Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Boston's Bitchy Bear Passes Out a Final, And then Brings Us Various Heads to Enjoy.

I warned them the first day of class. I warned them at midterm. "The final requires some thinking, you'll want to take notes over my discussion," I said at various points in the semester, as I looked out at a sea of slack-jawed faces, eyes glazed as they gaze into their laptops, tapping away on FB / IM / WTFEver instead of paying attention. And before anybody gets all preachy-teachy student-centered yada-yada- yada on me, I usually lecture for 30 minutes out of a 3-hour class. The rest of the time is play-time, whee, where all their little creations are praised as the very products of genius. I know: thirty minutes of something being not about them is akin to waterboarding, but what can I say? I'm old school.

So there I am last night, handing out the final on the last day of class. I am shocked to see people in the room that I have not seen since about the second week of class. It is a take-home exam.

"Do you have any questions?" I ask.

Dead silence. They start talking to each other. "Can we go?" A guy in a baseball cap asks. I recognize baseball cap guy as the guy who has turned in the crappiest work I've ever seen. "Sure." I say, "You can go. But I'll stay and discuss the exam with anybody who has questions." Most start packing stuff. "Sure you don't have questions?" I say.

"Do you expect us to have read the books for these questions?"

Me: "Yes."

Another baseball cap guy: "Do you know if they still have the books in the bookstore?"

Sweet cracker sandwich, kid. I found a kitten on 9th Street I'm pretty sure is smarter than you. Why not just raise your little arm and say "Hey, proffie, flag my exam for extra scrutiny for plagiarism, 'mkay?" Do you attach a sticky on your 1040 EZ telling the IRS not to look too hard at your W-2 as your employer always prints them on Hello, Kitty paper like this?

Me, in response: "I have no idea. There may be some copies left."

A little more silence. They are glaring at me. Another kid says "Are you going to give us an outline?"

I'm dumbfounded. "An outline? What for?"

Ok, this is the kid who overparticipated and routinely talked with his mouth full of half-chewed food and who props his skateboard against the wall. He looks at me like I'm an idiot. "For the questions." He draws out the last word to help me understand how stupid I am being.

"No, I am not giving you an outline. I already know how to write essay." I say. "I encourage you to write your own outline, though. It might help you organize your essay."

The rest of them scatter. Whoopee. Class is over with an hour left to go watch TV or whatever it is they do when I am not ruining their lives with my irrelevancies. I take the bus home. By the time I get there, there are seven individual emails from the wee flakes. I'll only present the gems:
  1. A pronouncement from one of the (seemingly 100) athletes in the room that she needs to reschedule the final because she has a photo shoot and her agent has told her to be available.

  2. A long, detailed question from the kid who threw one of his homeworks on the floor in a snit because I wouldn't take it a week late. This email essentially asks me in email form to write an answer to questions #3 and #5.

  3. Two as-yet-undisclosed and undocumented learning disabilities, with long-drawn explanations about how they can't be expected to answer essay questions under such time constraints (they have two weeks). One suggests that I just use his average grade so far for his final score; another proffie has done this little thing for him and he's sure this is the easiest for both of us.

  4. A request that I allow students to decide how much the exam is worth, as that is what Proffie X does, and Proffie X is a real proffie while I am just an assistant proffie and so I should go with the policy that Proffie X uses since he is my manager, and she's good friends with Proffie X. (Proffie X is actually an adjunct, and a very nice man, but the department has no such policy; I guess he's a real proffie by virtue of his old-guy-ness.)

Now, since I don't actually care about teaching, I don't take any of this nonsense too terribly seriously. I'm in this gig because I want steady health insurance and to be able to practice my obsession into old age and not have to eat cat food. But honestly. For those of us who see teaching as a grand 'calling,' how do you stand it semester after semester? Do you keep flasks of Knob Creek in your backpack? Special brownies? Or have you just successfully shoved all the crappy first-year, required-class teaching onto your junior colleagues so that you can now sit back and lecture one and all about the joys of teaching (...honors and doctoral seminars)? Do you only care about the four or five students every semester who seem to have two brain cells to rub together? Or do you also possess a riding crop and ball gag?