Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Erin From Erie Spends Her Weekend Writing Some Heartfelt Letters to Students Who Probably Won't Appreciate the Effort.

Dear "Good Student" Sam,

Thank you for your e-mail informing me of your "good student" status. Although you've never once stayed after class, come to my office hours, or e-mailed for help about how you are confused in the material, this single e-mail about you being confused about how you are doing so poorly in this class is appreciated. You say you've never gotten a grade below a D-, and as such you are are a good student and the F in my class is a complete shock. Oh man. I am totally going to re-evaluate your grade. I mean, how could I live with myself if I gave an F to someone of your obvious genius!?


Dear "Good Student" Sally,

Thank you for coming to my office hours. When you stopped by with a question I was excited - I love when students take initiative and ask about material they don't understand. Your question, your first question to me ever even though we are halfway through the semester, wasn't on the material though. It was about why you were failing. After all, you, like so many of my other failing students, are a good student. You get straight A's. You set me straight, too, when I implied that maybe you'd gotten A's in some classes, but this might be your first Science class and may require different study habits from what you're used to. But no, you've taken a science class. You took the pre-introductory class that doesn't even transfer, is roughly equivalent to high school work, and is designed for students who aren't prepared for the class I teach. You did well in that course! You got a B-! I will put that in my pipe and smoke it. After all, a B- in one course virtually guarantees you an A in an higher-level course, right? How silly I am to believe otherwise!

...But wait, you only got your B- after getting a C- in the introductory course. ....And, actually, that C- was replacing an F. In the pre-introductory class....

....So okay, maybe I'm not shocked you're not doing well the first time around in my class. It seems you are only a "good student" your third time through a class, and this is only your first time through mine, so let's both relax, shall we?


Dear "Practically have a PhD in being a good student!" Paula,

Imagine my surprise when you showed up in my office today. When I announced one class that I gave extra credit on the last exam to people who showed up to my office hours, or made arrangements to meet me outside my office hours (or phoned or e-mailed), to ask questions on the material you practically threw a hissy fit because it was absolutely impossible for you to get to school at any single moment you didn't have class and so the extra credit was unfair.

I can't honestly say I'm surprised that you're choosing to spend this impossibly obtained time not asking questions about the course but instead complaining about how your paper earned a "B" and not an "A". I am a little surprised at the screaming from a woman of your age, but if the six screaming children you've brought along with you is any indication, I guess I can write that off as genetic....

Yes, you were marked down for format. Yes, you were marked down for using direct quotes. However, before screaming, "show me in the syllabus where it says I can't use direct quotes! SHOW ME IN THE SYLLABUS!" maybe you should take a few minutes to flip through the syllabus and make sure it's not in there. Cause gosh golly, if I were in your shoes and said that and then my prof pulled out the syllabus and turned to page 3, pointing to the line, "do not use direct quotes in any assignment - everything should be in your own words," let me tell you, my face would be SO RED. Of course, the situation would be slightly different because I, unlike you, a) would never say that to my prof and b) am capable of feeling a modicum of shame. What else but a lack of shame could compel you to then move on to scream, "well where in the syllabus does it say my paper can't be written as a bullet point list? SHOW ME IN THE SYLLABUS!" Can you not guess there's a line in there saying that everything must be in complete sentences? No? Well, let me show you - cause it's in here, too!

I do so adore that your response is still not one of shame for screaming at your professor because you ignored rules that were clearly stated in the syllabus. It is the usual defense of "I have straight A's!" Not only straight A's though, you have "a Master's! And practically a PhD!"

Which just leaves me to wonder why you're here, taking this introductory class. With a Master's (practically a PhD!) and six kids to support, shouldn't you be putting that Master's (practically a PhD!) to work? I can only guess that the Master's (practically a PhD!) is either in a useless field or completely imaginary.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Boston's Bitchy Bear Wraps Up Our Race Debate.

Have any of you folks actually been arrested? I have, more than once, in more than one location. I was a rotten teenager with the same personal habits as Mello Mike. (Hi Dana!) So I got arrested for possession multiple times when I was in my early and late teenage years. This became quite handy when, later on, I joined protests we planned to get arrested in places like Seattle. Once you been through a strip search, it isn't as big a deal anymore. Never pleasant, but not as horrible as when it happens to you when you are upset, angry, and humiliated. I've been treated well by the cops, I've been treated like shit by the cops. A lot depends on the individual cop.

So I consider myself somewhat of an aficionado of the way police treat you, and how to avoid getting your ass beat.

I'm white, so I can only speak for myself.

With Henry Louis Gates, Jr, for example, when he was taken into custody after chewing out police for confronting him for trying to get into his own house. That could have been different. I don't blame him for being furious, but if I had been there, I could have told him to keep yelling at the police from his front steps and NOT TO FOLLOW them. As soon as he started following them to keep chewing them out...that's it. You're going in. The police have a dangerous job; if you follow them, they're going to make you stop it. Yeah, they threaten people, too, but they deal with physical threats all day every day, and the one time they let something go might be their last. So most don't. So what seems like an innocent thing to do among the normal people in the world--following them to keep speaking your justifiably angry mind--becomes a "getting arrested rather than going home" moment.

In my experience, there isn't much of a spectrum between "going quietly, walking out on your own" and "getting thrown on your face." In reality, the cops in the video displayed a normal amount of force in my experience when somebody and starts in with yelling and flailing. I'm sorry if that sounds like a excuse, but I have been, done that. I've gotten the knee in the back, the forced take-down, the handcuffs--the forced submission--the whole nine yards. And way more. I resisted once, against a black cop, as it happens. The beating he laid on me makes this look like a pink tea party. I never did anything even remotely resistive again. The outraged people clasping their hands with concern for the young lady need to....well...stop viewing this through the experience of people whose middle and upper class privilege keep them far removed from the world of the police, jails, and having one's dainty person touched.

There are, I swear, 100 things they can do to you that didn't happen to this young lady. The real pain comes with a taser, the club or a fist. They can pinch those cuffs. They can twist your arms until they feel like your elbows and shoulders are coming out of the sockets. They could have dragged her out banging on her this and that, by while her arms screamed in pain. Instead, they took her down make her stop, and asked her if she needed an ambulance. (She didn't; she wants one because she wants the drama to continue because she's angry. I understand being angry.) What happened as far as I could see on the video--which stopped at a weird time--was pretty normal. The student refused to leave class, gave verbal and physical indicators that she wasn't going and reacted aggressively when the cop touched her to move her along. That's a recipe for getting thrown down even if most of you (and she) don't see it.

But now that I've said all that, let me say something else: As a tough kid from a tough place who spent years in front of judges and cops and juveniles, black people are treated differently, and it is vicious. I've gotten tons of breaks, I think, because I am white and because I was--when I was young--very pretty.

At the risk of Monday-morning quarterbacking, I have to say that far from being shocked at the police, I am rather shocked at the instructor here. Everybody kept escalating the student, when I saw numerous indicators from her behavior that she was starting to wind down. She wasn't in the mindset to be able to admit what she did or said was wrong; she needed to wind down and people should have just stopped talking to her. I guess I wonder why the instructor didn't just tell the class to take a break and try to talk the young woman privately as well as the student she threw a bottle at. It seems rather obvious to me that having this debate in front of the class raised the stakes for the young woman and caused her to feel like she was losing face and being humiliated. Giving her time would have enabled to collect herself a bit and maybe she would have been able to
see the point of leaving on her own while she was so upset, before the police came, and coming back when she wasn't so upset.

And I don't see this student's behavior as snowflakism. There's a whole bunch of things I see. It's hard to be a black student in a white-dominated classroom. It's hard to feel like you got screwed on an exam. It's hard to feel like people are ganging up on you when you have pride.

I wish this had not happened.

Alton From Apollo Beach Tells the Tale of Dimwit Dave.

I have a student, Dimwit Dave, who is one of those slack-jawed mouthbreathers who has already blown passed the attendance/participation penalty. He easily has eight absences. The first penalty was a letter grade at 5 absences. The penalty is a half letter grade for each absence after that. When he does show up for our
8am class, he strolls in 20-30 minutes late, put his head on the desk, and naps, sleeps, drools, farts. He's missed two quizzes and is otherwise merely average.

We have big presentations coming up in this class, so last week everyone signed up for individual meetings with me to go over what needs to be in their presentation, look over how they build their credibility, attention-getters, their persuasive arguments, etc. Sooooooo.......

On Saturday morning I received the following email from Dimwit Dave:
"Dr A, what time did i schedule for our appt? I believe it was on march 24."

My Reply:
"Dear Dimwit Dave, I don't carry all my paperwork home with me on the weekends."

On Tuesday I received this: Dimwit Dave:
"It is no longer the weekend so...... Would you by chance know when I have to meet with u tomorrow?"

"Dimwit Dave, You need to get you act together and learn some responsibility. It is not my responsibility to inform you of when YOU signed up for a meeting with ME. I believe it is at 11am, but at the
rate you are going with absences, tardiness, missed quizzes, it may not matter how well you do on this speech."

When he came to our meeting after a cordial greeting I said: "Listen, I am not trying to be an asshole, but you pay me to be an asshole. You pay me to challenge you, critique you, and harass you, so you are smarter when you end this semester than when you started. You need to think about whether you want to stay at the university or not, because at this rate you are merely wasting your time and money."

His work wasn't done. He had no outline to speak of. He had no answers to my inquiries. He had nothing worth commenting on. As he shuffled out of my office I quoted what Judge Smails said in Caddyshack: "Well,
the world needs ditch diggers, too."

Direct link.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Welcome Blast From the Beloved Dana From Decatur. "I Can Work With Stupid."

You know, guys, I can work with stupid. I really can. You see Dull Deborah over there? Well, let's just say, she's not the sharpest pin in the pack. But goddamn, she's got a good attitude, she asks for help, and she takes her lumps and improves. I answer her emails, I meet with her in office hours, and I have absolutely no issue with Dull, Dull Deborah.

And let me just say, for the record, that I don't have any real beef with people who don't try, either. I mean, Mellow Mark over there? I'm pretty sure he spends most of his days in a pleasant haze of hash. He doesn't try. But he doesn't care, either. So when he gets a D, he puts his paper in his bag, nods, smiles, and lopes right on out of the room, telling me to have a nice weekend. Me and Mark. We're cool.

It's you fuckers I have the real problem with. First off, I have absolutely no idea whether you're functionally retarded or the next Einstein. I don't think you know either. Why? Because you have never tried on anything in your goddamned lives. AND you want a grade that has no reflection on that. And that's when I start to get pissed.

For example, you Dumb Dick. You actually seem to have ideas in class discussions. Ideas that, you know, you might try putting in your papers. But no. Your papers are incomprehensible, inane, and about a page long. Because you don't try. And unlike some of these poor saps, who give me stories about child support, welfare, and taking the bus to three jobs, you tell me about how "totally wasted" you were over Spring Break, and I hear from other students that you have a "no note-taking" policy. And yet. When you get the D, you stand there, as if someone is playing a horrible joke on you. "How could this be?" your eyes cry. "How is it that you are giving me the grade that my non-work actually deserves? How utterly unfair!" Yeah. You and me, Dumb Dick? We are so NOT cool.

And you, Princess Pea. You with your combative attitude, and your constant challenge to my authority. Oh, yes, it's MY fault. For example, you wonder, how can I ever ask students to do such a thing as come up with an IDEA? Well, it's nothing short of cruel and unusual, is it? To have to think and show evidence of thought--surely I jest. But see, I know your game. You lob out a paper you know is crap, hoping--you once told me--thinking "that it would scrape by with a B or something." But see, again, I call crap like I see it. So when you get the D+, you're shocked. Baffled. Angered, suddenly, that what you before called an interesting class is actually asking you to have interesting and well-supported thoughts! Well, Princess, what can I say. Believing yourself to be royalty just doesn't get you very far in here.

If you're dumb, fine. We'll work on it. If you don't care, fine. We won't work on it. But you don't get to care AND be a lazy, whining motherfucker. Either go light up with Mark, or actually give this "thinking" thing a try for a fucking change.

The "Do We Have to Generation." Mid Career Mike Muses.

Like many people on here, I'd bet, I read that Dumbest Generation book you folks were pushing on us a few weeks ago.

It's a fascinating read, and it sort of supports a number of things many of us likely feel. Today's student doesn't want to read. They aren't inquisitive. They're dulled by testing, and simply want to endure this thing called "education."

It's a terrible burden for those of us who actually get a kick out of teaching.

My freshmen have ALWAYS been bad. Don't get me wrong. They're kids, of course. "Do we have to put a title on the essay?" "Do we have to be here on Tuesday?" "Do we have to read ALL those pages?" But, shit, they're freshmen so we pushed them around. We made them. I'd stand up there and bat all that stuff away. "Have to? Yes, you HAVE to."

And as they got older, they developed some inquisitiveness because what you were teaching them actually was interesting, actually did catch some of them. That's how you develop majors, of course. The kids in your class who love the stuff in your field want to know more about it. They take 200 and 300 level classes. They ask you to be their advisor. And then later they're saying things like, "What about Illinois as a grad school?"

But, sheesh, it HAS gotten worse. My freshmen now are not just dumb and lazy, they're dumb, lazy, and proud of it. There's sort of arrogance in how little they know or want to know. And "Yes, you HAVE to," gets replied with "Oh yeah! Why?"

Frankly, I don't want to work that hard. Last week I actually lost my cool in a one on one meeting with a particularly idiotic student who simply kept saying, "I don't want to rewrite that." After a pause I said, "Fine. If you don't give a shit, then I don't give a shit." He hasn't returned to class, and I hope he fucking drops.

I like to think I can really reach kids. I do, too. I get a few of them fired up after 15 weeks of motivation. It's hard, but I love that moment when someone learns - or better yet, find some pleasure in the learning.

But when they don't find pleasure in anything other than celebrity culture and their peers' Facebook and Twitter accounts (which is what the Dumbest Generation found), what are we to do? I can't prove to them that the study of my field will reward them with ducats or prizes. I teach in the Humanities. I'm all about making human beings...yeah, I know you're rolling your eyes. But I truly believe it. It's the path I took, and I think it's an important step in becoming a better, happier person.

So, yes, you have to. And you have to do it by next class. And, although I suspect you won't like it, I still want you to do it anyway.

But for how many years, and for how many iterations of the modern student can *I* stand it?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Printer Problems With Anita.

Tell me if I'm crazy or not. I think my office mate purposely jams the printer at the end of the day so that I can't use it while she's gone.

Does that sound insane?

Well, insane is exactly what my officemate is. Her name is Anita, and she's been a part-timer at this tiny junior college in the Pacific Northwest for twenty years. I'm a new full-time instructor who got paired with her because - as I've heard - she scared too many other part-timers away when she was in a much larger office with 5-6 others.

Now it's just me and her in this office that she clearly thinks of as hers. Her books cover 7 of the ten shelves, although when I pointed that out she showed me that I actually had 2 books on shelf #4, and that seemed to be enough of a compromise to suit her.

She makes a weird kind of tea in the coffee maker each morning, and all day long it stinks like a cab I once took in Turkey. Her desk faces the office door, while my desk is pushed up against the side wall. I asked her one day if the little desk was supposed to mine or hers, and she said, "Seniority trumps everything."

"Even though I'm a full-timer," I ventured.

We aren't often in the same room, but when we are she talks on the phone loudly. Once while I was printing some pages she opened the toner door and pulled out the black ink thingie. "This is mine," she said. "I bought it, not the school. If you want to print, then get your own ink."

Well, I thought I'd foiled her when I properly requisitioned some toner and installed it myself. I showed her but she was unimpressed.

The next day I came to the office I saw the "JAM" light flashing on the printer. I opened it up and saw two long scissored strips of cardboard threaded through the various rollers inside. It looked deliberate to me. I couldn't budge them, and ended up printing in the departmental office.

But when I found her in the office the next day, the printer was humming away, and she was smiling.

Is this going to be a problem for me?

Friday, March 19, 2010

"I Finally Did It. I Showed a Snowflake the Door." A Tiny Victory For Rutger from Ruby Junction.

I finally did it.

Last evening, in the class I hate with passion because they sit motionless and silent as the dead as if waiting for pigeons to crap on them, I tossed a student who was texting beneath his desk. (My God, how secretive do they think they are? I could practically read the text. No one assumes that position even if he is masturbating, not that I would know.)

"Out," I said. "Get the hell out. You are violating the policy stated on my syllabus about electronic devices. If it happens once more, I will send a letter to the head of student affairs informing him of academic dishonesty because I will assume that you are cheating." (In this class, I have a signed grading contract that says the student has understood the policy regarding electronic devices.)

Surprisingly, and to my great joy, he packed up and left. However, I wonder, what recourse do we have? Here at Crap-Tech Public JUCO, where students are admitted because they exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide and the academic stars can spell their own names, I doubt, really doubt, I will have any administrative support for tossing students from class for this.

Lakeland Lex Goes Old School For Some Current Flakes.

Stan Sadsack, who decided in December to switch majors, further decided that he was too smart to muck about with the "intro" courses in his new major, and so signed up for FOUR advanced courses in said major. He then missed three consecutive weeks of class because he "felt bad" knowing that other students understood the material better than he did. Not wanting to "feel bad," he chose to sit at home and--stellar concept this--not read or learn the material. When he laid out his sad story in my office, I told him, "suck it up, get over yourself, and come to class. You'll learn stuff there."

Thomas Thumbsuphisownass, who missed half the classes leading up to the midterm exam, failed the exam (I curved his score up just so he could reach the double digits), then dropped the class and left a nasty note about me on that other site, claiming I taught the intro course as if for PhD students (as if he knows what a grad course is like) and slamming me for having impossible-to-meet expectations. The average exam grade was a B-, and two students received grades of A+ on the exam. Impossible to pass, my ass. The truth, Tommy, is that you're a dumbass, and though you may feel self-righteous about your little online rating victory, you failed a class that is a dumbed-down, watery shell of a real course and you are, to use reality show parlance, the weakest link, the biggest loser. Buh-bye.

Sally Sneaky, who attends only half the classes, by which I mean she comes for the first half, takes a quiz, then conveniently forgets to return after the mid-evening break (it's a three-hour class). She emailed today to apologize for missing class tonight because she has [insert uninteresting and irrelevant excuse here]. She clearly thinks I haven't noticed her vanishing trick, and she hasn't noticed that I take attendance and give a second quiz after the break. She tells me she expects to graduate this semester, and I just know the waterworks are going to fly when slacker Sally realizes that summer school is in her future.

Texas Text, who tries to convince me that he's not texting during class but taking notes on his phone. He needs to improve his texting skills, because he got a D on the exam--perhaps I should let him text his exam answers on the final.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bipolar Beth Sends Some Support to Super-keener Sue.

Oh, dear, sweet Sue! You are in that never desirable position known as "between a rock and a hard place." You want to learn, but are fearful of reaching out to your profs to attain that education - fearful that we're all just secretly mocking you when you aren't looking and fearful that when we do say we want to help, we're only pretending. The down and dirty truth, Sue, is that we are all of those things all at once. Because you are asking about professors in general, not just one or 2 specific ones. And you will find all types at Uni. As an undergrad, I had professors who were never available to talk about issues I had with the subjct, and I had professors who were willing to advise me in all areas of my acadmine life - and who eventually became my friends, and now colleagues.

What you need to realize, Sue, is that (1) you're reading a blog where proffies come to unload - to vent all the frustration that builds up when teaching students who, for the most part, are nothing like you - they couldn't give a flying batshit about learning anything...at...all...ever. I was a superkeener as an undergrad, too - and I know that at first I came across as a total suck-up, kiss-ass douche. But I persisted - and eventually my profs either surrendered or realized that I wasn't a keener, I was simply eager to learn - meaning I was one of those rare college students who actually enjoy class, and schoolwork, and learning...wow! And now, these same profs are my graduate school thesis committee chairs.

Also, Sue, you need to understand that (2) just the fact that you are asking if you are a keener defines you as a keener. The key is to use it to develop working relationships with the professors who research those areas that interest you. Every person who attends or has attended graduate school was (and usually still is) a super-keener. We just hate those students who feign interest in the hopes of a grade bump and/or a recommendation for professional school.

My one word of true advice to you, Sue, is this: take a public speaking course and get over your fear of speaking in public. Find self-help books on how to be less shy, so you can ask pertinent questions *during* class. This is the only way I've been able to convince profs that I'm not a brown-noser, but that (a) I can think well enough to compose a relevant question and (b) I want to learn, not just do well in the class.

BTW - Your English isn't that bad, Sue - I have native-born American students incapable of writing as cogently as you... (which is a terrifying thought in and of itself...)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adjunct Life Getting You Down? Flip Your Attitude. Olive from Oglethorpe Studies the Schizophrenic Nature of the Beast.

Adjunct teaching is really a great part-time job, if you think about it much. I get the self-esteem high of being an "Instructor" or a pretend "Professor." I get paid more than minimum wage.

But its alter ego, the Adjunct Instructor pretending to be employed full-time, has a terrible job with poor working conditions and low pay. The problem is that no one can seem to decide if I'm an esteemed full-time, TT (tenure track) "Professor", or a FF (fast food), minimum-wage, burger-flipping, chicken-frying, burrito-stuffing short-order cook. It's the schizophrenic nature of the job that leaves me depressed and frustrated, not the job itself.

TT: Could you advise students for us? Would you be willing to teach a full load of classes this semester? Write lesson plans for the whole department? Sponsor a student club? Get published in an academic journal? Pick out a textbook for the college to use next semester? Mentor a few other adjuncts? Help with student registration? Be on a committee? Attend all the important meetings with the TT Phds? Could you return to school, and get another degree to be a better teacher? My students call me by my last name, and often add a title or two in front of my name. I am respected, and am often meet with gasps of awe when asked to fill in "employment" on forms.

FF: I get the same pay as the local pizza delivery guy with good tips, the student who refills vending machines, and the waitress at the BBQ place down the street. Like the pizza guy, I get no benefits, and only work when there are enough "customers" to justify my employment. My office, if I have one, is the former janitor's closet or shower, justifiably abandoned by its previous owners. I risk permanent unemployment from my next bad case of swine flu, since I have no sick leave. I am not trustworthy enough to be given a key to my own (empty) classroom.

How can Adjuncts be treated better? Make up your mind which personality you are hiring. Are you hiring an over-educated temporary FF employee for burger-flipping wages? Then, treat us like one. Don't ask us to stay late for your meeting. Don't dangle promises of full-time employment in our face to "con" us to work harder. Be honest, and tell us you will NEVER hire us full-time. Treat us fairly, and don't make us play office politics to keep our job next semester. Give us at least the same amount of job security as the chicken-fryer. Don't be offended when I put your offer of a new class into a calculator to see how much I'll really make after writing a new batch of lesson plans.

Are our skills worthy of TT respect? Then, hire us full-time. If you are desperate enough for an adjunct to teach a full course load, then you have enough work for another full-time instructor. When you do hire someone full-time, seriously consider my application. After all, I've spent the last few years proving to you that I can do the job. If I'm not good enough to work for you full-time, then why did you hire me to teach your classes as an adjunct?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Super-Keener Sue.

Hi all the professors or readers of Rate Your Students,

I have been reading RYS for couple months, and noticed that there were quite a lot of posts talking about SUPER-KEENER. I am an undergraduate, a freshman, an international student, a well-dressed with flawless makeup sorority girl, perhaps a snowflake and a keener (I have too many titles). I am a super-keener of my major. I am really deeply interested into the subject. Usually I can understand the class materials and like to do some extra readings on my own. I often go to my proffies office hours, or ask my questions after classes (when the class ends early). And most of the time, my questions asked are related to the subject but not going to appear in the exams though. I am also a research student of one of my professor. I did all what I told to do (basically is just learning how to use UNIX because I am just started). So I think I can actually read some extra texts within his research field. I will ask questions when I don’t understand. My proffie seems really happy about it. And after I read RYS, I doubt it. Am I being too keen and actually annoying my proffie? Should I just do what I am told? Are my extra work done seems annoying to you?

Yes. I am a snowflake. I did really well in the classes of my major, but I got some Bs, Cs or Ds in other classes. I didn't show any interests in some of my classes. But I never annoy those proffies about my grade because I knew it was me who fucked my grades up. I showed up in all classes punctually, took lectures notes, never fell asleep, had being attentive (usually, but sometimes I daydreamed in classes) and handed in homework on-time. I also seldom speak in classes. It doesn't only mean that I don't talk or chat with my friends in classes; I also NEVER ask, answer questions and join discussions during classes. I am too shy to speak in front of people, mostly because I afraid of people won't understand what I said with my horrible accent and grammatical problems. Yes. I BUG my professors. I BUGGED my Math professor to give me suggestions on how to improve and extra exercise books when I did all the questions in the current text but still couldn't do well. I BUGGED my Art professor several times about one artwork and asked her suggestions. I BUGGED my speech class proffie to discuss my speech drafts before the presentation and BUGGED her again when I edited it. I am a regular visitor of all my proffies. Because I thought that I paid a lot (really a lot) to study here, I should try my best to learn all I can learn in classes; and I thought professors like to help their students. I doubt it again after I read RYS. Am I over-achieving? Are my proffies the best actors/actress pretending to be happy to help me but actually want to tear me apart?

I respect my professors because they are my teachers. If I found that I am annoying to them, then I would stop my "extra affords". So far my professors seem to be happy to help me (at least I think so). But after reading RYS, I cannot not to doubt about it.

My questions: What are the good students to you? How keen to be too keen? Is want to improve the same thing as over-achieving and annoying?

Best Regards,
An undergradflakes came from oversea

P.S. I apologize if you find that my writing is very crappy and difficult to understand. I had proofread it several times already. I got a D in my writing class and will retake it next semester.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Alton from Apollo Beach Didn't Like School Either. Get Your Academic Passion On the Roof, Or in the Trees.

College was mostly irrelevant to my life. My parent’s business was failing. My brother was being taken to some lame ass boot camp in New England. I wanted to get laid. I had no interest in classes. Classes were stupid. Useless. I would go because there was generally attendance.

HOWEVER – at the same time, I was running the college newspaper and the college radio station. Unlike classes that didn’t ask anything of me but memorization, this is where I could put my hand to something. Doing something. Accomplishing something I could be proud of.

Then I found my passion. That didn’t happen in class either. My friends and I would travel to upstate New York and sit on the roof of our professor’s barn, smoke cigs, look at the stars and discuss Shakespeare and Kierkegaard and Eraserhead and “Shadows in the Rain” by The Police. That’s where my “academic” passion started. There was a party once where we all dropped acid and started writing in a notebook, replying to each other’s entries. Sure, the next day none of those entries made any sense, if they were legible. But the questions posed, the pseudo-answers, the insanity of that writing: that turned me on. My friends and I would hike at Stokes National Forest, drink wine and talk, about Dash Hammett and The Cure and Kafka. That was where the real learning happened. That's how I ended up with a BA in Philosophy. And although I took classes – I never really liked classes. Who the hell wants to end a great discussion on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot just because 50 minutes are up?

I didn’t like school when I was in school either. I found most of it boring as fuck, until I found what I wanted to be interested in. And that's the key. Most student don't have any idea why they are in college. They have no idea what they think is interesting. They have no idea what could turn them on. Why? Because a four year degree is just another hoop to jump through, another hurdle, another thing to get out of the way, so they can get their "American Dream Job" making $200K.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Morris from Myrtle Beach And a Modest Proposal on Student Evals.

Furlong from Fursville did the right thing.

Student evaluations are a joke. I've been a prof for 20 years and can admit that I've not gleaned even one good bit of advice from a student evaluation. On the other hand, I've learned tons of stuff from students in unprovoked and open discussion of the class, my assignments, the workload, and so on.

Since I have tenure - and Furlong does not - this advice might or might not help.

About ten years ago I got a standard pack of evaluations to pass out in my class. I took them, put them back in an interoffice envelope and sent them to the Dean. I wrote on a sheet of paper. "If you truly want to know what my students think of the class, come and ask them yourself." And then I wrote the dates and times of my last class days.

I was shocked and awfully encouraged when the Dean herself arrived at my classroom door at the appointed hour. She had a clipboard and blank sheets of paper. I think she was trying to surprise me, and I didn't fake it. We laughed a moment and I said, "Let me clear out. You can have at it." "Tell this person anything she wants to know," I said to the class, and I scampered down the hallway to steal some coffee from the Philosophy department.

40 minutes later the Dean came out, waved me over. "Come and see me after finals, okay?" she said.

And that's how it's been. The Dean no longer does it, but her replacement asks me for a list of 5 faculty members I trust to give the job to, and it goes down on the last day of class each term. And for the past 3-4 years, I've pulled the same duty for some of my colleagues who've heard of my unique situation.

Now, I don't know if this system is workable at larger schools. I'd bet there are lots of administrators whose asses are puckering right now thinking about it. But each year I get real feedback, gathered by someone I trust, about my classes. It's not canned; it's not dumb. Students seem honest. I get good and bad feedback, but it's all tremendously more thoughtful than the bullshit those forms generate.

Why don't we do more things that make sense? Why don't we - like Furlong - stand up as a group?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"If One Of Us Stands Up. We Can All Stand Up." Furlong from Fursville is Finished.

My mediocre Ohio college assigns all tenure-track folks a certain number of classes each term which must be evaluated through a standard 20 question Scantron form. The same idiotic questions that most of you are aware of are on there - "Professor ended class on time." "Professor treated me with respect." Yeah, sure, because that's a two way street.

Anyway, I've always hated evaluations and have never learned one tiny idea from doing them. Yet, I am trying to appease my master and so off I go into my class yesterday with the big brown envelope of shame.

And the tittering started, "Dr. Furlong, we get to grade YOU today!" "I'm going to TEAR you up," said one particularly meaty meathead.

And I just tried to ignore it, because this is how it usually goes.

"Now you'll see what it's like to get a big F!" "I'm so glad I came to class today; I was going to ditch, but this will be more fun."

And then as I read the canned instructions and put the course identifying info on the board, one student said, "5 bucks to anyone who writes that Dr. Furlong sometimes farts in his lectures." And then the big laughs really started.

I turned to them with what I can only imagine was a look of shock. And then I did it.

I went out among them and took the Scantrons and question sheets off the desks. Each looked at me with surprise as I did it, and one of my meatheads actually held his paper behind his back until he could see I wasn't smiling. I got all the sheets, dramatically tore them up and stuffed them in the envelope which I put in my briefcase.

"Yeah," I said. "I'll see you next week."

And for once I was the first one out of the door. I don't know what if anything will happen about this, but if one of us can stand up against this bullshit, then we can all stand up.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ineffectual Inez on the Ledge.

I'm not doing enough of my students any good. I'm ineffectual, afraid.

I'm terrified of lowering the boom in the way so many of your readers seem capable. My students are lazy and I extend deadlines and offer help. Students don't ask for help. I just offer it. Then they don't show.

The good students achieve. I can help them. We're in it together. One works harder than anyone I've ever seen in a classroom. He struggles, though, to get a C. And when he does he's overjoyed.

Other students do nothing. I offer. I help. I give suggestions. I meet them in odd places to fit their schedule. They sometimes don't arrive.

They turn in sub-standard work that I give C minuses to so I don't anger them. The student evaluations rest on my desk and I know my students will punish me with bad scores should I displease them in some way, should I grade them the way they deserve, should I call them on their bullshit, should I require them to re-do sloppy and useless assignments.

This horrible college of mine cares more about one complaint from a lazy and dull student than they do for my effort or my care with the good students.

I'm afraid all of the time. I owe money. I work because I have bills and because I owe money. I spend 1/10th of my time with students who want to be here, who want to work. I spend the rest with the rest who glare at me, who are displeased, who are disrespectful, and I eat shit every day rather than provoke them.

I'm not at all what I wanted to be. I'm on the ledge of my career, the ledge of my life, I think. I want to come inside, to be talked down.

I want to be better.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Barney from Burnsville Bends.

So you can't punish them for not doing the reading? Wow. Just... wow.

But why tilt at windmills and all that? I'm an adjunct, admittedly of the always-renewed, full-time variety. I teach the same couple of classes year in and year out. Every semester this one colleague of mine and I take turns going nuts about the powers that be cracking down on us one minute and letting the flakes off easy the next, of cutting our funding and increasing our class sizes, of forming subcommittees of committees in working groups to reinvent our curriculum for us, then showing no interest whatsoever in seeing how it's going, or if we're even using it. We write up letters exposing all the bullshit and never send them to anyone except each other. We talk each other off the ledge.

We make rules we think will help our students--you fail if you don't do the reading, you fail if your paper isn't turned in on time, you can rewrite anything you fail, ad infinitum--thinking it will help. Then I come to RYS and see the bodies dropping all over the damned place.

That's why, this semester, I started to bend instead of break. Kid wants to turn it in late? Okay. Kid can't be in class. Who cares? I go in every day, try to start a discussion, give an impromptu lecture on days they won't bite, let them out early once I've told them what I guess they probably have to know. If I can make out what the paper is about, I give it at least a B-minus. I mark the hell out of them--I write comments in the margin till there ain't no margin left, and no ink to write in it with. But the grade is always a B-minus or higher, because if it isn't, they'll come to my office requesting a checklist of things they can do to write more effective essays, by which they mean essays that will get better grades. Since the only answer is to write essays they're interested in, and they wouldn't likely understand the checklist, I don't want to have that conversation. In other words, I don't want to have any conversation unless the person I'm having it with is having the same one.

So I inflate grades. So should you, unless you're teaching your students math or anything related to keeping buildings or airplanes or economic systems from falling apart. Save something of yourself for your husband or your wife and/or your children. Drive them to work or school and give them backrubs and listen to their problems and be sympathetic. Write your novel. Use the discounted tuition (if you're lucky enough to have it) to audit classes you always wanted to take, just for the hell of it. Turn your backyard into a pond hockey rink.

No one else cares about this enterprise, really--otherwise they'd fund it better and actually look in the windows from time to time. They'd check in with you for reasons other than limiting their liability. The ship is sinking; we're all going down. Don't be the last person playing cello when it happens.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Teacher's an Asshole"? Yeah? Is That All You've Got?

The "solution" I have concerning abusive student evaluations is to let my students know what the worst evaluations of me were from the previous semester. This semester's winner is "Teacher's an asshole!" which won the coveted "Courage in the Age of Anonymity, Empowerment, and Entitlement" certificate and is posted on my office door - as fair warning to current and prospective students.

I also encourage students to visit HateMyProfessors.com if they want to know more about me, professionally and personally.

And finally I tell my students if they don't want me to be like some of their peers have so negatively described me to be then they need to quit giving me ample opportunities to be that sort of person.

Many of them have come to misunderstand assignment and course grades as being comments on their persons - their ever so delicate and unique snowflake selves - that it is many of them approach faculty evaluations, which I have long called "pay-back forms." And a long time ago I read in a sociology book that "Everyone thinks they know what education is because they all have one." So if their expectations are not met, given their collective "100% satisfaction guaranteed or your money back" mentality, they want a refund; when they cannot get that, they want to complain to our "bosses" who continue to feed that mentality.

I am actually one of the few who is bothered by the negative and even hateful remarks students make on evals and most of my colleagues don't even read them.

I don't think the solution lies along gender lines. I think it is just getting rid of the evaluations or at least making students' personally accountable for them. Yeah, I know ... neither is very likely. But either is more likely than running out of students who give the opportunity to be - or even force me to be - an asshole.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Barb from Batavia Wants To Know How Much She's Supposed to Bend? Uh, All the Way, Right?

How far are we expected to go? Bend backwards. Keep bending until your head is level with your ass. Now stick it up there. Keep pushing. Eventually you'll end up in the La-La Land in which our administrators live. It's a happy candy colored place, where unicorns cavort with snowflakes and individual personal experience trumps any expectation of actually knowledge.

I've just returned from a trip there.

This semester, I threw away my textbook. The students had complained about it since I began teaching the course: the book was too dense, too simplistic, too expensive, too heavy, too biased, not pretty enough, etc. Whatever the complaint, it was clear they didn't like it. So, in order to show my "responsivness to student's needs," I PDF'd everything I wanted to use. Found new articles talking about the same things. Uploaded video clips and photo slideshows. (An aside: bless you, library workers, who tirelessly battled the dragons of copyright law on my behalf. May you be sainted.)

On the first day of class, the students cheered! No book! Think of how much pot that $45 could buy! They can do their readings on their iPhones! I was briefly a hero, for the students and for the administration. I was nominated for a teaching award! I skipped happily through the first two weeks of the semester, enjoying the sparkles and gumdrops.

And....turns out, the students aren't reading. Nope. Not on their computers, not on their phones. (No one even brings their phone to class. Hey, if cell phones are a problem for you? Try this.) Seriously, only one third of the class has ever even logged on to the online system, and out of that fraction only half even other clicking the links. In the interest of transparency, I told them that I'd be tracking their activity, but they didn't care. Still don't, despite threatening e-mails about dire participation grades. Despite warnings about how this material will, indeed, be on the midterm. Despite a class average of D on the pop quizzes.

And yesterday, Student Snowflake e-mailed Chair Snowflake, who called me onto the carpet. "I'm really concerned," said Chair Snowflake. "You've never had a single complaint against you. Now students are saying you are mean and constantly critical. What's changed in *your* life?"

I filled her in with the information, showed her the printed reports of no activity. She looked them over with a frown.

"Well, it's not like this is any different than past years, is it?" she said. "The only thing is, now you know for sure they're not reading. You can't punish them for that."

La-La Land doesn't smell like candy and roses any more, let me tell you. It's got the distinctive scent of BS.

Correspondence To Blow Your Brains Out By.

Dear Job Candidate,

We've waded through 500 applications, and there are only 12 that didn't completely polarize our crack committee.

Congratulations, YOUR one of those 13.

Now we'd like you to complete some more arbitrary steps so that we can hopefully weed out a few more.

Number one, please send us student evaluations. We don't care how many. You can send this past semester, something from 20 years ago. You can send just the good ones, just the bad ones. If you have numerical averages, that's cool. If you have made up student comments you want to write and send, that's cool, too.

Then we want your transcripts. We know that a photocopy would suffice, but we're pricks, and we want official ones. We're especially keen on transcripts that cost candidates $5-15, because that also trims the list. Actually we'd prefer an actual copy of whatever you have hanging on your office wall, frame included.

Then we want letters of recommendations. But these can't have been written last year or the year before. We want letters from each of your referees written in the past 12 days. Anything other than that is invalid, and we'll cut you from the original list of 14 names. And they can't be copies, either, of course. Please call all of your referees and tell them you need individualized letters sent RUSH to our address, because if they miss your deadline, then we cut you, and we'll be down to just 15 candidates.

So, get started. Wait for it. GO!

The Committee

Monday, March 1, 2010

Really Helpful Roger From Rover On the "New" Grades!

In keeping with ongoing budget crises in numerous states that have led to drastic budget cuts, I say we revise our grading system to encourage retention and to thereby generate more tuition revenue. My newly proposed grading system would replace abstract letter grades with motivational phrases that would encourage the students to feel good about themselves and inspire them to remain enrolled.

The new grades would be:

"Super Awesome!" = A passing grade demonstrating that the student has attended almost all classes and turned in all work, most of which is coherent. (Equivalent to current A or B)

"Great Job!" = A passing grade demonstrating that the student has attended most of the classes and turned in most of the work, some of which is coherent. (Equivalent to current C or D)

"Good Effort!" = A passing grade demonstrating that the student has attended some classes and turned in some work and even spelled some things correctly. (Equivalent to the current F)

"I Know You'll Do Better Next Time!" = A failing grade demonstrating that the student has signed up for the course but never attended nor turned in any work. (Equivalent to the current WF, or “Withdrew Failing,” offered by some institutions: to be given only after providing documentary proof via monitoring a semester's worth of security camera footage that shows definitively that the student never actually entered the classroom building; grade can be overruled in appeals process via letter from student's mother, in which case student will receive a revised "Good Effort!" grade).

This newly proposed grading system will be already familiar to our students, as it is similar to the one they have experienced from K-12. I predict it will be widely embraced and will lead to a nationwide increase in retention and customer satisfaction. And we in higher education will no longer be considered pariahs by our state legislators. When asked about the state of education in America, we’ll be able to answer with a big thumbs up: Super awesome!

Nosy Buttinsky and Spoiled McClueless Gang Up On a Poor Misguided Proffie Seemingly Interested in Inanities.

I received the following email this morning, forwarded to me from my Department Chair, who got it from our Dean. Names and some details have been changed to protect the stupid, and the truth has been added.


From: Buttinsky, Nosy
Sent: Thursday, February 25, 2010 11:15 AM
To: Dean Anderson
Subject: Student Incident

Good morning Dean Anderson,

I am writing you about an incident a student relayed to me that occured yesterday, February 24, between the student and his professor. The student, Spoiled McClueless, had a speech to deliver in his Speaking class. Spoiled tells me that he was completely prepared for this speech, and that he had his outline and speaking notes with him and that he was on time for class (actually, he was 20 minutes late). The professor told him that he could not give his speech because his outline was not typed, it was hand written (yup, that's true. Final draft of speeches are like final drafts of essays. Do comp teachers let students turn in handwritten final essays?).

You should keep in mind that this outline was only a page long and the speech was only a few minutes long too (so that makes it ok? Its the same outline the students use for ALL speeches, so the length doesn't matter and IT IS A CLEARLY EXPLAINED REQUIREMENT OF ALL SPEECHES).

Spoiled asked the professor if he could type his outline up and present his speech on Friday, but she said he couldn't and would receive a zero for the assignment (Yup. I don't allow makeups for students who don't pay attention to the requirements of the assignment. Besides, why should he get two more days to work on his speech when other students had to be prepared for the day they were scheduled to speak?)

Spoiled is a transfer student who has been on the Dean's List throughout his entire college career (is that why he is on academic probation right now, with a 1.5 GPA? Regardless, does that mean he can do whatever he wants?)

I don't believe that this professor should have the right to give a student a zero for this assignment. Everyone makes mistakes and it wasn't like this was the second or third offense (Actually, it was. He didn't give his first speech either because he wasn't prepared). Please contact me regarding this incident as soon as possible. I appreciate your time! :D

-Nosy Buttinsky


I don't even know who Nosy is and why he would be emailing the Dean for Spoiled. I also don't who thought the best course of action would be to go to the Dean and not me or my Department chair (although I think it might be an intimidation tactic.)

The part that really gets me the most, though, is the following line towards the end: I don't believe that this professor should have the right to give a student a zero for this assignment. REALLY? I don't have the right to enforce the rules of my course????

What?? I can't even wrap my head around that statement.