Sunday, November 30, 2008

"The Regulars." Smackdown, Smackdown, Where's the Smackdown? Oh, Okay, Here Comes Athena To Go Grecian On Some Asses.

So I'm sitting here thinking about composing a nice little essay about my Snowflakes and their general cluelessness and their sense of entitlement and their parents and...what the heck, let's just have a little smackdown.

Pleading Paula: You started your email with, "Dr. Athena, I know the syllabus says that there are no makeups on the exams after the rest of the class have taken them, but..." You could have left off the but. You forgot we had an exam and didn't show up. Your scholarship status is irrelevant to this conversation. Put on your big girl panties and deal with your zero.

Longshot Louie: Your wording isn't quite right. You don't need a C to get into your professional program. You need a C to be eligible to apply to your professional program. Given the number of your peers who will be applying to the same program after earning As and Bs in this class, which is a much larger number than the number of slots available, you're not getting in anyway.

Makeup Mitchie: No, there are no opportunities for extra credit. Even if I didn't think it would be horribly unfair to the students who actually learned the material, I don't get paid enough to spend my time inventing and grading worky-work projects for you (and 40 other whiners) to do so that you can earn a passing grade, in a class where you haven't learned enough to go on. You'd just fail the second half of the course next Spring anyway. I've spent about 100 hours this semester preparing, administering and grading opportunities for credit. They're called "exams." Oh, and they have an expiration date, and it's way past.

Casual Carla: How sweet that you want to go home early and surprise your parents. (Won't they be surprised, you missing three extra days of classes to extend your break.) And how thoughtful of you to let me know that you will therefore be missing both the Monday before *and* the Monday after Thanksgiving. Mmm, no, I don't really feel like taking the time to email back with a list of what you will be missing. If you miss class, then it's your responsibility to get notes from a classmate. School is in session, I have to be here, I'm teaching the class once and that's it. Have a nice trip.

Tits McGee: Pull up your goddamn pants. We're tired of your buttcrack. Actually, come to think, we're tired of your boobs and your midriff too.

Dr. Schadenfrau Breaks the Bank With Today's List of Excuses.

I call myself Dr. Schadenfrau; if we believe the description from "Oh Dear Lord…" on November 21, I’m just another emasculating shrew in an English department. I also can’t imagine why anyone would swing a cat in order to knock over the maladapted members of my ranks. I have five cats—several of which are so fat the impact would be equivalent to that of a Nerf toy. Pointless exercise, I say. Now, if you want to discuss swinging portable hard drives by their USB cables as if they were nunchucks—Xena-like whooping included—we’ll talk.

Anyway, as Thanksgiving approaches so do the students at my office door. Actually, I don’t even get to the office; they’re on me like leeches in the halls, on the stairwells, and in the bathroom that one time I errantly used the facility in the classroom wing. Most of the students choosing to corner me are "Houdini Students". You know what I mean—they disappeared, then re-appeared mysteriously without a word of explanation or even a weak query about what they missed. If you’re reading this, you also know there’s never been any documentation either.

So, I’m one of those professors who has an absence limit set for the class; any more than 2 and you lose 5% of your grade for each absence. The members of "Team Houdini" are usually requesting modifications to the spacetime continuum and almost always on the "time" end of things. Why me? Isn’t the Physics Department better suited for that?

Generally speaking, they want me to make policies into arbitrary statements, forgive them their trespasses and dick with events in the past by just obliterating absences. Not happening! I may look like a tool to them but I see just a little glimmer of "I’m not a gullible tool" when I look in the mirror.

Anyhoo, the withering excuses usually involve their mandatory responsibility for countless people and events. Here’s the list, so far, of requests followed by what I think as I tell them "No!":

Aaron: I couldn’t come to class, Dr. Schadenfrau; I had to take my girlfriend to the doctor that Monday.

Dr. S: Oh yes, I fully understand! That was certainly a priority for missing yet another class, Aaron. She can’t drive herself? Did you somehow manage to blind her on Friday night as the two of you attempted an off-label version of "Grey’s Anatomy" in a single dorm bed? Your mother was right; don’t point that thing at people, someone can lose an eye, or maybe both.


Mel: Dr. Schadenfrau, I couldn’t be in class that week. My dad had surgery and I had to go home.

Dr. S: Why, Mel, of course you needed to go home for at least a week. Were you donating a kidney or, better yet, did you perform the surgery yourself? The way you execute a comma splice, I know you’re the woman to, at the very least, re-section a bowel.


Chris: I had to go home for a couple of weeks, Dr. Schadenfrau; several people in the family died suddenly.

Dr. S: Several, you say? Suddenly, too? Has "Typhoid Mary" been in your hometown or are you from Bon Temps, LA? Oh wait, I know, you went home to embalm all of them, dig the graves, build the caskets, perform the service AND make the little sandwiches and punch for the wake? Of course, then you needed to go home for quite an extended period of time.


Terry: I’m sorry I haven’t been in class for 2 weeks or contacted you, Dr. Schadenfrau; my 21 year-old sister was busted on an international flight with 60 grams of heroin and I’ve been trying to talk to officials and get her out of jail on a bond.

Dr. S: Oh, let me see now, you’re 18 and you’ve been personally calling in favors with people you know in the FBI and various law enforcement agencies worldwide? No doubt your name will be required on the bond documents because you are, at 18, the only signatory for the family finances. And, of course, you’re legally responsible for your adult sibling. If she was dating Aaron, you’d be off the hook; he’d drive her to court and probably post bail--and during my class too! But, since you are, at 18, the legal guardian of someone in their 20’s, and you’ve got "clout" way high up in government, then of course, Jason Bourne….er, Terry…I’ll excuse your absences. Let me just call the CIA to see your clearance levels while I’m at it.


Jessica: Dr. Schadenfrau, I couldn’t come to class that day. Work was really busy and I needed to be there to help out.

Dr. S: Right, I fully understand, Jess, that you’re curing cancer—or was that splitting the atom?—for $6.50/hour. I know, what with the significance of the work you’re performing, that it would be utterly impossible to have said, "Sorry, I have class…" to your employer. I wouldn’t want to tell the Sloane-Kettering Center that either. It’s so not team centered.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oh, Baby, When You Call A Regular Out, You Know What Happens? Uh, Nothing, Actually. Milo's Big. His Heart Is As Big As Jupiter. Abilene Al Says...

Oh Milo. I had such high hopes for you and your little essay explaining how high school teachers fuck up your students.

I kind of enjoyed the rambling two-paragraph prequel. Sadly, my joy ended when I reached the essay’s core—a thesis statement which essentially asks and answers a question: “Why can’t my students write well? Because their high school teachers were a bunch of bone-headed fuckers who make stupid assumptions about writing.”
And how does Milo support this brilliant thesis? He uses three coordinate-sequence supporting paragraphs which support the thesis without examining it in detail, and then a fourth body paragraph which is so far out of parallel with the other three that it may as well have been taken from another essay. Call me Tony Stark, because I’m seeing some Irony, man.

OK, a little bit about me. Like Milo, I teach college composition and literature to the walking wounded. Like Milo, I often wonder why the writing I see in my classes is so unimaginative and trite. However, I’m not going to simply pass the buck, throw in the towel and cry into my beer. I’m going to what Milo wants his students to do—ask some questions.

Why is the writing of my students formulaic and trite? Like Milo, I could assume that their high school teachers teach them to be unimaginative and trite. Or I could whip out Occam’s Razor and substitute a simpler solution—most of my students are unimaginative and trite human beings.

Shit, Milo. Think back to when you were 18 years old. You were either unimaginative and trite, or a super keener. Need I guess which? We go to class with the students we’ve got, and if you’re looking for a reason why their writing doesn’t reflect really deep thought, there’s no need to go searching for a corrupting factor. They’re always already unimaginative and trite.

Question number two: Why do high school teachers insist that students follow certain restrictive rules? Again, I could assume that all high school English teachers are stupid assholes who don’t know how to teach. But what happens when you take away the rules those teachers insist on? Bear in mind, I’m not talking about some coddled little AP darling. I’m talking about the average high school student, and I’m talking about the rules that will best help that student to succeed.

Why rule out the “first person”? Because high school students can wallow in it page after page, and they can’t be taught to use it in moderation UNTIL THEY HIT COLLEGE.

Why rule out questions? Because if allowed to do so, the average high school student would cling to the comfort of those questions like a prune-fed toddler in a three-day-old warm diaper, never ever getting to the goddamned point. Most students don’t know how to take stances on their own UNTIL THEY HIT COLLEGE.

Why three body paragraphs? Because if you told them to pick their own number, they’d pick ONE. They can’t be expected to understand what it means to plan an essay which has a structure suited to the unique argumentative or descriptive task they have chosen UNTIL THEY HIT COLLEGE.

People come into this world fucked up. They go through elementary and secondary school fucked up. They’re fucked up when they hit college. Looking for who fucked them up is a pointless endeavor, since at the end of the day they’re still fucked up. The proper question isn’t “why?” The question is, “what are you going to do about it?”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"The Regulars." Weepy Wayne Celebrates Paleolithic Pete.

Let's return to the first day of Writing Skillz IV: The Final Conflict. I called attendance and you grunted a two-octave "Huh?" I distinctly remember thinking, “Sweet Merciful Adjunct Jesus. Is this semester over yet?” What gives, my little cro-mag? Startled by the sound of your name called in college classroom? You’re not alone. Yet for a brief while during those heady September days, your progress seemed real. Against all odds, you discovered your own opposable thumbs. Before your classmates could say, "Holy Homo erectus!” you were busily fashioning crude tools at your desk, flirting with the wonders of the Bronze Age. And the day you stalked a wooly Trapper Keeper across the classroom and thrust a sharpened #2 into its soft, white lined underbelly? Well, that would have given even Charles Darwin the spins.

But alas, that feral facsimile of writing ensnared in your first essay – three weeks late and, by all accounts, seemingly handwritten – was, well, alarming. My eyeballs whirred and pinwheeled like a chameleon's, mercilessly rope-a-doped by your brute approximation of the Queen's English. Somewhere on page three, it all ended abruptly. I felt as if I was mercifully spit out of a chute, freed from a twisted trainwreck of gnarled syntax and profligate punctuation. The room spun. I felt dizzy -- like my already wobbly IQ had somehow suffered a direct hit.

I brought your Dead C- Scroll to those livewires in the Archeology Dept. They busted out their little whisk brooms and secret spyglasses and pored over that spiral notebook fringed parchment of yours for a week. Two tossed up their hands and blamed everything on their TAs. One took sabbatical, because she could. And one theorized that this ‘writing sample’ belonged to a long lost tribe that worshiped a beneficent god the natives called ‘Spicoli.’ Apparently, this lollygagging cluster of failed hunter gatherers huddled in their cavedorm each morning and paid willing obeisance to a tall clear blue plastic obelisk, where offerings were dutifully set aflame “b4 my 9 oclock mafth clas.”

Apparently, someone's favorite Neanderthal had discovered fire long before he made his way to my classroom.

You know, it’s always the same with you people. When it's time for a paper topic, what pressing issue invariably gets dialed up? Appendages scattered across Iraq? Investment bankers turning Wall Street into Chernobyl? Polar Bears incinerated at the North Pole? Nope, H.R. Puffenstuff’s gonna throw a four-page hissyfit about why at 18 he can't gargle mass-produced beaver piss with the losers at McGuire’s tap or why those big mean L7's won’t let him suck on a bong till his brainstem shrivels to the size of a hazelnut. For some people, evolution hits the brakes at the Persuasion Paper.

Look dude, I’m no prude. But there’s a time and place for everything. I mean, who doesn't enjoy an 80 proof stiff arm from a paper bag in the morning parking lot? Who doesn't look forward to three blissfully lost months of jab and nod after the fall semester? No? Anyway. As my pals in the Anthropology Department will tell you, for certain cultural ceremonies, achieving an altered state is not simply advisable, it is necessary. Native American Peyote ceremonies. Pink Floyd lightshows (lasers for losers) at the palladium. Holiday potlatch with the Department Chair. But firing up a gorilla finger for Paragraphs for Palookas? Really? Isn’t that how we got here in the first place?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Grad School Gracie With some Old School Smackdown.

Senior grad student: You think that just because you are one of two second-year students in the MA program and are in fact graduating this semester, that you have a closer relationship to our professors and therefore treat our classes as your personal tutorial time. It is not. Although most of your questions do show that you know what you are talking about, you are wasting valuable class time by taking the professors on needless tangents. If you are so close with the professors, talk to them outside of class. Oh and also, the professors don't like you as much as you think they do.

Useless second-year: You are just a dumbass. Seriously, I don't know how you are passing your classes. Also, stop complaining about your students. It's not them, it's you. You are teaching the throw-away class in the department because you are a terrible teacher and got very, very close to being fired over the summer. Every time you open your mouth, nothing but shit comes out. I know this not only from just being more intelligent than you (because let's face it, everyone in the program is smarter than you), but also by the way the professors treat you whenever you speak.

Too cool for school: Did you know that at the beginning of the year, you were up for the same favored position which I now hold? Of course that was only for about the first week, until the power-that-be realized that you, while actually being quite smart, don't actually do any work. Also, I realize that you thought that since I was the only woman in the program, I would give you free sexual access. I'm not exactly sure how that logic worked in your head, but I do know that once I made it clear that no, I do not want to have sex with you, you stopped talking to me. Period. I hope your daily masturbation appointments are treating you well, because I know that you haven't succeeded with anyone else, either.

Social impeccable: Okay, you actually are a fairly decent and genuinely nice guy. Most of your problems stem from just being completely socially inept. Also, you must have been the smartest one in your group of friends, because you treat the rest of us like children. Yes, you are smart. Yes, you know what you are talking about. But guess what? So do I. That's why I'm in the same program as you. So stop trying to give me advice on everything related to school and stop complimenting me condescendingly. I don't need validation from you. I have validation from people who are much more important from you. Also, as someone who has her cubicle right across from yours in a crowded TA office, could you please shower regularly? And wear deodorant? Did you know that people don't invite you to hang out with them on the weekends not because your social skills are lacking (because to your credit they could be worse) but because you smell?

The two dead-weights: To be honest, neither of you are bad guys - I enjoy chatting with you before classes and such - but it really pisses me off when you don't get your work done. Because when only two of the eight people in the class do get their work done (one of them always being me) we have to do the work of three people in class. While it makes the two of us look really good, it is also very tiring. It's getting near the semester and it would be nice if someone else could pick up the slack for a while, thanks. I'm tired of carrying you all through class.

The one I like: Actually, I think I love you. You help me shoulder the burden of class because you are the only other person who does their work. You too were up for "promotion" after "too-cool" proved useless, and to be honest the only reason they didn't pick you is because they aren't sure that you have the drive to stay in grad school. Please, please, please stay. I think I may kill myself if the only other person with a decent work ethic leaves. I will do anything to keep you here, even things I patently refused to do for "too-cool." I'm not even kidding.

"The Regulars." Mildred from Medicine Hat Bitches about Everything.

Bitching about Administration:
Today my chair tells me that the calendar committee has rejected my rewrite of a course description for the calendar because it "included questions." Well, yes. I thought "Why are we here?" would grab a little more student interest than "The student will examine various philosophical perspectives on the nature of being." And use fewer words, too. But no, apparently question marks won't do.

Oh, and the other problem with my course description? Complete sentences. I can't have those either. In the interests of saving space I have to butcher my grammar. They suggested, in place of my 3 short, pithy and eloquent complete sentences (one with a question mark) , a 4 line sentence fragment which not only makes no bloody sense, it actually takes up more space than what I submitted. But they refuse to back down.

Quite aside from every other question this raises (We're a UNIVERSITY. If we don't use complete sentences, who will?), I can't believe how much time they're wasting on this. Every member of that committee is an academic just like me. Have they no papers to grade? Lectures to write? Homes to go to?

Bitching about Teaching:
I teach a class of 100 students. Their single major assignment, worth 40% of their grade, was due on Friday. They've had 6 weeks to work on it. It's tricky and I have spent 2 whole classes going over how to approach it, and complete instructions are up on the web for them.

Some of them will hand it in late. Some of them will not get how it's done or what I expected or how it will be graded, even though they have tried, even though I've gone over all of that exhaustively and put all that information up on the web too. I can deal with that.

What I find hard to deal with, and it comes up every year, and astonishes me every single time, is the number of students who come up to me ON FRIDAY to say "Is there an assignment due today? Uh, can I come talk to you about how to do it?"

Why, no, I don't have office hours today and I do have other things scheduled, I am sorry. Have you read the instructions on the class website? Why, yes, there are instructions up there; the ones I spent a good six hours putting together. The ones I showed you in class and went over twice. You might want to take a look.

And then of course there's the final pass, the whole point in fact, delivered in a shamefaced rush as I get my hand on my office door, preparing to whisk inside and lock it: "canIhaveanextensionIhad4otherpapersduethisweek?"

They never seem to have an answer to my response: "Tell me, why is my paper less important than the other four? Why am I the one you're asking for an extension?"

Besides the fact that I look like a sweet, plump, middle-aged motherly type who might give you one, I mean. Guess again, kid. I mean, true, I am a sweet plump middle-aged mother, but I didn't give birth to YOU.

Bitching about Research:
Sorry. I vaguely remember I was working on something, once. I can't remember which of about 4 stalled projects I'm supposed to be feeling particularly guilty about just at the moment. Maybe it will come to me after the end of term.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Penny the Parent? Now a Pinata!

We've never had an outpouring of mail like this. We're over 800 pieces of mail in less than 8 hours, and it's not slowing up. Penny the Parent has certainly touched off some issues, and we only regret that our reduced moderator staff will make it impossible for us to do our normal editing and cleaning up. Below are the "best" items we've seen, and we've only had a small chance to go through what is still piling up in the sand outside the compound's door. (See, the mythology still lives.) Penny the Parent? Here you go. Oh, and one extra delicious detail. It's a TUESDAY afternoon class this week that's causing these problems.
  • Let’s replace Thanksgiving with a Pity Party for poor Penny the Pissed-Off Parent. The folks who pay my salary are hassling me to have their kids learn less? To let them skip class? Hassling me to fall down on the job by blithely canceling class when it conflicts with their offspring’s delayed process of differentiation from their own over-protective psyches? Bwah hah hah hah. You jest, surely. It’s the registrar that schedules the class sessions, not me. I am required to be there. You’re worried about your truant teenager’s grade? I am punished salary-wise if I miss that afternoon class. If I don’t require – really require – attendance on that last day before Thanksgiving, they will not show up, and I will be left lecturing to an empty hall. Not a cozy holiday feeling, let me tell you. Apropos of which, I’d like to get out of state to visit my parents on Turkey Day too. They are getting on in years, you know. Do you know how I make your slacker spawn show up? By making the essays due in class that day. Oh, cruelty! Oh, wait: that means they’ve been freed for the holiday from the Term Paper of Damocles while I brace myself for the massive impact of 80 idiotic incarnations of "X and Y are similar, yet different ... different, yet similar". He’ll sleep on the bus; I’m grading on the plane.

  • If Penny Parent got wind that any prof was regularly cancelling classes, arriving late, skipping out early, taking vacations during the semester, she'd want that prof's hide. 'How dare that prof not respect the fact that I pay his salary? I want what I'm paying for - classes for Kiddo!' Penny reveals what she really wants -- puppetmastery. Profs should only cancel classes or suspend attendance policies when it makes sense for family planning (I mean, employer planning, oops).

  • When your child picks a college, look at the schedule before sending your deposit. If the college is open that day, the professor has the obligation to have classes. End of story. Since when is a fascist someone who has class on a scheduled class day? Geez, mom. Every frigging day I think of the tax payers that are paying my salary. Every day. I make sure my students meet the course objectives. I flunk them when they don’t. My colleagues and I are educational bargains as state employees. Our salaries divided by the number of hours we work each week is a great deal. I think every day about the current and future tax payers my students will be serving as nurses, teachers, engineers. I want these future employees to to be educated. That is my job and I do it well and proudly. Students can’t learn if they go home early to give thanks. Wake up and take responsibility. You should have seen this coming. My son wasn’t home for 4 college Turkey days. We knew Thanksgiving wouldn’t be an option when he chose that school. I missed him so much it hurt. I gave him an extra hug at Christmas and cherished the time together even more.

  • Get over yourself, would you? It is very clear that you believe your child's life revolves around you. Are you really concerned that they won't have a good Thanksgiving because it's going to take some time for them to get home? Maybe you need to ask yourself the question, "Why did my child want to go to college so far away from me?" The answer is staring you in the face. Attendance is part of going to college. Going to class is not optional. First, you complain that we're going to make them come to class and not waste your money. Then, you complain that they can't come home early enough to spend as little time with you as possible, find their high school friends to hang out with, get drunk and then go back to college to complain about you. And, by the way, our salaries come from a variety of sources: endowments,grants, and tuition (which is often subsidized by sizable financial aid packages including scholarships, grants, loans, etc.). In other words, any actual amount of YOUR money that lands in MY pocket is minimal. If you don't like our "product," go elsewhere.

  • You mean—class is scheduled and the professor actually wants your student to COME? Or there will be CONSEQUENCES???? OMFG! Call out the marines! Get a clue, lady. It’s on the calendar the university/college/whatever publishes long before the beginning of each academic year—heck, my college publishes its calendar long before I get one from my “real” job that tells me what holidays I get off if I’m lucky. Speaking of which—will you be freaking out if your little one gets a job out of state and has to work the days before and after Thanksgiving—or *gasp* on Thanksgiving itself? Try looking at the calendars and planning your lives accordingly, then get a clue.

  • If there is a place on God's green earth where what you have to say--you Pissy, Privileged, Poor-ass excuse of a Parent--"may actually make a difference," then I hereby resign from said green earth. Where the fuck do you get off? Yes, I teach to support my _______________ habit. You got me. With all this dough rolling in, I can afford _____________ up the wazoo, as long as ______________ refers to tap water, white bread, or dented cans of soup. I want to work extra, not blow off class, and stare at the sleep-smeared face of your obtuse offspring because...oh, wait. If I were doing this only to support a ______________habit, I would probably just not give a fuck, and your student could go spend his day with his fam at the "crossroads of America" (isn't that Indiana, by the way?) where he would never have to learn one god-forsaken thing. (But if he didn't have hot, fascist professors, you might have to start blaming yourself for that snotty, self-absorbed little attitude of his - and who wants that?) So maybe, just maybe, your logic is a little flawed. Maybe we care more about your precious progeny's future than you do. Maybe we don't want him to grow up to use commas in his contractions. Maybe we want him to be able to sustain a logical argument. And maybe we are trying too, too hard to keep him from becoming a frightfully self-absorbed atrocity of a human being. So sorry if this ruins your day of thanks. I, for one, am thankful that despite my students' many flaws this term, I haven't heard one sound as disrespectful and ungrateful as you.

  • You're right. Your kid is not getting your money's worth. But not for the reasons you think. Your kid is not getting your money's worth because you are bent on passing on the idea that education is something that someone is supposed to ladle into her little brain while she sits around passively accepting it -- and when it is convenient for her to sit there passively accepting it. And you can't get an education that way. You get an education by fighting for it. You claw at the books to get everything you can out of them, and you sit up front so you can hear everything the lecturer has to say, and you do problem after problem in the skills classes and write essay after essay in the theory classes, and not because these things are assigned but because that's how you learn. And that's even before you consider the many people who have to work 40 or 80 hours a week to be able to afford to go to school in the first place, before you consider the many people who cannot go to school at all and spend hours searching through sites like MIT's OpenCourseWare to figure out what books are within their intellectual grasp but will extend their reach.

  • You ask whether we at state schools think about our "employers." I assure you we do. We are paid to show up and teach a class session on the day before the break begins. Good taxpayer money funds our salaries as well as the support services needed to keep those buildings open and running. You paid tuition for a set number of contact hours designed to achieve measurable learning outcomes. How can we possibly be good stewards of the public's funds if we don't do our jobs on the days we are scheduled to work? If I'm scheduled to be there to teach, Snotley is scheduled to show up to learn. Did you ever for a minute think that some profs might want that day off for travel to visit OUR families but won't take it because we take our responsibilities seriously?

  • Since my Dean has said on more than one occasion that there is no correlation between increased enrollment and faculty compensation, I have a hard time believing that Penny's ilk essentially pays my salary. Even if you buy into the consumer model of higher education, why are you insisting on getting LESS for your money? Speaking of the Dean, if Penny is looking for a special outlet for her bitching, why doesn't she join in with the rest of the PTA and call him/her? She seems to have a cursory knowledge of the workings of academia, I thought she'd have thought of that. In the meantime, she and her snowflake-in-waiting can suck it up and honor their end of the academic agreement. While the professors and the mass transit authority seem to be conspiring against you, Penny, it could be a lot worse. There are plenty of folks who DON'T get to take 5 days off this week.

  • I must say that after inflation (mainly in her opinion of herself) Penny's two cents (or sense as the case may be) are not worth much. Bad puns aside, I can't imagine what hell she and her brat create for the profs, but I've had similar little bastards who are the spawn of similarly deranged helicopter parents (seriously, referring to yourself as "the parent" over and over?). If I understand it correctly, momma's little snowflake wants to duck out early, get wasted, and take the typical snowflake schedule (i.e., wake up at 1, arrive late to classes from 1-3, leave early to take nap 2-6, drink thereafter...), and momma both bemoans the teachers for not teaching and for wanting her brat around to teach. There's a reason no one picks up a Penny off the street anymore--they're worthless. University positions are not the "service" industries you believe. Only half of my time is contractually bound to teaching. The other half is to research--with a third of my total time to service too (we know it doesn't add up, but quacks like Penny who sat on advisory boards somehow made 50% + 50% + 30% = 100%). Guess what the most important part is and what I actually get evaluated/promoted on? Here's a hint: it's not dealing with you or your high-school grade inflated B student (who's failing now by the way). At any rate, the truly insane part of your post is that by all accounts the teaching is up to snuff. You're not complaining that the teaching is're actually complaining that they're trying to give you what you, yourself, bitch about paying for? Wow, just wow.

  • Thanks for teaching your little bastard snowflake to take revenge and throw a tantrum when one of us actually does our job and teaches. Good values you're imparting. I'm guessing that whole hit them in the "$$ book" comment is indicative of both how you taught momma's angel to spell and write and also how to fill out evals if you don't get to skip class. By the way, we know your snowflake is not a "rocket scientist," we were just hoping "the student" could at least master hygiene--next class we teach tying shoe laces. I guess "the student" will miss that one to ride the bus--at least you can give it a bath when you see it.

  • We of the faculty are so sorry that your special little snowflake will come home surly because THEY HAD TO GO TO FUCKING CLASS LIKE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO! Oh boo fucking hoo! It is parents like you that make “Intractable (but hot, according to RMP) fascists” like us want to jam dull butterknives into our ears so we don’t have to listen to shit like this. As for some of the “points” you bring up I will answer in kind. “Maybe the Professors would like to ponder this. Do you ever think about the folks who essentially pay your salaries?” The college or university where I am employed pays my salary NOT you. That is unless you are the president of KissyFace U. and it is your lovely signature I see on my paycheck. “Do you have any feelings for your "employers" and their offspring (besides contempt ?) I mean, do you like being a College Professor ? (I admit it, I read just some of the blog...)”. To reiterate, I am employed by my college or university. My students and/or their parents ARE NOT my employers. Get a dictionary or just talk to someone in higher ed to find out these simple facts. Maybe the hippie school of “Love, Peace, and Unicorns that shit Skittles” that gave you a degree (I’m making a big assumption here because I usually type the contraction for the words do not as don’t) let you run the show but that isn’t (notice the proper contraction usage) what it is like now. By the way, I LOVE my job but I HATE hearing from parents who think they know what should go on at all levels of a college so that their special water molecule (note the snowflake has melted because of the big, bad fascists have made it gain some surliness and in the process it melted) can show up all happy and shiny with tales about their 3.5 GPA that they may or may not have really earned. Since you only read some of the blog, try some more and then maybe you’ll get an idea of what it is like for those of us “teaching” right now. If you STILL don’t (damn, got it right again) get it, watch Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” and then come back and read some more. And last but not least, “Can you honestly tell me that we are getting our money's worth, or do you teach to support your_______________ habit ? “ My “habit” seems to be a concoction of eating, sleeping, teaching, preparing for classes and labs, grading absolute shit that single-celled organisms think is pathetic, and occasionally seeing my spouse and our pets. I lead a pretty fucking boring life because of my “teaching” habit. I think that I speak for almost everyone who teaches on this site when I say that, “Yes, you are getting your money’s worth”. The bigger question that you have to ask yourself is does my precious water molecule own up to the dumb shit that they do? It is always around this time of the semester that terms like “extra credit” and “bonus points” start to grate on me but I’m sure your drip isn’t one of those now are they?

If 12,000 Proffies Typed For 12,000 Years, We Could Never Come Up With this Shit. Penny the Parent Sends a "Boo Fucking Hoo."

Is there a site where parent's can rate their student's teachers and colleges ? I feel cheated... my kid can rate You on RateMyProfessor ... you can rate my kid on RYS ... where can I go?

Once upon a time, in the Way Dark Ages of the 70's... I served as a student appointee on a Re-appointment, Promotions and Tenure Committee. I don,t know if they do that any more, and I was at an "alternative college," but if Administrations don,'t, they should. Now that was rating, right in the $$ book. I hope they still do it, but naturally, I'd want a say too...

I appreciate that my child might not be a rocket scientist, may think morning is 1 PM, etc. But College child got Out of High School with an 89 average and No Micro management on the Parent's part. We wrote nary an essay, filled out no application... so the Student is where the Student should be on the Student's merits...

But this parent is worried. The Student has one of those Unfortunate schedules and one of those Intractable (but hot, according to RMP) fascists, I mean teachers who is making that Thanksgiving getaway darned near impossible. The only way for the Student to get out of Uni town is Greyhound... the Student will arrive at the Crossroads of America (NY Port Authority) at Midnight, because hot teacher INSISTS ALL Students attend afternoon class or be penalized grade wise. The Student is worried.... The Parent ? The Parent is mighty pissed.

So, can you good folks send me to a place where I can vent ? Where what I have to say may actually make a difference? Because I know that the Student is going to be miserable for the short time the Student is home. And so, really, the Parent wonders if having a day of Thanks is really appropriate, when the Student will still be recovering from the trip home and will be resentful in that surly vacant way that students are these days... The Parent is even beginning to wonder about the wisdom of letting the Student attend an Out of State Instituion. Maybe the Parent should have said... "No Way.." Our State or No State... One would think State Schools would be Overjoyed to have Out of State Students and that they would care if these $$$$$ machines are happy...

Maybe the Professors would like to ponder this. Do you ever think about the folks who essentially pay your salaries? Do you have any feelings for your "employers" and their offspring (besides contempt ?) I mean, do you like being a College Professor ? (I admit it, I read just some of the blog...) Can you honestly tell me that we are getting our money's worth, or do you teach to support your_______________ habit ?

Just curious...

Here's hoping you get that well deserved rest you need over the Thanksgiving break...

The Not Happy Parent...

Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Regulars." Milo Wonders Why High School English Teachers Have to Fuck Everybody Up.

What is it with high school English teachers? Is there a facility somewhere in the Midwest that breeds them for their ability to fit comfortably into the factory farm model of education? That instills in their docile minds a few basic (and wrong) rules about writing? Because my students are showing up in my freshman writing classes with a set of assumptions about writing that are not merely unproductive, but just plain dumb.

My students are not stupid. Many of them are passing calculus and physics, but their grasp of basic manuscript mechanics and standard academic usage is, to be charitable, very weak. Still, that’s stuff I can teach – it’s not very high level, but reasonably intelligent students can grasp such things pretty quickly. Even disabused of error, however, my students for the most part do not understand what an essay actually is, or does. They have been taught, near as I can tell, that an essay is a form that must be filled out neatly, or that it is some pretty thing to please a teacher with its fidelity to a diagram in an elementary rhetoric handbook. That is has anything to do with fidelity to their own thought has not occurred to the vast majority of the students in my writing classes.

For this, I blame their bovine high school English teachers. No doubt Edgy Eric will be coming after me with his red pen, but someone out there in teacherland is not doing his or her job even if Eric is. Oh, I’m sure there are some decent teachers like Eric out there in the high schools – years ago I was lucky enough to come under the tutelage of a couple of them myself – but these days, near as I can tell, the system mostly produces drones and time-servers. What’s worse, the drones and time servers obviously are not writers. And, no, I don’t expect high school teachers to be publishing in the Atlantic Monthly, but no one who took the time to craft an occasional letter to the editor of the local paper could possible believe the things many of my students tell me they have been taught in high school:

1) Never use the first person in an essay. The choice of point of view is fundamental to fulfilling the purpose of a piece of writing. Telling students they can only write in the third person is like telling a soldier he can have boots but not a gun when he goes into battle.

2) Never ask a question in an essay. Essays are about posing and answering questions. What sort of nimrod doesn’t know that? How can you pose and answer questions without, you know, writing them out?

3) Always have three body paragraphs. This leads to intellectual absurdities so grotesque they give me nightmares. This third absurdity also leads to thesis statements that assert the obvious and result in flat organization: “There are several examples of children learning moral lessons in the novels we have read,” followed by three random examples that do not have any particular relation to each other, that could be presented in any order, that do not, in short, amount to anything approaching an argument.

4) Reading for comprehension: just because a novelist describes something – genetic engineering gone haywire, pornography, violence against kitty cats – does not mean the writer approves of the practice or is recommending it; but many students arrive thinking this is true. Many students read in isolated fragments and appear unable to see relationships between ideas. Actually, I can’t blame high school teacher for this exclusively – I think a lot of it has to do with the sort of narrative entertainment available to teenagers. In most video games and TV shows there is no critical point of view, only the wash of images designed to stimulate the limbic system. There is a sense in which any verbal or visual representation is, for many of my students, “pornographic.”

I won’t even try to list the simple things my students’ high school teachers apparently have not told them – like it’s a good idea to put a title on your work other than “Essay Two.” Actually, a title like that exactly reflects the attitude my students bring to writing essays: that it is a work product, not the record of a process of thought – first you do one, then you do the second, and so on. Factory work.

I’ll conclude with a story: The other day, Sincere Sophie stops by for office hours with her second essay in hand. I’d asked her to rewrite it because she thought that an essayist who described a particular idea about the nature of the self was advocating for that idea instead of holding it up as an over-simplification, which he then went on to make more complex. (See No. 4 above.)

Sophie always comes to class and it’s clear she’s been doing the reading by the comments she makes in discussion. Sophie is intelligent and willing, but as we were discussing here essay, she said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world,

“Oh, I don’t actually believe any of what I wrote in the essay – I just found something I could find examples for.”

After recovering my equanimity, I said, “That must have been a painful experience, writing an essay that way.”

“Yeah, I hate writing essays,” she replied. Well, naturally you do, my dear, I whispered to myself. “What questions would you like to answer about Conrad’s portrayal of the self?” I asked her.

“You mean I can ask a question? In high school we were told to never ask a question in an essay.”
“Well,” I replied, “the thesis statement should be a declarative statement, but there is no reason you can’t ask questions that your thesis then attempts to answer.”


So we talked about what it would be like to write what she actually believed about the subject and she agreed that that would probably be more fun and more useful. I suggested we make a deal – she could rewrite her essay using questions and forgetting any other rules she had learned in high school and I would guarantee her a grade of 75 or higher. I wanted to give her a safety net. As I was talking I noticed something amazing: the dead mask dropped from her face and her posture went from slouched to alert. She left my office with what appeared to be real enthusiasm for the task of rewriting. I’m looking forward to reading that essay.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Return of Job Finder!

Tenure Track Faculty Position
Department of Ennui

The Department of Ennui at Bufkegpt College, a residential, liberal arts college located just about as far from anywhere you’d really want to live as possible, is seeking applicants for a full-time (except we only pay you for 9 months – you have your summers “free”), tenure-track position that begins immediately before you’re expected to start teaching 3 brand-new courses for which you haven’t prepared.

Rank and salary will be commensurate with the AAUP average for an equivalent position at small, liberal arts colleges, minus 30%. Applicants should demonstrate a commitment to teaching at the most dumbed-down, undemanding undergraduate level imaginable, and will be expected to completely rewrite the mind-numbingly dull, 30-year-old lecture and laboratory courses in the introductory ennui sequence in their first semester.

The chosen candidate will also be expected to provide other courses in their area of expertise, which will be hated by the students because they will probably require real work, unappreciated by your colleagues because you won’t also have time to teach freshman remedial ennui, and ignored by the administration because they will be too specialized to count for any core or departmental requirement.

The successful candidate will be dedicated to finding another position within 3 years, enthusiastic about offering courses which they are unqualified to teach but are desperately needed to fulfill essential requirements that half the senior class needs to graduate, and develop a progressively more moribund research program that incorporates bright and enthusiastic undergraduates who will eventually burn out upon realizing that the college has no intention of really supporting an undergraduate research program.

Interested applicants should submit their CV, cover letter, statements of teaching and research philosophy, and a list of all medications they are currently taking to last year’s new hire who is currently expected to take on all the shit jobs in the department, including chairing search committees.

Review of applications begin whenever we can all get together in the same place without someone saying “I can only stay for 15 minutes!” and will continue until the departmental infighting and backstabbing reach a fever pitch, at which point the Dean will pull the line until next year. Then all this crap will start over again.

Bufkegpt College is an Equal Opportunity Employer
committed to Puffing-Up its Own Marginal Reputation
While Spending as Little as Possible and
Blowing Smoke Up Prospective Students’ Asses.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Where Paula from Pulliam Speaks For A Shitload of Others When She Says, "Bunnies, SHUDDAFUKUP!"

The mail on the "poor bunnies" post is pouring in, and the thing's only been up a couple of hours. The note below captures the general "mood" of our readers. Enjoy the flava:

Where the hell did these idiots do their grad work, and what in the world do they think working for a living entails, uni prof or not? This made me want to puke--their respective precious day-to-day jobs wearing them down as they have to actually do the relatively well-paid work for which they were educated, and for which they apprenticed in grad school. What do they think the rest of the world does in the morning when they wake up and roll over and contemplate what they have to do that day?

"Committee meetings"? "Grading papers"? "Moving across the country"? "Finding a new home"? "The awful existential freedom of having to be"? "Navigating the political and social terrain of the university?"

Well, bust my heart--what a horrible life. How can we make it up to you--you who got a PhD without apparently being aware of the whole generally privileged universe of which that is a part? If the worst part of your life is that you have a to-do list that includes the essentials of your job description, your life is pretty damn good. Just read what you wrote, you fools; consider the literally millions of folks [some of them academics] who would kill to have your professional 'problems.' Just what did you think you'd be doing?

And by the way, what did you do during your first year on the job that kept you from understanding what being a grown-up is really about? You can no longer "bask in the glow of being a professor"? So you mean you actually DID bask in the glow of being a professor--you think you're that hot stuff? "Oh," you cry, "But I put in so many long years to get my PhD." Lucky you. Didn't we all. Think of all the freeway fliers who'd just love to have the problem of finding a new house in a new area where they can settle into a relatively secure job [if you do what you're supposed to do], even if they have all that horrible pressure of grading and committee work and publishing.

I'm year-to-year, 4 and 4 [plus those extra directed studies that need doing every semester] and genuinely thrilled to have it: boring committees, snowflake students, course and advising overloads, and all. What I can't abide are you over-privileged whiners, who are--in fact--just like our relatively recent snowflake students, now brandishing your newly minted PhDs and griping about how tough your lives are.

Suck it up. Come the revolution I hope you're the first three to lose your jobs. THEN you'll have something to wake up and worry about.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Poor Bunnies Come Up Against the Will-Shredding Second Year.

I know y'all are enamored of your big sisters over there at the Cramp-icle of Higher Education, but a very recent "First Person" article has just proven to me again what whiners there are coming into the profession.

Three second year proffies have found that the honeymoon is over and that there's WORK to be done. Poor bunnies. Here are some relevant and revealing quotes:

  • In my second year on the tenure track, I am finding that I am less and less excited about it's not easy to just sit back and bask in the glow of being a professor anymore.

  • What I once fondly viewed as a beautiful lifestyle and culture has become a long list of tasks, failures, and accomplishments.

  • I spend my time sitting in committee meetings, grading endless papers, and navigating the political and social terrain of the university. Is the glow gone?

  • Through the chaos of learning a new job, moving across the country, and finding a new home, I realize now, I lost part of my self, the part of me that loves education.

  • As we move through our second year, we are finding that the rigors of the professoriate are beginning to weigh heavily.

Oh dear, and it's only year 2. If this is indicative of second year proffies around the country, I have a feeling the job market is going to open a lot wider when these puffs start to fall by the wayside.

Seriously, are we preparing grad students so poorly that THIS is what we get? "Ohhh, it's so hard."

"The Regulars!" Weepy Wayne Does His Best to Update Some Fogies on the Modern Classroom And Its Hordes of "Cell Phone Accessorized Mannequins."

Leave it to Weepy Wayne to take a crack at someone who actually LIKES RYS. Wayne has been working his way through the November archives looking for dolts to skewer, and he's settled on Polite Phillip. So, if you please, enjoy the flava below:

My Liege,

"Alarmed" by the virtual spectacle of “professionals (who) treat their jobs or their students with quite so much distaste and condescension”?

I fear your smartly knotted ascot may be choking off blood to grandpa’s attic. If I may, permit me to go Socratic on the gilded soap bubble you call home. Instead of getting higher and mightier than you apparently are, consider instead, “Why does this situation exist?” Even better, Glauc-on Glauc-off, ask yourself: “Am I somehow responsible?”

Straight up. When was the last time you set foot in a classroom? Not the PowerPoint Potemkin Village propped up by tenure-chasing toadies and your bowing and scraping grad students. I’m talking about that cramped cinderblock chamber of horrors across campus where I work. You know, the place where Chaucer goes to die.

You see, in the classroom, there’s no catered buffet. No glossy photo-ops. Only those revenue-enhancers the rest of us call students. Try not to suffer vertigo while standing proximate to the pitiless revolving door of failure that is College Writing I. Now grab a fistful of red pens and grade this sterile lump of essays masquerading as college writing. Feast your aching retinas on a mobius strip of platitudes, clich├ęs, and bromides, all served on a wrinkly bed of faded toner, garnished with drab Wiki entries and incongruous cut-n-pastes wrenched from, all riddled with wor7rds spelt like thiz, and served cold, at least a week after the due date.

Now, go back to the classroom. Wave your arms in desperation and attempt to warn a somnolent roomful of cell-phone accessorized mannequins that they’re walking headlong into a globalized, free-market meatgrinder. Insist that language holds value beyond the suffocating swells of advertising copy they are awash in and how technology is not a life preserver, but a cinderblock. Keep calm when they yawn and take a call, on their way out the door, in the middle of your class.

Safe behind administrative lines, these shrieking insults and flaming epithets hurled through still cyberspace might chatter your china and bother the flame of your candelabra. But those distant echoes you hear are the direct hits we’re taking on the front lines. We slink back to our office. Dash off a caustic post. Exhale. Then march back to the trenches because we love teaching and want to be there for those who make this worthwhile.

You don’t understand this because you probably haven’t taught since dot-matrix printing was all the rage. The classroom you remember no longer exists. Bureaucrats obliterated the quaint construct of town v. gown years ago. The barbarians are no longer at the gate. They’re snoring in the back row. You like Ike because he’s a sweet old relic. Together, you can wax nostalgic for the Taft Administration and the days when a long-lost University-funded dental plan sprang for that set of Dutch Elm choppers. But does Ike have anything for that special magic binder you might keep for an army of adjuncts racing in and out of the parking lot?

Who swung open the gates to this campus? Was it you? Who deals with the consequences?

But you’re right, “I suppose that's neither here nor there.”

Oh Sweet Jesus, Here Comes Another Bright-Eyed Proffie, Courage, Integrity...Oh, Dear. Call Us When You Need Some Scotch.

Let me just say how much I love this site. I started reading in a couple of years ago, when I was a senior in college and was starting to seriously consider going to grad school, with the ultimate goal of being a college professor. While reading your site (in combination with reading PhD Comics) was not enough to dissuade me from pursuing grad school, it did make me much more prepared for what I would be facing. I did not enter grad school with blissful naivete, and although I am still appalled at the behavior of some students, I am not shocked, nor is my will broken. So thank you for that.

I also want to thank you for giving me an appreciation for how great my department has been thus far. Only two months into my first year in my MA program, I caught my first cheaters. I won't bore you with the details, we've all seen cheating before, but I will say that this was about as cut-and-dried case of cheating that you will ever see. At first my instructor (who is a recent graduate of the MA program I'm in, and therefore not especially experienced in these matters, although he too had caught cheaters as a TA) and I were rather giddy. "Take that you dirty rotten cheaters. You are so totally failing this test." But as we were faced with the reality that the students were not going to accept the 0 on the test but were going to persist in lying, that enthusiasm for upholding the standards of academia quickly faded. We had to meet with the administrative head of the department, then with the administrative head and the cheaters individually, blah, blah, blah, more lies, more lies. And threats. I can't forget the threats. One day after class, one of the miscreants approached the instructor to inform him that he didn't want to take this any farther, but "oh by the way, I'm going to see the chancellor after this, who happens to be a friend of mine." Oh really? Is he now? Well you know what? You just went from being an idiot cheating, lying student to being a complete asshole. Good job.

I don't know how you all do it. The instructor and I had the complete backing of the head of our department and the administrative head, which from reading RYS I gather is rather unusual, but I still felt like if it were up to me, I would have given up the whole process and just let the kids pass the class, regardless of how they did for the rest of the semester. I can't imagine having to go through all of that, without any support, only to have the decision replaced by some bleeding heart administrator. No one should have to deal with that crap, but you have to do it all the time. I can only hope that by the time such decisions are mine, I will have the courage to stand up for the integrity of my classes.

But even now, my situation isn't closed. Both students are still in the class and one in particular, the "friend" of the chancellor, has been particularly vocal the past few classes. All benign and encouraging comments, unless you know what's behind them. The instructor will be out of town in a couple of weeks and I will have the class to myself, and I have to tell you, I'm dreading how he will act then.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"The Regulars!" Milo From Manchester On Student Invisibility & Passivity.

On some Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I feel as if I’ve had a stroke. This semester I have a freshman Comp class that, through some mysterious process of self-sorting, has arranged itself in the room so that on my left are ten or so ordinary students who behave in ordinary ways and on the right are ten others who, well, simply are not there at all. Like I said, it’s as if I’ve had a stroke that has wiped out half my visual field. Except that I can see them, of course – it’s just that they are practicing to be invisible. And getting pretty good at it, I must say – by the second week of the term I had, as usual, worked my aging brain hard to memorize their names, but I look at them now at mid-semester and draw a blank. They have erased themselves from my mental roll sheet.

There are always students who sit passively through class, but they don’t usually sort themselves out quite so starkly as this lot. Practically speaking, it’s not much of a problem: I just conduct the class standing in front of the responsive group, though this gives me pause, a little, as if I am somehow responsible for the invisibility of the right-hand group, the ghosts. They have worked hard to be invisible – why should disturb them? Recently, however, I decided to do a little investigating, run a couple of experiments. At first, I just sidled over to the right side of the room as I spoke. Sure enough, they were still working at being invisible, flickering in and out of existence, looking, looking down at their desks, fiddling with their pens, though made a little nervous, it seemed, by my proximity.

I decided – in the interest of science, you understand – to try calling on a couple of them. Just to see what would happen. We were in the midst of a discussion of the opening chapters of The Quiet American and a number of the visible students had given their general reactions to the two main characters, Fowler and Pyle. At an early stage of a discussion like this not much is really required to participate – all you need is a reaction, however superficial. So, digging deep into my memory banks, I came up with a name:

“Nancy, what do you think?”

“Uh, sorry. What was the question?”

“Never mind. Jim, what do you think about Fowler?”


With that, I walked back over to the other side of the room – from the land of the dead to that of the living. It bothers me to think that fifty percent of this class has chosen invisibility so early in their academic careers. Wouldn’t it be pretty to imagine that they are live wires in their Chemistry or History classes, but one suspects they are practicing invisibility in those places too.

When I first began teaching I would have taken this great passive silent invisibility to heart. I would have stewed about it at home and worried at it with colleagues in the corridor. These days, I let it go. As a practical matter, there is not much I can do about their passivity. (The reader may insert here the obligatory RYS refrain: I’m a good teacher, I’m prepared, I show enthusiasm, etc. etc.) These students have made choices – or have had choices made for them – that I have little access to. For many of them, I think, a year or two of national service, as proposed by president-elect Obama, might serve to wake them up – some, though, are always going to be time-servers at best, reactionary voters at worst.

I’m basically an existentialist (You should see my collection of berets!) and it’s pretty clear, as noted, that these students have made some kind of choice. And even if they are in my class against their will, they have choices open to them. They could get up and leave, or never show up. I’d have more respect for them this way and they might have more respect for themselves. Or, they could wake up and participate. Ideally, they would make interesting trouble because that’s what being a student, as opposed to a time-server, is all about. Anything would be better – for the ghosts, for the class – than this willful stupidity. Well, willful stupidity is a choice too, come to think of it. I’m sorry for them, but I have choices to make as well. I have a class to teach, with at least ten living students who deserve my attention.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beulah from Boise Tells the Empty Office Proffie To Quit Being So Damn Creepy!

What the fuck is up with the lonely "empty office" proffie, so desperately looking for students to come to her office hours that she has regressed back to high school with her unresolved popularity/acceptance issues?

First, stop trying so damn hard. Like dogs, students -- and your colleagues -- can smell desperation, and it stinks like old man fart in a public toilet. You want to know why students are hanging out with Prof. Dull-As-Ditchwater and Dr. Mousy at all hours of the afternoon? Because those guys and gals own their dullness and mousy-ness and don't give a hot damn if people like them or not -- they not only let their freak flag fly but probably burned it in protest. Hence, students don't feel like their being used to gratify some over-educated, adolescent ego. They also might have ditched the instructor-student power relationship and are hanging out with their (one or two mildly developed) students as adults. You're acting like you're fifteen. Turn off the "soft music" and stop staring pensively out the sliver of a window. Get a life -- turn on network television, go watch a movie, make friends offline, and have a joke in your pocket so you have something normal to talk about.

Second, give students something to come to you about outside of class. I disagree with the assholes who think more, harder assignments will have them lined up in the halls. Those are the same jerk-offs who want an audience for another two hours while they masturbate to the sound of their own voice. Rather, engage kids with things they know they won't be tested over. You'll keep the morons at bay while those one or two who are genuinely interested in your discipline might want to stop by and "shoot the breeze" because you gave them something to think about. Students don't "drape" themselves on office furniture to talk about their research paper, but they will kick back if they feel like their grade doesn't depend on it. Lighten up and give their brains a little breathing room -- at least, the few who aren't brain dead already.

Finally, if your school is anything like mine, most student organizations need a faculty advisor. Get involved in a campus activity. Don't be the freak who's at every soccer game and music recital, but have an activity where students can see you outside of the academic environment at least once a semester. The chair for my master's thesis was also advisor to our department's honor society; we used to make fun of him because he was such a tight ass until the group went out for pancakes one Saturday morning and he regaled us with tales of a crazy ass internship he had one summer. Suddenly, he was cool because he got us. Getting off campus makes you a human being, unless you're going for that whole Elijah complex and want them to think you ascend into heaven after every class period.

But most of all, stop lurking and listening to other people's conversations in the hallway. It's creepy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Say Howdy to Mildred From Medicine Hat, Another "Regular." (Those Looking for Walt's 2nd of 30 Promised Posts Will Have to Wait...and Wait.)

I have pondered long and hard on what to write about in my first post as an RYS "Regular." (Deeply honoured, etc etc.)

There are the students, but y'all have that subject so nicely covered already that I have very little to say there. I visit this site every day for my daily dose of smackdown. It makes my whole day. I get from RYS the same kind of satisfaction we all get from watching Nanny 9-1-1 - however bad your children are they are never within an order of magnitude as bad as the little monsters on that show. And no matter how bad my students get, they are never (so far, knock wood) nearly as bad as the weasels I read about here.

I teach in a public institution, and we don't get many rich entitled brats whose Daddy built the west wing of the library. We don't have a medical school so we're missing most of the rotten little cheaters, too. The Dean will back me up all the way if I nail a plagiarist to the wall or fail some slacker's sorry ass. And the students don't complain about it. If they don't do the work, they expect to fail. It's an agreement we have.

So I come to this site for relief. No matter how bad my day has been, I can guarantee that some correspondent on RYS has had a far, far worse one. Sure, my students are frequently lazy little swine with sloppy citation habits. Compared to what I read about here? Big effing deal.

And there's another way I can't complain. I have tenure. If I have a bad class or a journal bounces an article or (to be frank) the article bogs down and never actually gets out the door in the first place, it gets me down, but it doesn't get me a job at Wal-Mart. I don't lie awake at night terrified, the way, you know, I did, before the faculty voted to keep me on. I don't have the rash covering 3/4 of my body that I had for six months before that vote. I don't live in my stress counsellor's office anymore, though I still see her every month on general principles.

So what do I have to complain about? Well, here's the subject I want to raise to RYS. Can we have a career and a life both or am I just kidding myself? And is it harder for female academics? Should I just quit trying?

A friend of mine quit her TT job a few years back. Like me, she had 2 small children, and was juggling the teaching and the research and the book-writing and the committees and the child care and home-making and sure, she had a very supportive husband and all that. But she finally decided she'd had it. Her explanation was simple. Teaching is a full-time job; research is a full-time job; and motherhood his a full-time job. And she could handle two full-time jobs but she couldn't handle three.

I tried to talk her out of it. She ignored me and I think she was probably right. I had tenure by then and the picture was different for me. But ...

But my friend is right. Teaching is a full-time job. Parenting is a full-time job. Research is a full-time job. And I can't handle three full-time jobs either.

I teach 3 x 2 and I have 2 primary-school-aged children. My husband is out of the country this week and so far this weekend I've produced 6 meals, done 5 loads of laundry, arranged for the plumber to come to fix various essential fixtures in the only 45-minute period I can manage to be home to let him in tomorrow, escorted children to three events not counting the 2 hours I spent sitting in a medical clinic with one of them, gotten partway through sending the invitations for a birthday party next weekend, overseen their piano practicing and spelling drills, dragged a mutinous 8-year-old through math homework, an exhausting 90-minute effort, made sure they had everything together for school tomorrow, chased them into bed, packed 2 lunches, made a pan of rice krispie treats and morosely ate about half of them myself, and cleaned the kitchen again (and again and again). It wasn't until 11:00 at night that I could look at my to-do list for tomorrow.

The to-do list for tomorrow includes grading 150 quizzes, 20 papers, preparing a graduate seminar, 8 or 9 emails from students with drafts of papers (I'm assuming) that I'm avoiding opening, hell, everyone here can fill in this part; we're all slogging in the same trenches and it's the same point in term for us all. But I have no idea how I can get any of it done.

To say nothing of the research I'm not doing.

Since I had my second child, I have not published anything new at all. A couple of new things have come out, but they were things I'd done the research for and in fact drafted before I went into labour the second time. I've done nothing new. And yes, I could. I could somehow find the time.

But you know, I'm so exhausted I can barely think at all. It's hard for me to believe I've got anything worth saying, about anything.

On my worst days I wonder if I should quit so the university can hire someone who's actually willing to do the work I'm getting paid for and not producing. Two things stop me. My department might not get to replace my position, or not immediately. And I'm not a bad teacher. I'm often a pretty good one. My students are getting something out of my being there. Though they would get more if I were doing any research at all, a small voice reminds me.

Now of course I'm not going to quit. I haven't won any lotteries lately. But has anyone got any ideas how to manage this mythical life/work balance? Or this life/teaching/research balance?

Me, I'm going to ignore the papers and quizzes and go to bed, again. Selfishly putting my desire for sleep ahead of my student's need for feedback, I know. But my eyes are practically crossing with fatigue and there is an actual, physical, limit.

I'm not exactly a poster child for "hire a mother" I know. But what the hell am I supposed to do?

On Walt and the Regulars.

  • I'm guessing the email exchange with Walt was about 50% hyperbolic, am I right?

  • "Regulars"? You mean you give more space to people who are on the site all the time anyway?

  • Walt, darling, you have got to up the medication.

  • There is only one true original. And Walt is not it.

  • That's a nice fridge, Walt brags about. I wonder if it's as dirty inside as Walt's soul is.

  • New feature? Didn't we beat the features down earlier when we made you stop doing JobFinder?

  • Are you REALLY trying to kill the page, because "the Regulars" will do it.

  • Wait, you mean to say the "Irregulars," right?

  • I'm over Walter. Could you please give us more Weepy Wayne?

  • I'm betting Walt is pissed at you guys.

  • Whoa, so nobody cares about the cartoons on my door and if I don't have a window, I'm a loser? That's all Walter's got?

  • Walter is a nut, okay, we all see that, but his thoughts on Deans are right on. Oh, and on cats. And offices. And students.

  • That Walter sleeps in his office comes as no surprise to me.

  • Of all the features this year, this one has the most potential. Don't fuck it up.

  • Seriously, who does these graphics. If that's really Walter, I'd say you've captured him. If not, then I'd imagine you'll have a lawsuit on your hands. Slander, libel, whatever applies.

  • Uh, I haven't got my invite to become a regular yet. What does it take? I've been called a frequent correspondent twice. What kind of a boy's club is this anyway?

  • Oh, God, please don't post another 29 posts from Texas Dipshit, okay?

  • I would pay real Texas money to get access to whatever blog Walter is planning. Ted Nugent as a spokesmen? Sponsored by Browning rifles? I'm just saying.

  • I'd buy a Wicked Walter nightshirt.

  • Are you seriously out of ideas over there?

  • I know Walter, I really do. And he's easier to take online than in person.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"The Regulars," A New Feature At RYS, Designed to Annoy, Begins Today With Who Else!

Dear Walt,

We come at you with hat in hand. As you've been a frequent and well-received correspondent at RYS, we wanted to find out if you might be interested in this new proposal we have. We'd like to offer you guaranteed space on RYS once a week for a trial period of 4 weeks, starting with the week of November 17th, and concluding on the week of December 8th. You'd provide absolutely anything you wanted for those four days, and we'd post it with a standard byline (your choice). We'd ask that you write original material about the life of an academic - oh you know what we like. After those 5 weeks we'd be able to see if this new feature (which would likely include 3-4 other correspondents) is catching on with our readers. We know the last few exchanges we've had have been a little tense, but we couldn't imagine doing this feature without you. You always get the most mail, and we'd love to continue our relationship. We are completely blind about this proposal. We don't know if we're stupid, naive, or both, but a couple of longtime readers suggested it to us as we've muddled through a malaise-y couple of months. What do you think?
Our best,
Dear Fuckers,
You have got to be the crazziest fuckers on the planet. I'm not writing for you assholes ever again. I sent about a dozen things in the past 6 weeks and you barely even acknowledge them. Why on earth would I want to throw in with you when you don't know what you've got.
Eat me,
Dear Walt,
We are sorry for passing on the last few pieces you've sent, but they were awfully graphic and intense, and we really didn't think they'd go over very well. We do our best to offer a representative sample of the mail that comes in, and your material is just a little too far out there, we think. But we're offering to make amends, and this new feature would be a way for you to have a voice on the website again.
Uh, let me think it over. No, I'd rather eat glass, you fucking bastards. Listen, why don't you get your REALLY favorite correspondents to do it, that Weepy Wayne guy. He's such a bad imitation of me that I can't help but think one of you guys is probably writing him anyway. And anyway, I'm still thinking of starting my own site, something with guns, porn, American flags, and celebrity news 24/7. I'll sell so many ads you will think you stumbled across PerezHilton or TMZ.
Eat me,
Look, we're trying to extend an olive branch here. We always get a ton of mail when we post your stuff, but we've always liked to keep you as a "special guest." Is there anything we can do to convince you to help us out?
Oh yeah, well, first of all, I'd want you to send me some schwag. All that shit you sell I could use a little of. I'm a Large if you're wondering, and I'll take a hoodie and a mug, but not a purse. Can you see me swinging that tote bag around Texas? I'd have to shoot myself.
So you want a free mug and a hoodie?
Yes, and I want to make sure that you don't post anything else on my day. None of those stupid fucking links, or JobFinder or Coolest Students, etc. All of that detracts from the real mission of this place. And no graphics. You guys always cock those up anyway. They're annoying and I liked the site back when it was just text. What kind of bullshit have you guys been feeding us this past year? Hey, how long does it have to be?
So, no graphics, no other posts, just your post, and you want a free mug and a hoodie. I guess we can do that. We'd like a minimum of 500 words, probably topping out at 1000.
1000? Shit I do that in between classes. I want a guarantee for 5000 words. I'm not going to get into this without a guarantee of unlimited space. And I can't do it for this coming week. I'm going to do it on my timetable or not at all.
Well, we're starting the series this week, so there will be 5-6 other people posted this week. Is that okay? Can we expect something from you for the week of the 24th?
No fucking way. You're not going to lead off the series with someone else. You've been blowing smoke up my ass all this time, haven't you?
Listen, we're happy to have you, but we're committed to starting this week.
No go. That next week is Thanksgiving and I've got to take the family down to Houston. Do it without me, but lose my address, too, because you've jerked me around enough.
Walt (retired)
We understand. Sorry it didn't work out.


Wicked Walter's Wise Words. First in a Series of 30 Presentations.

Some of you may know me by the character I play on RYS, Wicked Walter. Well, that's not really me. In real life I'm a pretty moderate science prof at a large research institution in Texas. We grow everything big here, including our universities. My earlier posts on this website [Editors, please insert links to all of my posts here now.] were mere hyperbole, just a cool prairie cat in the wild howling at the moon. I did it that way because one must get himself heard and recognized before he (or she) can really get his voice out there, to make a difference.

But, the point is, the website moderators came to me (hat in hand, I may add) asking me to be their featured correspondent for the next 4 weeks. Each day I will write a few hundred words on academic topics I think are not being covered properly in the mainstream press. I won't pretend that these are all your concerns, because they probably are not. But I will give myself fully to the experience, and I'll press my many years of experience and service into solving them.

I intend to cover tenure, assessment, student retention, colleague annoyance, stupid-ass junior faculty, better coffee in the cafeteria, library and interlibrary loan, the Deans and how they spend money, and all of the other major areas of interest. I will do this without fear because I have tenure, and in fact RYS has given me a sort of tenure, what with their promise to let me write daily for the next 6 weeks. So, much will be taught and much learned over these next days.

I intend to start slow, with a topic that is clearly one of the most interesting and vexing. How to make the most out of office hours, those otherwise dead hours that we all must keep according to various idiotic faculty manuals. This material is essential for faculty young and old, and has never been covered on this or any other academic blog or website.

I will break my comments down into 4 categories: how to enrich your students' experience, ways in which to personalize your office so it's a home away from home, and what the pecking order of offices all mean to a department.

I will start with the last of these. There are a number of components of office hierarchy. Window, no window. That's pretty clear, right? If you have a window, you're a hot shit. I have a window the size of most stadium-seating movie theaters. If you have no window, I'd recommend getting your vita together because you're not getting tenure, and if you're visiting, you won't be visiting for long. Size of office? Well, again, I can play squash in my office, and I don't even have to move much furniture. If you can touch three walls of your office at one time, you're a BIG FUCKING LOSER. Also, if you're in a multi-story building like me, then your office needs to be high up. I'm on 26, and the only floor above me as some old moldy books from the university before I was born. If you're on the first floor, there's no much hope. If you get an office in some building's basement, then you went to the wrong grad school, girlfriend.

Now, I want to talk about personalizing your office. Your office is a representation of your own peculiar makeup, your personality, your "sense." You owe it to your visitors to let them know what they're getting into. Now, you may be surprised to know that I cover my office door with pictures of kitties. Nah, just kidding. That's just a payoff, a comeback, to show I read the site and have seen all the cat-haters getting their cat-hate on lately. So, forget what I said. You know what people should see when they look at your door? Wood. That's it. Maybe a small piece of paper with your hours and name. Anything else is just jerking off. You morons who think that Dilbert and Cathy cartoons are the way to go, why don't you just knit a little tea cozy for all your students. Nobody gives a shit what cartoons you think are funny. You want your political bullshit up there, too, your union minutes, your Sarah Palin propaganda? Save it for your boring dinner parties with other eggheads like you.

But I do believe in personalizing your office so it's a nice place to hide from the department chairperson, the wife, the kids, the colleagues, etc. I have a fridge, and not one of those tiny mini-fridges. I have a 21 cubic foot Haier, and I wouldn't trade it for a new car. Because I'm in the science building, and because my own research labs are on the same floor, I've been able to hook a water line to it, and I have cube ice and cold water running all day. I keep my various smoked meats and cheeses in the thing, and a few other items which we won't mention. Suffice it to say, during Mardi Gras week, we all hang with Prof. Walt!

I also have personalized my office with some nice soft furniture for catching a few Zzzzs. I just fooled one of the staff flunkies in the warehouse into giving me enough furniture for about 3 junior faculty and had the grad students load it in several years ago. I have as much seating as most small town bus stations, and this shit is nice, because I keep it nice. I have some halogen reading lamps, some artwork, including the requisite crayon and disappointment renderings of my children. I have some spare shirts in a tall teak armoire, some extra boots and shoes and socks and underwear. I figure if everything went south with Mrs. Walt, I could live her pretty much year round.

Finally, how to deal with students. Listen, I like to meet with students. I like to stare into their empty eyes and let them know that they're no longer at the community college down the road. And they're not going to some half-asses university, either. We're the big time. Our football team can beat the crap out of anybody - in fact we about murdered some pale and ineffectual prairie kids yesterday! - and everything we do is big and first rate. My labs are the finest in the nation. My degrees are sturdy and well earned. I have skills so far beyond an academic, and I've turned my back on private industry so many times that they've stopped calling. Can you imagine? I scare the shit out of them.

Back to the students. I wear the lab coat most days, and I'm a little imposing. I stare them down, do you hear me? I stare at them across my gigantic wooden desk and I tell them that a pukey sophomore is not going to ever get a right answer in my class, and they're only going to succeed if they shut their fat faces and let me teach them. And forget the fucking TAs. I have the best on campus, but they're still just a bunch of vegans and alternative lifestyle cretins who think Jeff Tweedy is the height of culture, and that making a million dollars for a biotech company is the be all and end all of an advanced degree.

But an office can be a wonderful place. That's the point.

That's it for today. I have many more items to cover, but since I'll be writing every day this week, let me save it up. You should let the moderators know how much you enjoy hearing my side of things. They've offered to give me a bounty of free items from their collection, and I've asked them to make a Wicked Walter nightshirt that they can put up for sale next week, when most of my posts will focus on how to land a big ass job and keep it without selling out to the motherfucking idiots who always end up in administration.

Wicked Walter from Waxahachie
Say it Loud, Say it Proud


Dear readers,

Walt will NOT be writing every day for several weeks. It's once a week for 5 weeks. We also do not have any Wicked Walter items available, nightshirt or otherwise.

The moderators at RYS