Wednesday, October 31, 2007
THE MAIL IS BLOWING UP - The Debate Over "Junior Faculty On The Move."
We've never had a flood of mail like this so soon after a post has appeared. The folks who want to lynch Professor Mushy Brain are not quite as plentiful as those who wish to throw him a parade, but it is close.
We will likely post some longer pieces tomorrow, but here is a sampling (ping pong style) of what we have already:
- Your brains are not mushy, my brother! What you say is exactly what I've been feeling for a very long time at my own college. I mentor countless junior faculty, opening up home and hearth to one and all, showing them that this fine college in a lovely town is a place where you can have a great life. But nearly everyone we hire is secretively running up our copier bill every September and October dying to find the "next" job. It has gotten to the point when a new hire comes in, almost nobody wants to mentor him or her. What always gives me such a bad feeling is when we hear that the same person who left last year is already looking again. How many reference letters am I expected to write for these colleagues who stay here a year, then somewhere else for a year, then somewhere else again?
- Being a junior faculty member means the university has made no long-term commitment to you, instead -- depending on the university -- you are on a series of 2-3 year, generally renewed, but not always, contracts until tenure time. I would argue that its worse if a junior faculty member isn't working hard to be attractive to another university. First, if they aren't attractive to another place, they probably won't be attractive enough for promotion and tenure. Second, tenure isn't guaranteed, so at some level you need to think about options.
- OMG! I know the blog you're talking about. I nearly spit my coffee out when I read your description of the "gumdrop unicorns." The blog in question is a hilarious look at the inner workings of a professor in some Midwest university. She's always talking about the damn cat, and her so-far fruitless search for a REAL LIVE BOY to share space with her and her feline counterpart. And, there are others, endless yammering bloggers who are every bit as selfish and as entitled as our worst students. "What about MY needs?" "If it's selfish to put my needs above the needs of students, then color me selfish." Indeed, honey, with a fucking glitter pen.
- If your junior faculty don't feel loyalty, blame yourself, not them. If you don't have enough resources to retain your talent, it's not the talent's fault.
- I fear I must side with the NOT-MUSHY-BRAINED poster from this morning. I probably wouldn't admit it, but I've had conversations on this very issue with a number of my colleagues, all of us sick of the transient junior faculty who speed through a year with us never taking a moment to recognize that for some of us, this "job" is a calling, and this college is indeed a place that we cherish and love. If any of them stayed anywhere long enough, they'd recognize the immense pleasure that comes from really being a part of a college, the life of its students, the faculty, the administrators. Just walking past these buildings every day makes me realize that what I do actually matters. Could I do it somewhere where it didn't rain so much? Sure. But the "one year and out" professors never learn the real beauty of any job. At least until they grow up.
- You are demanding a level of commitment and loyalty from your junior colleagues that they are not receiving from you in return. To put it in simple language: until you give your junior colleagues tenure, they get no loyalty from you--at least none that counts--so why should they swear undying fealty to you like some medieval serf?
- Today's "Gumdrop Unicorns" post won't be a very popular post, I predict, but it is a brave one and one that is right on the money. I was a "striver," a searcher, and I bounced around to 4 different t-t jobs before I finally realized that my career wouldn't be right until my mind was. I was a kid - that's the unadulterated truth of it. I never gave my college a chance. I stayed 1 year, 2 years, 1 year, and 1 year before ending up where I am now. Some health issues made me nervous about moving again, so I stayed in a position for 3 years. It made a world of difference. I began to think of the college is MY college, and I began to stop thinking of teaching as some "job," and started thinking of it as what I did, what I am. I know that I would have been happy in those other positions had I only given them a chance. But I watched my grad school friends always scrambling for greener grass, and so I did, too. I am so thankful I realized that I was running for no reason. I tell this story to every new faculty member, letting them know that I was like them, looking at the yearly job lists as if they were an FAO Schwarz catalog. And I tell them that when I got invested in my career, my college, my students, and my college family, my whole life came into focus.
- If you want junior faculty to be loyal (and since when did loyalty become a virtue operative in employee-employer relationships independent of contextual factors?), pay them more, or adopt preventive retention policies. If you don't like junior faculty getting counter-offers (because seeking and getting counter-offers are very different things), don't set the tenure bar so high that junior faculty become marketable. People respond to incentives; if they respond to an incentive (publication count, for instance) and find that they are now marketable because they have been productive, why wouldn't you expect them to go on the market?
POW: "Bright Gumdrop Unicorns in the Center of the Universe." Junior Faculty On the Move.
Most of the writers also wanted to make it clear that their teaching job was really "just a job," and not their whole life. There was a certain haughtiness to this, as if they themselves were the first group to discover joy in family, friends, and pinochle. I wonder if they're comfortable with their students seeing them as "just some guy who taught me Math"? Or would they be satisfied if their colleagues saw them as "just the lady who worked on the budget"? I hope not. Of course if they're only staying in their jobs for a couple of years, maybe that's all they are. Maybe they are easily replaceable. I know it's not true in my own department, where we do everything we can to nurture the life and work of our junior colleagues.
I can't believe not a one of you has been a senior enough member of a faculty to know the damage that this "casting around for a better gig" does to a department.The junior faculty of present day academe is made up of people like you, uncaring and selfish, not giving a shit about the students and colleagues you leave in the lurch with your pretty "look at me, love me, and miss me" announcement of departure in April of each year.
I've even offered support in the past to jumpy and nervous junior faculty so sure that there's a world of demand out there for their particular preciousness, because what else can we do? We have an endowment, trustees, the work of the university, the rest of the department, the students.
These all remain once you put your shit in boxes and go off to be unfulfilled in another institution that just will never love you as much as Mommy and Daddy. Oh, yes, it's "just" a job to us, too, but we're adults and we take it seriously. We're not children with overblown egos; we've long ago recognized that we're pieces of a larger puzzle, not a big bright gumdrop unicorn that rests in the center of the universe.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Someone's Not Going to Grin and Bear It. We Recommend Keeping Away from Sharp Objects.
I know the right attitude would be to slap a smile on my face and be the edutainment-pushing proffie-friendie you all think you are entitled to have. Instead, let's just realize that we in this class share a deep, soul-destroying truth: we'd all rather be somewhere else, pretty much anywhere else, than in this class.
A Subtle Pedagogical Lesson For That Certain Student.
Friday, October 26, 2007
One Instructor's Set of Guidelines For Walking the College Tightrope Without Dropping Your Books or Beer.
- College is all about adaptation. Pay attention to the style of instruction your professor uses. If they are close readers, approach readings and assignments by asking "what are the nuts and bolts here, and how do they work?" If your professor emphasizes discussion, read with an eye towards the questions that this particular reading poses. This will make you both a more successful and more efficient reader.
- Time allocation is key. If a particular subject is difficult or just plain uninteresting, it's going to take more time to prepare for class than if you are in tune with the material. This means you can’t avoid painful required classes and then lump them into a single semester--a recipe for disaster. Instead, balance challenging classes with those that you have more of a knack for or interest in.
- A little goodwill goes a long way. You are not too cool for school--this is a toxic attitude and will generate animosity in your prof, meaning that when you screw up, they won't feel like taking the considerable trouble to be flexible. Participating in class, on the other hand, generates a great deal of goodwill. We are constantly looking for students who interact positively with us, and if you find yourself in a tough spot, we will be more favorably disposed to helping you.
- Empathize with your professor. The common complaint that a professor "thinks this is the only class I have" also goes the other way: students make the mistake of thinking that they each individually dictate the terms of the class. We can't teach 20 different students in individual ways during a single class--we're human beings! This also means that you have to use the golden rule when dealing with your prof and treat them the way you would want to be treated. If you wouldn't want them emailing you at midnight asking you to do something for them the next day, then you shouldn't either. If you wouldn't like them zoning out or falling asleep when you talk to them, then maybe you should be alert in class. And as you would ask that they respect your privacy, you should respect theirs. Much of the complaints here at RYS stem from the frustration that this mutual relationship is ignored by students.
- By and large, colleges are not vocational in nature. Just because you will not use a particular skill in your work life (and keep in mind that what you want to do at 18 may change radically) doesn't mean it isn't interesting or worthwhile. Think about yourself not as a future employee of X, and instead as a person with broad horizons, who has the potential to do and be many different things--because this is how your professor sees his or her students, for the most part.
- If you screw up (and you will, we all have), be prepared for the worst but hope for the best. If you communicate to your professor that you take responsibility for your actions but would like any help they might be able to provide, you will be astounded by how willing they are to give that help. If, on the other hand, you assume that they are obligated to give you second and third chances, you will find that assumption quickly disproven. Professors, by and large, become good judges of character through years of interaction with students. They can tell when a screw-up is an honest mistake and an aberration, and when it is part of a larger pattern of behavior.
Slugs and Jerks and Apostrophes. Oh My!
Thursday, October 25, 2007
"We're Still Just a Bunch of Kids." A Student Waxes on Adulthood.
I've noticed a popular debate on RYS that is somewhat semantic in nature. It has to do with that one word, that high-powered word… we students throw it around expecting fanfares (or at least more consideration) to follow, and professors toss is sarcastically back when our whining disproves its application to us: adult. Why, what does it mean? Ask Dictionary.com!
a*dult [uh-duhlt, ad-uhlt]
- having attained full size and strength; grown up; mature
If the large and Neanderthal-like boys (men?) who barely fit in the doorway are any indication, I'd say this one can definitely apply to college students.
- of, pertaining to, or befitting adults
I thought we weren't allowed to use a word in its own definition?
- intended for adults, not suitable for children
What, like, heeheeheesex?
- a person who is fully grown or developed or of age
Fully grown - as in the first definition very possible. Developed? Enough to have a lot of loud sex, apparently.
- a full grown animal or plant
Sometimes we do seem rather like them, I suppose.
- a person who has attained the age of maturity as specified by law
Boom. And that's the issue.
Arrogant and self-absorbed? Slackers, shirkers, and sleepers? Of course we are! We're adults! We finally have a legitimate claim to all the exciting freedoms and privileges that we came to resent in our parents every time they told when we had to be home, when he had to finish our homework, when we could eat and what. Furthermore, the accompanying responsibilities that are meant to sober us up, they aren't essential to our survival yet. The sole requirements placed upon us pertain to academic excellence, and we're already experts at getting by with as little work as possible. Failure to live up to our responsibilities doesn't have dire enough consequences to make us try harder - for the most part, someone else is paying for our living expenses, our housing, our tuition. Nothing is real, yet. We're just a bunch of kids, living together with no idea how to cook, do laundry, or go grocery shopping without buying more potato chips than real food.
Disdainful and needy, at the same time? Of course we are! Of course we scorn the valuable information you give us freely and comprehensively, and then follow you around like incompetent puppies asking for special treatment and more, more, more attention and help. We've graduated high school, gone through application hell to get here, to get into college. All our lives, this was the goal our parents made us work for, college was the reason to do homework or to join the Science Club, college was the ultimate end goal for our parents, and therefore, for us. We've just finished celebrating and saying, guess what Mom and Dad, I made it! And what's this you're telling us? We have to keep doing work, and "make it" all over again?
And on the other side, our professors - the ones stuck teaching the huge intro level course - face year after year of crazy, ecstatic, self-satisfied, newly-freed juveniles, and they have to be wondering, did we get the age of adulthood right? Are we really supposed to treat these people with respect, when they skip class and forget exam dates, forget to shower and wear pajamas all day, when they still waste class time giggling at the word 'penis'?
By law, it is true, we are adults. Does that automatically mean we're mature and that we deserve to be treated like rational, responsible, perfectly capable human beings? Dear lord, no. Eighteen is one day older than seventeen. Just in the way we still need to learn what a derivative is or how to write an effectively persuasive paper (that is why we're taking your classes, isn't it?), we're still learning how to take responsibility, we're still learning how to show humility, how to interact professionally, how to manage our time when it's left up to us. It's completely unreasonable to expect, fresh out of childhood, suddenly away from parents, and out of substandard public education, that we'll suddenly be able to exhibit these skills.
And on the other hand? It's completely unreasonable for us, as brand spanking new adults, fresh out of the factory and new to the grind, to demand respect and equal footing with all the veterans. And yet we still demand it. In a few semesters - and you probably won't know us then - we'll truly begin to grow up, we'll being to be responsible and respectable. But as for right now? Like I said - we're still just a bunch of kids.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
If They All Expect the "Gentleman's B," Couldn't They At Least Dress Better?
As an example, one student, upon receiving her zero, actually told me I wasn't allowed to give a zero. I informed said snowflake that I could award a zero…and then promptly proved to her why she deserved it. Right there, after class, I quizzed her on the material to be assessed on the assignment. She had NO CLUE what I was talking about. You see, little snowflake arrived 10 minutes late for the class this material was taught in, decided she didn't need to pay attention, and web-surfed for the remainder of the lecture.
A Plagiarism Policy as An Object Lesson in Customer Service.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The Complex Nature of Two-Faced Sammy.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
A Little Saturday Smackdown.
I have decided to respond to each line of the semi-literate and offensive email you sent to your very capable teaching assistant. My comments will demonstrate that I support her actions and decisions in every way.
But before I convey my response, may I remind you of something you already know: Rather generously, ALL students in this class have been given the opportunity to revise their essays so that THIS TIME, they might use proper citation form. Those of you who take advantage of this opportunity will lose only 10 points (out of 100), instead of receiving the Fs you actually earned on your first attempts at writing an academic essay. Given this coddling, you dare to whine?
“I got the email about citations and I totally disagree with the way that this is being handeled.”
Your “disagreement” is your prerogative, but means absolutely nothing to me. In addition, your spelling is atrocious.
“Its not anything against your teaching, but I feel that if so many students messed this up it cannot be a issue of not doing the assignment correctly, but rather a lack of communication and teaching.”
I do not care what you “feel.” Your teaching assistant explained citation rules in your discussion section, displayed these rules on an overhead projector, and posted citation guidelines on the website for this course. She carefully observed what I call the “Three Time Rule For Undergraduates.” I will clarify this rule for you: Tell undergraduates EVERYTHING three times, and hope beyond hope that one of these iterations will be retained. Her meticulous adherence to this rule is, to me, sufficient evidence of her ability to communicate, and her ability to teach. I daresay that the fact that so many students “messed this up” is, rather, evidence of the inability of most of your peers to follow simple, clear, thrice-repeated directions.
“We are all smart students here at [Middling University] if we weren't we wouldn't be going here.”
If you were actually smart, you wouldn’t make such patently false assertions. If you were smart, you’d know where commas belong. If you were smart, you’d surely be going to a much better school. I suggest you take a look at the admissions office’s published statistics regarding admitted students. Your SATs and ACTs are average. Your GPAs are average. The only thing remarkably above-average about you as a group are the incomes of your families. The degree to which you all have swallowed unquestioningly the administration’s compensatory puffery never ceases to bewilder me.
“I feel that not just myself, but everyone should not be punished for a horrible effort at communicating the assignment.”
While I am able to decipher the meaning behind this wretched syntax, again, I still do not care what you “feel.” No one was “punished.” I did not take a cat-o-nine-tails to any of you, despite the occasional temptation to do so. As a matter of fact, you were all offered the opportunity to rewrite and resubmit your essays. And despite your overweening sense of entitlement, everyone in this class shall receive the grade he or she EARNS. This is how it works, at least in my classes.
“I hope you read this and talk to whoever you have to try and help your students out. I am not paying $30,000 dollars a year to be cheated out of a grade.”
Your teaching assistant did “talk to whoever.” I am “whoever.” And while I seriously doubt you are personally paying ANYTHING to attend this school, I am sure your parents are. (By the way, if they’re paying full freight, they’re getting rooked.) And if you dare ask them to contact me in order to amplify your pathetic complaint, I will refer them directly to the Dean, as rules of student privacy require. As to your accusation that we are somehow “cheat[ing you] out of a grade,” your final sentence again betrays unbelievable arrogance, and an astonishingly puerile level of self-involvement. Let me put this as clearly as I can:
Your parents’ money does not entitle you to ANYTHING in the way of grades.
Your teaching assistant and I are not paid to give you grades, nor can we “cheat" you "out of” a grade. You earn your own grades, you arrogant little twerp.
You have been given the undeserved gift of an opportunity to rewrite, and to provide COMPLETE, CORRECT, and CONSISTENT citations, and thus to improve said grade.
Finally, we suggest you temper your infantile petulance and show some gratitude to your professor and to your underpaid and overworked teaching assistant, particularly since in our shared inclination toward kindness and mercy, we are refraining from squashing you like a bug.
Good Intentions and Student Tragedy.
A former colleague was approached in 1998 by a teary-eyed student in his seminar. The student had missed a couple of weeks of work, and he explained that he had been in a car accident with his twin brother. The brother had died in the accident. He pleaded with my colleague to allow him back in the seminar. My colleague let him return to class and helped him make up the work he had missed. The student did well in the class.
The following year the student asked my colleague for a letter of recommendation for medical school. My colleague agreed and in his letter he devoted a long paragraph to how this student had dealt with this horrible tragedy. Then my colleague got a note from the dean. During an admissions interview an interviewer had asked the student to say a few words about his brother. "Oh, he's doing great" the student exclaimed."He's starting at Goldman-Sachs in September." Busted.
The university decided to expel the student a month shy of graduation, and of course medical school was out of the question. The parents sued the university and my colleague had to give a deposition because he was named in the suit. The next day the student stepped in front of a passing Amtrak train. The suit was dismissed, but it very easily could have ruined my colleague's entire career. It certainly contributed to ending the kid's life.
So now whenever a student approaches me with a tragedy my stock response is: "I am very sorry to hear that. I am not a mental health professional so I am not equipped to help you. Here is a list of mental health resources available to students through the health center. Please have someone from the health center contact me so that we can make arrangements to help you finish your work."
I'm not being cynical, just rational. The moral of the story is that the best of intentions can lead to unintended consequences that really are tragic. I don't assume that the kid is lying. I just acknowledge that I am not trained to deal with the situation.
For the more cynically inclined, another colleague of mine always pulls the student's home address from the registrar and sends a condolence card to the family. Only once has she received a thank you note. In every other instance she has received either an apology or an angry phone call from the putatively dead parent. But the student always drops the class immediately, which solves the real problem.
More info on this story.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Someone Offers To Draw A Line For The Facebook Dilemma.
I think the professor described in the post is crossing a line. As in real life, I would never be "friends" with my students on Facebook -- perhaps with alum, but not with students. I think that kind of relationship, even if the professor can keep it straight, is potentially confusing to students. They may end up not sure how to interact with the professor in class, and certainly future students -- who have heard how "cool" the professor is on Facebook -- may be confused if the classroom version doesn't add up to what's online.
The other, more pedagogical, problem with heavy use of Facebook between students and faculty, is that it can allow professors to be far too available to students. I've heard of people using Facebook as an extension of IM, so that students can quickly ask questions and get a response. But honestly, I don't WANT my students to post questions about MLA citation on my wall two hours before the paper is due -- not because it crosses a boundary, but because I want them to be learning to find the answer on their own. I don't want my students to know that I'm updating my profile right this very second and therefore could be poked so they can ask what they missed in class today, simply because I don't want them to get the idea that I will always drop everything to deal with their problems. I won't, and when that day comes, I don't want my student to have thought I would always be accessible.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Helping Our Students Wrestle With Tragedy and Depression.
While I completely agree with the assessment of what the student needs to be doing, I would also play Devil's advocate a bit: maybe, even if the student is ultimately going to fail the class--or, as likely, come for a couple weeks and then drift away again--maybe she needs someplace to be for a few hours a day that's not at her mother's bedside.
In my (large) classes it wouldn't be particularly disruptive for a student to show up mid-semester. The grading policies preclude makeup exams, but this is one of the situations for which we could justify dropping the grade on a missed exam, or even two. Realistically, a student walking into my course at this point in the semester is going to stand almost no chance of earning a passing grade, because of the cumulative nature of the material, and yadda yadda; I would make sure to say that to the student up front, and I would encourage her to consider withdrawing for the semester, even talking to her advisor and seeing if there's some way she can get some money back, and re-enrolling for a later term; but I would also say, if she wants to try, she can. This student may have been putting off going to classes one day at a time, and may have just figured out that she's running out of days--things can catch up with you that way when you're in the midst of a personal crisis, especially if you're also dealing with depression--and she may need a couple of days or weeks to adjust to the idea that it's too late for this term. It's hard for a person to just suddenly turn her self-image around 180 degrees; to her it will feel like "Yesterday I was a college student, today I'm not," even though anyone looking from outside could see that really she hasn't been a college student for weeks.
While it's frustrating on my side to spend a lot of mental energy and time on a student who is very likely not going to complete my course, it may pay off in the future, in having her feel it's worthwhile coming back later, when she no longer has the obligation that is currently consuming her life. I wouldn't want her to shut the door on her future education because I turned her away when she was vulnerable.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Wrestling with Student Tragedy.
Sometimes, tragic events in students' lives can't be overcome, and the best advice--indeed only advice--we can give is to drop the class, withdraw from the university, and find some activity more suitable to the situation.
I know this sounds cold and unforgiving, but consider the email I received last week from a student who has attended only a single class session this semester. Her reason for missing the first five weeks of the semester? She had to attend to her dying mother. Now, five weeks into the semester, she wants to leave her mother (still terminal and not yet dead) and return to school. In her email she promises to "make up" all the work that she has missed. She seems unbothered by the fact that my lectures and in-class discussions cannot be reclaimed. And she seems quite confident in her ability to keep up with the new material in the class even as she is working to complete the readings and assignments from the last five weeks.
She also seems to believe that education is not cumulative and that the material we covered in the first third of the semester won't be critically important to understanding the material we cover in the remaining weeks of the semester. Finally, she seems to think that she can do the missing work and keep up with the new work while she is grappling with the impending death of her mother.
Forget the fact that this student is treating me like a well-paid grading machine, my only real purpose to stamp evaluative letters and comments on the work my students hand in. Surely my role as a teacher is irrelevant. She doesn't need my instruction, only my judgement on the work she hands in for a grade. This of course speaks to her woeful misunderstanding of how education works, but this isn't what bothers me most about her email. What bothers me is that this student doesn't realize that trying to complete a course while her mother is in the process of dying is fundamentally a bad decision.
Her proper place is with her mother and family, spending as much time with her mother as she can in these final days. It's doubtful that she is in the emotional and psychological state to really engage with her courses and reap the full benefits of her education. She might manage a C in this class, but what will she really gain in the process? Isn't she better advised to withdraw from the course (and the university) and attend to this personal crisis?
Saturday, October 13, 2007
"Too Goddamn Many Ph.D.s"
It seems like everyone’s ignoring the main issue driving experiences like Helga’s: there are just too goddamn many Ph.Ds (and masters) degrees out there. People like Helga take pay that would be insulting to the guys who work at the gas station because she knows damn well that there’s a line of other adjuncts who would gladly take the assignment if she refused. Supply and demand, baby. If there are too many fourth-tier universities are pumping out people who have no job skills besides teaching Philosophy courses, the pay for Philosophy adjuncts will go down.
What’s the solution? Maybe it’s reducing the number of graduate programs out there. I suspect that many bottom tier Ph.D. and masters programs exist not to turn out capable scholars and teachers, but because they allow the university to take advantage of the only kind of labor that is even cheaper than adjuncts: graduate teaching assistants. Graduate students at these programs start out as exploited graduate TAs and graduate a half-step up the food chain to become exploited adjunct professors. I’m sure that such programs have produced the occasional excellent scholar and teacher who beats the odds and gets tenure. But it’s dishonest and immoral for these programs to tell potential students that they will be trained to be scholars. They are recruited to have the life wrung out of them as graduate students and then passed on to other institutions to have the life wrung out of them as adjuncts.
At the very least, undergrad advisors owe any student who wants to apply to such a program a good hard dose of reality. If a student asks you for a letter of recommendation for the History Ph.D. program at North-North-Eastern Dinky State School, sit them down. Tell them about people like Helga. Ask them to think really hard about their commitment to the discipline. At the very least ask them to look at the program’s placement record (and if the school isn’t forthcoming with that information, ask them to take this as a sign). I have no doubt that a lot of people make a good life out of adjuncting, because they love teaching or because they love the subject so much that they can’t imagine a career that doesn’t involve it or because they love pretending they are Jeff Gordon racing around from job to job. But I suspect that a lot of other people wake up at the age of 30 with a degree that over- or under- qualifies them for everything except adjuncting. That stinks, both for them and for the other adjuncts whose wages are lowered to subsistence level by the flooded market.
We've got such a vast pool of things to pull from, we thought we might give you a sampling of the mail that has been coming in since yesterday morning, in addition to a couple of longer posts we'll post later.
- I used to be a freeway flyer adjunct before I got on the tenure-track gravy train & all I can say is that Helga must have a good crystal meth dealer because that is the only thing that could animate the corpse that is madly dashing around teaching 11 courses. I once taught six and it nearly killed me. To answer your questions: No, it’s not fair to the students & it’s not fair to – or good for – Helga. Helga’s situation, though, is the reductio ad absurdum of the system that has developed over the last thirty years in which college administrators cut one corner after another and patch the mess that’s left with adjunct hires. But self-exploiters like Helga don’t help. Helga, Just Say No!
- I’m also an adjunct in a large metro area, and I understand how Helga could end up teaching 11 classes. There’s always a university or two begging on my college’s doorstep for additional adjuncts to pick up a class or two. It’s hard to resist that extra money just waving itself in my face. That said, my first reaction was to think, “My GOD, that woman’s INSANE!!!!” My second, more reasoned, reaction was, “Gosh, I hope she’s teaching something with an easier grading load, like math, rather than grading tons of English papers!” My third thought, having actually given it some thought, is “Well, yeah, that’s totally doable.” Although I have no idea how she’s getting from campus to campus that quickly or keeping up with the lesson plans, as long as it’s not too many different classes and they use the same book/books, it sounds reasonable and workable to me.
- We’ve found that the adjuncts that do this normally have so many shortcuts to make it doable for them that the students are “breezed” through—i.e. Large Group Labs, lab experiments done as a demonstration and the students work up the data as a group, no homework, few if any quizzes, minimal exams (that aren’t tough enough to distinguish A’s from B’s). The students get exactly what they want (large grade, small effort), the tenured faculty get what they want (a body in the classroom that is not them), and the administration gets what it wants (large volumes of students pushed through with minimum pay-scale instructor). Everyone wins… except education.
- Adjuncts are essential economically for colleges today. If it weren't for us, enrollment would have to stagnate and drop, or tuition would increase beyond ridiculous. Even working as hard as I do, I barely make half the salary of an untenured full time instructor at any of the colleges where I teach, with no benefits. I have an office at one of the universities, not that I have time to sit in it often and mull over my fate! I'm not complaining, whining or even bitter. I'm actually happy - just tired.
- I think “Helga” is probably pretty delusional to think that she is able to teach 11 classes and give her all for each of her special snowflakes. I also had course load of 11, and I wanted to rip my own eyes out! I was constantly reading and grading papers, the only “me” time I had was on the toilet. I even dreamed about ways to better grade papers and had student comments, questions, and lame-ass answers/excuses plaguing my dreams. I know I was breezing through my grading just to get it done and be able to sleep a few hours a night. I also know my in-class students weren’t getting my best because I was so freaking tired all the time! I got stellar evaluations also. I don’t know if it’s because I was not as picky with my grading or I am just that fabulous of a person, but I have a sneaking suspicion of what the answer is. On top of that, speaking as a professional in the field of psychology, it doesn’t look like she is devoting enough time to herself to be a balanced individual. We cannot live through our students and work every waking minute. Life is short and if you only half-ass your way through an insane schedule, not only are you cheating your students, but also yourself.
- Here we go again with the exploited adjunct issue. I AM an adjunct, by the way, but after years of whining and crying "exploitation," I have come to realize that adjuncts have created their own sorry state of affairs by becoming academic whores, willing to turn academic tricks every semester for peanuts. Adjuncts will finally pull their heads out of a very dark (and dank) spot when we demand certain rights and perks afforded to our tenured "peers": 1) Organize into STRONG unions; 2) Demand fair pay for the excellent job most of us do; 3) Demand pro-rated benefits, such as health care, retirement, professional travel, and education; 4) Insist on two-year contracts; if enough adjuncts do this, then colleges will be forced to negotiate fair contracts for their part time instructors; 5) Insist on reasonable office space. Broom closets and cars are unacceptable; 6) Refuse to be marginalized; we have the numbers to back us up. Speak up and out--and often.
- Oh, lord. I thought I had it bad at five. The reaction I get from most people when I tell them "five" is one of horror - how can I do that much? And I've only got them spread around three colleges. I don't know how Helga manages it. How does she keep the classes straight? How does she manage to be at the right place at the right time? I've had two horrible days where I realized I had the wrong books, on the wrong campus, at the wrong time. More classes would only compound the error. Also, surely her numerous departments would disapprove. I spend a ridiculous amount of time "covering my tracks." All three of my schools frown on those who teach at more than one place. (Of course, obeying their rules would leave me homeless and hungry and at the mercy of collection agencies.) I don't think my students are getting my best teaching effort. I often leave class with the feeling of regret that I can't linger to talk to the one or two fresh-eyed students who really have things to contribute. I can't put the time in to preparing for the classes that I would like to. I won't change textbooks because there is no time for me to review new ones. But given the way adjuncts are paid...and treated...is there any way our students can get "our best effort"?
- Bless Highway Helga's long-suffering little heart. By accepting such conditions, she is a huge part of the problem, and if she expects sympathy, it won't be forthcoming from THIS quarter. This adjunct, by the way, tried to organize her part time peers; however, no one wanted to "rock the boat." The hell with you all; I hope you LOVE wallowing in your self-misery.
Friday, October 12, 2007
"Eleven." At Any Point In Any Day, Highway Helga Is Either Driving or Grading.
Reasonable. We're Always Knocked Out When Someone Just Walks In And Is Reasonable. The "Screw 'Em" Post.
What do you know about the student who's making the comment? If it's a D to C student who achieved that distinction by giving you lazy work (or no work at all), disregard whatever they say completely. They blame you for not gifting them with grades they haven't earned. They will not be happy with you even if you show up at their dorm and do all their laundry for them.
You should also disregard any student comments on evaluations that complain that the class is "too hard." That comment is meaningless, unless no other students the class were able to earn Bs and As. The way I see it, if some students were able to make higher grades, then higher grades were possible and the class was not "too hard." It's the students who did not make As and Bs who were doing something wrong then; not me.
Comments that you are "boring" should also be taken with a grain of salt. You are there to teach, not entertain. Are you boring, or is the subject boring? Let's face it: some of the stuff we teach is boring. I have taught research methods several times, and short of tap dancing through the lessons, I can think of no way to make that more interesting. Sometimes, the material is what it is. And quite often, the stuff we find fascinating, many students will find duller than watching paint dry. There is nothing you can do about that. Don't concentrate on the snoozer in the back row. Concentrate on the student in the front row who is awake and attentive. He obviously finds what you have to say less boring.
Finally, face the fact that your class may indeed be "a waste of time" for some students. How many classes did you take as a student that have proved to be little more than filler in your schedule? I took that Music Appreciation class because I had to take something in that area to fulfill my requirements, and that seemed the least painful. But, I barely remember it now and it has brought no enrichment to my life. However, it was not the professor's fault that I did not find it useful to my life or my major. Those were the University requirements. I think most students recognize that it is not our fault that they have to take classes unrelated to their majors. I'm sure few hold it against us personally. And the ones that do? Screw 'em.
Academic Haiku Friday!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
This Guy Is Just Dying For Us to Call Him an Asshole. So, Okay. You're an Asshole.
We Finish Up Our Series on Weakness With These Quick Blasts of Negative Energy.
- I talk too much when I'm nervous. I'm always nervous. I ramble. I get really excited about things my students don't care about, like, or understand. I'm a nerd, a dork, a geek. I care too much about what these kids think of me. I know I shouldn't. I suspect I grade more kindly the students I like, and make no exceptions for the students I don't. And I might favor the girls over the boys. I'm self-conscious, needy, insecure, talky, naive, and judgmental. In other words: the weaknesses I have as a prof are the same weaknesses I have as a person.
- I've stopped spending enough time on grading. I just give rather general grades to anything that comes in, basing it - a little bit - on whether the student is a pain in the ass or not.
- I've been teaching for ten years now, and have a stock set of assignments and lesson plans that work beautifully. That's caused me to be incredibly lazy. I don't prepare for class anymore, except for photocopying old stuff. It never occurs to me to try something new, or order a new book. This term a book I like to use (and that I have a series of assignments for) went out of print. The book store couldn't find it anywhere, and so I used a personal relationship I have with my department chair to buy 60 copies of the thing off of eBay and Half.com. I lend the books to my students and at semester end I'm going to take them back in and give them to my class in the Spring, too.
- I'm always late to class. It ranges from 5-7 minutes. I know that adds up to a couple of hours a semester, but I really give my all for the time I am there, and the students don't seem to mind.
- I have no ability to tell if a student is feeding me a line of B.S. or not. And when I guess, I often find out later I was wrong. I denied one kid a chance at a re-take because of his "lame" excuse about a terrible car accident on the highway to the college. Two days later I read about a 25 car wreck on the same highway, at the time and on the day as the student claimed. That student never looked at me the same, and I'm sure I lost any chance of helping him.
- I didn't want it to happen, but since I got tenure, I spend more time on my own projects than I do on classroom stuff. I say, let the junior faculty carry the load.
- I have become increasingly sensitive to the opinions of my students over the years. If I have 90 "best class I ever took! greatest professor I ever had!" comments and one "unbelievably dull, could be a great subject if someone else taught it," I will obsess over that one comment all summer long and feel miserable well into the next year.
- I'm a happily married female professor, and I find I favor the young girls in my class over their loutish and ill-mannered male counterparts. I don't want this to happen, and I constantly try to find a way around it, but the "boys" in my classes behave horribly, arrive in soiled and smelly clothing, and either treat me like their mother, or stare at my tits as if they were reading the fine print on the back of a Red Bull.
- I resent how poorly my chair and Dean treat me on a personal level, and I've begun to take it out on my students. They're no great prizes, but they deserve better than they're getting.
- My greatest weaknesses – I have more than one – as a teacher are that I’m pretty disorganized and I improvise too much. I also, in my enthusiasm – or is it to cover the silences? – talk too much. Even after twenty-five years, I have not learned to let the silences fester long enough to make the silent students squirm. When I go on & on, I’m covering for them, protecting them from confronting their own ignorance. Do I do it because I want them to like me, or because I love them? That changes from day to day, I think.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
What's Wrong With Being Cool For the Cool Kids?
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
No More the Academic Romantic.
You may ask why I don't get out, make a difference, do something else. Well there are a number of reasons, I guess. I don't have any other marketable skills. The hours are terrific. I work 5 days a week, but it's never all day. My pay is substantially less than my brothers - who are a plumber, a banker, and the assistant manager of a grocery store - but it pays for my cable, mortgage, groceries, and a modest amount of fun.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Scenes From a Midterm.
- Student e-mail: “I forgot to get a blue book for the test tomorrow morning. I just wanted to let you know that I might be a few minutes for the test, if the bookstore doesn't open early. Thanks.”
- Faceless high schooler: “I forgot to get that blue book. Do you have any extras?”
- Three sorority sisters, in unison: “Whaddaya do if we don’t have a blue book?”
- Compulsively smiling coed: “I completely forgot my blue book!”
- Former valedictorian: “Where do we get the blue books?”
- Muddled half-dressed coed: “Umm…I don’t have that blue sheet thing…”
- Stoned young male voter: “What if I don’t have a blue book?”
- Total stranger: “Are we having an exam today?”
- Future Jesuit priest: “Exactly what do you mean by ‘blue book’?”
- Future lawyer: “I don’t have my blue book WITH me, but…”
Saturday, October 6, 2007
What Else Can This Be Called: "The Spitter."
Friday, October 5, 2007
The Fuddy-Duddy Post + a Quick Response!
I have read with some interest the endless caterwauling on this site about students and their entitlement. What students are entitled to is my best, my best as a professor, my best as a writer, and my best as a mentor. They aren't entitled to the kind of treatment they apparently get from their parents, friends, maids, and handservants, however.
In the 25 years I've been at my current post, I've watched the administration turn over and over in attempts to keep students happy. Not once in those years can I imagine a similar maneuver to please those of us who teach.
Long tenured and soon to retire, I don't give a tinker's dam what students think they need or want. I'm going to trust a lifetime in this discipline to guide me.
Those of who you are all tied up in knots about student evaluations and your own likability, might find comfort in another field. Why it matters so much to so many of you (via the reports I read on this blog) is perplexing. The colleagues of mine who also are of a certain age certainly don't worry about it, not one whit.
I do my job well. I still have a love for the field. I instruct and guide and those in the room who care and who work, learn. If it's old fashioned, then so be it.
I'm a third year professor at a large state school in the South, and I want to say that Prof. Fuddy-Duddy is my new hero.
I have struggled with my profession ever since grad school, and his post today has had a freeing effect on me. I'm going to trust myself, my knowledge, my 20 years of college, and my experience in the classroom. I've jumped through the necessary hoops for a PhD in my field from a good school, and - although I've been cowed into not admitting this in the past - I know what I'm doing!
Prof. Fuddy-Duddy's simple and elegant explanation is the fuel that's going to keep me going in a job that I've questioned since the beginning. His note about being tied up by "likability" concerns cut me deep. I've been so worried about my students approving of me, liking me, that I've catered to their concerns, the concerns and needs of 18 year olds who simply don't have the background I have in the study of History.
I have their needs in mind. I want them to succeed. I want them to learn and be better students and citizens, and I've been prepared for this job. I am going to do it the way I think it needs to be done starting today. No fear, that's how I feel. Prof. Fuddy-Duddy has taught me today, just like I'm sure he's taught thousands of students in his long career.
If you could, please send a shout-out to him for me.
Our "Go-To" Student Arrives Just in Time To Save Our Sanity, And To Make a Request To Meet Him Halfway.
Now, let's get something straight. There are students who have a lot to say and very little to contribute. They make your day suck and they don't make mine any better either. But trust me when I say I know the difference between a go-to student and a never-shuts-up-even-though-he-has-nothing-to-say student. I know I'm not the only go-to student around. Once in a rare while there are a couple of us in a class. Then we can share duties, look less like over-eager spaniels, and you can really relax for a change. I'm sure there are many classes with no go-to students. I don't know what those feel like, because I've obviously never been in one, but I imagine they drag like a sack full of hammers.
So now that I've identified myself, let me make my request. Meet me halfway, okay? Enough with the bitching and moaning about how all of your students are uninspired and don't hang on your every word. Did someone once tell you that life is like a box of chocolates? They were lying. All chocolates are good. Just some are better than others. Life isn't like that and in fact you have to eat a lot of shit along with the chocolate. Your great achievements in scholarship, and your PhD, don't insulate you from this basic reality of life. Maybe you hoped they would, but then you learned otherwise. Now you're bitter and you spend your time on Rate Your Students feeling all sorry for yourself. Well, get over it.
Meet me halfway, that's all I ask. I'll do my bit to interject some life into the classroom when you pause hopefully for discussion, and you do your bit by doing your damn job. Come prepared, with a reasonably positive (or failing that, at least professional) demeanor. Don't half-ass your way through things just because you wanted the chocolate orange crème and somehow ended up with a cashew nut instead. The students who aren't paying attention to you anyway may not notice, when you stop trying, but I do. The very people you count on most, to relieve the tedium of your most boring lectures, are the few who notice when you figure it doesn't matter anymore.
And by the way. Yes, I know other students think I'm lame for participating in your class, and for giving a fuck about what you teach. And yet I still do. Unless you live all alone in a hole underground, you surely understand that whether it's fair or unfair, reasonable or otherwise, it sucks for me to know the large majority of my fellow students are going to scorn me for my contributions, sooner than appreciate them. So pony up in return. It's the least you can do.