Friday, February 29, 2008

Grady Gets His Ass Handed To Him Like It Was His Hat.

  • Yes, you're right. I don't like you. You are too pretty. That's exactly why I keep telling you to shut up. Because you're too pretty. I'm jealous of your youth and vigor and ability to stay up all night while not doing any studying for my class. I am a mean bully who uses grades to get students to like me and to punish those that aren't my exact clone. I dislike your "high-spiritedness" because what you call high-spirited, I call gossiping in my class and not paying attention to lecture or to the task at hand. And yes, I mark your tests and papers lower because I hate you and not because your answers are wrong.

  • Ah, the grade whore....I could swear that I have 5 or 6 of you in my class each semester. Let me fill you in on something, sweetheart. I have enough self-esteem that I don't need to demonstrate my intellectual superiority through a self-righteous power trip. If you think it makes me giddy to slip a "B-" into the box instead of an earned "B" just because I thought someone was too pretty or too smart, then you have self-esteem issues of your own: delusions of grandeur.

  • Get over yourself. If your professors tell you any grade is possible, they mean that it's up to you to EARN your grade. And it is. You earn your grade; I grade according to what work you've put in. Your personality (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with the number at the top of the page. It does, however, affect my willingness to write letters of recommendation for you. But since you're too pretty, you won't need any of those. Oh, and if you were "a little too smart," you wouldn't need to take my class.

  • Are you kidding me? I never wait until final papers are due--I assign final grades about a week into the semester and then adjust the marks for each paper to fit that grade--you little twerp.

  • Your question makes you sound like you are some kind of super keener know-it-all who is not only a grade grubber, but also an attention whore. Maybe you are so busy being "too pretty" and "too smart" to realize that you are not getting the grade you think you deserve because you really didn't deserve it. Oh, and to answer your question, no, I never give grades as punishment. I don't "give" grades at all. Students earn (or don't) them.

  • If you were a “little too smart” you would realize that the only thing that will get you a bad grade is being pretty stupid or pretty lazy. You seem to be under some misguided belief that I have a bag of grades and I start handing out A’s B’s and C’s at my own discretion. You earn your grade buddy boy, I don’t give it to. If you are too stupid to read the assignment, or to lazy to do it correctly don‘t come crying to me that you didn’t get your “A”. There are plenty of student’s that I don’t like, there are plenty that I do like. There are some I don‘t think belong in college. However since I am a fully formed functioning adult I am able to set personal feelings aside and grade the assignment not the student. If someone I dislike turns in crap work and fails I look at it as karma biting them in their self-entitled ass!

  • I don't use grades to punish someone because I don't like them, unless I don't like them because they're a plagiarizing, Wikipedia-copying moron. I spend so little actual time thinking about how much I like or dislike individual students, that the idea of punishing a student because I don't like them is absurd. And the suggestion that we do that regularly or even often is downright offensive. I have given bad grades, however, to students who are borderline and act like absolute assholes. That seems fair to me.

  • Students often claim this, that we grade arbitrarily -- and it's a load of crap. It's an excuse to take responsibility off the idiot who can't put a subject together with a predicate, or memorize ten technical terms for a quiz, or read a book and look up the words you don't know. In other words, if you get a bad grade in my class, or in the class of most of the profs I know, you are an idiot. Nearly a vegetable, actually -- like a rutabaga, the tasteless nasty kind of vegetable no one likes.

  • I tried to answer this with the best pedagogical tools—get the student to thing, turn the situation around, etc. My goodness was I disappointed. I asked, “Would a student give an instructor a bad evaluation because they didn’t like him? Would they get in the way of his success because he’s too smart, or not pretty enough?” You bet. I’ve received evals trashing me because I don’t iron my shirts, or because I insist that students learn vocabulary—in short, I receive punitive evaluation just about every term and there’s nothing I can do about it. Well, regardless of what my students do in evaluating me, I can assure you that I am always conscious of when I dislike a student, for whatever reason. I always ensure that my personal dislike for the student doesn’t enter into the grading process. In fact, I generally go out of my way to accommodate the asshats in my class, just to keep myself in check and to be sure everyone gets fair treatment.

  • Sweetie, let me explain it to you as slowly and clearly as I can: ifyou earn low grades, it is because you don't do the work, don't apply yourself, and also don't give a shit. If you're too busy checking your manicure and re-arranging your hemline for the 1000th time in a50 minute class period, that's probably why. If you stopped twirling your hair long enough to take notes, or put down your compact mirror long enough to glance at the text, you might earn higher grades.Honestly. If you stopped using every waking minute of your day to plan out how much cleavage to display in the next week, you might find time to study.

  • Many assignments have a certain amount of subjectivity to them. For example, there is no objective calculus for determining when an essay is worth a C rather than a C+, worth 66% rather than 67%. I can't speak for others, but when marking such assignments I tend to err on the side of generosity. However, when students are disrespectful or cheeky, this generosity goes out the window: these students go into my "shit list", and their assignments are given the lowest possible mark which is still nonetheless a fair assessment of their performance. Don't kid yourself that you can get put into the "shit list" for being too high spirited, too smart, or too pretty; you get put there because you've been an asshole.

"Uh, So, Can I Rewrite This Or What?"

As I told you all in class, please don't question my grading--I have a graduate degree, you are fucking useless. I use a rubric that a goddamned hamster could make a fucking A on. You have access to said rubric via the course website--provided you knew how to do anything other than play on the Facefuck. Furthermore, I'm grading now just as I did in the Fall. You should be used to this level of rigor--it's really more like rigor mortis of the fucking brain.

If you elect to share your grade with someone, that's your business. If someone elects to share his or her grade with you, that, too, is your business. However, DO NOT call my teaching ethics into question by hinting at, implying, insinuating, or otherwise suggesting that I sway grades to those students that I "like." If by "liking" any particular student, you mean I talk with that individual during, before, or after class, then I "like" a lot of folks--especially your mom. On a personal level, I do "like" a lot of students, especially the ones that work hard, come to class, and don't play on the myface during class. I like the students who understand that "time" doesn't equal "effort," which is to say that just because one spent "all week" on an assignment doesn't mean one has spent quality time working on that essay (by this I mean coming to see me, going to the Writing Center, etc.).

Staring blankly at a computer screen (or surfing the web) does not amount to effort in terms of writing--you need help 25/8/366, bitches. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that those people who met with me outside of class scored, on average, about 15 points higher than those of you who elected to go it alone. Do remember, too, that I took time out of my schedule, away from my family and my own writing, to meet with folks on two different nights at local off-campus venues. I sat alone much of both evenings--but then again, you dumb-fucks are sitting alone right now with a thumb up your asses because you can't fucking string two coherent thoughts together, can you?

Not a single person who scored low on the essay did so because of me--you did so because you're a lazy piece of shit. I have already talked to several of you--and I became dumber in the process--, and each person has indicated that he/she did not spend as much time on the essay as he/she should have--you, lazy fucking prick.

To paraphrase the old office adage: Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part. We might go one step further and say, perhaps, that poor planning on your part does not mean I show favoritism. Are we clear, dipshit?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

At Least Students in a Classroom Can Be Reached With the Mighty Throw of an Eraser, Or Winged By A Wicked Sidelong Glance.

Several years ago, I became one of the first profs at my institution (large community college in the Midwest) to teach a course online. Now I regularly teach 3 sections online and 3 on campus and as a result, contemplate suicide at least twice a semester.

Seriously, though, I'm about to lose my mind. For three consecutive semesters, I've had at least one student in an online class post incredibly disrespectful and disparaging comments about me on our online board, as if I would never read them. This is not only disturbing to me, but other students complain as well. I currently have one who seems to think she can teach the class better than I, and she finds it necessary to make underhanded and snotty comments whenever and wherever she can--of course, never directly to me. Only to other students.

In all cases, this behavior started after I pointed out an inconsistency or a lack of logic on their part in a discussion post. They're lashing out because they can't take being corrected in public, despite being told at our orientation that any corrections to discussion postings are made publicly so that everyone in the class doesn't continue with the same misconception. I tell them that if they are uncomfortable with public correction, then an online course is not for them. And yet they forge ahead, only to become whiny babies when that happens.

And of course, I have to be the professional, never allowing myself to be goaded into a flame war. Usually I just delete their idiotic messages and send them a private email reminding them of the student code of conduct, but I feel that I'm teetering perilously close to the edge and am about lash out and squash one particular student like a bug. And feel good while doing it.

Vicodin Vic Says, "I Only Use the Booze to Wash It All Down!"

I ask only one thing of you, bring enough for me. The next time you attend class drunk and high on Vicodin, I hope that you will share. Who likes to fly alone, not me, so I say take me along.

Since it is a course on emergency care, maybe we can use this as a practical exam. Maybe I can explain the pharmacodynamics of that nightmare combo. We will share that moment, a true teaching experience. This would be better than taking that same class period to review exam materials and answering students’ questions. It would be a real world experience, information applied. And you thought you wouldn’t get anything useful from this class.

In fact, bring enough for the whole class. Didn’t your grade school teacher tell you that you could only have a treat if you brought enough for everyone? So I say let’s all enjoy the benefits of modern pharmacology and distillation.

Bring enough at least for me, though, so I can kill the pain of dealing with you and your intoxication. It might help me with the headache I have because of your behavior prior to kicking you out of the classroom. It may relieve the suffering I endured as a result of your denials, despite having admitted the details of your “good times” to your fellow students. I know that Vicodin and booze can relieve even the greatest of pain, and I know your suffering (truly).

Next time if you bring enough for me, I will be too stoned to care about your boorish behavior.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Humanizing Ourselves.

I work as a program director at a small college with a large African-American population. The population is also largely female and somewhat disadvantaged.

I am an African-American woman. I am also a member of a prominent African-American sorority.

After my first year, I started wearing my sorority lanyard. I don’t often wear paraphernalia, but for some reason, I wanted the lanyard (I had to go out of my way to get one. We don't recognize Greek organizations on campus. Although students can join a city-wide chapter.)

Since I’ve been wearing it, I’ve noticed a difference in the way the students view me. It’s almost as if they do a double-take. It’s like all of the stereotypes of Greeks flash in front of their eyes in that nanosecond. Here is an attractive, professional woman who might have a “past.” She might have actually had a few too many drinks in one night, partied her ass off, HAD SEX PRIOR TO MARRIAGE!!!! And she’s a director now. (Ok - to be honest, that all still happens, but I digress!)

And I hope their next thought is, “I can do that, too, someday.”

I now wear it continuously because I feel it enables me to be a role model. I hope it says to the students “Have all the fun you want - because God knows, I did - but don’t forget the real reason why you’re here.” I think it humanizes me. I think it helps students (regardless of whether or not they’re actually in a sorority) see that we academics aren’t just people who tell you what to do. We’re people, period. We have lives (both past and present!)

Maybe it’s because I deal with an "at-risk population," but I do think that we should try to humanize ourselves more to our students, whether it’s through a humorous "life" story in class (relevant to the material - of course), or wearing Greek gear, or having "personality-revealing" junk in the office. I don’t want them to be my friend (never that!) but I want them to know that they are able to achieve what I have achieved. I want them to know that I am not an academic machine, I once had a life (probably more similar to their present life than they might actually think) and look where I am now. You can do that, too.

Four More Under the Bus.

Napping Nancy:
You offer insightful comments in class. You do the work. You take notes. And then sometimes you put your head on your desk and take a nap. And that makes me want to throw pencils at your head. Cut it out.

Secret Agent Stewie:
I don't know you. You don't know me. This is not a good sign. Every so often your work appears in my mailbox. Are you in the Witness Protection Program? Are you in training with the CIA? Are you invisible, faceless, or vampiric, only daring to tread out under the dark cloak of night? These are all intriguing possibilities. Also intriguing? The fact that if you miss one more class you won't have to deliver your secret missives to my mailbox anymore; you'll fail.

Jabbering Janie:
What a talker you are. You love the jibber-jabber. You love it in class, you love it via email(s), you even love to fill my lonely office hours with the thrilling sound of your voice (what else would I do, work?). Had I but world enough and time, dear, I would just love to listen to your every spare syllable. But the thing is, I have neither. So, why don't you just let me know if you ever hit on something important.

Shiny Steve:
So you're not the brightest bulb in the box. Who cares? You've determined that if you're not the brightest, you may as well be the shiniest, haven't you? Making lemonade, and all that good stuff. While I appreciate that you're planning on your charm, boyish good looks, and silly smile to get you through the rough patches in life, I would also appreciate your turning down the dial while you're in class. Yes, you can turn almost any group you're in into the Place to Be. Fun times! But while you reap the rewards of your shine, everyone else around you gets just a little dimmer. Stop bringing everyone down to your level.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Who Decides What Our Success Should Be?

I earned my Ph.D. two years ago and took a tenure-track job at a teaching college a year before that, while I was still ABD. I have a strong and interesting research agenda, and my teaching college has been very good about supporting my conference travel.

Every time I have a prominent role in an academic conference, however, it's only a matter of time before the questions begin.

"Why are *you* at a teaching college?"

"You're still watching the research university job listings, right?"

"How long do you really plan to stay there?"

My answers involve stating that I am happy where I am, and that I enjoy a nice quality of life through my current arrangements. But in response to these answers, the judgments (couched as compliments) begin.

"But you're such a good scholar. You deserve better than the job you have."

"You received such fine training at [Reasonably Good University]. You were prepared for an R1 job. You're wasting it where you are!"

"We have a great position open at My Prestigious University, and we only want the best. You should apply. I'll advocate for you."

When I demure and say no thanks, not now; but I'm keeping up with my research, so maybe someday; the threats begin.

"You better watch out. Every year you stay at a teaching college, it'll become that much harder for you to make a move."

"You should have no loyalty to your current institution--or any institution, for that matter. They'd drop you in a second, you know."

"You think now that you're going to stay productive, but just wait--in that kind of environment, you won't keep up with your research. You won't be publishing anymore before long."

Over lunch at a recent conference, I had this very conversation with yet another well-meaning senior scholar. These conversations always throw me off center. On a day to day basis, I am very happy at my current job. I try to resist dominant definitions of what makes a "good" academic job, because the "prestige" that comes with the "good" jobs, which meet the formula for "success," isn't necessarily a motivator for me. But these people--these senior faculty members--boy. They are like high-pressure salesmen. I see through their strategies, but they are all motivated by good intentions, so it's hard to be mad at them. But they really do mess with my mind. It's stressful.

I shared this complaint with an empathetic musician friend. He commented that in music, too, there are very rigid rules for what constitutes "success"--and he lamented that too many musicians he knows have done everything right, and still wind up waiting tables. "At least," he said, "there are more secure jobs for academics than there are for professional musicians."

But I pointed out that just as musicians can do everything right and wind up waiting tables, so too can academics. The problem is that landing the good job is only part of the equation, since tenure is never guaranteed. Academics at the R1 gigs can follow every single rule, excel in every category, and STILL be denied tenure for vague and non-contestable reasons. And so in only six years, the life you've been slaving away for is no longer yours to keep.

So who are these senior scholars to tell me that there is only one path to "success" in the academy? Can we not define success for ourselves? After so many years of education, I certainly hope we all have the critical thinking and analytical skills to judge what is right for ourselves.

Besides, why should I put all my eggs in the same basket that they've been using, when the risks seem higher and the struggle for job security substantially harder? I don't trust their basket! It's been around for at least 20 years now, and the game has changed since they were granted tenure all those years ago. Hasn't it?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Someone Needs a Hug. But Compound Rules Forbid It: "No Hugging, No Learning, No Running By the Pool."

  • When you emailed me after final grades were posted, I thought maybe you were writing to thank me for bumping you up to a C when you really deserved a D. Instead, you were asking me to meet you at the Waffle House at 7 am to pick up your late paper--you know, the one I told you I wouldn’t accept after the last day of classes? I know now that I was wrong. I should not only have met you, but bought you breakfast as well.

  • When you first informed me that you made A’s in your high school English classes, I thought you were merely offering unnecessary information--just like you always do in your essays. Six paragraphs of unnecessary information. And whoo, how hard it was not to laugh when you informed me that English courses are only required so that students can up their GPAs because English was a “bird course!” Now I realize that I should have just given you an A in my class, since, of course, your high school grades should always be transferred over to every single class you take thereafter, and every other English teacher on campus was easy.

  • You made me want to sing Cake’s “Never There.” You turned in three essays and claimed the fourth was Lost in Cyberspace (insert dramatic theme music). You swore that the last one was stolen by a drunken roommate, and you couldn‘t find your other copies because your jump drive melted when you “accidentally” left it on the stove. When you told me that I was required to give you an A because you had to keep your scholarship, I laughed at you, but inside my head I was screaming, “How the hell did you get a scholarship to begin with?!” I now realize that I should have commiserated with you about how hard it is to keep funding, then given you your A.

  • So you plagiarized. As you so tearfully informed me, who hasn’t? Statistics say 115% of people do it, and if everyone does it, it’s ok. And after all, your mom said it was ok too. Honestly. I really do feel bad about what I did to you. You see, I didn’t recognize the skill and intelligence it takes to cut, copy, and paste from the first website that comes up on Google when you input “William Shakespeare -- My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun.” I should have appreciated your explanation that you were providing career training by testing my ability to catch you (Thanks!). I also didn’t realize that reporting you for plagiarism was unfair because you seriously didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do that, I mean, you are only a college sophomore, and, like, it really hurt your self esteem and stuff. I now realize that you having a high self esteem is much more important than you having ethics, and from here on out I’ll never turn students in for "cheating" again.

  • You pitched a bitch at least once a week in my class. You informed me that your brother, who teaches AP English, looked over your paper and said it was “cool,” including that three paragraph conglomeration of definitions from the Webster’s dictionary and your opening statement that “Everybody hates feminists.” You rolled your eyes at every statement I made, and when I was saying nonsense like “This is how you cite a journal article in MLA format,” who can blame you? You told me--in front of everybody--that all of the assignments were just busy work that I made up so I could feel more like a “real” teacher, and that my lectures were “boring” and “wrong.” And you know, in retrospect, I think I agree. Asking you to write a research paper in a composition class? Telling you about the argumentative fallacies and asking you to learn complicated terms like “comma splice”? What was I thinking? (See, I did learn something from your habit of stringing 25 rhetorical questions together in the intro!) I now realize that, when you wanted to segue masterfully from the rhetorical strategies of an essay on the Milgram experiment to your love for The Notebook and that hottie, whosit, "Ryan Gossett Jr.," I should have remembered that students already know how they will learn best, and that you were simply trying to provide quality educational discussion to your classmates. As you informed me nearly every day, you and the state were paying my salary, so I was a public servant. That meant that I should have been more in tune with your needs. I now know that my standards mean nothing, and that proper procedure is to tune my expectations to your desires for an easy course.

  • And to all of you who, last semester, decided to shout over me for the entire class period that Tuesday, no matter how many times and ways I tried to professionally get you back on track? I’m sorry for my assumption that anything I had to say might possibly be important to you. Next time, I’ll just calmly sit there and smile while you discuss your weekends and your asinine (I mean, totally awesome) frat party. As long as you ignore the Thorazine and Valium I’ll be eating like M & Ms, we’ll be cool.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Neglected Neil Is Not Getting Enough. (How About a T-Shirt: "My Mentor is a Rock Star, And All I Got Was This Lousy Ph.D.")

I'm ready for the smackdowns, the sarcasm, the irony. I'm ready to be called a brat, or naive, or a snowflake, or whatever other clich├ęd term is floating on RYS these days.

However, I have to ask this question because not knowing the answer is killing me: Is the culture of graduate school a culture of neglect?

I'm a recently minted PhD, and I can't get a job. I know that is not uncommon, but what bothers me is that my dissertation director is extremely glamorous. Everywhere I go, I hear about how wonderful he is, how great his latest book is, how if only he were running for President the world would be a better place.

The problem for me is that, from what I can tell, he hasn’t done jack for me. On two separate occasions, he had the opportunity to introduce me to other glamorous professors who could potentially become professional contacts for me. Did he do so? No. Instead, he left those rooms to fly off to some random conference somewhere beyond the reach of the sun, where I'm not even a blip on his radar.

I feel neglected, disillusioned, and just plain angry. Shouldn't our advisors be doing more for us? Am I expecting too much?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pregnancy in the Academy. "Why, Yes I Am Expecting. Now How About Joining Me and Baby In a Beer?"

Pregnancy, I am now discovering, is the time in a woman’s life when her insides bulge outward on display for the whole world to see. Unfortunately, this means my students feel at liberty to make even more personal and hurtful comments than they did previously. Some examples:

  • About a month ago, one of my students noticed my just-starting-to-show belly and whispered to his group “You know, that means she got laid about X months ago.”

  • A week ago, in the computer lab, I realized my expanding belly was right at the students’ eye levels as they sat and I walked around the room to assist them. As I approached one student, he kicked back in his rolling chair and said too loudly, “Whoa, you’re pregnant!” Knowing him to be a bit of a misogynist, I ignored him and pointed out something on his computer screen. He ignored me right back and demanded, “When were you going to tell us that you were pregnant? Don’t you think we have a right to know?” I was stunned. He added, “Nothing against you, but if I would have known, I would have dropped the class.”

  • Yesterday, one of my oh-so-perceptive students noticed that I am gaining weight (I’m pregnant, remember?) and she commented, "you're blowing up in the arms and the legs, but not much in your belly yet." She then warned me that I had better watch how much weight I gain because, "the baby won’t come out 30 pounds, you know?"

I should have taken maternity leave.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In Defense of the Super-Keener, Because God Knows They Need Every Drop of Affirmation They Can Get.

Okay, I have to weigh in here. Yes, there are students that are annoying (duh), and many of the Keeners fall in to this category. But not all of them. Sometimes, the Keener is someone who just wants to get the most from their education. Someone who is an aggressive student, and not afraid to make the class all about them in the GOOD way (where they do all the learning and hard working).

I tell my students that they should do that. I say that the they are paying for their education (or at least someone is), and they deserve to learn what they want to learn. If there is a part of the subject they are particularly interested in, they should try to bring it up, and they should be aggressive with getting the conversation on that track (provided they're talking about something related to the material. I don't care how much you like quantum theory; Don't bring it up when we're talking about Shakespeare). If the other students don't like it, they can fight back and try to bring the class discussion somewhere else and take control of their education. The result? Good conversation.

Are there limits? Absolutely. Every student who is trying to take an active role in their education needs to understand that there are times when the prof simply MUST move on. Professors should have the right to say "Okay Suzy, thanks for you input. Now shut up and let someone else talk." and Suzy shouldn't be upset when that happens; she should be flattered. Because when a professor tells you to shut up, what he/she is really saying is "Please god, shut up," but what you should HEAR is "You're doing a great job participating, and I noticed it. You've earned your points for the day. You can sit back and relax for a while."

Was I a Keener? You better believe it. I sat in my desk like it was a machine gun turret, ready to fire at anyone who disagreed with me. If they could convince me of their points, then great; I learned something. If not, then we kept going the way I wanted to go. I played 'stump the philosophy professor' (to no avail) and learned a lot doing it. I got dirty looks from students, but professors always loved me being in their class. Was it because I shut up when they asked me to? Probably. But I like to think that it was also because I was someone who was REALLY interested, someone who WANTED to be taught. When I did shut up, sometimes I wrote things down, so I could ask about them later. And I did have the courtesy to know when it wasn't a fair fight (not fair for a senior to dominate the conversation in a freshman class; if the class can't follow the conversation, then you're just being an asshole).

I know that now that I'm the teacher, I live for aggressive Keener student. I love it when I have to tell a student to shut up and let someone else participate. And I do notice. And it does affect their grade.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Elmer the Epistolatory Rapist Confesses His Sins Upon Sherry Super-Keener.

Confession time. I’m a horrible person. I let a super-keener peer know that she was being a pain in the ass.

OK, I tried to do it in a nice way. After six weeks of hearing nothing out of Sherry but random associations which could not possibly have been followed, even by a person who had just consumed a pound of hash brownies—things like “The stuff you’re saying about Robert Frost? It’s exactly like what we were just discussing in my typing class, which I’ll describe in ten minutes of excruciating and pointless detail” or “That Langston Hughes poem reminds me of a little doggy I had when I was six years old, living in a small house with a pear tree in the back yard. . .” I had reached my limit.

What did I do? I didn’t want a personal confrontation, and I had no desire to humiliate her in front of the class. Instead, I took what I thought to be the safest route. I looked up Sherry's address in the telephone book, and I wrote her an anonymous, non-threatening, exceptionally polite letter which explained that which the professor lacked the balls to have ever explained to her. That the class is about everyone in the class, and it’s best if people control their own participation so that other people can also feel like they belong.

You know what? It modified her behavior. There was a noticeable change the day after the letter arrived. Sherry sat quietly in class for ten minutes while those who had previously been silenced spoke their piece about the poems, then she politely raised her hand, and as I held my breath in anticipation, she said the following: “I FEEL LIKE I'VE BEEN RAPED!!!”

Hmmm. I hadn’t really thought about that response, but the parallels are certainly there. Forcibly inserting my member into another person’s body without their consent is EXACTLY like writing them a letter that criticizes their class participation style. How could I have not known that? I am in fact, an epistolatory rapist. I have to live with that. I also have to live with the fact that from that point forward, the class was toast.

Sherry was now not only a super-keener, but a super-keener who had been a victim of intellectual violence, and was thus free to be ten times the disruption she had previously been, because after all, you have to give a rape victim the time to talk it out. My advice? Don’t interfere with super keeners. They always win.

Sometimes We Edit Posts That Come In For Clarity and Elegance. And Other Times We Just Let It Fly! "Professor Knuckleball And The Take-Home Exam."

Dear RYS,

Longtime viewer here, first time writer...

I've not even finished my dissertation. I've been teaching in a fairly large State University for the past 3 years--mostly in the summers. But, this Winter I decided to teach fulltime, full well knowing that I wasn't going to get smack done on my dissertation (O well...). I've seen a lot of things in my three years here, but something happened the other day to top it all off! And, frankly, I just want to bitch about it. I don't need any advice, just an outlet to bitch; and perhaps someone to say, "You know, it really is okay for you to drink after this one!"

In an attempt to be kind to some of my students, I gave a take home essay exam. (For the record, I will never do this again, for apparently students have more trouble finding the spellchecker at home than they do when using the University's computers. Anyway...). I told my students that each question should have an answer between 3 and 5 doubled-spaced pages. I said "per question" mind you. Now, here's where the fun starts...

The day the exam was due--and we'll come back to this later--I received a flurry of emails asking me, "What do you mean by 3 to 5 pages per question?" Some students couldn't interpret "per question" to mean anything but "3 to 5 pages total!" I actually confronted a student who came to my office with, "What does the phrase 'per question' mean to you?" They looked confused, so I changed the subject and said, "I'll be at Starbucks; office hours are cancelled for today. Better yet, I'm going home to drink!"

Next, my admin. assistant came running down the hall and stormed into my office. I asked her what was wrong. O' faithful RYS readers, are you ready for this one? She said that about ten students were outside the locked, glass doors of the department pounding away and demanding to be let in so they could turn in their exams. Now, by way of some background, I'd told all of my students that the exams were due by Monday no later than 5pm. If they attempted to turn the exams into my office after 5pm or via email, I would not accept the exams and they would receive an "F." I thought it was a fairly empty threat, because I kept telling myself, "Everyone will get the exams in by 5pm. It's college, so how hard can this be?" I also consoled myself with, "Surely, no one will try to sneak around this by emailing the damn exams to me!" How wrong I was...

It was 5:20pm, twenty minutes past closing time for the Department. The doors were locked, and to my amazement my admin. assistant was right: Outside those glass doors stood ten students not only pounding on the doors to get in, but mercilessly attempting to shove their papers under the small space between the bottom of the doors and the floor. (Oddly enough, some of them actually succeeded, but that's another story for another time).

After the students went away, a young man who has attended every single class, including day one, showed up at the glass doors. He politely knocked at the Department's doors and one of the nicer admin's let him inside. (Big mistake!). He came down the hall looking like that guy, Lump Hudson, in the 2004 remake of Ladykillers. And, to make matters worse, he had tears in his eyes. I thought to myself, "O no! I'm just not in the mood to have compassion for a student at 5:30 on a Monday evening." Besides, a huge storm was getting ready to blow through the Midwest, and I really just wanted to get home and snuggle with my wife. To make matters worse, I'd just discovered that five people tried to email me their exams, because their cars magically exploded on one of the superhighways around the University. Somehow they survived the explosion--at least they survived long enough to email me their exams.

Well, after a few moments this "Lump-like" student calmed down and said to me, "I don't have the exam done, I only have an outline to give you." When I asked why, expecting some normal response like, "My printer blew up, or my IPod turned on me in a fit of rage like something out of one of the Terminator movies," I instead got, "Well... I noticed today in class that many of the students have four books for the course whereas I only have one." Dazed and confused I asked, "What do you mean you only have one book for the class?" The student responded with an ever so shaky voice, "I didn't know we were supposed to have more than one book." Before I could say anything else, Lump--and we'll just call him that from here on out--informed me that even though he'd been at every class from day one down to today, he'd never bothered to pick up a syllabus. (Syllabi were handed out five weeks ago). What I said next wasn't so kind, so we'll just skip it, but my mouth dropped open as my brow formed into a Bruce Campbell-esque look of utter confusion reminiscent of Campbell's character Ash in Army of Darkness, or, if you like, Evil Dead III.

Regardless of what I said, the student wanted me to reward him for never having picked up a syllabus starting five weeks ago on the first day of class. He proposed that I give him one whole extra week to work on the damn exam. It was 5:30 so I said, "I'll think about it..."

I've not yet decided what to do, but I did go home and have that drink. Today, I'm thinking of having another... And perhaps I will now that I got all of the bitching I needed to do out of my system.

Some prof. in the Mid West who's now thinking he should've kept practicing his knuckleball

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Woe of Wallflower Wally.

Wallflower Wally was a mediocre student in need of a major reality check.

He sat in the last row next to a chronic web-surfer with middling grades. He was always the first to raise his hand and say something not-quite-on-target, and always snickered when I went to other students for other responses. His quizzes and papers always demonstrated that he missed the point of most lectures and failed to do any of the required reading. He was a casual plagiarist who seemed to think his constant class participation somehow endeared him to me such that I would let his poor citation style slide.

But, the worst and most troubling moment came after he failed an assignment for plagiarism.

You see, he was mad at me because I wouldn't give him any slack. I mean, how dare I expect him to learn how to quote material properly! In a writing class of all places! His participation in class had scaled back (gratefully), which allowed me more opportunity to call on other students without getting back to his (usually superficial) comments.

On one cold Friday afternoon, more than 50% of the class went missing, including Wally. A paper was due that day, so I anticipated several tardies to wander in late (because we all know printers always break 10 minutes before a paper is due). I collected papers from those present and immediately went into my lecture. A few students trickled in during the first 10 minutes, but it was nearly 15 minutes into a 50 minutes class when I felt someone enter the room and stand about 10 feet away from me.

I glanced over and saw Wallflower Wally leaning by the door. He had a paper in hand, but made no movement toward me or toward his seat. I was mid-lecture, asking and answering questions, so I just left him standing there. It felt like forever! But, I knew he had to learn a lesson.

Eventually, Wallflower Wally started fidgeting, so I decided to release him from his torment. I turned to him and asked if there was a problem. He tried to hand me his paper and I told him to put it on the table next to me because I was in the middle of teaching. Wallflower Wally then started to try to engage me in a conversation...right there in front of the class!

Poor Wally seemed to think that because the weather was so bad, that he could be exempt from attending class. Except, well, here he was...right in front of class. I told him I was not going to discuss a private student matter in front of the class, wished him a good weekend and went back to lecturing. He left in a huff. I rolled my eyes, turned back to class, and all of Wally's little clique of morons (isn't it funny how they form little flocks of ignorance?) looked at me as if I had just stabbed them through their collective hearts. No one else even blinked.

Wally's work was so atrocious that his grades for the rest of the semester skidded into the toilet. He blamed me for every bad grade because he could not grasp that his choice not to do homework, to disengage from class work, and to avoid learning basic writing skills were the criteria for which his grade was based. The poor little snowflake seemed to think his "effort" was enough, and that class participation, no matter how inane or mediocre, warranted passing marks. After he was awarded the D he had richly earned he even e-mailed me to tell me how unhappy he was with his grade! Hah!

But, alas, Wally and his friends [none of whom was a star student, by any means] got their revenge on course evaluations, wherein they accused me of all sorts of crimes, from not calling on the black students because I was a racist, for promoting homosexuality by showing perverted images from popular advertisements, to providing unclear grading criteria designed to make them fail because I so obviously hated them. In the end, I only wished I had tortured them more so they would have dropped early in the semester.

To each of them I shout [and quote an oldie but goodie RYS post], "May your perfidy ramify through your life"!

"The Delicious Varieties In My 9 A.M. Class."

  • First row: You’ve taken other classes with me, and now you’re a fan. Good. Nonetheless, attempting to banter with me in class to show others how “in” you are with me is not classy. I will continue to squash you verbally.

  • You on the left: You aren’t rated for that vocabulary you’re toting around. You drop some mighty fine words, but you’re like a small rodent on a high fiber diet. You’re too ignorant to know that you're just making a big smelly mess. Go home. Burn your thesaurus. Then go buy a dictionary.

  • Halfway back, right: You have no idea how much that Voice Of Authority you assume annoys the rest of the class. You even annoy the only kid who annoys the rest of the class more than you do – that guy on the left.

  • Second row, left wall: Some day, good sir, you will realize that you need to cut off that nasty frizzy ponytail. I hope for your sake that this takes place before your bald spot becomes significantly larger.

  • Center row, center: I have never seen your face. Do you deliberately position yourself directly behind that other kid’s head? What are you trying to accomplish?

  • And a quick thanks to whoever turned in an anonymous midterm. (Possibly you in the middle there?) You have made the work of grading that little bit easier. It is a pity that your only reward should be a zero.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Listen. We Just Work Here. If We Were Really Responsible for Weepy Wayne, We'd Be On a Lot More Medication.

Dear Wombat of the Copier,

Here's a stapler. Now go staple your dome to a fact. For 75 minutes, that classroom is my kingdom. End of discussion. That means no jackboot SWAT-Team wannabes harassing my students for ticky-tack parking violations. Bust out a crayon and write a ticket, Kojak. No visits from Dean PastyPuss shepherding some Oscar-toting crybaby into my den. My guess is that it's the first classroom either has seen in a while. And no knock-and-announce visits from some self-important stooge who has no respect for the learning of others.

When the room empties, you are free to enter. Until then, hold up the wall in the hallway. That tuition-burping Nostradamus doesn't need my schedule to figure that out. He left his book behind? Tough. And it's always the book. They never forget cell phones or iPods. Books are an afterthought. So is Johnny Memento.

And how exactly did we make the logical spelunk to textbook theft? Where the fuck did that come from? Hey, Professor Pinball, do all your lectures ricochet in arbitrary directions when you plant a flag in the sandbox? Everyone's a thief! Everyone's a victim! Everyone stand back! I'm making copies! I don't give a rat's pink rim what you think a student is before entering this institution. But I have every concern about what that individual becomes as a result of attending a university where rules of individual responsibility apply. The goal here (in theory, seldom in practice) is to produce adults who are responsible, respectful, and mature individuals who will go out into the world and not reduce themselves to blaming others for their individual problems. That way, their rent gets paid, and my institution isn't reduced to a joke.

Why do you insist on planting excuses on students like a note pinned on their vest from mommy? That's not your role. And one more thing. Before I'm accused of cruelly popping the soap-bubble dreams of doe-eyed freshman, let me say that I'm the one they come back and thank. No one in that classroom loves you while it's going down. But I get more former students stopping by my office to say thanks than thumbsuckers in Abercrombie and Fitch diapers looking to play some prof whose head appears as soft as his heart.

Now step aside, you're hogging all the good toner.

Sure, Sherman the Shrink Is Absolutely Batshit Crazy, But He's the Only One Who Will Make the Long Drive to the Compound, So We're Stuck.

Good gravy, could we please, in the name of whatever you find holy (God, power, drugs, money, whatever), quit using clinical diagnoses to express our displeasure over someone else's behavior?

What ever happened to good old words like "selfish," "arrogant," or "self-centered?" not high-falutin' enough for ya? Or what's wrong with saying "that's really annoying," or, at the very least, making some crude distinction between behavior observed and personality inferred?

You see, without knowing it, you make life infinitely more difficult for people like me. Why? Because in my day job, I have to help people find words to help them understand themselves and others with some modicum of compassion. Why? Simple, really: so that they stop suffering and inflicting their suffering on others.

Put another way, when you take my tools (diagnoses) and turn them into invitations to bleed self-esteem, it's like me taking words like "deconstruction," "promissory estoppel," and "bidentate ligand" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and stomping all over them, assigning them meanings you never dreamed of. (Truth in advertising: I used to use one of those terms as a pick-up line as an undergrad. guess which one and guess my target audience and you win a special prize!)

Look, if you really want people to stop people from pissing you off (and who doesn't?), talk about what they're doing that pisses you off, and be as specific as you can with regard to time, place, and manner.

If, instead, you'd rather release steam, feel superior, or otherwise exaggerate the difference between you and everybody else, here's what you do: direct your comments to the person's character instead of their actions. Works like a charm every time; plus, this maneuver has the extra added benefit of giving the offending party no incentive whatsoever to stop pissing you (and countless others) off.

Now if you really want to go for broke in the intellectual honesty department, instead of flinging diagnoses the way my 20-month-old has learned to fling the contents of her diapers, try "she/he/that really annoyed me," instead of the diagnosis of the day.

If you absolutely must drape your own personal preferences with some air of legitimacy, use terms like "unethical" or "inappropriate." Philosophers will groan, and social scientists will wonder what authorized you to speak on behalf of society, but at least I’ll have to spend less time wiping your poop off of my tools.

Your friendly neighborhood shrink

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Your Student Isn't the Narcissist. You Are. Oh, and Me, Too, If You Count that Printer Story Against Me."

A kid coming by looking for a lost book is narcissism? Someone needs a reality check. The true act of narcissism is thinking a room you use to teach a class in is your sacred shrine and that every student on campus, yours or otherwise, should have your schedule memorized. How is he supposed to know what time your class ends if he's not in it? If he was one of my students, he'd sit on his ass all day not doing his homework and a week later when he had no clue what was going on, he'd tell me it wasn't his fault because he left his book somewhere and by the time he went looking for it, it was gone. I had one slime ball coming in daily saying "Look what I found." which means "Look what I stole as soon as the rightful owner was looking away for 2 seconds." Why do you think the books on are so cheap? Because half of them are stolen. You should be ashamed of yourself for being so critical of a kid who wanted to find his book before it changed hands.

If that ruffles your feathers, it's a good thing you don't teach here. You'd be curled up in the fetal position by the end of your second day. Yesterday I printed an exam on the shared printer in the help room and while the last few pages were coming up, a student, not one of mine, informed me "I have to go to my class now so when my lab report comes up, staple it and put it over there so I can find it later." and started to walk away. I told her "When my test is printed, I'm leaving." and she huffed at me and stormed out.

You need to get a grip. Textbook resale crimes are rampant. I'm not saying kids shouldn't be more careful with their books in the first place, but accidents happen. Don't crucify a kid because he's eager to find something he might not be able to afford to replace. We regularly complain about students who don't bring their books, and then some of us turn around and flame one for trying to find one before it was too late. That is really self centered.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More Evidence That We Work in a Profession That Is Not Substantially More Evolved Than a Bag Full of Toads.

My college requires that students who seek exemptions from the ordinary plan of courses must appeal directly to the dean's office for a syllabus waiver. This didn't sound too painful to implement until I received the unwritten instructions to decode "direct."

Direct means "you must write a letter to the dean that is edited by the department's undergraduate advisor/ 2nd year assistant professor who really has nothing better to do with her time."

What could possibly be the reason for having the undergraduate advisor ghost write student's syllabus appeal letters you ask? Well, I was told that "too many illegible letters of appeal end up in the dean's hands,” so I am to "ensure that our student’s appeals are coherent and justified."

May I ask the students to rewrite their letters themselves? "No, the dean strongly prefers well written appeals that he can process quickly."

Yessir, sure thing. You own my future since you sign off on all personnel matters. I'll be happy to do that. Let me get right to that.

So, on this cold Sunday evening, I'm ignoring my own work to edit appeals from Sue B, Wingo, and Fred who all could not bear to be in the new "fills the requirements" class with the new professor in our department "because we herd [sic] he grades really really hard," "because the course time crashes into abnormal psych, which is my favorite class," and "because I can't make it to a 9:30 class, it's just too early."

Incidentally, I'm also thinking of editing my resignation letter. I really hope the dean won't mind a faculty resignation letter penned in the same incomprehensible style as all of the letters I edit for him.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bonnie From Britain Offers Up a Mixed Bag of Ratings.

J: You have a sharp, inquisitive mind and a fine aesthetic sensibility. I know you absorb, process, and enjoy the material more than anyone. Yet you drink and play string instruments instead of work -- what a waste.

A: You're so diligent because you feel you're in over your head. You're not! If you relaxed, I bet you'd grasp the literature better and be comfortable enough to produce original, well-substantiated writing. Otherwise, you're quite witty and would make a good mom.

R: You are well attuned to the nuances of the human soul -- mostly your own, though you're compassionate. You would do well to shift the direction of your observation to tangible reality and to ideas unfettered by emotion. Know yourself, but with the perspective of sensing your place in a vast world.

V: You have spent your life being so brilliant and studious that non-academic experience has fallen by the wayside. I know you wish for a different set of laurels, like a girlfriend or stories of your own to tell. Because you're sweet and personable, you'll fill these needs in due time

P: Your ambition is irritating. I had written you off; but lately you have been unduly kind to me, and have thus revealed what a jerk I can be.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

One of Our Chief Correspondents Breaks Down the Super-Keener Thing. First, There Are Two Kinds. Second, He Used to Be One.

I have a good deal of sympathy for Sarah from Sausalito. It’s a drag to be in a class where some guy – it is usually a guy – dominates the discussion and winds up discouraging other students from speaking up. As an instructor, I usually try to drop subtle hints to the keener that he needs to let others into the conversation, but when that fails, I’m not above delivering a slap to the keener’s ego: “Keith, thanks for that trenchant observation on Pope’s couplets – you show exceptional insight for someone with your lack of background.”

In my experience, there are two main kinds of super-keener. The first (and perhaps most common) is just a brown-noser pretending to be enthusiastic, but the second kind is genuinely enthusiastic, just socially clueless. The first type is a pain in everyone’s ass, though every once in a while even he can save the day when you have a class full of hung-over Greeks and brain-dead athletes (overlapping categories, I know). There have been rare occasions when I was grateful to have even some fake enthusiasm to break the silence into manageable pieces.

The second type of keener, I want to encourage in his enthusiasm while socializing him to the niceties of classroom behavior. And I have pretty often been very happy to have a type two super-keener in an otherwise dull class. The problem arises when there are other students who are less voluble, or who take more than a microsecond to formulate their thoughts. I’m sure that orchestra conductors must always have some random flute player who wants to come in, not on the beat, but just an eager moment before the beat. The guy may even be a good musician – the problem is how to hold him back a bit and teach him to play well with others.

Full disclosure: As an undergraduate, I was a bit of a super-keener, at least in some classes. I just loved the material so much I couldn’t hold myself back. I sat in the front row and I am dead certain that a whole classroom full of students were rolling their eyes behind me. But I had one instinctive rule: Never be a keener out of class. How I detested the groupies who followed the professor to his office, who formed a sort of honor guard around him in the cafeteria, a posse, with the girls vamping and the boys trying to look sophisticated and deferential at the same time. (Medical fact: this can give you a hernia.) Those are the lowest form of keener, utterly beyond redemption, and however idiotic I was in class, I never joined their parade.

My dears, do not go there! Your professor does not want to be your friend (or if he does, he needs psychiatric counseling) and he especially does not want to hear you tell him that you think the class “went well.” He does not consider you a colleague, even of a very inferior sort, and your opinion of his scholarship will be of less than zero interest to him. If you are that fucking smart, go to grad school and write articles that demolish his most cherished ideas.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Where "It's Not Rocket Science" Isn't A Good Comeback. Because It IS Rocket Science. Abby Aerospace Fires Up Some Smackdown.

Ms. N:
Cleverness: 4
Is Cool: 5

Coolness Delusion Factor: 2
Suckup: 2
Copy and paste: Name_X.txt. It's just a fucking filename. Just name it right: your name, _, assignment number. Bet you're the one posting on that other site about how everything had to be "perfect" when turning in assignments. I'm teaching people how to build rockets. Sometimes "oops" isn't an option.

Mr. G:
Cleverness: -2
Is Cool: 3
Coolness Delusion Factor: 5
Suckup: 5
I can't quit gut laughing. Replace 'Name' with *your* name. The one that your parole officer uses.

Mr. S:
Cleverness: -5
Is Cool: -5

Coolness Delusion Factor: 5
Suckup: 5

OK, we're both dorks. But I'm professor dork. And you are *student* dork. We will not hang out sometime.

Ms. M:
Cleverness: 3
Is Cool: 2
Coolness Delusion Factor: 3
Suckup: 5
Thanks, yes, the syllabus is as long, small, tedious, and full of legal bullshit as my last mortgage. Gawd, I know that every day is full of hardship for you. Get in line behind the other half of your class that works full time, raises families, and bitches a lot less often. Exceptions = no rules, and I have rules. Thanks to folks like you.

Mr. J, Mr. K, Mr. L:
Cleverness: 3.5-4.5
Is Cool: 1.5 (average)

Coolness Delusion Factor: 3.5
Suckup: 5 falling to 0 by term end.
Yes, I'm younger, smarter, and don't have a dick. You're presumptive and address me by my first name. Not until you know me well enough to survive calling me "hon." Which could be a long time coming, sweetie.

Mr. Z:
Cleverness: 5
Cool: 0
Coolness Delusion Factor: 2
Suckup: 5
What you wrote won't work, and if you can show me that it will you'll have broken rules written by the guy who wrote the goddamn manual and proved that I've been telling big fat lies to the class for several weeks. And who'd a thunk we'd have this exact conversation 3 classes in a row? You're too lazy to try it yourself and too willfully ignorant to believe what I say. Can't you still drop this class?

Mr. C:
Cleverness: -5
Cool: 0
Coolness Delusion Factor: 2
Suckup: 5
Can't find my late work policy? What, 'due date' means nothing to you?

Mr. & Ms. Anon:
Cleverness: -
Cool: -
Coolness Delusion Factor: 5
Suckup: -
Thanks to my across-the-board late semester grade inflation you probably passed my class. Since I don't remember any pet haters this semester, I probably smiled at you and gave you the breaks you didn't deserve. So you call me out by name on that other site, misspelling your malapropisms in the rant. I don't give a rat's ass about you? Your mother might, and your shrink is paid to - but if I care, it's a bonus. I'm paid to facilitate your learning. Period. As for suggesting that others find another teacher or prepare to burn? Burn, baby, burn. I'm lighting the fire, you craven little whiner.

Just One More Head Smacking Moment in the Academy.

So I found out last week from one of the secretaries that my department chair has been getting a bunch of calls recently from students who were in my course last semester.

I've changed the way grades are calculated this semester, increasing the proportion of the grade that comes from the team exercises (with a commensurate adjustment to the difficulty of the team and individual quizzes, such that the overall grade distribution at the end of the semester will still be the same as before.)

Now, it seems, a rumor is going around that either (a) I Can't Do That, or (b) last semester's students can get their grades recalculated according to this semester's standards. So they're calling my department chair to complain.

I ask you all, where would a student get the idea that the grading policies--all outlined in detail in the syllabus, and consistent with University policy--can't change from one semester to the next? And what would possibly make a student think that she was entitled to have her scores recalculated according to a different semester's percentages?

Thank goodness for my department chair, whose response to a student's question of "She can't do that, can she?" was, "You're kidding, right?"

Professor Project Offers a Reply to Spreadsheet Steve.

I bet most professors could guess their students’ grades without looking at the grade sheet, and be right about 95% of the time. At most jobs, when you’re evaluated, you don’t have a spreadsheet - you get an interview, and you have a portfolio. Your tenure committee examines your portfolio, throws in the political and personal issues, and makes a decision. The elaborate spreadsheet method of student evaluation seems both artificial and inaccurate, a shield to hide behind when defending grades.

What does this have to do with learning? Very little I think. I would prefer not to grade at all, but since I must, I evaluate two things: Did they do the work? Is it done well?

All of my classes are project based. Some are very specific, and some are more open-ended. I make the goal of each project very clear, and give a due date. But I don’t take attendance, and I don’t have a spreadsheet. Students must complete the projects whether they were in class or not. Lazy students who miss class needn’t be penalized for poor attendance, as the work will be crap anyway (or not even finished). Brilliant students who get done early get a day off. At midterms, the students hand in their portfolios. If all the work is there, and excellent quality, they get an “A.” All there and good quality, they get a “B.” I go over the strengths and weaknesses of the portfolio, tell them what I think needs redone, and tell them their grade. Then at finals, I do the same thing, with the final portfolio grade representing 100% of the final grade for the course. It’s easy, simple and the students don’t have to lie to me about their dying grandmother.

I used to rely on elaborate point systems for projects, and lots of spreadsheets, and I found it to be a waste of time. Not only was I spending a lot of hours entering numbers, but the students wanted to micro-argue their grades, or they found ways to fulfill the stated criteria without really engaging in learning or solving problems.

Additionally, I want to make my students behave like the professionals they hope to be after graduation. The spreadsheets seemed like a barrier to this - it turned me into their Dad rather than their mentor. I have no problem asserting my authority, but I don’t want to turn into a grade accountant. Everyone has a different style, and I think the spreadsheets work for some, but I’m much happier with a simpler measure of grades, and at least in my courses, the work tends to be more creative, ambitious and professional.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Listen, If You're Going To Provide Your own Silly Names, What the Hell Are We Going to Do? Some Sprightly Morning Smackdown!

Noxious Natalie:
There are three books on the syllabus. One is a novel. No one is infringing on your civil rights with these "oppressive" reading requirements, and any implication to the contrary is both ignorant and offensive.

Sigma Delta Zack:
I respect your right to devote 100% of your lecture time to surfing Facebook, Gossip Geek, and the Drudge Report; however, in doing so, you forfeit the right to ask asinine questions at the end of class. The professor may be good-natured enough to force a smile before repeating herself, but I'm right behind you, sharpening my pencil, and I'm feeling stabby.

Vain Veronica:
Like, omigod, could you please stop talking about your weekend for more than five seconds? I know, right? Like, why do you always seem to follow me when I move to a different seat? Like, maybe I'm trying to take notes? And I'd like to be able to hear? Wouldn't that just be, like, totally great?

J. Farnsworth Bluffington IV:
Let's hope the trust fund is maturing more quickly than you are.

Blaring Bianca:
If you aren't going to turn the damn iPod off during lecture, at least turn down the volume so that you're the only one who can hear it.

Amorous Amanda:
I know you're excited about taking this class with your hunky boyfriend, but you should really give it a rest. The poor guy actually looks like he's trying to pay attention, and it must be hard for him to hear with your tongue in his ear. It's 10 in the morning - you've gotta give him a break sometime, or he's going to burn out.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sarah From Sausalito Sure Is Obsessed With Snappy Simon the Super Keener. (She's Got a Problem with the Proffie, Too, But We Sorta See Her Side.)

Dear Professor,

The semester has just begun, but already the sour waves of defeat and failure are washing over me.

Let me clarify here, this is no complaint about the workload. Yes it's crazy hard shit, but it's also going to be my life's work and I adore it. Let me also assure you, it's not me; I read the books, I do the work, I argue with classmates over the dinner table - I promise you I am invested. The real problem here is ... you.

Wait! Hold your horses, don't write this off as a whiny sob story about how "Professor Meanie is out to get me for no reason and it's not fair!" Seriously, I swear it's not. I can even understand you on some level: this is a high tier course, and there was the big concern over enrollment numbers.... Well you needn't have worried. True, there aren't that many of us, but who needs the rest when you have Simon Super-Keener in your class?

He certainly talks enough for the rest of us. What interesting questions he has, to turn a workshop-style class (in which class participation is a major factor for the grade) into a one-on-one tutorial between you and Studious Simon. Or a master class, and the rest of us are only here as an audience, to watch and make Simon Spectacular feel even more superior and self-satisfied that he already is. Even when one of secondary students manages to get a comment in, Savvy Simon speeds to the scene and takes over.

I'm so psyched you two are having a great time here... but I signed up for this class for a reason, and whatever you may think, it was most definitely not to bask in the genius of Simon the Scholar. I want to learn this stuff, and it's not going to happen if Snappy Simon calls out the answer before I can work it out for myself, or if Simon Surpassing is ahead of the game by a few weeks and steals class time asking you about it.

Please... stop it. Stop him, shut down the Simonator and let the rest of us in on the game once in a while. I promise that we can be just as interesting and engaging if you give us the chance.

Very Sincerely,
(ANOTHER one of your students)

Fred From Flint Is Fed Up.

I realize that this semester I have not been putting my all into my introductory classes. I don't particularly care, and I'm tired of fighting my lazy students who believe a college degree is an entitlement and that I should give them all an A for breathing and showing up to my class have the time. No more essays, no more papers this semester. Exams are all multiple choice because that's what they want. Ironically, they will find out, students in my classes do worse on the multiple choice portion than on the essay portion of the exam.

On the first day of class, when I asked students how many of them were paying attention to the presidential race, out of 35 students only 2 raised their hands. Something in me snapped. I was stunned. Here was the most interesting presidential contest in my lifetime, and no one was tuning in. I thought to myself, "These idiots don't have the right to an opinion." Rather than do my usual give and take lecture-discussion hybrid, I decided that I would lecture the entire semester.

When I lecture, with little interruption, I can just fly through the material. For two days in a row, I let the class go early. One day, 45 minutes early--the next 20 minutes. Yesterday, however, some of the student actually decided to engage me during a discussion of civil liberties. I decided to indulge them, and I got some really great questions. Maybe these students weren't so bad after all.

About five minutes before the class ended, however, some of the students who apparently didn't care for the discussion or for the learning that was going on, began to pack up their supplies. I was taking questions right up until the end of class, and started to go just a bit over the class period. To my surprise, students just got up and walked out.

I couldn't believe the little shits and their gall. I stopped my thought in mid-sentence and said, "Don't I have any authority here? We are not done class--do not just get up and walk out. That's rude and disrespectful."

I think I'm going to show up 15 minutes late to class next week. I obviously have more important things to be doing than to waste my time with these jokers. Better yet: I'll just pack up my things while students ask me questions next time.

Monday, February 4, 2008

We Prefer Going After Students With a Sock Full of Pennies, But To Each His Own.

You seem to be under the impression that I am in some way associated with the recruiting department here at Big Midwestern U. I assume that's what you must think, since you have already brought along two "prospective students" to class, though from what I can tell this title is a misnomer, and something more like "my loser friends" would be fitting.

Your last email requesting to bring yet another eager candidate into my classroom even suggested specific techniques to entice these potential matriculators. You "hope we're doing something fun" because you "really think that she is college material." That's excellent. Maybe, then, instead of learning how to write, we could play a game? And not one of those lame-o games where you have to "know" stuff, but I'll just bring in my Candyland board and we'll show her what college is really about.

I know my class is early, and that can deter these more reluctant students. Does your friend like French toast? Because I'll just whip some up, and we can have a delicious breakfast while we play games and laugh. Good times will be had! We can tell secrets and braid each others' hair! She'll think college is, like, so totally fun! Then, when she comes here, she can zone out, write shitty essays, and act as though her professors are making undue demands on her precious free time.

Perhaps, dear student, you have picked up on a certain amount of sarcasm. I must admit, I haven't even the foggiest idea how one goes about making French toast. The point here is, I am actually not paid by the recruiting office, and I'm not in the business of "selling" my class like some slimy used car salesperson. If you want to hang out with your loser friends, skip my class. If you want to be in college, go to class and forget the loser friends. But there's no more room at the inn for vagrants and wanderers.

Spreadsheet Steve Stiffens His Resolve.

One of the reasons I like academic life is that most people (except deans, who don’t count) aren’t too fussy about paperwork. And I’ll be honest; I’m not the best at keeping records about attendance, participation and all that sixth grade shit.

Mostly, this attitude derives from my idea that a university is an intellectual community and that each class is a smaller version of that community. Supposedly, everyone is motivated by a desire to learn and contribute to the learning of others. You may ask, “What are you smoking?” Just call me an old idealist, I guess. But I am changing my ways.

My idealism has lately been so crushed by grade-grubbing whiners who want to dispute every singly percentile of their grade that I am turning over a new academic leaf. I am about to become the whiners’ worst bureaucratic nightmare. Of course I have always had an attendance and participation policy on the syllabus, but I’ve tended after the first few weeks to let it slide. We’re all here to learn, right? (Yeah, right.)

So I have a sign-in sheet that goes round every day so I don’t waste time calling the roll and after class I put a check mark beside the names of folks who spoke up and contributed. Every week I enter the results into a simple spreadsheet. What I’m discovering is that by holding students to account I feel a greater sense of self-respect.

Who knows? Maybe all these months of reading RYS has stiffened my resolve. Maybe the real reason I let record-keeping slide is that I had lost my belief that it mattered, or that what I was doing was important. In any case, I can hardly wait for the end of the semester when I post my grades & I have to opportunity to go over the numbers with some whiner who wants me to believe he earned a B instead of a C. “Well, yes, now, let’s take a look at the spreadsheet . . . “

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Guess Who?

How queer are you guys?

I read that abomination from Saturday and I don't give a shit about your introspection. Why do you insist on making this such a "professional" endeavor with all the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing of a 4 pm meeting with the Trustees? If I haven't lost that copy of the map to your compound I found on rec.insanity.rys, I'm going to get in my Trans Am and make a night-time visit that will look like a cross between Brokeback Mountain, The Blair Witch Project, and Snakes on a Plane.

It's a blog, you increasingly-anal assholes. It used to be loads of fun. It occasionally still is. If you aspire to get yourself a little space on the Chronicle website or something, where you can ruminate on the "profession," then deal directly with them about it, and close this thing down, because you seem keen on ruining what was once in this space.

You're worried that people don't LIKE the site? You're all nervous because by a 6:1 ratio people didn't like that crazzy Michigan lady? Listen. Do you know how I know when I'm on the right track? It's when 6 people tell me to "watch out." Then I put the pedal to the metal and I'm on my way.

It's seems all I do is write to you assholes to tell you to get all four wheels on the highway. You're always veering off, taking little pictures of the scenery, buying trinkets for the folks back home. Fill it with gas and let it rip. Burn up the 4-lane, and quit looking in the rear view mirror to see if your passengers are happy. The shitheads and the weenies will hop out a window on a curve, and the folks who want to take the trip will be back there anyway.

Turn down the voices in your head, and turn up the Foghat. Don't make me come down there and kick your asses.

A Long Time Reader Shows What It Means To Go "Old School" At RYS. Super Bowl Sunday Smackdown, Suckas!

Miss J -- You warmed my heart the first day of class, with your horrified mug. You had signed up for Junior Miss Faculty -- the one who is desperately kissing student ass because she wants to be popular. Instead, you got me -- crusty old crab cake. You've never really recovered, and sit, looking mildly horrified, through every class. I'm ever so sorry that I actually don't care to hear your opinions on what could make you happier, or make me a better teacher. I don't care if you like me or not, nor do I care what your opinions are of my clothes. No, we can't "hang out" -- and I am vaguely disturbed at the implications that you and Junior Miss Faculty meet up at bars. See, you're under 21, and she's being a twit.

Mr. P -- Your ever-changing hair colors never cease to amuse me. You're a veritable rainbow! Surely Manic Panic is kept in business by you and you alone. We have class twice a week, and each time we meet, your hair is a different color. It's a shame your intellect isn't as bright as your hair -- indeed, your coiffure is the most interesting thing on (or in) your head.

Miss K, companion to Mr. P -- Stay away from magnets. I fear your face will be pulled off, given all of its metal accessories. How ever did you get the bridge of your nose pierced? Oh, you did it yourself? My, what fortitude. Perhaps if you applied such determination to your papers, you'd not be failing.

Mrs. H -- it's always hard for adult students to join in with traditional undergraduates. However, you're a fellow student, not a surrogate mom to them. please refrain from giving "motherly" advice and scolding. Just because you and I are the only 'real' adults in the room does not give you license to be my sidekick. Let me handle the classroom. You need as much help as they do in the writing department. I don't care how they did it at Moose Knuckle High in 1957 -- I promise you that the APA style has changed since then.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Delightful Dora from Detroit Dishes It Out. Why We Proffies Are the Way We Are.

Dear Parents:

I promise, your child is in my class. You see, Rate Your Students is not just read and written by the few rogue professors who are bitter, worn down, jaded, and disillusioned. Nearly all professors are cynical bastards, and that's not because there's something inherently wrong with academics.

It's because there's something inherently wrong with a system that requires a 200% time commitment and compensates with a very low salary. Parents, do you realize that our job isn't just to teach your kids? We are expected to give 100% to our classes and our students -- and then we are expected to give an additional 100% to our committee meetings, to grading papers, to planning lessons.

And to our research. If we don't publish papers, present at conferences, and otherwise engage in professional development, WE LOSE OUR JOBS. Most academics work more than 40 hours/week. We don't spend our summers sipping umbrella drinks poolside -- we spend our summers working on the projects we need to do in order to get published in Peer Reviewed Journal X and to have our grant proposal accepted for Project Y. And a lot of us teach, too. So pardon me for being a little stressed out, and for venting about the part of my job that gives me the most grief: your children.

Why do I do this job? Because working for a corporation wouldn't allow me to do my own research. Because working for the government wouldn't let me pursue my own interests. Because I do enjoy sharing my passion with others. The problem is that so many of the students just don't care, so I sometimes feel like I'm wasting my time.

Don't worry, though, parents. I come to class each day, I smile, I answer questions. Then I come home and read Rate Your Students because my face hurts from all that faking. Your children? They don't have a clue. If they did, my job would yield many more actual smiles.

-- Doctor D!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Usually, When We Get an Email From A [[BLANK]] It Says This...

  • You should be ashamed of yourselves.
  • I hope my son/daughter never gets you for a professor.
  • I have some stories I could tell you!
  • How come you never publish my stuff? It's better than that shit you put up yesterday.
  • I really appreciate my professors.
  • My professors are all dipshits.
Someone outside the academy:
  • If it's so bad, why don't you quit?
  • You lazy bastards only work 8 months a year. How hard can it be?
  • Do you love Asian ladies as much as we do?
  • Don't you want your ©0¢K to be bigger to bring more pleasure?
A Long Time Reader:
  • That post today was the worst thing you ever put up. This site was much funnier before.
  • That post today was the best thing you've ever had. You should do more of that. You're much funnier now than before.

A First Time Reader:

  • This is so funny.
  • I had this idea before you guys, and my version would have been better.

Marshall the Manipulator.

I get sick of the manipulation, even on a small scale. My classes have been in session for 2 weeks now, and that's 4 classes of material. Sure, one day is an intro (syllabus, guidelines, etc.), and that's not a big deal. But on the other 3 days my class has really been making some progress.

So it's with such terrible dismay that I got 2 emails yesterday from different people telling me about poor Marshall, a student of mine who's missed the first 2 weeks for a variety of reasons. My departmental administrator wrote to tell me that his small town in Vermont had bad weather and he couldn't get out until after the first class of the semester had run. Also, there was some kind of dorm problem once he got to campus.

My department chair wrote to tell me that he came by to tell her that he was really excited about the semester, but his on-campus work schedule had not been set yet, and he simply couldn't put his mind to classes until that was sorted out. Oh, and of course he can't afford the textbook yet, and he felt it would be disrespectful to the professor to arrive in class without it.

The gist of each email was that I should cut Marshall some slack. I don't know what kind of charmer this kid is, but he's gone out of his way to talk to 2 people in my office, and neither was me. He clearly knows who his prof is, and instead of dealing directly with me, he's going to anyone he can think of to tell his tales of woe.

I'm not unaware of the challenges students face. I've mentored and advised undergrads for 12 years now. Marshall, had he come to me directly, would have had my sympathy, and I could have made allowances, helped him get caught up, even lent him a book. But because he's gaming the system, I simply want to crush him.