Thursday, December 2, 2010

How Does CM Affect Your View of Your Own Students? (A Thirsty)

In "The Short Brave Life of Rate Your Students" (now posted below), W. T. Pfefferle describes one of his reasons for closing RYS:
I started to carry others' pain and anger into my own life and my own classrooms. My students morphed into the students I read about in the mail each morning. I suspected that each would try to fool me, each would do something blogworthy.
I've found myself worrying a bit about this; when one of my students says or does something clueless, I wonder whether the effect is multiplied by all the other, similar, comments I've seen repeated here and on RYS, and whether I might eventually start responding accordingly (so far, I think I've managed to roll my eyes only internally, then respond appropriately, with due respect for the fact that the student is, in fact, an individual, though perhaps also an individual who belongs to an indentifiable group or type). On the other hand, I find myself noticing that, for the most part, my students aren't snowflakes (or at least not full-time ones). As a group, they are (mostly) willing, cooperative, matur(ing) and responsible (though badly overscheduled and underslept, and, perhaps as a result, too often absent, physically and/or mentally). Given all the other reasons I have to be dissatisfied with my job (salary, workload, lack of participation in departmental/institutional decisionmaking), it's probably good for me to be reminded that things could be much, much worse.

So, I'm wondering about others' experiences.

Q: How do you think your participation here (as a reader, correspondent, and/or commenter) affects your view of and/or reactions to your own students?


  1. I've had a 100% positive experience here and at RYS. I find the spleen-venting a crucial part of my day. I see the misery from others and recognize that I'm not so bad off - or at least I'm not alone - and I whistle on the way to class.

    I think CM especially is good because there are so many voice.

  2. Like Cassandra--or is it Contingent--I find that the site actually helps me realize that I like, enjoy, and respect most of my students. It also frees me from taking ownership of student behavior that's truly snowy: it's not me, it's them. CM also has the benefit of perspective and debate provided in comments as well as some really productive and beneficial strategies for helping students.

    I always Compare CM with Prof Hacker, which I also follow and sometimes enjoy, but that place consistently threatens to send me into a sugar coma, replete with hallucinations of gumdrop unicorns. They do some of the same things, but I'll take the absinthe delirium over sugar shock any day.

  3. Most students described on these pages are worse than mine. I've occasionally assumed the worst about a student without evidence. That's not good.

    On the good side, CM takes the edge off of my experiences with the students who really are bad. It helps me to cool off by thinking that today's cheating, disruptive, stupid student will be the subject of tomorrow's CM post.

  4. CM gives me ideas on how to cope with unusual situations, should any of them arise in my own classes. CM gives me insight into how things are different and yet the same in other academic institutions around the world. It gives me a sense of perspective, being grateful that my students are mostly much better behaved than those featured on CM. And there is entertainment value, of course, not just pedagogic insight.

    But most of all, it is a sanity boost - it gives me insight into views from other members of my profession that are untouched by the mandatory filter of respect towards students that we Must At All Times maintain when making public comment. We all have students that we need to vent about, sometimes!

  5. Wow. What a good question.

    This may sound super-naive of me, but I follow the philosophy of a dear friend of mine from grad school:

    "All undergrads are douchebags. Except mine."

    He used to make fun of them in droves. We'd go to lunch or study at the library and mock passing students. Their pjs. Their jeggings. Their ugg boots. The lies, the eating in class, the super obvious "dead grandma" = "party back home this weekend."

    But with his own students, he always gave them the benefit of the doubt. He always let them fool him that first time. Because if you believe in the students until they prove you wrong, everyone gets along better. And sometimes they never violate that trust.

    Then if they prove them to be snowflakes, I do what I can to help them. I cut them off mid-story and tell them there is absolutely no need to tell me about their medical record or whatever else. I try to prevent them from sliding down the douchebag hole.

    (Until I experience something post-worthy.)

    I don't know, it's saved me so far from starting classes with the worst in mind.

  6. This site has been more helpful for me in learning how to deal with problematic students than my colleagues. My colleagues always seem to resort to describing things in politically correct language so as not to be accountable for expressing their real opinions. I would rather have someone express their true feelings to me in bitter language than hide them in sugary teaching methodology language. It makes me feel like I'm not alone in my frustration.

  7. This place gives me a sense of perspective: "Really, mine are not so bad after all."

    I'm with Academic Monkey on this one.

  8. I like the line in the Chronicle piece. I, too, feel braver because of this site and because of what RYS did.

  9. Like Ben said, most of the students described here and on RYS are worse than mine--way worse in some cases. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they are bad in very different ways from mine. I'd say the same about the colleagues and administrators described herein, but I might be lying about that.

    I would think that we all like to fantasize occasionally about what life would be like at a different institution. What RYS and CM provide, for me anyway, is a glimpse into the very different kinds of experiences that are out there in academia. So when I get tired of students who feel entitled to demand a grade change because daddy is forking over 50K a year plus expenses for them to sit in my class, I can trot over to CM and say, well I could go somewhere else, but then I might be dealing with students who are too stupid to breathe, or students who don't know that they shouldn't blurt out inappropriate shit in class, or whatever the smackdown du jour is.

    In other words, both sites remind me of something I already knew from having taught at a number of places over the years: you can't get rid of your problem students, colleagues, and administrators by moving. At best you can trade them in for a different set of problem students, colleagues and administrators whom you might find more interesting, at least for a while.

    RYS was a little more my style, because it was a little more raw, and the moderators filtered out the douchebaggery for me. But I like CM just the same, and the fact that there are some regular posters and comment-writers here gives it a different kind of feel. It ain't perfect, by a long shot. But it'll do until something better comes along, or until I decide to start my own blog.

    p.s. I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that I've adopted a couple of tricks described on here and on RYS. And I've even reconsidered some of my own long-standing ways of approaching certain kinds of problem students.

  10. RYS and CM have worked in a cycle for me, at least before I started to post. I'd get cheesed at a student and need to vent, and RYS or CM would provide vicarious catharsis and I'd feel better. Then I'd read and read and read and start to get very negative about the whole teaching experience, so I'd swear off RYS and CM for a few weeks, until the next snowflake got to me.

    These days, my reaction to the Thirsties on CM is often, "Wow, that was me 10 or 15 years ago." Somehow I became a Veteran Professor, and it feels very good to realize how much I've learned about teaching, and to be able to pass some of it on honestly (as in what Apostropheisha said).

    And to still pick up new tips, like Archie.

  11. Since Archie has managed to create a sense of veteran status with implied employment at top tier schools, I'd love to hear what kinds of things he's adopted from this site. My favorite conversations involve those that begin with Problem Snowflake but end in a series of suggestions for future teaching approaches. Not every thread offers that, but occasionally one gets the perfect storm.

  12. CM reminds me that I am not alone with dealing with the decline of standards so common in American universities today. It therefore gives me much-needed fortification to stand up to nonsense, from students, administrators, and other teachers. As a result, I grade much more carefully and rigorously, because I know the problem isn't me, so don't be such a milquetoast.

  13. Since you asked. Off the top of my head:

    Marcia recommended a couple of books on teaching. I bought those and read them. Thanks Marcia.

    I was allergic to the use of rubrics, but last year I gave one a try in a seminar--there's a longer, very boring story behind this, but something on RYS tipped it. I'm still on the fence.

    A couple of recent discussions here have got me thinking (just thinking mind you) of tentatively lifting my long-standing ban on laptops by limiting them to the back row.

    There are a couple of others from RYS, including an exam trick. Will that do?

    By the way, I actually think people who teach at places I've taught are often the least interesting teachers out there. Students assume that because I teach here I must be smart, and with very few exceptions they act accordingly. Combine that with the fact that the institution pays only lip service to caring about teaching, and sometimes not even that (published research is our only lord and master at all times) and it becomes phenomenally easy to go through the motions in the classroom. And that's just what a lot of my colleagues do. They teach it like our forebears taught it back in 1890.

    Our students are easy to teach in many ways, because they will take whatever shit you shovel their way. Their flakery takes other forms, of course, and their passivity makes me want to shoot them (I guess I shouldn't say that it makes me want to send them to prison to get raped now that the Chronicle people are coming right?).

    Anyway, my sense is that by trying new things, I prevent myself from just going through the motions and breaking out those lecture notes that are starting to yellow around the edges. And I prevent them from sitting there like rocks in a box. I try to do one new thing every semester, especially in seminars, and one or two of those things have come either directly from RYS/CM, or from a reading that was recommended by someone on RYS/CM, or just contemplating what I might do if faced with the same problem as someone else.

    I'm not that old, but when I discover I'm too old to try something new, I'll know it is time to hang 'em up and drool on the front porch of the old professors' home.

    And p.s. Of course anyone who has been in this profession for five minutes and doesn't have his or her head lodged firmly up his or her ass, knows that there is little or no correlation between place of employment and intelligence, quality of scholarship, and pedagogical skill. The point is that the flakes believe that. Of course if the students here knew I went to a CC, they wouldn't even deign to spit on me.

  14. @Archie: since you have tenure, is there any particular reason you choose not to blow their minds by telling them?

  15. Cassandra,

    Because it doesn't normally come up. They assume that I'm just like them, and there isn't really a good reason to talk about my own background in the classroom. It isn't really relevant to what I teach.

    That said, I have occasionally mentioned it during office hours when I've had a particularly entitled kid (they abound here) tell me that his (it is almost always a guy) entire plan for his future was predicated on coming here and getting certain grades, and he isn't going 150K into debt so that I can tell him he can't do something. That's when I stroke my whiskers, nod, and say, "you know, I went to a community college and it hasn't ever held me back. Plus I didn't have any student loans." The reactions range from speechless horror, to "aren't those like two-year institutions or something?" to one kid who said, "ok, but you wanted to be a professor, I want to make a shitload of money." That was a particularly endearing way to win friends and influence people. I really enjoyed explaining to him why that huge debt load he was carrying out of here was actually going to probably hurt him on that score. On a couple of occasions my revelation has initiated a more thoughtful dialogue about how we think about the value of a college education, but those would be the exceptions.

  16. I'm not actually a professor- I'm one of the snowflakes. But reading CM and RYS has really helped me understand my professors, and how not to annoy or frustrate them. Knowing what pet peeves you guys have helps me avoid pissing off my own professors more than I already do. If I'm going to be absent, I email an apology without an excuse, say that I understand and accept that my grade may be penalized, and leave it at that. I use salutations and signatures and clear subject-lines, and I hope it's working.

  17. CM, like RYS before it, helps me feel less alone in the profession. I work with many people who espouse a K-12 mentality--the wrong kind of K-12 mentality, that of unicorns and sugarplums and endless martyrdom (and my apologies to the fantastic, hard-working, rigorous, inspiring K-12 teachers out there).

    I do love my job and I enjoy teaching about ninety percent of the time (after 20 years!), but working alongside such incessant sunshine, even as classroom conditions and student readiness deteriorate at seemingly exponential rates, makes me feel like a freak.

    CM makes me feel like less of a freak.

  18. I'm not an instructor, but I do work closely with college students as a fraternity advisor. CM (and RYS, when I was reading it) helps me to be a little more patient and clearer in my directives to them. And, hopefully, to be more willing to repeat and document and point them to the documentation two or three or four times. Also to go with my gut instinct - some college students are swooft, some are not so, and some grow into amazing human beings if given a chance.

  19. CM is a great group of anonymous colleagues. Like Archie, I've picked up some tricks and rethought a few things.

    CM makes me feel damned lucky to have the job I have. It isn't perfect, but it's a living, and thus far they have not abolished tenure. My colleagues rock, and are appropriately skeptical of all things gumdroppy without being jerks.

  20. I love when people post on CM, stuff that is driving them nuts, and I am all "my students do that, too". It really helps keep the crazy down to tolerable levels.

  21. I read RYS religiously several times a day at my last university because of colleague misery more than student misery. Now that I've moved there's less misery all around, but I still enjoy reading CM daily. Most of the time CM makes me feel better about my students and, like Archie and Marcia, I've picked up some great tips for dealing with flakes.


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