Sunday, September 30, 2007

We'd Encourage Future Students To Read the Syllabus, or Maybe Just Take Another Class.

  • To R: True, anything would be better than a zero. Unfortunately, the limited list of legitimate reasons for excused absences does not actually include not knowing we had a test today. In your email you state that you "will not bother with excuses." Bless you for that. Actually, though, you could have saved yourself the trouble of emailing me at all if you had read the syllabus, which states several times that there are no makeups on exams or quizzes. Of course, then you might have seen the exam dates in bold print on the front page and we wouldn't have had this exchange anyway. RTFS.

  • To S: Your three-page handwritten note, slid under my door while I was in my afternoon class, in which you explain that you missed your exam because you "swear to God" (three times!) that you did not know we had class on Fridays, does not help your case. Nor does pointing out that you need this class to graduate this semester (since it seems a Senior in college should be acquainted with the significance of the letter F in the context "MWF 10-10:50"). If you had taken a look at the syllabus, you could have seen that there are no makeups on exams or quizzes. Of course, then you might have seen the exam dates in bold print on the front page and we wouldn't have had this exchange anyway. RTFS.

  • To A: As stated in the syllabus, in the case of an excused absence from an exam or quiz, the points for the missed work are simply dropped from your grade. As stated several times in the syllabus, there are no makeups on exams or quizzes. No, you do not need to make an appointment with me to make up the exam you missed. The syllabus gives details on what documentation you need and how to get it to me. I do not buy your assertion that "you looked at the syllabus but still weren't clear on what you needed to do to make up your work," because the syllabus would have told you that you cannot make up your work. I do not have the energy to respond politely to your latest email asking when you can come see me. The syllabus includes a complete schedule of my office hours. RTFS.

  • To D: The syllabus specifically excludes oversleeping as a legitimate reason for granting an excused absence from an exam. Buy a fucking alarm clock. And RTFS.

  • To K: Yes, surgery justifies an excused absence from a quiz. The syllabus tells you what kind of documentation you need and how to get it to me. I do not believe that you read the syllabus before you wrote to me but "didn't see anything about missed quizzes." Maybe that was some other professor's syllabus you were reading.

  • To S: No, you *still* cannot make up the exam, even though you have emailed me again. Yes, you did email me late the evening before the exam asking if it would be given in the regular lecture classroom, and it's true that I did not answer the email until the next morning when I arrived in my office. That still doesn't make it my fault that you didn't know we had class on Fridays.

  • To L: As stated in the syllabus, if you're missing class and there's no graded work, you do not need to contact me. There are 200 students in your class. Your shining faces might as well be printed on a poster. I will not notice if you are there or not, nor do I really care. As stated in the syllabus, if you miss class it is your responsibility to get notes from a classmate and any handouts from the course website. It is not my responsibility to repeat my 50-minute lecture for your benefit, nor would my lecture notes be any use to you at all unless you already knew enough about my subject to speak coherently for ten minutes from a two-word prompt. Oh, I see you have never visited the course website--please note that as stated in the syllabus you are expected to check in "regularly" and that "daily internet access is assumed." Details on how to find the course website are given in the syllabus. So if you don't know how to get handouts, RTFS.

  • To T: Thank you, thank you for the following email: "Dr. QED, I have checked on your office hour schedule and unfortunately I have classes during all of those times. I would like to make an appointment to meet with you about some of the homework problems. Please let me know whether any of the following times will fit your schedule: MW 1-3, TR 9-12, and F 10-3." You are clearly a student who wants to make it easy for me to attend to your needs. This message even displays standard spelling and punctuation. It is the best piece of student writing I have seen in at least three weeks. I think I love you.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It's "Eat Poop" Saturday!

To Mr. Wannabe Bully,

I understand you really wanted that A, and in fact had done everything to deserve that A except this little thing called my attendance policy. I told you that I hated taking attendance but would do so because (#1) student loan concerns and (#2) I wanted you to sit your lazy butt in my class.

And guess what, I took attendance! At the end of the summer session you were suddenly upset at my policy, TOO DAMN BAD! For once in your little life you were taken to task. I feel bad about changing your grade, that is until I received your emails. In fact, your first two emails the first day after grades were given out were a bit alarming, but I felt as if I had explained myself quite clearly. If that was not enough, you told me to "eat poop."

I should have been insulted, but honestly, this only made me feel like I had made the correct decision. After discussing this with a colleague, we have decided to make shirts with "Eat Poop" on the front of them and we both hope that despite the fact you are enrolled with a different department we hope you see the shirts around campus.

Yes, this makes me evil, but that was honestly the nicest thing you said to me and I can only hope you remember the experience as clearly as I do.

BTW, if I remember correctly you had stated that you were taking corrective measures against me and had the full confidence of the dean in this matter. In fact, you stated that much more of my time would be consumed by this affair than I would like to commit. Well, just as a reminder it has been two months and no one has said one word to me, so I would like to remind you that I am still here, waiting.

Your Asshole Prof

This Is A Little Dark, Even For RYS. The "Coddled Babies" Post.

Dearest Snowflake,

I see you smirking at me in the back row. You think I don't know that it was you who complained about my "demoralizing" manner to the undergraduate Dean of Students. What tipped me off was when you marched your lackluster ass into my office brandishing the B+ on your first essay, brashly declaring, "Um. I'm not a B+ student."

Sadly, as our dean is about to succumb to his/her next nervous breakdown, he/she delegated my disgraceful behavior (of trying to show you that stating the painfully obvious isn't really a stellar thesis) to my direct supervisor who happens to chair my dissertation committee. As the touchy-feely, wishy-washy dishrag that he/she is, he/she recommended that I elevate my already generous grading system about 3/4s a letter grade (can anyone whisper GRADE INFLATION?).

He/she further advised me that you, my students, are "babies" and ought to be "coddled" regularly. As I must keep said dishrag deliriously happy until I receive my doctorate, you have me by the short and curlies. However, please know that the tutorials/conferences I offer at the Starbuck's near my house every Saturday before papers are due are coming to a screeching halt. Also know that I will no longer read stories or poems that I am unfamiliar with so that you can have freedom in your choice of essay topics. Extended office hours will be reduced to one hour per week, and I will for damn sure quit preparing class notes before working on my dissertation.

You may get the A you feel so entitled to because the system sucks, but please know that karma is a bigger bitch than you are. My regards to your parents who never taught you to work for anything, who kept you the baby that you are, and who coddled you right out of becoming a worthwhile adult. I used to care about your difficult journey from adolescence into adulthood, but I couldn't give a rusty fuck now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

"Where Do They Go, When They Go?" A Note From the Field From Our Chief Correspondent.

This is for the one that got away. You who slouched in a different seat each class, sputtering comments so stunningly moronic even the 20-watt bulbs in the back row perked up. Your game of musical desks gave me a false positive on the classroom’s stupidity quotient for those first few magical days. Then you were gone. I felt suddenly surrounded by 22 Stephen Hawkings. Where are you? What went wrong? Was it something I said?

I’ve had my unfair share of stiffs in the past. And there will be fools aplenty tomorrow. But I thought you were different. You could have made me forget the others. But today, as I ace your name from the roster, forever, I feel ... jilted. Happy students are all alike; every horrific student is insufferable in his or her own way. The troll with his mercilessly insipid questions; hiccupping non-sequiturs at the very moment my lecture is about to hit academic paydirt. Or the 20-something brownshirt whose pie-hole doubled as a bilge pipe, spewing shards of angry talk radio at his frightened classmates, while driving every discussion into a ditch. The smug jackwipe who finally deigned to enter College Writing II in her junior year, if only to get her jollies by outwitting a peanut gallery of hapless freshmen. Or the lumpendoofus whose grasp of composition was few halberds shy of barbaric, convinced of his entry into Harvard Law? Fools all. All I could do was wave from the platform as they all boarded the express train to Palookaville.

Once I consoled myself knowing these people would someday get their just desserts. A comeuppance. A wakeup call. But I wouldn’t be there to enjoy it. So I figured, “Why wait?” Why can’t I be the one who cuts you down at the knees, tells you take your cart and your bricks and get the fuck out of my classroom? Why can’t I be the change I want to see in the world?

I think about the one who got away, and I feel a loss. I lost a chance to forever top any nightmare related in my department. I lost my shot at being “chief correspondent” at RYS. Maybe they'd invite me to the compound to slurp margaritas from a wheelbarrow and twiddle with blogger templates till my retinas burned.

What I truly lost out on was knowing if I did that kid a favor. Maybe he dropped out. Maybe he got a job. Maybe he saved his folks a bundle in tuition. Maybe transferred across the hall and is making your life a living hell. Maybe it dawned on him that adulthood starts today. Maybe he’s playing Xbox and doesn’t give a shake.

I don’t know. And neither do you. And that’s how it goes.

Some First-Year Pre-Midterm Jitters…

  1. “Are we gonna, like, have to know everything?”
  2. “I came in late. What I miss?”
  3. “The blue books, what are they for again?”
  4. In a writing-intensive course: “So, it’s gonna be multiple-choice, right?”
  5. In said class, after a five-week song and dance about why study guides are not used in the course: “Are you gonna pass out, like, a study guide?”
  6. From nontraditional 30-something soccer mom leaving a freshman survey classroom: “I’m so [blood-curdling scream] CONFUSED!!!”
  7. “Alright, okay, so like, alright we only have to just okay, like, write what we remember from what you said in class, we don’t need to like read the book or anything?”
  8. “I had to miss last week, can I borrow the video and give it back after the test?”
  9. After assigning the exam for the following Tuesday: “So it’ll be next Thursday, right?”
  10. From at least fifteen students in a class of over seventy as the exam is being passed out: “I forgot my blue book, can I go buy one and come back, or will I have to take the test later?”

Academic Haiku Friday! "Under the Skin."

Under the skin already.
Like a tick,
or perhaps an extraordinarily
invasive case of scabies.

Yes, you are a good student,
ask interesting questions,
have actually done
the assignments,
participate in the void silence
of' class discussions.

Yes, I made the mistake
of positive reinforcement.
Somehow you have decided
that I have something profound to teach you.

Ok, I'm flattered,
but that DOES NOT MEAN
you can stake out my office,
invite yourself to my lunch table,
forward me stupid-cute emails
that will damn me to hell
if I don't send them to seven more people

and it absolutely, certainly,
that you can follow me to the bathroom
and continue a conversation through the door.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Sad Saga of Student McIgnorant, Our Pick For Favorite Fake Name Of the Week.

Hello mr. Professor,

Hope your semester is goin well. I'm writing this email in reference to my grade from your class in the summer, writing research. I've been trying to get in contact with you through phone so has Mr. Disciplinary Committee Chair but we have not recieved any calls back. Due to my failing grade in the class Mr.Committe Chair, and another staff member came to a decision from my administrative hearing. I have yet to recieve a final grade from the course. Without the rough draft being graded you explained to me that myself along with the other students were at a C grade level. Now because i failed the rough draft does that mean that i failed the class as a whole? Because from my understanding there were other papers and grades that were incorporated into the class. I need some clarity on this because i need a grade for my transcripts to be transfered over and i do not want to transfer the incorrect grade and plus i need this class to be able to move forward in my curriculum for school with a C or higher. I know that you are busy with your fall semeter classes as well as myself, but i would really appreciate if you can get this grade squared away as soon as possible. My apologies for not writing this sooner but i was under the assumption that everything was squared away. If its possible if you have time to respond back to myself and also to Mr. Committee Chair. Thank you

Student McIgnorant



Mr. McIgnorant plagiarized on a graded draft of the paper that was the sole purpose for the summer course. The syllabus states that any plagiarism will result in immediate failure of the course. The university policies regarding plagiarism were worked into the actual course assignments in order to ensure all students knew what they were and the consequences for violating this first clause of the student Code of Conduct for the university. The student was also counseled as to the outcome when the plagiarism was discovered. The ONLY contact with the Disciplinary Committee Chair was when she informed me that the student admitted to the plagiarism and knew that he failed the class. The university has my official e-mail address and has access to my home phone number; no one has ever contacted me.

The sad part: this student claims he wants to be an English major in order to become a school teacher! Just look at his "professional" writing ability! He claimed he couldn't find anything on his original topic (which is either a lie or he's just an incompetent researcher), so he changed the topic without approval. He openly admitted the [second] topic used research he had done for another course, which is not allowed by official university policy (also discussed early in the semester). While he seemed quite pleasant and interested in learning how to do research, he's either just: 1) really dumb, 2) too lazy to do the work, or 3) both.

This is why so many of us need RYS.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We Love It When "I'm Sorry" Really Just Means, "You're Fucked."

To the students who thought it not important to show up for the mandatory conferences where I give out free advice on how to revise your horrid, horrid drafts.

I know, I know. It's my fault, right? You couldn't find the office. You thought you were signed up for a different time. I have to ask your forgiveness. I only discussed these conferences at the beginning and the end of class for the last three periods. I only passed around the sign-up sheet three times and reminded you to write down your time. And I've only told you where my office is five times, in addition to its location being clearly printed on the syllabus.

But you lost the syllabus, right? Far be it for me to mention that my office is also listed online. You know that "Internet" thing that you all are so obsessed with? This is one time that it could have been useful! But I probably should have shown you exactly how to find me online, right? And who am I to expect you to listen in class? You're trying to sleep/talk/leave!

I know this because one student who did come to conferences (two hours late) told me that he really didn't know what I expected from the papers because he's "just trying to stay awake" during the 2:00 pm class. It must be rough.

Well, all I can say is, I am truly sorry. And when you get your un-conferenced final drafts back, I guess I'll be sorry then too. But probably not as sorry as you will be. I guess I'll be hearing from you all a lot more after that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Let the Pain Begin: A "Celebration of Students."

  • A small but heartfelt request: My office is small. In winter if I open the window we'll both freeze. So if you're coming to my office hours, I don't care how certain you are I'll be blown away by your brilliant ideas and ready to chat with you at length - for the love of Pete, PLEASE WASH. There's only so long I can hold my breath. And if I leave the door standing wide open and the fan on, please have the grace to believe me when I claim that I'm trying to reduce the viral load during flu season. I know it's lame. But I can hardly tell you that your B.O. would fell an ox at forty paces. Just while we're here, it's entirely your business if you want to wear the same clothes every day. But would it kill you to run them through the wash every week or so? Just asking.

  • To the anonymous sorority girl who burst into my small discussion class halfway through the period, two weeks into the class, to demand whether there was still room for her to join: It was a pleasure to tell you “no.” It was an even greater pleasure to watch your reaction validate my quick judgment of your character: You rolled your eyes, made some back-of-the-throat noise, and exclaimed, “Oh, gawd” before slamming the door and leaving. Everyone in the class thought you were an idiot, which only raised the lot of them in my estimation. The semester is well underway, doll. You can’t go poking your head into random classrooms until you find one that welcomes you with open arms. Even if I had room in the class, I’d be damned if I were to spend hours of my time catching you up on the work you missed when you clearly chose my class, not out of interest, but because it happened to be near where you were standing.

  • The ‘A’ student...I heard you the first three times; you only got ‘A’s in high school. Therefore you should not be in this class (formerly known as remedial writing—now that’s just too honest). I know you didn’t ‘really try’ on the exam all students take at the beginning of the term to see if remedial, I mean ‘support’, writing is needed because you’re an ‘A’ student, after all. Please feel free to take your essay (with a big red F on it) back to your high school teacher who gave you that ‘A’. (And just to be clear, I’m quite sure this teacher who thought you were ‘a great writer’ exits only in your imagination-- perhaps in your D&D world as a scabby, one-eyed elf because now that you are ‘really trying,' it is obvious that you have not a clue. Or maybe she did give you an ‘A’ with the two ‘S’s missing.)

  • My self-esteem as a teacher has been ravaged by students. Where do I begin? The4 girls who sat together and spent the entire class glancing at each other and sharing their contempt for me, not paying attention, and then complaining that they didn't get it? The jock and his girlfriend who sat together and snickered and rolled their eyes - and then complained they weren't given a day off when they wanted it? The guy who started class with his headphones blaring, and who got pissed off when I asked him to take them off? The same guy who used obscene language in classroom discussions, and when I warned him for his behaviour,went and complained to my supervisor - who came back to me asking me to be nice because the guy "cried" in his office? The music major who was offended that I wouldn't give him limitless leaves (because he as a music major was too good to attend Education classes), and who used his evaluation form to get back at me for not giving him exactly the grades he wanted? The guy who was mad that the attendance policy was being enforced? When will the pain end?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Where Someone Offers Helpful Advice To Honors Students, or Where Mr. "Never Got Into AP English" Opens Up Some Whup'Ass On Nerds.

Memo to New Honors Students

Welcome to the university. We’re pleased to have such a smart and accomplished group of first-year honors students as members of our academic community. You will already have gone through orientation and received information regarding how to contact the IT help desk, set up appointments with advisors, use interlibrary loan, etc.

The purpose of this memo is to help you get a clue. We recognize that most of your were too busy taking advanced math classes and memorizing long swaths of Atlas Shrugged during high school to have time to develop much in the way of social skills, but remedial action is possible. To that end, we’d like to offer the following pieces of advice:
  1. When you are in an honors-only seminar, it is okay to indulge your sense of intellectual superiority and will help you form social bonds with your honors program mates; this does not hold true, however, for classes in which you are thrown in with the hoi polloi of ordinary students. For instance, it is a bad idea to announce loudly on the second day of your psychology class that you are in the honors program. Your fellow students think honors students are spoiled and given advantages not available to other students. Your instructor has probably taught an honors course and so has direct experience of the supersaturated adolescent arrogance endemic to the program. You are going to spend the rest of the semester trying to climb out of the hole you just dug for yourself.

  2. When your first-year English professor asks you to do an in-class writing exercise and afterward asks the class what sorts of things they learned, don’t shoot your hand up and respond, “Nothing.” In that same class, when your prof assigns the first essay and discusses various possible rhetorical stances and structures, don’t comment that you find too much structure stifles your creativity. If you make this error, you are going to have to be as profound as Wittgenstein and as masterful a stylist as Conrad for the rest of the term because your papers are going to be graded with a stiletto.

  3. It is true that some students on this campus wear their pants at a ridiculously low point on their hips, but that does not mean that you should wear yours north of your navel. Loosen your belt, unclench your jaw and stop rolling your eyes, and enjoy yourself. You can write the Great American Novel or discover the solution to the world’s energy problems next week.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Self-Proclaimed Meanest Prof Ever Offers the Latest Smackdown on Pollyanna-dom.

Dear Poor, Pissed Off, etc.

How much Kool-Aid have you been drinking?

I am sick to death of dopey-ass Pollyannas like you who think that anyone who DARES to have a complaint about the job of college professorship should quit because that will give you a better shot at getting their job.

While Professor Somber may indeed have a stick up his butt because he didn't get the R1 job he wanted, you should consider that many grad students at R1 universities are TOLD BY THEIR MENTORS that they are failures if they don't get similar positions. Maybe Somber wasn't told this blatantly, but it's clear he feels inferior because the job he got is beneath the R1 mentorship model. That's problem #1.

Now let's add in problem #2: his lame-ass students. As you yourself admit, everyone who teaches college seems to experience the ubiquitous, everpresent, infinitely common 13th-graders who populate America's colleges and universities. Instead of sympathizing and offering support or suggestions, what was your response? "Quit." Who are you to judge that? If not for your admission that your MFA only got you a Freshman Comp position [which, let's face it, seems to be the most thankless bitch-job in all college professordom], we both know that when you say "You're taking away a valuable career spot from someone who doesn't resent well-paid positions at piddly 'flyover' schools," you're really thinking that job should go to someone who enjoys the little snowflakes…such as yourself.

Guess what…ain't gonna happen cuz you ain't got the alphabets, dude! While you [and I for that matter] may get term contracts and year-long contracts, we'll never get tenure with a Master's degree [unless we're REALLY lucky]. In fact, at some places, your MFA in poetry wouldn't even get you a Composition class. But you still love teaching. Yeah, cuz mebbe it's either teaching or working at Starbuck's, Mr. MFA? You're "grateful at all for a job, any job…every damn day, for the opportunity to be in the classroom" because it means you don't have to flip burgers or get Professor Somber his Lo-Fat Decaf Latte when he visits your coffee bar. I know it cuz I have those options too.

This is not to dismiss your critique of Professor Somber, who probably really does need to invoke some more energy, if not for himself but for those 3 students in every class who actually care. But then again, I remember reading in his post that he DOES give his all to those precious few; in fact, they may very well be the reason he doesn't join his predecessor's corpse stashed under the desk […cuz, ya know, it's prolly what's causing the smell. Dude, get some Lysol and Mr. Clean and put up a funky poster or some shit.].

And let's dispel the continuation of that tired myth that college professors must love the teaching aspect of the job. Get real and grow up. Just because you bought into this country's myth about the self-sacrificing teacher who gives everything for your students doesn't mean everyone else must. In my experience, and that of *MANY* contributors at RYS, today's college students don't deserve our all because most students don't hold up their end of the bargain. Many of them do NOTHING and then make our lives Hell because we dared to call them on their bullshit. How do you know if a bunch of Somber's 13th-graders haven't intellectually beaten all his energy out of him by now? Be prepared for your little snowflakes to do the same to you soon. Better stock up on Kool-Aid, dude, cuz you'll need a stash while you're finding your next Freshman Comp job after the place you're currently working for decides to hire a PhD to replace you.

Hugs & Kisses,
The Meanest Professor Ever
[at least according to last Spring's 13th-graders]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We Love These Posts That Cast About On An Ocean of Ideas. Float Free, Friend.

I am pleased to say that in my poetry class I have six students that have expressed how they love to read and write poetry. They have already made contributions to discussions that were original and insightful. Of course there are the other thirty in the room, but at least I have six that just might write something worth reading.

I am positive that cell phones ringing in my class will no longer make me suggest the student shove it up the butt crack they show off. Instead, I have given the class permission to point and laugh at the offender. I guess I should say sorry to the little blondie in the third row who missed the first couple classes because her new tattoo was crusty. When the class very politely informed her to, in their words, “grow the fuck up,” she did turn red. But I am positive it was an attractive shade. You see, dear, it even matched the gum you had been chewing with your mouth open.

Even my desk puts me in a positive mood. The outlines are all in neat little piles. The textbooks are lined up according to the order I need them. Not all of them, mind you. But I am positive that when the book rep says that missing book is on the way that it must be true, this time. After all, a book rep wouldn’t lie repeatedly, would she? Besides, I’m positive that the classes I have taught without using a text were just fine. I won’t say what publisher it is, but its initials are Houghton Mifflin.

On the corner of the desk is my little stash of M&Ms right next to a small pile of Academic Dishonesty forms. I’m positive that in a few weeks both will be gone and I’ll be using another stash hidden in the back corner of my file cabinet.

I haven’t even mentioned the item that has me feeling so positive. I just got...wait for it...a 2% raise. Yes, I am now being given the appreciation that I have been waiting for. So let’s all be positive. After all, it’s only September.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Righteous Call to Arms, Designed to Strengthen the Will of Anyone Who Feels They're Doomed to Be Crappy!

How very gracious of you to deign to teach at a school so clearly beneath you! Your teaching skills -- which are doubtless stellar and full of verve and personality -- must be pearls before so many swine! I don't know how you manage.

Okay, look. Your former classmate's students at Princeton? They'd do okay whether he was teaching them or not. I'm sure they say witty things and dress nicely, but they don't need him. Not nearly as much as the handful of interesting students at your school need you. His students are there because they had the money and/or connections to get into Princeton. They're already motivated; they've had all the preparation their parents could afford. The majority of your students are there, I'd wager, because of financial need. They couldn't afford to go to private schools or take an SAT review course or anything like that. Are they inherently dumber than the people at Princeton? Not necessarily. I'm sure your former classmate has quite a few students coasting on money or family legacy. And with ivy-league egos to boot. The best students in your class haven't had the opportunities his best students have had; if they did, they might be at Princeton themselves.

So are you going to be their opportunity or not? Are you going to reach out to them or are you going to make a damn sandwich? You have the opportunity to change lives, an opportunity -- irony of ironies -- you might not have if you were teaching at a more prestigious school. Or maybe you're right. Maybe they're just dumb, and they deserve to be attending a crappy school. I guess they're getting the teachers they deserve, then.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Self Professed Raggedy-Ass Student Sends In His Apology, Or His Condemnation - It's Hard to Tell For Sure.

Okay, let me admit that I was one of those students who emailed professors asking if they could bump up my grade by one mark so that I could reach the next GPA bracket. No, I didn't raise any hackles during the course. I studied hard, I did my work. I might have missed more than a few classes but I'll get to that later.

Frankly, I never cared about the grade. Not at all. I really attended classes to learn and, in most of your classes, I did. I learned things that truly changed my outlook on the world -- like that course on the politics of third world countries that shattered so many of my ignorant preconceptions; or that course that made me appreciate the human body more -- like that fantastic course in anatomy and histology.
In some of them -- neoconservative political theory -- I didn't get what I expected in terms of a learning experience but I did my best to engage your lackluster texts and your esoteric, narrow-minded and boneheaded focus. In any case, I learned a lot, and regardless of whether I enjoyed or hated the process I damn well engaged with it to the best of my ability.

But there's this little problem I have. My parents. And my parents want me to get into medical/law/other professional school. And for that, I need a godforsaken GPA of X.XX. It doesn't matter that my overall percentage is fantastic, it doesn't matter that I tried hard and truly wanted to learn, it doesn't matter that I'm more involved in student life and in the university community than some socially-awkward geek sitting in a lab, it doesn't matter that I'm in the 99th percentile of the MCAT/LSAT/etc. None of that matters because my GPA is in the dumps. And because of that my parents will kill me or disown me or something like that.

I didn't want to email you to grub for grades. Nope, not at all. I sat there for several hours mulling over how to word my e-mail requesting a meeting to discuss my grades because I didn't want you to think that that's what mattered. When you replied saying there was nothing you could do, I was actually apathetic because I didn't care about my GPA -- but terrified because of what my parents would do. And that, by the way, is part of the reason why I missed so many of your classes -- because my life at home is remarkably messed up.

But in any case, my email made you think I was just another grade-grubbing hack. And, indeed, when they looked at my grades, my parents did precisely what I expected them to do. And more than the anger, it's hard to deal with the disappointment. But I reckon that most of you don't understand that. Because most of you, in fact, are quite privileged. Your class, your race, your ethnicity, your culture, all of that screams to me that you're privileged and that you wouldn't, not really, understand what on earth I, and several other students like me, are going through.

So at the end of the day, you'll wail about students who only want grades and nothing but grades and who treat university like a factory, but you'll ignore the social, economic and political conditions -- starting with the way your university is structured (but the governance of which you try to avoid like the plague) -- that make this sad phenomenon a reality. And, believe it or not, some of that kind of analysis is precisely what I learned to do because of, or in spite of, your classes. So, really, practice what you preach.

A Reply to a First Time Job Seeker.

As it happens, I have been teaching Blake’s Songs of Innocence & Experience this week. Blake’s answer to your question would be, “No, you can’t get it back, but why would you want to?” Oh great, answering a question with a question, I hear you say. Not to mention channeling a writer who has been dead for, oh, 175 years or so.

I’ve been teaching for twenty-five years. (I have tenure at a moderately selective private college.) There are no guarantees, of course, but you sound like a perfectly good prospect for any number of decent academic jobs. I was on a search committee for a Literature position last year. The position was approved late and we were afraid we’d have a weak – and small – pool of applicants. As it turned out, we got about seventy-five applications, at least half of which were appropriate for the job. The other half really did not fit the job description we had published and apparently were just using a shotgun approach. If the job is in 19th century British Lit and you mostly did the American Transcendentalists (yeah, I know, nobody does them anymore) but also took a seminar in Wordsworth, you are just not going to be hired. Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste our time. (Departments have a responsibility, by the way, to write job descriptions that actually describe the job.) Applicant files that come in late in the process have a much worse chance of being taken seriously: Check the joblists regularly and get your file off quickly. It may sit on a secretary’s desk for a while, but it will be complete and in the file box when a member of the hiring committee comes in on a weekend to begin reading files.

Anyway, back to my department’s recent position: Working separately, the three members of the committee (an assistant, an associate and a full prof) read all of the application files and made notes. When we got together with our rough lists of best applicants there was a remarkable amount of overlap. Any of them could have done the job. This may sound very basic, but the key thing that all the top applicants shared was that they had responded specifically to our job announcement. The cover letters described specifically how the applicant’s training and experience fit the statements in the job description. We asked for a statement of teaching philosophy: each of the top files had one. The letters of reference or placement files arrived in time for us to read them with the rest of the file. You may not believe this, but as I read the files, I always started out rooting for the applicant. I wanted each of them to get the job and was disappointed when a cover letter or a c.v. or teaching statement faltered and I had to move the applicant down my evolving list. I also kept a copy of our job announcement on my desk to remind me to stay focused.

So what happened? Our top candidate took another job before we could invite her for an interview. We brought the next two candidates to campus for interviews. Our second choice withdrew and took a job outside academia. We hired the third person on our list. We would have been happy with any of the top ten. That fact could be either comforting to the person just going on the job market, or terrifying, I suppose, depending on how one frames it. Contingency is ever present. Why did the hiring committee like Dr. Able a little more than Dr. Baker? Hard to say, just a feeling. You cannot do anything about that, but you can do something about all those other things. And that means you have some control over the process.

It is painful to be ejected from the garden into the world of experience. But who would want to remain a child forever? To quote God, from the 2nd chapter of Genesis, “You will earn your living by the sweat of your brow.” Thorns, snakes, bullshit & search committees. And if you’re willing to adjunct for a decade – you do love teaching, don’t you? – I’ll be retiring. Just kidding. This is RYS, after all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Can You Feel the Excitement? A Somber Reply to Our Recent Call for Posts.

I'm in my fourth year of a tenure track spot in the humanities in a large state school in a dull flyover state. I ended up here because I couldn't get a job at the kind of school I graduated from (top 20 R1). I resent this place even though it's been kind enough to me. My grad school buddies all did better than I did, and I've stopped keeping in touch with them. One of them went right to Princeton. He's dead to me now.

My colleagues are okay. I have a guy across the hall who fancies himself my mentor, but really he's just a happy drunk who loves everyone when he has a snoot-ful, which is pretty much every Thursday afternoon through Monday morning. The woman next to me thinks I'm a child and treats me like one. She tells me if I've parked the wrong way in the faculty lot, or if I miss my office hours by 90 seconds or more. I once was afraid of her, of what she'd do to me, but then I realized she's powerless. She tells me about the newer faculty, too, what's wrong with them. But really, I don't see many of my colleagues except for the idiotic meetings where I mostly just snooze and think about changing my backhand to something with more topspin.

My students are dull and dumb, half loaded on diet pills and Mountain Dew. They hate my classes and me, and I hate them back with white hot passion. They are dumber than I can even explain, but there are usually a handful of them who are interesting enough to get me through a semester.

My office stinks like old man, and I'm not one. I like to think the person before me must have died in here, but I've never heard the tale. I have a lot of empty shelves because I hate working here. I have an office set up at home, and it would never occur to me to come to school to grade or work or write. I come here to teach and then to use the bathroom between classes. My office is a place where I can close the door occasionally and wonder why I didn't take my dad up on buying into his paper company. Oh, and I meet students in here sometimes, but the smell is so bad I prefer not to.

I don't have a name plate on my office door, and I don't post office hours. I keep them, and I tell my students, but it's not public info, so there you go.

I eat at the cafeteria every once in a while. It's a big enough school that I usually don't see anyone I know.

It sounds a little desperate and depressing, but it's just a job, you know? I have a rich life at home, a partner, 2 cats, a car, some hobbies, a big bottle of beer every now and then. We love the outdoors so do a lot of that. And they pay me exactly $55,750 for a job that I'm good enough at not to get fired from.

I still love my own work, and write a lot when I'm not in class. I published two peer-reviewed articles in the past year, and have a book that will probably eventually land at some university press. It will get me to tenure, and then beyond that, who knows?

Right at this minute a student is lurking in the hallway. The semester is new enough that he probably doesn't know if he can just walk in, call my name, or maybe try knocking. I could look at him and offer a hearty howdy. But in 5 more minutes my office hour is up, and there's some nice pastrami at home I'd like to get after.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where Someone Offers Some Sterling Smackdown, And Chronicles Her Students and Their "Albums of Failure."

To the dullard in the back row: If I find you catching flies with your mouth again, I am personally going to pop a paper wad into the yawning vacuum!

To Ms. M: You make me uneasy. Maybe it was the fact that you came up and shook my hand and said "Thank you" on the first day of class. Weird. Maybe it's the fact that your head nods yes and your mouth smiles after everything I say when your eyes so very clearly yell, "I don't get it!" I am strongly suspicious that you will become that student at the end of the semester who argues so passionately and so unconvincingly as to why your B+ is really an A.

To the row of future fast food managers: Aggressive apathy does not equal participation. Nor will resentful glares at both me and the material help you understand either thing. It will, however, make you wonderful middle manager when you decide in about a year that college just isn't "your thing." Dudes.

To A: I find it a sad omen of things to come that when I lobbed you the softball of writing an introductory assignment using your own opinion, you promptly went and plagiarized an entire web page. This does not bode well. However, dropping the news to you in a cheery and enthusiastic voice in order to watch the color drain from your face when you were oh-so busted was quite delightful.

To the Repeat Offenders: I don't know why some other instructor failed you the first time (or two) around. But I can certainly posit why I probably will. When you can't manage to come to class when class has barely even begun, giggle at your fellow losers, chew on your pencil instead of applying it to page, talk in a loud mock whisper as though I can't hear,and/or sleep in class....well, you get the picture. You obviously have already framed some of them from previous semesters. Get ready to add one more photo to your Album of Failure.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Student Reader Gives Us Some Perspective On the Grooming And Behavior Patterns of the Typical Undergrad.

I was one of the narcissistic, self-absorbed college students that graced hallways of a major university not long ago, and I find it completely interesting how many academic professionals feel harshly about students' habits or traits - mainly attire.

As a post-grad, I do understand the importance of dressing to succeed and understand that one's wardrobe can speak for them, but these are young kids still. They are completely and utterly naive. And excited. And away from home for the first time (for the most part). Most of their parents were probably so strict and over-bearing that you can't really blame these students for going "ape-shit" over having the first real freedom of their lives.

Is their attire to your 8:00 a.m. class really that detrimental to their learning? Yes, we want people to shower, not wear the same shirt from the previous night's bar, and of course, taking 5 minutes to change from PJ pants into jeans won't kill them. But they aren't going on an interview; they are there to learn. Yes, studies show those who dress the part learn the part, I give you this.

What do you think we as students were thinking about you, "crazy life-size-ceramic-apple-necklace lady"? Or what about that professor that comes in without shaving underneath her arms, refuses to wear deodorant and absolutely loves shirts with no sleeves (black only of course). Really, no deodorant? We are in a very small room in a class like that. We might giggle about your attire on our own, but for the most part many don't judge your teaching ability on it. The T.A. that came in everyday, took off her shoes, sat cross-legged on her desk and told us all to get comfortable so we could really talk and get to know what's going on was perhaps my favorite educator of all, I learned the most with that barefoot girl who was no more than 5 years my senior.

Remember, many are scared. The bully in fifth grade that shoved kids in lockers? They were acting out on their own personal inner turmoil. Many of these kids are thrown from being the top of their high school class, or perhaps from a school of 250, into a world of 20,000 students where for the most part, their academic leaders don't care. They are scared and on the other hand thrilled to no longer have mom and dad breathing down their neck.

These are the last four years that young adults have to party it up and enjoy life to its utmost extent - their only responsibility being themselves and their education. Sometimes it just takes a minute for them to find a balance for both. You do get tired of throwing-up, I promise, and I know many of you have been there... I had some pretty cool teachers through my years, I've heard the stories; you can't fool me!.

I am not defending the bad apples. I've seen them, I've hung out with them and I've pretended to think their antics silly behind the scenes while knowing they were wasting valuable time and energy (not to mention thousands of dollars) and would only hurt themselves in the future. Keep that in mind. The girl with the unruly curly hair who doesn't listen to instructions, give her the zero; but remember, eventually THAT is a lesson in its own. Eventually it will continue to happen until "no listen, bad; listen, good" gets into her brain. The guy that drinks all night and can barely keep his head off his desk? Send him home - he'll realize it may not be the best idea as his grades fall.

This is a time of social growth as well as academic. I grew more socially, mentally and academically in my four years than I did throughout any other period. And remember, that their rough exteriors are often hiding a soft, scared center. Those first two years are tough - for everyone. You have every right to moan - I know, we don't make your lives that easy - but know that everything you do does teach us in one way or another.

Of course, if all else fails, you can still come here and bitch. Good luck this semester.

Friday, September 7, 2007

We Don't Have a FAQ, But If We Did, These Are Entries That Would Likely Appear.

  • Who are the moderators? What are their likes and dislikes? Could I send them some chocolate?

  • Who started RYS? Is he still alive? Is he still bitter? Is he sweaty?

  • Why don't you publish clearer pictures in each post? Why are they sort of arty? Are you nuts? Can't you work Photoshop better than that?

  • What gives you the right to rate students? Isn't that what grades are? Don't you know you're terrible assholes for running this site? Can't you see what damage you're doing to our special little snowflakes?

  • Why don't you organize this site better? Why don't you use tags or labels? Why are your titles always stupid and too long? What right do you have to make fun of posts that you have decided to publish? Do you think that because I didn't proofread that you should probably do it for me? Why can't I find anything?

  • Why are you preoccupied with "breaking the tablet in half"? You use that joke all the time when you think someone is acting as if their medication is not the right dosage? Are you projecting? Are you on some kind of mood elevator? Are you gobbling beta blockers just to keep an even keel? Do you imagine others are, too? Why can't you just mind your own fucking business and break your own tablets in half?

  • How come you don't publish my posts? What kind of censorship is that? Are you afraid of my brilliance, my ferocity, my truth?

  • How does one become a correspondent? Someone once was a "chief" correspondent; is that better? Are those people your favorites? Why don't you like me as much as them? Do they pay you money? Do you owe them something? Why do they think they're so special? Do they put their status on their CVs?

  • How much longer will RYS go on? Isn't it hard to do every day? Isn't it boring to do every day? Don't you get tired of reading the shit that comes in? Why do you use Hotmail for your email account? Do you have something against Yahoo!?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Another Entry Into the "Let's All Communicate Better" Sweepstakes.

After yesterday's post about student email etiquette, we got quite a few notes from folks with suggestions and ideas. The posting below caught our eye, with its authoratative tone (and 1-10 number system!). So we share it with you below:

  1. Always sign an email how you wish to be addressed. If you end it with “Regards, Robert,” don’t be surprised when the next email starts with “Dear Robert.” “Prof. R. Jones” or “Prof. Robert Jones” are suited much better, unless you want your students to call you by first name. Some professors like to be called by their first name by email, but not in person – don’t do that. It’s either one or the other.

  2. Make it clear when students can expect a response to their message, preferably at the start of the semester. Email communication isn’t for urgent requests, students may just have to wait 48 hours. Also indicate if you’re responding to emails on weekends or not. Some people don’t mind things that can be answered quickly and just leave longer emails for Monday. Absolutely don’t let yourself be pressured into responding “asap.”
  3. If you’re not available for some time (vacation, or you just don’t want to be bothered) set an auto-response in your favorite e-mail program. While a quick reply is of course never guaranteed, it’s nice to know if the other person won’t see it for a week.

  4. E-mails are informal. Sadly, some people consider this an excuse to disable the spell-check in their email program, but there’s nothing we can do about it. If you understand what the other person wrote, consider yourself lucky and ignore the spelling.

  5. It’s an e-mail, not a lecture. Keep your responses short and to the point. You shouldn’t have to waste your time writing a novel and the other person shouldn’t have to read two pages to get the answer. If you feel the matter would be better discussed in person, say so and have the student show up for office hours. If you get a wall of text as an email, copy your students’ desire for abbreviations: “TL;DR” for “too long; didn’t read”

  6. Set up an email signature with your office hours and the location of your office. Don’t include your favorite inspirational quotes (especially not if there’s more than one!) and – please – don’t include any images. It’s not a problem to download those on the campus network, but try downloading that 400kb image on your mobile, repeatedly.

  7. Never ignore a student email, no matter how ridiculous it is. Not responding is akin to hanging up the phone without saying anything, except the other person won’t know if you have even received the mail. If you’re asked where book X can be bought, tell them to check the university bookstore. Some universities have an online system through which students can order all the books for their classes – if yours has that, point them there. (many people don’t know that’s available) Worst case, tell them you can’t help with that.

  8. Email programs support an “urgent” or “high importance” flag. If you use it for all of your messages, it defeats the point. This, in my experience, is mostly an issue with correspondence from the administration, but some professors are guilty of it as well. If there’s something happening two weeks from now and you don’t require a response, don’t use the flag.

  9. Don’t include a request for a “read notice,” unless it’s critical you know when the person read it. (in which case a phone call would likely be more appropriate) It’s the ultimate “asap,” except you can’t even pretend you only just read the email that evening. Make sure you set your email program to not automatically accept these receipt requests, as students may use them as well.

  10. I don’t have a number 10, so this one I dedicate to the English teachers/professors out there: If you have any time in your class available at all, dedicate it to proper email etiquette – for all our sakes. It appears that at least some students don’t know that what they’re doing annoys the rest of us, maybe they’re not yet beyond hope. There are plenty of resources online, including a short guide on Microsoft’s website.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

We Always Love the Give and Take of An Email Exchange. Of Course Sometimes It's Just Too Much. We've All Had This Student, Right?

Hi this is m--- f--- from your mon and weds 2:45-4:05 class i know there is a quiz on weds but is it on the 2 essays or is it both the essays and the chapter we red for today. Please get back to me asap so i know what to study.


Dear Mr. F---,
read the attached article [“To:, Subject: Why It's All About Me"] and then try your email again.
B--- T---


Dear prof T---,
I get your point in the email. I still would like to meet with you to discuss the 2 atrictles and there meaning to the course work. I want to start off with a good grade so i would appreciate it if we could meet sometime this week to discuss the articles. Thanks
M--- F---


Dear M---,

Thank you for your message. 1) You should always proofread your emails to your professors, especially if you want to get a great start to the semester as you have stated. There are at least five typos in your recent message. This is far more than a university student should allow in an email to a professor if he or she wants to be taken seriously as a student. 2) Unfortunately, I do not have office hours between now and Wednesday, and do not have additional times to meet because of the holiday. You are welcome to come by Wednesday morning from 9-10 to discuss any of the readings. Hope to see you then,
B--- T---


Dear prof T---,
Hi this is M--- F--- I know you said the 2 essays were going to be on the quiz on weds but iam not sure if you also said that what we covered in class will also be on the quiz. So if you could please email me back asap so I can get a good grade on the first quiz. Thanks

M--- F---


Dear M---,
I appreciate your concern for getting a good grade. However, your refusal to pay attention to my prior messages on the correct conduct for sending emails to your professors does not provide me with much incentive to continue responding to them.

B--- T---

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Turning What We Love Into Something To Sell

I plan to start the job search this semester, and I'm already filled with dread. The dread hasn't just begun now, of course. Since the beginning of my MA program, I was told there were no jobs, I'd be lucky to get something at a community college, I'd never see a tenure-track position.

Still, I love teaching and I love writing and literature, and that's been enough to see me through. That and continually putting intermediary steps between myself and the job at the end of it all.

No more steps, though. Here the job looms. Or the job search, should I say, since I'm not at all optimistic about my chances of actually getting anything. I've done all I can do. I've taught well and gotten good evaluations. I've published in a number of good places. I'll have very favorable recommendations. I can speak well about my work and teaching. But is that enough? For every job to which I'll apply, several hundred other people equally qualified as myself will also apply. How can I possibly be better than all of them? Any of them?

It's times like this that I wonder how exactly I've gotten here. I've forfeited my youth to become a writer and to try to convey my love of literature with students who look younger and younger every year. And if it were just about that -- writing and talking with others about what I love -- then it's been worth it. But of course it's not just about that. It's about turning what I love into something I can sell. The professor here in charge of professional development has told me to be honest in my teaching and research statements, but I don't think I can. If I were really honest, my entire teaching statement would be something like: "Please, just hire me! Give me a class and I'll teach it! What do you want me to say??? I'll say it! PLEASE!!"

On my good days, I can pretend pretty well that I have integrity.

I just look around and think my life has been a waste. In the four years I've been here, I've been in one relationship that's lasted a month. All my good friends have already graduated. I have no money. I've published a handful of stories that no one will ever read. And now I face the imminent prospect that all my work will leave me with less than what I already have -- no time to write, no intellectual stimulation, and no one to talk to who cares about anything I care about.

I'm trying to get the bleak out as much as I can. There's plenty left. I want to be able to go into class on Tuesday with the same passion that I always try to have. But I'm not sure I can. I'm not sure that the whole enterprise isn't a huge sham. It's a loss of innocence, of a sort. Can I ever get it back?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Yo, Yo. A Little More Time Cutting the Weeds Down, and A Little Less Time Smoking It.

Ok, let me break this down into usable parts…

Office: fairly decent. I share it with grad. students some sort of crazy-assed photography device and a shit load of book cases. My prof is a genetic guru for peaches. They have to take pictures of every damn load that comes down the pike. He could learn a thing or two from the art world; a white background for light colored objects = bad resolution. SIGH. Where is Mapplethorpe? Oh yeah he died. Gravitas baby, hold the skull in your hand. I only go here when I am mandated by the females of the 2nd floor or if my counterpart in the lab needs some assistance and I have been avoiding her recently. “Lookit me and at least one worker have already gotten a ticket parking down there, you gonna have to water the greenhouse til I get the farm truck working.”

The farm: where I really work. There is no electricity other than what we generate ourselves with the greatness of Onan. Potable water? I think so. I haven’t gotten the runs yet and nobody on the crew has either. I am brave. Toilet? I can drive you over to the gas station across the way if you gotta take a dump, but otherwise it is water a tree. Girls, bring your own toilet paper or suffer the rough texture of shop towels in a box. Spiders… I should probably mention them… if you have arachnophobia do not come to the farm, stay far away. I think my record for collected specimens is around 20. I even had a collection of webs between my kneecap and boot. WTF? Crab-like Orb Weavers can be picked up if you approach gently and allow them to clasp your finger, then flick them at the nearest available tree. If you grab them on the side then you are liable to get stuck like it was a thorn. Good luck and good mowing to you! Watch for juvenile black widows, their ass-ends have a funny spiral on them.

Meat of the issue: or what I do for a living. I am a minion. I was hired by a prof who needed someone to keep guard on the farm. I have only student workers. I have to train them to operate machinery that can kill them. If I don’t at least scare a fart out of them I haven’t tried hard enough.

“Look dammit, this sonofabitch can plant you in the ground. Imagine laying under the mowing deck holding the hand of your father as he says goodbye as you pass into the next plane.” That is my job. I am a glorified farm worker (Research Assistant). I spray bugs, wrestle iron implements and make a valiant attempt to keep the weeds at bay. My boss has a much more elaborate title. Prunus and Rosa Genetic Specialist. Short answer, he grows lots of peach seedlings and keeps about five out of 50k. And y’all in NY caint have none of them, we eat every single one south of the Red. He even made the Houston Chronicle a while back. He told me one time I didn’t want him working on the machinery because he breaks things. I tend to believe him.

I don’t have quizzes, there is no exam. There is only survival and a paycheck. I lost one already to a better paying gig, I better get used to that. Oh yeah, I lost one to another prof who offered the computer room instead of the dirt. He is the Onliest longhaired boy at Aggieland I have seen and he is Asian.

I think I live in an arcane realm. They aren’t really sure I even exist. They see the work but they are not sure I am really there. I like it that way, f’em, the fewer professors that know I exist the easier my job is to do.

I guess that is about it. You can tell your local Rep and your Senator to send more money. I gotta buy some new blades for the mower deck and I damn sure need to get some more workers. Be sure to wear good shoes, boots are better. If Tiffany shows up out at my farm I will sweat five pounds off her in an afternoon. I send a few to the chiropractor; the weed-eater is a hard taskmaster.