Saturday, January 31, 2009

"The Regulars." Dana From Decatur Sends an Open Letter to The Old Dudes In Her Class.

Yes, you are older than me. You have lived many lives, seen many sights, and my experiences pale in comparison to yours. True. Fine. Great. And yes, you are maler than me. No need to whip out any proof; I had established that much myself. But here’s the thing, guys: THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU GET TO COMMENT ON HOW I RUN THIS FUCKING CLASS. Got it? In fact, I don’t value your opinion any more than that of the snot-nosed eighteen-year-old sitting next to you, whose mommy forgot to pack him some Kleenex this morning.

You see, you are here, in my classroom, at this glorious CC. MY classroom. MINE. You do not win it, get an increased say in it, or have any reign over it simply because of your old maleness. We are not going to debate this. We are not going to arm wrestle for it. I do not want to know how you think I should “handle” the brat in the corner who keeps talking during class. I am not interested in your calculated estimations of the perfect amount of time to allow for quizzes. And I am not going to listen to your opinion of how I could re-structure the syllabus to make it more “pleasant.” I don’t want your emails critiquing how I handled class discussions, I don’t want your patronizing “support” (“Keep ‘em on their toes!!”), and I certainly don’t want your not-so-subtle grade pandering (“I know you can see how hard I’m working - especially compared to the rest of them - so I’m sure that my grade will allow me to continue receiving financial aid so that I can feed my dear children.”)

Friends, in my classroom, YOU ARE ONE OF “THEM.” You are not God; you are not my co-pilot. You are another student, no different than those fresh from High School. Your life experiences have earned you no superiority here. Period. Done. I know the thought of being lumped with Playa’ Pete, Ditzy Dalia, and Slacker Sara may seem vaguely repulsive to you, but by enrolling in this class, you committed to it. I don’t know what brings you here at this point in your life, and frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn. If you want to succeed, do an exceptional job on all the work and show some respect (as in deference to my opinions, practices, and pedagogy - look it up - since this IS my job). But if you keep up this condescending, pseudo-kindness bullshit, you can guarantee that you’ll be just like them—an entitled, narcissistic egomaniac who thinks he deserves something that he is entirely unwilling to work for.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wonderful Witchy From Wichita Creates Some New Sites With Which We Can Avoid Our Committee Work.

Based on the major success of a popular student website meant to help students vent obscenities behind their professors' backs, and the miserable failure of its mirror site,, meant to help these same students satisfy the requirements of a liberal arts education while keeping their professors happy as a clam, and in an effort to improve student performance and raise their morale, I propose a series of alternative websites:

(1), a culinary site where students learn to treat their professors like chopped liver. Membership includes free weekly recipes, including how to spike a teacher's apple with arsenic and make your own napalm soup.

(2), a site designed primarily for students of agriculture and environmental science to judge their professors in wet tee-shirt contests. Please ensure that your flash player is up to date.

(3), an interactive visualizer designed primarily for students in the athletics department to create customizable profiles of their professors in jockstraps. As in (2), please ensure that your flash player is up to date.

(4) A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Receiving Crap and Start Looking at Fabulous Grades. Open to women of all body types.

And finally,

(5), a radical experiment in web design that releases students from the tyranny of their computer screens and enables them to confront their professors head-on. The logistics of this innovative alternative, as well as real-size holograms of faculty members, are currently in the works.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Angry Archie Theatre Company Presents: "My B+." A dialogue in 14 acts.

So here I am, enjoying the relative calm of the beginning of the beginning of the new semester. I escaped the lurid spectacle of the AHA and ran off to the exotic tourist destination where I do my research. Now I’m tanned, rested, and ready to rock out with my ... but I digress.

So I open my office door the tiniest of cracks for my first official office hour of the new semester confident that I’ll be able to catch a quick jet lag nap between classes, since it is way too early in the semester for snowflurries of any description. So I lean back in my Herman Miller chair, and prepare to snooze, when a knock at the door disturbs my frame of mind. In walks T, from last semester’s course, and I know my day, no, my entire semester is about to be ruined.

Me: Have a seat T. What can I do for you? [as if I didn’t already know]

T: I want to talk to you about my final grade for your course.

Me (with my best innocent look): Sure, mind if I pull up my spreadsheet and see what you earned? [as if I didn’t already know]

T: No need, I got a B+.

Me: Sounds like you did well to me. What’s the problem?

T: I don’t think I did that well. I mean, I worked really hard and all I got was a B+. I think I should get a higher grade, given how hard I worked.

Me: Well, unfortunately, your own assessment of how hard you worked is not one of the grading criteria in any of my classes, so there is not much I can do for you.

T: OK, but I also felt the grading was really inconsistent.

Me: Don’t you mean that your written work was inconsistent?

T (stammering): Uh, well, no, yes, I guess...

Me: So then I also assume that what you mean to say is that you wish your work had been consistent enough to earn you an A-, but unfortunately it was not and you are disappointed in yourself.

T: OK, I see where you are going with this, but I just can’t get a B+.

Me: Oh, and why is that? [as if I didn’t already know]

T: Because I want to go to law school.

Me: Oh, don’t worry. A law school will accept you.

T stares at me with her mouth open.

Me: Is there anything else?

T: Can I come see you next week?

Me: Sure, if it will make you feel better.

T leaves.

There are 13 weeks left in the semester, and I will bet the meager contents of my 403b that I am in for 13 more dances around the Maypole with little T. I also know that the gears in her overtaxed pea-brain are grinding away at maximum rpms to come up with a better strategy for next week. I predict the “but I really felt I learned so much in your class, which is why I was so devastated by the grade” gambit, with the “I got an A from Professor P, and everyone knows that she is a really tough grader” diversion to follow in act three, and the “if I can’t go to law school, I’ll figure out some other way to get rich” feint somewhere around act ten (and yes, a student really said that to me once).

And I also know that by the 14th act I will have destroyed her will to live and the tears will flow like warm sewage from the cloaca maxima in ancient Rome, and I will push the box of tissues I keep for just such occasions across the desk and smile pleasantly. How do I know? Because this will be the third time I've gone down this road in the last four semesters. And of course it is always over a B+. It is the curse of working at an institution where two-thirds of the undergrads are so unimaginative, that the only possible future they can dream of involves either law school or medical school. The other third used to imagine themselves in the broker training program at some investment bank, so I honestly don't know what the fuck they are thinking anymore. Maybe they are working out a panhandling strategy, or a "fries with that" strategy. I certainly could not care less.

But deep in the darkest corners of my soul I live in abject terror. Because I know that while T has no chance at the A- she so desperately covets, I secretly fear that a day will come when I will no longer have the energy to push back for 14 long and lonely office hours of pleading and protestations. The day will come when I too will embrace the University of Minnesota’s grading standards. Ooops, sorry, I forgot. They have gifted teachers who provide perfect syllabi for their hard-working little students.

Archie out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mid-Career Mike Returns And Is Packing His Bags For Fla.

Oh yeah, it's me. I love the photo of me, by the way, though I'm so much more handsome than that I can't even tell you.

Reamed Ass College made the job offer to me Friday, by phone, and it nearly broke my heart to tell them no. Imagine the kind of material I could have written about for you guys for years to come.

Regardless, my little foray on the job market has been fun. Besides Reamed Ass College, I also spent two days in a bucolic little college in northern Florida. What a bunch of backwards fuckers they were there! No, I'm just kidding. They were nice, professional, and the visit was just the opposite of the nightmare at Reamed Ass.

SodaPop College is in a surprisingly green and leafy town near the northern Florida border, and they were just the sweetest damn people I'd ever met. The chair and his wife (a faculty member in a different department) took the lead for my visit, carting me wherever I had to go, getting me there on time, providing water bottles and a choice - I am not lying - of three different energy bars right out of Mama Professor's purse.

The folks were smart, funny, collegial, and there was such a depth of knowledge among everyone about my research and my work that I felt at times like they must be putting me on.

They showed me a great office that could be mine. They arranged for a realtor to show me some neighborhoods - but only if I wanted to take the time. Our group dinner was at a faculty member's house, and we sat around a pool under tiki lights and drank beer and talked about politics, football, oh, and the college.

Before I left town on the crop duster airplane, I was sold. The first day I returned home they made the offer and I took about 14 seconds to accept.

I do not have a long history in the academic job market, but one thing has come to me quite clearly: when it's right, you know it. I've taken other jobs where my feelings were mixed. I needed a job and they had one. BOOM. But I've had my gut turn, too, and I tried not to get stuck in those places.

SodaPop College, which awaits my arrival in August, just felt right. I don't know how to universalize this experience enough so that it works for everyone. I know too well that the bad economy means lots of folks are scrambling and will take whatever gets offered them this year. I'm not saying that's bad. I recognize it, and without SodaPop College, I might be getting my boxes backed for Reamed Ass County right now.

But trust your gut. If it feels right, and if the folks are welcoming, almost nothing else matters. I could make more money somewhere else, I could certainly hang on and wait for a more prestigious place. But I had 2 great days down there, and that means more to me than anything.

I know I'm lucky, and although this may disqualify me from RYS (because it is a little sweet and sentimental), I just want to tell job seekers to hang in there. When it's right, it's going to feel right.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bitchy Bear Lets It All Out.

So I teach a class in which I have an assignment whereby a student has to work with a volunteer among their friends or family network who is nearing or over the age of 70. It is not a hard assignment. But this assignment has broken a new personal record for me: this assignment has prompted an outraged student complaint to the undergraduate program chair the very first week of school.

Let me digress for a bit. Do you have personal records? I've always been a competitive little SOB, and so one of the ways I entertain myself in this rotten business is to document points where the job has driven me to new highs or new lows:

  • Earliest in the day I have made a student cry: 8:13 am
  • Shortest number of blue book pages I read before they drove me to the drinks cabinet: 1
  • Highest number of bathroom breaks I have to take in a faculty meeting to prevent the words "would you people STFU" from blurting out of my mouth: 4
  • Highest number of times I have had to tell the same parent that I am not going to discuss her child's grade with her: 5
  • Highest number of "I learned a lot but she was a mean meany meanpants" on one single set of evaluations: 30
  • Highest number of lies I have caught a single student in: 7
  • Highest number of my students I have seen, ever, in the library: 0
  • Highest number of times the same student has threatened to have me fired: 3
  • Highest number of times the same student threatened to sue me or the university because of me: 1, so far

Anyhoodily, you get the drift. Sometimes I think I am my own little Rainman, keeping these little tallies on the Things In My Life that Shouldn't Be.

But back to our little friend who has gone to my director to complain. I teach in two programs, and this program director is one of those delightful senior faculty you basically dream of having. He's a kindly, grey-haired gent with the tweed jackets and with smile lines around his eyes and a distinguished career of work behind him that he himself never refers to. He genuinely listens to students' complaints and then, based on the content, either tells the kid to grow up or comes to talk to you to get your side of the story. He's totally got your back. He has the patience of a freaking saint and/or bottles of Jim Beam hidden all over his office. He is also 72 years old. I can only imagine how this complaint sounded to him based on the class interaction I had:

Snowflake: You mean, we're supposed to talk to AN OLD PERSON. (Said in the same tone I'd imagine young flake would use were he discussing the possibility of panning for gold in a sewer).

Dr. B. Bear: Yes.

Snowflake: Can't we just ask anybody?

Dr. B. Bear: No.

Snowflake: How are you going to KNOW that we asked AN OLD PERSON?

Dr. B. Bear: Because the assignment requires you videotape the interaction.

Snowflake: But I don't know any OLD PEOPLE.

Dr. B. Bear, tiring of the interaction: You have a choice of doing 3 out of 6 assignments. Just pick different assignments then.

Snowflake: But the other assignments make you READ A BOOK. (Said, this time, in the same tone he'd use were he confronting the possibility that he'd have climb Everest with only his boxers and a can of chocolate-covered cashew nuts).

So, dear director, I am terribly sorry that one of my assignments prompted this little gem to come see you, an older person who epitomizes the gift that older people can be, about how wrong it is that I expect students to interact....with older people.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fritz From Fizzy Wine State Examines His Department's 2008 Hires.

All this talk about boon or bust candidates makes me think a bit about my department's own situation. We hired 2 terrific on-paper collegiate stars last April, and they are now just a bit more than 1/2 way through their first years with us. They couldn't have worked out much differently.

I teach at a massive Great Lakes uni, in one of the largest departments on campus. We have more than 100 faculty members - if you count everybody - and it's a little easy to get lost in the shuffle here. But, those who want collegiality get it. There's, in fact, a very active "core" group of proffies who advertise "coffee seminars" weekly to catch up on what's going on in the department. It's possible to stay on the outside of things, but it's also very easy to work closely with others as if you were at a small school.

Get-Involved Greta and Leave-Me-Alone Lisa both came from top 20 R1s from the northeast. They were among our top 4 picks last year, and we were very pleased to get them. Their interviews had been similar. Both were very smart, sharp, and spoke easily of their work. They're in different sub disciplines, but they fit our job ads beautifully. Both expressed a real interest in our city, and both had family members within a half day's drive. Both were single.

When they arrived, it was remarkable how different things were. Greta got involved. She asked about committees. She wondered if there was a list of majors she could look over. She asked about the history of the department. She kept office hours during the day, and when she was overwhelmed with our large survey course, she asked for help.

Lisa, on the other hand, well, nobody ever saw her. In about week 4 I remember our chair coming to my office (as I was officed nearby) and asking whe I'd seen her last. "At the interview," I said.

Lisa taught during the day, like most of us, but kept office hours after 5 pm. She didn't come to the first "all department" faculty meeting, but when she came to the second she said her name during our new faculty introduction, but nothing else.

It bugged our chair so much that I was asked to make an attempt to check in with Lisa to see if she needed anything. I stayed after hours on a Wednesday until her 5:30 pm hours started and I think she was startled to see me. Another colleague was chatting with me in the hall and when Lisa saw us she walked past us into her office and closed the door. I knocked and waited and when she opened it I told her our chair had wanted me to follow up with her. Everything okay? Did she need any help? Did she have any questions? Had she spotted any parts of the department she wanted to be more involved in?

All of this took place with me in the hallway, and Lisa peering out at me.

"I can't think of any questions," she said. "I have some work to do," she said next.

I went home, told the chair the next day she didn't have any questions.

Greta, meanwhile, well I see her at lunch and at the coffee seminars. I see her before and after her class. I see her talking to students. We don't require first years to do any committee work, but she asked to be an ad hoc member of the survey class's committee on textbooks. We haven't had any substantive conversations about her adjustment, but I get the sense she'd ask me or others if she had them.

When we got back from holiday break, it was not a huge surprise to hear from the chair that Leave-Me-Alone Lisa was on the job market, and had already had 3 campus visits planned. It was clear she was leaving.

Now I don't know what happened. Of course there are a terrific number of things that influence our career paths, but I'll always think of these two job candidates together: one who made the position and the job work, and one who seemed determined to avoid it all costs.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's Been Ages Since We Ran An Academic Haiku. Remember? "Short, Engimatic Free Verse About Academic Matters, Occasionally Referencing Margaritas?"

I had a student
in my intro class
last semester.

Freddie Flunky,
who had the lowest grade
in the class.

So he will take the course
with me again
next semester.

(He says he wouldn't
think of taking it
with anyone else!)

But it conflicts
with another class
so he can't attend.

"May I submit homework
and take exams
Maybe come to an office hour?"

"Freddie," I say.
"This is a student-centered college.
What do you think?"

Shit! If We Can't Blame High School Teachers? What Are We Going to Do? A Longtime Reader Moonlights And Files This Report From the Farm Leagues.

It's so easy to blame HS teachers, but is it really fair? I think blame is to blame. Professors blame parents and teachers. Teachers blame students and parents. Parents blame teachers and little league coaches. Little league coaches blame mommies, liberals and Bobby Bonilla. But few people accept that identifying a scapegoat doesn't actually fix the problem. When flight 1549 hit the geese, did the pilot stop and blame the geese, or did he land the fucking plane without killing anyone?

I'm one of the RYS adjunct outcasts who has to supplement her income with another job. Guess what that is. I teach AP physics. By comparison to what most HS teachers have to deal with, my job is a dream. I've got the cream of the crop, and it's still a difficult job.

It was mid-term week last week and I had to proctor the below-Regents chemistry mid-term concurrently with my class. So while my kids are trying to work out AP physics problems, I spent the entire two hours telling the chem. class "I can't answer that," over and over and over. For instance, "What does 'ionization energy' mean?" "Discerning whether or not you know that is the point of that question, so I really can't tell you." "Huh?" "I can't answer that, go on to something else." "What does 'which of these elements have similar properties?' mean?" "That's the question, you're not asking for clarification, you're asking for the answer. Just do the best you can."

There were only eight kids in that class, but I actually spent two hours fielding requests for the answers. I know their teacher. I know he doesn't give them answers when they take tests, and yet they keep asking for them. Something is happening that can not be blamed on their teacher. I know all of their teachers and we sit in the faculty room shaking our heads. We don't know why this is happening or how to fix it, but we try.

And in case you still don't feel like HS teachers are in the same boat, here's another little excerpt from the saga of the science midterm. The third time I wouldn't give the same pain in the ass the answer to a question, he said "shit" 15 times, a little bit louder each time, just like the Isley Brothers song, rising from his seat at a rate to match the volume, then screamed "I'm not doing this," held his answer booklet to the wall and wrote, "I'M NOT DOING THIS!!!" all over every page until his point broke.

Then he sat back down silently for a minute or so, got up and walked to my desk and said, "I need another answer booklet and a pencil."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Darling Dana from Decatur Sends An Open Letter to The Poor Dear Retakers.

To all my dear students who took this class last term,

I know that you guys just love to be honest. You tell me in my office hours, "I was kind of messed up on drugs for a while, so this will be my second time in the class." (Fine, blame the drugs; but have you seen your writing sober?) You tell me in writing, "I took this class a couple of times before but I had really bad teachers who didn't like me, so I didn't ever do very well." (Interesting choice. You've already made it clear that your failure--in the ever-so-unlikely case that it would again occur--will be my fault. Way to step up, sweetie.) You tell me during class, "This is my second time taking this, and I just still don't understand why this class is important to my life." (Great way to start the term, bucko. Tell the instructor you are already disengaging.) You tell me after class, "I kind of screwed up last semester when I took this with Prof So-and-so, and I was just wondering, can I just use this book I still have even though it's completely different from the books you just told me we were using?" (Sure. In fact, just pretend that you're still in that other class--you know, the one you failed. We already know the ending.)

As much as I would love to admire your honesty, I was just wondering if you thought it might be better to, oh, I don't know...shut the fuck up. Are you unaware of what you are telling me? Do you really think that I'm going to side with you? When you tell me you had "bad teachers"--you think I fucking believe you??? Because I DON'T. In fact, this is what I hear: "Other people have found my skills quite lacking. I probably was really annoying in class, and I probably threw little hissy fits when my lazy-ass, sub-par work got Fs. I was unwilling to learn, engage, or put in the appropriate amount of effort. Now I'm here to torment you. Let the games begin!" Is that really how you want to begin the term? If you would just shut your mouth, take the class in stride like the rest of these people, and leave well enough alone, you would avoid saying really stupid shit, and I could spend at least the first few weeks of the term blissfully unaware of the future thorns in my side that are sitting doe-eyed in front of me.

Oh, and for the special breed of you, intent on pulling out your best Rainman--"I'm really an excellent writer; I'm an excellent writer"--I don't believe that shit either. If you were an excellent writer, you wouldn't have failed the course--you could have passed it in your sleep. You are really just telling me that you're an arrogant prick who thinks that he has nothing to learn (despite having been repeatedly told otherwise by those annoying "bad teachers"), and so you will probably fail again. Your utter inability to sense how I might interpret your words already tells me that you have no fucking clue. And if you think that you're going to set me up ("If I tell her I'm an excellent writer enough, she will feel too bad for me to give me anything but an A"), think again. I have no concern for your inflated ego, false sense of skill, and whatever else you picked up from god-knows-where. But don't think there's no hope! After all, your instructor for this course next fall could be the gullible sap you've always been hoping for! Fingers crossed!!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Penelope from Podunk College Finds that Cold Weather and Snowflakes Don't Mix.

Sammy Snowflake: Um….it’s supposed to be like 27 below tomorrow. Um…that means class is cancelled, right?

Me: I doubt it. Podunk College doesn’t typically cancel class due to the cold.

Sammy Snowflake: Um…well, like, I am going to totally get frostbite on my way to class. (it’s a five minute walk from the furthest points on campus)

Me: No, I don’t think you will.

Sammy Snowflake: Like, if I DO, can I sue the school?

Me: I don’t think you will.

Sammy Snowflake: Well, like what if I do?

Me: Sammy, you’re a grown up, right? Grown ups know how to dress appropriately for the weather.

Sammy Snowflake: Well, um, like I don’t have like a coat or anything. Heheheh.

Me: Well, then, you better dress in layers.

Fast forward to today in class:

Sammy bursts into class 10 minutes late, obviously fresh out of the shower, wearing a tshirt and lightweight hoodie.

Sammy Snowflake: Like my hair totally froze on the car ride over here! Hehehe. It is so freakin’ cold!

Friday, January 16, 2009

"The Regulars." Mid-Career Mike LiveBlogs From a Campus in Reamed Ass County.

8:02 AM: Efficient Ella from Human Resources picks me up at the Reamed Ass Inn for breakfast. She tells me there are three choices: Denny's, where I've already had coffee and toast at 6 am; McDonald's, which is on the way; or the college cafeteria. I stare at her for a second and pick Mickey D's. I can see the arches as I get into the car. Ella has a Michael Buble CD playing at arena volume.

8:06 AM: We're through the drive thru and headed to Reamed Ass College. Michael Buble starts into "Me and Mrs. Jones." I eat my #8 with orange juice and Ella sings along. It's about nine degrees outside, snow is falling, and Ella has her left tires on the dotted line of Reamed Ass's Main Street.

8:17 AM: Ella drops me in front of a dour building with directions to a labyrinthine staircase that will take me to the 3rd floor to meet with the search committee chair, Dr. Timmy. (Two weeks ago I had a very nice phone interview with Drs. Timmy, Tommy, and Sandi with an "i.")

8:28 AM: I'm sitting in a student desk outside Dr. Timmy's office when I see what looks like a middle school student in a suit approaching me. "You must be Mike," the tiny voice says. "I'm Dr. Timmy." (Oh, I've made up names for these folks, but Timmy is an effective corollary for his own.)

8:45 AM: Dr. Timmy and I are in a classroom when Drs. Tommy and Sandi with an "i" walk in. They look like kids you'd see on a new Disney channel show, or the road company of a regional theater performance of High School Musical.

9:30 AM: I've finished the get acquainted chat with the kids, now I get to teach a class.

9:40 AM: No students have arrived at this optional event, but Timmy, Tommy, and Sandi with an "i" are joined by Dr. Scotty, another middle schooler who is wearing Cons, jeans, a wool pullover with deer on it, and a rakish scarf around his neck. Scotty and Tommy give each other a low five.

10:20 AM: I've finished teaching a class to the search committee kids. I swear that Dr. Timmy's feet don't even reach the floor while he's sitting in his desk. They all seem happy with what I've done. They fill in some of their own strategies on my topic, and there seems to be no rush to go anywhere else.

10:45 AM: I finally say, "Do I have to meet the Dean?" Sandi with an "i" jumps up, checks her watch and motions for me to follow. I'm carrying a briefcase, a winter coat, and a hat, and I ask: "Are we going outside? Should I put this stuff on?" Sandi with an "i" says, "Well you can, but the Dean's office is just across the quad." She squints at me like I'm crazy, and we race down the stairs and out into the snow with Sandi with an "i" just wearing her big-girl skirt and blouse.

11:05 AM: I'm alone now, sitting outside the Dean Ezekiel's office. A skeleton of a man, clearly 900 years old, comes out, grins at me with about 21 teeth, and waves me in. His office smells like death and oatmeal. We sit and he spends the next 75 minutes telling me about the college, about his time as a boy in Reamed Ass County, a pony that he won a blue ribbon with at the Reamed Ass County fair in 1816 (okay, I made that date up), his wife Esther, the new cafeteria, the person who left the job I'm applying for (and his wife and his kids), a FedEx box that he's been waiting for with some lampshades in it, and how hard it was to get his bookshelves just the way he likes them. It's 94 degrees in the office and I'm sweating when he finally asks me what brings me to Reamed Ass College. I talk a bit about my desire to relocate to a small college and then the door opens. Dr. Timmy has come for me. "Thanks, boss," Timmy says to Dean Ezekiel, and out we go.

12:45 PM: Timmy takes me to the new cafeteria. We get submarine sandwiches and sit among a group of students who don't seem to know Timmy. He calls them all "Sport" and "Missy." One of the "Missys" looks perturbed, grabs her salad and moves two tables over. Timmy asks me some leftover questions from the morning and then tells me that Ella will come and fetch me from the cafeteria when she's done her own lunch. He polishes off his sandwich, extends his hand to me, and leaves me there.

1:30 PM: Ella walks me downstairs to the human resources where Rolf comes in and gives me an entirely inappropriate 45 minute introduction to the health plans and retirement benefits. These are detailed far beyond what I need at this point. It's a canned presentation for new faculty, people who've already signed up. I sit through it all quietly because Rolf never breathes. He stands over me in a tiny seminar room and peels forms and papers off of a stack for me to review. He smiles at the end, tells me Sandi with an "i" will come and get me in a moment. I wait 30 minutes.

2:50 PM: Sandi with an "i" breaks the news that because of the snow and the weather dinner is off. "You can have some nice room service," she says. "Our treat." She's leading me back outside while I wrestle with my hat and coat. Ella is outside the building waiting, her car running. Sandi with an "i" opens the door and lets me in. She holds the door open, shakes my hand and says, "Any other questions?" I can't think of any, so we shake again, she winks at Ella, and the door closes. Ella slides out of the parking lot headed back to the Reamed Ass Inn. Michael Buble is roaring now, "So call me, unpredictable, tell me I'm impractical, rainbows, I'm inclined to pursue." Snow is falling like we're in a globe, but Ella murders us through the narrow campus streets to the main drag. We are hugging the center line and she turns Buble down for a second. "Fun, huh? Did you learn what you needed about us?" And I nod.

4:15 PM: No room service. I'm at the Denny's having a patty melt. It's fucking great!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Year One Yakoff from Yakima. (This One's Got a Surprise Ending!)

I admit I'm in over my head. I'm in the middle of my first year on the tenure track. But I'm not a newbie. I have 4 years of teaching experience, three in grad school, and then 1 year as a VAP where I taught 3/3 at a private college.

But this past semester was my first time on my own, 4/4 load, my own syllabi, my own decisions, my own time management.

And I blew it. I especially blew it in my classes. I had 2 sections of the large survey course in my discipline. This was the course I was most looking forward to. But what happened was miserable. I built a "foolproof" syllabus, but then became the fool. I fell further and further behind the reading schedule. Finally, in the last 5 weeks, I had to just cut huge chunks of what we were to cover. I couldn't finish it any other way. I excused one major unit test, skipped 20 years of important developments, and sent my students into the second part of the survey sequence missing about 20% of what they need to know.

I know how to build a reading schedule, but what I could not do was cover all the essential material AND get finished in 15 weeks. I kept thinking all semester, "survey is stupid." I know that's not the answer.

I sat down over the holiday determined to rework the course - and my courses for THIS term - and I just can't seem to do it.

I really think some of this is the college's fault. They have to know that a new person is going to need guidance. But after wooing me through the job process, they more or less just let me run my own ship, and that's not turned out so well. I have seriously considered asking for more help, but that's the sort of thing that should have been offered. If my students aren't ready for the second part of the survey, I think the department needs to know that they could have helped avoid that unpleasantness by helping me more.

I'd like to hear what other new proffies think about their departments and how we're introduced to our job. I've made a mess of the Fall semester, and while I may be partially to blame, I blame my colleagues just as much for not better preparing me.

Pita the Part-Time Student Discovers The Real Damage of the Snowflake-Friendly Popular Instructor.

I've been taking a foreign language at the local community college for a couple of years. When I started, there was a new teacher who had only one class per semester, and a much older teacher who taught two or three classes. Somewhere around what would have been my fourth semester (I took some time off), the assignment of classes changed, and this new teacher has all but taken over the whole damn department. Why? She's upbeat and personable and young and fresh and, above all, popular.

She probably gets fabulous reviews from students. Why shouldn't she? She expects nothing of them. This a class that focuses on conversation, and she apologizes every time she has to explain a point of grammar. What are we - five years old and reluctant to eat our vegetables? She has to candy-coat everything for us? Most of us are adults taking the class for "personal educational development," which means we're highly motivated. We don't have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into learning grammar. If we didn't care about speaking this language *well* and only wanted to be able to get across simple ideas, we wouldn't have to take the class. We could just grunt and point.

What really torqued my tail was that I took her class for a letter grade; who knows, maybe some day I'll want to get into a class elsewhere and I'll need it. This instructor got it into her head that I was taking it as a credit-only course (despite evidence to the contrary from the registrar), but promised to correct my transcript. It took eight months of keeping after her and finally a complaint to the department head to get a grade entered. When she finally took care of it, she told me, "You got an A, of course. Everyone did."

Huh? Everyone got an A, including the people who were absent every other week? And the full time student who sat in the back, doing who-knows-what on his laptop for the entire class, and only managed to cough out a couple of words of the language when he was asked a direct question? He got an A, too? Gee, if I'd known that, I wouldn't have spent eight months trying to get this charming idiot to enter a grade for me. I didn't realize it was absolutely worthless.

But, hey, she's cute and energetic and the snowflakes adore her because she makes learning fun! I'm starting class again next week with a different adjunct.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

This Is Why We Never Let Our Names Appear in the Course Schedule. The Curious Case of Bucky and the Boot.

He’s back. Or at least he will be. The student who must have had the absolute worst semester in the history of higher education.

Let’s call him Bucky. Bucky enrolled in my class last semester and seemed like a good enough student. He asked questions (legitimate ones) and his first assignment was good (B material). Then, hell opened up on Bucky. His brother went into the Coast Guard, so he became responsible for caring for his brother's ailing mother-in-law (who happened to live twenty miles out town).

Then his bike was stolen. Then his boss at work doubled up his overtime. He missed turning several assignments during this time, and never made any effort to make them up. Then he came back to class for about a week and seemed to be getting back on track, turning in a topic proposal for the final paper and presentation. Then he disappeared again.

Two weeks later he told me he had been receiving threats from someone. And then a passenger in a car had thrown an old work boot at Bucky as he crossed a street near campus. He was now too scared to leave his dorm room. Even with his previous undocumented absences, I wanted to take his claims of threats seriously. Only I hadn’t heard anything about students being threatened in this way.

Thinking maybe I had missed something, I checked with campus police to see if Bucky had registered his complaints with them. They had heard nothing. I told Bucky that I would need to see the police report to excuse the absences and accept the assignments he’d missed. I never heard back from him, and with all his missed assignments, I failed him. Honestly, I was glad to not have to deal with him anymore.

But he’s back. Today I was checking my class rosters to see if I recognized any names, and there he was. He had registered for my class again. Now I don’t know how to react to him when I see him on the first day of class (if he shows up). Do I ignore him and hope that he is just a normal student this semester? Do I take him aside and let him know that I really don’t feel like dealing with his drama this semester? Ask him to take the class with a different professor?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mission Accomplished. WW from W Rings the Death Knell.

"...all eyes on me in the center of the ring, just like a circus."

Well, y'all said you wanted to do it, and you did. We used to have the crazzy times here, we really did. We used to howl at the moon, drive with the windows down. We used to call it little and we used to love it. But not anymore.

You done killed the site.

The desperation just pours off the screen. Your need to be liked, your need to be professional. You get your name linked on the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed pretty regular now, so you must be worth something, right?

Yep, you've killed it. And it was a shame, too, because you didn't have to.

I've watched the site almost from the start, and it's dismal what you've done. This place used to be a lot more real, a lot more fun, and a lot more wicked. But you've let the heathens in the door, letting needledicks like Outsider Otto tell us (from afar, mind you) what we should be doing. You've let these conference attendees have pages and pages of space to whine about their interviews, or the inhumanity of the interviewers, and it's all just a big clusterfuck. (I did enjoy the interview wrapup from some of the job seekers. Not because of the feel-good bullshit they all dripped, but because I just imagined the horror they'd feel when they actually got a job.)

I loved this site. I think a lot of longtime readers did. And now the place is all clean and well lighted (and heavily advertised!) and it's just another mainstream piece of bullshit. You know what it means if an idea has 75% of the faculty in favor of it? It's a colossal waste of time. If you let 5 academics run anything, it turns into the biggest fucking mess since the Bay of Pigs. (See, I read my history, too.)

I don't suppose you want to hear this because your darling new moderator, (Cricket isn't even a good made up name), seems to be steering the site right into the fucking sun, something that the past moderators (Compound Chlamydia, Compound Cankersore, etc.) had been doing for months.

You still toy with good ideas. That insane Katie was someone you could have strung along for months, printing her inane bullshit (she would have eventually sent pics of her cats, you know). And that new fella Archie has got some skillz, but as his posts have continued he's gotten more and more mainstream, more and more bootlicking, and pretty soon he'll be like that murderer's row of "regulars" you have, earnest, in need of affirmation, and dull as ditchwater.

My friends, you have killed it, a fresh fucking idea. It was better when it wasn't all so popular. I know you like the mail and the hits and the pageviews, and I'm sure those Nazis at Google probably reward you for increasing the ad units, but what are you doing this page for?

Are you needy? Are you shallow and pathetic and in need of someone telling you - "Hey, your little page is nice!"

If you're adults and still in need of that, then there's nothing I can say that can help you.

I'll keep checking in, just for old time's sake. Maybe you can get Weepy Wannabe Wayne to write an obituary. I'd do it. I'd fucking burn it up. But I'm too sorrowful to put in the time.

You done killed it. And I hate you for it.

Sunny Sarah from Salinas Is Clearly Someone We Made Up, An Apocraphyl Junior Faculty Member Who Likes Her Deadwood.

First, let me reveal my bias--RYS, you had me at "snowflake." The snideness and snark that I can rely on RYS to provide is a wonderful way to counter the occasional self-centeredness and overblown self-importance that is sometimes found in academic circles, as well as the sometimes surreal, well, "snowflakiness" of some students.

However, recently as I've been skimming through posts, I find my irritation and disbelief swells. I can hold it in no more. Gumdrop Unicorns, WHAT IS YOUR DEAL? I ask you as a fellow GU--I defended my dissertation this past May (In the softest of social sciences, but from a top notch program that often elicits squeals, or at the very least appreciative nods from other professionals.) and just finished my first semester of a great new tenure-track gig. I can certainly relate to the nervousness of job interviews, sizing departments up to assess "fit," ambitiously asserting your strengths and talents, as well as looking at senior faculty, wondering about why they've stayed at (any mid-size/state school/university beneath you) as well as when they'll leave so you too can have the comfiest of chairs/your pick of classes/the ability to scowl rather than smile at your co-workers regularly. What I don't get however is the apparent disdain for our well-established colleagues, and the arrogance and entitlement expressed so regularly by the GUs who can't even frame their doctoral degrees yet because the ink's still wet.

It's all well and good to have an ambitious agenda--you will be a fantastic teacher, a ground-breaking scholar, yadda yadda yadda. It's great that your parents' effusiveness have provided you such a, uhm, healthy sense of self-esteem. And, of course, we're the "future of the profession"--I'm sure if we could all put down our Blackberries and journals long enough and concentrate collectively, we can light the dark corners of our tiny offices everywhere with our bright, shiny futures.

Not to kill the egotistical buzz you've got going, but did it occur to you that the senior colleagues you are so swift to look down your noses at, disregard as unambitious/irrelevant/impotent (or that you even accuse of being jealous of your youthfully-enthusiastic-yet-wise-beyond-your-years presence) may have something to offer, and dare I say, have a thing or two to teach you? I wonder what we'll all look like 30 years from now listening to the Gumdrop Unicorns of the future tell us how much they know, how much better they can do our jobs, all the while not only entertaining, but changing the very being of the students we teach, and, dressing better to boot.

Maybe I'm just lucky. The senior faculty in my department are kind and supportive. They appreciate enthusiasm and innovation. They listen, offer suggestions and feedback, and ultimately step back and let me do my thing. Or maybe it's that I am respectful of their work, appreciative of their help, and know that most of them have worked their asses off and deserve to be where they are. Regardless, for now I'm glad they're there and find it easy to share a work environment with them without feeling resentful that they don't have to worry about every little comment on a teaching evaluation, that they can go to whatever conference they want, and that they pick the best course times, while my future is full of evening classes.

Instead, I am, well, feeling a feeling that rarely gets expressed by the GUs here--grateful. Not just grateful, but thrilled to be doing what I'm doing. Think about it fellow GUs, we get paid to study what we love, to share our knowledge and passion for our scholarship with others, and have a great deal of flexibility and freedom to do so. Maybe you haven't worked as a copy clerk/janitor/fast food service worker/corporate America drone, but quite frankly, work outside the Ivory Tower really sucks. Perhaps, identifying a little appreciation for the opportunities that present to you in your professional life, as well as for those who have been doing it since before you were born, may help you approach your job interviews/first years on the tenure track/networking at your professional conferences with a different perspective. And also, just maybe, you'll find those Silverbacks will be appreciative of you as well.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Day 2 for Archie at the AHA.

Day 2 and I am already fucked. Part of it is the weird schedule this year, where the conference started on Friday instead of Thursday. Part of it is the association party at which I am a habitual attendee. It normally features an open bar, but apparently New York prices have driven it to have a cash bar instead. What the fuck? How am I supposed to get the hair of dog that bit the fuck out of me on new year’s if I have to fork over... This is just not right. I want to get bent on someone else’s dime. So day 2 was slightly more eventful. I spent several hours in a hotel suite interviewing candidates, and I gave that paper I groused about yesterday.

Let’s start with the latter. I count it as a victory that there were more people in the audience than presenters on the panel ... barely. I also count it as a victory that I actually got a question from the audience. Bonus! But for the rest, it was an utter defeat.

Typical AHA panel. Junior person goes all out by giving a thoughtful presentation that meets the time constraints and actually gives a nice synthetic overview of the book project that is still in revisions. In between person (me) who sticks to the limit while trying out some new ideas on leftovers from a completed book project. Then the classic AHA session-killer: the super-senior person who shows up with no paper (no joke), asks the chair/moderator how long he is supposed to talk, and proceeds to eat up 40 minutes (also not a joke I am afraid) of everyone’s time before the moderator actually rips the microphone from his hands. Now that’s scholarship baby!!! A catastrophe of epic proportions that could have been avoided if senior person had taken a second to remember how much text actually works into 20 minutes of speech. This is not hard people! Two minutes per page of double spaced text: a rule of fucking thumb that actually works.

As for the interviews, I’d love to offer some serious smackdown in the spirit of my MLA attending colleagues. But in violation of all my previous experiences, only one candidate self-immolated. Having said that, it was an epic case of self-immolation. Allow me to digress.

Here’s a hint to the grad-flakes in the audience: the first question you will face in every AHA interview (and I mean every single fucking one) is some variation on the old standby, “tell us about your shitty fucking work and its relationship to the boring-ass field.” This is a softball. This is the easiest motherfucking question you can get. You should have a 45 second answer to this question in your back pocket. And when I say 45 second, I mean 45 fucking seconds and not a second more. Practice it in the mirror if you have to. Go to an acting coach if you must. But if you cannot state the importance of your work and its relationship to the field in 45 seconds or less, you are not getting the job. Sometimes candidates can get away with a 90 second answer if they have charm, but your goal should be 45 seconds. I mention this because today the self-immolating candidate took up the entire interview trying to answer this question. And I tried to stop him. My colleagues tried to interrupt. But he was having none of it. He spent 40 minutes trying to answer the question. And when we told him his time was up, he said “I guess what I’m trying to say is that my ideas are really complex.”

Here’s your hint for the day, Fuckstick: if your ideas are so complex that you are incapable of articulating them, you may wish to go back to the proverbial drawing board and start over. Jesus H Fucking Christ on a unicycle, I would like to blame the advisors for this debacle, but the candidate has to share the responsibility here. I could expand on this, but I may leave it for another post. As a secondary matter, I would advise all of you to have something better than “what’s your timetable?” when the committee asks you if you have any questions for their tired asses. Ask about team-teaching, ask about the students, ask any fucking question that shows you have even a moderate interest in the job. It is obviously cool to ask what the timetable is, but don’t let that be your only question. Other than that, the interviewees were all surprisingly competent. Some were pedestrian, to be sure, but no one else decided to flat-out pull down their pants and fuck the dog in front of the whole committee. I count that as a victory. Which is a sad fucking commentary on my life and the profession in general.


P.S. of course tomorrow is another day. And another group of interviewees. So stay tuned.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Archie at the AHA. Day One Report.

Can you smell that son? That’s the smell of fear. I love the smell of fear in the morning. It smells of ... the AHA.

OK, so technically it’s the afternoon, but that acrid stench of fear hits me as soon as I get to the other side of the revolving door. I wouldn’t say that I’d forgotten the smell of the AHA. More like I’d suppressed it in the six years since I last attended one. Man I hate the AHA. The desperate expressions on the faces of the job-seekers; the smug turd expressions on the faces of the fat, dusty white guys; the overdressed butt-suckers on the lookout for someone famous to accost; the hyper-competitive grad-flakes trying to humiliate each other with how many interviews they scored this year, even though they all know it means nothing unless they can close the deal at a campus interview; I hate it all. But hey, it’s a new year (at least that’s what I think my two-day hangover is telling me) so I should have a better attitude.

So just to prove that academics shouldn’t even be allowed to plan a cluster fuck, this year’s meeting features an "improved” registration system. If you pre-registered, you wait in line to use one of several laptop computers. You look up your name and press print. Then you go stand in line and wait for one of the graduate student volunteers to call your name and hand you your badge. How this constitutes an improvement over the cardboard box full of alphabetized envelopes is beyond me. In the twenty minutes I stood there, the system crashed twice, and the whole show ground to a screeching halt. Only an asshat academic could have been talked into paying someone for this. On a related note, they made the poor grad student workers wear these red AHA T-Shirts that make them look like they are trying out for Santa’s workshop. Just sad.

While I’m standing in line waiting for the tech support guy to fix the stupid registration computers, I overhear a couple of grad students here for their first job-market experience complaining about how much it costs to register for this shindig. On the one hand, they are right, the AHA ass-rapes members and non-members alike. On the other hand, were they really too fucking stupid to figure out that no one cares if they actually register? I’ve been to more AHAs than I care to remember, and this is only the second time I’ve ever registered. And let me tell you, if my department hadn’t paid both times, there was no way I was doing it. When I had no job I would crash on a friend’s couch, go to my interviews, and then go get bent at some cheap dive. No badge required for that, just a legal form of ID and a couple of Andrew Jacksons. The only area in the whole conference where they check your badge is at the book exhibit, and when I had no money for books I saw no reason to go there. The way I figured things, the library had the same books for free. Anyway, anybody without a job who forks over the registration fee for this thing is an idiot. Or a goodie-goodie, which so often amounts to the same thing. Did I mention I hate sanctimonious goodie-goodies? Which raises the inevitable question of how the fuck I wound up in a profession full of them? But that’s a story for another day.

So it’s day one, and I have nothing to do. Should I go to a panel? In my experience, most AHA panels are a mixed bag. Some junior person really goes all out to impress, while the senior people on the same panel just throw some bullshit together at the last minute and expect everyone to swallow it. Then there is the fact that the AHA program always features a good number of sponsored panels—the Catholic History Association sponsors something like six every year, for example. These papers and panels are automatic acceptances. They aren’t vetted by anyone. Some junior faculty schmo, who didn’t have the good sense to stare intently at the floor when they were looking for volunteers at some other conference, gets tasked with roping a few willing idiots into a panel. And did I mention that this year I am one of the willing idiots? In a moment of weakness for which I may never forgive myself, I allowed a total stranger to sweet-talk me into giving a paper. What was I thinking? OK, I know what I was thinking: I have piles of material left over from a recently completed book that I should be working into articles, provided I can find a fresh angle that doesn’t just needlessly repeat the arguments from the book. So foolishly I thought I could use this as an excuse to jump start the process. But what’s the point? No one will come, as they will all be either scurrying from interview to interview; sitting in a hotel suite conducting said interviews; watching porn on the hotel’s pay-per-view; or sitting in the bar getting hammered. I know that it ain’t the size of the audience that matters (or at least so I’m told), but I would still rather have more than five people in attendance. I mean if the point is to get some useful feedback to help me get my thoughts in order for an article, then I’ve really come to the wrong place. It doesn’t help that I am geographically and chronologically an outlier in the field that the panel addresses. I predict the other presenters will get all the questions and I will sit there like a dumb-ass until it the clock mercifully strikes ninety minutes.

But all that lies in the future. Right now it’s Friday night (ok, technically it’s late afternoon) and I’m heading for the bar. Maybe some other degenerate of my acquaintance will be there and I won’t have to suffer the silent shame of drinking alone in a room full of nerds. This also may mean the end of my blogging for today, if all goes according to plan.

OK, what the fuck? I can’t find a single friendly face in the hotel bar at the AH-fucking-A? Guess I will be drinking alone in a room full of nerds, at least for a while. This will give me time to scan the room and view the rich variety of academic wildlife. You can spot the job-seekers a mile away. They are the ones with the tense jaws and looks of grim determination. Occasionally they remember that they are supposed to look friendly, so they break out into these utterly fake smiles. Who knows what these people are really like in their daily lives. The AHA warps them beyond recognition, into paranoid schizophrenics with a mild homicidal streak. I read somewhere that something like 80% of academics are on some kind of mood stabilizing medication. Some of these kids should have doubled up on their dosage for this event. At any rate, I think that’s what I hate most about this conference: the way it leads people to behave in fucked up ways. In fact, if I don’t find a drinking buddy soon, I may have to go to a strip-club. It would be less demeaning, and the strippers are probably behaving more authentically than the people in this room. Man, now that’s a depressing thought. Then there are the aca-mullett sporting, grade A weirdos. They are congregating in a corner, drinking the house plonk, and laughing just a little too loud at some seriously lame jokes. Must be medievalists. There’s a couple of graybeards sitting at the corner of the bar opposite me. I have no idea who they are, but every younger person who passes by slows down and does that weird neck-craning thing trying to get a look at these guys’ nametags to see if they are someone whose ass could use a good licking. Yeah baby, just one more thing to hate about this conference.

Most of the conversations I am overhearing are about the number of searches that got cancelled because of the stock market crash. I have to say, I would not want to be a freshly-minted Ph.D. looking for a job this year. There are a lot of things I could say about the cutbacks, but I will just quote Marc Bousquet (if you don’t know him, check out his blog—how the university works), who wisely observed that “administrators love austerity” because it gives them the excuse they have long been looking for to cut back on the number of tt faculty and hire more adjuncts. For example, my spouse’s institution (I know, academic couples are more disgusting than week-old dog-puke) saw its endowment triple in the last sixteen years or so. They’ve recently lost a third of those gains so they’ve cancelled everything for this year and probably next as well. Their endowment is still more than double what it was in the 90s and they’re pleading poverty? Give me a fucking break. They still have plenty of money to hire new faculty. They just don’t want to, because they see this as an incremental step towards getting rid of the tenure-track altogether. It’s Total Quality Management baby. My institution has yet to freeze anything, but I won’t be surprised if the search I am on gets the axe before January is out. On that depressing note, I’m going to call it a blogging day. A couple of grad students from my department just walked in, and noblesse oblige dictates that they drink on my dime today. See, I do try to be kind to them in my own fucked up way, because that’s just the way I fucking roll.

Hasta la maƱana RYSers.

Archie out.

Otto the Outsider With a New Year's Plan For Those of Us Overwhelmed and Ornery.

I'm one of those outsiders who read RYS addictively because the posts make my jaw drop with astonishment (it's good to still be astonishable in one's fifties) and because they confirm that I made a good choice in not becoming an academic (I'd have reached my limit and killed a puling student or annoying colleague long ago). I'm sure a lot of your readers check out the blog so they can say, "What's wrong with kids these days?" and I do a lot of that myself. But sometimes all I can think is "What the hell is wrong with professors these days?"

At least once a week during grading season, it seems, one of your contributors describes being cornered by a desperate student who whines,"But I NEED an A in this course." And fairly regularly, throughout the semester, profs complain about students texting or answering calls during class.

Given the predictability of both scenarios, why don't professors start off the semester with a pre-emptive semi-smackdown that addresses these problems before they occur? What's wrong with saying something like:

"Before you sit down in my class, turn your cell phones off. No, don't put them on vibrate - turn them off. Because if you get a call and answer it in class or I see you texting when you're supposed to be listening, you'll be out the door and marked as absent, and that will affect your grade and your GPA and so on and so forth, so let's just not even go there. Cell phones off, no exceptions.

"Also, at the end of every semester [quarter], I can count on a certain number of students emailing me or showing up in my office to say, 'But professor, I NEED an A in this course.' So let me clue you all in right now:if you need an A, come to class and participate in the discussions, do the assignments, take the tests, and do an above-average job with all of these things. That's how you earn an above-average grade. That's right - I don't give you grades, you EARN them." (If you're of a certain age, you can put a little John Houseman spin on the word "earn" - won't mean a damn thing to your snowflakes, but it may provide a tiny moment of auto-amusement for those who remember the Smith-Barney commercials of yester-decade.)

Really, what's the deal here? Why are so many professors afraid to set ground rules regarding classroom deportment? Why are so many willing to explain in the syllabus that x percent of the grade will be based on papers and y percent will be based on tests, but unwilling to explain the whole giving vs. earning thing?

Even if you're afraid of not being liked, it's better to be a hardass on the very first day and *then* show them your friendly, good-guy side as the semester wears on. They might leave the class liking you. The alternative is trolling spinelessly for their affection from the start and then being dismissed as an asshole at the end of the class because they thought you were their pal and then it turns out you had this crazy policy about grading according to the quality of the work they do.

Grow a spine and save yourselves some tsuris.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Schenectady Skeptinautika Sexed Up San Fran In A Suit and a Smile.

It's taken a day and a half for me to process the results of the interviews. Some highlights:

  1. Damn, I look good in a suit. Sarah Palin's got nuthin' on me.

  2. Whether or not you need them, glasses always look good in an interview, particularly when accompanied by a smile. (Glasses = smart, smile = nonthreatening. Very good combination.)

  3. If you ask questions about resources for connecting with other female faculty on campus, and the institution likes you at all, they will bend over backwards to assure you that they are "sensitive, inclusive, and respectful of gender issues" at every possible opportunity. Gee, thanks -- you've now completely creeped me out.

  4. Interviewers can botch an interview even worse than interviewees can. (So yeah, space cadet ADHD dude in my last interview? I'm not impressed. Ask me a question that actually makes sense, if you're going to pull a Rainman for most of the interview.)

  5. The only way to properly finish a long day of interviews is with a pint of Guinness.

  6. Thank you notes? To *each* interviewer individually? Seriously, placement director? Do people actually do this?

  7. I had exactly 5 hours between my last interviews, and placement director's first mention of my job talk. No rest for the weary, eh?

  8. The interviews were fun. FUN! Yes, I was an overcaffeinated wreck before each of them. Yes, I chattered on like a hyperactive chihuahua for the first five minutes of each one. But once I relaxed, listened to the promptings of the interviewers, and started thinking of this as a unique opportunity to talk about my life's work, it was pretty stimulating. I have a whole lot of fun teaching onanistic thinking, and I like talking about it. It was a pleasant surprise that not only do other people like talking about it, but they like listening to me talk about it, too! (Either that, or they did a damn good job faking it.)

So yes, I will write thank you notes. I will prep my job talk. I will wait neurotically by the phone for my Favorite Beau to call. But even if no one calls me, I'm still pretty happy with the whole thing. It's not every day that you get to sit around with a bunch of really smart people whose entire purpose for conversing with you is to talk about the stuff you've been devoting your life to. So thanks for your time, interviewers. Thanks for not being assholes, and for taking me seriously. Even if you don't pick me, I owe you one.

Skeptinautika signing off.