Monday, January 18, 2010

Some Final Cookie Perspectives. Seriously.

Val, your recent post gives me reason to believe that you genuinely care about the feelings and self-esteem of students; indeed, the concern that you express about students feeling "safe enough" to join class discussions indicates a deep commitment to creating a warm, loving environment in which students can participate.

In other words, you're a goddamn snowflake coddler.

It's not that I disagree that different styles of teaching are better suited to different students; that's a perfectly valid point to make. Or rather, it would be, if the discussion was about teaching methods. The topic in question involves bringing in "special treats" for students, and if that's actually a good practice. Whether or not you pass out fattening sweets to an already abundantly corpulent study body in no way affects the manner in which you deliver information, assess learning, or provide feedback. What it does affect is the way in which you (and, significantly, other teachers) are perceived by the class.

I don't care how you parse it - giving out cookies in class is something that is correctly associated with elementary education. When you distribute baked goods to your class, you signal to the students that this is not a mature exploration of knowledge conducted by rational adults; rather, you indicate that the college classroom is no different than Ms. Thistletwat's kindergarten classroom. It's one of the those little things that speaks great volumes to students, just like the way you dress and the way you speak. I know that tie-dyed mouth breathers like you can't bear the thought of putting on a nice skirt or a clean pair of pants, but surprisingly, young adults act more like adults if you act like one (instead of acting like a "cool aunt," which is what morons like you ultimately aspire to).

What is particularly offensive about your post is your namby-pamby call for "tolerance" or some such bullshit: "[I]t's their classroom, so should anyone really be judging them for using the method that they think is appropriate?"

Actually, yes, we should be judging you, because the expectations that you create in your classroom are often carried by students into the classrooms of other professors... you know, the ones that act like professionals? Your self-centered approach to teaching, in which you put the well-being of students (and the university at large) behind your own pathetic need to be "cool" and "liked" by your students is even worse than the egotism of the snowflakes- you should know better.

College classrooms can be a scary place, but so can the real world. The IRS isn't going to give these kids cookies to encourage them to ask for help on their income tax return, and no boss is going to give them stupid rewards to encourage them to pull their weight at the office. Your job as an educator isn't to provide them with courage or self-esteem; it's to give them a reason to feel confident about themselves... by showing them how to act and teaching them how to think.

Doing anything else isn't teaching- it's trying to be their friend.


Did anyone bother reading the comments on the Chronicle piece?

Most of the cookie-bringers openly confess they do it because they have a "refreshments" budget or some-such.

Gee, how many of them actually tell their precious cherubs the money's not theirs?

How many of them ever pipe up at faculty meetings and say, "Hey, you know, we really should just divvy up this windfall among the plebes working for us so they can get the kudos too"?

How many of these tenured or tenure-track faculty members ever actually suggest they use that money to, you know, pay their adjuncts a livable wage instead of spending obscene amounts of money on Taco bars and movie nights that everyone knows have spurious pedagogical value?

Cuz, here's the thing: I really don't care if Professor Tenured uses her personal money to bake cookies or buy doughnuts or throw pizza parties. It's her money, her time in class, whatever.

But I do get my knickers in a knot when I am being judged more harshly because I lack the economic resources to buy the snowflakes' affection as well. If I am barely making enough to pay my rent and feed myself, where am I supposed to find the money to bribe the cherubs with Dunkins and Snickers? Cuz we all know I, as an adjunct, am not getting all that special refreshment money being tossed hither and yon to the "real" faculty (you know, the ones actually invited to faculty meetings and such).

In grad school, I encountered my first colleague who was a briber-with-treats: Treaty Trish. TT wasn't on an assistantship, but she managed to wrangle a TA position because the department was desperate. In order to ensure her future teaching opportunities via good evals, Treaty Trish proceeded to coddle and bribe and kiss the ass of every student in her section. Then I found out TT was bringing donuts every morning she taught. Treaty Trish's daddy paid her rent and her tuition and her car payments, so she had all this extra pin money to use to bribe her students. And let's be serious, that's what she was doing. And it worked: Treaty Trish became the beloved, understanding, easy-going (if incompetent...ssshhh...don't tell anyone...especially all her new undergrad friends) TA and I became the mean, villainous cretin who never brought donuts or candy or printed their e-mailed papers or anything else that required me using my personal money for them. I didn't have it to waste on adults who were supposed to be responsible for themselves. I was already learning the shake-the-inkjet-cartridge trick to get my own papers printed! And if I bought a donut, it was as a bribe for myself to get through reading and grading the snowflakes' illiterate scrawl.

As far as I know, Treaty Trish is still whoring herself out to any department desperate enough to hire her. I, on the other hand, stopped getting rehired. Is it because I'm incompetent, or is it just because I didn't have the money to bribe the students into doing their work or giving me great evaluations?

If only I had that cookie budget, I too could have baked (or bought) for my snowflakes. Nestle Toll House for everyone!


What the hell is wrong with you people? Step back for a second. You're arguing the pedagogical implication of...cookies. I can think of four cases involving food in the classroom right now that ought to end this discussion right now.
  1. Ms. Super-Adjunct. Used to bring candy to class fairly regularly. Led a lively and informal class, did a thorough job of teaching her material and communicating her enthusiasm about the subject matter. I learned a lot in that class.

  2. Ms. Cupcake. Had a cupcake party during a class session once. Nice enough class, but the subject matter was painfully obvious to anyone with two brain cells to rub together. I learned absolutely nothing in the class, but her general demeanor made showing up somewhat more pleasant than it would have been otherwise.

  3. Ms. SuperProf-Extraordinaire. Hands out candy after halloween and during finals. Absolutely the most incredible teacher I have ever been taught by. Usually comes off kind of bitchy, takes no shit from anyone, and Knows Her Shit. Despite the thoughtful candy-handouts, she is almost universally hated.

  4. Ms. Bumblefuck. Handed out food a couple of times in class. This was her first year teaching, and she blundered her way through it. Universally despised for sheer incompetence.

Whether or not you hand out food doesn't fucking matter. (Sample size: 4. Totally statistically significant.)

You know what matters? Knowing your shit and knowing how to teach it in a coherent way. If you choose to hand out food, great. That was nice of you. If you don't, no worries. Your Costco-candy is not what we come to class for.