Monday, December 17, 2007

Becca From Baltimore Peers Into Our Empty Soul.

I am an undergraduate, and I wanted to point out a few things I have noticed while perusing the site. First of all, there are a surprisingly frequent number of grammar and spelling errors. Considering a number of posters complain about this from their students, that highly educated people are writing these posts, and that other highly educated people are proofreading them, the number I have seen is rather high. I probably don’t even see all of them, as it is easy to miss a typo when the meaning is still clear. If people who care so much about grammar and spelling mess it up, is it really surprising that students do too? I know that I can easily miss typos when I read over my work, partially because I know how it’s supposed to read. In fact, there are probably errors in this post. I understand how reading an email with multiple and blatant errors is annoying, but perhaps you could cut students some slack for typing then vs. than, or for vs. to.

I get it. You don’t care about how hard I work on my paper. If it’s not cogent, analytical, and well-organized, I don’t get a good grade. That’s fine. I agree to a system where only the final product of my work counts. But I need you to agree to it as well. That means no complaining that students don’t understand how hard you professors work. If the final product (conveying the material) is all that counts, then it doesn’t matter if you hold office hours every single hour of the day if you can’t effectively communicate the material. (I understand that different individuals write different posts, but I see so much of both sides that I suspect a number of individuals think their professorial effort should count, but that students’ effort should not.) Also, if the final product is all that matters, then why do you care if students skip class? It will presumably hurt them in the creation of the final product, or if it doesn’t, then either they compensated for the missing material or are simply very smart. If you want students to stop assuming that effort will bump their grade up, then perhaps you should stop punishing others for lack of effort.

Yes I AM qualified to judge you as a professor. To qualify this statement, I mean that I am able to evaluate your job performance in the classroom and in any other situations where you are trying to facilitate my learning. You might be the most insightful researcher in your field, but that doesn’t make you good at teaching others. I should note that I have skipped fewer than five classes in my 3.5 years of undergraduate, and that two were for a job interview. I do the reading, I’m attentive in class, I work on the homework, etc. I also know many others who work similarly (Note: I am at a rather selective school where the students are more concerned with their school work than most. Understand that I don’t reflect the average undergraduate, but I still believe this point has merit.) When I, and my fellow classmates, fail to grasp a concept, it might just be about you. If we all find your lectures boring, it might just be about you. If you get 200 comments asking you to please slow down during your explanation of difficult concepts, well, maybe you should slow down. And we ARE qualified to make those statements. Saying students are not fit to judge the quality of the TEACHING of a professor is outlandish. Who else is supposed to judge? Your fellow professors who are equally knowledgeable?

Not all of us are in your class because we are excited about the material. We are there to satisfy a distribution requirement, because it’s part of the curriculum for our major (but we are really interested in another area of the discipline), because we are pre-med, or because it fit into our schedule. This does not excuse cheating, or any other unethical behavior. But are you really that surprised when people zone off in class? On this site, I have seen countless references to people zoning out during boring administration meetings. It’s not comparing apples to apples, but if it’s not a moral/personality/cultural problem when professors neglect some of their commitments, why is it such a big deal when students zone out in class?

Look, I love school. I want to suffer through grad school, and then join your ranks (likely as a Pollyanna, but you never know how life twists). But I still think it SUCKS when you schedule an exam/paper the day after our big concert/partying weekend. It’s an official university event, whose date is planned out years in advance. The school spends hundreds of thousands of dollars bringing in bands and creating a very lovely weekend for its community (which includes the faculty I see rocking out to the music.) Scheduling a major evaluative event is just mean. I will get the work done. I will do it well (but not as well as if I didn’t have the event). This is particularly hard for exams, because papers can be done in advance, but it’s hard to study well for a test (because some material hasn’t been presented) without spending a lot of time immediately before the exam preparing.

I know you are blowing off steam, that you have a lot of shit to deal with one aspect of a job that you did not ask for. But one major thing, which encapsulates a lot of the above points, is that when students flub, you often see it as a permanent flaw of the individual representative of their attitude in all other endeavors. In psychology, they call it fundamental attribution error, or the tendency of people to attribute their own flaw or defects to the situation, but the flaws of others to their permanent selves. When you zone out in a meeting, it’s because it’s boring. When we zone out in class, it’s because we are ungrateful idiots.

Overall, we are developing adults. I say adults in that we have a fair amount of autonomy, more responsibility (relative to a few months or years back in high school) and are legally considered adults. But we are still growing, still changing, and we are not our final selves yet. By all means, kick us in the ass for cheating, fail us when we deserve it, and challenge us. But don’t hate us.

(And if you manage that, please, please, please, please do not schedule a major evaluative exercise right after Spring Weekend. I’m a senior-it’s my last one.)