Saturday, October 24, 2009

RYS. "Virtual Whiskey." Not Meaner, But Maybe More Drunk.

Annie, I appreciate your naive, eternal, sunshiny optimism. No, really, I do. You are an adorable little child stuck in a big, grumpy adult world. And that's no fun, is it? Given your delicate, childlike sensibility, I am not going to tell you to go fuck yourself. You're welcome.

What I am going to tell you is that you're letting your inexplicable need to see good in everything/one and your insane belief in your own inspirational power get all messed up in your view of reality. You sound like one of those Oprah crazies, who is all whacked out on "The Secret," and makes "vision boards" (aka, fourth-grade collages) in the hopes of bringing about her dreams and goals. I mean, that's your whole theory, right? If we stop exposing ourselves to reality--if we pretend it's different--maybe it will change! Well, grown-up world, we call that bullshit. Here's some reality for you.

Reality: Many (most) students don't WANT our help. If you haven't noticed, most of the rage here is directed at precisely those students. And if you go around believing that they do want your help, despite all evidence to the contrary, you are just making a fool of yourself.

Reality: "Smackdowns" and helping students are not mutually exclusive. You are presenting us with what we call a "false choice." Just because I bitch about a student who is being an idiot ingrate does not mean that I have not/will not repeatedly attempted to help said ingrate. And why are "smackdowns" counterproductive? If we actually gave students the smackdowns in person, it might be the most "helpful" thing anyone has ever done for them. Because they--like you--are in severe need of a wake-up call.

Reality: We teach college. College comes with expectations. Per the discussion last week, I am not, nor will I ever be, qualified to diagnose, treat, or teach those with learning disabilities. Not my job. Or yours, Annie dear. So you're absolutely right. I'm not going to teach the dyslexic how to read. I'm not going to come up with a way for the ADD kid to pay attention. Don't know how. Don't want to. Not for me. If he's in my class and has not already addressed his issues, motherfucker's gonna fail. This is college. Them's the ropes.

So, Annie, here's a question for you. Why don't we stop acting like it's our job to hold our students' hands? Why don't we stop acting like each one is a special snowflake? Why don't WE grow a spine, see reality for what it is, and feel free to put the smack down on those who aren't meeting the standards? In short, why don't we do our jobs (the "professionalism" you mention)? Last time I checked, a professor's job is to be an expert on the subject matter, to present information in as understandable a way as possible, and to hold students accountable for their skill with the material and their bullshit. Whaddya say, Annie? Let's do that, shall we?


There’s no desensitization going on. The people who read that question and respond that reading makes them more likely to “smackdown” or devalue their students are people who were going to do it anyway, people who were already burned out on this rollercoaster of a profession. And if you can’t take the heat, maybe you should leave.

I have always read RYS as a sounding board. People letting out their frustrations and exaggerating the faults of their students and colleagues, which I’ve always viewed as better option (or at least a more cathartic one) than yelling at a wall, or bringing weaponry to school. People like to blame their students because they are shitty teachers. And I understand that desire – most instructors in higher education these days were never themselves trained to teach. They were trained to research, and either teaching was something they realized they enjoyed during grad school or they couldn’t get a research job. Either way, they teach. But their lack of training doesn’t make that teaching any less shitty, and RYS definitely doesn’t do anything to make it worse – it’s just a snapshot of the shit. A shit-shot, if you will.

Now don’t get me wrong - there are the occasional problem students. But they are way less common than most of these contributors seem to think – I get maybe 1 or 2 per 100 students. If you think you get more than that, see the last paragraph.

So frankly, because of all of this, I’ve always used RYS as a way to make me feel WAAAY better about my own teaching. I mean, I haven’t won a teaching award or anything, but when I read how a lot of these people interact with students, it raises my opinion of myself many, many notches. I mean really – blaming disability students because you don’t know how to interact with them? That’s administration’s fault, and it’s probably their therapist’s fault, but it’s your goddamn job. So buck the fuck up and stop whining.


I am a reader and I returned to school (2000) after being away from college for 15 years. Graduated, worked a couple of years and now, I am a Graduate student with a GA position. Had quite the transition (could not find an apt. when I first moved, was basically homeless), which came after years of adversity to get to that point.

I add all of that to give you background and to say I know what it is to deal with stress and adversity. During my college years in 2000 I had major depression problems and I could have "stood in": for one of your "snowflakes" because of those problems. I didn't know the term then and I am glad. I was dealing with enough adversity without hearing that term applied to me.

I don't know if you should fold or not. I get a little perturbed at your hostile environment here but, like a car wreck along the side of the highway, I keep looking, errr, reading.

One thing I feel is when you (the posters of the messages, I mean) get all hot and bothered by the "snowflakes"- and complain, complain, complain! -you become a snowflake yourself.

No one ever solves a problem or deals with it effectively by throwing anger and venom around.

One thing I do like about your site is the focus on boundaries, rules and responsibility- for students and professors. More of that and less venom, maybe it'd be a nicer environment.


Hey, if you don't like RYS, don't read it. I like it, because I think it's funny and sometimes even insightful, so I'm going to continue to read it. Also: a major problem in higher education today is how we've allowed it to become so mushy, so insipid, and so spineless, with everyone "becoming such a fucking pussy," as was recently pointed out yet again. You want us to treat our students "with respect and honesty," you say? This suits me fine: we'll need to require the students to treat us with respect and honesty, too.


Oh my God, no! Your blog was the find of my year! I feel so much less isolated reading your posts and recognizing that so many others out there are struggling with the same feelings of frustration, isolation and despair over the entitlement of college students. Not much but your blog is funny in the economic crisis of the academy. I have nothing witty to say, just "keep up the good work" and watch your backs for all the crazy readers out there. Thank you for your blog.


Oh, look. Another soul-searching, hippie-dippie, navel-gazing Questionflake, wondering of RYS isn't comprised of crabbed old bastards who are killing the profession.

"Do you think that by sharing stories at this academic "water-cooler" that you are actually desensitizing yourself to the point where helping your students becomes less likely?"

If students ask me for help, I will do what I can to get them straightened out and pointed in the right direction. I will offer tutoring, send them to Academic Support and find them supplemental materials. However......they have to actually ask. In my experience, very few want to actually work to better themselves; they want a magic wand or get-out-of-class-with-a-good-grade-free card. I'm more desensitized by student self-absorption, ignorance and apathy than my colleagues bitching. If anything, RYS has helped me understand that I'm not the only one looking
out at a sea of blank, vapid faces and feeling as if I'm shoveling sand at the incoming tide.

Questionflake persists: "Do you think RYS has made you meaner and more likely to "smack down" a student rather than help?"

Face it -- if I make them read and do the work, and give them the grade they've earned -- rather than roll over and give them the gold star and the "A" they feel they've deserved "because they tried their very best" (even when THEY know that's bullshit), I'm going to be considered mean. Demanding anything of today's students besides that which gratifies their immediate wants and selfish desires is considered mean.

Questionflake whines: "Does the perception that there are a LOT of angry faculty give you license to be one, too? "

"Why is everyone always so crabby with the poor students? WAAAH!" Faculty is angry. Faculty ought to be angry. We're handed a metric ton of sow's ears each semester, and expected to make silk purses -- useful, productive and educated silk purses. Unfortunately, Administration, Helicopter Parents, overdeveloped senses of entitlement and self-esteem block the way. That's a
lot of pig shit to hose off those swine ears before we can get to work.

Questionflake continues: "Wouldn't it just be better if we reclaimed our professionalism and our profession by turning away from this website and treating our students with respect and honesty?"

Respect and honesty are a two-way street. I find that I start every semester with an open mind, ready to treat my undergrads as responsible young adults who are genuinely interested in bettering themselves...only to have those hopes crushed thoroughly by reality. Respect is earned; they have to give it to get it. I'm willing to let them earn that respect, but they have to work for it -- and they should damn well respect the knowledge I've learned in my subject field.

Respect? I schedule more office hours than my university requires, and more often than not spend them playing solitaire on my computer, because students don't show up even if they've begged and wept for an appointment.

Respect? I come to my core-course lecture early, have prepared notes, ask questions of my students to try and engage them in the material and make it interesting for them. They listen to their iPods, text, Facebook and otherwise jerk off during class. I might as well be a trained chicken, clucking at the podium.

Honesty? "My gramma died." "My printer died." "My roommate died." "My other grandma died." "My chakras were all blocked and I couldn't focus my aura on completing my assignments." "I know the Wikipedia cites are still in there but I don't really cheat!" Oh, and my absolute favorite: "Yeah, I cut and pasted from a .gov website, but my taxes paid for it, so it doesn't count as plagiarism!"

"Maybe all this venting isn't good for us?" Fuck right off with that bullshit. If I'm going to maintain my poker face and NOT bite a student's head off, I need a safe place to let my hair down and bitch to my brethren who face the same dragons each day.


I don't think that RYS has desensitized me, made me more prone to outbursts, or given me permission to dump on my students. On the contrary, I think that having a place to vent keeps me civil when I'm dealing with the occasional snowflake students that cross my path, and
the catharsis provided by knowing I'm not the only one having the problems I'm having keeps me slightly more sane. It also saves my husband untold hours of having to listen to me try to figure out if I'm the only one this weird stuff happens to. Teaching can be a lonely and thankless task, and I feel a lot less lonely and a lot better about my efforts after reading a couple of RYS posts.


You almost had me for a minute, but you screwed it up at the end:

"Wouldn't it just be better if we reclaimed our professionalism and our profession by turning away from this website and treating our students with respect and honesty?"

Do you actually read what we complain about here? Barring the occasional posts by Professor Pervert and Dr. Drinks-Too-Much, this website is a clarion call for a return to professionalism (in students and administration as well as professors) and a desperate plea for the ability to reclaim the profession (from helicopter parents, entitled snowflakes, and admins with misplaced priorities). And as for honesty... well, grade inflation and endless academic accommodations are practices that are neither honest about student performance or their likelihood of success in the real world.

You seem to confuse helping students with being a big, marshmallowy guidance counselor. Helping students means challenging them (intellectually, culturally, even ethically) and getting them ready to become honest, responsible, and (perhaps most importantly) critically-thinking members of our society. This often requires pushing students outside of their comfort zone. Sure, it hurts... at first. But you know what? It improves their thinking and strengthens their character. Pain is good. Pain works.

Students with disabilities (visible or otherwise) don't need less of this, they need more. They are starting at a disadvantage, and it is irresponsible, nay, morally contemptible for their caretakers to fail to teach them how to compensate for those disadvantages. I happen to know a paraprofessional with many years of experience in working with blind students. At a recent conference, after hearing numerous colleagues talk about clearing the halls for their young charges, she called bullshit on them. "I kick chairs, trash cans, and all kinds of things in the path of my students," she said, "because they need to be able to adapt and function successfully in the world." This is what disadvantaged students need, not a counseling session that convinces them that it's okay for them to give up at the first sign of trouble.

And what about respect, you ask? Fuck respect. What about the current crop of students are we supposed to respect? A lack of basic literacy? An "I'll do it later... if I feel like it" attitude? A sense of entitlement for merely having had the ability to exit their mother's womb? Fuck that, these kids are born in hospitals with super-advanced medical technology. The only kids I know who deserve that level of miraculous attention just for being born are the ones who enter the world in a filthy hovel without so much as a nurse practitioner to help things along. No, I say to hell with respect. Far more important than building a student's self-esteem is giving them a reason to have self-esteem in the first place.

We NEED to get mean, Annie. We need to stop wiping the snot from tearful student's noses and start kicking their sorry asses. We need to bite the bullet and fail every sorry son of a bitch who doesn't honestly make the grade- student evals and career prospects be damned! We need to teach these students the most important thing about life: You get strong, or you die.

It's not pleasant, but it needs to be done. That's what being an adult is all about.


Your earnestness makes me want to puke. Of course we're desensitizing ourselves. You know why? Because most of us are too damn sensitive already. You, you sweet little prof-flake, are Exhibit Numero Uno. Don't preach to me about respect and honesty--I love teaching and I like (almost) all of my students; I spend more time on them than on my own research and writing; and I take it pretty damn hard when they flake out on me or fail to give ME the respect and honesty that I'M reciprocally entitled to. My daily dose of bitterness and bile from RYS is medicinal. It reminds me that I'm not a horrible person just because I sometimes have horrible students. It takes enough of the edge off my idealism and unrealistic expectations to keep me sane. If you don't need this kind of therapy, then go back to your damn drum circle, smoke some more dope, and shut the fuck up.


Ranting about your spouse's shortcomings will not improve your mood or your marriage, even if s/he can't hear you. And ranting about your students won't make you a better teacher, or happier in your job. But, like so many other nonproductive activities, self-righteous indignation is hard to resist.

Used in moderation, RYS is fine. It helps you realize that you're not alone in your frustration, and that what you're feeling might even be normal. Sometimes it's even kind, encouraging or provocative. It's probably the most honest conversation about academia you'll ever find

Think of RYS as a kind of virtual whiskey. Don't hit it too often before class, and limit your intake. Share it with your friends if you think they might like a nip. Keep it away from the kids, and if you go a little overboard, go home and sleep it off before you try to operate any heavy machinery.


Really, Annie? Either you're clueless or in denial.

I find RYS helpful because it's refreshing to know that my students aren't (in some cases) complete mouthbreathers because of something I'm doing or not doing as a professor. By knowing I'm not alone, I can ease up, and maybe even treat my students with honesty and respect. Some of them may not deserve my respect, or anyone else's, but at least I can vent here so that they don't bear the brunt of my frustration when they send me the 10th idiotic e-mail in as many minutes asking me how to double space a document. I'd rather vent here (anonymously) than directly onto some poor, unsuspecting undergraduate who's never had to engage in critical thinking or shoulder real responsibilities.

RYS does, however, make me worry about this generation of students and what the future holds. We're screwed if things don't improve!