I, too, went to a Huge National Conference this month. And it's the last day of the month, so let's think about those HNC mysteries and try to answer a question or two.
Monday, January 31, 2011
I, too, went to a Huge National Conference this month. And it's the last day of the month, so let's think about those HNC mysteries and try to answer a question or two.
One small reward to this career path comes when you realize that some of the material you covered sunk in. Every now and again I get a note from a former student who saw something on a trip, or in a movie, of heard from an elder family member that strikes them because they remembered covering it in class. How about that. Sometimes they really are listening and absorbing the material.......
Recently, our college has started offering online classes. I thought this would be a great way for me to earn my keep and offer me more flexibility. Unfortunately, I instead find myself stuck in front of my laptop much more than I’d like.
I’ve received quite a few student emails claiming that they can’t figure out how to work the site, don’t know how to post on the forum, don’t know how to find out when things are due, don’t have internet at home, so are at the mercy of the library, etc. This leads me to 3 tips for taking online classes.
3. Be prepared to read, a lot. Yep, you must read the book. You also must actually read the syllabus, the assignment instructions, the forum posts, the supplementary information I post, and anything else related to this class. See, you aren’t sitting in a classroom where you hear the information. How else do you expect to know what to do? The computer isn’t going to magically transmit the information from the website to your brain. We just don’t have the budget for that kind of technology. Read, damn it!
2. Plan for “technological issues.” It will undoubtedly happen that your internet goes down, your computer crashes, or the school’s server goes kaput for a period of time this term. There is no way around it. My syllabus states problems with technology will not be accepted as excuses for not submitting work on time. I don’t care if you “worked so hard” on it and “don’t think it’s fair” that you’re penalized for something that you “couldn’t help.” Don’t wait until the last minute to submit your work, and you won’t have to worry about it when your processor decides to burst into flames 5 minutes before the deadline.
1. Avoid taking an online class if you don’t know how to use a computer, the internet, or email. I just can’t abide this level of stupidity. I had a student tell me that they’ve never even been on a computer before this class. Are you kidding me? I’ve received numerous phone calls asking how to get to the website, how to attach a file to an email, and what it means to download an assignment. Really? I don’t teach a computer class. If you aren’t familiar with a computer or the internet, take a computer class before you even think about enrolling in an online class. You can pay for one here, or take them free at the public library.
For those of you suffering with me, what additional tips would you provide to students who’ve chosen to learn online?
his ragged right hand margin;
his pith and wisdom
have gone missing.
Did he run out of time,
space, dimension? Words?
Is he hiding?
Will he rejoin?
I send my greetings
by way of the Misery.
We all need to row, Richard,
we all need to flail.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
But today I was met with a gem. Some days I feel like Admissions can't have found worse students but I have seen the light. Perhaps it is fitting that on a Sunday I found one additional thing I am thankful for. I'm thankful these aren't my students.
Second misery: I'm noticing a new low in student civility – a now common neglect of the most rudimentary expressions of thanks. Yet manners are necessary social glue. Maybe this is old news to you, but I'm only just now noticing this specific element of the more global degeneration. I'll help them out conspicuously in various ways, sometimes beyond what duty requires, but as soon as they get what they want they ignore me completely. Most don't even bother with a simple "thanks" that would take a mere one nano-unit of energy to dispatch. Hey, I just gave you, in response to your request, a long review of your essay draft that, if followed, will certainly improve your grade -- howzabout just one brief reach-around, no? Too much to ask, I guess, of a generation that's increasingly narcissistic and decreasingly empathetic. My crystal ball shows me a future of large-scale sociopathy . . . .
Because many of my students struggle to pay their way through my middle of the road regional college, there are always book questions. They try not to buy the most recent edition, and score older books at pennies on the dollar. I admire it, really. And every once in a while when someone pleads with me to let them NOT buy the current edition, I say "Go ahead."
And then this semester happened.
The current book I use is in its 8th edition. By looking at half.com, Amazon, and Alibris, I see the 7th edition available very cheaply, some more than 80% cheaper than the current offering.
Then I had a visit from Clark. He has the 4th edition. It looks like someone ate it, digested it, washed it off in a mud puddle, and then stitched it back together just for me and Clark. Clark needs to know where my reading assignments are in his edition, but Clark doesn't even have all the pages of the 4th edition. I'm flipping through mine; he's flipping through his. Sometimes I see chapter titles that are the same, but then exercises are different. Sometimes whole sections of the new book simply don't exist in his.
Cleo, who has a 7th edition, offers to help.
Cliff, who has a 6th edition finds that his is more like Clark's than like Cleo's or mine. This, I tell Cliff, doesn't help at all.
It's a minor thing, I know. I know I could have angry students, non-communicative students, students with attention deficit ... what was I saying?
But it's my misery, and I'm going to stop entertaining the "old book" club.
I was'nt in class this week and got 0 on 3 assiments. Since I was'nt
there, I wonder why I got 0. Please call me.
Dear Clueless Karl:
By your logic, if you never attended class and turned nothing in all
semester, you'd earn an A. At the beginning of the semester, when I
said that everyone starts out with the potential to earn an A and has
to work hard to maintain it, I didn't mean that you maintained an A by
simply doing nothing. See you in class next week. BTW, I cannot call
you because you did not supply me with a phone number.
And while I'm on the subject, phone messages from students seem
particularly inane, too. Sometimes I want to break my phone just so no
one can ever leave me another message:
Student Message left: Um, yeah, I have a question about the homework.
Could you call me back. Thanks.
Me: Hmm, no name, no number. Must not expect a call back.
Student Message left: Um, yeah, I called earlier with a question. Can
you call me in the next hour? Thanks.
Me: Hmm, still no name, no number.
Student Message left: Oh, you're still not in your office [at 10 p.m.
How rude of me!]. Can you call me at 555-1212?
Me returning call: Hi, This is Professor Cynic: I'm not sure who
called, but I'm returning a call to someone who had a question about
Student: Oh, yeah, um I think I'm good.
Me: Are you sure? I'm happy to answer any questions you have.
Student: No, I'm good.
Me: Oh, OK. See you in class tomorrow.
Student: Wait, um... who is this?
Saturday, January 29, 2011
He's a straight, white, football-playing freshman from a small Midwestern town (population 2,500). There were probably no black students in his high school despite being located only an hour outside of Detroit. He's probably never encountered a real live homosexual. Unfortunately, that's not an atypical profile for our students.
The poisonous comment hung in the air for a moment. I stood at the front of the room, stunned. A few of the other students egged on the bonehead who thought it was perfectly OK to say "That's gayer than AIDS" in my class. They asked him to repeat himself, which he did. They laughed. My "I'm stunned" level skyrocketed. And then he said it a third time, at which point I regained my speech.
"Don't talk like that in my class. I won't put up with that in here."
"You won't put up with what?" He wasn't being snotty. He didn't get it.
"I won't put up with disrespectful language."
"What do you mean?"
"That's hate speech and I won't tolerate it."
The room got quiet. My students stared. They were incredulous. They couldn't believe that I was having a hissy fit over a comment that they were quite obviously amused by. I even got a couple of eye rolls at the mention of hate speech. That someone might be offended by the word "gay" was beyond comprehensible.
What is wrong with these kids? Are they really so self-absorbed that they can't understand why this kind of statement is harmful? Students can dislike the activities in my class -- that's fine. What students cannot do on my watch is create an environment where others could feel unsafe, discriminated against, or inferior. They can't stereotype. They can't uphold unfair labels that limit other people. They can't use language that promotes hatred of another human being, especially when that hatred is based on outdated nonsense labels that don't stand up to the scrutiny of reality.
If I didn't call this student on his hate speech, I would have been up upholding the institutionalized hatred of homosexuals -- the same institutionalized hatred that contributes to the tangible oppression that is manifested in the denial of marriage rights and hospital visitation rights, among other important things. If I didn't call him on it, I would have sent the message that his statement was acceptable. I'm sure the students thought I was overreacting. They probably gathered in the cafeteria after class and said things like, "She was bitchy today. She must be on her period." (I'm not.) Or worse, "What's the big deal? It's just words" or "sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me" or "He didn't mean it; he doesn't really hate homos."
Maybe I'm more susceptible than most to accepting the notion that language is powerful -- that language can shape reality -- because I'm a writer. Still, I'm flabbergasted by the extent to which my students seem to reject that premise. To my students, "gay" is just part of the lexicon, and associating "gay" with "AIDS" is equally natural. I'm flabbergasted (and disturbed) that they see hate, especially such open hate, as natural.
And I'm even more flabbergasted that they assume there's no one to offend when they say that something is "gayer than AIDS." For all they know, the shy quiet kid who sits in the front row and never says a word is gay. Or the quarterback, who sits with his football buddies every day, might have a gay brother. Or the QB might be gay. Their professor might be a lesbian. Their classmate's godparent might be gay. The hot chick who sits by the door might have an HIV-positive cousin. Their Spanish professor and his boyfriend might be going out of town this weekend to celebrate their anniversary. But none of that occurs to them.* They seem to truly believe that everyone on the planet is just like them, holds the same values as them, sees the world exactly as they do.
I won the battle against the student who said, "That's gayer than AIDS." I am not delusional enough, though, to think I have a chance in hell of winning the war.
my idea: you
think it looks better on you.
i can do nothing.
after tenure, will
my soul recover from years
endless politics, warfare
waged with knives and smiles?
"i don't understand!"
clearly. the spine of the book
cracks when it's opened.
my winter's heart sags,
the weight of the snowflakes--real,
thank heavens! bureaucracy
is better than lunch!
Friday, January 28, 2011
One of my grad students is up for a job teaching high school. It's what she wants to do, and if one of my students is getting hired, that's fine, great, even if high school isn't really what I prepared her for or pushed her for.
She's asking me for advice on her campus interview, and I have no idea what the comprehension level difference is between a Freshman in high school and a frosh in college. I know some of you have dabbled in subbing, and we've had posts on this site from some high school teachers fighting the good fight to prep kids for college.
I get the impression that you can treat teenagers the way you treat first-day-of-class fresh-flakes and you'll have it in the bag. Be entertaining, be very basic, but build to a larger idea by the end of the lesson. Am I wrong? Right? Any tips?
Q: Does anyone else give remedial work? Is it ok or should I stop and just tell them to drop the class?
And the bonus note: It had been so long since I used good ol' Mr. Guch that there was stuff on his site I never saw before. And I suspect that one of you is a student in his class.
- A student asked a question about something another department is responsible for on the ticket system of my dean's office (I'm a techie and have installed all sorts of fancy tech stuff like one email address for all concerns at the dean's office, if the subject line makes sense it gets sent to the right person, if not, someone is assigned to sort at regular intervals). One of my administrators answered promptly and politely: "Please contact the Other Department about this issue." The student wrote back: "That does not answer my question!!!!!" then wrote to me to complain about how nasty my administrators are and suggested the ticket system is useless.
- The president's office sent around the statistics for the past semester. Printed on paper and sent by mail. I have to prepare my yearly report using these statistics. This is one I would like to have had stuffed in an Excel file and sent by email.
- I have to fill out one copy of the "Workplace Safety Assessment Form" for every person working in the department. This includes measuring the distance of the screen from the eyes of each person while seated at the desk and measuring angles and counting wheels and on and on for 4 (four) pages. I wonder if anyone will notice if I make up random values.
- Someone had been calculating some value and requested that I keep track for the past three months of how long I spent on a particular task. I filled out the forms and sent them in. They were returned to me because I didn't fill in the TIME_START and TIME_FINISH for each instance, I had just noted down the TIME_USED. I made up useful numbers, including putting down 9:15-10:30 and then only noting down 60 minutes. I'll take a box of chocolates around if anyone notices.
- A professor requests a $2000 stipend to attend a conference. In Aruba. Yeah, the call for papers is still running, so I really believe your paper was accepted.
- Reviewing the inventory data we discover that the lab engineers have been adding inventory for years, but never bothered to remove old inventory from the list. One tiny office supposedly has 3 desks, 4 shelving units, 2 chairs and 3 ancient computers. I don't dare open the door to this office to check, I'm afraid it might all be there.
- On the bright side, we had some sun today - that's that thing you see during the daytime when the clouds quit raining/snowing for a moment and pull apart!
Why Are College Students
Reporting Record High
Levels of Stress?
So, I avoided the hassle this term when Silvano with a Swagger entered my class 4 minutes late and took a seat. I just asked him his name. "Silvano with a Swagger," he said, seemingly surprised that I didn't already know this. "Ok. See me after class," said I. I proceeded as usual.
After, he approached me and said, "Hey."
"I'm Silvano...with a Swagger. You told me to see you."
"Oh yes. You missed a full week of work already, so you'll..."
Silvano with a Swagger cut me off, "Yeah, I know, but I just got here."
Just last term, I would've asked why, but I've realized that it just doesn't matter. I would've been annoyed that he cut me off, but I wasn't. Instead, I just said, "Ok. You've missed a full week of work. Download the syllabus, complete assignment one, and see if a classmate can share notes with you."
Silvano with a Swagger looked dumbfounded. "Well, can't you just give me that stuff?"
"No," I said, "I gave everyone that 'stuff' the first week of class, when you weren't here yet. You'll have to get it yourself. See you Monday," and I left.
It felt good.
She e-mailed me later that day to ask literally the same question, but she also had the name of the class wrong. Not wrong like she said "Intro chem" instead of "general chem", wrong like the first word didn't make any sense, I'd tell you, but it would be a give away. It was like she said "I'm a blah blah blah major. I was wondering if Hippopotamus of Chemistry is going to give me any troule."
Can I just say "yes" now?
That's probably what I should have done when she asked in the first place.
As I walked towards my office, I passed a Basket-Weaving classroom this morning, where I heard a colleague--whom I have labeled "Coffee Colleague" because of her insistence on carrying a Starbucks coffee travel mug with her everywhere--describing, in great detail and at greater volume than necessary, the angst she had faced because the fancy half-caf-latte-cappuccino maker she'd received for her wedding four years ago had chosen this morning to give up the java by burbling its last. To hear her tell it, the Apocalypse, the Second Coming, and the Renaissance Reformation were all occurring in her kitchen. And on purpose. Said fancy European appliance had carefully chosen today to torture her with its inability to froth forth.
Loitering by the drinking fountain next to her classroom allowed me to both eavesdrop and rehydrate myself. At this point, had it been my class, I would have canned the chit-chat and started in on the lecture or the day's activities. Clearly, the lack of caffeinated courage had also diminished my colleague's common sense, because she then started to seek suggestions from students about the best coffee source on or near the campus. Not once did she glance at the clock behind her at her cell phone or watch to see if perhaps 12 minutes of self gratifying grumbling was enough to get the point across and start the lecture already.
Minute 13 ticked by... what had started as a sad saga about the coffee machine now launched into a memory of best coffee-shop-grading experiences. The mere fact that she grades her students' work at a coffee shop when she has... um... had... a coffee maker at home, irritated me. Why would someone go to a coffee shop to BUY coffee and grade student work on a table the size of a large pizza when they could spread out at home with coffee they'd already paid for? And why was the lecture not starting?
Minute 15 and Coffee Colleague finally pulled out her lecture notes and attempted to gain some level of control from the class by saying, "OK, let's take out a piece of paper to do a quiz."
'Aaaaaaand, we're finally starting class,' I thought. But no...
"Question One: What is the best coffee you've ever had?" she asked. I kid you not! Were I a student in the class, I would have been gleeful because this was a question I would have signed, sealed, and nailed to the door in triplicate to affirm my knowledge of something insignificant that a professor would deem legitimate.
Were I a less snoopy colleague, I would have sidled away and pretended I hadn't loitered for 15 minutes outside her classroom. Instead, I chose to remain. And I chose to listen as the first 20 minutes of class were taken up by Coffee Colleague's personal agenda of the day.
My bladder decided for me that standing next to the humming water fountain for 20 minutes was enough to incite someone to write a blog about their creepy colleague who eavesdropped on their class, so I made my way to the restroom, and then to my office, where I sipped my own home-made cup of brew and planned a real quiz for my class.
Incidentally, when class was over, Coffee Colleague thought it might brighten my day to come and share with me the tragedy that was her morning. I listened, all the while slurping my coffee a little louder than necessary...
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Dear VP of IS,
Let me get this straight. Did you really just send out an email to the entire University community with a 17KB Word Document attachment that contained 518 characters of information? Really?
Then let me propose an exercise for you. Please find an empty classroom and write the following sentence on the board: “I am a bandwidth-wasting moron who is highly paid to pretend to know something about technology.” Write it five times, and that will be a bit over 500 characters. Then repeat those five lines seventeen thousand times or until the magnitude of your ineptitude sinks in, whichever comes first.
Note: You may need to find several classrooms and a shitload of whiteboard markers.
Professor charged with
peeing on colleague's door
- CM Moderator
- What's the best way to answer questions about your negative attributes. For example, "what are your strengths and weaknesses?" What is the best answer for "weaknesses?"
- I know that questions about my relationship status and children are probably off limits in some way, but how do I deal with them when they ARE asked?
- Is there any way to tell if I'm a second-thought candidate? If I get the feeling that I'm just being entertained rather than considered, is there any way to turn that around?
- Is it okay to offer my dietary restrictions before I arrive at the campus visit, or will that just make me look like trouble?
- What kind of answer is a search committee looking for when they say, "Tell me about a time when you struggled/were challenged/etc. and how you resolved it/what you learned from it." What should I avoid in answering these type of questions?
- I know someone addressed this already, but how do I get them to give me a range of salaries without appearing just focused on the pay?
- What I wish someone could explain to me is what I'm supposed to do when a search committee actively argues about something in my presence. Am I supposed to weigh in with my opinion, or do I just sit there uncomfortably and wait for it to end. (What if it happens all day?)
- Am I wrong to be nervous if nobody I get introduced to seems to know why I'm on campus?
- For you campus visit veterans, I have a 3 hour block of "free time" in the middle of my long day. I don't know the campus, the city, or anything. I have a map. It's in Philly, which is covered in snow today. I leave for there this afternoon. What am I going to do with my 3 hours of "free time"?
- Eating. Seriously. I have a real phobia about the smells of food and the disgusting ways in which people eat. And my campus visit schedule includes 4 meals!!!! Is there a way to decrease the amount of meals I have to attend and increase the number of meetings where I might learn something about the job? Or is that me being a gumdrop unicorn?
- I don't drink. Not because I'm a prude. It's because I'm an alcoholic. How do I get around the drink ordering process without drawing attention to myself? The one person I've been corresponding with has written in an email to me, "We like to end the day with some cocktails so we can kick back as a group."
You are the problem and the bane of my existence. You are the reason that when students get to my class they cannot read basic directions, follow deadlines, or write a basic paper. To help solve this problem I have gotten together with like minded professors to offer you the following suggestions.
1. If you make a deadline follow it. Do not accept every excuse under the sun as to why Suzy Snowflake could not turn in her paper on Green Baskets. It does not matter if her cat died or if her computer exploded just as she was about to print her paper, unless she has confirmation from a doctor that she was bleeding from the head give her a zero.
2. Try to improve their writing skills. I don’t want to hear, “Prof Namby Pamby told me to write a paper this way.” At first I simply assumed they were lying, but the evidence is mounting against you. I don’t care what field you are in, a paper that is a two page long single paragraph is just plain wrong.
3. Remember, they are not your friends. Stop treating them as such. Stop getting drinks with them on Friday night, stop trying to be the “cool prof”. You are not teaching them anything.
If anyone else has other suggestions you will be receiving them shortly.