Monday, March 31, 2008

Ruby from Richmond Revels in These 18 Remarkable Students.

1 is the first student I ever caught plagiarizing, her telling mistake being that two sentences from her paper appeared in dark grey text instead of black; those sentences led me to the web page from which she’d cut-and-pasted them. After hours of tears and a really sincere apology letter, she then committed the exact same crime again.

2 told me in no uncertain terms, after receiving a “B+” on his second paper, that his parents wanted him to get at least an “A-“ for the semester, so that’s what he wanted me to give him.

3, during a class discussion in which another student talked about alcohol use in her family, asserted, “Maybe your family is just a bunch of alkies.”

4 asked me to write her a recommendation letter but warned me that it was due “somewhat soon.” I’d have to fax it, she said, since she made the request after our early-afternoon class, and the letter was due halfway across the country by 5:00 PM. I think she thought the time zone disparity made her request reasonable.

5 e-mailed me a paper during Spring Break that was in the strangest file format I’ve ever encountered. No program on any PC or Mac could open it. In a text editor, it appeared as an endless string of Qs, 5s, Hs, and 9s. He turned in a paper copy when he returned and argued that it should still count as “on time.”

6 pulled the smartest scam I’ve ever seen. She turned in the first four pages of a ten-page paper; page four even ended mid-sentence. I didn’t notice for a couple days, whereupon I asked her about the missing pages, and she apologized for the mistake and soon provided them. Voila: Her paper is not late (because can you really penalize her for such a silly mistake?), and she got an extra 48 hours to complete it.

7 is the laziest student I’ve ever had. He looked so lethargic I could not tell the difference between Awake 7 and Asleep 7. When he turned in his final paper, it was accompanied by a lengthy composition about why it was late — apparently the paper’s lateness was the result of a collusion between Amtrak, AOL, and the fact that his parents were out shopping when he wanted to use their computer. He once blamed a previous paper’s lateness on an overnight binge of Grand Theft Auto.

8 received a “B” on every assignment and, at the end of the semester, sent me an e-mail demanding to know why he was getting a “B” in the course.

9 rationalized her plagiarism by looking annoyed and saying, “You told us it was a RESEARCH paper.”

10 informed me from the start that he would be refusing to follow standard grammatical rules. “You can keep marking them on my papers,” he told me, “but I won’t change them. It’s my system.”

11 had more than the maximum number of excused absences, each time claiming that her alarm clock failed to go off (and that she thus slept past noon). Once, I asked where she lived, called her building, and confirmed that no power outage had occurred. When confronted, she said that it was her cell phone alarm she meant, and that it had run out of juice.

12 claimed not to have a paper because “the idiots in the library couldn’t help him print it.” I told him I’d still accept it without lateness penalties if he e-mailed it to me as soon as he returned to his computer. I then did not hear from him for several days, Despite sending me an e-mail in which he effused about how much he loved the class, he failed. I offered to meet with him to discuss the grade, and he sent his father instead.

13, during a class field trip, begged our bus to stop at the nearest McDonald’s because he was feeling ill, so we did. Five minutes later, he returned to the bus carrying a burger, fries, and a Coke.

14, on the same field trip, asked if he could use the bathroom. I told him of course he could. He then walked across the street to a gas station, and, standing amidst traffic, urinated on its outside wall.

15, who was in a 200 person lecture section, sent a friend in her place to avoid being marked absent. The substitution would have gone unnoticed had the friend not spelled 15's name incorrectly.

16 brought a laptop to a small seminar class — no lectures, nothing that really requires extensive note-taking. I told him he wouldn’t need it. He said, “Oh, I don’t handwrite.”

17 insisted English was her first language. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was wrong.

18 showed up to class one day with a perfectly constructed aluminum foil hat.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Let Me Consider Your Request. No. Wait. What am I Doing? No. Go Away."

The email I received:

I was a student in your class last year and in your class I recieved a C. Im am writting to ask that you change that grade into a C+.

In my freshmen year, I made a practical joke on campus that foreve changed my life. I made a prank call telling a friend that I saw a terorrist go into the administration building with rifles and guns. He ended up telling someone and the college did not take this lightly. they suspended me for a year and a half. I returned excited to have a second chance, but immediatly had to drop all of my classes after becoming very ill that semester. I was diagnosed with diabetis.

Over the course of the next year I have struggled to balance school, work , and my illness, all while being urged to reduce my stress levels.

This past December I marched at commencement only to have done poorly in one class. Right now my GPA stands at a 1.99 and I need a 2.0 in order to finally close this chapter of my life and move on to other things.

Is there any way you would be able to grant me this grade change? I would be willing to complete any extra credit assignment that you can think up. If you can or cannot help, please reply and let me know...I would greatly appreciate it.

Highest Regards,
Diabetis Dave

The response I’ve drafted but have yet to send:

Dear Student,

I’ve tried to think of the most amusing way to deny your request, but you’ve given me so much to work with. Where to begin? Do I point out the inanity of asking for a grade change a year after the fact? Do I actually give you an extra credit assignment and let you complete it, knowing that even if I wanted to change your grade at this point I couldn’t? You see, you imply that you’ve graduated already (or at least “marched”), and I no longer teach at the college anyway. (How did you find me?)

But that’s too easy. I’d say no on the grounds that you faked a campus gunman incident, but that’s so obvious. Perhaps the abundance of typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors, which indicate that you probably shouldn’t have graduated from high school, are sufficient reasons not to boost your grade in a college class?

No, I’m being unfair. This is, as you mentioned, the only class you did poorly in. That you “marched” with a 1.99 GPA is certainly proof that you excelled in the bulk of your studies. And let’s not forget your unfortunate diagnosis of “diabetis.” I’d generally expect that someone diagnosed with such a serious disease, the same one that took a member of my family a few years ago, would know how to spell it, but let’s not get lost in minute details here.

No, I think the most enjoyable way to decline your tempting request is point out the flaws in the pathetically humorous logic that a .01 bump in your GPA will make all of your problems go away. No, my friend, a 2.00 GPA will not save you.

Best of luck,
Bemused Bart

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Watson, Come Quickly. We've Solved the Case. It's the Guy Who's Already Given Himself a 94 for Next Week's Exam!"

Dear Burglar Ben,

Most just cheat off their neighbor’s exam. Instead, you broke into my office and changed your grade on my computer. Allow me to critique your efforts so that you might do a better job next time. Somewhere else.

Concept. Grade: A
You broke the lock on the building door, removed some ceiling tiles, then crawled over the doorway to get in my office. You changed your grade and then snuck out, all in 30 minutes. Impressive, as Lord Vader would say.

Breaking in. Grade: D
It’s all about the details, son. I wouldn’t have noticed that anything was amiss and couldn’t convince anybody that you broke in, except for your dirty shoe prints on the walls and desk. Don’t forget to wipe your feet next time!

Changing the grades. Grade: F
At that point, your objective was pretty clear to me. Good thing I have a backup grade file. As I booted up my computer, I worried: How am I going to detect which little shit did this? Only an idiot would change just his own grade ... Oh, I see. You are an idiot. You changed only your grade. I was ready to be Sherlock Holmes but I was dealing with Blues Clues. That disappoints me.

Selection of victim. Grade: D
Why me? You needed to raise your GPA. Fair enough. You were probably too stupid to realize that you were getting a C in my class anyway.

Alibi. Grade: C
This was your ultimate downfall but you almost pulled it off. Your roommate was clearly covering for you and the disciplinary committee was about to give up when he spilled the beans. In the future, remember: dead men tell no tales.

Overall Grade: C-
It’s a great war story to tell my friends and it will be one of the best non-Walter RYS posts, so those are points in your favor. However, you really are a stupid, worthless piece of crap for doing this.

Extra Credit:
I’ll raise your overall grade if you break into the office of that Student Affairs jackass who merely rescinded your financial aid (the only way you could stay in school) rather than putting this on your permanent record and filing charges with the police.

Where Someone Knows the RYS Lessons, But Hasn't Learned to Put Them In Play Yet.

I've been kicking myself for days now. Last week a student came to my office to give an oral report on dead languages. After an extremely poor performance that didn't even meet the minimum requirements of the assignment (and which he blamed on a bad case of dyslexia that he had conveniently failed to document with my university's disability accommodation office), he had the absolute gall to ask, "What was this assignment supposed to accomplish?"

It was abundantly clear that the little dickweed wasn't the least bit interested in my pedagogical approach and only wanted to register a passive-aggressive complaint to the effect that I had wasted his extraordinarily valuable time with some pea-brained requirement that he couldn't be bothered to do a half-assed job on.

I guess I haven't been paying close enough attention to this website for the last few years. If I had been, I would have told him that I didn't plan to explain myself to him until he got his own PhD and became a department chairman and that, in the meanwhile, he was free to withdraw from the class if he disagreed with my approach to the subject. But noooooooo. What did I do? I patiently smiled and told him all about how I got the idea for the assignment and why I thought it was beneficial. I even apologized for being somewhat old-fashioned.

He must have smelled blood, because he then took out his mid-term exam from earlier in the semester and asked me to explain why he had received such a low score on one of his answers. How much of a douchebag am I? Well, let me tell you. I asked him to explain why he thought he deserved a better score. Worse still, I patiently listened to his explanation. Then I earnestly re-read his answer. Seeing it again reminded me exactly why he had earned a low score--the answer was utterly incoherent. I suppose that it COULD have been construed to mean what he said he intended, but it was so poorly written that it also could have been construed to mean virtually anything. Instead of simply coming out and telling him that he was functionally illiterate, I circumlocuted my pathetic ass around a series of euphemisms in order to spare his delicate, sensitive widdle feelings. You see, he fancies himself as a WRITER. And given the muddle-headed nonsense that his creative writing instructors have probably swaddled him in for the last four years, he probably thinks that he's a GREAT writer to boot. "Well," he said, after I had obviously bent over backwards to avoid calling him a moron, "I suppose I just have a looser approach to language than you do."

THAT, dear readers, was a not-so-subtle jab at my entirely unreasonable insistence that college-age students understand and consistently use proper grammar. I could go on. He continued to challenge me, and I continued to play Mr. Nice Guy and explain myself to the little punk who can't even write a decent sentence. I was making myself sick with every word, but I couldn't stop. I guess I just don't have the nerve to handle these incidents in the way I know I should, the way that some of you have tried to teach me.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Grade Grubbing Ghoul, Starring Eric the Irresponsible.

Dear Irresponsible Eric,

Several semesters ago, you missed the final exam. You missed the final exam, despite the syllabus stating and me saying repeatedly that I do not offer make-ups for the final exam. You missed the final exam, despite being given the date of the exam on the first day of class. You had no legitimate excuse to offer, just that you didn't pay close enough attention. You asked that I cut you some slack. I didn't. As a result, you failed the course. Over the course of this academic year, you complained to me, you complained to the dean, you complained to the vice-president, you even filed a grade appeal. The grade appeal committee heard your case. They ruled against you.

After dragging me through academic hell, I was finally rid of you. I raised a glass to your persistence but drank to the thought that I'd never have to see or hear from you again. It was delicious. HA!

However, it turns out like you're those idiotic murderers from 80's slasher movies--you just keep coming back and back and back. Like the heroes in the movie, I turned too quickly; the grade appeal wasn't the needed decapitation that we all yell for in the theater. Now you're in the president's office, claiming that I have destroyed your college career because your GPA is low and you can't compete for scholarships. Never mind that you've had two semesters to take the class again from a different professor and have the failing grade removed from your transcripts and GPA. Never mind that practically any person with a brain on this campus told you that my requirements were stated clearly on the syllabus and therefore you have no case.

But just like the slasher, reality doesn't apply to you. You have your own! A reality that says you are superior to everyone else. It's a place where the rules don't apply to you, a place where you're so special that we should all bow down and reward you for your irresponsibility and self-pity. Well, I have news for you, Eric. I am not destroying your college career. You are.

You have wasted an entire year bitching to anyone with ears that I'm a horrible, unfair, mean, rigid bitch, when you could have been spending that time acknowledging your screw-up, retaking the class, and moving on with your life. If only you put as much effort into reading the syllabus and listening to your instructors as you do being a narcissistic asshole, you'd be surprised at what you could achieve.

And Eric? It may take a sequel or two, but the end will come.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"What About Our Mom? You Got Something to Say About Her, Too?" Metacritical Mortimer Brings the Magnifying Glass to RYS.

RYS is successful for two reasons: 1) It breaks down traditional professional and academic barriers of politesse and in loco parentis and liberates all the repressed desires of academics. 2) It then pats those desires on the back, stands them on their feet, and gives them a talk show in which a hundred yes-men support every transgressive utterance with a chorus of cheers. And you know what, this is fine and dandy!

It's great to let things out and talk them over, to challenge conventions and preconceptions of behavior. But RYS produces a problem when it does that, because it rarely goes far enough, rarely nuances those releases of emotion and, in proper academic fashion, considers why they arise and how they should be resolved. RYS is where academic integrity, in its intellectual sense, comes to die.

Readers perhaps "tune" into the website at first looking to release some aggression, or maybe to show off their wittiness. It's daring, it's fun, it's like smoking a cigarette in the office of the high school principal after you've snuck in at midnight. Fuck you, principal cum students! Look how awesome I am! And then the reader looks around and realizes that, holy shit, there are a thousand other people smoking cigarettes in there, too. We're ALL cool! And then everyone in that office starts congratulating each other on how cool they are, and they never, ever leave. In a sense, they never grow up and realize that smoking in the office in a stage in the development of any mature human being.

Caught up in this haze of self-congratulation, RYS readers produce too-easily agreed upon statements of the problems of the universe: Two of the favorites are that students are self-absorbed little snowflakes who don't properly appreciate what their instructors do for them, and that the administration doesn't care if it anally rapes the faculty as long as it pleases the students and makes more money. Those comments can occasionally be true, which is what makes them so seductive (take a long drag on that cigarette), but they're ultimately totalitizing and reductive, and they only encourage cynicism and pessimism. And, in fact, those comments enact the same egocentrism they condemn in both students and the administration. And this point is where RYS readers stop thinking. And, in fact, here's where RYS is *exactly* like Rate My Professors; it never gets beyond the bitching.

So here's a challenge, RYS and readers: Stop bitching and start thinking again. Drop the cigarette, get a haircut, and actually critique the problems we all despise so much. Stop wallowing in your communal self-commiseration.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Alvin from Arlington is Anxious About Attendance.

Years ago I stopped taking attendance. It never made any sense to me. Students who appeared in class regularly and took part did well on essays, tests, and projects. Those that didn't, well, didn't.

I tell my students this. I tell them that they're on their own as far as coming to class, but that material is discussed in class that they can ONLY get here. They run the risk of missing important details of the class if they choose not to come.

And for the most part it's worked out.

But this past year or so it's gotten out of hand. I'm running my classes about 50% full most days. Students drop in on the Tuesday but not the Thursday, or skip a whole week and come back happily with, "So, what happened last week?" Now, I'm not giving in, or making it easier on them. They just simply don't come and are suffering lower scores on tests and projects. I don't get it. They don't even seem particularly perturbed by it.

Yesterday, with the biggest essay of the semester due in a week, I had scheduled a special day where an English professor colleague was going to come to our class and talk about ways to organize these papers. I had 6 out of 20 students, even though I'd stressed how essential this info would be for us.

It's truly information that can't be replicated for them, because I'm not asking my pal to come back again for those folks who don't come to class.

Nobody's complaining. Nobody in class even seems to give a shit, but I know they're missing crucial stuff, and don't know what else to do. Should I keep attendance? I don't want to. I think it's stupid. I don't want to feel like a babysitter. Yet, it's bugging me that my students aren't getting the experience they could be. Am I supposed to save them from themselves?

We Don't Know if this is Some Kind of Logic Problem, Or Just some Super-SAT Question, But We Like it Anyway.

Original due date for take-home exam: March 10.

Date I had a car accident on the way to work and didn't make it to class: March 3.

Week of Spring Break: March 17-21.

Days when class was not canceled: March 5, March 10, March 12.

New due date for take-home exam (because Heaven forbid a due date stand after I so thoughtlessly had an accident on the way to work one day an entire week earlier, and Heaven forbid I not extend it by two days plus Spring Break even though class was only canceled once): March 24.

Time of tragic news from "T": March 24, 2 AM. "I had my take home test on the day you didn't come and because you didn't come, I couldn't turn it in. It seems I am coming down with some sort of virus so I won't be able to make it back until at least Tuesday."

Since the take home exam was handed out on the first day of class and was identical to the in class exam with different numbers and more questions (not my normal MO, but this is the class from Hell and I gave up. I thought if I at least gave them questions they already had and told them so, that they'd be able to scrape out a class average of a C, or maybe a D+, but no, no, never mind that they could have copied half of it from textbook problems and then memorized the T/F questions, but this is now a tangent from a tangent...) and since she got something in the 20's on the in class exam, and since that story doesn't make any fucking sense, it's safe to say this is bullshit.

What I wanted to say: "Good thing you have some sort of virus, because you're totally full of shit and you could use the cleansing. How dare you try to use my car accident, on a day totally unrelated to the exam, as an excuse! Especially after I OVER compensated for the cancellation with a ridiculous extension. Your story doesn't make any sense and I double dog dare you to bring it to the department chair."

What I said instead: "Oh, too bad you didn't turn it in one of the other three days we had class before Break, since you were going to turn it in a week early anyway. Next time you're done so early and I have an accident on the way to work, make sure you put it in my mailbox, where I told you you could always turn stuff in early. Scan it and e-mail it by 5 PM or it doesn't count. The final will count twice. Feel better."

Now, it's time to hit the road and get ready to hear the whining from whichever friend she designated to do her dirty work. "Professor, I don't know if you checked your e-mail yet, but T is really sick and she wanted me to tell you she can't come until tomorrow. It was really hard to understand her over the phone through her violent retching, so she tapped out what she wanted me to tell you in Morse code by banging her phone against the toilet tank while she puked. She said if you know Morse code, she can tap out her take-home exam answers for you if you call her at this number."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Uh, We Prefer the Dropkick to the F, but We're All About Giving What's Earned. Prof. Meanie Wants Eddie to Understand.

I realized about 5 years ago that most undergraduates, even the brightest and most eager to learn, have NOT been trained in high school on how to avoid plagiarism through the proper quotation or paraphrasing of material...let alone crafting manual-specific citations! And so I teach them how.

I used to spend one day on it. Then I started spending 2. When I started teaching writing classes, I spent a whole week. When I taught a How to Write a Research Paper course, I spent 2 weeks. Then I started splitting it up: Having a week-long intro then a refresher day later on before the big research paper was due. Quizzing them on specifics [e.g. What are the 4 most important items to use when providing internal documentation? etc.]. All the while assigning required reading in easy-to-read style manual-ettes designed for [functionally illiterate] undergrads.

For a significant portion of my classes, NONE of these techniques worked! The sweet, little darlings more often than not invented their own citation style [at the best end], or simply ctrl+v-ed their way to a pastiched paper with varying tone, awkward sentence structures, and a complete absence of quotation marks or bibliography [on the worst end].

So when Eddie says, "punishment should be corrective, not vengeful. I see a lot of instructors post here with the thinly veiled motive of seeing their cheating students suffer." Uh...yeah...I *do* want revenge! I did everything in my power to teach these students how not to do something. Do most of them just go, "Shit! I really fucked up!"? Oh, no...I get vicious screeds on my evaluations about how bad a teacher I am, or I get a student who completely withdraws from participation in class because I so obviously hate him/her [instead of simply assessed what was given me], or I get a student mod who rebels on the final assignment and decides to do as little work as possible.

Eddie needs to accept that on some college campuses, ignorance is the rule. Students get whatever they want from administrations who really could care less about education. Faculty are given mandates by this same administration and then given mixed messages about how to handle situations; I myself worked in a department where I was told to: 1) counter grade inflation, 2) make sure students were prepared to advance past the intro course [and fail those who weren't], but 3) not told how to handle plagiarists even after requesting advice from my supervisor/department chair. This is not just my story, but a common one across the academy.

So, yeah, I *AM* "willing to dropkick students the hardest," as Eddie says. I assess them only on what I taught them, I assign relevant readings and expect them to prepare for class. When students do not do the work, cannot be trusted to be professionally ethical, cannot accept responsibility for their own misbehavior, I will use every power at my disposal [and they are few] to make sure that student gets exactly what s/he has earned...even if it's an F. Since when is an F *NOT* one of the potential grades earned by a student? Isn't it the teacher's job to assign the grade earned in the course?

Monday, March 24, 2008

More Spring Break Madness. The "Family Vacation" Ploy Doesn't Soften the Heart of Professor X

Dear Professor X,

I know that you have an exam scheduled for the day before spring break, and my daughter Gina requested that she take that exam earlier. You said “no” because you didn’t think her family vacation to Jamaica was a good enough reason. I think you’re being unfair, and now Gina is going to get an F for the midterm because you refuse to consider her situation. Therefore, I’m asking you to think this over again and get back to me as soon as possible.

Gina’s Mom

This is what I would have liked to write back:

Dear Gina’s Mom,

Where do I begin? I didn't just refuse her request because she is going on vacation; I refused her request because I have a class of 250 students. If I offered her an alternate time, then I would have to offer an alternate time for all students. This means reserving a room through the scheduling office, finding TAs to invigilate this extra sitting, creating a completely new midterm, and generally taking up my personal time that I don't get paid for just to make your daughter's already pampered life a little more convenient. She won't receive a zero on the test because I refuse to allow her to write it early, she'll receive a zero because she decided 10 days of vacation just wasn't enough for her and that extra day of vacation was worth getting a big fat zero on my midterm.

And you'll forgive me if you didn't get a course outline before the new semester started, but I didn't know I would have the pleasure of teaching your little princess. Had I known, I would have called you immediately to schedule my midterm around all of your family's plans! And since when did it become kosher for parent's to email university professors? Your daughter, despite her spoiled upbringing, is considered an adult now. This nonsense may have worked with your kid's high school teachers, but it isn't going to fly here. She needs to decide what's more important - her education or her tan line.

Professor X

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Some Folks Go Old School.

  • Yes, you've got a nice ass, and you're used to showing it to one and all. But could you please wear something a little more modest. I mean, this is a church school, and you're not a working girl. (I don't think.)

  • Oh God, tell us one more time about going to Firenzo or Forencia or wherever the hell it was you went in Italy last year. I mean we haven't heard about every minute of the trip, though it seems like it.

  • Okay, you're closer to my age than you are to the other freshmen, but we're not buds. Quit slugging me on the shoulder you nutjob, and walking me to my car after class does not make us colleagues or friends. You're creeping me out!

  • You're cute-but-neurotic and it's driving me crazy. I can't tell if your desire to wipe down your desk before you get to work is honest germophobia, or a ploy for the attention of the entire class (which you get). And I don't care. You're smart enough to do the work; can you please just get to it?

  • Oh I know you're busy. Sheesh, you've got a full plate. But that doesn't change the fact that the rest of us have 16 weeks to slog through. Your constant explanations are tiring me out. If your cousin in Ohio simply can't get married without you, then so be it. But we're going to go on without you, okay?

  • You think because you're a foot taller than me that you can do whatever you want, and I'll admit the administration so far is being a too soft on you for my tastes. But if you want to play teacher-vs-student, I happen to know who will win, and the one of us who's been in trouble with the law before is going to be the loser.

  • Nobody has this much trouble finishing an essay. Quit telling me you're blocked. What you really are is lazy. How many times do I have to say, "Write an introduction"? It's not a very intoxicating thought, and I know it's not a very exciting activity. But your essay needs it, and I'm sick of waiting for you to do it.

  • You're right: I absolutely am "treating you like you're in sixth grade." There's a reason for that. Actually, were I to try to put an age on your behavior, I would be forced to admit you act worse than my TWO YEAR OLD. Grow up.

  • I would pay you money to shut up. Don't you get that there are 45 people in this class? Don't you see that all of us - even I - have glazed over eyeballs the minute you begin your newest insane side note? I've asked you politely after class to give your classmates a chance, but all you said was: "I paid my money; I'm getting my money's worth." Try this. Try listening. It's not all about you, and a classroom dynamic might help you if you'd quit stomping on it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stanley from Sioux City Reports on Six Who Skated.

I and my 4 TAs turned over 6 cases of plagiarism just before Spring Break. We documented these cases thoroughly, pulling information from and assorted Google searches, highlighting the plagiarized passages. It was a thick folder of incontrovertible evidence.

When I returned to my office yesterday, a note under my door told me that all of the cases had been reviewed by the Dean's office, and all of the students had "apologized" and had given a variety of "explanations" for the "errors."

I was told by my Dean to lower each student's grade by one letter grade and carry on.

I wouldn't do it. I got that motherfucker on the phone faster than you can say "tenured full professor." I told him I wouldn't take the students back, and that was it. I am not a hothead, and have no history of incivility, but I got the sense that the Dean was surprised.

I felt good all night.

This morning I got a call from a junior faculty member asking me for grades for 6 students. The Dean has moved all 6 of the cheating students out of my class and forced them into the class of one of my colleagues.

Those students have been given a free pass by the Dean, by the college. They are - I can assure you - laughing it up. They cheated. They got caught. And the college looked the other way, made it as convenient as possible for them to get into another course. I even bet the Dean's secretary filled out the drop/add forms. I am sick at heart.

This is academic reality. This is about the last thing I can stomach.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Horace the Hippie and the Red Pen Conspiracy.

Junior faculty have mandatory sessions with this dippy flippy "master" instructor who wears Hawaiian shirts in the middle of icy cold and has Farrah Fawcett feathery bangs. Our sessions with him are *agony* because he dictates to us "youthful instructors" the latest fashionable, watered down horseshit from educational theory designed to de-center us massively powerful assistant and adjunct professors from our positions of "authority" over the helpless widdle sons and daughters of the American elite.

Recently he lectured us on how important it was NEVER to mark students' papers with Red Pens, because the Red Pen would discourage them and suggest to them that their work was something that others could deface. Instead, we were to write them all individual letters, commenting not on what is right and wrong, but instead giving gentle guidance on how a student's choices in the assignment reflect their thought processes.

I’m teaching a total of 150 students, and I only have one worthless TA. I objected: individual letters to 150 students? He looked at the rest of the group, sighed, and said "You'll find, as your career unfolds, that you can always find excuses for not doing your best by your students."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mimi From Memphis Won't Play This Game.

When you walked into my office, I noticed you were wearing the expensive, silky workout gear with the school logo. Was it your obvious height - I mean you ducked down to get through my doorway? Was it your lean frame - you even look fast? Were you all bulked up - I know we're starting a wrestling them - or maybe it was the ever-present baseball cap. In other words, I knew at that moment "this is a student athlete."

I also noticed it was two weeks into the semester. I listened as you explained there was confusion about what classes you were enrolled in, and tried not to smile at the way you looked at me when I asked if you had been attending someone else's class. No?'re in that new program - play sports, skip class. I know it worked so well for you in high school. And you have that smile. You're smooth in the way you talk to me. No problem, right?

You assume it's okay with me that you don't even crack the book. You assume that I'll pass you because you've got a scholarship. It's worse than that. You assume that I don't care that the college will let you play with lousy grades, that the coach will turn a blind eye because you get our name in the paper. You assume that I'm fine with knowing that two years from now we'll be done with you, we'll have all those trophies, and you'll have zip, squat, nada. You assume it will be okay with me that I won't see you in the NFL or the NBA or any of the other alphabet areas - I'll see you in Wal-mart stocking shelves because you never learned how to do anything but make a basket or run a race. You assume that I think it's fine that we're taking advantage of you while all the while you think you're getting away with something.

It's not okay with me. It pisses me off. I see you as valuable. I see you as worthwhile. I'll sit with you for hours and teach you to read, teach you to write, convince you that there's a serious need for a back-up plan because I believe in you.

That's what I told you that first day. That's what I tell you every time we talk. I'll do anything except play into the game where we cajole you, keep you around, suck the youth out of you, and toss you aside when someone taller/faster/stronger comes along. Hate me if you want, but I refuse to ignore that you are a STUDENT athlete.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

File This Under: "We're Getting Right On It, Douchebag."

Dear Sir,

I came to your office as well to talk about the reassessment of my grade, however at that time you said that it is not possible. I however consulted several seniors as well as TAs and everybody told me that it is.

The issue was that i am above the mean by a huge margin in both the midterm as well as the final exam. I compared my marks to a couple of my friends who were below the mean in both, by quite some margin as well, and these two exams form the significant portion of the grade. Yet we all ended up with the same grade, i.e a B+. I even calculated our aggregates and there was a difference of about 16% over all.

I therefore kindly request you to please look into this matter once, and reassess my grade. This happened with me once before too in the autumn quarter this year, and my grade was eventually improved, because the grader had made a mistake. I just want to be reassured that that is not the case this time. Thanking you for your expected cooperation.

Bold Barry


Dearest Snowflake Barry,

If the seniors (seniors!), and not only seniors but TAs!!! (TAs!!!!!!!) and EVERYONE say that grades can be changed, then of course they can.

Perhaps the stress of the two weeks I spent marking hundreds of exams (the two weeks you call 'quarter break') caused a psychotic break with reality. I seem to have found myself hallucinating some sort of alternate reality in which seniors (seniors!) and undergraduate TAs (undergrad TAs for crying out loud!!) and EVERYONE simply don't have any say in my academic policies.

I obviously made an extreme misjudgment when I allowed your friends to have the same letter grade as you when you were a whole 16% better than they were. You make a strong case for lowering their grades. If you will send me their names, I'll will see to it that the matter is corrected.

Better yet, I will personally rewrite the grading software that assigns incorrect grades to fine scholars such as yourself. If it doesn't recognize your genius, there must be a problem. Of course, the change of grade petition will have to go to the Dean and he might not want to change all these grades, even if you and the seniors! and TAs!! and EVERYONE says he should. The poor fellow is as unenlightened as I am.

Prof. "Hanging On By A Thread" Harry

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Trish the TA, Beset by Plagiarists and Betrayed By Do-Nothing Proffies, Comes to Us For Help.

I am a first year graduate teaching assistant doing my best to tend to the demands of the professor to whom I've been assigned this year. Basically, he doesn't like to grade papers but has no problem assigning them to his undergraduate students several times throughout the semester. I fully accept that it is my responsibility to take care of all of his grading and, other than the fact that it is an arduous task, I have no complaints. That is, I didn't have any complaints until a student blatantly plagiarized last semester. The professor failed to take the appropriate action (in my opinion) and I let it pass without raising any objections, however, this semester I am faced with a similar situation and just don't know if I should let it go again.

The nature of the plagiarism last semester was such that the student literally did a "cut and paste" from a published article and incorporated several passages into his own paper. I highlighted the plagiarized passages and forwarded the paper with the published article to my professor who told me that he would take care of it. I suppose if "taking care of it" consisted of giving the student an 'A' on the paper and ignoring the plagiarized passages, then the professor did his job. However, the university has a very strict policy regarding plagiarism that requires professors to turn these students in to the Dean's Office. They even subscribe to and urge professors to have students turn their work in through this site. It baffled me that the professor not only failed to turn the matter over to the Dean, but he rewarded the student with an outstanding grade. I later found out that the student was one of the professor's favorites and had been doing some research for him on the side. And...hold onto your seats...the professor is now chairing the plagiarizer's honors thesis committee.

I was extremely disillusioned but ultimately decided to let the matter go. However, in the midst of grading papers this semester I have come across a pair of students who plagiarized in tandem. I guess they thought that they were smart about it since their papers consisted of reordered versions of the copied passages. In one paper, the plagiarized work is at the beginning. In the other, it is in the middle. Of course, I have an incredible urge to confront both of these fools with their obnoxious stupidity but I realize that this would be highly unprofessional. So, what should I do?

If I turn it over to the professor, he will take no action. I don't think I'm okay with that but at the same time I feel as though it might be the best thing to do since he is the professor and I am merely an inexperienced TA. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that it is so unfair to allow this to go unpunished when most of the other students took the assignment seriously and invested their time and energy into doing a good job. Additionally, I believe that the professor has an ethical obligation to hold his students accountable for their work.

Okay. Give it to me straight. What is the best course of action? Should I turn the other way and pretend I don't see what's happening? Or do I take a more assertive stance?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Smirking Seth Vs. Plagiarizing Padraig.

Student: I want to speak to you about my grade.

Me: Ok, what's up?

Student: It's unfair for you to give me a zero for plagiarizing.

Me: How is that unfair?

Student: I didn't plagiarize.

Me: Yes, you did.

Student: No, I didn't.

Me: Yeah, you did. Show me...

Student: You say I plagiarized here *points to paper wherein I found a sentence taken from online*

Me: You didn't use quotation marks.

Student: It's not fair. It was an accident.

Me: It's perfectly fair. You didn't use quotation marks. That's plagiarism.

Student: No, it's not.

Me: Yes, it is. And you know the code, and all the rules, and you know it's plagiarism.

Student: But it was an accident.

Me: It's still plagiarism. It perfectly fits the definition of plagiarism.

Student: But I had the quotation marks in my draft. They were here *points to paper* and here *points to paper*

Me: But they aren't there now. That's plagiarism.

Student: But this grade is gonna hurt me.

Me: Then you should have been more careful not to plagiarize on an assignment about plagiarism.

Student: How can you stand there and smirk?

Me: How should I act? All concerned? *feigns concern* Aw, that's too bad. I'm really sorry you did that. *ends feigning, resumes uncomfortable smirk* I'm not sorry. You plagiarized and got a zero for doing it. You were taught not to do this and you did it anyway.

Student: But it's not fa....

Me: *interrupts* You know the code. We've gone over all the rules

Student: Can I talk?

Me: No, you've stated your case. And you have none. If you don't like your grade, file a grievance.

Student: I won't do that.

Me: Good. Because you won't win. You plagiarized.

Student: But you can see I cited the source. And I did it right everywhere else. You know it was an accident.

Me: People get arrested and fined for accidents all the time. If you have a traffic accident, your insurance still has to pay.

Student: It's not the same.

Me: Sure it is. It's a perfectly acceptable resemblance argument. We've spent the whole semester talking about the types of arguments. You should understand how they work.

Student: But I can't have a zero in my grades. With the other scores I have, I can't have this 3 weeks before the end of the semester.

Me: Then you shouldn't have plagiarized. We spent plenty of time going over the rules and how to avoid plagiarism.

Student: But it was an accident. It's not fair. *leaves room disgruntled*

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sheesh. Little "I Wanna Be a Helper" Just Can't Get a Break!

The email I got:

Dear Dr. M,

I noticed that you never have the copies of our notes collated or stapled before you come to class. You realize that most photocopiers have a collate and staple function, right?

My dad is the district rep for Ricoh and he does tutorials for businesses on how to use their copiers all of the time. I sent him an email to get in touch with you so he can help you learn to use the copier. The students would appreciate it if the notes were better organized when you handed them to us.


The reply I wish I could write:

Dear Ash-hole,

I know how to use a copier. I use one that is so old and decrepit that I have to sing sweetly to it so that it will turn on. It doesn't have a collate function, and stapling?! not that either. Do you realize that I spend 45 minutes babysitting this monstrous old copier in order to make copies of your notes every two weeks like I promised. I don't make copies for your convenience, I do so because 3/4 of your classmates are non-native English speakers and the notes help them to succeed in the course. I'm attempting to level the playing field here.

But, because the looseleaf notes bother you so, please don't be surprised when I miraculously run out of copies before I get to your desk next time.

Oh, and if you're dad calls me, please know I will tell him what an asshole he raised.

Love and hugs,
Dr. M

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Er, So, Will You Have It Tomorrow?"

No, I haven't graded your paper yet. Maybe you turned it in on time, maybe you turned it in late. Maybe you made sure it looked great, maybe it looked like something the dog chewed on.

You won't believe this but it doesn't have anything to do with you. Why is it that you expect me to accept your pleas for time because you/your kids/your spouse/your dog/ your neighbor has a cold/flu/asthma, but expect me to work 24/7 without sleep or food so you can get your papers back instantaneously?

You see, I actually read your papers as I grade them. In fact, after wading through this last stack, I'm pretty sure I've put more time in on this assignment that you did. Sending me countless e-mails, leaving voice mails on my phone, stopping me in the hall will not make this happen anymore quickly than my reminding you weeks ago that these papers would be due on the date announced at the beginning of the semester.

I wish only that you were as good a working your way through assignments as you are at working your way to the bottom on my stack.

Buddy from Butte Goes Off a Cliff. Wonder if He Got His Meeting?

I wanted to know when you were available to go over some things from this past class?


I know that you probably wont change my points, but I do have suggestions and questions about the structure and content of your quizzes.

The majority of your questions were memorization based, we had to read two chapters and remember things like peoples names and dates. I believe this is unfair and I'm pretty sure I've heard or at least could find research on how questions that required people to basically memorize information weren't good. Personally I hate having to memorize something, I'd rather have it lectured, and I can tell you that every question that asked me who was the inventor of this or what date did that happen I guessed on.

My suggestion is that if your going to have questions based on memorization of text read, you should give some kind of homework assignment before the quiz that reinforces the knowledge that we SHOULD have memorized. Because who can memorize 60 pages of text in hopes that 50-60% of it will be on the quiz for the following week.

The questions I did want to go over are based on your lecture in class because I think some of the answers would be debatable or just plain wrong based on what you said in class.

Again I'm not expecting you to change my points, but I figured if your going to continue teaching here this is the information you might very well be able to use.


Now I think this has been the most unfair part of class and I would like to argue for some point changes in my two papers. You gave a syllabus with how the structure of the papers should be, which was excellent. The first thing I thought was "This is great, these papers are going to be extremely easy." which is what I'm sure you wanted, but then after I saw my grade I noticed you had a rubric with at least 20 other points that we should have touched on.


You took away points for key things that were missing from the syllabus, things that in some cases I think I briefly touched on as well as points for spelling mistakes or grammar mistakes. I would think I would lose points for blatantly misspelling something instead of typing "there" instead of "their" and not having my eyes catch the mistake. And I have to review my papers again but I can be pretty sure that there weren't more than 1 or 2 mistakes on at least one paper to begin with.The same thing goes for grammar.

I felt like the papers were structured like this: 1/3 Content, 1/3 Spelling/Grammar and 1/3 Content We Weren't Told About.

I feel like I followed the syllabus exactly for the content you required and shouldn't be faulted for content you DIDN'T require (based on the syllabus). I also felt like at least my paper was graded unfairly in terms of spelling and grammar. If I knew this was going to be a Writing Intensive Course instead of a Content Based Course (This is the topic, I'm going to teach you the topic and the things about the topic, and not grade you on how well you speak, or how well you can write, or whether you know how to spell infantalize or not.)

After reviewing my quizzes and papers I would like to schedule some time to go over the grades you gave me as I believe, at least in terms of the papers, they are highly unfair.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Regrets? We'll Post a Few.

  • I regret that I settled for my discipline because I couldn't cut the mustard in the field I really loved. Now I work in a job I hate and I put myself here.

  • When I get a really good student, I stop actually reading their work very carefully. These are students who are going to get A's no matter what I mark on their tests. I figure why bother. I use the extra time helping flunking students improve.

  • I regret not failing every plagiarist the FIRST TIME they plagiarized in class (instead of giving them 2nd and 3rd chances).

  • I regret that I've adopted a placid mediocrity at my college just because that's the only way to get ahead.

  • I regret that I hopped around for "better" jobs, because now it turns out my first one was the best one, and I'm looked at as a flake.

  • I regret that the only thing I can think to do when a student disputes me is to be vindictive with the grades.

  • I regret that I've passed dozen of students who I should have flunked. I passed their problems on to someone else because I didn't want the headache.

  • I regret that I don't enjoy my teaching more. I'm so worried that I won't be liked (and get good evaluations), that I only teach to make the students happy.

  • My colleague is a student favorite, and after I got tired of the endless parade of loving devotees at his office door, I went to a computer lab in the library and gave him a half dozen lousy comments on RateMyProfessor.

  • I'm as old as their fathers, but I still get a dirty charge out of looking at the young co-eds.

  • I regret that I settled at this shitty college.

  • When I was a beginning TA, most of the students were close to me in age. Two or three of them became very flirtatious, particularly when they saw me around campus outside class. While I was their TA, I'd be on my best behavior. But when summer rolled around and I was done being a TA, one of them came over to my place on some pretext or other. We ended up fucking like wild animals for hours. Do I regret this? No... but I regret I didn't do the same with the others. TAs can get away with a hell of a lot more than professors can.

  • I took my Dean literally when she asked “what do you honestly think of this proposal” prior to getting tenure.

  • I regret that every time I'm asked to take it up the ass for the college I usually say, "How far in do you want to go?

  • I regret not tossing every single disruptive student out of class when their cell phones went off and they took the call, when their side conversations were louder than I was, and when their inappropriate computer use became the obvious reason why they had no clue what I was trying to teach them.

  • I regret that I've turned my courses into Mickey Mouse versions of what they once were. I'm too tired to fight with these new students who would revolt if I gave them the grades they actually earned.

  • Without question (and far outstripping any of the nearly uncountably many bad decisions I've made) I regret marrying one of my students. God help me, it seemed like a good idea at the time....

  • My biggest regrets are having dumbed down my courses, inflated my grading, and having caved in to disciplinary problems because of pressure from senior faculty who take anonymous student evaluations too seriously.

  • I regret that as a professor at a teaching college my research has suffered. I went into this field because I loved research, and now I spend so little time "doing" what I love.

  • I regret not putting forth as little effort as many of my students. After all, if *trying* is all that's supposed to be enough, then a half-assed effort might have been all I needed. After all, why work 60 hours a week prepping, grading, and e-mailing when you barely make more than minimum wage trying to educate the willfully ignorant?

  • Once, when I ran out of time, I didn't grade the finals. I had to have the grades in within an unreasonable period of time, so I just took a look at the rows of accumulated grades representing a gazillion hours of other grading instead.

  • I regret that because of the nature of the job of professor (i.e. working all hours, weekends, holidays, summers....) that my family life suffers.
  • I regret caring so much about students who clearly don't care about their own education.
  • I regret that I've stopped caring about doing a good job.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"I Used To Teach Saturdays, But Then I Won These Awards."

For my first few years, every time my turn to teach a low-level gen ed course came around in the rotation, I always jumped on the Saturday course. I like teaching them. I figure in an average two-day or three-day lecture, I waste so much time with classroom management, that wasn't wasted in a Saturday course. In my experience, the students were more serious as well. I had a lot of non-traditional students (people finishing their degrees for a promotion, bored housewives looking to better themselves, etc.), a few people who needed the class to graduate, and a couple nerds like me who just liked Saturday morning classes.

Well, my shift as Saturdayman ended a couple years ago. A book I wrote won a couple awards around the same time that somebody notices a practical use for a theory in my dissertation and I guess I was a "hot commodity" to the dean or something, because my department chair and I were called into a meeting with him where we discussed why I shouldn't be "wasted" on non-traditional students. (Wasted was his word, not mine, and this ignored the fact that the only people who would care about my research are physics students, who I was still teaching Monday through Thursday, not communication and history majors who just needed a science credit).

You see, the administration doesn't care about non-traditional students or commuter students. They only care about their precious "live-on-campus, go to class between 9 and 3 traditional students that are more likely to be wonderful successes." That attitude tends to creep down the ladder after so many years (or get forced into our throats) until you have faculty members who regard the "non-traditional" time periods with as much disdain as the administration.

Sometimes as well, it's not so much that they share the feeling, it's more that they just know it's not worth the fight, so they pass these courses along to the adjuncts and junior faculty, and happily skip along to their weekends.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Return of Academic Haiku, Occasional Verse That May Or May Not Actually Match Any Meter or Scansion...Oh, Shit, You Know.

thanks for the fat cat
it was so delicious with
the steamed broccoli

wicked walter, me.
drowning in our sarcasm.
smoking a big bowl.

my students believe
that I'm their personal serf
(until grading time)

spring break coming fast
pretty girls, please don't speak your
hot Mexican plans

Monday, March 10, 2008


Yo yo yo. You fellas have done finally turned it around. I like how you're all eating each other now, taking on each other - profo to profo. Good on ya. Rating those sweaty students was like shooting fish in a barrel. Much more juicy is the meat of a fine colleague than one of them stringy ass students.

I'm liking the new mission so much that I'm willing to rename the site right now to RoastMyColleague.Com. I figger it will catch on like wildfire, because there's nothing worse than a bunch of academics. I mean, do you ever go by the faculty club and see the losers in there? If they aren't wearing bibs, they should be. And lately I've been spending a couple of minutes each day hitting the academic blogs to see what's out there. I can barely contain myself. I end up snorting, retching, and peeing my pants so much you'd think it was 1975 and I'd just gotten back from an Eagles show in Riverside.

But I digress.

You got the crazzy asses all lined up, and I think we need to move on it pronto. Why not take one of the newest Kompound Kids and let her or him make a few more t-shirts and purses. Let 'em post the occasional student smackup to keep the charter good and legit.

But the rest of you dudes gotta get full time on the problems right here in Frailty Hall. I mean, what is it with the fucking cats. Every blog I go to has some child-substitute cat that is featured prominently. Some gasbag writes: "Mr. Majeepers made a poopie today, and he's so cute I just want to put down my research on Ayn Rand." Then there's a blurry ass picture of some cat so god-awful looking that if you saw it on the side of the highway you'd think it was the bad half of an armadillo.

Then there's the crazzies who are writing books, or MONOGRAPHS! They keep score on the word count like it's the Super Bowl of nerd-dom. "I have revised chapter 7, but chapter 4 keeps vexing me! With all of the strain and stress, I almost forgot to drink some expensive tea and to wear my spats to the modern drama class."

Oh, and I love those librarians who can't catch a break. Nobody tells them they're pretty. "Gimme a book, Glenn," is all we say. Well, Glenn, nobody told you to work in a service industry. If you didn't want to be treated like the guy who runs the french fry machine at Wendy's, you should have taken two extra science courses and gotten a real degree.

Oh, and English profs. They're delicious. English departments are where dreams go to die, right? I mean these English profs always have the nice Shakespearean fonts on their websites, a big quill next to their unbelievably white faces. They're always writing about how summer will bring them to England or Scotland, where they will trudge down some muddy trail to where Wordsworth once smoked a big bowl, or where Coleridge once ate a beaver because he thought it was Mary Shelley.

Science and math profs have such cool diagrams and shit on their pages. I'd make fun of them, but I have no idea what they're actually doing. I believe they believe they're doing important work, equations and shit. I love them for their lab coats. But they're only high on the food chain because of grants, and that whole grant world just makes me sick...we're all sucking someone's teat already, and I'll be damned if I'm going to beg some fey foundation for $7500 when I could instead just tell them to eat it and spend my summers shooting whatever animals cross the poorly constructed fence outside the WW ranch.

And I won't even get started on the whole insular world that is academic blogging, with all the above inanities tagging each other with memes. "I tag WonderProf and TeachingSuperstar with this newest meme: 5 authors you'd like to poke with a stick and 5 sexual positions you could get into where it'd be easiest to revise your un-sellable and boring dissertation."

Finally, a special shout out to those cretins on the job path. Oh, they are lovely, sweet dears, so persecuted, so incredibly sure that the system is out to spoil their chance at success...all the search committees have ganged up to find ways to make them unhappy, and when they do get interviews, they imagine senior faculty Stanley is flicking boogers at them, and not playing along with the modus operandi which is supposedly: "We welcome you and your intellect, and can't wait for you to show us how it's done, you 27 year old fucktard." Oh yeah, and the Super 8 hotel near the flyover state uni where you interviewed didn't serve you a radish and raspberry compote like you got at the grad school heaven you left 2 years ago, and some boor looked at your boobies during the campus tour and you're thinking of writing a long missive to the Chronicle of Higher Education forums about the trauma.

Oh, but I'm off track. I just want to say you guys have found the path to salvation. The students have got enough trouble. Keep going after each other. It's bound to brighten things up for all of us. At least those of us who are real Americans professors, sure of ourselves, not crouched in a permanent fetal position like 95% of our kind, standing strong, teaching it right, calling it crazzy when it's crazzy, and being real when real is like so out.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Pedro the Proctor on Pee-Pee Patrol.

I was proctoring a first year computer science exam on Thursday evening. Two hour exam. We're well into Winter Term so the students have 6 months of university exam experience under their belts. They do not, it seems, have their bodily functions under control yet. 30 minutes into the exam, a hand goes up. "Yes?" "Can I get a drink of water?" "No." The stunned look lead to my follow on remark: "I am the only proctor here, I can't let you leave the room." Can I get a drink of water? If only I had a bright orange traffic cone like my son had in his grade one classroom. Headcount. Where is so-and-so? Ah - they have a cone on their desk, they must be going pee-pee.

As I left this parched student, another hand went up. I surmised from the nearly empty water bottle in front of this student what the issue was going to be. "Can I go to the bathroom?" "No" I said and immediately gave the same explanation to avoid another stunned look. 60 minute mark. Mister tiny bladder's back teeth are swimming "Can I go to the bathroom; I drank two bottles of water." "That's not my problem, and NO, I can't let you leave." Focusing on his bladder impaired his ability to comprehend what I told here mere minutes earlier. A few minutes later a few of the students finished up their exams and were leaving. Opportunistic urine-boy fires his hand up "Could I go out with one of these students then come back?" "If you want to leave now, hand in your paper." Somehow he managed to persevere to the bitter end, but hopefully he learned something in that exam. Either drink less water or wear incontinence protection.

Similar thing happened during final exams last Winter. Big gymnasium, hundreds of students, multiple proctors. If Little Johnnie "Two Bottles of Red Bull and a litre bottle of Evian" has to go pee, we'd escort him to the washroom. At one point, we looked around - there were three proctors in the men's washroom! Who was left back the exam proctoring?! We quickly came up with a system - one male chair, one female chair at the front of the room. Gotta go pee? Wait 'til the chair corresponding to your gender is free and go sit in it. Eventually a proctor who doesn't want to see your bladder explode will escort you to the toilet. As I was walking one student back from the bathroom, I asked him why he was drinking a massive bottle of water. "Have to keep hydrated" came his honest reply. Hydrated? This is a freaking EXAM! It’s not a triathlon! Do they televise exams? No. Why? Because people don't sweat. Unlike sports and Dancing with the Stars. Hydrated? Gimme a break. You can't pay me enough to do this shit.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Saturday Professor.

Yes, I'm one of those weekend teachers, one of the ones who's too stupid or lame to get a "real" job, one who plies his trade on weekends, on Thursday nights, and oftentimes in odd places: a high school classroom, a seminar room in a downtown office building, and - for one week - a prison visiting room.

That's all by way of saying that it's Saturday morning and I'm getting ready for a class. I know that when I get there I'll walk the long hallway of locked office doors until I find the teachers lounge. It'll be empty. Later I might find my classroom locked, and my students and I will stand outside for 20 minutes while we wait to be let in by the sleepy and miserable campus safety guy - he's a Saturday guy, too, I guess.

I won't be able to consult with a colleague, because there's no one there. I won't be able to check with the Dean about anything, or the department administrator. If I want a pen, I'll need to go to Walgreen's. If I need companionship, I'll need to get a dog. I'll have to do a week's worth of teaching at one shot...15 weeks in a row of 3 hour and 45 minute classes. If you haven't done that, think about it. Take your class plan for M, W, and F, and set it up so you can do it all at one go. No time for reading, homework, writing assignments.

And my students! They're working folks. Most of them have families, jobs, full lives. Getting up for a 9 am Saturday class is often last on the list of priorities for the week, and only about 50% of them show each Saturday. And they want to leave early because their kid's playing basketball or because their husband is flying home from Sarasota. They want a long break in the middle of class. They want to get out early. They want to eat their frozen waffle right on top of the textbook.

I have 20 on the roster, and last Saturday only 3 showed up. Do I keep those on target, keep pushing ahead, or do I hold things off till the next week? And what if those 3 don't make it back next week and I have 4 different students. How does last week's class speak to this week's? Am I supposed to throw a whole Saturday away, or just keep going. And if I keep going, what will my Saturday students say: "Don't you know I have a full time job?" "Don't you know that I only take classes on the weekend to better myself?"

And they want to know about me, why I'm teaching on a Saturday. Why don't I teach during the week? Why don't I have an office? Why do we have individual conferences in the teachers lounge? Am I like them, a regular person from Monday-Friday?

Yet the class is just another class, equal to those taught during the week with the real professors, the real students, the real college behind it all. The same credit, although, I can tell you, what we get done on a Saturday is NOT equal to what gets done on the normal schedule. Oh, yes, I drank from that river once, a few years ago. Students whose sole job was going to class. 2 or 3 meetings a week, time for the info to process. A full staff of help, of colleagues, of open doors, of "we're in this together!"

But now I'm a weekend and nights guy all the way. And I just don't want to go this morning.

My college keeps giving me the Saturday classes. And I keep taking them. (Oh, I do a Saturday afternoon one, too...but let's not even talk about that nightmare.) What else am I going to do?

When I was a kid, Saturday was the best day of the week.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Madge From Moose Jaw Makes Mincemeat of Us All. More Perspective When We Least Expected It.

Just like there are excellent, mediocre, and flabbergastingly horrible students, there are excellent, mediocre, and flabbergastingly horrible instructors, and excellent, mediocre, and flabbergastingly horrible researchers. And just like there are innately motivated students, there are innately motivated proffies. You may be a good researcher, or a good teacher, and hell knows, I've even heard them whisper of some who are both... but rest assured, most of you are just average. And that's by definition.

Ever get annoyed at your grammar Nazi colleague/editor who constantly tells you that sentences shouldn't end in prepositions, or that you're using the passive voice too much, or that your sentences are too long? Or maybe at your tech support person telling you that the way you handle your email inbox will make the server crash? Or maybe at the auto mechanic who tells you that you really must have your oil changed more regularly if you don't want it to break down again?

I bet your response is to nod politely, inwardly roll your eyes, and go about your ways. Clearly, these people are crazy for expecting you to invest so much energy into submitting yourself to their expertise! You have more important things to do and worry about... much like the "snowflakes" who roll their eyes at you when you correct their subject-verb agreement, or their misconceptions about the locations of the Hypothalamus, Grenada, and spell checkers.

It's not that I think that these kids should be making scholars' lives hell - on the contrary. These students should be elsewhere. Let me assure you - all these kids are good at something. It might not be something you and I value, but they are. And as a society, we are failing big time trying to connect our young to what they're good at.

Sadly, we live in a world where everyone is expected to be the same, and certain abilities are not valued. The poor chaps who, unlike you and me, do no have an excess of analytical and verbal intelligence, have been drilled their whole lives to be something they're not. A few of the braver ones disobey and try to make a living playing in a band or being social justice activists, but the meeker ones have been told so much to go to med school or become a lawyer that they may not even *know* that what they're really good at is baking pastries, or writing poems, or designing board games.

We provide safe, parent-approved paths into post-secondary education for over-parented middle-class kids, and tell them that they can either pick one of 12 options, or face parental disapproval, disdaining looks from relatives, and financial insecurity. For a change, just imagine being transported into a universe where football and dancing are required skills for all respectably-paying positions in society. Imagine taking a (required!) course in ballet, because if you followed your dreams to be a biomedical researcher, you'd have to wait tables and do it for free in your spare time, and your parents would disown you.

How long before you would roll your eyes at Ballerina Proffie?

Bitch out.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Apparently, While Those Who Can't Do, Teach, Those Who Can't Teach Just Go Skiing.

Dear Education Students,

I've been marking your essays all weekend, and gotta say: You are making me lose my faith in humanity. I've had it with you one-dimensional, uncritical zombies from privileged backgrounds who can't imagine a world beyond the tip of your nose, or worse, that exists in your mind for the exclusive proposition of kissing and making comfy your (mostly) lily white asses.

I worry for a generation of students who will be put into your socially arrogant and pedagogically incapable hands. I am concerned, because, for the most part, many of you are not as bright as the children you will be teaching.

I cringe when male pre-service teachers write things like "I like teaching girls. They aim to please and don't talk back," without blinking an eye, or even drawing enough of a critical breath to make a nostril hair quiver. The Grrrrrl Power pink haired, zine-producing anarchist of my disenfranchised youth wants to bitch slap you for such a dangerous and stupid remark. I might yet.

And you double-x chromosome types who argue that "gender discrimination doesn't exist and I wish those hairy feminists would stop whining about it." While I could point out that women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar that men make, it would be lost on you. In your last essay you used "chateau" as a verb (as in, "My family chateaus in France every summer."). In this one, you said that you considered your social location as being "low income" because you only work occasionally during the summer and are too busy skiing in the winter to worry much about grades or poor people. Good thing that the homeless covered in snow make awesome bumps to snowboard over, it's very considerate of them, really.

For the few of you who can make some critical connections, and write a paper with a flash of insight, (or even occasionally brilliance), I'd like to say *thank you.* I think our schools need more educators like you, and will do everything I can to encourage you and support your work. I think you'll be great teachers. Hopefully you won't get too burnt out trying to spend your career undoing the damage your ignorant, obnoxious and ill-informed zombie peers are inflicting on classrooms. Who knows? Maybe while relaxing post-ski at the Chalet of Meritocracy they'll choke to death on their foie gras and spare us all. One can only hope.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Gretchen from Georgia Confesses the Grading of Gary.

My professional self tells me that I'd never use grades against students, but in my heart I know it's wrong. Let me take you back a few years.

Gary was a prize ass of a student, always a problem, always talking when he should be listening, sullen when he should be active, and dismissive of my advice and the advice of others in class. He treated me with disdain, but what bugged me more was the casual rudeness with which he treated everyone else in class.

His first paper was strong, and I gave him an A-. The paroxysms of dismay he went through in my office after that were comical and sad. He went on at length about how graduate school lay ahead for him, and not at a small state school like ours, but at a big time school, in the east, a long way from the pedestrian paths the rest of us were treading. I gave him my best advice, showed him that he'd merely missed one element of the assignment, thus the grade. He slumped out dejected.

In class, his behavior became worse. He would tell other students that their work wasn't worth being discussed, that they needed to open their minds in order to really learn. "College," he said, "is for sheep."

His second paper earned a B, and that was a stretch. He ignored the assignment entirely, writing on a topic outside of our discussions. This time when he arrived in my office his aim was solely on me. Surely I couldn't be trusted to grade his essay, after all, where did I go to college? What would I know about the high level treatment of his subject, given that I was merely a visiting professor? I sat through it, looked the paper over again and slid it back. It was the right grade. He stormed out.

Gary disrupted the last few weeks of the semester by mocking the material we covered, minimizing the views of the other students still trying to have normal discussions despite his guffaws and sighs. Twice I had to ask him to be quiet, to allow students to finish their thoughts. Each time he crossed his arms and stared out the window until class was over. In the last week he simply stood up 10 minutes into each class and left.

When final essays came in, his was on top. It was excellent. He had kept up to the reading and unlike the second essay, this one was right on topic. It was well argued, informed, spirited. It was even a little funny and appealing.

I gave it a D.

I wrote enough comments to choke the margins. I invented requirements that didn't exist to show where the paper missed. I used that pen like a baseball bat and took out my frustrations on him. He had absolutely ruined a whole semester of my life and of my students' lives, and I wasn't going to let him get away with it.

Gary never appeared in my office again. He went to the Dean who went to my chair who came to me. I looked at the paper the chair brought in, and told him that I stood behind what I'd done. The paper had missed the mark. Others might view it differently. But that was the grade I gave it, and I was not flexible.

The chair gave word to the Dean, who gave word to Gary, and that was the end of it.

I don't know what became of Gary. Perhaps he soared to great heights. Maybe he's working in retail. I don't really care. I have moments of guilt over it, but if someone like him came along again, I'd do it again.