Friday, April 30, 2010

Dana From Decatur. "I Got 99 Problems, But Your Paper Ain't One."

Hey there, kids! How the hell are ya’ll doing this fabulous final week? Those papers coming along nicely? No? Well whaddya know? It turns out you should actually have been, like, listening all term after all, huh? Maybe you could have, I don’t know, taken some notes, made use of office hours, actually tried on one of the previous papers? Or maybe if you had just made eye contact with me at some point—that would have been a start? I guess all that texty-tweeter-totting didn’t get you as far as you’d hoped when it came to understanding analytical writing. Weird. It is as if you have all of a sudden realized that this paper needs to be over 140 characters, and can’t use ‘u’ or ‘lol’ as part of that count. OMG!! 911!!!

See, the thing is, I feel for ya’ll—I mean, not really, since I can’t seem to master the whole “lack of knowledge + apathy = entitled brat” equation—but anyway, what I’m saying is, I hear you. I hear you—but I’m done. It’s over, bitches. It’s exam week. You’ve been taught, schooled, learned up real good. I’m out. Yeah, I see your emails. They’re really adorable with all the ?????? and !!!!!!!!!!! But you know what? It’s the first time I’ve seen anything resembling concern—scratch that--consciousness from most of you all term. I could respond, but sending “Dear You, You’re fucked” just seems a tad mean at this point.

So, please, act like I’m not here. I don’t want to answer your question about “how do I do that thing that you already explained five times during the semester???” (Answer: you’re a dumbass.) I don’t want to hear about how you “forgot” how to access the research databases, and by the way you think you need to change your topic (oh, that sounds really promising). I just want to sit over here in my silence, sipping on some sangria, waiting for those stellar essays to slide on in, and trying to forget the giant suck-hole that was your slack-jawed class this semester.

And then, come week’s end, it will just be me, the pen, and the page. Ahhh. You know the feeling. It’s like when I handed out evaluations mid-term, and you said “YES!” and lunged for the tiny pencils. And I’m sure it was fun writing “Teacher is a meany-pants” and “Miss Dana ACCPECTS WAY TO MUCH!!!!” all over the forms (way to make your case there, spelling champ!). But I wonder, kids. Did all that bitching make your writing/critical thinking one bit better? Based on the general sense of panic, I’m guessing not. I suppose we shall see. But in the meantime, consider this my outgoing message: “If you’re having paper problems I feel bad for you, son; I got ninety-nine problems but your paper ain’t one. Peace.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stella From Sparksburg Has Some Bad News For Her Lazy, No-Good, Motherfucking Summer Students. Post of the Week - Although We No Longer Actually Have That Feature, Because For So Long Nobody Gave a Shit About It So It Just Died. Thanks for Nothing. Now, Back to Stella.

Dear students in my summer online composition course:

You should know that I haven’t had a raise in five years and I’m fucking bitter as hell. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of it, I am determined to do the job they are paying me to do. That is your first bit of bad news.

The second bit of bad news is that I know what you all are up to. I know because the face-to-face version of this course this summer still languishes with a handful of students, while my online version closed out within three days of the start of registration. As is the case with online courses offered during the fall and spring semesters, most of you are going to be on campus anyway. Why do you want my course instead?

Because where at all possible, most of you simply would prefer not to come to class. If you have any interest in learning at all, you prefer to learn in your underpants, while texting and answering your phone and watching television and looking at porn. You don’t want to be bothered with waking up early, getting dressed, and sitting in a chair you can’t get out of for a whole fucking hour. You can’t even tweet in that chair. You have to listen to the professor. Or pretend to. And you would rather not.

But if you think it’s going to be easier, let me give you your third bit of bad news: you are fucked. My syllabus for this course is like the will of a rich and fickle uncle. It’s twenty pages long, single-spaced, and loaded with caveats and clauses specially designed to evade the excuses of lazy and incompetent students. You know, the students that perpetually profess internet difficulties and have four sets of chronically tubercular grandparents. Students like many of you. And your first assignment is an electronically signed statement that you have read the entire syllabus and you acknowledge that you are responsible for the requirements contained therein, including the plagiarism policy. I’ll be saving that acknowledgement for future reference, when you tell me you accidentally turned in your notes for the paper instead of the paper itself, and that’s why it’s made up mostly of internet sources you didn’t cite. Ha ha! I will say, and then I will fail your lying ass and see if I can get you expelled.

So, make yourself a nice little fire. Then, take off your flip-flops and put your toes to it. Stay there for the entire summer because I expect 12 hours of work per week out of each of you little fucks, and you have homework assignments and papers and web discussions to complete on time or else, and take that stupid phone off your head and stop constantly texting your bff because you need to pay attention and keep on top of things or you will fail. If you let things slide, by the time you realize and accept what you have gotten yourself into, which is nothing like what you hoped or expected, my struggling school will have your tuition, I will have my summer pay, and you will need to take this course again.

Your fourth bit of bad news: This is a small school and you may even end up having to take the course again with me. And I won’t get sick of you, no. I can fail you as many times as you need to be failed. That’s why God made antidepressants and Ambien.

As for the rest of you, the poor sops that for one reason or another could not get into the class at all…you are now shitting yourselves at the thought that the “easier” version of the course has been denied to you. And you are calling me. You are coming into my office hours. You are emailing me. And according to all of you, if you don’t get into my class you will never be able to graduate and what's left of your sad little life will be ruined.

Do you think I don’t have access to transcripts? Well I do. So when you, some student I’ve never heard of, email me, a professor, and tell me you neeeeeed entry to my summer online comp course that’s already closed, and you have time to do it because it’s the only class you’re taking, and you’re really motivated and a good student, and you’ll be in Pittsburgh for the summer so you can’t be on-campus, and you neeeeeeed to get in please please pleeeeeease…

Well, I can check on that. Yup, I can. Because I know stuff. I’ve been teaching since you were shitting into your pull-ups, Ms. Pittsburgh. And what I don’t know, I can look up. Why do all you students assume that I know the work schedule and office hours of every other professor on campus, but that you yourselves are hiding in some sort of cone of silence?

You ain’t. So, Ms. Pittsburgh, a few clicks and I can see that you are a liar, because you have a GPA of 1.75 and you’ve already failed the class twice. I can see that you’re registered in two other summer courses already. So no, Ms. Pittsburgh, you do not have permission to take my course. Just on principle because you’d end up being more trouble than you’re worth. Also, because I don’t know you the fuck from Adam, I already have 20 students to worry about, and I am not going to take on hours and hours and hours of extra work gratis for a clueless, lying moron.

And to any other lazy bastards that want me to bump the cap for my online comp course: go fuck yourselves. Then, when you’re finished fucking yourselves, put on your pajama pants and get your ass to school and take it face-to-face. I won’t be teaching it, but there will be some other nice professor standing there, who also hasn’t had a raise. And my guess is that they will be equally dedicated to earning their meager pay, and thus making your life a living hell.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ten Things Witchy Hated About This Semester.

1. Being paid shit for teaching.

2. Being paid shit for teaching (no, seriously).

3. Trying to say something nice about poorly-phrased fragmentary sentences about absolutely nothing, rendered in unfortunate grammar and sloppy syntax.

4. Trying not to write in poorly-phrased fragmentary sentences about absolutely nothing, rendered in unfortunate grammar and sloppy syntax, after hours of wading through the said sentences.

5. Not writing in permanent marker on the dry-erase board that whoever used the said marker before me would have to lick that shit clean next time.

6. Being too lazy to preview an avantgarde film prior to showing it to a class of conservative middle-class students, whose only reaction was, "Does anyone actually PAY to see this movie?!".

7. Realizing that although the said film shared the same title as the novel we were reading, it not only had absolutely nothing to do with it, but also included full-screen penus shots, masturbation, female and male prostitution, a naked blind man taking a crap, and a deformed female dwarf--all in the first five or so minutes, even before the opening credits.

8. Being asked by the students to show the second half of the said film the following week.

9. Preparing for the painful hiatus on RYS.

10. Preparing for the painful hiatus on RYS while trying to taper off my meds (no, seriously).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Candy From Casa Grande On the Smackdown Tip. (Oh, and She Blithely Breaks Some Bitterly Formed RYS Naming Rules, And Her Punishment Is On Its Way.)

Fraudulent Phoebe: You come to my office hours asking for advice on how to study better so you can improve your grade. You assure me that you have come to every lecture, taken diligent notes, read all of the textbook chapters, and studied your flaky little heart out. Do I look like a fucking moron to you? Don’t bullshit me. You’re a slacker. You know how I know? Because students who go to class, take notes, read the book, and study hard DON’T GET D’S on easy multiple choice tests (at least, not without the presence of a learning disability or mental retardation—although I wouldn’t rule out the latter at this university). A student who attended lecture would NOT answer that Necrophilia is “the strong sexual attraction to a woman’s neck.” I don’t give two shits whether or not you have been coming to class—I’m not the one with the plummeting GPA. I’m happy to help you with studying tips, but I can’t help you if you’re going to spout off a bunch of crap about what a fantastic student you are. Trust me, you’d get a lot more cred if you just came out and said, “I go to class half the time, skim over the chapter headings, copy the notes from my mouth breathing boyfriend, and cram for two hours the night before the exam.” At least I could work with that.

Sallow Sam: Quit brooding. Yes, you have a tattoo. Yes, you have both a beard AND a mustache. Yes, you wear large earrings in both ears. And yes, you sit in class with a faux-looming, “fuck you” kind of stare. We can all see that. But ya know what? NOBODY CARES. Dude, bro, you are not intimidating anyone. Sitting in class and acting like you’re the next Kurt Cobain doesn’t make anyone think that you’re cool. If you’re looking for validation, feel free to go to a dark campus-area coffeehouse where you can regale newly-minted freshman flakes with your seething awesomeness. In a grad course, it’s just not gonna fly.

Lax Alexis: You have been at least 20 minutes late to every goddamn 9 a.m. Tuesday lecture this semester. The only time you actually arrived by 9 was when we had to start class at 8:30 to accommodate a scheduling conflict the prof had. You shouldn’t have done that—it only proved that, while you’re capable of arriving on time, you simply choose to be an ass. There are people in this class who don’t have the luxury of living ten minutes from campus—they commute from 40 minutes away. There are people with spouses, fiancés, and others to whom they are responsible. There are people who actually walk to class, without the posh opulence of their own vehicle. They all manage to be on time. Take the silver spoon out of your ass, grow up, and GET TO CLASS ON TIME.

Exasperating Evan: Just a quick note for you: when you only come to class half the time, you are not going to be able to contribute to our discussions in any meaningful way. You ask questions so broad an introductory textbook couldn’t cover them. Get a brain, asshole.

Story-telling Sandra: Your personal experiences are not the God-given guide for all of sociology. Just because you experienced an event in a certain way at a certain time during a certain point in your life does not make it the universal truth for everyone in everything at every time. You are not the final authority on the developmental trajectory of mankind. Get over yourself.

Schmitty from Sabina Smacks It Up.

As yet another Semester from Hell is about to end, I have some parting words for my “students.”

K: I’m very sorry that you have a serious learning disability, and probably a developmental disability too. I feel sad every time I see you. You’re unbelievably sweet. But I have to tell you that a) you will NEVER be a nurse, and b) your plagiarism on your last essay was a bad move. I know a friend of yours wrote your paper, as it had ZERO errors in it, used vocabulary I KNOW you don’t know, and showed the odd trait of having both perfect grammar and ZERO commas in 4 full pages.

C: Yes, we all know you’re a lesbian. You can stop showing us now. You can also stop talking in class, blurting out unrelated shit you think is fucking HILLARIOUS, but which wouldn’t even earn you an audition at a local open-mike comedy night. The idea of a class clown is OLD and TIRED. I see it in EVERY class, and I'm very unamused. Do you need to go to the restroom every 10 minutes in a 75-minute class? No. Do you need to keep getting up to recycle pieces of paper during a lecture? No. Do you need to keep asking pointless questions, interrupting my lectures every fucking session? No. And thanks for getting the other immature, borderline-manageable students around you all worked up into hysterics ALL semester, to the point that they’re completely unaware they’re even in a CLASSROOM and I have to keep clamping down on everyone. And why the fuck are you in ENG 090 when you claim to already have a two-year degree? I can’t fucking wait to get rid of you. If you high-five your neighbor after one of your “jokes,” one more time, I swear I’ll dock you a letter grade. You have no idea...

M: I hate you. I feel sorry for you too, but you’re one of the most pathetic mama’s boys I’ve ever encountered in my life, and you just follow me around and won’t fucking leave me alone. I'm not your daddy, and I'm not your buddy. My friends I mention this to keep asking me if you’re a closeted gay in denial. At 23, living with your parents and playing video games day and night make you a HUGE fucking loser. And wash your fucking hair. You are so fucking irritating, I can’t even look you in the eyes. Your whiny voice, your sunglasses indoors, your barely veiled attempts to question my knowledge and challenge me in class. These things make me put you at the bottom of my Shitlist. You are undeniably the stuff of which serial killers are made. Your parents should be so proud.

N: So you lost your license due to getting a DUI in your Saab after you crashed into a ditch? Life is hard without a car, isn’t it? You fucking wanker. Glad you didn't kill someone, like the guy who killed my aunt. So you act like college is just a total joke, yet claim to think it’s important? Grow the fuck up. And yes, I’ve been deducting points from your grade all semester for using your cell phone. You don’ t know the rules because you missed the first day of class and never cared to read the syllabus.

R: Wow. You are so fucking fried. You did so many drugs in your youth that you can’t even process basic information, like when you lined up for class outside the door, but with the wrong teacher, the wrong students, for the wrong class, in the wrong location in the building, then figured it out and came to my class. Wow. Then you handed in your paper, with the second page stapled upside-down. I got that one on my cell phone camera. Or the time you handed in your essay, assuming it was due because it “just seemed like it was due.” Wow. And to think, you got an “F” in this remedial class just like you did last semester. You’re on your way to true success, young man. How cool are drugs now?

P: When you walked in to my class to take a major exam, after missing 15 straight class sessions, that was pretty surprising. I’d heard stories of students doing this, but had never seen it myself. When you expressed surprise when I told you that you’d already failed the class, so you didn’t need to even be there, that was even more shocking. For the next two weeks I just kept wondering “What the FUCK was she thinking?” Then you didn’t withdraw. Oh well. It’s all natural selection in action.

G: My god, if your brain were as big as your hair, you’d have a triple PhD in advanced quantum physics. Too bad you just totally fucked up your transcript by failing my class, even though you got a scholarship. I guess they just paid for you to fail, and they’re as dumb as you are for spending money on someone at the bottom of her high school class. I racked my brain the other day, for jobs for which you’d be suited, and I could only come up with two: crack whore and stripper. Seriously. If only there were a job that paid you to browse the Internet all day, like you’ve lost points for in my class, since you do it during my lectures even RIGHT AFTER I tell you not to…

R: You and your friend K, of the immense hairdo, are really two of the most pathetic students I think I’ve had in a while. You both got free rides and totally blew it. You’re trashy, immature, and totally pathetic. You dress like whores. So many students work SO HARD to succeed, and many of them have MUCH worse lives than you’ve had, often not even speaking English worth a shit, and they still pass my class. Some even come from African countries where they've survived horrible civil wars and are here as political refugees, and they bust ass in my class--all while being polite, friendly, and responsible. So FUCK YOU. See you at the drive-thru.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hometown Haley Breaks A Heart.

Haley is my favorite student. Here, at a small college in the northeast, we've both ended up, expatriates from a small desert town. I left in the mid 80s, and she left last year. We chuckle about the same hometown diner, and the same dusty hideouts. We went to the same damn high school, 25 years apart.

On a recent essay, she was struggling. I walked her through some things to try and then a couple of days later she turned in her final version.

Haley's a smart kid, funny, but her vocabulary is "dusty small town" like mine was when I left home. And this essay had impossibly tough language that I knew she didn't write. I sat down, like I always do in these cases, chose a particularly elevated chunk of text, and typed it into Google.

Up popped an essay written by a college professor in Florida. As I checked the paragraph in question, I saw that Haley had lifted about half of her essay (with some minor changes) from the professor's piece.

As a writing instructor, I spend a good deal of time talking about plagiarism, how to avoid it, WHY to avoid it, the college's harsh stance on it, etc. Each writing assignment has careful language about how students must give credit for anything they might use from another source using standard documentation rules. So there was no chance that Haley had just used this professor's essay as a source, albeit one without quotation marks.

I saw Haley after class the next day, and as always she was cheerful. She reported that our old high school had beaten up grandly on the state rival Cougars in spring soccer. Then I told her about the paper.

What has bothered me the most about it all is her reaction. It was more "Aw, shucks, well, I got caught!" than it was, "Oh, no, I've been caught!" I tried to explain that it was academic cheating, and pointed out the evidence, the section of the syllabus, etc. But she shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, I'm sorry I did that. I just didn't have time."

I told her I was giving her an F on the assignment, but exercising my right to not elevate the incident to the Dean's office. (That's a step we normally only take with upperclassmen.)

As she got up to leave, I said, "And, I'll probably just check your earlier essays, too, just so I can be thorough."

"Oh, that's okay," she said. "The first one we did was all mine. But I did copy about half of my second one from the Internet, too. Bye!"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Raquel From Roanoke Offers Up a Nuclear Option For Quizzing Your Flakes Into Submission.

I teach a required class for senior, non-major students. In the heady days after Spring Break, when their minds drift (and stay) elsewhere, I employ a strategy of deterrence with the possibility of nuclear annihilation. (They thought, for a while, it was Mutual Assured Destruction, but I assured them that they, in fact, had no nukes.)

Here’s the drill.

On the day before the deterrence plan begins, I send this e-mail:


There are 14 lessons left in this course. They can go one of two ways, and the path is entirely in your hands.

By mutual agreement and requirement of this august institution where we all find ourselves learning and working, we will all come to class. Our classroom interactions are predicated on two assumptions: one, that you will read and prepare for class ahead of time and demonstrate a reasonable level of objective comprehension in order to work on higher-order analysis and thinking during class, and two, that I, as your instructor, will work to craft lesson plans and in-class discussions that are based not on lectures but on interaction and that will require you to demonstrate your factual knowledge and develop your analytical skills.

I pledge to hold up my end of the bargain.

However, as your instructor, I must also be satisfied that you leave this course with a minimum level of proficiency in the subject. This goal is as important as encouraging discussion, analysis, and interest in the subject. For we quickly find that discussion and analysis not based on sound factual understanding are empty and not very rewarding.

So, back to the two paths:

  1. The path of goodness and light: Everyone holds up their end of the bargain. You all continue reading. You all continue to ask intelligent questions. Participation points flow freely. Reading quizzes and daily writing exercises vanish. 1960s rock-and-roll and video clips abound. The classroom atmosphere is reasonably relaxed and we can go where our readings and discussion take us, looking ahead toward the final exam and the future, and thinking back about the course as a whole: what we’ve learned and where we still have to go.
  2. The path of sorrow and pain: You all fall short of the expectations set for you. You read only minimally, or not at all. You are silent in class. Easily-won participation points disappear. Evil, reading-based, writs appear regularly. I make it my job to figure out just how much you don’t know (a remarkably easy task). You may find yourself in a glorified version of study hall, forced to read and take notes, and stay awake. There are no pictures or movies on this path. Daily writing exercises continue and will be graded.

I know which I would prefer, but I am prepared to do either.


Students come in. I ask if they have questions from the reading. (They never do.) I then ask them 2 multiple choice questions of the easiest sort. Things like, “Which one of the following was NOT in your reading?” for which the answers are all made up, except for the one correct answer, which was a chapter subtitle.

I require that half the students in the class get the questions right. If they meet that standard, we proceed with discussion and class as normal . They are graded (easily) on their participation in the discussion.

If they don’t hit the mark, I move to a variety of options, most of which end with a diabolically hard quiz, in which fairness is no longer a concern. If it is in the book, it’s fair game. Sometimes, when only one of them brings the reading, we read the assignment out loud, like first grade. At other times, I put them in study hall, where they must read, take notes, and write an essay on the material.

Thus far, in a total 24 class meetings (4 different sections meeting 6 times each), I’ve resorted to the nuclear option only 6 times, and never more than twice in a single section. It’s transparent, fair, and ENTIRELY on the students. (The only cost to me is that I have to make up something evil for every class, but I do that with pleasure. . .)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hector From Harlingen Gets Some Support from Gail from Gallup. "Academics Suck."

Go Hector!

I have only been reading the page for a few months, but I've worked through the archives and I can second what Harlingen Hector says about the long-departed Walter.

Academics suck. They make the worst colleagues. Just a day or two of perusing the Chronicle Forums will teach anyone how petty and small those people are.

I recently moved from one nondescript college in the Midwest to one in the Southwest. No culture shock. My brown boxes and I found ourselves in a department full of drones and douchebags, just like my last department.

But Walter, and Weepy Wayne, and many others on this site are expansive personalities, bold adventurers, people I'd like to know and would love as colleagues. (Who ARE the lucky bastards who have offices next to those guys?!?)

It's a hard job, of course, but when you have fellow travelers along for the trip, the job can remain fun and rewarding.

We all need to let our hair down a bit - or at least let it blow in the breeze.

Let us learn from Walter and the rest of the famed RYS correspondents: say it's little when it's little, tell the truth, speak out against the idiocy, maintain our standards, require that our flakes do the work, go belly to belly with the Dean when he/she tries to turn the college into a fast food franchise.

It's our profession, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Some GradFlakes Get a Little Old School Smack.

Prospective Pamela:
You’re right, I, as faculty member have the secret data on what percentage of our Masters alums are working in what fields, what countries, and for what salaries. The chair and the administration don’t know, but I’ve been hiding it under my desk with the pillow and the bottle of scotch. You spammed the right person at last! Here you go: the good ones who play by the rules and listen up are mostly working in good, well paid jobs (or the last two years, since the whole broken economy things, in at least so so jobs) in the country of their choice. The whiners and skaters-through and what’s the least I can do folks, less so.

Dear Danielle: 
I think it’s great that you had to help that elderly person who has been here for 30 years find their way across the campus square. Gold scout pin for you! So that’s why you were late this last week. What about all the other weeks this term, again?

Lost Lola:
I know, it’s almost done. The data task you won’t let go of and were going to get to me before Thanksgiving. Just leave now. I am pretty sure that if you don’t I can have the funding agency confiscate your hard drive so someone who can actually manage their work and life can clear up your mess.

Tiresome Ted: 
Oh, you didn’t like the answer the chair gave you and you didn’t like the answer the administration gave you so you want me to sign your crazy form with legal implications for your immigration status? Like I’m not going to call them up to figure out what the hell to do? And then you’re going to lie – in writing – about it? That shit got me grounded when I was eight and I thought dad might let me go off the high dive even though mom had said no. Enjoy your letters of recommendation. I know I will.

Reckless Robert:
You remember that time when you said you wanted to work on that topic, and I said that I had no expertise in the method or subject and wouldn’t be much help to you, and you said you wanted to do it anyhow, and now you feel that you’ve wasted a year on something that ‘doesn’t work’ because I can’t tell you how to make it work? Cry me a river. I don’t do that stuff. It’s hard, as it turns out. Good thing I made you stick to that other one, too, huh? The one that’ll make your career if you’re lucky? Now stop whining.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Walter, Where Are You When We Need You?" Hector from Harlingen Sends Out a Holla!

Have you seen
this man? Is he
still mad at us?
I can't explain why I love you so. I don't understand how a place that is so insane actually makes me feel sane. I do know that without RYS every day I could barely get across the threshold of my classroom. I love and appreciate all that you do, and would never presume to tell you how to run the site...

But I do have a request: can you call Walter up and have him come by every once in a while?

I know he's a nutcase, and that he probably sent you more material than you could ever use. But on those VERY rare occasions when he'd let loose, I'd feel that there were academics out there worth knowing, actual living and breathing carbon forms who you could imagine having a beer with and talking about something other than what the fat Dean said about the thin Dean.

Have you ever had to spend all day with academics? Oh God. Why do you think I come here, because the writers you feature let it all out. (It's why I stopped going to the morgue they call the Chronicle Forums, for instance.)

Here, the sun burns red in the sky. Here, the coyotes howl. Here, I feel as if I'm surrounded by people who won't flinch when I say, "FUCK THOSE FLAKES!"

Because our hearts and minds are still active, still real, not tied up in the soul-crushing embrace of academia.

God bless RYS and God bless Walter. Tell us the embargo is over. Get on the phone. Hell, I'll do it. At least I live in a free country - Texas.

Walter, where are you when we need you?

Vashna From Vienna Does It Old Skool Up In This Mother. She Wants To Know Why Students Can't Take Notes!

I teach philosophy, OLD-SKOOL. Plato didn’t use a power-point and neither do I. Socrates didn’t have handouts, and neither do I. Consider yourself LUCKY that we have a book, a board, and some chalk (yeah CHALK – SERIOUSLY OLD SKOOL!) Aristotle didn’t have any of that when he taught.

So up in this piece, we are going to learn by reading, discussing, and TAKING NOTES. Yeah, I have blackboard. But I’m only going to use it to post grades, and thought provoking questions that you can think about while reading. And NO – these are not test questions; they are too broad for test questions. (“What ought you to do to be morally good according to Kant? How does he come to this conclusion?”) Then I’m going to lecture about what you read. And if you read with this question in mind, and TAKE NOTES on the lecture, you should be ready for anything I throw at you on test day like - “You want to borrow money and not return it. Explain what Kant would say.” It’s a simple formula for a passing grade.

However, for some students, it’s not working. For the 4th or 5th time this semester, I’ve stayed after class talking with a student who is not doing well in my class. Each time I start with, “Let me see your notes.”

The notes are SHIT. ABSOLUTE FUCKING SHIT!!!! No wonder why they’re not doing well in my course. They have not written down one single relevant comment that I have made in class. Or if they do write something down, it makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. What good are notes if you can’t read them and understand what was said in the lecture??? You don’t believe me… let me tell you.

I used an argument for gay-marriage to show how to refute an argument. I always preface this by saying, “I am very pro-gay marriage.” Not because my opinion matters, but because I want to make sure that I’m not offending any students. But the point of the argument is to discuss how to argue properly (as in, if you disagree, don’t talk about what your momma, or your preacher said. Find a flaw with the argument, as it is stated, and tell me what the flaw is.) This is a 15-20 minute lecture.

At the end of class, one of my students said he was confused. So I said, “Let me see your notes.” And what do I see….. “Vashna is pro-gay marriage.” THAT’S IT. Nothing about fallacies, nothing about arguing responsibly, nothing about how to refute an argument. Are you fucking kidding me? Does that sound like something I would even ask on a test???

OR they only write what is on the board. If I’m discussing Nietzsche, I will write on the board, “Master Morality” and “Slave Morality” and proceed to give 30 minutes on the characteristics of each and how they relate to his views of the world.

And once again, a student is confused. I ask to see the notes and the ONLY thing written is…. “Master Morality” and “Slave Morality.” NOTHING ELSE. So I ask, “Why didn’t you write any of the information I said in the lecture down?” The response, “I didn’t know we needed to write that. It wasn’t on the board.” WHAT THE FUCK???? And please tell me exactly what are those two phrases going to mean to you when you try to use those notes to study for the test?

And they always tell me that their “other instructors” give them notes.

And each time they tell me that, I start to hate some of my colleagues. I hate those of you who give the students power point slides of every word you uttered, uploaded on blackboard, to be downloaded at the student’s convenience. I hate those of you who only test over the words in bold – as if we are teaching VOCABULARY, and not theories and critical thinking. And I REALLY hate those of you who not only spoon feed the information, but also allow all of your spoon-fed information to be used during the test – open books, open note, (and they don’t even have to worry about the quality of the notes, after all they’re the INSTRUCTOR’S!!!)

You are making me look bad, for expecting nothing more than what WE were expected to do when we were in school (prior to technology.) But more importantly, you are teaching them to be dumb and lazy and not to think. You’re teaching them to sit around waiting for handouts. And then you have the audacity to wonder why they never bother to figure things out. YOU TAUGHT THEM NOT TO EVEN TRY!!!!

But whatever, I’m going to continue to be the bitch that actually expects my students to learn the skill of note-taking (because it IS a skill, and it IS useful to know) among all of the other tidbits they are supposed to get out of my course. They may hate me now, but when they are at their future job in a boring ass meeting where only 10% of the information said actually pertains to them (but that 10%, if missed, could cost them their job), they will know to WRITE THAT PART DOWN, and then they will thank me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Institutional Appreciation & The Pilfering of a Shitty Bracelet.

Here's the most useless gesture of appreciation for five years of service (as a staffer, not faculty).

I received an e-mail from HR congratulating me on five years of service. The e-mail included a link to an online catalog where I could pick out a lovely gift, such as a thermal carafe or a chic 70s style digital watch. Yippee, but hey, free stuff, so I perused the catalog and picked out a not-half-bad sterling silver link bracelet. The bracelet arrived at my home and I wore it several times, feeling optimistic about being valued by my employer, because it's better than a travel mug.

Then HR called me and explained that, because I spent my first two years working part-time for the university, I wasn't actually entitled to this five-year commerative gift, because when adding my two years of part-time service, I'd actually been working for the university for seven years. And they only give out these crappy gifts every five years, but the crappy gift-giving is a new policy, so I never got one at my actual five-year anniversary, and should have gotten nothing for this year as well. The HR rep asked me if I'd please mail the bracelet back to the vendor. I said okay, if they sent me postage, I certainly wasn't going to spend my own money.

I though they'd forget about it, but several days later, I got a postage-paid Fed Ex slip to mail the bracelet back. I called HR and made up a huge lie, that I gave the bracelet to a friend, and could I simply buy it from them? I was willing to pay the retail value - $38.00 - even though I know that the university probably paid more like $5 for the bracelet, since they paid the wholesale rate.

The HR woman told me, "No, because then other employees would try to buy the gifts and that wouldn't be fair." Like there'd be a mad scramble for cheap watches and beer cozies with the university logo. I then offered to send back another item listed on the site in completely new, unused condition - my department gives away travel mugs like they're going out of style, and they are the very same travel mugs listed in the online catalog. The HR woman said, "No, that's not acceptable either, because it's not a truly "new" gift so it can't be given to another employee." I then offered to forego my 10-year anniversary gift in three years' time, but again the HR woman said that wasn't necessary. The only way for me to fix the situation was to mail back the bracelet. I refused, so she grudgingly said, "Fine, be that way!"

Actually, she didn't say that, but she definitely meant it. The HR woman was really pissed of with me, she probably knew I was lying just to make a point - that giving crappy, cheap gifts to employees, then asking for them to be returned, is just plain shitty, considering that our salaries have been frozen for the last three years.

I am wearing the bracelet as I type this, and it looks very nice on my wrist, in fact, the whole HR debacle with me outwitting the university and being a stubborn bitch about it has really paid off. Every time I look at the bracelet, I think, ha, that's $38 I stole from you! Or probably more like $5 but still, I fooled the university into giving me something I didn't really deserve, or at least, something to which I was not entitled.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mid Career Mike On the New Hire. "Welcome to Paradise, Shithead."

Listen, I'm not at an Ivy League school. Soda-Pop College is a bit of a tumbledown spot, but I work with the nicest folks, and have access to about the most spectacular beach I've ever seen in my life.

I have a low stress existence, love my students, and have a very nice life. Of course my colleagues are a part of that.

We had the chance this year to fill a new tenure-line spot, something this college hasn't had for 20 years. (I replaced someone who was retiring.) So, last September we geared up, did the job ad in some marathon sessions. Our small department shared the load of reading the dossiers, picking phone interview folks, and then bringing 3 different people to campus.

It was great. It was the smoothest and most enjoyable job search I'd ever been a part of.

2 candidates who came to campus were great. Both of them were veterans of the college wars, probably both in their late 30s or early 40s. Both women, both well published in refereed journals, great teaching, and both who knew enough about the area to know that it would fit their lives and the lives of their families.

They both gave great teaching demonstrations, and our visits with them were stress-free, actually informative, and the entire committee was agreed that we'd be overjoyed if either would come.

The third candidate, Chester from Charlesboro, was the only young candidate we brought to campus. Nobody on the committee loved him, but his dossier kept popping up in our meetings as someone who seemed too good to not take a closer look at. He had a better pedigree than anyone on the committee, or anyone else we'd looked at. But he was impossibly young, just finished his Ph.D. in an impossibly narrow subdiscipline, and well published already. His letters were off the charts, and when another candidate passed on the campus interview, Chester got the spot instead.

Chester was the last of the visits, and he was infuriatingly annoying. There was a problem with his transportation to the hotel, a problem with the hotel, a problem about what time he was WILLING to come to campus, a problem with his Powerpoint (ugh) presentation. He had the wrong laptop, the wrong slides, not enough copies, didn't know actual STUDENTS would be at his teaching demonstration, and the list goes on. He was aloof, condescending, and - worst of all - he said he'd never been south of Maryland before, and he didn't know how any of us could stand so much humidity.

We soldiered through our long-ass day with him, and I got the job of taking him over to the Dean's office for his last interview. As I shook his hand at the door, I thought, "Goodbye, you pretentious bonehead."

We made our recommendation to the Dean's office for one of the two first candidates, and waited.

And then we waited. It got to be that veterans in the department began to worry. "You know," one of them said, "Whenever it takes this long it's going to be bad for us."

And it was. The Dean sent us all an email, thanking us for our terrific work. They had hired Chester.

The reason, we came to find out, was simple dollars and cents. Our college's pay scale requires folks who come in with experience to be paid a higher salary. They simply plug their years of full-time teaching in tenured or tenure-track spots and a number pops out. Chester, of course, looking for his first full time job, charted right at the bottom, the minimum number. The other two rated higher and would have cost the college - and you won't believe it - and extra $2400 and $3950 per annum.

The committee had one last meeting. In the end, it wasn't our call. Even our department chair had to admit that she talked to the Dean, but got nowhere. In the end it was money and that was it.

The gap between either of the first candidates and Chester was so large, that it just never occurred to me. Had we worded our recommendation strongly enough? Had the chair really explained what a horse's ass Chester was? Did his brush with the Ivy League tip the scales? Had he had a standout interview with the Dean? Did somebody promise him a dehumidifier for his office?

And so it came to be that we had a new colleague. I checked with everyone on the committee, NOBODY got a thank you note from Chester. Frankly, nobody can believe he even wanted to come here; perhaps the job market has made us a place he'll deign to join - temporarily.

And that's just it. We'll be replacing Chester soon; everyone agrees. He won't want to stay here. He showed not one whit of interest in our conversations about the area. He was like a pissy shark churning through our little warm-bodied pond. What August 27th will be like, I can't even imagine.

Welcome to paradise, Shithead.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Low Blood Sugar Lester Shows Vince from Vegas "The Bird."

I like to think I keep shit on an even keel. I don't let the kids make me nuts like so many on this page seem to. I just take charge of my room, teach my subject, grade fairly, and then pick up my stuff at the end of class and go home.

But for some reason this semester things have gotten out of control, and it all starts with a precious entity I call Low Blood Sugar Lester.

Oh, Lester. You ever have one of those students who is a patience-suck? A student who just seems to be able to get on every last nerve? Well, Lester is that for me.

He's a couple of years older than the rest of the students - a result, he tells me, of 18 months in a minimum security facility somewhere in California. That's fine. I don't give a shit about that. But his seniority in class forces him to raise his hand at the tail end of every class discussion to say, "Well, I've been through the wars a bit more than everyone else, so, here's what I think of Spinoza."

Anyway, I can handle his in-class interruptions.

But in the 3rd or 4th week Lester comes to me at the end of class with a pained expression. "Dr. Vince, I hate to bother you with this, but I'm under a doctor's orders, and I need to eat something every 2 hours; it's actually pretty important in my treatment."

He went on to show me his class schedule, and he regaled me on his morning routine, when he ate breakfast, how he was able to eat at certain times on Tuesdays and Thursday, but no matter when he got up or how he arranged things, one of his important times was smack dab in the middle of my class. I mean, he had a fucking chart!

"What do you mean, eat?" I said. "A meal? A power bar? What?"

"Oh, Dr. Vince, I normally have a high protein bar that I eat and then a special drink I keep in a plastic bottle."

So I'm thinking, that's no big deal. "Don't worry about it, Lester. Shouldn't be a problem."

And it wasn't for a while. Then in the 6th week I walk into class and I can smell something, food, something cooked. Lester is sitting at his table with a large toasted sandwich of some kind, cheese oozing out the sides."

"Hey, Dr. Vince," he said when I came up to him.

"A grilled cheese, really?" I said.

"Oh, Dr. Vince. I'm really sorry. When I got up this morning I realized I was out of my normal stuff and I had to run to the cafeteria to have something for my snack."

So, what can I do. And it sits there on his table, smelling the joint up, making his neighbors hungry, until at exactly halfway through class when he luxuriously eats it. (That he finished off with a Hershey's candy bar with crackling, wrinkling tin foil is something that was also new.)

Anyway, we went back to protein bars for several class periods, and I had just about blocked grilled cheese day out of my head.

Until yesterday, I mean.

When I walked into class and caught a whiff, I immediately knew Lester had taken things to a new level. When I passed by his table, I looked down at a whole roasted chicken in its grocery store plastic container. Not a chicken leg. Not a chicken sandwich. The entire fucking bird.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sledgehammer Steve Shares His Dream Syllabus.

 Introduction to Philosophy

Class epigraph
: It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again. Yeah, I’m talking to you, snowflake. See this family-sized bottle of Lubriderm on my desk? I’m not shitting you here. Start rubbing. The epigraph in my upper-division courses is “arbeit macht frei.” You’re getting off easy.
Purpose of this course: To bring you up to speed on what’s happened in the past 2500 years of human thought about the great questions. We’re doing Thales to Kripke, motherfuckers. Strap yourselves in and get ready for the ride.
Requirements: You have to write a 2000 word précis on each week’s reading, due that Friday. Yes, that’s every week. No, I’m not going to tell you how to structure your papers, read your bullshit first draft, or wipe your nose for you. You learned how to write in high school, right? Now stand and deliver. There is also a 30-page term paper and a three-hour final exam. In the term paper I expect to see serious critical engagement with primary sources as well as the most recent secondary literature. Don’t give me any goddamned book report either. I want to see some original thinking. On the final exam the questions will range from providing an analysis of Aristotle’s influence on the theology of Aquinas, to contrasting Spinoza’s necessitarianism with Leibniz’s, to explaining why Wittgenstein rejected his own views in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, to proving the soundness and completeness of first-order quantified modal logic.
Grading: Your grade will be whatever you’ve earned by the sweat of your brow. The only curve I give is down. Don’t even think about asking for extra credit, telling me how much you need a B to keep your scholarship, or how much you “deserve” a better grade. Read the sign on my office door: Cash Bribes Only.
Class etiquette: From now on, you will speak only when spoken to. And the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be “Sir.” Do you maggots understand that? The door will be locked promptly when class starts. And then I own your asses.
Electronic devices: A physicist buddy of mine built me an electromagnetic pulse generator. If I see even one of you looking at, holding, touching, or thinking about a cell phone, laptop, iPod, vibrator, or anything else that runs on electricity, I’m turning it on and permanently frying every piece of equipment in this room. My finger is on the button and it’s feeling itchy.
Academic dishonesty: Are you fucking kidding me? I will, guaranteed, catch you. Don’t tell me how you didn’t know that buying your term paper online was cheating. I don’t want to hear your whiny bullshit excuses. When I catch you I am going to fricassee your testicles and feed them to a goat. Nah, not really. What I’m really going to do is much worse.
Finally, let me say: welcome to college. Now drop and give me 20.