Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cool Story, Weary Traveler!

I have just got back from canada and have my paper in my binder and everything ready to be turned in. I hope it does not get points taken off from being late it was not my idea to stay in canada so long I was not driving and had no say in when we would leave. I told the I had to get back in time to turn my paper in and take my mid term for class but everyone I was with had spring break this week so they didn’t care. my paper is ready and I am ready to take the mid term. wondering if it is possible for me to take it tomorrow with out any points being taken off. or when would you like me to take it. I am very sorry and as you know from our meeting I am trying very hard now and am not missing anymore classes. I worked hard on this paper and would feel really bad if I received a bad grade for not being here to turn it in. I hope you understand and get back to me with what I should do.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ben from Boston Gets Baffled and Battered by Batshit Bernie.

Bernard is a non-traditional student in my philosophy class. We focus on writing in this class, teaching students who have a taste of philosophy already how to structure a tight argument, address counter-examples, and generally how to discipline themselves to the process of writing (notes, research, outlines, drafts, more drafts, etc). In other words, we do a lot of writing, and subject that writing to a lot of scrutiny. Bernard claims he's enthusiastic about philosophy. He's excited to be here. Indeed, he's present for every class, always attentive, and turns in every assignment on time or early.

He's also completely batshit crazy.

His writing isn't just bad, it's incomprehensible. He switches voice midsentence. He punctuates apparently at random. He makes sweeping declarations and invokes impenetrable allusions, but never actually approaches anything like argument or analysis. He changes how he cites and quotes with every quote and citation. Oh, yeah, and he cites himself.

No, seriously. Apparently, a few years ago, he had an epiphany of some sort, and wrote... something. A diary? An epic poem? There's no telling from the bits and pieces that appear in his papers, but nevertheless, he occasionally quotes from his magnum opus and cites it with his initials and the year. I asked him about this and he confirmed my suspicions. He's citing his own, unpublished navel-gazing.

This was the same conversation in which he told me he doesn't "get" parts of speech.

I don't even know what to think about this guy. I would LOVE to tell him to drop out, do something else, whatever - just quit wasting his time. Sounds cruel, I know, but for reasons I can't disclose even with anonymity for both Bernie and myself, I doubt he'll ever really improve. Yet, here he is, filling a seat which is reserved (and required) for majors and which has a waiting list.

I respect a point. His enthusiasm about philosophy has shot right past admirable and into scary. He has precisely zero chance of succeeding at this major (and possibly any other), and the fact that he apparently has NO awareness of that fact depresses me.

In the meantime, I do derive SOME enjoyment out of his surrealist papers.

"Dear Mom..." Professor Bella from Birmingham Sends Some Letters Back Home.

I know most of the smackdown here at RYS usually revolves around the students. But after I have late semester conferences with some of them, I realize who I’d really like to choke slam to the mat: Mommy Dearest. There’s nothing like a sabotaging parent to ruin a young life.

Dear Mom of B: I know you thought that waiting until your daughter was “away at college" to file for divorce was preferable to putting her through it when she was eight. But thanks a fucking lot. Now B feels like her whole relationship to you both was a big, fat lie, and her grades have started to tank. She doesn't know what's going to happen at Thanksgiving, and she's really dreading it. She feels like you blew up the place she had to return to and now she has no home. Good job.

Dear Mom of A: Your daughter is ashamed to talk about where she comes from because you're on welfare. Which in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but for fuck's sake, don't make her feel guilty over the way she chooses to spend her own money. They're her loans, so if she wants a bigger meal plan, I say tuck in, honey, and enjoy it. She is responsible, and she's making A's and B's right now. She saves her money for laundry detergent while her spoiled little floor mates are running out to the clubs to booze it up every night. She works summers to save up money to live on during college. So don't make her feel guilty for not finding a way home to visit you every chance she gets. Don't lecture her about using condoms when you just had another baby and are still on welfare--believe me, she already learned about that life from living it with you. Don't try to control her major or her choice of career. What's worse, when you had to either go to work or to school because of welfare term limits, and you chose school, don't bitch to her about how you can't help her because now you have your own schooling to take care of, and if she can't get anymore loans, tough, because you won't sign for them. You're busy signing off on your own. She has a real shot at doing well here. Get off your ass and get a job and co-sign her damned loan. She’s already been more responsible than you were at her age.

Dear Mom of K: It wasn't enough that K left the inner city where he passed drug dealers every day who hooked some of his friends into slinging dope. It wasn’t enough that he's lived on his own throughout high school and managed to get into college on his own, with no help with his homework or his life from you. It wasn't enough for him to get past being hit and yelled at by a drug addicted dad. The kid doesn't drink because he's smart enough to point out that addiction runs on both your side and his pop's side of the family--and this at a school where it's practically offered in the cafeteria. He's making A's and B's. Get off his ass about dating a girl. Tell him how proud you are of him for once. Tell him how happy you are that he's not turning out to be just like you, dad, and everyone else back home.

Dear Mom of G: You're the one I'm probably going to drive seven hours one way to smack. I'm sorry your real estate job is on the ropes now, really. But to continue to take your daughter’s entire paycheck for which she hitches rides on the weekend to work back in her home state is absolutely unconscionable. Here's a thought--do the cashier's job your daughter is doing yourself. G is failing every class she is taking because she is too tired and worried about you moping around your house to get up and take care of her own business. What's worse is that she thinks it's because she's just not working "hard enough," and that if she just gives 150% instead of the 140% she's pulling now, things will get better. What's worst of all is that you told her on her last trip back you'd be "really disappointed" if she did poorly in school. Quit taking her checks and get off your ass. She's only a couple of months past 18 years old.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cory from Columbus Is Losing.

I can't think of anywhere else I can say this.

I'm on the verge of giving up on my students. I'm in my 4th year of my first t-t position - though I've also held 2 VAP spots previously.

It's too damn hard to get them to give a shit, to do their work. When I've held their feet to the fire in the past, even in my current position, I've gotten no support from my administrators. I've been encouraged to find "alternate" assignments for students who just blew off the real ones. To give "second chances" to "delicate" and "troubled" students who I knew were neither.

When I try to rally my colleagues about it, they all look at me with dead eyes and shoulder shrugs.

It's easier to let it all go. And when I've done it - very sparingly - in the past, nothing bad ever happened. I let a kid through with a gentlelady's C- last year because I couldn't go through another crying fit in my office, or hear another surely fabricated set of excuses that would rival any fiction ever created. I sat there with her D (non-passing) folder, and just wrote C- instead. She didn't come around. Nobody called me. The earth continued spinning. And I never had to deal with her again.

And this semester I'm tempted again.

I don't have one bit of understanding why most of my students are here. They don't want to work. They don't even care about the topics of study when I let them choose. "Bring in anything you want us to study," I say. "We can make it work with my curriculum." I beg them. I give them steps and help them through it. They fuck it up. I leave them to their own devices and they do nothing.

I work far harder on the course than any student. I slave over their work, showing them ways to improve, tricks to try, things to work on next time, and without fail I get the same shit each time. Why did I take the time? Why did I make them come to my office?

The only way I KNOW I can get them to generate work is to photocopy my questions on a sheet with broad spaces for them to answer RIGHT on the sheet. (Oh, and I take a few pens to class, too, because there are always some who don't show up with anything - except for maybe a coffee.)

I walk out into the hallway to find a colleague to commiserate with, but usually the doors are closed. Young and old alike, they scurry when their classes are over. I ask my chair, and she looks at me and says, "You have to reach them. It's your responsibility. Not theirs."

In a typical class of 30 students, I have about 10 who'll work enough to earn an honest C. There are one or two who do A work. The rest should flunk. But in my first year I flunked 20% of one of my sophomore level courses and I spent the entire Christmas holiday justifying every grade, meeting with 2 different deans, providing paperwork, assignments, grading one essay in FRONT of the dean, calibrating my list of absences with the students's lists! (Lazy Leon says he was there on the 17th of October. Are you sure the X on your grade sheet for that day is correct? Why would Leon lie about that?")

I don't want to do that again. I don't want to have to get on my knees and take it up the ass from administrators, colleagues, AND students.

I used to love teaching. I still love my research - which has little to do with students - and that keeps me in the job. But I feel like a complete fraud sometimes. I go to class with a black heart, with less and less hope. I rev up at the start of semesters, trying again, like this term.
It took them about 6 weeks to break me. We had group work today, where they could get feedback on their in-progress projects in order to make them better for next week's grading. I did handouts, sheets for their comments, a performance scale. I reserved a library seminar room so we'd be comfortable. I got there early. 30 students in that class. Nobody near an A yet. 4 people showed, 2 of them 15 minutes after the start of class. (Oh, and they know where it was, and all of that.)

Those projects will come in next week, and the vast majority of them will be pure shit. And I just want to slap C's on them all, let them go through. I don't want it to be such a goddamned fight every time.

I'm losing, I know. But I don't know what else to do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Prof. Cougar from Cuyahoga Falls Shares Some of That Great Student Correspondence!

Hello Profesor Cougar,

My Name Is Betty Largent. I Spoke With You A Week Ago Concerning My Grade. As i Told You the TA Justine Told Me To Email You About My Policy Acknowledgment That She May Have Misplaced So I Was Wondering If Could Receice Another One To Fill Out Please. You Also Stated That I Do Note In Lecture When I Do Be In Lecture and Section The Reson Why my TA Justine Haste Down For So Many Missed Days Is Because I Was Late Those Days Other Than That I attednd Both.




First, I'd like to point out that when you email me you need to use proper grammar, please. That does not mean capitalizing every word. Past that, some of the sentences in the email below aren't even close to being grammatically correct. The reason I do this is to prepare you for life after college, where employers will expect you to know how to communicate professionally. If you do not start to pay attention to this now, you’ll find out what importance it has at a point that is too late to do anything about it.

Second, as far as your attendance goes I should point out that coming in after attendance is taken is treated the same as an absence in my classes. That was stated clearly in the syllabus (Section 3.1). Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done about that and I encourage you to make sure you’re on time.

Third, with respect to the policy acknowledgement, I must say that I am not sympathetic to your case. Most importantly, we have made numerous announcements about this in both lecture and discussion section. It is not clear to me why this only started to become an issue for you nearly ten weeks into the semester. When you consider that the syllabus says you will receive no credit until after this is turned in and that you said you'd stop by my office to discuss it (but then didn't), it seems to me like you simply do not care about passing the class. To be quite blunt, I don't believe that it was turned into the teaching assistant and then lost. That's inconsistent with the other evidence from the class, namely your low test scores and consistent tardiness.

With all of this in mind, I will reserve judgment at this point in time on whether or not to give you a zero for all work turned in to this point. If you can demonstrate to me through better attendance, improved class performance, and a mature attitude about participating in the class, I will give you a grade based solely on the merits of your work.

I strongly recommend you read the syllabus (carefully this time) and start working much harder on this class.

Prof. Cougar

Saturday, October 25, 2008

An Old School Smackdown - Acrostic Style.

J - It's a shame you never came for extra help even though department policy allows for a partial letter grade bump at the end of the term if you just show up at the tutor's office for half of her sessions. You would have gotten that C you needed to escape ejection from the program for being on probation three terms in a row. The underclassmen were smitten with your upperclassmen worldliness and everything you taught them that you had learned your first time through chemistry. If you stuck around long enough to show them everything you managed to learn your first time through physics, you would have been their king by the end of winter term.

E - I hope you figure out that no matter what you're trying to get out of, telling all of the guys in your project group that you're on your period is a bad strategy. I really thought after the way they treated you when you announced your August billing cycle, you'd have remembered not to try that in September.

R - I'm sorry I was always squinting at you. It's just that the sound of your voice triggers a mental track of the Police singing "Canary in a Coal Mine" in my head, so I have to read your lips when you speak to me.

K - You're sweet and quiet and completely predictable - like a well behaved Samoyed. That's why I sort of feel a little bad for the day you grinned blankly at me while I waited for you to pick up your pencil and do the problem I had asked you to try. I shouldn't have told you to pick it up and do something with it before I picked it up and lobotomized what was left of you with it. You can't help it that you have a nine year old's grasp of math and a 4 year old's grasp of problem solving and that the state of Kansas did nothing to remedy that before they sent you to me.

S - I'm so happy you were failing at the beginning of the term - it gave me an excuse to sit you up front. And I'm glad you stayed there after you got a 92 - because the thought of your hot ass in the front row was the only thing that kept me from driving into a concrete barrier on my commute.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"I'm One of Those Gattaca Guys, Too." Whoopsie from Wilmington Willie.

I have to confess I have never felt more uncomfortable reading an RYS post as I was when I saw Greta's Gattaca post.

I have done the exact same thing at my own college, right down to forgetting to tell the sub where to find the damn movie.

Now, in my defense (shrivel) my school REALLY frowns on proffies cancelling classes, even for good reasons. (And Stan's "mental health" day REALLY doesn't count.) So when I'm faced with an unmovable appointment, or sickness, or a seminar I want to take in, I often rely on a movie - mostly (I tell myself) to make it easy on the sub.

But I will confess one step further that I don't always choose a movie that really "fits" what we're up to. I laughed out loud at the instructions Greta got - "What sociological questions does the movie raise?" Yes, that will just about suffice for anything right? Ahhhh, and I've done that, too.

Yikes. I used to think this site made fun of others only, but I got skewered by Greta, and I know now that I've got to find some other assignments for next time I can't be in class...

I may be embarrassed, but I'm not ungrateful.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Longtime Reader Tells Job Seekers That They May Not Be Looking Hard Enough.

Daily I read the laments of fellow RYS readers. I read how we should tell students to avoid graduate school because there are just no jobs and that the tenure track is littered with the corpses of freeway flyers spent in their pursuit of long-term employment. When I am done with these diversions I get back to the work of the day and on the top of my pile I am confronted with the incongruity of two open search committees in my department. The incongruity comes from the realization that these positions have been open for over a year, as have several others at my institution. Did we fail to advertise the positions in the appropriate journals? Did our local post office, email server, and pony express rider simply stop working? No, sadly the reason that these positions are still open is due to a lack of any qualified applicants in over a year of searching.

I do not work at some uber-competitive Ivy League school or prestigious SLAC but rather the lowly community college down the street from you. We have a tenure-track (though the name is different), good pay (better than a couple of local Div I unis), good benefits, and a nine-month schedule (though you can work overload if you wish), in essence all you need for a productive career in education. Yet, we still have problems getting good faculty candidates when we have full-time openings. I don’t know if this is due to a deep ingrained looking down at the CC career path (though I went to a good R1 and then a Ph.D. at an Ivy) or some other trivial matter (that school isn’t in the exact part of the country I want to be in), but it is disheartening to see these positions, which can be fleeting in their offering, go unclaimed.

In short, yes there are full-time teaching positions available for Ph.D. graduates, but you may have to move your vision beyond just the SLAC and R1 mentality, or beyond the locale you live in now. Ask yourself what you really want out of your career and if the answer is the chance to teach realistic size classes (my maximum class size is around 40, most are 22-24), impact students who really might appreciate the effort, and interact with diverse populations of students, maybe it is time to think about your search in a new way.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Grad Student Greta from Glendale and the Gattaca Gaff.

I'm a Ph.D. student in the social sciences at a great university in California. I also teach a class part-time at a sprawling and multi-campus community college. To supplement my "income," I pick up sub classes at the CC fairly regularly in a variety of disciplines. There's a wiki, in fact, where profs and subs hook up, exchanging needs, assignments, etc.

Last week I took over a Tuesday/Thursday class in Sociology, and a Thursday night class in Philosophy.

For days I tried to pin down Sociology Stan about what he wanted done in his two classes. He had helpfully forwarded me his class schedule which listed "TBA" for both of those days. Uh, okay. Finally on Monday afternoon I got an email from Stan:

Dear [Not My Name At All]:
Thanks for taking over my class. I'm taking some long-deserved "mental health" time for myself. I'm going to leave a DVD of the movie Gattaca for class this week. Just arrange to have a DVD projector sent to my classroom and show it both days. I think it'll take that much time. Pass out a sign-up sheet and then at the end of the movie ask the students to answer these questions: 1) What sociological questions does the movie raise? 2) How would you answer those questions? Be specific.

So I had 18 hours to find a DVD projector, and then two phone calls to find out where on earth Stan "left" his DVD of the movie. I was able to track everything down and arrived in class Tuesday. I passed out an attendance sheet and showed about an hour of the movie.

I was also having trouble tracking down what I was supposed to do for the 3 1/2 hour Thursday night class I was taking for Philosophy Phil. He was harder to pin down than Stan. After he told me he'd like me to take the class over, I had been unable to get any specifics. I left phone messages, email messages, and got nothing.

Thursday morning I was preparing for the second half of the movie for Stan's Sociology class when I finally got this email from Phil:

Thanks, sub. I really appreciate you helping me out tonight. I've decided to show the movie Gattaca to my class. I'd like you to spend a little time at the start of class talking about the philosophical implications of the movie - as you see them. Then show the film. They'll probably want a break after that. Then at the end of class, engage them in a discussion about the characters in the film and their motivations. What do they think Jude Law finally believes? Thanks.

And that was it.

I went to Stan's class in the afternoon, showed the second half of the movie and passed out a neat sheet with Stan's questions - that I prepared and copied.

I had dinner and then went to Phil's night class. I had made some notes about what implications I thought the movie had, trying to use my recent viewing of the first half of the film and my second most recent viewing of the film (10 years ago) to guide me. At 6:30 nobody had arrived yet. I had the projector set up, had the movie cued, and waited. 6:40. 6:45. 7:00. Nobody.

I went home. Now I wait to see if either Stan or Phil will turn in the necessary paperwork for me to get my $47.50. I'll let you know.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Captain Wants to Get In a Day Late on the Whole Grad Student Thing, And He Wants to Steer the RYS Ship Back Towards Angrytown.

Call me the Captain from Koepenick.

I have long been in the practice of telling grad students that if they’re in grad school to either drop out or never quit, but don’t graduate. Ever. There are no jobs. There should be no bullshit about this. There are no fucking jobs.

Oh, I know every year schools “post” openings, that attract several hundred applicants, but unless you went to a chi-chi school, have publications out your ass, AND (not OR, mind you) you are the luckiest sonofabitch who ever lived AND you’re either blowing everyone on the committee or you have serious blackmail goods on them, don’t waste your time even trying graduate school.

Any undergrad who tells me they want to go to grad school, I sit them down in my office and I let them leaf through the three-inch three-ring binder of my rejection letters. I have been on the market four years.

“So sorry, Captain, we chose the candidate who shits golden bricks and bleeds diamonds! You with your publications and ordinary PhD degree only poop regular feces and there are no diamonds at all when you sweat during the interview.”

Anyone who advises someone into graduate school should be sent to advise young men and women to volunteer for active military service in Afghanistan, because their chances of happiness are better there.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Louise From Lakeside Lets Loose on Her Liars.

Enough with the stupid lies. I've had it. At first, I gave you the benefit of the doubt when you told me that you couldn't come to class because you had a job interview callback, or an ROTC informational meeting, or because you had to take your roommate to the E.R.

You missed important classes, tests and/or presentations and sent me your email excuses. I believed what you wrote, and I let you make up the work. You were so genuine, so polite, so willing to do what ever it would take to make up what you missed. I empathized with your difficulties being in two places at once.

But this year, I wizened up and decided to start checking up on you. I began to ask questions. So, who was the ROTC officer you met with? Who exactly did you have the job interview with? What are their phone numbers and email addresses? What hospital did you rush your roommate to? Please bring me the discharge papers. And it has turned out to be the case every time that you have lied to me. I know this because you can't provide any proof that your story is legit. You have no contact information to share. No business cards, no email addresses. No paperwork. Nothing.

What really gets me is how you embellish your stories. The lies get bigger and bigger. And you do it with such polish, as if generally accustomed to getting your way through such lying and storytelling. I've always suspected that students often lied to me in order to get my OK to make up work. But now that I KNOW you are lying to me, I'm as mad as hell and I'm dead tired of dealing with this in a"professional" manner.

I can only see one way out. I want my own"Daily Show" so that I can make fun of you in the same way Jon Stewart makes fun of public figures caught lying. I want to roll my eyes. I want to show hidden video of you sleeping juxtaposed to imagined video of you doing whatever worthy thing you claimed to have been doing instead of taking my tests.

I would do to you what Jon Stewart does to people who lie: I'd call you out in front of the world and put it on YouTube so no one, least of all me, ever forgets.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bernice From Buffalo Offers Her Students One Last Wake Up Call. Some Old School RYS Smackdown.

Okay, kiddies. Wake the fuck up. It is mid-October. Sleepy time is over. Here is a list of things that are no longer acceptable in this class:
  • Telling me "you didn't understand." Sorry, no dice. It was fine not to understand in the first month. We were all still learning. But if you don't understand now, you're fucked. Take thesis statements, for example. If you "don't understand" thesis statements at this point, you need to seek help. And not from me. I would have been more than happy to help you with this in the beginning. Hell, I even conducted several classes on this very concept. But if you're just waking up now, you need more help than I can give. Not understanding is not an excuse anymore; it's a weakness.

  • Asking me what the assignment for [insert day here] is. We have been working off of the same goddamn sheet of paper since day one. It is called a syllabus. It lists all your assignments. You have it for a reason. That reason is so that you don't annoy the living fuck out of me by asking me every day what your assignment is. USE YOUR SYLLABUS. If you've been in college this long without at least picking up this useful tidbit, I really don't hold out much hope for you.

  • Asking me what your grade is. It never fails; I hand back those papers, people panic (shock! your thesis-less paper didn't score so well), and the emails come pouring in. "Could you tell me what my grade is?" "I really need to know my grade right now." Well, dear, sweet, precious, baby-doll students, fucking figure it out yourselves! See, that's why I hand things back with points on them. I'm no math whiz, but I have a suspicion that if you add the few points you've managed to scrounge up and divide by the number of possible points thus far, you'll have something approximating your grade. It is amazing what you can do all on your own if you really put that mind to it.

  • Staring blankly at me during class. Yeah, I've really just had it with this. You're shy. You're tired. It's too early. You're sick. Well, guess what. You're a fucking college student now, and that trumps all your other little complaints. ACT LIKE A STUDENT--IT IS YOUR JOB. It has been your job for almost two months now, and let me tell you, you all are some slow-ass learners. Maybe you can't answer every question, but you sure as hell better plaster a puzzled look on your face to at least make it LOOK like you're thinking. Seems like too much of "an act" to you? Well, I've been up here for the last eight weeks putting on one hell of a one-woman show. Your turn to give a little something back.

Monday, October 13, 2008

With all apologies to Keats, Urns, English Proffies, and Bar Patrons Everywhere... Academic Haiku Goes Uptown.

Ode to a Round (or three) of Guinness

Thou still unravished beer of Guinness
Thou foster child of chaos and swift stress
Tired colleague, who canst thus express
A saucy tale more interesting than our rhyme:
What beret-fringed undergrad haunts about our table
Of pint glasses and cigarettes butts and more,
in corner booth or the long bathroom line?
What alternakid is this? What cretin here?
What mad pursuit, note my struggle to escape?
What fratastic friends? What idiotic ploy?

Heard excuses are bullshit, but those unheard
over the jukebox worse; ye of the late paper, walk on;
Not to the professorial ear, is excuse endeared;
Pipe to the booth-slouching hordes your drunken tune:
Foul youth, beneath the smoky haze, thou canst not sing
Thy plea, nor ever extension be granted,
And winning not near the goal--yet do not heave:
Penalty cannot be escaped, though thou has emailed,
Forever wilt thou beg, and me be fair!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nicholas Nothaughty from Norfolk Doth Require to Quench His Noble Thirst, and Thus Wonders, "What's in a Name?"

Truly, I am not an arrogant person. I really am fairly humble. And I'm not being ironic. I went to grad school because I, quite simply, wanted to learn more about my discipline. I finsihed my program on time, passed my defense, and am now out on the job market. (The latter of those three only bolsters my humility, considering that I have yet to land a job.)

I do teach as an adjunct, and even in my teaching, I remain humble. I truly believe that I can learn from my students, and I look forward to class becuase I consider it one of the most thought-provoking parts of my day.

I list myself as Dr. Nothaughty on the top of my syllabus, and when I introduce myself to my students, I tend to call myself either Dr. Nothaughty or Professor Nothaughty. However, despite all of that, I still get students--semester after semester--who address me as Mr. Nothaughty.

And my blood bolis every time that they do that. Since I work in a "hip" department, where so many professors like to be called by their first names, I feel like quite a prick demanding that my students address me as Doctor or Professor; in fact I never do that. But honestly, if I've earned anything it's the titular distinction that comes with having a Ph.D., and I want my students to recognize that. I'm not looking for fame and glory. I just want to be addressed as professor. How can I make my lovely students realize that they should address me as such, without sounding like an arrogant ass?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hank from Halifax, a Former Educator, Ruminates On, Well, Everything That's Wrong with Being a Proffie.

I am a former educator. I didn't so much leave the insanity of the system several years ago, but escape from it. Reading through the posts on RYS, I was reminded that any resemblance between the educational system and the dissemination of wisdom and knowledge is purely accidental. That's quite a change from when I started university thirty-five years ago. I became aware of how different things were when I returned for grad studies a few years later. Sadly, it's much worse now, but we all know that, don't we?

I, too, have my tales to tell based on my experiences as a graduate teaching assistant and also as a full-time instructor at a two-year technical school. I started the latter with the idealistic sense that I was about to begin a job that had honour and respect, but it didn't take me long to change my mind and it got worse after that. What was I supposed to think when, a few minutes after I officially began, I sat in an in-service session and was told by the "facilitators" that one of my tasks was to ensure that my students didn't have a "negative learning experience"?

That change in perspective was largely due my students (or customers or learners, their title or designation changed at least twice while I was an instructor), though administrative policies and the administrators themselves made major contributions to my decline into cynicism.

Over the years, I had quite a variety of students, among which included such gems like the self-appointed princess who was failing a service course I taught to her class because she didn't do any work and was constantly chatting with her closest classmates. I put supplementary material on reserve in the library only two blocks from her building but she refused to look at it because that place was too far for her to walk to. She failed the course, didn't dispute her grade (at least I never heard about it), but graduated anyway.

Then there was the bright boy who whined to his father that he was *failing* my course with 85% and whose same father called my department head about it. That head, in turn, hauled me into his office to rake me over the coals about it. Evidently I caused the young lad a great deal of distress but his behaviour didn't surprise me. A number of his fellow students told me similar stories about him.

I also had a self-appointed genius in one class who couldn't read the instructions on the final exam, completed 4 out of 4 questions (rather than the "any 3" required), made a complete hash out of all of his solutions, and then blamed me for his failure to make it on the institution's honour roll.

How about the students who whined because I didn't punch holes in the handouts I gave them but were too lazy to go to the department office and borrow the hole punch or, for that matter, actually buy one? The father of one of the whiners was a principal with a prominent local firm which hired a number of the institution's graduates, so, by implication, I had to be "nice" to the kid, even if he behaved like a spoiled brat.

Inevitably, there were the students who yowled when I returned their assignments all covered in red ink because I took the time to draw their attention to important points in their work, though not always deducting marks. (Gee, an instructor who actually looks closely at what students hand in and takes the time to comment on it because he thinks they might learn something--what is this world coming to?)

Students like that were bad enough and I could have put up with them as part of my job as an instructor. My disgust with the system increased when I had some who mysteriously managed to pass my course after failing it. They made arrangements with me to write the supplemental exams but, by some miracle, were given credit for that course when they received their statement of marks. Worse still, I had students who failed a different course, didn't qualify for supplemental exams, and still graduated. Administrative interference? Naaaaah!

I guess I forgot that I should have felt privileged to be in the presence of such mental superiors, the intellectual titans that they all were. I should have burned my degrees in front of them, resigned my membership in Mensa as I was clearly out-classed, and publicly apologized for presuming that I possessed an intelligence higher than that of a doorknob. Rending my raiment and wearing sackcloth and ashes were implicitly expected to follow.

Then there were administrative fun and games, such as the students who dropped out but were allowed back in after coming up with the whiniest tear-jerking sob stories and telling them to a department administrator who was an absolute sucker for such hard cases. Proof of misfortune was rarely required, apparently.

I often spent up to a quarter of my lecture time reviewing and, sometimes, teaching material that the students should have learned in previous background courses in order that I could do my job. Voicing my displeasure to the responsible parties fell upon deaf ears. It was bad enough I had to deal with bad student but bad colleagues were inexcusable.

Then there was the department head who never failed anyone in his courses, even if one did nothing in it at all and then dropped out part-way through, lest it showed his department in a bad light and possibly jeopardize his campaign to become dean. That same department head also refused to do in-class evaluations because that would be have "policing." (Wasn't that part of his job?)

I seriously thought about getting out of the business altogether when I was threatened with severe disciplinary action by senior department administrators because my students addressed me as Dr. XXXXX. The reason was that it "intimidated" them and they wouldn't, therefore, want to ask me questions lest they believed I might think them dumb. (Uh, maybe because I actually *earned* the degree and the right to use the title? In an educational setting? What did they do when they dealt with a physician or dentist?)

In addition, those same administrators reprimanded me for not allowing students to call me by my first name, in the diminutive or otherwise, rather than Dr. XXXXX or "Sir." Why? Apparently, it didn't create a "safe" learning environment and formality was considered a barrier to learning. I guess the concept of proper and courteous behaviour must have escaped someone. (By the way, I never addressed my students by their first names but as "Mr." and "Sir," or "Ms." and "Madame", whichever was applicable.)

Being a TA wasn't a picnic either.

For example, there was the research associate in the department where I did my Ph. D. She taught an undergraduate engineering course and I graded the student assignments. I was reprimanded one day for pointing out things on their submissions when I marked them even though I didn't always take off marks. Apparently, it upset the little darlings who, presumably, might have given her a bad evaluation. As an experienced practitioner in my profession, I did that as a favour to those students as I thought it might help them later after they got their degrees. Then again, I spent several years in industry and had never seen answers on calculation sheets highlighted in pink, but what did I know, eh?

I was also admonished by the other prof in the aforementioned course for penalizing students for not showing the calculations they did to get their answers because it wasn't a *math* course. Maybe I should have given the marks to the calculators they used as they actually did the work.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. My teaching experiences were the epitome of what Mark Twain said about truth being stranger than fiction. Fiction, he said, has to make sense, after all, and I couldn't make up what I described even if I tried.

I quit teaching at a time and in a matter of my own choosing.

I got tired of having to deal with work-shy dullards and spoiled brats who thought that since they paid their tuition, they deserved to graduate, regardless of whatever rubbish they handed in.

I got fed up with butting heads with administrators who thought that standards of any kind were elitist and that I should put all of my energies into student "success" by passing as many as possible, even if they were lazy and completely lacking in talent.

I didn't want to keep being pressured to sell out and become a corporate academic sheep by lowering the standards required by the discipline I was teaching in.

I couldn't stand working in an environment where the students could do no wrong, every allegation against me was assumed to be true, and I had all the responsibility but no authority.

I wanted to stop going home each day feeling like I had gone through several hours of hand-to-hand combat, questioning at the end what I actually accomplished and what the point of it all was.

I'd had enough of a place that pretended to pay me well, the students pretended that they learned, and I had to pretend that I was actually teaching.

Don't even get me started on all the edu-babble and biz-speak that I had to endure.....

I regret losing a steady paycheck, but each time I recall what I endured as an instructor in order to earn it, I'm glad I'm not doing it any more. Had I stayed where I was, I would probably have left within a year or two on medical grounds, either in need of extensive psychiatric care or because of eventual alcoholism. (I used to make a joke: "Do you have a drinking problem, Mr. XXXXX?" "No." "How soon can you acquire one?")

I resigned several years ago and haven't taught since. It took about two years for all the stress that had built up from my teaching to finally dissipate. Maybe it's good I never became a professor after I finished my Ph. D., after all.

So much for the idea that an educator has a soft job.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Return of the Academic Haiku. And, Post of the Week At the Same Time. Best Student Excuses Category.

And I'm extremely sorry
that I could not come to class today
because I hada very important meeting with the bank today.

As we know about the worldwide
stock market crisis.
I had to go and give them some specialinstructions.

Sorry for any inconvenience
I caused you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tony from Tuscaloosa Gets Tripped Up by Typhoid Troy on Eval Day.

I had my peer teaching evaluation today and I know I fucked it up! All because of one student, Typhoid Troy, who came to class as sick as you can be without dying. I’m standing there trying to get through my lesson plan, trying to show what a brilliant teacher I am, and Troy is sitting in the back (right next to my evaluator, I may add) judiciously coughing up a lung. This keeps going on and on, his bowel-shaking wracking cough providing a counterpoint to my most amazing ethical analysis. On and on and on.

Now, instead of worrying about content I’m thinking “Should I kick him out?”

C’mon Troy, do you really need me to be your mommy? Just get up and leave – go die somewhere else. I should kick him out, but I’m worried. What if my evaluator feels that this poor, precious snowflake so loves this subject that he strives to attend class even when at death’s door? What if I’d be seen as completely crushing his little, snowflakey ego?

The coughing continues. I continue. I don’t do anything. Then, when I’m packing up after class, the evaluator approaches me and says:

I’d have kicked him out.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where RYS Finds Its New Hero: Stapler Nutjob Nancy!

  • Life is worth living again, because at least I don't have students like Jeremy. The Stapler Lady has taken a stand, and - while it's not mine - I respect her for it.

  • I hope you stapled the little bastard's ass to the wall. Laughing and running away? It's YOUR problem? That's 15% of his grade blowing in the wind and YOU'RE supposed to pick it up? Geez, that looks like a big fat zero to me.

  • If you had taken Jeremy's stack of papers and realized upon, beginning to grade them, that they were in fact filled with homework for another class, or did not meet the terms of the assignment, or whatever, you would not be required to give him credit just because he handed you the papers and you accepted them. If your syllabus and policies state that work must be stapled, then he has not met the terms of the assignment, and you can assess any penalty that your policy allows. It's up to you how far you want to try and push that--if he decides to go to the dean, you're going to end up having to back down--but you needn't feel the list bit of compunction if a couple of pages got lost in that breeze. If they'd been stapled, they'd have been safe; since they weren't, it's only his word that they were there in the first place.

  • I don't know what this says about me as a human being but I live for moments like the one that the Stapler Nazi had with young Jeremy. Here's my advice to her. Pick up as many of the papers as you reasonably can and return them in the next class period, unmarked and unrecorded. When the little darling boy protests, remind him that you never actually said you were accepting them and even questioned him about the stapling. That kid should know that shoving things in a professor's hands and running away is a little different than turning things in. If he wanted special treatment, he probably should have started by helping you pick up his papers. Then, optionally, call him a "a little fucker," just for emphasis (Warning: perform this step only if you have tenure).

  • ...and of course your only rejoinder to his idiocy is to yell across the quad "Print me a new copy, MoFo, and have it in my hand, STAPLED, within X hours [you make that call; my work here is done.]!

  • Stapler Nazi Nancy better have just let lame-ass Jeremy's papers fly on the breeze! The little punk handed in papers, was asked to staple them as per the syllabus, refused, then watched them flutter off in the autumn breeze. He even had the audacity to smirk and run off and claim he handed them in?!?!?!? No, punk, you didn't. F! F! F! Zeroes on everything! Let him moan. Let him wail. Let him file a complaint! Let him tell someone that he ran off after his papers flew on the breeze because he refused to take them back when he didn't get them stapled after trying to hand them in late...outside...on a breezy day. That's an F worth getting fired for. Guess what Jeremy's unaware of: He has to prove he did the work. He also has to prove he handed it in. It's not Stapler Nazi Nancy's problem that the papers got lost. That's what the fucking staple was supposed to prevent! Oh, and a big heaping pile of zero for "participation" too. Fail the fucker.

  • Like the Stapler Lady, I have given up on so much in my classes. I'm so tired of the fight over the tiniest things - like the stapling! But this post has given me courage. Baby steps, of course. But I'm going to tell them that I'm through with them coming in wearing slippers from now on. It's not pedagogically significant, perhaps, but let them at least start treating my classroom as something other than an extension of their dorm room. That's a start. Staples next semester. Doing their own work in 2011. What a renaissance I'm heralding.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wait a Minute. We Have to Get Up, Get CLEAN, AND Go To Class?

We have to ask our dear little hearts to do so much work out of class that I feel dreadful asking them to do more, but, would it be too much to ask for attention to a little personal hygiene before coming to school?

While I realize that "showering" or otherwise rinsing the bed funk off before 8 a.m. is way too much to ask, is brushing one's teeth too much? Really, is it too much to ask that our students do not come to class breathing their morning dragon-breath on us? Could it be too much to request of the poor souls to slap on some deodorant or at least run a wet wipe over the stinky parts and chew a stick of gum before running up to my desk prior to class to ask me if, really and truly, I am requiring them to use APA citations when Dr. Y asks for MLA?

I work in a subtropical environment and I am often rushing into class, "glowing" as ladies might when they've run up 13 flights of stairs because the broken little 18-year-olds are crammed 30 deep in the elevators and none could possibly move for a prof with arms full of books and papers.

So, I know I'm sweaty when I get to class, but owing to my attention to the little details like showering (with soap!), brushing my teeth, using deodorant, and wearing clothes that have seen the inside of the washing machine since August 1, I'm unlikely to gas my students with my aroma. Is it too much to ask they don't do the same for me?

The Stapler.

I have about given up on everything in my classes. I can't stop them from talking or turning in shit late, or being in class on time. I cajole and threaten, I take points off, nothing works. They don't care. They flunk and they sign up again next semester. They stop coming and they become someone else's problems.

It makes me crazy.

But I do have one rule. I don't know how it came about, but of all the stuff in my syllabus there's one thing I hold on to. Homework, assignments, and essays must be stapled.

It's bold faced. I'm not even joking. I mention it in class. I talk about it before each thing comes in. I make a joke out of it, so they don't think I've gone completely out of my gourd. I bring staplers to class sometimes. I give them away sometimes. I buy the cheapo minis at our campus store and pass them out. I pick up old ones that the library is going to toss, clean them, oil them, fill them, and pass them out.

I don't even care if my students call me the Stapler Nazi. I figure it's good to be known as something other than just some faceless teaching drone.

So, staplers, you get it? I'm adamant about stapling the work that comes in. And I won't bore you, but seriously, papers get mixed up, they slide around in a big briefcase. Stuff gets lost, mixed in. It slows down my grading. It takes longer to get work back. There's the endless bullshit of, "well maybe you lost it."

My students turn in something almost every day, even if it's just +/- stuff for homework. Staple it, I say. I won't even take it if it's not stapled. That's the RULE. I've given up almost everywhere else. I've let the heathens in through every opening otherwise, but not on this. The world's gone mad, the economy is in shambles, overpopulation, drought, mad cow, Lyme disease, whatever. But you turn in something to me, and it has to be stapled.

So, Jeremy, sweet Jeremy, who's been in my class for 6 weeks now, hands me 20 sheets of rough drafts, notes, graphs, worksheets, etc. as I'm leaving class. I'm late. He's missed most of class because he was getting his stuff together. He catches me at the classroom door and follows along with his excuses while I go down the stairs.

He pulls out the unruly sheaf of papers at the front door. He proffers them. I can see they're fluttering in the breeze, no staple, no nothing. 20 loose sheets of paper that account for about 15% of his grade for the term.

"Stapled?" I say, gulping.

"Uh, couldn't find one," he says, and then he plops them in my hand.

He starts down the stairs, and I stare at the stack of papers. A boy coming up bumps me, and just then a breeze swoops across. Jeremy's papers go everywhere. Fluttering. It's October leaves. They fly and spin and shoot across my field of vision.

Then I see Jeremy at the bottom of the stairs. His mouth is open. He's starting to laugh. "I turned them IN," he says. "You took them. It's your problem NOW..." And he starts into a jog, away from me, across the quad, while his papers still fly free.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sara from Saskatoon Seuss-ifies the Academic Haiku. It'll Never Be the Same.

I do not like them, Sam I am.
I do not like my 8 a.m.
I want to hit them with a bar
I’d like to throw them ‘neath a car.
I’d like to feed them to a goat
I’d like to throw them in a moat
I do not like them, Sam I am.
I do not like my 8 a.m.

I’m sick of stony silent faces
While I put them through their paces
They do not read; they do not care
It’s like talking to the air.
They turn in papers in pink ink
And their spelling mostly stinks.
There’s a computer at every seat—
They could turn in papers nice and neat
They could even print them in the room
And save themselves from grading doom.
But do they do this, Sam I am?
No, not them, my 8 a.m.

I do not like them, Sam I am.
I do not like my 8 a.m.
Their homework, they never do
I swear, they haven’t got a clue.
Yes, Sam, reminded them I have
More than once, might I add.
Major assignments, what are those?
They just sit there and pick their nose.
They’ll have to take the class again—
The only thing that keeps me sane
Is next semester I will be
Here at home with my baby.
The stupid sniveling dumbass brats
Will be in someone else’s class.
I do not like them, Sam I am.
I do not like my 8 a.m.

I do not think that they believe
In the big fat F’s that they’ll receive.
After all, they show up each day
And books and tuition they did pay.
I wonder if they’ll gasp in shock
When the axe hits the chopping block
And their failing grades they see
Sent to them, with love, from me.
I do not like them, Sam I am.
I do not like my 8 a.m.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Missy from Montauk Celebrates Our Brilliance, and then Pays Tribute to the Dunce-itude of Her Young Charges.

God, I love RYS. It is a shining beacon of hope akin to that which I usually find at the bottom of my vodka/tonic-filled glass. Okay, so I’m not an English Professor – cut me some slack. All of this is beside the point – I’m here to RANT!

So, why are the students at my (almost) top 50 nationally ranked college such dumb shits? They come from an area which (supposedly) has one of the best public school systems in the nation. But it seems like they are not even capable of wiping their own asses without being told how to do it.

Asshole Category
Runner: At this point I am willing to sacrifice my ever so precious success on my evaluations and your malignment of me on the website that shall not be named just to make the rest of your semester an absolute living hell. You emailed the professor of the class (I’m but the lowly TA that has to deal with you) and told the professor that his class was boring! And you gave him what I assume were incredibly insightful suggestions to improve his class. Like, don’t answer questions from anyone, because everyone’s questions are dumb and are a waste of time (not his exact words, but you get the point). Then, you have the nerve to come up to me after class, and proceed to quibble with me on almost every single point of your exam. You even tried to get points back for an incorrect MULTIPE CHOICE QUESTION. Balls. You said, “Well, according to my interpretation of the question, this was the correct answer.” And I said, “Well, your interpretation of the question is incorrect, and your answer is (still) incorrect as well.” Then I ask, “How many of the short answer questions do you want to discuss with me?” I knew I was in trouble when he smugly spat back at me, “ALL of them.” He continued to condescendingly glare at me for the next 20 minutes while I explained to him where and why I took off points for each question. He wouldn’t let up and kept repeating the same question about why he had points taken off all of those word vomit salads of his. It got to the point where it was obvious that his strategy was just to harass me for so long that I would eventually cave in and give him extra points to make him go the fuck away. But FUCK THAT. I will not put up with the bullshit sentiment from a freshman nose picker that I can be BULLIED into giving higher grades because you are a man and I happen to be a woman. And yes, please go talk to the actual professor to “discuss” your grades. He has my back and is going to tear your arrogant little ass a new one. Especially after you have emailed him to tell him that his lecture is boring.

Dumb Category
C for Clueless: Good Lord. Really? Really? You are really volunteering this information to me? You come up to me and tell me that you have not been in class for the last MONTH because you were going to the wrong room and sitting in on a criminology class. How the FLYING FUCK did you not realize for a month that you were not in the philosophy class that you had signed for? God. EITHER you are plumbing the horrifically deep depths of dumb, OR you think that I’m a complete moron who will not see through your ridiculous lie. ALTHOUGH, at least you are not worse than the student I had who told me that he did not come to class (at all) for the first 3 weeks of the semester because he couldn’t find the classroom. Lucky for him, I took him at his word because he was, after all, a computer science major.

Redemption (groan) Category
Felicia: After the complete verbal abuse I enjoyed thanks to one of your classmates, the way you approached me was respectful and your attitude did not seem to need any adjusting. You are the type of girl who got alllllllllllll A’s in high school and now that you are in college and completely BOMBED your first test, you are shocked and destroyed. I could tell this by the complete and utter (uncharacteristic) silence from you for the rest of the class after the tests were handed back. You came up to me after class and what did you do? Well, you asked me if I had time to talk to you about your test. I said yes, and we went to my office. You then told me, “I sucked, and I want to get better.” No scrounging for extra points, no complaining that I graded unfairly, no sucking up to me by telling me how interesting and important the class is to you. You just straight up wanted to know what to do to get a better grade. And so I told you. And hopefully you will get higher than a 45% on the next test.

"Which Student Do I Hate Most? Which Day Is It?" Monte from Montgomery Meanders Through Myriad Malfunctionaries.

Today was Monday of the sixth week of classes. I had a student come to me who still didn't know that our class has a lab. What did he think when I'd announced each upcoming lab on Friday, and again on Monday, every week for the past five weeks? Of course, it's possible that today was the first time he'd attended a class. I couldn't help noticing that he had real trouble speaking in coherent sentences. It was all I could do to keep from saying, "I'm sorry, but I can't help you, because you're too stupid for anything that I can say to do any good."

Dante would no doubt say that students who lie are the worst, since lying is the accomplice to all other crimes. What's troubling is how MANY ways modern undergraduates can find to lie. The recent discussion of how a little compassion is a reasonable response might have been appropriate if it concerned mature adults, but undergraduates who lie about dead grandparents outnumber honest students by at least 10 to 1. What's especially distressing is how EASY they find it to lie, and how OBVIOUS their lies are. It's therefore easy to pick out the students with real dead grandparents and to refrain from requesting the usual documentation from them: students with real dead grandparents show signs of emotional disturbance.

Grossly immature students are bad, too. I lose all respect for any sniveling little twerp who tries to tattle on me, particularly if it's over something specifically mentioned in the syllabus, such as how I don't accept late homework or how I don't give make-up exams.

Students who try to do me harm are also bad, but now that I have tenure and am respected both as a teacher and as a researcher, there's not much they can do that can actually hurt me, short of a physical assault. Posting to that site-that-will-not-be-named doesn't hurt, because it doesn't have any more validity (or literacy) than what's written in the bathroom stalls. Also, as I get older, my hide gets thicker.

Being physically assaulted by students is no fun. Once when I was riding my bicycle home at night, some college boys drove up in two pickup trucks, and gleefully threw paper cups containing ice at the back of my head. They hit me both times, but it wasn't enough to knock me off my bike. I sure wish I'd been able to get their license plate numbers: it's good that I don't carry a gun, because I'd have used it. I seem to remember two of them from my big general-ed class, but with over 100 students per class, I couldn't pick them out in a police line-up. Physical assaults are (still) rare, though: lesser crimes, such as stupidity, lying, and immaturity can disturb me more, because a sustained assault of them can wear me down.

I hate to have to say this, but the students I hate the absolute most as a group are Liberal Studies majors. These are undergraduates in the education school, studying (ostensibly) to be K-12 teachers. I've never seen students less interested in learning---and indeed, more positively hostile toward it!---largely because of their inability to do so, and because of their insecurity and denial about it. Dealing with these people (I can hardly call it teaching them) is especially painful for me because my father was a high-school teacher, and he was a smart fellow. Thank goodness he didn't live to see what education has come to, although he did get a taste of it, when he didn't cope well with the Sixties. It's well documented that these ed-school wonders have the lowest SAT scores of any undergraduates, and that they graduate to the lowest-paying jobs. Worse, they're organized, and when they complain en masse to the ed school, it caves in to their every demand, no matter how ridiculous. These are the people with whom we trust our children. God help the good old U. S. of A.: if I ever have kids, they are going to private school!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Why Do We Allow Students On the Site?

Okay. So. I'm a fuckin' student, so I don't deserve any time on this blog. But I need to rant to someone and maybe that someone will understand.

I'm in an Anatomy class. The average, out of 600+ students, of our first test was a 68%. The average of the second test was 64%.

The instructor makes my head hurt. He's good lookin'. He lectures extremely well. But I don't think that I can get an A in the class. Ever. Why?

First day of class: we have a $250 textbook. He throws $300+ of "highly recommended" study materials onto that pile. Great, if you can afford them. I can't.

The first day is mostly taken up with how important /time/ is to the class. This class is time-intensive. Understandably. Normally, I take around 30-60 minutes per day to study for this class, on top of the hours it takes to make the study materials and the fact that I should obviously attend all lectures. Maybe I'm doing something wrong?

According to the prof, the people who ace his class are the ones that come to his office hours. Like, all of them. "They don't even have to have a question! Sometimes they just come and study!" he exclaims. That's nice. I can't come to his office hours because I work full-time on top of studying. I have emailed him a few questions -- weeks ago -- he never answered. Maybe I should set up an out-of-hours office appointment...just to study?!!

I've never been the paranoid student who thought that Prof X was out to get them. No, it's more subtle than that. I think that my Anatomy professor makes his tests too fucking hard because he needs that gaggle of (mostly female) students to follow him around. He can't face the fact that he might have office hours where no one shows up; let alone the dozens of students that he forces to show up, because they couldn't pass the class any other way.

Admit -- I'm going to fail the class. Actually, I'm going to drop it at the last minute and then re-take it with, apparently, the same prof. As a student, I feel like I've worked my ass off - yet I'm sure that many professors/teachers would disagree with me. Funny how that works, eh?

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I'm a second year TA, so I'm admittedly new to this. I have already seen the slackers, the snowflakes, and all of the other characters that make us question the future of education. However, I anticipated those problems, and I'm prepared to deal with them as I need to.

What I never saw coming was the student that started following me around campus, and eventually, following me home after my evening class. He'd stay a few blocks behind me, but it was undeniable that it was happening. And once I was in my apartment, I'd see him standing outside, sometimes up to an hour.

Now the school has arranged for a security guard to meet me after class and walk me to the bus station. I don't have a car. I live two miles from campus, and the walk home was often the only time of the day I officially had to myself. I loved that time, and I needed it. Now, that's gone. My rights are gone, my comfort and security are gone. And now I have one more thing to be worried about, on top of teaching two different courses while earning a PhD in a difficult program.

I don't know what his motivation is. I don't know if it's a silly crush on the teacher that went too far, or if there's a more violent reason behind it. I just know I was a lot happier before this happened.

I miss the walks home. I miss not having to look over my shoulder. I miss thinking that the "worst" student was the cheater, or the liar, or the perpetually late kid. I can't even say I hate this particular student. I just hate what he's done.

On Assessment.

I'm a full time faculty member at a large state school in the southeast. Recently a colleague of mine sent the following thoughts on assessment to a large listserv inside the university. I think it's brilliant, and wanted to share it.

We have recently been asked to participate in a school-wide assessment campaign this fall. I questioned a couple of people on the wording of the request and was told that if I did not enthusiastically embrace the concept of assessment, I lacked both “virtue” and a “commitment to your students.” Wow! Talk about a “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” point of view! I am sorry, but I am not convinced that assessment is necessary, let alone virtuous. I believe assessment is a product of over-administration in education.

When administrators (most of whom haven’t amassed enough teaching experience to fill a hobbit’s thimble) claim that we can’t know whether or not our students are learning without assessment, they are essentially stating the following: 1) you are not an expert in what you do and can’t make improvements without outside pressure and 2) you don’t care and won’t make improvements without outside pressure.

If assessment is all about accountability, then why don’t we get reciprocal accountability? I have been told by several people that at least some of the administrators here consider faculty “the enemy.” Some consider faculty a bunch of pot-smoking, sandal-wearing, leftist, free-love hippies out to milk a cushy existence out of the hard-working American’s tax dollar and it is the duty of the administration to prevent that. If assessment is designed to make faculty accountable for what we do in the classroom, why can’t faculty assess the administration? I suggest that no college administrator's contract should be extended without approval by at least 60% of the faculty. If a college president could not achieve that approval rating, not only the president, but any of the executive team hired by the president should have to step down. Now that is accountability! I have said before, and I say again, the best way to serve the needs and interests of the students is to serve the needs and interests of the faculty.

If assessment is all about excellence, then why not consider other paths to excellence? Southwest Airlines, Google, Microsoft, and others have all shown tremendous profits, innovation, and creativity by focusing on staff satisfaction and happiness. How about this: take 10 faculty members and keep everything the same (salary, work load, etc.) and ADD assessment duties to their lives while taking 10 faculty members and giving them a 25% raise while reducing work load and providing adequate professional support (better offices, parking, professional development, etc). At the end of two years, study the student outcomes and see which batch of students fared better. How is that for generating some DATA? The appetite for data is only strong when the decisions about power and paradigm have already been made.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Other Folks in the Boat.

Everyone talks about their snowflakes, and I have many, but let me a take a moment to shout out to my fellow comrades in arms.

  • Professor “I’m coasting to Retirement” – All of us junior faculty are painfully aware that you are the lead faculty member and it is your prerogative to set course policies (textbooks used, labs required, etc.). Mainly this is due to you telling us this repeatedly at department meetings. However, just because you don’t want to change any of your teaching materials, doesn’t mean the field has stopped changing. Please take a moment to look outside of your office and realize that the 21st century has come and we need to catch up with it.

  • Professor “Golden Load” – It is nice when class schedules are divided up by seniority. I wish I could demand a schedule that worked around my Wednesday golf game and my Monday three-martini lunch. No, I trudge on with whatever classes are left, pulling together something that won’t keep my 2 year old in daycare too much, or cost me a small fortune in wasted gas… well, at least I am not an adjunct, sorry guys, but we all have to get the best schedule we can.

  • Dean “Touchy-Feely” – You are right, the last time you evaluated my class it was a performance put on for you. I have tried for years to show you how my highly technical field needs to be taught, but you continue to tell me there isn’t enough “active learning” in my class. Dear God, what the hell do you think lab is… my class has a minimum of 50% active learning (which is probably more than your beloved English courses), but I cannot win. So this year, rather than fight, I took a whole class and threw the content out the window, focusing on the way my students felt about the material (as if that changes the answers somehow). You loved it, but my students came back the next day and told me it was a waste of time.

  • Vice-President “Your Ass is Mine” – Ah, the reason we have tenure. I know you don’t like me, but then again, I don’t like you either. I do respect you in a weird way; you know your job (campus gargoyle and President’s hatchet man) and you do it extremely well. I wish the Deans would push back every once in a while… but until then, remember what your mom told you about honey and vinegar.

  • President “I Care About You” – Actions speak louder than words, dude. Take a minute to stop and say hi to me when you run through my hall with prospective donors and I might be apt to believe you care about the faculty. You might get us lots of money, but you sure as hell don’t warrant my respect when you cannot bother to learn half the faculty’s names. I do a pretty good job with a few hundred new names a semester, you should be able to handle the couple hundred we have total.

Musty Marty from Madison Offers Some Eval Tricks.

Chart-Making Charles is right on the money. But so much more can be said. Here's a short tutorial in improving your (numerical) course evals:

  1. Give high grades in general, like some of Charles' TAs.

  2. Teach directly to your tests. Give many examples, especially in physics, math, etc. Always pass out a practice test 3 days before the "real" test that is nearly identical to it. Then go over said practice test in great detail during class the day before the test.

  3. Give generous partial credit for anything and everything. After all, we all know the students "tried real hard'.

  4. Give extra credit opportunities that have nothing to do with the substance of the course. Anything that is turned in gets full credit.

  5. One week before you give course evals, adjust the grading scale in the students' favor. Tell them you are going to "curve" the grades. They have no idea what this means, but they believe that it is a very good thing for them.

  6. Above all, never really challenge them. "Cover" a lot of "ground" in class so they think they are learning a lot, but only stretch them slightly past what was expected in high school. Never require creative thinking or originality; encourage them to mimic your many examples.