Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Today's the drop day for our seven-week summer session. Snowflake of the Month informed me during the first week of classes that she would miss the second week (and use up all her absences) in order to join her family in singing "Gaudeamus Igitur" and throwing rose petals at her brother's graduation. She said they'd been planning this all year. She said she knew she was responsible for getting the assignments from a classmate and that she would turn in her paper on time. What's not to love, right?
I just reviewed my grade on [TechJunk CMS] and read your comments and I don't believe that I deserved the grade that was received. Reason being is because I made sure that I incorporated all the claims in my paper as well as TRACE. I don't understand what I did wrong or if I totally just missed the whole concept of the whole thing. You stated that you didn't see where I incorporated the claims and trace in my paper, but each paragraph had to do with one claim each and then I incorporated it all together as well as giving an analysis of the ___ paper based on her views and my views on [essay title]. Please let me know if there is anything that can be done or if there is even a chance of me passing this class after this grade.
I framed a diplomatic CYA answer, such as I myself have received when overreaching doctoral-level classes outside of my discipline, to wit:
I've reviewed your paper and here's why it earned an F. First, it is a personal essay, not an analysis. Second, it does not, in fact, analyze either the five claim types or TRACE in any systematic way. Third, it contains many serious sentence-level errors. I think that it's important for you to consider whether you can master both 1101- and 1102-level skills in the next four or five weeks. You may be more comfortable taking 1102 when summer travel plans don't interfere with 1/7 of the class meetings and when you don't have to cram everything into seven short weeks.
I spent my research day grading papers, since another flake who'd requested an appointment on my day off decided to send a "hey, can't make it, sorry" e-mail during my unbelievably circuitous and obstacle-filled two-hour route. After a hellacious 12-hour day (which was eaten up with all kinds of ancillary crap having nothing to do with, say, studying for comps), I dragged home, warmed up some humble leftovers, then checked my e-mail. There, I found this late-night response:
Is there a possibility that I could still pass the class with that F?
Well, business hours on the drop date have passed, and none of the current crop has dropped, not even the three for whom I did everything but set off Roman candles spelling out the letter F.
I suppose that anything is possible. My academic specialty is not decision science. I'm no bookie. However, if this were a horse at the racetrack, I'd spend my $3 on a warm draft beer instead.
What we really wanted to say:
What we really wanted to say:
When you were leaving, you asked us to “have some faith in me guys.” I wanted to give you some final advice: as you purport to be an English major—although the committee members and I decided to be any major one would have to attend class, which you have not done in a semester or two—I want to suggest that you learn the difference between “faith” and “trust.” Faith is a confidence before, a belief not based on proof. Once a student “builds” an overall grade point average of 0.8080, s/he has a record. When you apply to your new school, ask it to “trust” that you have changed. By the way, showing up high to this meeting didn’t help your case. Goodbye.
You started your appeal by saying that you felt bad that over the last three semesters you had taken seats from students who would have taken advantage of the chances. We agreed, and we noted that you have failed all your math classes. Goodbye!
We appreciate your commitment to your frat. But here’s the thing: to be in a frat, one has to be in college. Goodbye!
Got it. Let's save you 20,000 dollars a year, so you have no need to worry about those morning classes now!
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I don't understand where the readings are coming from. Is there a link or page that shows the author, name of the work and page number for the readings in the unit? It is very difficult finding them an I'm not sure what exactly we have to read.
The readings are listed on the front page of the class. Not only are they prominent, but I also tell students where to find them on a web page they have to read the first week about taking online courses. I politely explained this to Carla. Her reply?
yes i can see that , but is there a syllabus or something else that shows what we need to read on which day and where, it's just too confusing for me.
In my courses, just as in everyone else's, I use this wonderful tool called the calendar. It lists the name of each unit, when to start it, and when the assignments are due. Making the connection between the reading list for a unit (clearly labeled Unit X Reading Assignments) and the posting and quiz assignments within the unit was just too big of a leap for poor Carla. I again politely explained the connection in detail and even reviewed the way the schedule works for my classes. In terms of when units start/end and when assignments are due, it's more regular than a senior citizen taking Metamucil every day.
After barely passing the first couple of posts and failing her first quiz, Carla missed the second quiz, again because she didn't understand that when the to-do list says a quiz is due, the professor puts up a banner on the front page reminding students that the quiz is due, and the calendar lists not only the first date the quiz is available but also when it is due, it is, well...DUE on that date and that one should in fact go to the quiz section of the class to complete said assignment.
Carla emailed me tonight to drop the class since she thinks she is "failing" (with only 15% of the class grades in to date) and recently discovered that in fact she doesn't need another English class. So at least I know her lack of comprehension also extends to numeracy and reading of degree plans. But according to my college's new accountability program, I am responsible for Carla's issues. When I get my "productivity statistics" at the end of the term (Doesn't that sound like I'm on the assembly line making widgets?), Carla's dropping will be held against me as a student I lost. So now I get to explain how I could have better helped this student succeed. Right now, I have no words to help me do that. Maybe I'll join my colleague in the post below for that scotch.
I do occasionally allow rewrites for this reason. Get some more practice in, learn from feedback. Go and sin no more.
The last rewrite I offered to the entire class. 99% of the classes needed to submit work. They needed that higher grade. Only 2% of the class submitted anything. And 50% of those students who turned in new work did worse.
At least I can be thankful there was no grade-grubbing at the end of the term from this group.
In the end, the summer gave me still more motivation to score a job at a college or university. After all, I'll get along with the students better when they've been fully socialized by America's hardworking educators—when Hank's sublimated his energy into high test scores and when Betty's read some Maxine Hong Kingston and Gish Jen, and overcome her literary prejudices.There is a lot wrong here, but I'll leave most of it to other CMers. I'm going to focus on the comparison between college and secondary students.
But I admit I'm looking forward to other perks of an academic job, as well—most important, a regular salary and a few months of escape from America's most precious resource.
This shocked me because I've TAed college students and done the test prep thing with secondary students. Working with the secondary students was definitely better. Why? Because when a 14-year-old whined that he didn't want to do the work and asked how many points he'll lose if he only does the easy parts, I could blame it on his being 14, being there because he is forced to, and doing work that doesn't "count" for his transcript. (Of course, I just told him to read the instructions and do his work to the best of his ability.) When one of my 20-year-old college students did the same thing in a required major course, those excuses didn't hold up.
My college students surely hadn't sublimated anything into high test scores. They got high test scores because the tests (not designed by me) were horribly easy , and my boss wanted easy partial credit on the short response questions. They whined and missed class and expected me to make it up for them. They gave me doctors' notes signed by their mothers, told me their fathers would kill them if I gave them bad grades, and claimed their plagiarizing was due to formatting errors.
I loved my secondary school kids. They were energetic and funny, and when they complained, they usually knew I wasn't going to take it but were just going to try it anyway. I was excited to teach a college class because I loved teaching so much after working with them. (Oh, and I let them call me by my first name, and although some of them insisted on calling me "Teacher Arrogant" and "Sensei Arrogant," it was never a problem.) But my college students were lethargic and boring, and when they complained, they thought they really could get out of doing their work and still get great grades for their transcripts. If "Mr. Blake" expects to find only keeners in college classes, he is in for a rude surprise.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Was glad to see this article in the Chronicle and discover it's not just me! But I was surprised to discover that it's not just humanities types like me, either. Apparently we are all, no matter the discipline, a collection of insecure neurotics.
Which, come to think of it, isn't really news.
Well, Scrambled Eggs has been driving me BONKERS all semester, so here's an old school smackdown.
She hums to herself in the middle of lecture. She forgot her calculator one day, so when everyone else was working on problems, she tore up paper into tiny bits and stuck them in the brim of her enormous straw hat. Did I mention she was sitting in front of a computer the entire time? A computer that had a calculator on it? She sketches pictures -- of ME -- while everyone else is taking notes. And last week -- right before the midterm -- she informed me that she's been unable to understand any of the comments I've made on her homeworks because she "can't read cursive." (I provide typed versions of my answer sheets in addition, but that little nugget just made my jaw drop.)
The one saving grace for Scrambled Eggs is her cheeriness. She chirps out "Thank you" every time I hand out a paper, and every time we're done for the day. She doesn't complain when I ask her to re-do her homeworks -- for good reason, as they are meandering, messy, and often completely wrong. And she actually buckles down and re-does them, and makes them slightly better. She gleefully shouts out wrong answers without thinking, but then apologizes profusely for getting them wrong. And even though she makes me seriously shake my head, I can buy that's just the way she is, and that her endless quirks aren't all some sort of elaborate attention-getting device. And frankly, although she tends to pull focus and rattle me, she does add a bit of color and it's never distracting to the point where other students are complaining (at least not to me).
So what are other people's experiences with the genuinely weird? Those snowflakes that aren't factory standard? I'm sure y'all have one or two breakfast foods that have made your lives more interesting...
The other day I received an "all college" e-notice from a school which has not offered me an assignment for over two years.
Do you continue to list them as an active employer on your CV?
College freshman are the most arrogant, annoying, obnoxious, self-centered, newly-geniused motherfuckers God ever created, yes, even more than William F. Buckley. Trust me, if you ever need to converse with a college freshman for a period of time longer than three-and-a-half minutes, you’re going to be running for that fucking ether.Ayup.
Considering that freshmen are
I propose making it effective immediately. Very useful for all the summer orientation bullshit meetings the university wants faculty to
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Hi Professor,My response:
Is there any way I could turn in my late homework on monday before the final exam without the penalty? I think that's the only way I could pass.. and I'm trying to get accepted to Better Football Team University. D's don't transfer but at this point I'm just trying not to fail. I'll do anything- I'm freaking out a little bit. Would I even pass If I did that? Or should I just not even take the exam? Thanks,
"Rules Don't Apply to Me" Johnson
Hi RDAtM,I can't accept late homework without a 10% per week penalty. I don't have your current scores in front of me, but I would be happy to take a look at the details with you if you can come by my office hours tomorrow or Friday [helpfully listing the times for her]. Since we're past the withdrawal date, I don't know what would be gained by not taking the exam.
alright thanks prof, i'll stop by fri. around 2. I'm not going to be in class tom. though because of this girl scout leader volunteer thing.. but thanks again and i'll cya friday,Notes:
- We only meet once a week, so when she missed this class for some volunteer activity that she'd never mentioned to me before, she missed an entire week's worth of class and didn't turn in her homework that week either.
- She didn't (BIG SURPRISE), repeat, did not show up on Friday.
- Cojones, check.
I care about all my students, but if they don't care enough to show up for a discussion of how they can pass, then I don't feel any sense of obligation to help them further. (By the way, she failed my class.)
Doofus Danny struts in with his pants almost around his ankles. Pulls up a chair, then shouts, "Ew, gross!" and pushes the chair away in disgust.
Me: "Wait, what's wrong? Did someone spill something on the chair?"
"There's, like, a dried-up dark spot on it. Disgusting. Some girl might've had her period on it or somethin'."
Riiiight, that conclusion is TOTALLY made of logic, because:
1) a menstruating woman defiles everything she touches;
2) female bodily functions are a disgusting threat to masculinity--be vigilant!; and
3) college women routinely go around bleeding through their pants and onto furniture.
Nice job with that sexist attitude, fucktard. Too bad a riot grrrl wasn't around to throw her tampon at you, retaliation-style.
Warning: I say nothing funny in this post. Avert your eyes if that makes you uneasy.
I found this article about the labor market for scientists and engineers thought provoking. The article makes some interesting claims:
This last point was most surprising to me since I didn't think STEM students would fall for that line of BS as our liberal arts colleagues did (no insult intended, that's just the impression I got from reading RYS).
Again, a very stimulating read. I'm interested in comments, especially from STEM faculty.
* acronym alert: STEM = science, technology, engineering & math
Anyway, it seems that every class they come to me with new details about their work travel. "I can't be here next week at all. Going to be in Detroit." "My boss asked me to stay an extra day in New York."
And the assumption is that I'll do everything to keep them up to date, funneling information to them on the road, taking in work late, etc.
I get that they're busy people, with families and jobs, but even my stupid little class needs to be a priority at times, doesn't it?
Friday, June 25, 2010
Fast-forward 2 days and 18 hours later, and I arrive to class. Dominic is angry with me and has no compunctions about telling me he's pissed I didn't notify him about canceling class. I calmly told him I sent an e-mail, asked if he had checked his e-mail for a message (he had), and then advised him to check his spam folder just in case the U system dumped it there. I left him to check his e-mail on the room's PC while I circulated around the room to answer other questions before class started.
Eventually, I maneuvered back over to Dom...
"So, did you find the e-mail in your spam folder?" I politely asked him.
"No," he snapped at me, turning away.
"Oh, well, let me send you another e-mail right now before class starts so we can figure out what's wrong with your e-mail."
"It was there."
"What do you mean it was there? You said you checked your e-mail on the snow day and it wasn't there. Was there lag?" I pressed because I was curious. I had worked at another U where there were massive e-mail problems and I really wanted to figure out what the problem was.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"What? I need to know what the problem was..." I trailed off realizing he still wouldn't look at me.
"Oh," I sighed, "it was on another page wasn't it?"
He looked back at me sheepishly. "Yeah," he said. "I didn't realize the e-mail had started another page."
I laughed. "Oh, that's ok," I told him. "I've done that too. Just be careful about that in the future. You don't want to miss any important messages."
And, being the adult (despite the fact he looked like he was my age...deep in my thirties), I got up and walked away from a teachable moment.
Later, I started thinking about it. He YELLED at me and accused me of doing something wrong. He REFUSED to answer a direct question I had asked him about what had happened. He had refused to reveal that HE WAS THE ONE WHO MADE THE MISTAKE. And then I got mad. REALLY mad.
I started fantasizing (sans costumes, you pervs) that if it had been the 1950s and I had been one of those mythical nuns with a stout wooden pointer, I would have caned his sorry ass for lying, for falsely accusing me and for being insubordinate.
Now, I find the situation more funny than anything, but one question remains:
Why do people think this sort of person is qualified to help determine whether a college instructor is doing his or her job?
Cuz I'll tell you what: by the time I quit teaching at that school, students like him were the norm in most classrooms.
As I sit, slogging through another week of inane, staggeringly repetitive, marginally coherent (forget cogent), factual regurgitation answers to discussion questions, I am left wondering if anyone else has come to the conclusion that the supposed "benefit" from the all-written, all-the-time format of online course delivery has devolved to its least common denominator?
This story has stuck with me for a few days, because it seems emblematic of many developments in our collective misery.
From students: The lucky students at Loyola-LA have achieved their goal of getting something for nothing. They can walk away with a purchased high GPA that does not correspond to any proven work.
From administration: teachers who penalized students for lateness, skipping exams or classes, trying to argue that George Orwell was a tool of the Obama Administration, drooling through class, or plagiarizing their work have been overruled in favor of our dear customers. Administration goes up in students' esteem, they get more money, they eliminate a few more tenure-track positions and hire more poverty-stricken grad students.
For teachers: this continues the long trend of grading becoming more and more complex and arbitrary. At one of my schools, I am required to prove an average of 85% for any of my course's final grades. Despite the hard-working (or over-slacking) character of any given class, 85% is the absolute must for all averages. Going above that average will result in a completely RANDOM selection of students whose grades are then dragged downward. Going below, and a few lucky stoners will find a B where a C+ once stood.
So what is the answer here? Universities, strapped for cash, need to appear more and more competitive with each other. They must produce students better-prepared for an impossible marketplace on paper rather than informed and educated. We abandon these lofty "higher-purpose" goals of education in favor of straight-jacket numbers.
I suggest that before the universities just return to the ways of the Catholic Church indulgences (or have we already?), the regional accreditation councils step in. Evaluate not just courses and teachers and requirements, but methods of grading as well. Establish that Chicago-area accreditation means that 80% is an average grade, 90% is a very good grade, 95% is an impossibly high grade. Hold all those accredited in that reason to that standard, and threaten to strip them of accreditation if their grades begin inching higher.
What problems am I missing through proposing this fail-safe measure? What are your experiences with artificially inflated/deflated grades?
Why do you take classes at such times, kids? What's wrong with you?
And then they have 900 things they need once they get there. Nobody thought to bring paper or pens. There's always monumental syllabus confusion. "Is that TODAY?"
I know somebody is paying for their classes; it's not a cheap ticket here either.
I just want to tell them how ridiculous they are, pull them all aside and explain that they should probably just go get stoned and take class when they grow up.
Do I sound impossibly old?
Thursday, June 24, 2010
OK, give me a minute to set up here. Check, check.
Speaking of student evals...
We all know that teaching evaluations are unfair but it’s not much better on the research side. After all, students and administrators aren’t the brightest bunch (if they were, they’d be professors) so it’s not too hard to fool them. Grant reviewers are pretty sharp cookies and are paid to find mistakes in research proposals. How tough is it? Consider this list of ...
My top ten worthy research proposals that didn’t get funded
10. Why is math so hard? Addressing the root cause of gender inequity in the sciences
9. Long term educational gains vs. brain trauma caused by beating some sense into students’ heads: A cost/benefit analysis
8. Studying the relationship between the chance of funding this proposal and the number of “sensitive” pictures I have of the NIH chairman
7. Look, I’m a pretty big name in my field. Just deposit some more money in my account
6. Let’s find out how a big research grant can improve a professor’s chance to get tenure, starting with me
5. Developing curricula for a scientific ethics course based on real-world scenarios (Reviewers: I’ll give you each a 10% kickback if you recommend this proposal)
4. An investigation of why the grant reviewers who ripped apart my previous proposals are so f’ing stupid that they wouldn’t know a good research idea if it fell out of the sky, landed on their face and wiggled
3. A half-baked idea that I’m proposing just because my department head evaluates us based on the number of grant applications we submit each year
2. How much professional misconduct by a few researchers does it take to undermine an entire field of science? [Note: Apparently, Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia already got funded for this.]
1. Sex, drugs and shooting the dean’s cat: Determining how to get my tenure revoked
Did I miss a meeting/memo?
The good doctor (or is he evil?) takes a swipe at articulating the irrelevance of most student evaluations of courses and professors and then tries to wrangle that insight into the absurdity going on in Texas about offering profs incentive bonuses to please the snowflakes. Basically, it kinda-sorta sounds like you get an extra $10k if everyone gets an A.
I say: A's for everyone! To heck with an actual education, I got student loans to pay! Just gimme my pony money!
What say you?
Keep your response short and sweet. (No dissertation-length screeds, please.)