Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chart-Making Charles from Chestertown Challenges Us.

Each semester I teach a large section of BIOL 1101, our college's intro course. I separate the class into 3-5 sections, based on the number of TAs I have. We do a standard placement test (designed by me and my colleagues) and distribute students evenly through the lab and discussion sections.

This past semester I had 4 TAs, all good kids who I've had in class before: Ann, Bob, Carl, and Dee. I meet with them extensively before the semester, but they have "lord's rule" over the grading and progress of their sections during the semester.

After a mandatory seminar we took on grade inflation last year, I got it in my head to plot the students' grades along with the standard TA evaluations we do each semester. Both are (happily) on a 4 point scale.

I've just now finished this chart in Excel, but couldn't figure out the export program. So I've displayed the data as near as I can in MS Paint. It looks awful, but the trend is clear.

Those TAs who had the highest student evaluations also gave the highest grades. It is definitely not statistically significant - my brethern would string me up - but I think it reveals a real truth about something.

The blue line shows the average grade earned, the red line shows the evaluation average for the TA, and the black line is the average final exam score for students in that section...the black line is a number I give. That it's so straight across suggests to me that our placement test did a good job sorting students fairly evenly, and that my TAs rise and fall in their evaluations based on the grades they give.

Tell me I'm wrong.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wherein Someone's Lost.

It's a beautiful September day, sunny and low 70s. A woman shows up at my office door, clad head to foot in fleece, beads of sweat on her forehead and, of course, with a question. As if my own students are not odd enough.

Her question is buried under tons of ramble (which is like rubble, but made of useless words). It goes something like this: "I'm supposed to be in Real Estate Law with Mr. Instructor's Fullname but they changed the room they say it's 110 but I just went there and the janitor told me there was no one there I've been just about everywhere and I can't find it I'm supposed to be in that class and to top it off I got in a car accident yesterday guy hit me it's not too bad I pissed up the seat pretty good but that's going to be okay the car's at the dealer being fixed so I've got to find this room I'm supposed to be in class with Mr. Instructor's Fullname and I can't find the room I've been to 110."

I say, "Let me check." And I call the switchboard for room information. I find out that it's in room 110, but not for another hour. So I tell her she’s got the right room, but she’s nearly an hour early.

“Oh,” she says. “Is there a place I could sit down then?”

Seems a logical request to me. “Sure,” I say. I direct her to the cafeteria down the hall and suggest she relax before class. I wisely say nothing about her perhaps slipping out of her personal sauna.

“Now tell me,” she says, “why am I sitting there relaxing while I’m supposed to be in class in room 110 with Mr. Instructor’s Fullname?”

“It doesn’t start for another hour,” I remind her, wondering, of course, how on Earth she will navigate through real estate law when the concept of time eludes her.

“Oh,” she says, with some lack of conviction, thanks me, and toddles off.

I close and lock my office door.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Nobody Can Suffer Poor Charlie.

  • In response to Chicago Charlie: good God, grow a pair. You've got 40 years till you retire? So you're, what, 25, and you've already consigned yourself to forty years of hating yourself, your job, your students, and your life? Gee, THAT'll show those slacker students, won't it! Do yourself and everyone you know a favour, and quit now. Get a job in construction; if you start now as a day labourer, you'll be a general contractor by the time you're 35 with a little application. You'll make more money, work in the great outdoors, be in better shape, enjoy life more, and you won't put your family and friends through hell with your constant whining.Leave academe for those of us, poor benighted souls all I grant you, who actually like it. I bet you my students are as dead-eyed as yours. I teach to the two or three that can actually stay awake. It makes my life a lot more fun to concentrate on the ones that respond. But if you can't do that, stop now. You've already put in too much time to get any other job? Honey, you haven't STARTED to waste your life yet. Get out before you do.

  • Resign. Quit. Find something else to do with your life. With 40 years to go until retirement, you're still young enough. Seriously: you are a danger to those rare bright-eyed students who every now and then do find themselves in your class. You've become so dead, you're no longer capable of recognizing them. I know: I had professors like this, and they did me great harm. I might not have seemed promising when I was an undergraduate, particularly not since I was entering a field that still is among the most competitive in academia (astrophysics), but I prevailed. It sure wasn't easy. I can't help but wonder how much further I might have gotten if I'd had someone other than that old deadwood who clearly didn't give a fig about me, our field, or anything else, even themselves.

  • Charlie's a baby. I see it often in my colleagues, this all or nothing bullshit. Charlie's had a bad class is all. His romantic notion about being a proffie has blown up in his face because it's not as easy and wonderful as he imagined. Classic response of a snowflake who finds out he has to teach comp. Comp is not easy. Comp is the anti-fun class in many ways. I taught it as a younger man, and students have hated comp forever. Welcome to the NFL, Charlie. I'd like to work up some sorrow on his behalf, but his posing is annoying. All his hard work was for naught? Cracks me up. It is awfully dramatic, however, especially that killing line, "Nothing. Numbness." Couldn't you guys have just turned that into a haiku? Charlie, have a Tums, honey, and take a nap.

Tara Thinks a Little Compassion Is a Reasonable Response.

I am an occasional RYS reader who has never held a college-level teaching position. However, the recent string of posts about funerals and missing exams struck a nerve for me and I felt compelled to write.

I can't tell you how grateful I am, in light of these posts, that my grandparents held on until after I graduated from college! I was partly raised by one set of grandparents, in addition to my parents. One of these grandparents died after a very prolonged period of illness and disability while I was in my first post-college job, and the other died suddenly and unexpectedly a month before my final exams of my first year in professional school.

Both experiences were marked by my dissolving into undignified tears in the relevant administrative office while asking for time off, and then going home for several days of culturally-prescribed rituals and trying to help my parents and siblings hold themselves together. I believe neither funeral had a printed program (our religion forbids taking items associated with a funeral back to one's home, so I don't see why we would have had them) and byzantine family politics precluded naming the grandchildren in the obituaries.

The most recent death, the one while I was in professional school, hit me particularly hard and I returned to school strongly resembling one of the Sophies (albeit excluded from a diagnosis of depression by having actually experienced a recent loss) for the remainder of the academic year.

Fortunately, my current program is small, centralized, and compassionate enough that, rather than going 10 rounds with each professor, one meeting and a couple of e-mails with one dean were enough to arrange both my absences from class and rescheduling exams so that my intense but temporary distraction wouldn't force me to repeat the entire year at great financial and career-path costs. No documentation required. (Although perhaps my bursting into tears and psychomotor retardation were convincing enough in themselves.)

I realize that college instructors have to contend with plenty of fishy excuses, especially at the undergraduate level where there are some particularly young and immature students in the mix, and I don't envy you the task. But if I had gone through my grandparents' deaths in college and had to deal with intense suspicion and no slack from my professors on top of everything else, I probably would have said, "Screw it all," stayed in bed until the year ended and someone kicked me out of the dorms, and had a much bumpier road to "resolving my grief," as the bereavement literature puts it.

No, it's not up to you as professors to be the guardians of your students' mental health or to care about their lives to any great level of detail, but I hope that you as human beings don't find it completely impossible to show a little compassion toward those students who are genuinely suffering.

Tara from Tampa
A Recover(ing/ed) Mourner

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Happy Saturday from Chicago Charlie.

I have no fear. That's right. I am fearless. And I'll tell you why. I hate teaching, academia, and everything about it, but I've invested too much time in too specialized a field to be able to make a living any other way.

You say that most of all we are afraid of our students, and this just made me bury my head in my hands and cry. Why? My students? They're nothing to me. I don't fear them, don't like them, nothing. Total numbness. I don't even bother with their names. I prepare for class on the train and grade papers on the ride home. I have no pride left in my work or in me, much less in watching my students improve.

And that's what depresses me. I got into this business because of the students. Because I love literature and wanted to teach it to students. But then I got put into a freshman English course with no experience, no guidance, no recommended textbook and twenty-five dead-eyed, cheating, lying, lazy, deceitful miserable students, and really, before I even experienced it, the joy of teaching was gone, and all my hard work was for naught, and I have never recovered.

So, I have no fear anymore; I just don't care. Not about teaching, not about publishing, not about the juvenile shenanigans that count as academia. Nothing. Numbness. And the worst part is, I still have forty more years until I can retire.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Abby the Adjunct Meets An Administrator!

I was informed by one of the tenured higher-ups here the other day that my students were lost.

"No kidding," I laughed along. A little good-natured student ribbing. All in good fun.

He did not laugh.

"No, really. They're lost. They keep looking for you, and bothering dear little old Secretary Sally in the office up here. Why don't they know where your office is?"

"Uh, I don't have an office," I said.

"Well, whatever. Why are they looking for you? Didn't you tell them where you would be?"

"Yes. I told them repeatedly. I told them I would be in the public lounge downstairs. You know, by the vending machines? Of course, I couldn't specify a specific chair or anything--not having one and all..."

"Well, do your students have your email?"

"Of course."

"Do they have your cell number?"

"Uh, no."

"Why not?"

"That's my private phone line. I don't give it out."

"You need to give them your cell number so they don't bother anyone else."

Listen, Asshole. I don't even give my cell number to most of my friends. I'm not about to give these 18-year-old brats more information about how to contact me. Maybe if your hoity-toity little college here could toss a few coins at its adjuncts for some basic teaching necessities--say, I don't know, a room, a desk, a phone line, A SALARY--my students wouldn't be wandering around bothering Grandma over there in administration (like she had something more pressing to do?).

But you know what? They probably would. Because despite the astronomical cost of this college, your admissions standards are incredibly low. And your students are--well, they're idiots. So I could draw them a fucking map, put on a play (with hand puppets!), and tattoo my location on their hands, and they would still wander dazedly in and out of rooms looking for someone with a clue. Not my fault. And precisely why they're not getting my number. I don't need calls at 2 AM asking me if I could please explain what I meant by "Read pages 18-72."

So until you get a clue and realize that adjuncts are not going to take the few, sacred moments left in their personal life and allow you to walk all over them for your measly $2500 a class, I guess you and Granny over there are just going to have to deal with a few wandering students.

They'll match the wandering instructors, and you seem to be ignoring them without a problem.

What Else? "The Sucker."

I teach a night class. In doing so, I recognize that occasionally I have a student who is either (a) extremely weary because they’ve been up all day (poor things…) or (b) are coming to class and will then be up all night, so class is the last chance to nap without getting docked by their supervisor. What happened two nights ago, however, has presented me with a puzzle…I had a student fall asleep…in class…while sucking her thumb. I’m serious.

First the student pulled her arm inside her shirt because, I assume, she was cold. Then she pulled in the other arm. Then she stuck one hand up through the neckline (can you picture this – it was really rather Houdini-like) and, yes, put her thumb into her mouth. Then she stuck her other hand through the neckline and started to twirl her braids. Then, her eyes glazed over and she drifted off to sleep.

My basic policy is to not wake sleepers unless they (a) snore or (b) exude an unpleasant odor. In both of these cases, the rest of the class usually either laughs or makes their displeasure loudly known and the person is awakened. In this case, however, the class remained silent. I thought about waking her, but I was afraid that if she was startled, she would have flung out her arms, popping her shirt completely from her body, revealing her rather large … get my point?

She did finally wake up, return her arms to the normal position, and stumble from the classroom to, I guess, go to the restroom. My dilemma has been whether or not to talk to her. Do I talk to her about (a) sleeping, (b) crawling into her shirt, or (c) thumb sucking – which she does from time to time even when awake? Maybe none of the above? I’m a bit troubled by all this – I really hate to be interrupting her quiet time with my insistence that she learn something.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Marion from Minot With Some Old School Smackdown.

Okay, I may regret this later, but I can't take another moment to think it through. My idiotic class has somehow gathered en masse to rate me on the other site that shall not be named. Fuck them. That's what I say. I've had NO ratings on there ever until this week, and it all stems from me reading the riot act to my class which had been misbehaving, shirking the workload, and making 9:00-10:20 AM Tues and Thurs a living hell.

So, darlings, try this on for size:

  • Umberto: You're a complete waste of plasma.

  • Hyppolita: Just looking at you starts to drain my brain cells.

  • Phyllum: You've only got one good strategy, saying whatever your buddy Weaver says.

  • Weaver: You're a four star dunce.

  • Cracker: I can smell the bull shit on your boots from 40 yards away.

  • Tonioni: You're a dirty bitch who smiles with one side of your face and sneers with the other.

  • Rapunzel: Ooooh, yes, you were a valedictorian at Shitballs High. Who cares? You have that vacant stare and then look #2, the "smile" that you must think makes me think you like me. Well, no, you're just a little phony, and I'm going to punish you with grades for as long as you're able to stay in the class.

  • Samson: I'd like to challenge you to a battle of Rock'm Sock'm Robots, and pop your block head right off.

  • Serena: That boyfriend of yours loves you for your car, honey, not your weave.

  • Kiki: We don't take smoke breaks in college.

  • Gerald: I don't need any advice from a 19 year old. And if I wanted advice from a dunce, well, I'd be a dunce, too.

  • Teo: If you could turn your FUCKING IPOD down, you might be able to hear the assignment the FIRST time I gave it.

  • Odoratum: I want to shrink your balls to the size of your brain, then we'd see how much of a bully you'd be.

  • Rex: I think chewing with your mouth open might be your only skill. Keep it up.

  • Warren: I don't give two shits how Mrs. Grandy treated you in Senior English. She apparently was wowed by comma splices and split infinitives. Me? Not so much.

  • Gallup: Yep, I can see that you're in a group of dunces. I don't know how I could reconfigure the class to make it work any other way.

  • *Anita*: Yes, you're pretty. Pretty fucking stupid. Pretty fucking vacuous. Pretty fucking much a waste of space. Could you please, please, please, wear the red outfit again, the one where your ass hangs out? I think the fellas really go for that one. Or did you notice, you sweet-sixteen-wanna-be minx on a stick?

Felicia from Falmouth Offers Face Time for Her Fragile Flakes.

Dear Snowflakes:

Please understand that the ability to reach me, your instructor, via email is a courtesy extended to you on the part of the University. I am not required to check my uni email account fifty times per day just in case one of you lovely headcases feels the need to pour out your heart about why you were unable - UNABLE! - to complete an assignment.

I understand that the gods were against you and bent all their collective wills to the singular purpose of keeping you from doing your homework. But I might be a hair more sympathetic had you told me about the extenuating (and extraordinary) circumstances standing the way of your assignment completion if you had spoken to me about it two weeks ago, when you first realized the Universe's evil plan against you.

Did ya catch that one magical word? That special word was "spoken," implying oral communication. I know, I know, I'm a freakin' radical, but when I was an undergrad 10 years ago email was just starting its electric bloom. In those days, if I had a problem, I made an appointment and TALKED to my professor. I would stay after class to have a chat, or - horrors! - show up a little early if I needed some help with an assignment. But I certainly did not wait until the day before that assignment was due, and I certainly made damn sure that I got a response from the proffie so that we both knew that communication had transpired.

I also would not have expected my prof to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just in case I had a question. Sure, sure, I was a little asshole student sometimes too. I wasn't perfect. I did not always complete my work on time. But I did not assume that my instructors were just waiting by the phone to field my question-riddled phone calls. Nor should you expect that I will be glued to my computer screen awaiting your slippery excuses for incomplete assignments or desperate attempts to buy yourself a few more days.

Love always,
Face-to-Face Felicia


Listen, I don't expect your little cyberpalace to run like I run my place here in Texas, but shitfire, boys, you've done run the thing right off the rails. I hate to have to write this because you fellas had such a good idea about a hundred years ago. You were going to tell it like it was or something, and kick the shit out of the dusty profession. But I think y'all are just part of the problem now.

I've got a busy hunting schedule that gets in the way of my labwork at the big Uni, but I do check in online sometimes from the Campground Cafe up at Yeller Holler State Park now and again, and I have to say, YOU FUCKERS HAVE LOST THE PLOT!

This site has gone down faster than an Otis 'vator covered in gooseshit.

I can't even begin to categorize the crazziness that has engulfed you poor dumb fucks.

This batshit Bio teacher is killing urchins at an alarming rate, right? But can't he just go to PetSmart, confess his sins, take adoption of one of those hairy damn cats as penance and shut up about it? You have to give him a stage to be a dumbass?

And then the pregnant gals? Oh, it feels good to be pregnant and we're breeding a new future, and all that, but don't they have the O channel or O magazine or O website to do all this? They get asked stupid questions by 18 year old kids? Yeah, well, what other kind of question does an 18 year old have? And you don't want your belly to get in the way of things, well don't put it one of those shirts that's got a giant cartoon stork on it then. And don't wheeze about how hard it is to go up the stairs, and about how the little spawn's going to be named Tristan or Christopher Hamlet or some other such thing. Keep your damned personal life to yourself and I guarantee you that your students won't dare ask you something personal like that. (Showing the sonogram to your 9 am class is not advised.)

Oh and the cookie bakers! Yes, we have those abominations here at my school as well. The Education and English departments are full of them, lazy, insecure, wallflowers who never got laid until they were 25, so desperate for attention and desperate to be liked. I'd fire every sallow faced one of them if I had the chance, and when I get to be Dean you're going to hear about it in the Crampicle of Higher Education. (There'll be a big photo of me eating a turkey leg and smearing my face on the former tenure policy here, that's for sure.) You know what, I'm not passing out trophies or ribbons or pastries here. I'm a goddamned college professor and you should get the huevos together to do the same. You reward them for doing what they're supposed to, and you lower the bar on the class, yourself, and the whole damned profession. How do you think your little sugared-up assholes are going to feel next semester when they turn up on time to my class and I don't throw them a little party?

As for the site itself, what's with the features? You have some 28 year old wundershit there who keeps coming up with them? I like Crime Beat. That's good. Run those fucking kiddie porn profs out on a rail. Murder, mayhem. You could do that all day and not even hit half of the faculty where I teach. But what's this coolest student thing? I swear to God I'm about ready to unleash some kind of pretend virus on your little pretend compound. Jane Wiedlin? Of the Go-Go's? Is that right? Julie Stiles? What about someone with hooters. Forget Dyan Cannon; she's my ma's age. Get me someone I'd like to drive out to the lake with and someone who can nestle my sweaty head.

You're not even trying. You want to prove academic culture is bereft of reason, populated with eunuchs, and eager and greasy for a cleaning, well, you're not aiming very high. You can't swing a cat around without knocking over 14 insane, persecuted, alarmed, china-doll proffies who can't wait to get on the Crampicle forums to talk about how unappreciated they are, and how hard it is to be them. Fuck that. This page is starting to be run by those eggheads, those layabouts. Get back in charge. I always liked it best when you took a few swings at students, but then twirled around with a roundabout boot to the solar plexus of the "colleagues" who ruin the damn campus. Get 'em all, is what I'm saying. Take 'em all down. Don't let the bullshit seep into the pages, these polite and suddenly happy pages.

I can't take it. If I wasn't so medicated from last night's Tecate and burrito fest, I'd be jumping right out of my skin. Y'all gave me someone's direct line one time, but I lost it. Give me those digits again because y'all need a pep talk to get things going again.

Oh, and ditch the ads, bring back the "freakout" pink graphics, and quit trying to MAKE SO MUCH FUCKING SENSE!

I'm outie,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sisterhood of the Bulging Bellies.

I'm really grateful to Pam for sharing her story, because I'm now a pregnant proffie myself.

I'm not obviously showing yet (right now I still just look like I could be getting fat), but I still have 160+ hours at the front of a classroom over the next 5 months before the baby comes...and they'll start figuring it out pretty soon.

Reading about the comments from her students left me aghast last semester, but better prepared now to deal with whatever comes from my own students. Most of them are very polite and reasonably tactful people--or as tactful as you can expect teenagers to be, anyway--but there are just so many of them. So while it's a small percentage who, shall we say, don't really observe appropriate boundaries in their relationships with their professors, sometimes the sheer numbers just get to me. Now I'm ready to frown in a puzzled manner and ask them to repeat what they just said. If they actually have the balls to say it again, I'll say, "Wow, that is a really inappropriate comment to make in a professional setting. You might want to think twice before saying something like that to a professor in the future."

Other suggestions for dealing with remarks would be welcome. And I'm going to make sure I buy stretch pants.

Thanks, Pam, and congratulations!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Anything for the Little Darlings.

Sayid Snowflake: Hey professor. So obviously I am not satisfied with my grade on the paper, and during our discussion you told me to set up a meeting. What time is good for you? My schedule is pretty flexible at the moment, so whenever your free I can likely meet with you. Let me know.

Professor: Hi Sayid. Stop by during office hours Tuesday around 10am. Take care.

Sayid Snowflake: Tuesday I have an 8-9:15 class, then I go back to sleep for an hour and a half, and then i have an 11-12:15 class and I'm done for the day. So anytime after 12:15, or even 1 to give me time to eat is good for me. Thanks.


"This is Sasha Snowflake. I need to change classes and need you to sign a Change of Schedule form to enter your class. I was wondering if there was any possibility to see you about ten or fifteen minutes prior to your class tomorrow so you can sign the form. Thanks!"

HA! We're a *month* into the semester and you just now want to add my class? You "need" to change your time? Well, I "need" a wet bar in my office and fog and lasers to herald my entrance into the classroom. Looks like we're both being grossly unrealistic and are both shit out of luck.


"Professor Gullible, I couldn't make it to class yesterday because my car is bad. But I can go to campus on Friday night. Could you meet me and teach me what happened on Thursday night? I would try to come next Thursday night to catch up, but I'm pretty sure my car is gong to be bad then too. I know you drive from out of town too. Maybe we can carpool and you can teach and drive. :) I'm just teasing. But I do need to come in on Friday to get the class notes at least. I don't knwo anyone else in class. Your my only home."

All The Sophies.

  • Arnost from Amsterdam deserves a virtual smack upside the head. His concern for his student Sophie is admirable, but his admonition that she "pull herself together" demonstrates a lack of awareness of the high degree of depression that afflicts academics, women in particular. Before Viagra came on the market, the highest drain on university health plans was anti-depressant medication. Studies (both official and ad-hoc) show that academics - especially female academics - deal with high levels of anxiety, stress and a feeling of disconnection, a situation often exacerbated by systemic discrimination and an inadequate support system. Sophie is clearly intelligent and capable of performing at high levels, but her obvious self-sabotage (handing in papers late despite a reduction in grade)demonstrates that she fears success. Arnost might want to suggest an academic coach or counselor so that Sophie can address some of these issue snow as a grad student before they hamper her academic career.

  • As a veteran of many years in the classroom, and a mentor to hundreds of students, I've seen so many Sophies. All the Sophies brought unrivaled joy to my seminars and my research, but also so much pain and anxiety. I never knew when to reach out to help, or when to stand back and let them fail. So many Sophies still haunt me, the one who dropped out of school and never contacted anyone from the college again, the one who disappeared mid-semester and returned hard and callous and uncaring. One Sophie whose clinical depression forced her to be hospitalized. What are we to do? Are we not mere professors? Advisers, yes. But clinical psychologists, likely not. I now err on the side of asking others for help rather than doing nothing, but I still don't know if I'm doing the right thing.

  • I can answer this one, because I just finished my undergraduate degree as a "Sophie," and I now wish to become a professor. I too, refused to compromise my standards, perfectionism hounding me like an angry Scrooge telling Bob he should have to work on holidays. What finally worked for me was tough love and the realization that I would never attend graduate school with mediocre grades. I know your student is already in graduate school, but let her know she'll never be able to organize her thoughts unless she submits the best she can produce on time and learns to function within deadlines. Tell her she's lucky--I'll have to spend the rest of my academic life atoning for being a "Sophie" as long as I was. As my adviser said to me: I can't help you unless you turn it in.

  • This student doesn't need academic motivation. She very likely needs drug counseling or possibly help with an eating disorder. Directing her to the nearest health center or counselor would be worth a shot.

  • It sounds like she is showing several signs of clinical depression. (Late papers, inability to concentrate, painfully thin, lacking energy.) The kindest thing to do is not ignore it. It's not going to go away on its own. I would recommend that you go on the web and print out a depression screening test. (Try depressionscreening.org). Convey your concerns about her missed deadlines and inability to concentrate, and sit with her while she fills out the test. Then walk together to the student counseling center so that she see the place, and can make an appointment if she wishes. Too many times, faculty think that students problems will go away with a pep talk or with some "tough love." If the student is suffering from clinical depression, she needs medical help. Sophie is probably dealing with an organic, biological issue. Not a will power issue. Unless she gets medical help, chances are great that she won't be able to make the most of her tremendous potential, and she'll continue to feel guilty about not being able to pull herself up from her bootstraps.

  • You note the student seems to have some very serious personal problems. An eating disorder is a pretty obvious candidate. Unless you’re in the psychology department, this is probably beyond your ability to help, as much as you want to. Send her to your university’s counseling office. She needs help from those best trained to give it. It’s great that you care and want to help. We walk a fine line in that we don’t want to ask questions that are too personal. Pointing her in the right direction is a good start. Maybe she’ll get help, take an incomplete and then get herself straight. I wish her (and you) the best.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Happy Update From Our Pregnant Proffie. "I Lost My Pants To Find My Job!"

I'm Pam, the pregnant proffie, the one who got slammed by my students last semester.

After enduring that humiliation, I hesitantly decided to go through with my plan to hit the job market running. Well, no, that isn’t totally true. I was eight months pregnant and ginormous when I hit the job market at a respectable waddle. Phone interviews went brilliantly, aside from the general disruption to my pee schedule. Apparently, pregnancy reduces your bladder to the size of a peanut. And yes—I did have to pee during one of my phone interviews and by golly I did.

I was fortunate to get two campus interviews at other schools and I prepared and prepared and prepared. Of course, in addition to planning out my presentation, sample undergrad lesson, speech about my publications, and my arsenal of witty quips and stories, I also had to prepare for the inevitable inconveniences that come with being supa-pregnant.

Thinking of my first campus visit, with three sit-down meals with important people, I knew it was inevitable—I would get something on my shirt. Of course I would—my belly stuck out a foot further than the rest of me. I prepared. I went out the night before I left to get a Tide Stain Pen, and Oxy Stain Stick, and some other generic brand that looked promising. In addition to all that, I folded up a plain black maternity t-shirt, put it in a Ziploc baggie, and stashed it in my briefcase alongside the stain sticks. If all else failed, if I exploded a meal all over myself that could not be erased with a stain stick, I could to go the ladies room and change my shirt.

Three meals came and went. Did I dribble my orange juice? Did I get southwest chicken pasta or ranch dressing on my shirt? No. No. I didn't get anything on my shirt. Instead, I split my pants. During my job talk, I bent down get a page of my notes that fell and I heard the ripping sound. I was wearing bright green maternity underpants. Seriously.

And I got the job.

Arnost from Amsterdam Reaches Across the Atlantic for Advice.

A fair number of students have proven challenging across my years of teaching, yet few in the particular manner of my MA candidate Sophie.

Sophie is delightful yet unable to do herself justice academically. On the one hand, she is warm, kind, witty, generous with the other students, and highly intelligent - brilliant, I would say; she has offered original ideas even at this stage. Truly, she has a magpie's mind and can be disarmingly insightful.

In addition, she moved from America to Amsterdam on her own initiative and means, faced considerable stumbling-blocks with courage and resilience, and often when we speak I may as well be conversing with a peer. However, she seems incapable of submitting her work on time, though I have pleaded with her even to compromise her standards should it mean meeting a deadline. Once Sophie asked to meet with me so she might apologize for having completed an important essay several days late. As the essay would have received an A had she not been penalized for lateness, I asked if something had perhaps happened to preclude punctuality. She responded in the negative, saying she simply could not organize her thoughts, and so it was right she received the penalty.

I admire Sophie's integrity but it is evident all is not quite well. I can see how terribly she feels for failing to meet deadlines. At times she appears rather pale and drawn. She is also markedly, even painfully, thin. I know she is currently grappling with difficulties, though I am unaware of their precise nature, and I realise I can do nothing apart from encourage her substantial intellectual gifts. Yet I cannot help but think, What a pity. She could bring such gifts to the discipline should she pull herself together - and she desperately wants to do.

How do others encourage students such as Sophie?

Wanda from Wilmington Doesn't Need to Be Quite So Wired.

To my administrators:

You asked about our teaching needs, hoping to supply us with the best and the brightest. . . technology, not students. You are thrilled to provide us with "wired" classrooms, complete with computer, digital projector and a "real-live computer" in the teacher's desk.

We now have in our classroom:

  • a chalkboard, but no chalk and one eraser

  • the "wired" desk, which is on wheels, but anchored to the wall. When I sit at the desk, it comes just slightly below my neck, and the monitor (bolted to the front corner) blocks the view of the students.

  • An overhead projector

  • A TV monitor on the wall, with a dangling remote attached to the TV--across the room from the anchored teacher's desk

  • metal tabletop podium, now rendered useless by the "wired" desk with monitor.

What do I need to teach? a classroom with:
  • a functional desk, so I can spread my materials out

  • reasonable temperatures, in other words, could you get the A/C to work so it's not 80 degrees in here?

  • a whiteboard/chalkboard with erasers

  • comfortable student desks--since I now have to use one if I want to sit down, I'd like it to be comfortable--after sitting there randomly, these students must really want to be educated to put up with these contraptions

  • reasonable attention to janitorial tasks--emptying trash, cleaning the floor, wiping off the overhead screen

  • an EASY digital connection to the projector

  • orientation to use all the current variety of "wired" enhancements

I laugh, dance, crack jokes and do my best to be a palatable delivery system for freshman comp's MLA, research, essay-writing curriculum. So when you want us to petition you for more technology so we can "reach" our students and show off our "up-to-date classrooms" to the other colleges around (such a selling point), get real. I'd rather a decent classroom environment, a department chair who has my back, and I can cope with the rest.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some Anti-Cookie Folks Raise Their Mean Heads To Cry "Enough!"

"It's nice when our students perform well. I often bring them little treats, candy or gum, or occasionally hot chocolate on a frosty day. They work hard, and I want them to know that I care about them. "

  • Holy shit I cannot believe this. When I taught K-3 in public schools we did this. For God's sake these are college students, most are adults. They shouldn't be bribed or rewarded for meeting expectations. Professors who do this are doing a disservice to students and setting up future professors for stupid expectations.

  • When my students do something great, I praise them, verbally, sometimes with grades. I don't need them to like me so I don't make them cookies, brownies, bring them donuts, give them a party, or anything else. I might if we were a Cub Scout troop.

  • I'm embarrassed to be a proffie today. Someone wrote yesterday that it's a "miracle" if students do something right? Really? Are you even trying then? What kind of dunderhead can't encourage students to at least follow instructions. If they aren't doing these bare minimum type activities - bringing an assignment when it's due!?!?! - then surely most of your students fail, right? Well, no, not really, because I've seen the numbers. I hope no non-academic reads that shit about cookies. We're already enough of a laughingstock.

  • Yesterday someone on your blog said she is proud that her students call her "Mom." This is someone who's in need of some psychological help, and I'm not even joking or being hyperbolic. There's something wrong if you're an adult professor who has this kind of need. Please, reconsider what it seems your colleagues tell you. You're not doing them any favors by being their mom.

  • Uh, being "liked" by students is not my goal. My goal is to increase their ability to reason, think, read, write, and contend with the world. If I just wanted to be liked, I'd bake cookies and give them balloons (and high grades). But we must be more responsible than that. I'm sickened by the whole "cookies" thing. This might work in the 5th grade, but it's not appropriate for college level students. Surely you can remember some of your professors in college. Did any of them (from the 60s, 70s, 80s, etc.) bring you cookies if you remembered to bring your homework? (Sure, I once got some weed from a Philosophy prof in the early 70s, but that was not the same as this...I digress.)

  • Well as I see it, it's all about restraining myself. I have one of those generous heart things going, and I'm also thrilled when the students do something fun & wonderful, like their work. And I came straight from the Make-Them-A-Happy-Treat school myself. I also resist reminding them when things are due, calling them when they're absent more than a week, and nagging them to drop the class (much to the Admin's consternation). I sit on my hands a lot. You see--it's about them. Not me. The students are the ones who have to figure out how to create their own rewards and "feel-goods" for themselves--they're the ones who have to find their own internal motivation (see this Washington Post article.) After all, when they leave high school, the cookies and the money-for-grades and the all-day suckers and the pizza parties are left behind and they meet us: college professors expecting them to motivate themselves, get to class (or drop if they decide not to come at all), stay up late to finish their English or Math or Soc because it's important intrinsically to their own sense of who they are, independent of what others may say. . . or bring.
    In the Big World we are expected to keep going even when the Cookie Fairies don't show up with our treat for attending a faculty meeting, grading stacks of papers when we'd rather be outside in the garden. I want my students to grow up and be able to run the world when I'm retired and in the rest home, and I aim to do my part.

  • I stopped reading Bardiac long ago. Too twee for my taste. And, really, I can’t stand that whole cohort of anonymous academic bloggers. I can think of only a few good reasons to blog anonymously, like ragging on students the way we do at RYS, but most of these people have no real reason to hide behind a pseudonym. For the most part they are a bunch of tedious navel-gazers and on more than one occasion I have seen those pseudonyms used as weapons to take down an academic enemy. That is, I’ve seen things posted anonymously that the writer should have been willing to own. Bitch PhD is the worst, but others are nearly as bad. That whole crew has a massive sense of self-entitlement. Snowflake professors. And cookies? And being called Mom? Seems like some people have some serious issues defining the boundaries of their professional lives. Next thing you know they’ll be showing up at the big game. Oh, wait . . .

  • What? They can't get students to meet expectations on the merits of their own teaching? I tell my students they will not receive token praise for doing what they are expected to do, which is successfully meeting the criteria on all assignments in this course. Giving praise for doing what is expected encourages a sense of complacency rather than promoting a desire to learn and produce higher quality work on subsequent assignments. Cookies? Candy? Treats? Who are these dumbasses kidding?

Some Solemn Last Words on Funerals, Excuses, and Why Grandma Has To Die For Your Fucking Final Grade.

  • Fucktard of "On Obituaries" fame has his/her own tragedy going on--a reading deficiency. Didja miss the part about it being an EXAM the TWO students had missed? That jumps out of the realm of excusing some incidental absence...or not excusing it. Missing an exam and being allowed a make up opportunity needs some level of hoopage for jumping. It ain't the same thing as missing a class at all. My own advice to our original questor is DO THE MATH...These snowflakes are lyin'--or I'm dyin'--and thus the aplomb to accept their fate. Notice: They EMAILED THEIR EXCUSE NIGHT BEFORE THE EXAM. Hence they had time to drive back before the exam. And they didn't. Had to have been a Sunday night, right?, since they had gone home for the weekend. Death wasn't sprung on 'em suddenly--and if it was, didn't matter--didn't go to the service anyway. Accept their humble "my bad," give 'em the zero, then give 'em opportunities (err in their favor) if they demonstrate continued humility and willingness to play well for the remainder of your time together!

  • Before a college instructor, a person allegedly trained in rational discourse, reduces himself/herself to telling peers that they suck, it makes sense to understand the issue in question. The issue was not whether the instructor should allow an excused absence or not; the question was whether the instructor should take the time and effort to create a make-up exam. There’s a huge difference. I point out to my students that college is the only place where people want less for their money—less homework, less research, less reading, less rigor, you name it. My students are adults by chronological standards. On any given day, they can come to class or not. It’s almost never my day to worry about where they are and why. It’s the student’s dime and s/he can spend it anyway s/he wants. However, if said student wants me to take the time to create a make-up exam, then I expect documentation of the crisis. Failing to require documentation of students’ dead grandmothers would cause the death rates of grandmothers to rise astronomically and I just couldn’t live with knowing I was responsible for killing so many sweet, little old ladies.

  • What does your syllabus say? Mine specifically precludes "not having a ride," along with traffic delays, cars not starting, etc, from being justification of excused absence, so the second student would be toast anyway. But I haven't usually required that an obituary mention the student by name, so the other student could have slid by in my class (usually they bring a program from the funeral home, but not always.) Another possible mitigating circumstance: does a zero on this exam keep the students from passing, or just drop them by a letter grade? If a letter grade or less is the only penalty, I am much more inclined to enforce the policy in the syllabus strictly. (After all, I have had students who missed funerals and weddings and family reunions to take exams.) I would say, yeah, they deserve the zero, if that's how the policy in your course goes. But you have the prerogative to take into account the performance of each student over the whole term when you set grades. If the students have otherwise been consistently good, you can push them over a borderline at the end. If they've been consistently marginal, that tells you something too. You could always arrange some other sort of compromise, like letting the final exam grade count twice (only recommended if your final exam typically has the same or lower average than the other exams, otherwise you're setting yourself up for other students in the class to be pissed off.)

  • Grandparents die at an alarming rate around finals time, and they really ought to look after themselves better. Is somebody on this?Asking students to supply evidence for their absences when there are grades involved is perfectly okay, but I feel like the Question Poser was kind of mean in not making the evidence requirement clear upfront. If a student is at a funeral out of state, don't you think it is better to tell him/her to bring home whatever evidence you are going to require, rather than assuming he/she is going to souvenir the funeral order of service or whatever it is you are going to want to see? I have had students who are upset about this requirement get Mommy to email me, and my response to Mommy is "I am being asked to give this student an exception that could be seen as favoritism which affects his/her grade, and I need to be able to show why I allowed that." I have never had a parent have a problem once the explanation is given, even though often the emails start with "How dare you question my snowflake's integrity! Nana was an important part of our family!" The point is, don't make it a "gotcha," because then you seem like an asshole, even if you do catch them out in a lie. If you suspect them of lying, call the whole class out on it. By which I mean, tell them, "If you lie about your grandma dying to get an extension on your essay, she will die, and it will be your fault."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Where We're Apparently On the Wrong Side of the Whole "Baking Cookies For Students" Thing. And We Hope "Mom" Will Forgive Us, But She's a Nutjob.

Did anyone catch that line that said we liked Bardiac's blog? Seriously, we do. But we've taken a beating already for us questioning the whole cookie thing. Maybe we're not big on cookies. Maybe we think it's a little 5th grade. Maybe - according to one writer - we're just "plain dumb." All of this may be true.

But, we did get a kick out of her recent "For the Win" post that celebrates how well her class did without her when she was an hour late. We thought that was sort of heartening. But of course we didn't mention that, did we. Ah well, let the shit-kicking begin. Luckily, as one writer put it, we don't have any "feelings" anyway, so have it.

  • I know this is a fun place to let loose some, but did you have to make fun of Bardiac? Her class did something great! She felt as if they'd earned a little treat for this, and she shared it with her readers. Can't you see the good in that?

  • Do not mock us for our moments of excitement! Our days are filled with the drivel of lethargy. The slugs are perched in their places, and we throw salt at the room hoping the inevitable biological explosion of goo will produce a comment we can count as a discussion. We are reduced to well choreographed performances instead of the well proven dissemination of information, power points with pictures so they don't get bored. They REMEMBERED for heaven's sake! They DID WHAT THEY WERE TOLD!! It truly IS nothing short of a miracle. Call the Vatican -- we're in awe of this moment. Honestly. Truly. I'm very serious here. I'm nearly in tears at the mere possibility that out there somewhere a group of students are awake. Hell's Bells...I'LL bake the cookies!

  • Take the stick out of your ass. It's nice when our students perform well. I often bring them little treats, candy or gum, or occasionally hot chocolate on a frosty day. They work hard, and I want them to know that I care about them. LONG LIVE BARDIAC. She's my new hero!

  • I would bet you're not liked very much by your students. That's a shame, because the relationship between teacher and student can be so rewarding. If you don't like Bardiac's classroom, you'd really hate mine. My students call me "Mom." Yes, and they always have. We get along and we do great work together. I have the very highest standards, just as if they were my own children, and even though people in my own department jealously make fun of me, my students are behind me and support our shared learning environment. Bardiac should not be made to minimized by your aspersions. She should bake those cookies and maybe a platter of brownies as well if she feels like it. Maybe you like to be an unfeeling information conduit, but many of us TEACH in the classroom, and make lifelong relationships with the most treasured people we'll ever meet - OUR STUDENTS.

We Love You, But If You're Baking Cookies For Them IN SEPTEMBER, There's Something Amiss!

We get turned on to lots of academic bloggers. Some folks invite us to see their own pages, but mostly readers tell us to check someone out they like. We usually don't like what we see, but we like Bardiac. Her tone is great, the blog is varied, and there's a great real world / academic world dynamic that feels authentic.

please check her out.

BUT, we hate this recent post. Not because we don't want a cookie - we always want a cookie - but because it makes us wonder: IS THIS WHAT IT'S COME TO? A STUDENT DOES WHAT WE ASK, WHAT WE KNOW WILL HELP THEM, AND WE'RE FLABBERGASTED THAT THEY DO IT? SO MUCH SO THAT WE'RE BAKING FOR THE LITTLE TOTS?

So, to Bardiac, we're sorry to putting up a fuss about cookie day, but forgive us, okay? (And if you make any with raisins, send them to compound. We like them to buffer the alcohol.)

- ~ -

From Bardiac: Just Another Academic Blogger

Seriously, It's peer editing day for my writing class today. I reminded them yesterday that they need to bring copies of their draft for every member of their group. Then we counted off groups so they'd know how many people are in their group so they can make the right number of copies. Then I reminded them again that they need to bring copies, just as class was about to end.

So I'm taking bets on how many students will appear at the beginning of class without copies.

Additional bets on how many of those didn't bring paper to print out and how many didn't bring change to make copies. (Printing from campus computers is free, but you have to supply the paper; copy machines aren't free, but you don't have to supply the paper.)

I'm jaded, aren't I?

!!!!! SPECIAL REPORT !!!!!

I lost the bet! I'm so excited! Every single one of the students brought a draft, and every draft I saw was several pages long!

I think I'm so excited I'll bake them cookies this evening or something!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Short. Not Too Sweet.

  • Okay, I get it. You have a slamming iPod. It's white and shiny, both. It's loud as shit, too, because of those 70s style cans you like to wear. I'd be more impressed if what I heard out of your ear wash was actually music. That noise of yours is so detestable, that even if it were a reasonable volume I'd find a way to hate you. Oh, and do you really think I'm going to actually fucking WAVE at you every time I start class so you can unjack from the groovy tunes? You know what? Sometimes when you're bopping your head and we're just getting started, I call you "Toad" instead of Todd. Your classmates think it's a scream.

  • know what i love? the delusional sophomore that just told me he wants to publish such and such paper. it was maybe a generous 'C' essay at best. like it's so easy, right? we didn't have to earn our jobs or write for years, progress through grad school, maybe pick up a publication there if we were lucky. but hey, i think i'll just send this one on the side of my desk off too. because i want to get it published. i had no idea it was so easy, and that is seriously frustrating me right now. you know what, fuck all this writing anyways. i want to be president. i think i'll see about doing that.

  • I am told that some of my students don't like me because I set standards in my classes and require students to meet them. They chafe at being required to come to class. They hate it that if I give them time to work in their project groups, and they leave early, I mark them absent. They dislike weekly quizzes, homework to present in class, and all other forms of evaluation. Well I have news for them. My job is not to be their friend. My job is to educate them. The techniques that I am using are generally regarded as good methods to accomplish that. It is not the students who will decide whether I have a job here next year, and that is a good thing.

  • You blew it. When you came in — after one lousy test — to tell me how unclear everything is, how you don't know what I want, and how "a lot of people" feel the same way, you blew it. Even as you said that it's not about the grade, you made it clear that it's about the grade. And your decision to present yourself as spokesman for the class (or some part of it) was ill-advised. What makes you think a professor would see that move as anything other than polite intimidation? What I want is for people to do the work, all of it, and learn something. "A lot of people" ask that of their students.

  • I am thinking of making 75 copies of my syllabus for every 20 person class. That should work out just about right. "I lost my syllabus." "I don't think I got one on the first day." "My roommate thought it was junk and tossed it." Instead of reasoning with them like adults, I'll just keep pulling them out of my briefcase till they're gone. Then if I run out before the final exam, I'll just quit. Sounds like the best career plan I've had all year.

  • You think I'm looking for your weekend plans in an email? Just because you HAVE my email doesn't mean I need to hear from you. Sure, you sometimes slip a class note in there, like "whenz the paper do," etc., but last night you simply told me you were checking out some "blazin new klub." I really don't need this info. In fact I want to scour it and you from my memory, and as soon as I get this bottle open, I'm on my way.

  • You don't like it here, right? I think we got it the first 100 times you sighed. Listen, I didn't create "college" just so it would annoy you, so deal with your attitude at home or wherever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Car Wreck Pedagogy.

Two days ago I got a panicked call from the husband of one of my colleagues. My colleague had been side-swiped by another car on her way home from school. The car was nearly totalled, but luckily my colleague only suffered minor injuries, bruised ribs, and a strained shoulder. But she needed me to cover her classes the next day.

I went to her classroom, saw the usual muddle of drooling and blank freshmen and went to the front.

"Are you a sub?" one guy shouted out.

"Yeah, are you like a part-timer? We don't have to listen to part-timers." Then he laughed.

"Your teacher, Dr. CarWreckLady had a bad accident yesterday," I started.

"Yeah!" two kids in the back shouted, and then - unthinkably - did a high five.

"She got hurt in the accident," I said, just absolutely stunned at the now-smiling faces. "She won't be here today."

One girl up front said, "Is she okay?" but most of the rest were packing their books up and getting ready to leave.

"Yes, she'll be fine in a few days, but - WHERE ARE YOU GOING?"

One student with his backpack already on said, "Well if she's not here, why do we have to be here?"

"Yeah," another one said. "I got up early for class, and if she's not coming to class why should I?"
I rubbed my eyes as if I were sleeping and having some sort of nightmare.

"Sit down," I said, in what I'd call my "outside" voice. They were starting to get it, I think.

Once they had quieted down I started my colleague's lesson, and over the course of the hour they looked a bit more sheepish - at least I hope.

At the end of class I said, "I may be here on Thursday, too, and I'll be taking attendance and doing Dr. CarWreckLady's normal schedule."

They slowly left class, and more than a few stopped by my desk to tell me they were sorry and that they hoped their prof was going to feel better soon.
"Could I send her an email, you think?" one student said.

"Yes," I said. "That'd be nice."

"It's School, Not a Party." A Student Reply to "Boredom 101."

Poor, poor, you: actually having to attend class. Oddly enough, most of my classmates are not "adults capable of making their own decisions." They're self-entitled brats on a four-year vacation being paid for by their parents. The reason they're forced to show up to lectures is because if they weren't they wouldn't be getting Cs - they'd be getting F's. Besides, let's be realistic; the most thought-provoking Chemistry professor on the planet isn't going to get the hung-over slacker in front of you off of their cell phone with anything short of a pizza break - which isn't teaching, it's pandering.

I am precisely the sort of person that gets As without attending classes. I also know that basing an entire institution of learning around my extremely uncommon characteristics would be idiotic. If you're a perfectly capable autodidact, don't attend university. Get yourself an online school and go live your life. University is for people that either want, or need, to be in a classroom.

Personally, I attend classes because I enjoy the presence of the professors. Interacting with experts in their fields is the greatest virtue of a college education - I'm guessing you've probably made great use of that benefit, even as you deride it.

It's school, not a party. Their job is to provide you with information, not entertainment.

What a child - need your soother?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wherein Dina from Dallas Wonders if Tucumcari Trish Has Really Thought Out All the Dynamics in the Professor / Athlete Axis.

Ok, Tucumari Trisha, I'm with you. Since we're acting like female athletes don't even exist in this conversation, and we're referring to adults as 'kids' which sets my teeth on edge even more than your assumption that you're the only one broad-minded enough amongst us eggheads to take an interest in student athletics, can I just ask a few questions about your strategy here?

First, what one-horse college do you belong to?

Let me tell you about showing an interest in the football boys at my little university. It is impossible for me to attain football tickets by calling the coaches. Any coaches. None would return my call. Two of them make $200,000 more than the president of the university. In order to obtain tickets, the university has internal hierarchies so byzantine that Max Weber couldn't parse the institutional rules for awarding tickets. There's the people who have had season tickets for two decades; the people who have had season tickets for five years but who write big checks to the alumni association; there are the seats reserved for deans sucking up to big potential donors; there are the seats set aside for our little snowflakes; there are tickets that are sold only to particular faculty who have been buying tickets for years but who are allowed to buy only two tickets at a time; there are the tickets that are reserved and sold at the last minute to celebrities who would like be flashed on ESPN. My friend on the faculty who has been a season ticket holder for years sold his two tickets, in a relatively crappy part of the stadium, to last Saturday's game for $500. Each. Selling your football tickets pays better than adjuncting. I'm just saying.

So here's the thing about my football 'kids.' They don't seem to be wanting for attention, mine or anybody else's, really, or validation for what they do. In fact, if I were to note their performance on the field, they wouldn't probably think "oh, cool, my prof respects what I do" because it would be simply another droplet into the Brobdingnagian ocean of attention they receive for what they do on the field.

I'm with you on the basic point; respect what your students do. Fine. I'm all for respecting what other people do, especially if what other people do is healthy and pro-social or at least not harmful. But I'm at odds with your implementation. Which brings up my second question: Why are sports so special in your strategy? So I have nerdy disruptive kid in the class, and I'm supposed to spend my weekend going to comic book conventions and D&D games and Ren Fairs in the hopes of running into him to let him know I 'get' and 'share' his interests and priorities so that we can be friends in class?

I'm sorry, but disruptive behavior is disruptive behavior, and I don't have to spend my weekends chasing around after students in order to prove that I am down with what they do outside of my classroom to get them to respect the class. Whether they chose to respect me or learning is up to them; I will do the best I can to engage them and work with them within limits. But whether they shut their pie-holes and not impede the learning process of the classroom is not up to them; it's not up to how they feel about me or how they feel I feel about them. It's a requirement of staying in my class, let alone passing it.

In my classroom, I have a job, and that job is to help people learn. Even if I don't follow the sports guys around like one of their groupies, I don't walk out in to the middle of the football field and demand they stop what they are doing to calculate the area of a triangle--and neither do their classmates. That's what they are owed in their role as student athletes. And it's what the rest of us are owed as well during class, including the student athletes (and there are many, including football players) who are in classes to learn.

So we've heard the spate of excuses for not controlling the class, ranging from Trisha's "you need to go to the games" to the "oh, I'm such a dainty widdle teacup of a girl at 100 pounds however can I manage these ever-so-big men?" and I'm not convinced by any of it. My 8th grade English teacher weighed 90 pounds soaking wet and we feared her more than death itself. How can that be if it's all about size? She didn't pretend to be interested in Twitter or the X-Files or fencing or football or anything else to make us diagram sentences and behave like civilized people. She demanded we get our heads in the game of English; she owned us for the hour we worked with her. There were consequences for behaving disrespectfully, and those consequences were unpleasant to say the very least.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

You Had Us at "Hogs." Tales from Adjunctland. (Pack Your Neosporin.)

As a three-year veteran of adjuncting, I have sympathy for Angular Anne and her ilk. Or I did until I attended last week’s adjunct orientation, my participation in which was necessitated by the fact that our college just relocated to a campus 15 miles away from the convenient old one and no one knows his or her way around. I expected the usual drill of ID cards, computer passwords, parking permits, and not getting a copier code, but it turns out that our shiny, new, still-under-construction campus comes with some additional surprises. Namely the wild hogs.

That’s right, in their infinite wisdom, the board of regents decided to relocate the campus to the edge of a nature preserve that has somehow managed to survive the onslaught of big boxes and apartment complexes that surround the rest of the campus. The upside of working at a nature preserve in the middle of suburbia is that it’s a beautiful setting. The downside is that in addition to my usual worries about indifferent students, low pay, and an information deficit, I now also get to contend with the great outdoors.

Among the threats about which we’ve been warned are wild turkeys that like to peck at the windows, all kinds of plants whose names begin with the word “poison,” and the aforementioned wild hogs. (No one seems to know what to do if one of those interrupts a lecture.) We’ve also been instructed to “learn the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes.” Luckily, of the twelve poisonous ones they’ve caught so far, only one was inside a building. It was a rattlesnake.

At least the college cares enough about its adjuncts to make full-color handouts of the various flora and fauna we’re likely to encounter. And of the rashes that each type will deliver.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tucumcari Trisha, Lover of Treaties and Tailbacks, Offers Her Take on Taming a Team.

Team mentality feeds upon itself and spirals in which ever direction it's going. If it's going bad, it keeps getting worse. Sometimes you can spin it back the other way. My first experience with this was terrible and I was very green and couldn't get it under control. I had the baseball team and they were down right atrocious. The straw that broke the camel's back was the day one of them shouted out "I can't stand her voice." I called the coach, who had a reputation for keeping the boys on track academically and expecting more of them behavior wise. The next day they lined up outside my door and one by one, removed their hats, bowed their heads, and fidgeted a little while delivering an apology. I think most of them meant it.

I'm just at this a couple of years now and this term I have the football team. The football coach doesn't have the rep the baseball coach has. He's more of a cartoon of a football coach - lots of yelling and lots of thinking football trumps academics. With just a couple of years experience, the main difference was not that I had some great way of dealing with the behavior, it was just that I caught it before it got out of hand. So instead of calling over and saying "Your boys are out of control and they need to be or I'll put them on Academic Alert and you'll have to play the big rival this weekend without them," I said I was their science prof and I wanted to get some tickets for the game against the big rival for me and my kids.

There's nothing wrong with college sports as long as the kids don't let their academics slide. The problem is that most professors don't understand how hard they work on the field, and their coaches don't understand how hard they need to be working in the classroom. If they want to be star athletes and C students, that is their choice. Yeah, it's not what most of us did. Most of us got our trophies in class. But that's not for everyone.

People talk. A coach can't help himself but talk. And talk and talk and talk. One way or another, the coach can be used. If he respects academics, just have an honest talk with him about the behavior, and chances are he'll talk to the kids the way the baseball coach at my old school did. If he's a football-o-centric 'roid head, use him to get it to your kids that you are aware of their efforts on the field. I asked for 4 tickets and it got back to my kids and now they're well behaved and ridiculously nice to me. If they see me out on campus somewhere, they'll run to open a door for me or ask if they can carry my gigantic pile of books.

I never had to say "your behavior is unacceptable." They just needed to hear that ONE person understands they live in two worlds. Their coach doesn't really get that, and neither do most of their other professors. But they know I'm one of the ones who does. I don't know if that was enough acknowledgment to really change them - they probably save their antics for someone else's class. But if all of their professors found a way to acknowledge their efforts without directly saying "I know you have a lot to do," they wouldn't feel such an urge to rebel against something. And all I know is - I don't have to deal with it anymore. So maybe try that and you won't either.

I can already hear the backlash. "Right, I should give up one more minute of my time for their stupid game rah rah rah don't you know how much grading I have to do!!" I'm not saying anyone owes the kids attendance at their games. I'm just saying that for me, the 3 hour time investment in a football game is less work than the entire semester-long zoo of an alternative. It boils down to the "would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?" logic. They should be good in class. But they might not, so if going to a game can relieve me of that stress, it's worth it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shooting Fish in a Barrel. Folks Line Up For Miles To Roger Roger.

Oh goodness. We threw Roger to the wolves, but what can you do. We get mail like his fairly often and we just clear the evening for a massive reading session. Again, we're sorry if we didn't find space for your "rogering" of Roger, but there's only so much time between class, drinking, tennis, and someone's annoying baby.

  • So you got a job right out of the gate. Good for you. Do you want a cookie? In today's market with tenure-track positions being replaced with adjuncts, that situation is as rare as a real A student. It's pretty obvious you're NOT in the humanities as there's nothing even remotely humane about your writing. These people you just crapped all over are your colleagues. And guess what? According to the most recent figures, they are the ones doing almost 70% of the teaching in today's academy. Their grunt work makes it possible for you to have that full-time job and do your oh-so-important research. And many of them hold Ph.D. degrees. Maybe if you stopped jacking off in front of the mirror long enough to understand what's happening in academe, you'd know all this. Please, stay in your private office. The adjuncts (and probably your full-time colleagues as well) don't want hang out with the likes of you.

  • Wow! Righteous Roger sure has set me straight! The system is based purely, 100% on MERIT! No politics, no administrative whims, no blind luck, no hidden agendas. The cream rises to the top and the dregs sink to the bottom! During all these years I've spent in academia as an undergrad, grad student, adjunct, and tenured professor, I've never encountered a single tenured professor who wasn't brilliant and stellar in every respect. No ass-kissers, no nut jobs, no back-stabbing manipulators, no chair-warming mediocrities. Each and every one of them so clearly deserved his/her position, status, and salary (several orders of magnitude higher, of course, than that of the adjuncts). The scales have fallen from my eyes.

  • The reality is if it weren’t for adjuncts teaching the majority of classes your motherfucking stack of publications would be as small as your dick. The reason this blog is popular with adjuncts is because in “real” life they have to deal with twats like you, who lord your superiority over them at the best of times and pretend they don’t exist for the rest. I too teach on the side – because I love it AND get the best evals of my department – and I too am getting sick of the tenured staff and admin who expect me to do all their work and solve their problems without any recognition or even a damn photocopy password in time for semester. Fuck that.

  • Every adjunct I know has a PhD. Has had for years. But didn't get onto the academic gravy train somehow - the right job didn't come up; didn't have the right contacts; came second in 3 job searches and the person who came first took it - and after 3 years (if you're female) or 4 or 5 (if you're male) you're toast; you're never going to get a TT job. And they are every bit as good as the people with the tenure-track jobs, most of them. Just not as lucky.

  • Ah, Righteous Roger, so comfortable in his (I’m assuming) well-equipped (by corporate sponsors) lab, where things like grammar and spelling and facts don’t matter. I assume anecdotal evidence is the new standard in the sciences? Listen, Bub, in those fields where doctoral research requires more than simply serving as your supervisor’s assistant, completion times often – frequently – exceed the two year’s allotted by our institutions. Thus, many adjuncts are in the latter part of their projects, doing all that research and publishing that you take pride in. As an adjunct, I published, I won awards for teaching, I taught workshops for other faculty, I sat on committees . . . in short, much more than many tenured faculty I know. The pay was lousy – which I knew going in, but the respect from department members often (not always) provided other forms of compensation. Adjuncts know where they rank in the grand scheme of things. To rub their noses in it is, frankly, rudeness bordering on bullying.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Prick of the Week. Righteous Roger from Redding. Really. This Is The Kind of Shit We Get.

What is this shit with the adjuncts? The site is turning into a little coffee-klatch for people who won't spend another 15 months getting the PhD.

Yeah, I had to adjunct, but just for a semester. I was writing a dissertation, duh, and then I had 2 job offers at my schools of choice and I settled in nicely where I am now. We have adjunts here and all they can do is bitch about their union meetings and why can't they park closer and why won't we share office space with them? Uh, because I have a full time job and I need space for my research and teaching?

I'm very sympathetic to the job market "blues" I hear about, but the truth is the same today as it was in the 80s, good people get careers, and people NOT-SO-GOOD take jobs to make ends meet. They can join the club, and I hope they do. We always need good people.

But your site doesn't have to cater to them and them alone. You've let a lot of them recently tell their sad stories and the one that really got me was Principeld Paul! This guy is a piece of work and I'll bet my faculty club card that he's an humanities teacher. You can tell me if I'm right. His woeful tale of not being understood by the Dean and his desire to toss a student out being met with disapproval just doens't ring true. You can't tell me that there wasn't some other reason he got canned, like being a bad teacher. My experience with adjuncts is that they're carrying chips on their shoulders as big as my stack of publications.

Like I said, I'm sympathetic. But do a good job in the classroom and finish the degree. Or start it. Nobody is holindg a gun to your heads.

I don't give a shit if you print this or not, but if you do let me know. I don't read the page very often.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Special to Angular Anne: "You Are Not Your Fucking Copy Code." Phaedrus from Philly on Part-Timer Philosophy.

Back for a fourth year of full-time adjuncting, I think I met Angular Anne's soul-sister last week. A new hire to teach one class, she had to excuse herself from a small breakout orientation session, explaining “I have to print my syllabus.” The facilitator (an administrator with pseudo-faculty status) asked her if she had an office yet. “Office?” What about a computer? “Computer?”

So there we are, sitting around in a huge, nearly empty computer lab, which itself is overseen by the facilitator of our group, whom I have always found helpful and friendly, who then tells this new, clueless, apologetic adjunct how she can walk down the campus quad, cross a street, and find a computer lab where — Wait for it… Wait for it… “You can print for ten cents a page.”

Nice try, Herr Direcktor, but the correct answer was “You can use one of the many computers and printers under my direct discretionary control, and which are not currently in use by anyone, given that this is the week before the semester starts.”

The other adjuncts know where the copier is and how to use it—or how to get around the administrative lockouts and/or procedures designed to prevent you from using it. You were not told these things originally for the simple reason that the people responsible for giving you the information do not like you, on spec. You are adjunct. You do not matter. You are scum. Why faculty and administrators believe these things is a mystery, one that the sages and mad prophets have puzzled over for centuries.

I’ve been at it a tiny while here, and I’m at peace with who I am, what I do, and what purposes it serves in the several grand schemes at work at any major research place. I understand and accept why I’m paid less than the guy who teaches two classes a year; I understand and accept why I meet my twice-as-many-students in a cubicle while his massive office sits empty half the year while he’s on sabbatical and/or fellowship and/or course-release to go do research in Poland, and/or interviews for other, better assistant professorships behind our college’s administrative back—but what I do not understand, and refuse to accept, is why Anne doesn’t get the copy code, the key to her classroom, a tour of the facilities, and a walk-through of her computer system, like she’d get at any other craptacular job in the private or public sector.

I don’t understand and refuse to accept why she has to be treated with that kind of dismissal and disdain—if for no other reason than because she cannot do her job this way, without copies and keys and the basic knowledge of how her department works. Shutting her out isn’t just disrespectful of her, but of her students and her students’ needs. The rest of it is comedy compared to this last thing—that a department would take—that so many departments we know and “love” do take—its primary academic responsibility so obviously and obliviously for granted is not funny at all, but tragic, and frightening.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ragin' Raven From Racine Reaches Out To Three New Students.

To the kid in the back who thinks he's totally rad:
Yea, I see you. How could I not, right? Everything about you, from your uncoiffed, blond surfer hair, to the way you lean casually back in your chair with your hands folded behind your head, screams, "Look at me and know that I am too cool to care." And the way you talk over everyone's introductions to joke with your "bros" really shows that you are too cool. And they way you make flirty little comments during your own introduction says, "I think I can manipulate everyone--including the instructor--with my oozing, laid back charm." Dude. First of all, we're in the freaking Midwest. Lose the surfer persona. Second, you're mildly creepy. So why don't you sit up in your chair, shut your mouth, and realize that all the faux-surfer charm in the world won't save you from that D on the first essay. Bitchin'!

To the computer science guy:
Thank you so much for informing me that you believe the way I conducted our composition class on the first day was inane and inefficient. I know. I did have everyone put their desks in a circle so we could see one another. I just wasn't aware that this meant that I was turning class into a "therapy session." I don't recall asking anyone how he feels about his father, but I guess circles could lead to this kind of thing being so ... round and all. You also were kind enough to inform me that "Education is about thinking, not feeling" and you "just want the facts." I really appreciate your generous sharing of your educational philosophies. Lord knows that the computer science guy in my community college first-year writing class probably has a lot to offer on this topic. And the way you just flat-out attacked the class on the first day shows that you are in no way just rashly judging the situation. I actually said that this class was all about thinking, but maybe you missed this because you were so troubled by the thought of having "to listen to everyone else talk." It must be troubling to be in a class with other people. You probably prefer a blank room with a computer, piping in "the facts" over a high-speed connection. If only the world could be this kind of angular, robotic, people-less paradise! We wouldn't need this reading and writing crap at all!

To my new favorite student's mother:
I haven't met your son yet, but I can already tell he's a winner. How? Who but a winner would have his mother email me about missing the first day of class? Not only this, but you managed to email me late, and with so many errors that I had a hard time understanding the message! That's something. And to top it all off, your son is not missing the first day of class because he is incurably ill, mildly sick, or even on an end-of-summer beach extravaganza. You're son is missing class because he is "bear hunting." Out tracking grizzlies somewhere. Can't be bothered right now. I cannot wait to meet the kid who loves slaughtering large, angry animals just as much as he loves his mother. I only hope he can write a bit better.

Some Friendliness for Fone-Addicted Farrah.

  • What kind of class is Farrah teaching where she thinks students need instant emergency help at all hours of the day? Whatever it is, will someone please tell Farrah that her problem is her own? Nobody is making her answer those emails the moment she gets them, and quite frankly, if they annoy her, tell her to turn the stupid thing off. Professors have a life too, don't they?

  • If you are going to allow this technological wackness in your life for some people, you are going to have to expect everyone will use it, including students who have access to the address. Tell your students you only have email access at your office, and you can't respond during evenings or weekends. Also, are they asking dumb questions? Maybe tell them that if they email you with a question that can be answered by, say, reading the syllabus, they will be ignored. I create blogs for students to post to; you could try that (blogger is easy to use) and encourage them to discuss assignments there with each other. I mean, if they are all online at crazy hours, they might get a faster response than trying to badger you with their inquiries.

  • Today's students are needy, needy, needy. And if you give them an electronic lifeline into the grade-grubbing arena, they'll latch onto it like a tit. Boundaries have to be set early and enforced often. Luckily for Farrah, this problem is a cinch to solve. First of all, set up a separate email account or folder for your student emails, and under no circumstances should you allow these emails to find their way to your phone, to disrupt your dinner, to disrupt your TV watching time. Secondly, tell the students that you check your email only once a day and never on weekends. Then, tell them you will not answer homework questions over email. If students have questions about the homework, they should be seeing your during your office hours. Don't worry--they won't flood your office the way they flood your inbox. That requires too much physical effort.

  • First-timer Farrah needs to cowboy up and set some damn limits -- lest she end up at the beck and call of students who can't seem to take a dump and successfully wipe themselves without needing extra support, remediation and validation. It is perfectly acceptable to explain that e-mails and phone calls will be answered within 48 hours. Period. Getting back to them immediately is only enabling their learned helplessness.

  • Farrah, if you're a computer programming prof, I have a feeling that you also know how to program your cell phone. Make it stop downloading your email, or at the very least make it stop beeping when it downloads your email. Once you've done this, set some limits. Tell them that you'll answer their emails within a set time limit (I usually do 24-48 hours, depending on how frequently the class meets), and that if they haven't heard from you by the next class, they can ask if you've received their email. Answering them immediately tells them that you are available 24-7. Making them wait tells them that you, too, have a life. Remember the old saying: "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine." Just step away from their emails - you'll be glad you did.

  • The hardest thing about being a new academic is learning that you have a right to say “no,” and that it is OK to do so. You can close your door and not answer it despite someone’s persistent knocking, you can refuse to work on a project. So, just because your students e-mail you doesn’t mean you have to answer. Ignore them, and if you can’t, it points to your OCD not theirs. If you absolutely cannot ignore the incessant beeping, then ask yourself why your e-mails are so important that you have to download them onto your phone 24/7. Again, this is not about them. It’s about you.

  • Your students are your students, not your bosses. You don't need to reply instantly when they e-mail you. You need to disable e-mail notification on your phone. If you have someone that needs to get hold of you on a moment's notice, get a different e-mail account and slave that one to your phone. Eventually your students will discover that you don't answer e-mail when you're not in the office. I hold one virtual office hour every week, when I'm available by e-mail for a specified time period. Otherwise, they need to wait until I have time to answer.

  • Welcome to 24/7. When they signed up for your class, they attached an umbilical cord. You belong to them. They know this because mommy and daddy told them the world belongs to them. The same defect that makes the other snowflakes beg for grades they haven't earned. They'll earn the grades, but they really do expect that you will be right there with them 24/7, reassuring them. If you make the mistake of thinking otherwise, they'll climb the ladder to the top of the realm to make sure someone knows you aren't doing your job.