Friday, October 22, 2010

When People Really Do Die (or, "Attack of the Admissions Visitors")

As a prelude, I must present to you information that might come from your flakiest grad-flake. I am not proud of this, but so be it...

Last night, bad things happened.

First, my apartment's wastewater disposal system blinked out. Second, Atom Smasher got royally drunk after rugby and thus needed the wastewater disposal system perhaps more urgently than he might have otherwise. Third, Creepy Ex-Boyfriend decided to make a round of phone calls / emails regarding how I had Made A Huge Mistake in leaving him. Fourth, my tire pressure light is on in the car, apparently thanks to some f*ck-up at last week's service AND fifth, this abdominal infection thing has mysteriously vanished leaving in its wake a series of "inconclusive" test results. Read: You were really sick, but we don't know why.

Finally, one of my colleagues in the village in Starvistan died on Wednesday. I just got the news last night, the funeral is on Saturday. She was 29 and has three children. Three. All of them under the age of 10.

Yesterday, I managed to enter (by hand) my 198 freshman grades into our university's inane grading system that is not linked in any way, shape, or form to Blackboard, where grades are kept, and which does not accept tab-delineated data OR any other form of need to type the grades in. By hand.

I also managed to review the reading that I had assigned for this morning. I even wrote a couple of general questions to help us start discussion. And I graded some...I graded something, Lord knows what at this point.

However, by 9pm last night, I couldn't stop crying. I got up this morning and my face looked like an overripe tomato. Leaving Smasher clutching a pillow to his head and moaning something about never again playing Monkey Bash with that prop from the archaeology department, I went to the office and had a coffee. The coffee helped, but I was still crying. I went to the classroom in the hopes that I would collect myself before my 9am class. More crying. I went down the hall to the ladies' room, washed my face, and came back... find two people I've never seen before in my classroom.

It seems that this is classroom visiting week at the Admissions Office! Perhaps you are familiar with this tradition -- the Admissions people contact you in August and say that people will be coming to your class unless you repeatedly email said Admissions people to prevent their arrival.

I forgot to email repeatedly.

And thus I had Alumni Andrew and his daughter Sophomore in High School Suzette sitting in on my lecture. Sophomore! In high school! And she was from out of state visiting us at Big State U. Yee gads! The young lady's father is pretty much a gold-plated ATM with no access code necessary as far as the Uni is concerned, so they are no doubt getting the star treatment everywhere classroom. Because...hysterical professor with dead friend, half-dead boyfriend, exploded toilet, car problem, and possible gross physical health issue now ALSO has visitors.

I think that my class observed my stricken expression as they worked strangely hard to PARTICIPATE today so that all of us collectively looked like we knew WTF was going in on front of the visitors.

Leaving aside my flakey-flake issues, what do you think about this tradition of allowing the possible supplicants, I mean applicants, to the university to visit classes?


  1. I guess I think that with a warning and a chance to opt out, it's fair. I'm touring elementary schools for my kid, and of course parents want to see classes, and we get to, even though it's really annoying to the teachers and students I can tell.

    But I am so sorry about everything, most especially your friend.

  2. I did the visit to 6 grad schools. It was nice of them to fly me around and I got to feel adult and important. But all those classes were dreadful. I wasn't interesting in studying anything I saw; most of what I saw were flaws that I would not have needed to deal with had I chosen to go to said school. The whole thing was a waste of money for them, of time for me, and of this sort of pressure for the poor academics I visited.

    I vaguely remember something similar for my 4 visited undergrads, except with those they made us group together and do ice-breakers. (how I loathe ice-breakers)

    I think the practice is BS.

  3. I'm sorry, BlackDog. I admire your professionalism during all of that.

    As to your question: I enjoy having high school students visit my class! They're there because they actually want to be there, which I wish I could say of all my regular students. I also remember my own experience in high school learning how much more interesting college classes were, so I feel it's an opportunity to recreate that for them.

  4. My condolences for all of this, but I agree with CDP. As a high school student, I found it fun to go visit colleges and sit in on classes--my high school was so middle-of-the-road that I loved sitting with the "big kids" and, if I was lucky enough to pick a good class, learning real things. I once sat in on a poetry class at the top of a tall tower with great views, and we read Heather McHugh in class, and the prof walked us through the deconstruction.

    And as an instructor, I really enjoyed the couple of times high school students came to my class. They were respectful (possibly because they assumed all adults are on the Admissions Committee), paid attention, and frankly caused the rest of the class to be a little bit livelier, since no one wanted to look like a doofus in front of the stranger.

    Then again, I was lucky enough to never have been caught on a bad day, which it seems you were. Hopefully you'll feel better soon. :)

    (I hate emoticons, so the smiley face means I really do hope you feel better soon.)

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  6. I'm sorry for your loss, BD. What an awful thing.

  7. My condolences for your loss. It puts perspective on our little concerns.

    To answer your question, though:

    I welcome high-school students to come to my classes, anytime. With any luck, they will refrain from doing so on a bad day, but any day can be a bad day—or a good day.

  8. P.S. That said, I'd much rather that high school students drop in to my Intro-Astronomy-for-Non-Majors class (or better, one of its labs, best of all if it's a lab observing the real sky), and -not- my third-semester, calculus-based modern physics class for majors and engineers. Any student attending that class needs a couple of previous semesters of calculus-based physics to understand much of it (and yes, I do hold them responsible for those prerequisites). It doesn't take more than a few minutes for the uninitiated to hear it degenerate into gibberish: and yes, that gibberish is exactly what the students who paid for that class want.

  9. Sorry to hear about your rubbish week, especially the loss of your friend.

    Whilst I don't mind visitors, I am much happier if the person arranging the visit reminds me 48-24 hours beforehand! I like the way that visitors can inspire the regular students to get their acts together...

  10. condolences as well.

    I don't mind the practice usually. But the admin here is required to notify faculty 48 hrs ahead of time. Not sure that would have helped you with the bad day you were having, but at least you would have been forewarned.

    We also have a program that lets selected students from local public schools take a course in the college. I've only had one such student enroll in one of my classes, but he actually did reasonably well, worked hard. By the end I had almost forgotten he was a high school student.

  11. Blackdog: condolences from this corner of the world, too. Note: Given what you said about your boyfriend, we may have been within several meters of each other at some point.

    Regarding tours: when Kal-el Jr and I went on some college tours, we were able to go into classrooms. However, he never really wanted to and I didn't push it. To me, it's an odd practice because (a) we all know what a classroom is like (good and bad) and (b) why would a university take a risk (a marketing risk, of sorts)?

  12. An alternative is what Mrs Archie's school does. They have two designated visiting days and selected faculty teach a sample class just for parents and their applicant spawn. It takes care of the marketing risks that DD mentions because they only ask the best classroom performers. And it also prevents incidents like what happened to BD, because nobody shows up at random. And they give the participating faculty a little something as a reward. Mrs Archie's done it a fair bit, and they usually give her a $200 gift card or something like that for a couple of hours of her time. It works.

  13. Visits by high school students can be terribly awkward for everybody involved. Especially when the junior high school students are smarter than my freshmen.

  14. Condolences, BlackDog, seriously.

    Not only did I not visit my grad school before I attended, I rented an apartment over the phone, sight unseen. THAT turned out to be a mistake. I don't mind visits, though, especially by high school kids. The ones who do visit tend to be good eggs.

  15. I'm sorry to hear about your loss, BlackDog, especially on top of a perfect storm of less serious but still distracting catastrophes. The accumulation of small things can get pretty wearing after a while, enough so to make a big thing really hit hard. I'm not sure I would have even made it as far as the classroom, especially since I've finally decided, after years of making it to classes even if I collapse on the days in between, that there are times when it actually makes sense to say "I'm sick, and my recovery will be much quicker if I take a real day off" (the fact that a bunch of other stuff is weighing me down doesn't need to be mentioned when making my official excuses, though it nearly always plays a role in my getting sick in the first place and/or in what should be a minor ailment lingering way beyond its allotted time).

    In general, I'm in favor of allowing prospective students to visit classrooms, formally or informally (the very few such visits I've had have been ad hoc -- usually a friend or sibling joining a student in the class. While my university is fairly selective, the number of students who choose it from a long list of options is still, I think, fairly low. Many of our students are limited by finances, family obligations, and/or cultural expectations to a state school near home, and I suspect we're a backup choice for many of the students who don't fit that description). I'm also in favor of any formal visits being arranged well in advance, with the professor having full freedom to say a particular day or class just isn't appropriate for a visit.

    If I were informed well in advance and were having a good day, I have to admit that an announced visit from a Big Donor would tempt me to try to wow the guy, then bend his ear about the overuse of adjuncts and other contingent faculty in intro. classes ("I'm so glad you enjoyed the class, and I'll look forward to working with Suzette when she gets here -- if I'm still around. There's a lot of turnover among the faculty who teach intro. classes, so many of the people you see today may not be here in two years. That creates some problems with continuity and institutional knowledge, but I'm sure whoever she does have will be a wonderful teacher.") Of course, in real life, I'm not nearly that brave, or socially skillful.

  16. Very sorry about your colleague. On topic, I'd say those classroom visits are of immense importance to the visitors and bode relatively little trouble for the class's more regular occupants, so they ought to happen. Where To Spend The Next Four Years Of Your Young Life is pretty huge, and Some Seats That Are Usually Empty Being Filled is not really.

    When I was looking at undergraduate schools I sneaked into some classes at certain large schools without the Admissions department's permission; the lectures were just so large no one noticed.


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