, the grownups do not in fact all know each other, so don’t buttonhole me in the quad with your crumpled schedule and ask “Where do I find Mr. X?” High school is over. FOREVER. Live with it or get to the Student Counseling Center, pronto. It’s described in that batch of flyers that you tossed out.

  2. Your 11:00 am classroom was not created by celestial fiat just for you, but is, has been, and will be utilized by other students and their professors at other times. Do not wander into my course in said room at 10:30, stare open mouthed at the unfamiliar faces and cut me off in mid-lecture demanding to know what’s going on. There is a clock in the foyer—try looking at it.

  3. I don’t care if Thursday has been unofficially designated the new Kegger Night. We have class at 9:00 am Friday morning, drunk or sober. If incapacitated and absent, you’ll be marked as such and it will be reflected in your grade. If present and green in the face, do try to color-coordinate with your wardrobe as best you can (wearing the shirt you’ve already barfed on doesn’t suffice).

  4. You didn’t hear your name called on the roll for a reason: This is not your introductory Psych class. You’re in the wrong building. PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS.

  5. For such a media-savvy bunch, you all seem oddly out of your element when it comes to the campus e-mail system, which is painstakingly installed and maintained to expedite your routine. With this in mind, the syllabus is prepared and sent out to the entire class before day one. Few of you even bothered to open your account, let alone print out the “contract” for the course introduction.

  6. Guys: I agree that the texbooks are too expensive, but I cannot help you there. This also means that they are heavy, and that bookbag is thus more ungainly than you’re used to. If you must spin around and bellow greetings in public when you spy a member of your former clique, remember that other people (and their coffee) might be vulnerable to its mighty torque.

  7. University libraries are white-hot centers of research for motivated students and faculty, not flophouses for somnolent lazy asses nor study halls for gabfests masquerading as detention. The next one of you who disrupts my work by snoring, farting, wolf-whistling, or cell-phone ringing gets his teeth kicked in.

  8. Occasionally, we faculty feel the need to move A-V equipment from one building to another. Yes. Kindly step aside when we wheel one of our antiquated contraptions into your path instead of giving us the hairy eyeball, pushing us out of the way, or guffawing at the spectacle.

  9. The dappled trees surrounding the campus are indeed beautiful, just like in the catalogue photos. That’s why we call it “fall” semester.” Bathe, put on some long pants, jettison the open-toed shoes, and cover your midriff while you have a chance. Nature can be terribly unforgiving of summer fetishists in these parts.

  10. Finally, the next time you’re nodding off in your Intro to World History course and internally whining about why there’s so much more reading, problem-solving, lab hours, 8:00 am classes, and teachers spouting big words than you expected, pause long enough to consider the sentiments of a martyred world leader whom some of us took quite seriously when we heard his signature image of a torch being passed to a new generation: As per JFK’s instructions, many of us hoary academics still endeavor to make our respective contributions to the improvement of society—“not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I for one am holding onto my torch for the time being.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fall Smackdown Season Begins

Okay, Sheryl-Ann, or Cherylanne, or Shirl-Ahn, or whatever you say your "girls" call you - it's Rebecca on my roster, honey - you take the cake for getting under my skin the fastest.

No, I'm not able to tell you right now if you're ready for this class. Have you seen what we've accomplished so far? I got that one nitwit to turn off his phone, I convinced some slob to take his feet off of the front of MY desk, and I was able to turn away 3 people who don't understand that room 311 and room 331 are actually different places. So, I'd guess I'd say you're ahead of the game because you were in the right place at the right time.

Now, as for your vacation at Thanksgiving. Uh, it's a little early for me to start thinking about your classwork for then. I like that you brought it up, but seriously, you may not be with us by Thanksgiving. Students drop this class when they discover it's not quite the gut they hear it is. I could be dead by November. So, let's get to, say, Halloween, before we plan your "homework."

Also, I don't care where you buy the book. But as I said in class, we start working with it Monday. I don't doubt that Amazon or whatever will take a little while to ship to you - and I doubt if it'd be your brother's credit card problems that would actually slow shipping - but you did register for this course in May of last year, right? The syllabus has been on our computer system since then. The fucker's in the book store, right? And we've already had 2 days of class this week. You're just going to buy it now?

Oh, and finally, I'm glad your dad works in hotels and you've always been around adults, and that you get along so well, almost as if you were an adult by the time you were 9, but I'm not one of the pals of your dad's. Let's just keep it professional. You call me Dr. Sinbad and I'll call you Shurlanne, or whatever. You don't have to call me Tony, and I'd just really rather keep it at that level.

And Rebecca, you know that there are 35 people in the room, right? It's not just a little gabfest for you and me. Commenting on everything on the syllabus - even those comforting "Sounds good"s - is really not necessary. You notice how nobody else said a thing? It was because you sucked the oxygen out of the room.

I want you to succeed. I want EVERYONE to succeed. And as soon as we get it together, and you just take part in class as if you were one of the group - and not the sole "special guest star" - you'll get a great experience, too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Sometimes I Need my Banana" - Post of the Week

Okay, so, no pajama pants. Why?
Sometimes, I roll out of bed and go to class.
Plus + I work in the ER and sometimes I have to wear my scrubs to class!

No drinking or eating in class. Why?
Okay, no four course meals in class.
I hate it when people chew with their mouths open.
It's disgusting. But I need my coffee. Or my banana. Sometimes, I need both.

As to the prof:
It really sucks when you go over class time.
Why are we packing up?
Because class ended two minutes ago.

Yeah, some of us needed that ten+ minutes to get to our next class. Because walking across campus sucks. Would you want your students late to your class? I don't want to be late to class, either.

Why are we packing up? Apparently, some students suck. It's very disrespectful to pack up before class ends. It takes thirty seconds to pack your backpack. Why are you fucking around minutes before class ends? It's disgusting and saddening.

To those who talk loudly in class:
Die. Die loudly.
It's embarrassing to listen to your "whispered" conversations.
Nobody cares. Why do you care?
It's not even an important conversation; yeah, Joe is cheating on Jane and Tri-X is totally slutty.

No, I can't understand a goddamn thing that you're saying.
Your accent is too heavy and I suck at Calc anyway.
Speak up? What?!
I can't even read your writing on the chalkboard.
Is my failure your fault?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Distance Education And Unrealistic Expectations.

Regarding the recent post about signed evaluations, those of us who teach online already receive signed evaluations from our students on a fairly regular basis. While I'm thrilled when I receive emails from students telling me that I taught them something useful or even offering constructive criticism about how I could do something better, I've also seen an ugly side of human nature I didn't realize was so prevalent.

My worst to date was the student who began his email with "You bitch" and went downhill from there. He ended up being expelled, and I spent the rest of the semester with an escort to and from my car.

I've had students tell me that I don't know what I'm doing, that I should give special deadline considerations to people in an already flexible class, and that I should be online 24/7/365 to respond to their concerns instantly. The instantaneous quality of the Internet has created an entirely new set of expectations that correspond with a strong sense of entitlement in some students.

They have no problem signing their names because they think the keyboard and the distance mask who they "really" are.

Overall I think the benefits of teaching and learning online far outweigh the drawbacks, but if anyone thinks that having to sign a name to an evaluation automatically conveys more constructive criticism or decorum, that person is mistaken.


Today's image is an edited version of an image from an article on stress.

The Return of Academic Haiku, Where a Longtime Reader Shoots a Cold Blast of Air Into the Hot Night.

Dear Mr. Angry,

I'm sorry
you don't like RYS.

For the time being,
freedom of speech is still legal,

so if you don't like it,
I recommend you


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Unmasking Anonymous Evaluations?

I don't believe criticism should be given anonymously, especially not if it ends up on the desk of a colleague/the boss, who (according to some posts here) takes the negative comments seriously, regardless of the source.

But, how would you feel if students left comments in a signed letter with constructive feedback sent to you personally? If students do provide such comments without the protection of anonymity, one might get more useful suggestions and surely no obscene insults, as some professors often receive. The idea certainly isn't to aggravate the recipient, or to claim a superior understanding of what it takes to teach, but rather to put a name to an opinion and take responsibility for it.

Would any of us throw it in the nearest trash can? Would we be offended by the audacity of the student? Or would we give it some thought and maybe even tell the student why his idea is never going to happen? (We’re in the “real world,” after all.)

Why ask for feedback at all? Maybe this is naive, but even after reading this blog, I still believe many of us want to reach the few students in our classes who aren’t entirely beyond hope.

Someone Works Through Some Semester Beginning Anxiety To Finish With a Hopeful Howdy

As a grad student teacher at my university who (illegally) moonlights as an adjunct faculty member elsewhere (how does my department expect a single mom to live off of $851 per month?) I vote anxiety as the overwhelming emotion that overcomes me every time I glance at the calendar.

As to Adjunct Whore, I feel the same. My students would like nothing better than to treat me like their bitch, but one does have to establish some modicum of control, even with the slackers. At some point in the semester (about one third of the way through, every semester, without fail) I have to go to my Zen teaching place. After the novelty of the first week wears off, I realize that my students are blowing off the carefully selected readings, ignoring my painstakingly constructed syllabus, and daydreaming through the class sessions I prepare before I work on my own dissertation. I am crushed, angry, resentful. Then I have to take a weekend, drink, eat sushi, and commiserate with my adjunct fiance, and come to the Zen place.

I really like to teach. I really like what I teach. Enthusiasm is contagious (to the students who can be reached). So my attitude for the rest of the semester has to be that I will enjoy each class session because I love my subject. The students who want to learn, be my guest (dare I hope plural?). I'm happy to help them. The ones who don't? Fuck them. They're screwing themselves.

I, however, am going to have a good time, drink fine wine while I grade papers, and not have to take medication because I'm letting the anxiety eat through my stomach. Take heart. It's nearly time for spiced alcoholic cider and roast rack of lamb. Best wishes to the troops entering the trenches.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Beginning of the Semester Faculty Meetings Designed For Full Anxiety Effect

After three months of rest, relaxation, and re-evaluation, I decided that I do still want to teach. After three months away from students and administrators, I remembered why I wanted to teach to begin with: to help students learn to read and then, possibly, to write (I teach freshman comp - the class everyone loves to hate).

I developed new strategies for encouraging the students to do their work and for presenting material. For the past couple of weeks, I actually felt some - dare I say it? - hope.

However, reality reeled me in today, during the semester beginning faculty meeting. In the course of an hour and a half, my boss told us that the final grades we're assigning as a department show grade inflation (more As and Bs than the standard's committee found plausible after evaluating student finals from the spring semester), that our student evaluations reveal widespread student satisfaction with the freshman comp classes so we have to work on raising student satisfaction, that studies show that students feel the best teachers are those who relate to them so we're to make treat the students with respect and as equals, and that we're supposed to be friendly to the students but not their friends.

My head hurt from all the contradictions I heard by the end of this meeting. My head hurt worse when I realized, as the meeting neared its end and my boss was stressing student retention as the most important goal for the semester, that nothing in the meeting had addressed teaching the students writing skills.

My hope has been dashed and replaced by dread, as well as anxiety. I am reminded once again that if I really try to teach the students and thus hold them to a standard of excellence necessary for true learning, I will get negative student evaluations and then displease my boss as much as I displease my students.

Yes, I do dread trying to maneuver in this land beyond the looking glass this semester, and I am anxious about just how I will manage to uphold some standards while pleasing both my students and my boss (because student satisfaction, rather than high or reasonable academic standards, is more important to my boss and to the state).

Saturday, August 18, 2007

We Never Get Tired of the "Dude." We Have Had Him in Class Several Times As Well, And it's Always A Righteous Adventure.

Dear Dude,

When you stopped replying to my emails four months ago, I googled you and found your blog. Now my wife and I read your blog daily. We could farm the Sahara with the collected tears of laughter we have shed since finding it.

I know that you’ve bought a new skateboard and reviewed all the best spots to “shred it up” in our fair city. I know how many weekend road-trips you’ve taken with your friends. I know that you’re taking guitar lessons and how much you spent on your new guitar. I know that you’re actually getting pretty good. You must be practicing a lot!

By extension, I also know that all of your excuses for missing class and assignments are bullshit. Working night and day at your job? (Don’t think so.) Been bedridden with unspecified illness? (Nope.) Emotionally distraught after breaking up with your girlfriend? (Which one would that be? Nancy? Elaine? Lisa? Sarah? Olivia? Nicole?) You didn’t do any work on your advanced senior project this term. You get an “F.” Yes, I know that you wanted to graduate this term. It’s still an “F." Yes, you told me that your parents and grandparents are flying in from Korea for your graduation. It’s still an “F.” Yes, I know that you could graduate if I gave you a “D.” It’s still an “F.”

And I received the lab report that you wrote for another class (it still had another professor’s name on the title page). No, that recycled work is not the project we agreed on. You’re still getting an “F.”

Today's image is a Photoshopped version of a readily available still from The Big Lebowski. We don't have anyone's permission to use it, but we'd imagine the Coen brothers would allow this usage. If we're wrong, we encourage Joel or Ethan (or their young brother, Jebediah) to contact us. We'll take it down immediately.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Where One of Our Colleagues Appears to Be in Complete and Utter Curriculum Lockdown

Adjunct Whore’s idea of failing her more disagreeable students is pleasant to contemplate but also naive in the extreme. At my university, the writing program (not to be confused with the MFA program) is effectively a separate entity from the English Department, with its own rules and Catches-22. Instructors in composition are required by partially unstated policy to grade on a rightward-shifted bell curve, with the “sweet spot” hitting at about B+. So, out of a class of 23 students, 12 should get a B+, 8 should get an A- or C, and three should get an A or D. Generally speaking, D’s are highly discouraged, so generally one awards three A’s.

The writing program wants complete consistency – that every teacher should grade like every other teacher. Why? Because writing is a subjective discipline, and the omnipresent shadow of potential student complaint requires an irrefutable system of demonstration to quash it. The writing program is not interested in the writing process, but in processing students through its labyrinth of required classes. If a teacher were to fail students for anything other than assault – even failure to show up might be contested – those students would back up in the system, and clog writing classes until graduation, requiring the hiring of more instructors, requiring the program to spend more money, requiring the program to have to increase its budget request, and thereby landing the program on the shit side of the Provost.

Failing students might also be seen as indicative of the program’s failure to educate, also landing the program under the microscope of the Chancellor. So, failing students is considered to be a failure of the instructor to teach; failing more than one student over the course of one’s employment – and then only for assault – will result in the instructor’s being blackballed from teaching while he or she is connected to the university.

To add to this, Adjunct Whore’s idea of imposing Nabokovian quizzes is impossible; students cannot be graded on assignments that have not been set out by the course director.

Otherwise, I would love to give my students the grades they deserve – not out of sadism, but out of respect for the verities of their performance.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Reader Shares A Confession

I have found this blog to be a welcome place, a location where instructors can tell the truth about the job, our students, and even our lives. In my own department, in my own college, I have no outlet for this story, and I hoped I could share it here. Any names and identifying details have been changed.

This past semester in my freshman composition course, my students read a short essay about domestic abuse. It was in a course pack not of my choosing, a text that led into an argument essay.

As a college professor, I always feel a bit as if I'm a guide to my students, not just to writing, but to college, to adult life, even to the morality that goes in to negotiating day to day life. As we read this article, and as my students flared with indignation about the abuser and the article's occasional sympathetic treatment of him, my own past thundered in my ears.

My dad hated us. Maybe that’s overstating it. Perhaps it’s more true to say he hated himself, the rest of us just got in the way. Mom always got the worst of it, though, from verbal abuse to physical, she was spared none of my father’s anger or hatred.

He was a hotel manager in our town, and well known and well-liked. His public persona was different from the face he showed the rest of us. He’d be smiling one minute at a cocktail party for friends, but when they went home he became the dad we all knew: screaming at me for not bringing the ice and the drinks fast enough, chastising my sister for not dressing up enough, insulting my mother for being a “fat, worthless bitch.”

Us boys, me and my brother Ken, avoided it as much as we could when we were young. We retreated to our music magazines and our stereos and hid in our rooms when things got really bad. My sister Kim was older and she’d leave the house, get in her car and drive off. Where she went we simply never knew.

At night I would lie in bed and wonder why he was the way he was. I never made friends easily so really only knew my own family. I assumed other families lived this same way.

Only once can I remember Ken standing up to my dad. He ran out of our room when the screaming was the loudest and threw his 14 year old body over my mother’s blocking my father’s fists. My father never missed a beat, instead slugging them both until he was tired of it.

Kenny came to our room afterwards and my mom did, too. She brought a wet rag and washed his face and hers and the three of us stayed in there together that night and many nights after that.

My mom stayed with him all through our high school years. Our family had little contact with the neighbors, except for an occasional police call that the people across the street would make. My dad would always greet the cops at the doors, usually somebody he knew. In ten minutes the cops and my dad would be standing on the lawn, laughing about something. When they left, my dad would come back and things would be worse than before.

When I turned 22, I got married. I had met Shelly at the small college where I was taking classes. I loved her, I guess, in my own way and we had great times. We hung out together, moved in eventually into her little apartment. I stayed away from my parent’s house as much as I could, calling once a week to talk to my Mom. I fooled myself into thinking that things must be okay there, since I never saw it. My brother Kenny did the same, but he went thousands of miles away to Florida. My sister, too, in the other direction, moved north to Portland.

I fast-tracked my way through an MA, and one night when I was in the last 3 months of my dissertation, Shelly raised the topic of children to me. We had talked about it a number of times and I had always told her I was not interested in kids. Kids would ruin us, I said. Case closed. I didn’t want to talk about it.

I thought about finishing the PhD, getting out of debt, doing something other than teaching adjunct in a too-tight town. This was not negotiable, as far as I was concerned. We sat a while longer and then Shelly began to cry. “I’m pregnant,” she said. “I stopped taking the pill; I want a baby so bad.”

What happened next still doesn’t seem real to me. I stood up from the couch, looked back at her. I raised my hand into a fist and brought it crashing down against her face. There was no sound but the thud of my fist against her cheek bone which emitted a small crack. Shelly looked up at me through tears, stood up and went to the phone. She called her Mom and went down the hallway and packed here clothes. Holding an ice bag over her cheek and carrying a suitcase, Shelly walked out of that apartment and my life forever.

As I sat on that couch, waiting for her to come home or to call, I searched my mind for a reason. How had I become the same kind of monster my father had been? Where did I learn that from? Where did I learn that a man could hit a woman if he chose, if he didn’t like the words that came from her mouth. I never found the answer that night or any other.

I had seen what I had seen as a young boy. The violence of my own home had been so real, so overwhelming, that even though it sickened me, the same flaws and the same horror my father lived in, had become part of me. Like I never forgave him, I never forgave myself.

A year later, the phone rang. My mom was at the bus depot and needed some cash. I drove down, taking all the money I had with me. I bought her a one-way ticket to Portland and I watched her get on the bus. I kissed her and waved good-bye and went back to my parent’s house.

Dad was sitting on the bench in the back yard, drinking, but not drunk.

“So, what do you want?” he said.

I couldn't think of anything to say. I haven't been back to that house since.

It is now a few years later. After finishing my PhD I did indeed teach adjunct in a too-tight town, but hard work and some luck got me into a nice tenure-track job in a medium sized city not so far away from home.

After reading my students' essays about the article on abuse, I spent some time and tracked down Shelly. She had re-married and has a fine young boy named Tony. I told her where I was, what I was doing, and I shared some of the story I've written above. She was kind to me on the phone, understanding, I suppose. She wished me well at the end of the call and I believed her.

My mom lives to this day in Portland with my sister Kim. My brother Kenny has come back from Florida, and now runs a computer repair business in the same town where I live.

My dad remarried, too, but we don’t see him anymore. I find I am still working through my fear and embarrassment and my anger and my agony about what I did to Shelly, and what I learned at the feet of my father. What I’ve come to realize is that we learn unspeakable things without knowing it. The lessons my father taught me linger. Hitting Shelly woke me up to the horrible fact that I was really my father’s son. Now, years along the road, I’m making attempts at forgiving myself for the mistakes I learned and the mistakes I made.

When my class raged about the abuser in that article, I did, too. I realized it was me in those pages, just as surely as it if the story had been written about me and Shelly and our past. I wondered what my students would have thought of me had they known. I wanted to tell someone, anyone, a colleague, a friend. But I was ashamed and guilty and have kept it inside. Until now.

An "Adjunct Whore" Checks In, Giving Us a Rundown on Textbook Problems and the Always Exciting Modern Student

If a new edition of a textbook just came out 2 years ago, why must this year's new (& improved!) edition be double the 2-year-old price? Most students won't read it anyway, so I might as well choose an affordable text for the handful who will at least glance at it in between Jell-O shots and raging keggers.

It's funny: Here I sit, in front of my computer, spending over 5 hours looking for a textbook for a course I may not even be offered to teach at a school I swore I'd never teach at again.

I hate being an adjunct whore. I hate how administrators promise to get back to me within a week, but then make me wait three, all for the pleasure of being paid just enough to pay my monthly bills.

And yet, here I sit, after swearing to find a new job.

I loved teaching this class last time. But, the students…oh, those little bastards, made me LOATHE the school and the course. Some were wonderful, like the quiet guy who was always so anxious when he arrived 5 minutes late, yet always paid attention and I KNEW he did the reading by his insightful responses to my questions and his own follow-up questions. And the woman who thought she was going to fail all the time; she always knew more than she gave herself credit for because she took notes, studied, did her assignments carefully. And the interested students, who furrowed their brows when I talked about complicated ideas, who struggled to find their way with the material, and who always surprised me (in a good way!) on the exams when they nailed it!

But then there are ... the others, who made up at least 50% of the roster (often more). The athletes who sauntered into class 10 minutes late, often without a notebook or a writing implement, never paying attention, yet well-equipped with those laptops and Blackberries they used everyday…to do what exactly? And the dumbass who claimed he needed a laptop because of some undiagnosed arm problem yet web-surfed in every single class session; it was funny seeing the light change on his face during video days. And the nappers, who were always just so very tired in the late morning. And the rich kid, who must have flunked out of another school because he lacked all fortitude to actually do ANY work in the class, including showing up regularly, staying awake, and taking notes. And the talkers, oh the sweet chatterers, who seemed to think nobody could hear them talking in the middle of the classroom. I hated them all then, and I still do.

I'll get another crop of just the same sort of dullards this time too if I actually get to teach the course again. And I intend to make their lives a living Hell. I'll make them drop by midterm so they can annoy someone else besides me. If they behave and do their work, then we'll all have fun. The students who pay attention in class always do their work anyway, so I know a little rigor will not deter them.

But, I think it's time to make sure the losers, the slackers, the self-entitled brats, and the kids who think college is just the 13th grade, to get the fuck out of my way. I have some students who want to learn in my classroom, and you're not getting in my way again.

Wanna bet I end up not teaching the class anyway?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

This Guy Makes Us Feel So Tough That We Just Bitchslapped Ourselves.

I like the new look and I hope it portends a new, tougher era at RYS.

I especially like how you got rid of the lame "negotiating the tricky dynamic of the modern classroom" bit. Why? Because I don't now, nor ever did, come to RYS to negotiate anything with the students.

I come for smackdowns. I come for hardcore, ball busting rants. When students come to RYS, I want them to be afraid, very afraid. I want them to think that if they are shitty in class or shitty on RMP, then I can get my revenge on them here. I don't want them to have the comfort of me (us) being "more mature" and "above that."

I want them to fear my anonymous wrath, and have their former confidence of my impotence stripped away. I want them to really get that what goes around, comes around. That is what I want for the new school year on RYS. Why? Because for the new school year on campus, I'm introducing a new, kinder, gentler version of myself, and if I can't vent actually or virtually on RYS, I will lose my goddamn mind!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Summer School Ends, and Someone Has Some Old School Smackdown - Don't Call it a Breakdown

Yep, I knew you were in for a rude awakening on the first day of class when you looked at the syllabus and said, "but isn't college supposed to be easier than high school?"

But I've come to the conclusion that a jack hammer couldn't awake you. You are morons. College is not for you, or if it is, it is no longer for me.

No, slavery ended somewhat before 1958. Do not argue with me about this again.

And if you chose to write an essay about abortion, it may be a good idea to know that abortion is currently legal in the U.S., yes, even in your county. And your high school teacher did NOT tell you otherwise.

Not every soldier who has been sent to Iraq has died.

You have an average of 23 out of 100. No, that isn't good, nor is it passing. If you begin to form the words 'extra credit' on your lips, I may have to scream, and not in my car during breaks like usual.

I don't believe for one single nano second that you made all A's in high school. I bet the people who did make all A's steered well clear of you.

And finally, yesterday was the last day of class. So, please, please, please don't ask me again what we're going to do next week!

It's a good thing you weren't my first class, for I would surely have quit straight away. I've had years and years of hard working, curious students who have made my job a joy. You have driven me to drink and to contemplate the end of civilization.

Go away.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Where We Don't Even Pretend To Try and Figure Out What To Write For a Title

A professed fan of the site sends along this list of "ideas":

Y'all gone soft there at RYS. There was a time when you put the cart in front of the horse, or just ate the horse for lunch and pushed the cart down the mountain. Now y'all just nice and polite and it's making me a little sick. (Look, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.)

Well, I've come to save the day. I want to be one of those "chief correspondents" you are always yammering about. I want to be recognized for my wisdom and perspciapacity or whatever. I want you to marvel at my ideas, give me a shocking title and a cool blurry graphic. I want to be in with the COOL KIDZ.

So, here are my suggestions for the coming year. I am in my new office at my old school and I've got a new laptop that the Dean had to buy me because I'm such a research stud, and I'm about to let loose with some ideas that will make your little website as popular as or Feel free to use these, but make sure you give credit to me - a chief correspondent in the sciences from a slamming R1 in Texas.

  • Every Friday, post a picture of the cutest ass in someone's class. Profs can turn the tables and whip out their own cell phones and capture a hunnie or a hunk. You could post them with funny captions. I can think of a hundred ideas already.

  • Every Saturday and Sunday, turn the blog over to a random professor. Just tell someone to write a "smackdown" of their own and then watch the vitriol fly!

  • Start identifying students with more comical descriptions and made up names. Saying "Bitchy Brenda" is not enough. Say that Brenda is a petite 5'3" brunette made up of sugar and spice, oregano and combat boots, and that she often has tunafish in her hair...and you get my drift. Spice it up, I guess. This is not TELEVISION, MAN, it's the written word, and let Chaucer and Le Carre and Cussler be our models...describe, describe, describe!

  • Put an immediate kibosh on any post that starts with one of these: 1) I love my students..., 2) My students work hard..., 3) I care about my students... and you get the drift. Those posts always suck. They're always introspective and that's pure death on any of these blogs. Just quit posting shit like that and you'll stop getting such lousy submissions.

  • Just quit trying to be so serious. All of the people in my department are dunderheads, old farts who are on the long slow decline to dementia and retirement (at the same time, do you get me?!?!). If I wanted to be bored to death I'd go talk to them. I come to RYS for some fun. It's not rocket science, baby. This is a blog that's supposed to rip a new one to those students who turn our classes into daymares. So let's have some fun with it.

Okay, so just let me know how amazed you are by all of that. And I didn't even break a sweat. You can thank me at some convention some time. I'm always asking colleagues, "Yo, are you the Rate Your Students guy, huh? Would you tell me?" I'll find you, you bastard, I really will.

Sign me,
Wicked Walter from Waxahachie

(that's nothing...I got a million of them)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

We Hear It All The Time - Why Do Many of Us Feel Forced to Teach to the Lowest Common Denominators?

I have been sitting at home all weekend, trying not to hate the shitty students and trying to bolster my self-esteem and willingness to do the job by working hard to focus on the good ones. I have fall syllabi to write. As I think about how I need to modify the basic course syllabus I have employed for the last 3 years, it just kills me that all of my modifications are centered on how to deal with the lazy shits who don't need to be in college.

How to dock them points for not coming to my class, even though I'm philosophically opposed to such point-docking. How to make my syllabus SCREAM of my intent to fail plagiarists. How to set up traps for the lazy, the uninspired, the fresh-air-stealers. How to ensure, through multiple and diverse grading opportunities, that all of the Fs and Ds and Cs and Bs will be unassailable grades, able to withstand grade appeals managed by the even the most molly-coddling administrators...

It's so exhausting.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Where We Get a Semi-Culpa from Mr. Bullshit

We did receive a follow-up from this fella. We think it fills in some of the blanks that readers called him out on:

Okay, I feel like a schmuck. Nothing like gang tackling, right?

I failed to address the hours I spend on research and grading. I have to admit that in my 3/3 load, only one class is grading intensive. Two of those classes are sophomore sections of a pretty good size (35-50 students each), and I do have a grader for them. I do read many of the final exams, however.

My night class is grading intensive, but small. I do the grading for that class, but it often contains only 8-10 students.

Research? Well, I'd be writing with or without tenure, with or without the job, but I must admit that I spend 3-4 hours at least 2 days a week writing in my field - the humanities. I publish articles about twice a year in middle of the road journals, and I've published 5 books with university presses over a 22 year career, and I do have tenure which allows me certain freedoms.

I have taught more and worked longer hours, but that was as a junior professor. The folks I know and admire are able to do a great job with less charging about. I mentor 2 new faculty members and I seriously worry that they'll die early of stroke or anxiety. There's no honor in being the most frantic professor in the department. Perhaps it seems to them that they're showing how hard working they are, but the elders just think they're scatter-brained.

Oh, and for the catty remark about my salary. Where I live has a very low cost of living, and my sub $50k salary is about right for the size of my college. (A nice 3 bedroom house in my town costs about $115k).

But, upon reading my original post, I do see that I was too flippant, and I don't mind being called an ass when I've been one. So, a half bow to anyone who was offended.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

"Mr. Bullshit" Gets Called Out. And We Stand By For a Follow-Up.

Mr. "Bullshit" has generated some email and we want to give a quick followup.

First of all, while it's true that we are on vacation, we're not so lazy as to not verify some things. Yes, the poster in question is a faculty member, or at least has access to an actual professor's email account that we've verified through the institution in question - a pretty well known liberal arts college in the Midwest. And, according to the school paper and a faculty newsletter, he's a pretty well regarded fellow, and indeed twice a winner of teaching awards there.

A lot of the mail we've seen so far doubt the post's veracity, but we'll stand by it. Maybe he's lying his ass off, but it is what he sent us. We've hit him with a request for a little more info about grading, research, and committee work, and we'll post that if we hear from him.

Until then, here is some flava from the responses:
  • Wow - 13 hours a week! And no research (and almost no service) whatsoever! Pretty good to be an associate at a liberal arts school. I'm an assistant professor at a R-1 school; I teach a 2-2, plus a summer course for extra money. I'm on campus Monday through Friday from about 8:30 to 4:30, doing teaching prep, research, meetings, reviewing manuscripts, etc. I put in probably 2 hours of work each night, too; I don't normally work on Saturdays, but usually put in between 6 and 8 hours on Sundays. So I work anywhere between 50 and 60 hours a week, closer to 70 if I've got grading to do or a deadline, less (closer to 50) if I go to lunch, spend time visiting colleagues to chat, or have to attend job talks. That holds, let's say, for 11 months of the year. That puts me between 2200 and 2600 hours a year.
  • First off, I have my suspicions, based on the tone of the email, that it was written by a student. Second, if it was written by a professor: Don't you give assignments? Don't you grade assignments? Or do you have some poor TA picking up your slack?I teach two writing classes. The enrollment cap is 34. 6 papers are required in each class each semester. It takes me 15-20 minutes to grade each paper. You do that math. It ain't gonna fit in thirteen hours, sweetie!
  • I think you should publish the name and college of the author of 'Bullshit' so that the administration there can fire the slacker! I've worked in four universities in three countries (two in the US), and the notion that one can get the job done in less than 50 hours a week is laughable, so either Bullshit is self-deluded about what work s/he's doing, or it's pretty cushy at his little college. In the UK, the Trades Union Congress did a study on unpaid overtime in 2005, and discovered that those in education work the most unpaid overtime of any profession. The Trade Union Congress survey put it at 11 hours, 36 minutes unpaid overtime per week for (among others) university lecturers, but said in their report that they believed that this was an under-estimate. When UK lecturers were asked to take part in a work-hours-tracking programme a couple of years ago, many of us discovered that we regularly did 15-20 hours per week overtime, and on occasion I found that I'd worked 72-hour weeks.
  • Bravo to anyone who calls "bullshit" on the overwrought hand wringing of so many professors I know. I won't claim to be able to do it on 13 hours a week, but 20 is about right, and that includes my office hours, teaching, grading, and committee assignments. These 70 hour a week people must have some sort of impediment.
  • How do you incorporate anything new with just 1 hour of prep? It takes me about an hour just to find, re-read, and adjust OLD notes! And when do you grade? You don't mention that at all, but the bio prof mentioned spending MANY hours doing just that. And when do you do your research? The Bio prof never explicitly states this either, but that is, indeed, part of your job too. Unless, of course, you're one of those rare few who think you got tenure just on your teaching ability alone. I accuse you of the same fault the student poster had: You believe your only job is to step into a classroom and get paid for the time there. You and I [and most of the readers] know your job is FAR MORE than just the credit hours you spend in front of students. Stop devaluing the work you do, which includes anything necessary to be a valued member of your profession. But then, of course, you could just be a lazy-ass. I bet that never pops up in your stellar student evaluations, but it might in a promotion review [which might explain your mediocre salary for an associate professor].
  • This note can't be for real. First of all, at any decent liberal arts college, that salary would be entry level only. I'm at a SLAC in the South in my fourth year and I make more than $50k.
  • I challenge all RYS readers to give their real hours. I'm in my seventh year of teaching, one year to my tenure board and I work much closer to 400 than to 2800! Put me down for about 25 a week. But that's a lot of reading and writing I would be doing ANYWAY. Life of the mind, people. It's a little bit easy because it's something I love to do. I have colleagues like the 2800 hour nut who simply MUST tell the rest of us how hard they work. You know what? I don't give a shit. Scuttling around in a panic doesn't impress me, and doesn't make your classes any better.
  • Would the work this faculty member puts in be typical across all classes of faculty? I don't think so, but I don't imagine it is aberrant, either. All the same, while not everyone does 2200, or 2400, or 2600 hours of work a year, I'd suspect that the lower down the career totem pole you go (assistants versus associates versus fulls), you're going to find more work being done - especially at R-1 schools. And if you look at 2-year schools, or liberal arts schools with, say, a 4-4, or (heaven forbid!) a 5-4, you're going to find a lot of work there too.


I cry "bullshit" on the latest post on how hard we work.

I may be more of a dilettante than others, and I'm far too lazy to get too far into the math, but let me give you my hours for the past school year, a year where I taught my normal load of 3/3, all sections of courses I've taught before. My schedule semester to semester is identical.
  • Sunday: Zero.
  • Monday: 1 office hour, where I occasionally see a student, and do copying and so forth for my Tuesday classes.
  • Tuesday: 1 office hour, 160 minutes in class, maybe 30 more after class is over to finish up anything.
  • Wednesday: 1 office hour before night class to prepare. 150 minutes in class.
  • Thursday: Same as Tuesday, total of 250 minutes.
  • Friday: On average, every second Friday I have at least one committee meeting. So, let's say 30 minutes for an average Friday.
  • Saturday: Zero.
So, that's a hair over 13 hours a week, X 30 weeks of school, so 390 hours for the whole school year. I'm a tenured associate prof who has published 5 books over 22 years, and I used to spend more time on this as a junior professor, but I've streamlined certain things. Oh, and 2 years ago I won the &*&*&*&* Award at my college, the highest teaching award we have at my very average liberal arts college. And, I'll put my student evaluations up against anyone, AND the correlation of grades.

And I will still bet my life that the average prof is closer to my 400 hours than to the earlier writer's 2800. Unless you're just bullshitting yourself.

Oh, and to finish the math portion of this, I make $48,750, or about $120 an hour. That's a lot less than my CPA makes, but more than my lawn guy. So, I don't know if that tells you anything about my position in the pecking order of things.