Monday, November 30, 2009

Another Time When "Good Luck" Just Means "Go Fuck Yourself."

Hello, I'm sorry for missing so much class, but I've started a new job at night and I'm having issues juggling home life,work, and school (You mean you have normal adult responsibilities?).

It also doesn't help when I do not really understand math (or bother attending class).

Frankly I'm having troubles remembering formulas etc... and the processes it takes to get the answer! I'm not good with math, it's one of my worst subjects ever! (this where attending class might be useful).

By the way I never mentioned that I have a "learning disability" and understand information differently then others at times and are slower at understanding then others at times (again, how does this make you special?).

So needless to say I need a lot of help! I've tried to get help online and have not gotten anywhere with that, I've asked for help from my girlfriend who knows how to do it, but for me I just don't get it (well, sucks to be you).

Do you have any suggestions on ways to help me learn and be successful? (yes, attend the friggin class).

Have my absenses dropped me from the class yet? (now there's an idea).

I won't be in class tonight, but could you please gather all homework I've missed and anything else you think might assist me with my studies? ($&%*$ NO WAY. I'll put in as much effort in helping as you have put effort into the class so far...ZERO).

I do not want to fail the class, but I realize I will if I don't get help (.....and maybe attend class every once in a while too).

Please let me know what my status is? (Your "status"? This is a tough one. I guess I'd have to categorize your status as "a waste of space and breathable oxygen." If it is not clear to you now on what you need to do to pass the class, I don't think it ever will be. Fortunately for you, your McDonalds career will provide you with a register that will do all of your math for you. Good luck.)

Hank the Homo Nearly Breaks The Email Meter. Larry from Laconia Is First To Fire Up the RYS Spanking Machine.

I have taken a few candidates out to dinner for an opening in our department. I have never asked about a spouse, partner, significant other, or fuck buddy because I don't care. I don't care what you do on your time. I do care about what you do on my employer's time. All my questions and comments are directed toward what I care about.

The culture of my department appears reminiscent of the New York Yankees of the middle to late 1970s. Twenty-five guys getting into 25 cabs after the game. However, during the game, they are the best you will probably see; each contributing in their own way. At that dinner, I need to know how you perform on the field, not what you do off the field.

At dinner, I want to hear about your stream of research. I want to hear what you have been working on, what you are working on, and what you will be working on should you get a job here. I want to hear about assignments that did and did not work in the classroom. I want to hear your thoughts about why you think those assignments did or did not work.

What I don't want to hear about? Your tomato crop. Your cats. Your trip to a rustic cabin where you churned butter. I don't care.

I don't care if you are fucking the captain of the men's or women's basketball team. Unless, they are enrolled in your class at the time of said fucking. Then, I care. Short of that, I could care less whether you go home to John, who breaks you down like a gun every Saturday night, or to Jane, who is a former haute couture model. D.O.N.T. C.A.R.E.

When we are at dinner and you have figured out that I know you will never get the job done in my department, you need to mention something - anything - that you think makes you interesting. Some faculty throw out how much they travel. Others mention the fabulous section of town and/or utlra cool house they live in. You? Your only thing of quasi-interest is your sexuality.


Make sure you get the tiramisu here, Hank the Homo, because this dinner is the last meal you will eat in this town. And, no, you didn't blow my mind. You did, however, bore the crap out of me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Return of Topeka Tina, Our Fave Student Correspondent Ever. On Office Hours.

Do office hours really help raise student grades or are the students who use office hours simply more likely to study harder?


Actually, thinking about that makes my head hurt. But my purely ancedotal evidence suggests that it probably depends on the individual professor. I know this because I've had a lot of professors in my six years as an undergrad student.

My first ever office hours visit was to inquire about my grade. I didn't burst into tears, but my professor was kind enough to convince me that dropping out of school to become a long-haul truck driver was not in my best interest. (Two years later, it was an organic farming commune.)

I had another professor that I would go visit weekly (or so) in her damp, dimly lit bat cave. I liked her and she seemed to like me. We'd make small talk before going over (insert science-y type stuff here). The best part was that she would direct my attention to what topics would be heavily covered on the next test. I easily aced a class that many of my peers struggled in because I took the time to go visit her.

The last class that I felt compelled to go to office hours was also a science class. And I was struggling. I came prepared with specific questions and reference materials (my notes and the textbook, specifically). The professor, in all his wisdom, simply told me that I needed to "study harder." Then he rattled on about his sleep apnea and his wife's cancer before offering to drive me home. I politely declined, but I'm pretty sure that I could have slept with him for an A in the class.

I'm not certain what this all really means. Life's a crapshoot?

Listen, We're Just Back From Thanksgiving, And This is the First Email We Opened. Hank Teaches Us a Lesson.

Imagine that I, a nice white man, comes to your college for a job interview very soon. Imagine I do exceptionally well in the meetings, and everyone loves me.

Imagine that at dinner, the topic of spouses comes up. Everyone tells a little about their spouses and what they do.

Someone finally asks me about my wife and I say, yes, my wife is wonderful, a gifted and caring person. "She's an Ethiopian refugee," I might say.

Ooooh, the nods of assent and wonder from the typical gathering of academic heads. Yes, this nice young white man has an Ethiopian refugee wife. He's someone we want around us because we, too, are fantastic liberals, willing to see past color and ethnicity, no biases of any kind."

Imagine the crashing standstill that same dinner would come to if I said. "Yes, my wife's name is Kevin, and he's from Cleveland."

Did I just blow your mind? Do you see yourself now for the hypocrites you really are?

Sign me Hank the Homo, and make sure everyone learns the LESSON.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why do I Bother? AKA It's That Time of Year Again AKA Can I Quit Yet? Vic From Vegas Asks All The Big Questions.

The 'flakes had a holiday last week, and then another, unexpected one earlier this week when I had to cancel class. I figured that in the interim, they might actually get their drafts done and bring them in for my consideration and for their peers to edit.

Silly me. Stupid, silly, naive me.

Out of the 2/3 that bother to come anymore, only a handful had their drafts. The rest sat around for about an hour and socialized until I told them that their assignment was now late, but, since they didn't have their flash drives and were not inclined to print out papers anyway, they might as well leave and bring the blasted things on Monday. One came to me to confirm what I had just said. I pointed out to him that the draft due date should have come as no big surprise, as it has been on the syllabus since the beginning of this semester--August, to be precise. "Oh, I never look at the syllabus," he replied. Well, that explains a great deal, does it not?

Out they went, more than half an hour before class is officially over. I started messing around on the computer. Then a Huxleyan Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron entered the room and asked if this was Professor So-and-So's class. I explained that the other prof's class does not begin until 9:45 or so, and it was only 9:00. "Ohhhhhhhh," said the Moron, pointing at her empty head, "I'm not really here today."

This also explains a great deal.

I want answers to 3 questions: Why do I bother to show up at all? I could use up a lot more of my sick leave hours, which accumulate indefinitely, and still get paid. Why does this happen every semester when there only a few weeks remaining? And can I quit this mess yet and go into another line of work? Surely it's not too late. I am adjunct, after all, and not exactly beholden to this place.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dante From Durango Gets All Up In the Homework Thing And Puts the Blame Where it Belongs, On Stupid Fucking Parents.

Anyone with good critical reading skills (which, unfortunately, excludes Sherri and Tom Milley) can see what's really going on in this buzz about ending homework. A few choice quotes should suffice to illumine things for the less perceptive:

"Sherri and Tom Milley were exhausted by the weepy weeknight struggles over math problems and writing assignments with their three school-aged children. They were fed up with rushing home from soccer practice or speed skating only to stand over their kids tossing out answers so they could finish and get to bed."

"But after many long stressful nights of getting 18-year-old Jay through his high school homework, they weren't prepared to repeat history with Spencer, 11, and Brittany, 10. Being lawyers, she and her husband decided to make it official."

"For the Milleys, this means a school year that would make many homework-stricken parents envious: they are free to hang out as family without long division and English comprehension questions hanging over their heads."

"And there were plenty of frustrating nights, she said, when her kids were so tired, “we'd stand over them, saying, ‘write this, write that.' ” If that's what families are doing, she asked, “how do the teachers even know whose work they are marking?”

So who is this really about? That's right, dear readers, it's not about precious little snowflakes Spencer and Brittany, but self-centered Mommy and Daddy! Mommy and Daddy (who, in the course of their training as lawyers, have amassed more expertise in teaching than the trained professionals who instruct their children) think that soccer and speed skating are more important than drilling important facts and practicing freshly-acquired skills.

It would take far, far too long for these self-proclaimed experts to HELP their children with their homework (i.e., review the child's answers, then make them figure out where they went wrong), so why make little Brittany work through each step of her math homework when they could simply "toss out answers" and tell her to "write this, write that." In other words, these parents think their kids have too much homework largely because THEY'RE DOING ALL OF IT FOR THEM. I'd probably be overwhelmed myself if, after a full day of real work (not merely going to school, mind you), I had to sit down and do Algebra and Geography. But then, I'd do right by my children and teach them to solve things on their own; Daddy's not going to wipe their little butts for them their whole lives.

[I particularly savor the mother-lawyer's reasoning: "We help our children cheat by doing their homework for them, therefore the entire system is invalid." I can just imagine her arguments in court: "Your honor, since it is a known fact that guilty people have escaped punishment, the entire system is invalid. I demand that all charges against my client be dropped immediately."]

Naturally, THEY know what's best for their children- it would be foolish, if their children are having trouble finding time for their homework, to cut out their extracurriculars. No, no, it must be HOMEWORK that's to blame. I can only hope their children are struck down with some hideous disease- that'll show 'em:

"Well, Mr. and Mrs. Milley, I'd like to make a diagnosis and prescribe something, but I know that Mrs. Milley has spent 2 years 'collecting studies' from Web MD, so I'm certain that your dilettante-level of information easily trumps my years of medical training and experience. Just do whatever you think is best- maybe you can make a 'Differentiated Infection Plan' with the illness, so the symptoms only manifest when your children are at school- that way you won't have to actually take care of them when they're at home."

And for all the rest of you RYSers - you might think this is just a fluke, but this anti-homework thing is an entire movement, and they're perfectly willing to twist, manipulate and misrepresent the data (it's not surprising that the two parents mentioned in this article are lawyers) to achieve their goal.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Sometimes a Pipe Is Not A Pipe." Wicked Witchy From Wichita Writes, and We're Just Dank With Dew About It.

As an attractive, athletically built, meticulously dressed twenty-something, I feel both my (apparent) youth and my womanhood exposed whenever I step foot on campus. At this point, I don't even think twice before whipping out my faculty ID at the Registrar's for fear of being mistaken for a bubble-gum undergrad who thinks that she could submit a "Change of Grade" form without her professor's approval. I am no longer surprised when asked by an awkward 18-year-old on the first day of class whether it be my first time teaching since, evidently, six years of slaving away at Grungy College and seven years of grad school have not aged me at all, or given me the gravitas, fear, or just plain tact that my older, out-of-shape, color-blind, and shabbily-garbed male colleagues seem to inspire. Oh, and then there's the occasional flirtation, especially when this jock, the day after I had ripped him apart in an athletic report, finally realizes that his academic standing might affect his baseball scholarship and makes a feeble attempt at a joke, and we both smile and pretend that this might score him some extra credit.

Don't get me wrong; I don't mind the backhanded ego-stroking. I've read _Dorian Grey_ enough times to have a visceral reaction at any mention of old age or ugliness. But it's not really consistent. I would not be so resentful if all three of my hard-earned hot-chili peppers had not been not'ed and replaced with acute observations about how sadistic I was with my sharp red pen. I would much rather see a comment about the length of my skirt or the girth of my biceps or the flatness of my abs, because then I would know that at least someone is paying attention. Or at least include something kinky and, preferably, with a whip. I am thinking of patenting a new Pink line of dress pants with "Sexy Teach" written across the ass or mid-riff blouses with "I give As for chili peppers" across the rack. I also had the cunning plan of showing a tattoo saying "Get it here," but that might be a little unprofessional, and besides, the allusion would be totally lost on them.

I'm obviously not at all bitter about it. But this time it's not really about me--or, at least, I really, really, really hope it's not about me. I cannot help wondering if, despite my out-of-campus dirty mind and despite all that rubbish about flattery and long legs, and because of the age and the schooling and the slaving, I have become really conservative...?

When I read the first batch of papers this semester about the Chinese _Book of Songs_, I was speechless. No; I laughed, cried, and only then did I hit aphasia. I couldn't even write about it to RYS at the time, but made copies of the most piquant of those specimens in case I ever felt the urge. Tonight, another student paper, this time on Catullus--who actually does deserve an erotic beating, I mean, reading--finally broke the silence. This one was in reference to the wonderfully descriptive word "cocksmen" (all 300+ of whom were, post break-up, banging Lesbia back in Rome) in a raunchy Catullan invective against his beloved; this guy wrote, in a strike of pure analytical genius, that it "means something that is in the line of a man who is well endowed and is equally blessed with the sexual skills to accompany his impressive appendage." Who knew that the term needed a definition, let alone a whole paragraph.

Rousseau connected writing with onanism, "the dangerous supplement"; both involve the summoning of an absent image whose contours, now made present through memory, one can etch out. And drool over. And otherwise get wet. No, no; I didn't immediately think of this particular student's summoning my image as he carefully weighed those family jewels (though that would be flattering, and I was, after all, the reason for his reading about cocksmen in the first place), but somehow he nailed it with the "appendage." I mean, hit it right on the head. Ah forget it.

Once the ball got rolling, I couldn't stop imagining my students as creepy onanists thinking with the wrong part of their body because, really, that would be the only way to explain the crazy shit they manage to think up. "Many believe that modern associations with sex stem all the way back to ancient times," one young woman doth protest too much, and, without any manifest evidence of a (however underdeveloped) superego, I have no reason not to assume that her paper is, like myths were for the ancients in Freud's interpretation, key to her apparently unrepressed psyche. "There is proof in Poem 4 that sexuality was very 'out in the open' during Chou Dynasty. The narrator is a woman who speaks of a man lasciviously and explicitly talks about their sexual encounter out in the open. The line 'the dew makes wet as rain' symbolizes not only the place where the act is taking place, but the state of the sexual organs involved. The narrator also says that she met 'by chance' her lover, making it more than clear that she was having casual sex and enjoying it. The tone of the poem is both lustful and joyous, given the narrator seems pleased with her sexual encounter and ends the poem with the words 'mutual felicity'. Not shockingly both stanzas in the poem climax with a synonym for happiness, 'felicity' and 'joy'." Climax, right. Morning dew is obviously always a euphemism for semen; after all, doesn't it symbolize the ejaculation of a male sky-god all over an innocent female earth? Besides, it is, as my burgeoning Sinologist points out, spoken about "explicitly." But wait; there's more: it paints a wonderful picture of ancient Chinese Woodstock: "This gives the idea that women during Chou Dynasty enjoyed a large amount of freedom in terms of sex."

I'm no specialist here, and, as someone who has spent both her entire academic career studying Western classics, I feel immensely underprepared to teach this stuff (though that is a matter for another verbal outpouring altogether), but I am just not so sure that women during the Chou Dynasty were not only fucking strangers in a wet field all night long but also survived to write about it. Explicitly. Please, somebody, enlighten me! This woman claims that she got her shit online. Written by whom? An opium-eating-sex-crazed moron whose presentist cabin fever led him to (re)imagine the exotic Oriental woman as a downright whore?!

Still, maybe I am the close-minded idiot. Maybe I don't know history. Maybe, after years of interpreting texts and reading queer theory, I am still too normative and just too plain dumb to see that a pipe is sometimes not just a pipe. Maybe my other student, a very quiet young man of Chinese origin might know better. (And yes, I know all about "native informants," and I am too smart to assume any prior knowledge among my students, though also too naive not to expect them to care enough about the material to study it carefully on the off-chance that it might make them learn something about their own culture.) "Throughout the entire poem, the poem stays consistent with happiness because of the speaker's spontaneous encounter with a man. It can be assumed that the speaker is female based on the imagery used to depict eroticism. The setting is in the middle of the night." So far so good, I guess. I even forget that both of my classes thought "to court" meant "to have intercourse with." Everything is about sex, right? But why am I so bothered (baffled? hysterical?) when I read that "[t]he [female] speaker uses a metaphor to express the woman's vagina: 'Mid the bind-grass on the plain / that the dew makes wet as rain"; or, that " [e]rotically thinking, it is easy to imagine the plain as a woman's vagina. Bind-grass is a type of flower, and flowers are a sign for women. The speaker became happy when she met a keen men by chance. The 'wild grass dank with dew' can be metaphorically represented as wet pubic hair, hinting that the speaker and the man engaged in intercourse throughout the whole night." Poem 7, of the same pornographic _Book of Songs_, traditionally said to have been edited by horny old dude Confucius, is read in a similar light with yearning represented by the girl's gift--a red flute--which, obviously, represents an "erect penis," because the Chou Dynasty was so incredibly (un)repressed that every single word they uttered must have been a euphemism. Or, perhaps, it was Arthur Waley, translator and renowned Sinologist, who was so incredibly (un)repressed? Fuck. I am now really tempted to read his influential translation of the _Monkey_ (also Journey to the West), since, having reread my students' comments and reevaluated my theoretical blindness, I am sure this book must be a pretty saucy tale of bestiality; in fact, I might have to spank one myself when I finally get my hands on it.

And this is the crazy shit I think up while grading my students' work. Erotically thinking, thank god I don't have to write a paper about it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Paul from Providence on Student Athletes and Cheating.

Forgive me if I tread a bit lightly on this subject, but I've had a bit of a history with yesterday's question, and that history ended up hurting some good people.

I was a second year English instructor at Football U when three senior football players registered and showed up for the first week of my freshman composition class. They sat in the back, were polite, and then disappeared. At the time the departmental policy was for instructor-initiated drops after students had missed 3 consecutive weeks of any course. When I didn't see the players again, I dropped them all.

Two weeks later a drop/add form (adding all three back into my section) came to me through the Dean's office, signed by someone I would later find out was the athletic department's liaison. I called my chair who turned me over to the liaison herself and I asked what was up. Shortly after our abbreviated phone call, she arrived in my office. She was pretty, well-spoken, but quite adamant that the students be let back in. "I can assure you," she said, "the boys are all doing their work. You know, of course, that they can't attend class like other students, right? They travel, they work out; they have responsibilities our other students couldn't possible handle." When I tried to interrupt, she said, "I can assure you that it's all above board. I supervise the tutors in our athletic department, and perhaps someone's been remiss about keeping you in the loop." She shook my hand pleasantly and by about the time I'd sat down my phone was ringing.

It was the Dean. He said, "I hope Miss BLANK has been to see you...ummmm...goood. Yes, then I'm sure she's explained everything. Mr. Frankie, or should I say Dr. Frankie, there is nothing to worry about. All of our athletes - especially the poor football guys in the fall! - are just run ragged. Miss BLANK and I have talked about things and she tells me that something fell through the cracks. Although the boys haven't been in class, I know that they've got their work and you'll have it soon. I hope you'll understand."

And I didn't. But the work did show up the next morning, 6 essays, two for each student, all at a reasonably competent level.

I was 27 years old, okay? I was a little intimidated in my first job. I was also, I have to admit, quite the football fan. Our team at the time was one of the absolute powerhouses in the country, Sports Illustrated covers, national network coverage of most games. And I liked that. I liked that someone in my class was mopping up quarterbacks on Saturday afternoons. I told everyone I knew about it.

My chair came by one day in October and closed the door. "Have you been getting material from the players in your class?"

"Yes," I said.

"Can I see some of it?"

I pulled a folder out of my cabinet and gave him the stack.

"I need these for the afternoon; would that be a problem?"

I shook my head dumbly and then sat down.

The chair didn't come back that afternoon. I didn't see him until the next day, and he simply came into my office, handed me the papers, and said, "Sorry to have taken these. I don't know what I was doing. Just forget it."

The semester ended, the football players showed up in my classroom on the last day - on their way to a New Year's Day bowl game - and turned in their final papers. They all smiled at me and shook my hands. The students in class were buzzing. And then they were gone.

In mid January, just before the spring semester started, the chair called me up at home, an unusual situation. He said, "I'm saying goodbye," he said. "I've got a nice opportunity to take a fellowship elsewhere." It was a short call, and I didn't understand why it was made until the spring classes started.

My next door neighbor, a senior colleague, someone who'd been at Football U for more than 20 years, came into my office amidst the normal early semester flurry and shut the door. "Hell of a thing," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"About [the chair]."

"What happened?" I asked.

And my colleague told the tale. The chair, who'd become convinced that the athletic department had been sanctioning wide spread cheating in a variety of departments without any interference by administration, had gathered evidence of the cheating, a series of identical papers that had been turned in for multiple years by multiple players within the English department.

When the chair went to the Dean's office, he got shuttled around a bit until he was in the VPAA's office with the vice president, the athletic department liaison, and Football U's coach. It was an unpleasant meeting, according to my colleague - whose allegiance I still couldn't guess. "They gave him the bum's rush," my colleague said. "He realized that they had a lot more ammunition for this kind of battle than just a few photocopies of some English 101 essays."

"They ran him off?"

"He found his own way off campus," my colleague said. "But they were willing to help him."

My colleague got to the door and then turned back. With a big smile he said, "Hey, did you see the boys beat the hell out of BLANK in the BLANK Bowl? Fucking 'eh!"

The next fall I faced the same situation. Four students, all kind to me, all professional. They appeared and then disappeared. When the three weeks had passed I sent in the drop/add slip. A week later the liaison was in my office. "I don't get it," she said. "I thought I'd explained the tremendous pressures our boys face."

When she left I turned another drop slip in and I waited.

Sometime in November I was walking across campus and my next door colleague saw me and waved me over to a bench where he was sitting.

"What's your deal?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I've got your students, you know. They just transferred them to my class. What good do you think you're doing dropping them. I thought you understood it. [The chair] is not the first one they've run off, and he won't be the last. They're going to find a class for them somewhere, you know? If not yours, then mine, or someone else's."

I turned on my heel and went back to my office. I kept my head down for another year and then found a teaching gig at a decidedly un-football school in the northeast.

A year after that the former chair (with the aid of a half dozen faculty in different departments across the campus) took their grievances to local and regional media. Football U responded initially with a "sour grapes" defense, but then when it failed to gain traction, fired the liaison, a junior member of the athletic department, an assistant coach, and threw 9 current players off the football squad.

That was enough for Football U and Football town. The press died out and the story went away.

Every weekend in the fall I still watch football. I had an NFL game on a couple of weeks ago. There on the field was a familiar name and face, one of the first three football players I had in my class that day all those years ago. He's an All Pro. They interviewed him coming out of the tunnel for the second half. He smiled at the camera, said hi to his babies at home, and on the second play of the second half, he careened through the offensive line and dropped the quarterback to the turf like a rag doll.

Note: We want to note that, with Paul's assistance, some pertinent details of his story were anonymized.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Your GradFlakes Hate You. TA Trixie From Tulsa Opens a Can of Whup'Ass.

You may have tenure. You may control whether we can join your wonderful PhD club. But your grad flakes know who you're diddling, which of your collegues hate you, and that you only have two sport coats, both of which smell like cigarettes and fish. Please to enjoy.


Dr. Smirkington: Every time you speak, whether in class, asking a question at a job talk, or during office hours, you’ve got this weird smirk that implies you’re smarter than who ever you’re talking to. You’re a actually a pretty nice person and the things you say aren’t mean, but one person giving a job talk almost had a breakdown after you asked a question, and all the grad students avoid your seminars because you treat everyone like morons. You don’t have any advisees because all the grad students think you’re a jerk.

Prof. Smackdown: You’re the biggest name in your field, and everyone in the department fears your wrath and lusts after your letters of recommendation. But all you talk about in class is how much better your book is than the one we’re reading, or the time you had lunch with the author, or how hard things were back when you were in grad school and how much better all of us young ingrates have it now. Your advisees look shell-shocked all the time, and often weep quietly in their offices after a meeting with you.

Dr. McSexist: You have packed seminars and a devoted clique of advisees who beat down any criticism of you when the grad students talk about you behind your back. You always get stuck with the required graduate intro seminar because the rest of the faculty hate you and how you treat women faculty--unfortunately, it’s the same as you treat the women grad students. You assigned only one book by a female scholar, and then spent the entire class mocking it and feminism. You also asked the two Japanese-American grad students about Chinese, Korean and Thai history and politics all semester--even though neither of them study China, Korea, Thailand, or even Japan. Your advisees are rabid, devoted, and just as racist and sexist as you.

Prof. Buddy: Also known as “Call-me-Buddy-we’re-really-just-peers.” We’re close to peers because you’re untenured and you’ll probably only be in the department as long as most of the grad students. You only have one advisee because most of us have been smart enough to listen to the rumors saying that you won’t get tenure and will be out of here before most of us defend. Your grades on research papers and seminars mean less because you come into class late and tell us about how hung over you are--and then ask the class out for beer on Tuesday nights. How'd you even get out of grad school, let alone graduate college?

Dr. Secrets: None of the grad students know what to think of you. You don’t return emails, you have office hours in the middle of the night, you make no comments during seminar and you never have a TA. The faculty has never seen you at a conference, no one has ever seen an article or book by you, and yet you have tenure. Sometimes we wonder if you actually work here, or if you’re just some random person the department hasn’t caught on to yet. You have a couple of advisees who don’t know what you think of them, and only hear through rumors from other grad students where you’ll be or if you’ve read their work.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sarcasm Is Wasted On the Stupid. A New RYS Playlet. "Charlie Must Be So Stoned!"

Cheating Charlie: What? I didn't cheat! What are you talking about?!?!!

Me: So it's a co-incidence that you wrote down the exact same 10 wrong (at best) to nonsensical answers as the girl in front of you?

Cheating Charlie: I studied so hard.

Me: This test was a gimmie - I even gave you a review sheet. If you studied for 10 minutes, you should have aced it, or at least known what some of the words meant.

Cheating Charlie: I did - I swear - you can even call my mom [attempts to hand me a phone].

Me: [jaw dropped - long pause] Ok, then why don't you tell me right now what your answer to question 1 was.

Cheating Charlie: [bats eyes - like a cow covered in flies]

Me: It's literally impossible for you to both have come up with these answers, and since she spelled the words correctly, I think she was just guessing and you were looking over her shoulder unable to make out the right letters.

Cheating Charlie: [bats eyes, which are now starting to mist]

Me: So at this point, the Dean has it and it's out of my hands.

Cheating Charlie: OK, yeah I did copy, but you don't understand. I studied so hard and I just wanted to do really well on your test.

Me: If you'd studied at all, let alone "so hard", you'd know she didn't study at all and you wouldn't have bothered to copy this crap.

Cheating Charlie: So I get an F for the term?

Me: That's the school policy. I announced it while you were taking the exam. You looked right at me when I said it, which should have been the sign that it was time to take your test from you right then and there, but I thought maybe you'd rethink it and do the right thing. So don't pretend you don't know what's going to happen to you.

Cheating Charlie: But what about the three strikes thing?

Me: [batting eyes - furring brow]

Cheating Charlie: The three strikes thing. This is my third time, so I'll get expelled if you turn me in.

Me: Your THIRD time!!??!!!

Cheating Charlie: Yeah, so you can't turn it in or they'll kick me out.

Me: Well, God knows I wouldn't want a three time cheat to have to suffer the negative consequences of his actions.

Cheating Charlie: [relieved] Oh, Good! That's a load off my mind.

More Mail We Do Not Send. Dewey From Dirtland Can't Pull The Trigger.

I received the following email from a student who wants to enroll in my class, which is already full. Since he is a senior, he could've enrolled over two weeks earlier. There are a couple of sophomores who were able to get into the class. Instead, he procrastinated and there are no more seats left in science courses that will fulfill the requirement that he needs.

Professor [Dewey],
My name is Theo A. I am a senior philosophy major here at the University of [Dirtland] and wanted to contact you in regard to your physics course this upcoming spring. I have yet to do a science course and had waited for this course to come along this spring after noticing it in a catalogue. Due to some advising complications, general busyness and poor memory I somehow haven't gotten around to registering for my classes until now. I would like very much to take this course and this is my last semester to do so, and so I was wondering if I might be at least put on some sort of waiting list. I apologize as I imagine you are as busy as every other faculty member and student on campus, but I appreciate any response or consideration you can give to this matter.
Thank you,

I wanted to reply:

Dear Theo,
Thanks for being honest about why you didn't get into my class. I won't be adding you to a waiting list because there is no way that I'm going to let you into the class, even if a spot opens up. Apparently, you haven't figured out that professors don't want students who are lazy and forgetfull in their classes. However, we do appreciate it when you identify yourself in advance so that we can avoid you.
Dr. Dewey

There is no way this guy is going to get into my class, but my actual reply was:

I'll add you to the waiting list.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chelsea from Chelmsford Withstands a Frontal Assault By Some Pissy Flakes Who Just Don't LIKE Doing Homework Until They Know the Answers.

I’m teaching the weed-out course for the accounting majors and require all of the students to do the reading and demonstrate that they've done it and have developed an understanding by obliging them to turn the homework in BEFORE class. I have also had a steady yet endless small stream of complaints about this requirement. The students, having been exposed to some seriously inadequate teaching in the past, feel that the course would be easier if they could have the lecture and go over the problems and THEN do the homework.

They're right. It would be easier. For all of us.

I, for example, could pretend that I was actually teaching them something. I could also pretend that the majority of students were actually doing the work.

They could pretend that they were learning something, and they could pretend that they were learning things with a minimum expenditure of personal resources.

Of course, this would all fall completely apart once the exam came around and it was demonstrated forcibly to me AND them that they, in fact, knew absolutely nothing and possessed no demonstrable skills related to the course material. Because that's how it happens…You may learn philosophy by hearing about it and thinking about it. You don't learn accounting by hearing about it and thinking about it. The only way to actually learn accounting is by doing it. And the best learning comes when you screw something up and then have to go figure out what you did wrong, and what you were supposed to do instead.

They don't like the screwing up part. They really don't like having to sort themselves out once they screw up. They don't like reading and then practicing. They complain that they're having to teach themselves the material. Duh. Like I can open their skulls and drop the knowledge in?

One of them actually hit me up before class to launch a debate and negotiation over this whole approach. I can't understand for the life of my why it was this woman, since she's got a 96 average in the class...and should realize that the approach is WORKING for her. At the barest minimum, it's certainly not harming her.

She opens the negotiations by explaining that she and Other Student think it's too hard to have to try the problems before class, and they would like it better if they got the lecture and then did the homework.

I told her I understood that they'd be more comfortable with a different approach, but that this is the one that means they will actually learn the material.

"Oh, I understand about the research and all," she said. "I just want to know if we can't have it the other way."

Uh. What? You’re telling me you understand that this approach is scientifically proven to deliver a better result for YOU but you want some cheap imitation that means you won't learn crap?

"I can't imagine why you would say such a thing" I finally got out.

"Well, have you TRIED teaching it the other way?" she said.

Uh. ONE of us in this picture has extensive formal training on delivering material at the college level, a Ph.D., an international reputation for quality teaching, AND ten years of experience. The other person in this picture is evidently a jackass, despite the A in the coursework.

"I don't need to TRY it the other way," I said. "The other way does. not. work."

"Why do people do it then?" she said.

"Because they haven't been trained to do teach properly. Because this way takes more time and energy from the teacher. Because they don't want to put up with a bunch of complaints from students. Because they're concerned primarily with popularity. Lots of reasons." I said.

She stared at me.

"So," she said. "There's no chance of getting that changed."

There are five weeks left in the term, and she's angling after a comprehensive change in the delivery and content of the course? Wait. I don't care HOW many weeks there are left in the term, this is NOT appropriate.

"No." I said. "You do not have a vote, this is my decision. Look," I said "Your kids pester you to let them eat cotton candy and M&Ms for dinner, you can make them very happy and get them off your back by saying 'yes' to this request. Only, as a parent, you know that cotton candy and M&Ms do not give growing children what they have to feed them things like broccoli and chicken, stuff they don't necessarily want, and sure don't want as much as they want cotton candy. But you make that call because. you. know. better. about. what. they. need. than. they. do. THIS IS THE SAME THING."

Where in the hell did these people get the idea that the classroom and the pedagogical method is some kind of democracy? Where in the hell did they get the idea that they'll learn accounting better if I drop the standards and start spoon-feeding them? Where in the name of god did they get the idea that it's a good idea to 1) complain about this publicly or 2) approach me to try to negotiate a change? What PLANET are they on?

Actually, I expect they're on Planet Bad Parenting. And Planet Get A Gold Star For Breathing. I don't care in the least about self-esteem. This is accounting…You can either do it or you can't, and if you can't, it doesn't MATTER how good you "feeeeeeel" about yourself. If you're incompetent, you're screwed.

I'd say that I can't wait until the end of the term, but I'm going to have nearly all of these same students next term as well.

San Fran Syd Goes Old School.

Finklestein - You royally fucked yourself on the midterm but you swear you've done all the reading and never missed class. My TAs say you never speak and you've sure as shit never shown up to my office. This leaves two options. You're either a liar or a goddamned idiot who doesn't know he's in over his head - which is hard for an intro course.

Nancy - You're the only one in here with a laptop. By the expression on your face (and on the students directly behind you), you're probably checking Facebook or downloading porn. Why did you bother coming in, again?

Lucy - If your phone goes off one more time, the rest of the class is going to mob you. I will not stop them. Even if you do have Darth Vader's Imperial March set as your ringtone.

Pelham - I only know you through email exchanges, but I loathe you. Your self-righteous, condescending and pedantic explanations of why you deserve more points only makes us want to fail you all the more. Fortunately, you're doing an admirable job all on your own. Keep it up.

Sarah - Your doe-eyed expressions of adoration will not get you a better grade, but they do make standing up here more interesting. At least someone's making eye contact. Keep it up.

Jim - I get it. You're a student athlete. You need special accomodations. Wait... You want to take exams and quizzes early? And you've given me a schedule of your absences at the beginning of the term? And you actively participate in class discussion and make every effort to get the work you'll miss completed before you leave... I like you. Keep it up.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Return of the Academic Haiku. And Don't Give Us Any Shit About It. ** Does Anyone Read Titles? **

You know, people always give us shit about this, but we KNOW that almost none of these is an actual haiku. But if you know your RYS history at all - or consult the as yet unwritten RYSFAQ - you'd know that academic haiku are "short, enigmatic free verse about academic matters, occasionally referencing seasons, nature, and margaritas." And somebody sent one.

A Professor's Lament

Many students who just didn't care
'bout the difference 'tween “there,” “their,” and “they're”
with papers innumerable
and grammar inscrutable
led me to drink and pull out my hair.

** Update **

Even though we floated this out there on a weekend, we still got a number of nice emails letting us know that the above piece was not just NOT a real haiku, that it was actually a LIMERICK, another form entirely, not free verse, not even very enigmatic, and thus, an incorrectness of such monumental proportion that we should be - wait, let's get the quote straight - "sticking that bonsai tree up our asses."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Colleen from Colchester. On All of Us Moving Our Own Damn Rocks.

This Fall, we enrolled one of our sons in a ski academy in Vermont, a school known for its excellent academics. (We are not rich. In fact, we are still trying to figure out if we can actually afford the tuition and other expenses without me taking another part-time job.) I attended a meeting for all of the new parents during New Student Orientation. The headmaster's talk was titled "How Parents Can Best Support Their Sons and Daughters." When he began his presentation, I thought he was going to talk about how we needed to make sure that our kids had all of the right ski gear and equipment. I got out my pen, poised to create another "to-buy" list. But, it didn't go that way. On a PowerPoint slide was a photo of a boulder near the parking lot. The headmaster said that the big rock represented our kids' struggles. Our tendency as parents was to try to move the rock on behalf of our sons or daughters. After all, we were older, stronger, had more resources, and could probably move the rock a lot faster than our kids could. Most of the people in the room thought of themselves as highly capable problem-solvers. We hated to see our kids not succeed. And so we'd do whatever we could to help them with their challenges.

But, he said, our real job was to hold our sons and daughters accountable for moving the rock themselves. For they were truly capable. And if we kept moving the rock on their behalf, they would never feel a sense of competence. They would not learn that they could tackle challenges on their own. That would be terrible, as they would reach adulthood not knowing how capable they really were.

The headmaster's presentation changed my idea about parenting. I began to let my son "move the rock" while resisting my inclination to smooth his way -- even when it has meant watching him struggle to work through his frustrations to do something difficult on his own. I know it's exactly the right thing to do, and I wish I had heard this message years ago, perhaps when he was five instead of fifteen. It would have helped both of us..

And, had I heard that message years ago, it would have helped with my teaching. For a long time, I thought that it was my responsibility -- in some form or fashion -- to "move the rock" for my students whenever they were not performing well in class. If they were challenged to complete assignments on time, or if they didn't perform well on assignments, I, like most of my colleagues, would cut them slack and give extensions or permit rewrites. If their motivation was insufficient, I worked even harder to make my classes more interesting. I'd go to the teaching workshops. I agreed to follow Student Services' advice to redesign assignments so that literally everyone enrolled in my classes -- qualified or not -- could succeed. Mid-semester, I would inevitably feel like I was doing ten times more work than they were. In fact, I was doing considerably more work than the students were.

Soon after the headmaster's talk, I attended a presentation at my college about how to get students to take more responsibility for their own learning. The most important thing I heard that day was a piece of research about prominent characteristics of the "Millennial Generation." It revealed that most students today actively avoid frustration. They are so inclined to avoid frustration that instead of tackling a challenge they will hand in something "interesting," rather than follow an assignment. They'll blame their instructors for difficulties, instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. Some will lie, cheat, steal (plagiarize) to avoid the frustration they might come up against when facing facing a difficult academic challenge. Unfortunately, we've made it easy for this generation of college students to avoid frustration. Everyone -- parents, school administers, teachers -- have been smoothing their paths since they were little. Often, they are handed "success" in exchange for minimal effort.

Immediately upon hearing this, I gained a conviction that my students need to learn how to work through their frustrations, and to do the work that is expected of them. Because if we allow students to persist in the "avoid frustration" mode, they will only continue to avoid hard work, and will continue to look for the easy way out. They will continue to shift blame towards us.

So, I began to give more "C's," "D's" and "F's." I stopped accepting excuses for late or incomplete work. I began putting the words "This is not acceptable" on papers and worksheets. This semester, if a student does not follow the directions on an assignment, I don't look for the pony in the pile of shit. I write "You did not do the assignment" and mark the assignment with an "F." I no longer rearrange my schedule to accommodate students' lack of preparation. If a student tells me that they can't get things done on time because of personal difficulties, I ask them get a note from Counseling Services before we talk about the opportunity to do any make-up work. Same thing goes with chronic health excuses. "Not feeling well" is not a sufficient reason not to do the work.

From Day One I've felt 100% better. My students sometimes do the doped-up jaw-drop when they see their grades. I still get sighs and "ughs," and the occasional look of disgust. But it means nothing. Nothing. For I no longer move their rocks on their behalf. No longer will I solve the problems the students themselves have created, or change my course assignments to make sure that everyone enrolled in the course -- qualified or not -- can earn a "C." The message I am consistently sending is that students must do the work at a satisfactory level if they wish to succeed in my class.

This would seem to be how it simply should be, right? I can sympathize completely with Community College Colin who does not give "F's" in fear of losing his job, and who goes out of his way for poorly performing students so that he doesn't get slammed on his course evaluations. For such a long time -- too long a time -- I was exactly the same way. I needed the f'ing job. I broke my back for my students, staying up all hours to prepare for my courses and doing endless rounds of grading, while being paid a pittance. Like Community College Colin, I was an invisible cog in the machine. The only way my teaching was ever evaluated was through the machine-processed course evaluations. I elevated grades to make students happy, and felt sick about doing it. I, like Community College Colin, had a persistent sense of being involved in fraud.

But, I'm almost finished with this particular chapter in my life. I have reached my tolerance limit. I'm among the those who no longer want to be in academics at all, and I have one foot out the door. I have initiated an exit strategy, and even with a bad economy and another huge tuition bill for my son's school coming due, I'm going to stay the course.

Maybe it's no coincidence that the moment I decided I was going to leave was the moment I decided that my students were going to have to do their work and move their own rocks. Like it or not. Bad course evaluations or good course evaluations. Whatever. Friends, I was slow to see the light. But, I finally, finally got things sorted out. And now I know that things will be different. Maybe not for everyone. But at least for me. At least for me.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm too smart for this class: A Tragicomedy in Three Acts. From TA Trixie From Tulsa.

Act One

Scene: [TA Trixie hands back student papers at the end of section; begins to wipe blackboard; reminds self to fill coffee cup with bourbon instead of coffee for next class.]

[Normal students exit stage left.]

Hateful Harold: TA Trixie, I have a question about the B+ you gave me on the paper.

TA Trixie: Sure Harold, no problem.

HH: You said here that I had to cite where I got [incredibly obscure factoid of doubtful veracity on British military culture of the 18th century].

TT: That's right Harold, in a history class you have to prove that the things you say are true are, in fact, true. Especially when they don't come out of the text book and have little to no relevance to your paper.

HH: But TA Trixie, I don't have a source.

TT: Well, where'd you learn it from? Have a favorite museum or book you could say it's probably from?

HH [scornfully]: I just know [obscure factoids of doubtful veracity]. I've always known [factoids].

[Students from the next class begin to file in. TA Trixie begins to exit stage left.]

TT: That's fine, Harold, but you're not a source, and you need to cite something. We should let these other people get on with class.

[Hateful Harold pursues TA Trixie down the hallway]

HH: But TA Trixie, you also wrote on page three of my well crafted and finely argued paper that I had some logical flaws.

[TA Trixie tries not to actually run away; wonders if officemates have found hidden flask yet].

TT: Wow, you really read every single thing I wrote on your paper in about two seconds flat, but I can explain it to you better if you come to my office hours. Or, if those don't work, you can email me, and we can work something else, but I've got to get to [another increadibly painful section of the same course].

HH: But TA Trixie, what did you mean when you said I didn't explain why I found [incredibly unreliable source] believable?

TT: Well, Harold, you need to explain why you believe that source.

HH: But it's believable.

TT: Why is it believable?

HH: Because I believe it.

TT: Oh look, we've walked all the way to the next section. I'll see you in office hours, Harold.

[TA Trixie, exit stage left. Hateful Harold, exit stage right].

Act Two

Scene: [Nice Nancy, a TA in the same class and fellow sufferer, begins to wipe down the blackboard at the end of section; thinks about puppies and daffodils and other nice things].

[Normal students exit stage left].

Hateful Harold: Nice Nancy, I have some questions about a paper.

Nice Nancy: Sure Harold, how can I help? Do you want to talk about a draft of next week's paper?

HH: No, I want to talk about the paper I got back last week.

NN: That's the paper that TA Trixie graded, right? You know that the TA who teaches the rotation you write the paper for is the one who grades it, right?

HH: Yeah, but TA Trixie doesn't understand the argument I made, because I'm too smart for this class. I talked to my adviser, Professor McSexist, and he agrees with me.

NN: I'm sorry to hear that, but you'll have to talk to TA Trixie or Prof. Smackdown about your grade.

HH: But Prof. Smackdown just doesn't understand me. I went to talk to her about this at the beginning of the term, and I told her that I had done research on [very small time period not actually covered in this class].

NN: Oh, when was this? Did you work as someone's research assisstant?

HH: No, I did a presentation for my kindergarten class [actual quote].

NN: . . . I have to get to my next class. See you on Friday, Harold.

[Nice Nancy, exit stage left].

Act Three

Scene: [TA Trixie enters the dreaded section; sets down books; arranges notes. Normal students chat quietly to one another until TA Trixie clears throat and begins section]

[Except for Hateful Harold, who keeps talking to obviously annoyed neighbor as if TA Trixie is not there].

TA Trixie: Harold, we're having class, and you're welcome to join us. Now, who can identify the argument being made by [boring dead white man in textbook].

[Hateful Harold glares hatefully, but is otherwise silent]

[TA Trixie holds forth; educates; enlightens; improves moral character of attentive students].

Ned Normal: TA Trixie, can you explain [difficult point about 19th century economics]?

TT: Sure Ned, it works like [Marxist interpretation], and also [relevent connection to current economic crisis].

HH: [whispers something loud but indistinct to annoyed neighbor while TA Trixie is still speaking]

TT: Harold, do you have something you'd like to contribute to discussion?

HH: That's not how it works.

TT: Excuse me?

HH [raises voice]: You're not telling it right, that's not how history works.

TT: Well, Harold, that is how it works. Let's all look on page four million six of the textbook, which you all read for today, which shows in a nice flowchart that this is in fact how it works. Do you have a source in the textbook you think says otherwise?

HH [interrupting TA Trixie, to annoyed neighbor]: She doesn't know what she's talking about.

TT: Harold, I teach college students, not kindergartners. If you're going to act like a child, you can go have a time out in the hallway like a child until you're ready to come back and talk with the big kids.

HH: Prof. Smackdown wouldn't let you do that.

TT: No? Go ask her yourself. She's in her office right now. Meanwhile, we have some history to learn. Class, what is [other dead white guy in textbook] arguing, and how does it challenge [other dead white guy]?

[Hateful Harold, exit stage left as huffily as possible while normal students continue with class].

Scene: [Prof Smackdown's office; Prof Smackdown reads reviews of own book by lesser scholars; congratulates self on awesomeness; pities lesser scholars; congratulates self on awesomeness].

[Hateful Harold enters without knocking]

Hateful Harold: Prof Smackdown, TA Trixie just kicked me out of section.

Prof. Smackdown: Why don't you try that again?

HH: What?

PS: Go out, knock on the door, and wait to be let in like a normal person.

[Hateful Harold sits down across from Prof Smackdown].

HH: I don't think you heard me. TA Trixie just kicked me out of class.

PS: What happened?

HH: She was telling the class wrong about the chapter, and--

PS: And what was your response? [Pulls down copy of the course textbook; congratulates self on writing awesome textbook for the course.]

HH: She was getting all the history wrong, she wasn't telling it the way it happened.

PS [hands textbook to Hateful Harold]: Did you point out parts of the reading with your different interpretation?

HH: Well no, the chapter's all wrong too--

PS: So what did she do?

HH: She told me to get out of class because I disagreed with her! She's so mean, and she doesn't understand my papers, and she graded them wrong and gave me a B+ --

PS: Yes, I heard

HH: She doesn't understand my arguments because it's too complex for her, and I'm just too smart for this class--

PS: Yes, you've said. What, exactly, are you basing this on?

HH: I've just always known [obscure factoids of doubtful veracity]. The placement test for the course was wrong, I put all the right answers in and it told me I had to take the class anyway. I think I should be able to pass out of the class, because TA Trixie is persecuting me for being smarter than her.

PS: Get out.

HH: I know, can you believe that?

PS: No, I meant get out of my office. And don't go back to section until you can have a reasonable discussion based on facts.

HH: I'll tell Professor McSexist about this!

PS: Unfortunately, Dr. McSexist isn't teaching this class and can't do a damn thing about it. Now get out of my office.

[Hateful Harold, exit stage right].

"Holy Shit! Has This Guy Really Been Taking Attendance Every Fucking Class?" When a Light Breaks in a Snowflake's Mind.

Mr. Depressed Adjunct;

Hello, my name is Steve Snowflake, and I have missed 4 of your classes, due to being ill. I do not have a doctors note, but I have been keeping up with the class assignments.

However I only recently discovered the 6 absent limit on the syllabus. May you check your attendance sheets to see if I have gone over the limit?

Thank you for your help.

Steve Snowflake


Dear Steve,

First of all, the fact that you only just "discovered the 6 absent limit" (a rather generous limit, in a class that only meets 26 times during the semester) on the syllabus is, in itself, rather instructive. It suggests that you did not once look over that syllabus during the first eight weeks of the semester. It also tells me that you were apparently texting or Tweeting or scratching your balls or otherwise preoccupied during the first class meeting, when I explained my attendance policies in excruciating detail.

More importantly, though, a check of my attendance file (all nicely laid out in an Excel worksheet) tells me that you have attended (not missed; attended) a total of 4 out of the 17 class meetings held so far this semester. Thus, you have already missed more than twice the allowable number of classes, and we're barely half-way through the term. At first glance, it seems rather puzzling that you would write to me wondering whether you had managed to somehow inadvertently sneak over the allowed number of absences.

Of course, a closer check of the attendance roster reveals the reason for your email. You attended the first 3 classes of the semester, and then missed the next 6 consecutive weeks of class. Then, for some reason known only to yourself, you decided to grace us with you presence again on Tuesday of this week. During that class, I took attendance as usual, and only then must it have dawned on you: "Holy shit! Has this guy really been taking attendance every single fucking class? Was he serious about the whole "compulsory attendance" thing? Does he know that I've missed the last 12 classes in a row?"

Hence your extremely cute exploratory email about your alleged illness, and your innocent inquiry about how many classes you might have missed.

Well, you've got your answer now, bucko. Too many. F for you.

Depressed Adjunct.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fulton from Foxborough Tells A Precious Tale of Daughter & Daddy. Either the System Works You Or ... Well, You Know the Rest.

So over here, job-hunting season for our seniors peaked a few weeks ago. Just in time for my first midterm. I teach a class with mostly seniors and the course is quite directly related to many of the jobs they’re trying to land. I would have thought that would have been sufficient to engage them. Of course, I’m utterly full of shit.

One of my snowflakes told me she was having trouble studying for the midterm because she’s been so busy prepping for interviews. I ignored the obvious point that there was a lot of overlap between the two and referred her to the syllabus. I put on the first page of the syllabus (and note quite explicitly on the first day of class – yes, she attended) that I don’t give make-up exams and I’ll put the weight on the final if they miss a midterm. This has saved many grandparents’ lives. I figured that was in fairly understandable English. Yes, I’m still utterly full of shit.

So a few days before the exam, my snowflake’s father emails me with a lovely tale of woe. His offspring has been working so hard getting ready for her interviews that she’s managed to get sick. It appears she’s rather prone to contracting mono. I did restrain myself from speculating as to how that could happen. I might have gotten in a little trouble if I had suggested she get off her back or knees once in a while. Not only did Daddy Dearest suggest I give a makeup, but he was kind enough to suggest I give it to her during my other section of the course. It was pretty interesting that he knew my teaching schedule. He either spent a fair amount of time rummaging through my university’s web site or Daughter Dearest was doing a wonderful job dictating. I told him the same thing I told the daughter.

So she blew off the exam. OK. As it turns out, she had an interview an hour before my exam. Despite her terrible illness, she managed to attend the interview (I knew that because I knew the interviewer – a former student of mine). The student wrote to express sorrow at being unable to make the exam. I wrote back to express delight at her being sufficiently recovered to go to an interview on campus a mere hour before the exam. The irony of that seemed to elude her. Something tells me she won’t have a lot of fun on the final.

I’m pretty glad Evan Williams by the jug is inexpensive.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Blimey. The Grinch of Guildford Sends Along a Nearly Incomprehensible List of Euphemisms - UK Style!

There’s a really tight knit community here.
We're mostly white.

The culture of the University is informal.
Our lecturers look like they get their clothes out of a bin.

Intellectual Freedom, Social justice, Diversity, Spirituality, and Creativity underpin everything we do.
Most of our students are doing Media Studies or Sociology degrees.

Intellectual freedom and its appropriate expression are at the heart of our business.
We get to decide what is appropriate.

We delight in diversity.
We're mostly white.

The wellbeing of individuals is important, as are their opinions and views.
As along as we like them.

Our mission is to provide professional development of the individual and for the economic and cultural of our community.
Lots of local kids are forced to do Business Studies degrees here by their parents.

We have a Queen's Award for Enterprise.
We are really good at conning foreign students.

We have a large number of student societies.
We have a large number of glorified drinking clubs and terrorist sympathisers.

Our students don’t conform to the usual stereotypes.
Our students are poor and couldn't get in anywhere else.

We are committed to equality in all aspects of participation.
We're mostly white.

Our mission includes a concern for the environment.
We're a bunch of screaming eco-nutters.

The University is committed to social justice, equal opportunities and community involvement.
Our students are poor and couldn't get in anywhere else.

Our degree courses are both vocational and intellectually stimulating.
We have a high drop out rate.

We are one of the largest universities in the country.
We'll take anyone.

We are committed to the advancement of society through the pursuit of excellence in research, education and knowledge exchange, and through creative engagement with partner organisations at local, national and international levels.
We're a bit mediocre.

Our mission is to contribute to the development and quality of life of our city, nation and the international community.
Come here and eat kebabs.

Our host city is very affordable.
Our host city is a run-down hellhole full of people who want to mug you.

Most of our students are local.
Most of our students can't afford to go anywhere else.

You can get a taste of dozens of different cultures.
We depend on foreign students for most of our money.

Our student union is there to help you have a good time when you're not studying.
The beer's cheap.

We are a proud multicultural institution.
Our students hate each other.

Over 90% of our students are in work within six months.
Most of them work in Starbucks.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dr. Mindbender Goes to the Granola House For Help.

The recent “Teach Your Teachers Well” article was close to the mark, but it doesn’t go far enough. We need to have a Soviet-style purge of the nation’s Education Departments and bring in profs who care about the mechanics of teaching. As evidence, I offer up some long-repressed memories about an ill-advised foray I once took into the Granola House (a.k.a. the Education Department, as it’s full of nuts and flakes) at my grad school, Grandiose Mental State U.

I was working on a project but couldn’t find any published research about my topic (a longitudinal study of left-handed Petroleum Engineering profs and the grades they assign to redheaded students), so I started thinking about alternative sources of information. Suddenly, the answer came to me. “Wait a minute… The project I’m working on is an education project…there’s the education building…horse’s mouth, here I come!” So, I ambled across campus, found the Ed Building, and started wandering the halls, looking for open doors and knowledge about how grading works.

The first open door I found contained a friendly, thirty-ish, bearded fellow, and he invited me into his little sanctum. I sat down, said that I was working on a literature review, and the prof immediately stopped me. “Oh, here’s a book that will help you,” he said, as he shuffled through a bookshelf and passed me a Moron’s Guide to Literature Reviews. Um….no. I don’t need that kind of help. I’ve written many a lit review. I need subject matter help. Do you know of any research regarding left-handed engineering profs’ grading tendencies? No? Okay…do you know of anyone in your department who might have a research interest in how teachers grade student work? No? Do you know of any longitudinal studies…. Oh. You don’t know what that word means. Um… Have you ever heard of any research on grading? At all? Not the slightest clue? Okay…I’ll just ask around, then. Thanks.

So I wandered on.

The next open door contained a super-nice, thirty-ish woman. She, too, invited me into her office, and we sat down for a chat. The prof seemed intrigued that someone from another discipline had actually come looking for help, but when I explained my project and asked if she’d heard of any research on lefty Petroleum Engineering profs and redheaded students or anything even vaguely like that, or on grading at all, her face fell. She just plain looked lost. Grades? Like, wow, man…she’d never seen or even heard of any research about how teachers assign grades. And a study over time? Wow...that’s like, mindblowing. Okay, then…that’s cool… I’ll keep looking around. Thanks for your time.

Again, I wandered on.

The next three open doors formed a cluster, and when I stuck my head into one, all three offices’ wooden-jewelry-wearing, peasant-skirt-clad inhabitants swarmed out to feast upon the blood of the lost traveler. “Hi, do any of you know anything about left-handed profs’ tendencies to give grades…” I couldn’t even finish before the shrieking started. “Grades? Grades?!? Nooooooobody gives grades anymore! Authentic assessment is what you ought to be looking at! Authentic assessment! Authentic assessment!” The trio squawked and flapped away about how wonderful authentic assessment is, how bad grades are, what I should really be doing with my project (that did not have nor could even conceivably have anything whatsoever do with authentic assessment), and so on, while I sat, socially trapped and dying inside. I tried to act polite — I really did — but ten minutes and three barely-stifled shrieking fits later, I fled.

I’m sure that smart, reasonable people who know about what actually goes on in a classroom do exist in Education Departments…but I sure didn’t find them. And if nobody in an Ed Department can tell me anything about one of an educator’s most common actions —assigning grades —then something’s gone seriously wrong.

Ruby from Richmond Rhapsodizes on the Dream Schedule.

What’s your dream teaching schedule?

The class meets one night a week. I'm an adjunct, but I'm paid something that makes it worth giving up my free evening--say, at least $8000 per section. In fact, I teach two sections of the same class, one right after the other, so I can double my income with very little effort, giving the same presentation twice in a row without having to leave the room.

The class is a lecture course. I don't have to jump-start inane discussions or worry about the social climate in the room; I just have to talk, and they have to listen.

And they enjoy listening. I'm talking about something important and relevant--say, vaccines--and they realize, listening to my presentation, that they've never really understood the topic until tonight. When I make a joke, they laugh, and when I tell them something grave, they look concerned. I change their lives, and thus the lives of others, and their faces tell me so.

No one sleeps in class. No one dares take out an iPod or a laptop, not out of fear, but out of basic respect and decency.

It takes me some time and some care to piece together my lectures, but once I've solidified them, I can use them over and over again (with slight updating) each new semester. Easy money.

There are no exams. There are no quizzes. There is no homework. Or, rather, there can be all of those things--but there are no grades. Everyone comes because the topic fascinates them, and even though I guess it'd have to be pass/fail, the latter is something that just doesn't happen.

If there's any work do be done outside the lectures, I have TAs, and they get paid nicely, too. They think of interesting supplemental material for my lectures, present it to the students, and don't involve me. All I do is show up, give my wonderful lecture, and leave. The Registrar's Office deals with attendance and add/drop issues before they even reach me. The technology in my lecture hall is mind-blowing.

Some students have questions for me after the lecture, and I'm glad to answer them. The questions are insightful and show that they've been paying attention and wrestling with the material. Someone brought brownies. They're delicious.

I can park next to the building for free.

Bothered Belinda From Boonton On When and When Not To Vibrate.

Let me lay it out for you. I have to do this methodically or you wouldn't believe me.

Gradflake Sharon is probably around 40. Our first class, her cell phone rings, loudly. She turns it off. Wait...let me back track. It rings, and this is a pretty accurate estimate, about 10 times before she digs it out of her bag, looks at the screen intently reading who it that is calling her, and then turns it off. Or so we thought.

After the class break, it goes off again. Same routine. We now discover that if it rings long enough, and the caller decides to leave a voicemail, the phone proceeds to another, different, Hawaiian ringtone designed to indicate a message waiting. We giggle a little, nervously, tense, wondering whether the professor will say something, but he doesn’t. Some look uncomfortably at their hands, some stare at the board, some (me) stare directly at her, and she does it again – dig out of bag, silence, place back in mysterious realm of bag.

This happens again the second class. Twice.

Some of us have decided to complain about her to our spouses and family members. Poor them.

By the time it happens again in the third class, we are now complaining about it amongst ourselves when Sharon’s not around.

Sharon has a habit of talking without being asked, and when she does, she pauses dramatically as if she has something ground shattering to say, takes her glasses off, places them on the table, and proceeds us to drape us with the pearls of her wisdom. She is annoying as shit.

Every class now starts with all of us tense. I am tense. All I can think about is her goddam phone, because it rings EVERY class, AT LEAST twice. This bitch does not seem to have a clue. This is grad school. We are disoriented by the fact that apparently, there IS a student type that still needs a spelled-out, policy-ridden, pointed syllabus to tell them that there are no cell phones allowed in class, particularly ones that have a volume level capability of a LOUD AS FUCK. Not loud, not level 8…Loud. As. Fuck.

Finally Dr Bewildered-by-completely-retarded-gradflake says, “Sharon, will you please turn that thing OFF?” But he says it quietly, and Sharon has the social observation ability of half a teaspoon of gravel, so I guess she didn’t see his real and obvious anger.

I knew that it would go off in the next class.

Next class, I whisper in what I take to be a congenial tone, “hey Sharon, did you remember to turn your cell off?”

“I turned it on silent,” she says wryly, as if she is in on some great joke with me. Oh, that silly ol’ phone, always goin’ off at the wrong moment. Bitch.

FellowStudent Paul says it too, in a friendly but meaningful way: “Hey Sharon, turning that phone off today?”

“Oh yes,” she say, “turned it on vibrate…just couldn’t bring myself to leave it in the car.” LOL ROTFL o ur so funy.

An hour and a half later, that familiar tone sounds again. Her unmistakable ringtone. The best part? As our stimulating class conversation comes to an abrupt halt, she looks at poor Sally next to her, as if it were HER phone. Sharon, you’re the only ass in this class who doesn’t know how to use your fucking cell phone, as made clear but the repeated “power up” and “power down” sounds you make during class every fucking day (oh yeah, did I mention she does that too? Power the fuck down and keep it that way).

Paul: “That ain’t no vibrate.”

Some laughs (oh, we are so weak).

Dr Bewildered, it is clear (to the rest of us) is incensed. He can’t even find his train of thought to restart the discussion. And Gradflake fucking Sharon looks around for a moment before finally digging her phone out, turning the damn thing off, all the while swearing righteously that she turned it on vibrate, oh yes, she swears she did, she doesn’t know HOW this happened…and then, a grudging “sorry.”

Dr B: “Well. Next time, you have to turn it off.” I guess living at her level of oblivion would be kinda nice: she had no clue how incredibly angry he was.

The rest of class, all she did was argue rudely and offensively with anything any of us brought up in class. Talk about projection.

Today, her cell went off again. When will us pussies gather enough strength to tell her to shut the damn thing the fuck OFF our leave class. Maybe next class. Maybe.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sheldon From Shrewsbury On Shouldering A Blind Student.

Last semester the disability counselor approved the registration of a blind student into my class. It was General Biology and the lab component involved a lot of microscope work. I tried to speak with the student and the counselor about accommodations - perhaps registering the student for a special 3-credit lecture-only class, or maybe he could register for a physics class instead where he could actually feel some of the reactions that were going on - to no avail. The student needs four credits to be full-time and doesn't have the math background needed for physics (god forbid he spend a semester getting the background). Besides, all students have a right to take my class, and I would just need to change my class to accommodate this right.

This meant I to redesign all my labs so he could play an active role (mind, I'd only gotten one day's notice before the semester began that he'd be in my class). I lucked out and there were several students who were willing to partner with him. I spent hours on many of the early labs, trying to find a role for him - he could help prepare slides and cut sections - sometimes adding useless, redundant steps just so he could be a part of the group. Then I lucked out again and realized he didn't want to do anything. Asking him to separate a bundle of long sticks and short sticks into two piles - one for the long sticks and one for the short - was too confusing, even after several attempts to explain this concept. In high school lab classes he'd been exempt from doing any lab work (though still received a passing grade) and I suppose he thought it would be the same in my class. At least when I noticed he wouldn't do the specially designed labs it meant I no longer had to design them in the first place.....

In the end he failed, and I don't even feel bad about it, but I do question the intelligence of the counselor and the administration in signing up a student for a class that they are not physically capable of doing well in. It's not fair to the disabled student to leave it the way it is and let them fail nor is it fair to the other students if the class is modified and made easier just for the disabled student. I think we've begun to stress "equality" over fairness in school, which is a shame.