Saturday, April 30, 2011
I tried to head off the last minute blizzard of snowflakery about taking a whole two weeks on your papers by telling you at the beginning of the week that I'd be doing it, told you point blank that I wasn't done with them, probably wouldn't be for our next class, and that it would be after the weekend before I knew I'd have them for you.
So what do I get Wednesday? A few people, in both classes, asking about their grade on that paper.
"When will we know what grade we got on x?"
"When will you put x grades up online?"
"So do you know yet how we did on x?"
...No. No, no, no, no. I will put them up when I'm good and done with them, which would be a hell of a lot faster if you guys would have spent this amount of energy writing the damn things instead of repeating each other and asking about things I clearly don't have to pass back to you that day. Don't email me after class is over to ask me the same fucking thing either! Jesus Christ, I'll get to them when I get to them. How about you work on the paper that's due in a week, hm? It's worth more points! And maybe, just maybe, when I offer to put up a play by play example of what you're supposed to do with extra practice and hints as to how you can view them, you actually use it. In one class, half of them said they'd use it. In the other, no one.
Not a single student.
So don't fucking bitch about me taking soooo long to grade them or the shitty grades you'll be receiving. Maybe if you would have paid attention in class, maybe if you would have come to office hours or to the writing center for help, maybe if you would have showed even a tiny bit of interest in helping yourself write this paper, you wouldn't have to be so worried about what you got on it.
And Sick Sally, you've got to be fucking joking. You literally changed your topic two days before you had to pass out workshop copies, looked like a goddamn deer realizing it's about to be mowed down when I reminded you of this fact, and then the morning you are supposed to bring them to class you tell me you've been puking all night (ew), work sent you home (...so?), and you don't think you'll make it to class. When I say you still need to get me your workshop copies, you want to just email it to me or give me one copy, reminding me again that you're about to die of barfing.
Um, no. I'm not making your goddamn copies for you and you aren't getting out of having to pay for copies like every other student has had to.
Reminding you again that if you don't workshop you can lose major points, you then throw a small hissy fit over email (after I've already started teaching my other class) and say you'll try to get your mom or someone to drop them off.
Seeing you not in class, I go ahead and walk all the way back to my office while the rest of your class is doing student assessments (ugh) -- in heels. Do you know that heels are the devil? That they are deceptively cozy and comfortable until you get all the way back to the office before turning into razor blade laden bits of hell and you have to turn around and walk all the way back? Yeah, guess what. Your papers weren't waiting for me outside my office or in the department office. So my feet hurt for no goddamn reason at all.
I go back to teach in those razor blade laden shoes (now with only one razor blade, directly over my right foot's little toe) in front of two of your classmate's "pen pals" -- middle schoolers. Cue me having to watch my mouth as we discuss the most unethical article we've read in class. Awesomeness.
It's about twenty minutes until the end of class, I'm trying to wrap up citation discussion quickly before moving the class into group work, and I catch someone pacing outside my door, in only my view, waving her hand frantically to get a student, any student's, attention.
What. The. Fuck.
By now I'm tired of all this, Sick Sally. I'm really, really trying to get your classmates to understand that they really do have to use this one particular citation, how to figure it out if my handout is too tough for them, and that they only have two options when they use someone else's words or ideas. It's the end of the semester, I'm tired and frustrated and sick of having to watch my mouth and keep these stupid shoes on.
So forgive me for striding back to the door, yanking it open on your friend, tartly snapping "What" to her, and not listening to her bubbling explanation of "my sick friend Sally wanted me to bring these by....she's been puking..." before snatching your papers from her hand and closing the door. Forgive me for getting completely frustrated by the fact that your workshop papers were not stapled and barely broken apart into those stupid little cut and fold over operations you guys think work so well but fail miserably. Forgive me for mumbling under my breath while I separated them all and passed them out while your classmates were working in groups.
But be grateful, Sally, that there were middle school kids sitting in, watching me as they doodled on coloring sheets. Be grateful that I did not have time to explain to your wayward friend exactly how dropping your work off in the middle of my class, much less pacing and frantically waving for someone's attention, wasn't the way to help you out. Be grateful that I didn't send you a snarky email afterward telling you exactly why that wasn't appropriate, for either you or her. Be grateful I didn't leave her out there and not pass your papers out at all, Sally.
You damn well better be in class on Monday.
Back to grading,
I do not hate women. Please let me make that clear. If I communicated otherwise, I am sorry.
There are some things I do hate:
1) I hate Deans who sacrifice their department's accreditation in order to put adjuncts in their place. (This happened at Lead Posoning CC in California. I can not be any more specific without outing myself.)
2) I hate Principals who force art teachers and other non-qualified individuals to teach Math, only to fire them for incompetence. (I witnessed this first hand.)
3) I hate students who have sex with people in authority. (It happens more often than we want to believe.)
4) I hate authority members who have sex with students.
5) I hate corruption with a passion, even if it is the status quo.
However, I do not hate females. I hate people who engage in #'s 1-5, regardless of their gender. But I do not hate someone solely because they are female.
I also am not out to just accuse students of misconduct just because they give me a hard time. In my post about the Crackhead Soccer Mom, I neglected to point out that the student had bragged about screwing the Dean, which is actually consistent with the other stories I have been hearing about him. In the future, I will be sure to ask myself how I know something. However, I doubt that I will ever have any video footage to back any of my claims.
Do understand that sometimes there just isn't any evidence. I don't see that stopping anyone else from posting. You don't see me jumping out of the bushes when people post allegations of plagiarism, without any basis whatsoever. But then, if people did that, no one would want to post.
I am here for the same reason(s) as everyone else. The job sucks at times, and I cannot afford a therapist.
What set this off? Good question. A female student approached me in tears sobbing, and what I could make out is that she was told by her father that she did not have enough testosterone in her body in order to think abstractly and perform spacial calculations, and hence the poor performance in my class. It made me sick to hear that and it activated all of my subroutines at once (struck a nerve). Granted, the student may be looking for sympathy, but I've heard that conclusion before, mainly from MD's and Psychologists. It should be noted that some of the brightest individuals I have ever met are female.
Friday, April 29, 2011
The president was not amused, neither was I.
I requested that Dr. C show up in my office Tuesday afternoon, but since he didn't read his email until Wednesday, I was able to spend the half an hour sorting through piles of paper on my desk.
I managed to spear him from the hallway in time for a shake-down before he was to speak with the president on Thursday. I tried to explain to him that it makes more sense for him to complain to me, or even better to my room administrator, if he is unhappy about his room assignment.
But it turned out that he just plain felt unloved. He's had all sorts of great ideas these past months, and none of them have been acted on. Might I mention that those that were not completely off the wall cost far too much money? And if I gave him what he wanted, then I'd have 72 others in here begging for money as well?
Oh, and we moved them into a new building about a month ago and he still needs additional shelves and his cork board hung up and an eraser and some whiteboard pens and some paper and the garbage can is the wrong color (no, I made up that last one). And there is no coffee machine in this building, he has to put on a coat and walk to the next building to get a cup of coffee. And the building isn't finished yet so the workers are making an awful noise and he can't concentrate.
And his exam problem? He likes to have 2 empty seats between students, not 1, and that won't work in the room we gave him. I suggested he print half the exams on yellow paper, the other half on green and tell the flakes they are two different exams.
He continued on with about 17 other things that I wrote down and investigated today. None, exactly none, of the complaints are legitimate. Some things he was complaining about we did at the express, written request of his department head.
He in turn spent 2 hours speaking with the president in detail about all the problems again. Why on *earth* the president didn't have his secretary remind him about an important meeting after half an hour is beyond me.
Total amount of time spent on Dr. C.'s whining this week? >4 hours for me, 2.5 for the pres. I hope it was worth it.
Boys deal with this sort of thing by setting stuff on fire. They make flaming arrows out of sticks, dance around fire pits like goblins, and begin eyeing every stray object in terms of whether it will melt or explode. Meanwhile, rational adults of the female persuasion hide the spray cans and pray the ruffians will restrain themselves from dropping their pants and lighting their own farts. The semi-rational adults of the male persuasion smoke cigars and drink, and look the other way, because boys will be boys. And boys like fire.
Don’t tell me this doesn’t happen, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes, right before the lights just as mysteriously returned that very evening, crisis mostly averted.
Thursday dawned bright and clear and absolutely lovely, and in two of my classes I had tests to hand back. Portentously, the internet was still down on campus, which meant that most students would not have been able to check their grades on blackboard before coming to class.
For one girl, who had been anxiously emailing me about when the grades would be up just before the blackout, this meant that her grade, a 64, was a fresh hell she had no time to assimilate. She saw her grade, let out a strangled cry, and began weeping.
Crying Girl, how can I go over the test and try to help the rest of the class prepare for the final when you are crying? How can the rest of the class pay attention and correct their mistakes throughout the snuffling and wet breathing and outright sobs you are emitting?
I pressed on, thinking that a boy would take this in stride. A boy would go home and set something on fire. Or at least a boy would wait until the end of class to cry in his car when he got a bad grade, which is what I used to do.
So there will be a new policy. No crying in class. Please, no crying. Light your farts on fire but don’t cry. I can’t take it.
But I'm still puzzled. She has the grades, she has the percentages, but she, like the students who disappear for most of the semester and then send emails asking how they can pass, seems to consider the origin of grades a total mystery. No wonder they find college so anxiety-provoking.
Dr. Zeke is a nice guy. But he doesn't lecture. Group activities don't work for the class. When you ask him questions, he just stares at you blankly.I want you to know that this is not a direct quote. I read and summarized the general sense of it, so I'm not plagiarizing. So why did this bother me? I'll tell you. I DO use small group learning in class. I don't lecture (much). When I do lecture, it is about something important, and it's probably something that you as a student should pay attention to (and it's probably in response to the reasonable questions students have asked me about the activity we've been working on).
Students do learn this way. At least the ones who put in time outside of class. I know who you are you see. You think that all you have to do is go to class and have your head filled by the professor. Excuse me. Teacher. That's what you usually call me. When you come to class.
I'm sure that you really believe that coming to class 60% of the time, and turning in 60% of the homework should secure you B+, if not an A. Above all, you really shouldn't have to think, should you? Like, analyze data to come to a conclusion about something you're supposed to learn. You're the one who asks "How was I supposed to know to do that?". Well, before you came to class you weren't. Now you do. It's called learning.
Oh, and this does work for most of the class. They might not all be getting A's, but in the last five years (since I stopped lecturing and started using group activities), fewer students have failed the course. I'd show you the data, but then you'd have to think about it.
You're going to be an awesome MD. For sure.
(I feel better now. I'm going to go turn on some Sabbath and start grading exams. Then go have some beer.)
It had been about the hardest day of the semester for me, and the worst grading slog was still to come. The final exam prep is something I take seriously, not something designed to make the precious dears feel good about themselves going into the final, but a no-holds-barred barrage of all the stuff I've taught for 15 weeks. I want students to fear the final. I want them to get scared and spend this last weekend reviewing all of the stuff I told them they SHOULD have learned.
As I headed to my office with a briefcase in one hand, and a large box I pushed with my feet along the hallway, I started hearing Frankie Avalon - no, really - music coming from an open classroom door. It got louder as I went, and when I got there and looked in, I saw my colleague, a pleasant and lovely woman of 50, dancing in the middle of her classroom with about 15 students.
The lights were off. Some industrial looking lights with colored plastic paper over the bulbs sat in the corners of the room. The music played out of some kind of boombox. The desks were all pushed to the sides of the room, and two folding tables were filled with Domino's pizza, silver trays of meatballs, crackers, cheese plates, a slow cooker filled with cheese, bowls of cut up vegetables.
Strung above the classroom was a long strip of paper with the words, "Dr. Xxxxxxx's Final Exam / Sock-Hop."
My colleague spotted me and waved me over to the door. She dislodged herself from the dancers and met me at the door in her stocking feet.
"Hi, Olivia," she said. "Come on in and have some food. We're celebrating the end of the semester."
I set my briefcase down, grabbed a toothpick which I speared through two meatballs and said, "Thanks. I've got to do some work."
What am I doing wrong?
Thursday, April 28, 2011
I work at a lovely Rocky Mountain-region college, with a group of friendly, ski-happy, collegial academics. We get along, for the most part, famously.
I'm in the social sciences, and for reasons unknown to me, we share parts of two floors with a number of business profs. Both departments are pretty young; we hang out a good deal in two nice lounges. Hardly a cross word gets passed.
But in the past months, the Obama birther controversy has caused numerous testy conversations in our hallways. It is beyond me how anyone can not see the birther movement as racist at its heart. I'm an African-American, but young enough that most of my horror stories are about my parents and grand parents. I've mostly felt at home in college, grad school, and in two tenure track jobs.
But I sat in a room of profs this afternoon where a number of folks shared their concerns about Obama's recently released long form birth certificate. Surely it had to be a fake, and a bad one at that. They parroted some of Donald Trump's recent quotes, including the one about how Obama should get off the basketball court and get back to running the country, and I kept thinking. "Y'all want to call him a nigger, am I right?"
I sort of hate myself for feeling this way. I'm not so invested in who the president is or what color he is that it overshadows the day to day of my life in this lovely spot. But I left campus wanting to pack my stuff and move along somewhere more tolerant - and I don't even know where that would be.
That's a rather specific genesis for a much more general question.
Q: Do you see racism exhibited among your colleagues? Is it overt? Does it overshadow otherwise collegial relationships?
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Enter Rosencrantz and/or Guildenstern and Camping Trip Carl
CTC : Professor .. whichever, I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period. I have to lead a camping trip for disadvantaged youth two days later and I need to travel to another part of the forest to do so. Can I write my exam early?
R/G : No, I don't think that would be fair, since the syllabus does indicate that students need to be available throughout the exam period. It will be a tight travel schedule, but I think you can manage.
Exit Canoe Trip Carl, Enter Motorbike Mike
MBM : Hi Professor. I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period. I have to start a job three days later in another part of Canuckistan.
R/G : But three days is plenty of time to travel that distance. Surely you can write at the scheduled time.
MBM : Yes, but you see I just bought a motorcycle, and the only way I can get it to my new job is to ride it through the snowdrifts of Canuckistan, and it is a second hand motorcycle which may require repairs along the way. Are you sure I can't write early?
R/G : No, that wouldn't be fair, I've already said no to someone else. It's not your job that conflicts, for which I might have some sympathy, but your motorbike.
Exit Motorbike Mike, Enter Road Trip Rhoda
RTR : Professor, I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period. I'm graduating this fall, and my friends and I had planned a two week road trip through the glamour spots of Canuckistan in celebration. Unfortunately, we leave three days before the exams are over, and my friends cannot wait until after the exam.
R/G : Doesn't that mean you are celebrating a little early?
RTR : Ummm... I guess? But my friends have to start jobs soon.
R/G : No, I don't think that would be fair. I've already said no to two others. I sympathize with your desire to celebrate graduating, but the syllabus says you have to be available throughout the exam period. Perhaps you can catch up with your friends a few days late.
Exit Road Trip Rhoda, Enter Family Guy Frank
FGF : Hi Professor...
R/G : Let me guess, you just checked the exam schedule.
FGF : How did you guess?
R/G : Years of Jedi training
FGF : Really?
R/G : No. But they do train scientists to recognize patterns. You were saying...?
FGF : I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period. My family wants to fly me and my elder sister to a vacation spot near a sunny beach three days before the exam. I know you would not wish for me to miss this outing, nor for my parents to lose their non-refundable deposit.
R/G : Are you in Dr. Yaro's class by any chance?
FGF : How did you guess?
R/G : I told you, Jedi training. But getting back to the matter at hand, No, I don't think that would be fair. I've already said no to several others.
FGF : But.. But.. Vacation spot.. Sunny beach.. Non-refundable..
Exit Family Guy Frank, Enter Wedding Day Wendy
WDW : Professor, I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period.
R/G : So I've been told.
WDW : (Pause) So Anyway, my sister is getting married in a far off land three days before the exam. I have to write the exam early.
R/G : Ooh, that is a problem. I understand how important this is to your family, but I've already turned down multiple requests to write early. Did your family not consult with you when setting the date?
WDW : Sure but no one ever has exams on the last day of the exam period!
R/G : Wouldn't that mean that the day before the last day would then become the last day?
WDW : Huh?
R/G : (Counts to eleven) I really sympathize, but I've already said no to many others, and I can't start bending the rules now.
WDW : Fine! I'll miss the wedding! WhatEVER!
Exit Wedding Day Wendy.
R/G : (To Dean) Damn, I feel kinda bad about that last one. Do you think I'm being to hard-assed?
Dean : No man, you rock! Stay Strong!
Enter Sports Event Samson
SES : Hi Professor, I just checked the exam schedule, and I noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period.
R/G : There's a lot of that going around.
SES : Really? Well anyway, my Dangerous Sport team is travelling to the Big Championship that takes place at the end of the exam period.
R/G : I didn't know R1 Wannabe U. even had a team in Dangerous Sport
SES : We don't, but I belong to the Dangerous Sport Club across town, and Captain Coach want's us to participate in the Conflicting Contest immediately beforehand.
R/G : Wait, you mean it's not a school event, and the Big Championship isn't until after the exam? In that case, I have to say no. I've already said no to a whole crowd of others. You can get there in time for the Big Championship but you'll have to skip the Conflicting Contest.
SES : OK. (Exit)
R/G : Whew! That was easier than I thought.
Enter Off Campus Captain Coach
OCCC : Hi Professor, I wanted to talk to you about Sports Event Samson and the Big Championship. You have to understand that it is standard practice in Dangerous Sport to run a Conflicting Contest before a Big Championship.
R/G : Well, I used to dabble in a Dangerous Sport in my younger days, so I do understand your sport, but I'm sure you understand that I have to apply the rules fairly - you'd expect no less of the referees at Big Championship....
OCCC : Why you little...! I've never heard such a thing, nor met anyone so intransigent. I've trained my whole life for this! I hope you realize you've ruined our chances with your inflexibility!
R/G : (Aside) And your standing in this matter is...? (To OCCC, very politely) Bite me.
Exit Off Campus Captain Coach
R/G : (Railing to the Heavens) Strooth! What next? Anyone else got an excuse? Wanna crank it up another notch? Anyone? Think you can break me?
Enter Church Goer Charles
CGC : Hi Dr... I just checked the exam schedule...
R/G : (interrupting, slightly desperate) and you noticed that our exam is on the last day of the exam period - I know, I know!
CGC : No it's not that...
R/G : (Startled) Wait, wait, what?
CGC : No, not at all. It's on the Sabbath.
R/G : Oh God!
CGC : Exactly. I belong to Splinter Denomination of Mainstream Monotheistic Faith. We believe the True Sabbath is on the day of the final exam.
R/G : You mean your faith was founded on a scheduling conflict?
CGC : More or less.
R/G : And given your emphasis on scheduling the Sabbath, did you perchance consider this issue back when the exam schedule was announced three months ago?
CGC : Err.. Sorry, no.
R/G : (Aside) I'm beat aren't I?
Enter Human Rights Hubert from Human Rights Office
HRH : Yup. It's campus policy.
Exeunt clutching bottle of Scotch.
At least 4 dead after massive tornados touch down in Alabama
Students are not buying the textbooks for my courses.
I don't even know what to say to these fellows. I'm forced to add a clause to all future syllabi that reads "all required texts must be purchased and in-hand by the beginning of the second week of class" (perhaps I should even make that a graded assignment!).
I mean, I don't get the financial excuses. When I was getting my schooling, textbook costs were a small fraction of the tuition I paid, kind of like the sales tax I expect to pay on the skittles and DVDs I buy at Target. And I was a broke, broke lad - sometimes having a single boiled potato for dinner (and relishing the romantic notion of being the starving student). I always knew the textbooks were there to be purchased before the semester began, and that I would need money to do so, and that I would need them for the beginning of class. I budgeted for it.
I mean, can you imagine an employee telling their boss, "Yeah, I haven't purchased the gasoline for the car that I need to do my sales pitches, so I'm just going to skip out on it for now. Thank you for your understanding in allowing me to make this up at a later date"?
This conversation happened Monday:
Me: Does anyone have a Completion Certificate for me?
Girl raises her hand.
Girl: You know, I went to your page and I read the about the assignment, but when I tried to click on the link it didn't work. Did you just want me to copy and paste that up at the top?
This girl, who is on the lower end of the grading anyway, couldn't muster up even the smallest effort to copy and paste the link into the address box of her browser to have access to a possible 200 point, 2 letter grade assignment. WTF. So for something this important I need to make a hyperlink for you, not trust you enough to highlight and right click on the damn thing? Fucking really?
Ugh. Good thing they have a few more class periods before it's officially due.
Internet Ina: Darling, darling…I like you. You sit up front, and show up most of the time. You don’t cause me any problems. You have a quick, shy smile. You are not the sharpest tack in the box, but that’s what I’m here for. Why oh why did you choose the last assignment of the semester to plagiarize? No, you can’t pass. One incident of plagiarism results in your failure for the entire course. At first you insisted, over and over, that you never took anything from the internet to prepare your assignment. No, I didn’t believe you. It was only after I gently and methodically presented you with irrefutable evidence, that you finally caved. And you are sorry, really sorry. But no, that won’t help. You still fail, Ina. You still fail. Sigh.
Pregnant Patty: I know you are pregnant. I’ve been pregnant myself. But no, I cannot absolve you of the required work because you are hauling a fetus around. You have a failing average on your assignments, and because of excessive absences, a failing average on participation as well. You need high marks on the oral report and the final just to get a “C” in the class. No, I don’t believe you had “the flu,” especially since you were taken ill the night before your oral report was due. No, I will not waive the requirement that you produce a doctor’s excuse to prevent your grade being halved for lateness. But I informed you that there is actually some wiggle room so that you could have presented your report this week instead, along with the excuse. Your response to that suggestion was dead air. And you didn’t show up today, either. You’re doomed, Pregnant Patty. You’re doomed.
Late Lottie: You showed up late eleven times this semester out of thirty class periods. When I asked you about your lateness earlier in the semester, in order to prod you to come to class on time, you just shrugged and said you just couldn’t seem to show up on time anywhere. I shrugged back. Whatevs. Then this week, which is the last week of school, you got around to asking how many lates and absences you had, and what the effect would be on your final grade. You know, Lottie, I was not kidding when I said that after two you’d be penalized one point off your final grade for each additional tardy. That adds up to nine points off your final grade. Plus you’re one absence over the limit as well and that amounts to another two points off. Eleven points off for you, Lottie. What? No more shrugging? Now you want to meet with me outside of my office hours to arrange for a special extra credit assignment you intend to complete between now and Friday? Uh, no, Late Lottie. You’re a bit late for that as well.
Perfect Portia: No, perfect attendance will not magically get you a higher grade. No, it won’t even bump you up if you are “between” grades. There is no such thing as “between” grades, and just showing up doesn’t get you brownie points. If you haven’t learned that yet, maybe the “C” you don’t think you deserve will help you figure that out. And no, you can’t have an extra credit assignment either.
He hopes we will keep them and treasure them forever. No shit.
Q: Is it appropriate to tell him to go fuck himself?
But it's halfway into the quarter, and suddenly this class has coughed out a giant snowball. He didn't show up for a month. He "forgot" he was in the class, no, dropped the wrong class thinking it was mine, no, went to the wrong room. Whatever. He came to me asking if it was still possible to pass at this point in the term (with perfect scores on everything it is). Enough, right? Come to class, do the work, and hope you pass. But no. In the days since he joined the class, I have received several long, excuse- and emoticon-filled e-mails explaining why he is not doing what he is supposed to do. All with little passive-aggressive smileys and "thanks for responding soon!"
He is, he says, raring to go, but this happened and that happened, and you see Professor, I need blah blah blah and you understand that blah blah blah right? Please get back to me when you can!!!! =) =)
I can tell already that he is going to take huge amounts of my time, time I do not have. I want to chew the top off of a vodka bottle, grind up the glass between my teeth, down the whole thing, and jump off a bridge.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
7. You know more about the people on this blog than your own coworkers...
6. When something horrific/funny/disturbing/weird/moist happens in class, your first thought is: "I can't wait to post that on CM."
5. You urge random people (not even academics) to check out the blog...
4. You get raging mad at complete strangers who disrespect your 'blog buddies.'
3. You have to shut down your computer to avoid seeing if there are any new postings...
I'd be happy if this shout-out brought either one of them back to us...
I responded: Check the chapter on basket-making. Or Google it.
It took longer to write the original email than it would have taken to find the answer online! And this was from one of my B students! Did Google disappear? Did Bing? Did Yahoo? To be fair, it’s not in the book index, although it is on the PowerPoint outline I provide and it is in the book. But I get this type of question every semester. Come on people! You have the most powerful research tool ever invented at your fingertips, and it’s amazingly easy to use. I know you know how to type, because that’s all you do before class. Use the damn tool! It’s as if you were sitting at a bench full of hammers lamenting that you couldn’t put a nail in the wall to hang a picture!
!!!!!!!!!! (I still had a few left over.)
She is a poor, earnestly troubled soul asking me for help. The correct answer to one homework problem eludes her. Ah, the best part of my job - presenting the mysteries of the material world to curious minds! Half way through working out the
You know what? Screw the storytelling. She’s a senior in physical chemistry who can’t do freshman calculus. Sure, that means that she’s brighter than 99% of the world’s population but I don’t grade on that curve. She can’t do a simple calculation. (Here’s the equation. Solve it.) She "just doesn't get this math stuff." For a p-chem student, she’s pretty dumb.
How could she ever learn, she asks. She routinely gets C’s and some D’s in her major classes so this isn’t her first academic challenge. Well, you study, of course. The discussion devolves into me spouting all the advice that I give freshmen. Practice. Take notes. Do your homework. She gets a look on her face as if I’m revealing great secrets, like the season finale of Glee or something. Her epiphanic expression dissolves when she realizes that studying takes a lot of work.
“All I need is a D.” she says.
If you think that’s what you need, then you’re stupid too.
A: All of the above.
I've had a long, stumbling career, moving often, and count 7 institutions on my vita. I've let fear control a lot of what I did in the classroom, always trying to hang on to a job, get better classes, get better times, please my students or my bosses, or simply work my way toward tenure without upsetting the apple cart.
It meant that I ate shit a lot of the time, and did it so well and for so long I completely forgot that I was doing it. (To be fair I had a large family to raise, ailing parents, troubled siblings who had legal problems for years, so I was often so busy in my regular life that my career rested on auto-pilot.)
I had a similar realization to MLP's many years ago when I, too, decided to leave a college and head elsewhere. I did what I thought was right that last semester, and it made a world of difference. I treated my students as if they were adults - the first time. And for the most part they became adults in my class. I was fair but strict in all of my actions; I tried to teach like the great proffies of my own undergrad career had taught me. (By great, I don't mean the ones I liked the most, but the ones who I still remember to this day as having made me a better student and human.)
I felt good about my career, something that had been missing ever since the glow of that first t-t job had worn off. Instead of tiptoeing through the department, I took great strides. When a bully tried to push a new textbook everybody hated into the curriculum, I tossed my copy into a bin and said, "That book is bullshit. I don't know why you don't see it, or why nobody else will speak up about it."
I felt as if I was being true to what I believed and what I knew mattered to the students of my college.
It changed my life.
When I ended up in my next position, the superkeen department head ended up being a tyrannical mess who needed tiptoeing and kowtowing on a daily basis. I received endless warnings about fragile and precious students, my "harsh" grading, my brusque manner.
And within a semester all of the good feeling I had by trying to do what I believed to be right was gone. I stumbled that way until tenure, and by then I had become what I am now, an aging and rather doddering old proffie on the very tail end of a career that I don't care to look back on much.
I've saved some money. My wife has done the same. We're looking forward to getting out of our careers and onto a sort of quasi-retirement. But reading this page (and also RYS) over the past few years has made me think about our profession, how we do it, what we must do to survive in it. I think we are often asked to give too much.
I also think of that one grand semester when I had no fear, and I wish I had not squandered so much time.
Monday, April 25, 2011
The details aren't especially important—fill in your own, we've all been there—but increasingly, the idea that we might be in control of something, anything, in our own life . . . it seems a tad more silly. The Powers That Be have wills of their own, and we, Aethelfrith, are somehow at their mercy.
Yes, we know, "it's good to be the king" and all that, but . . . some days, it really kinda isn't. We're as much of a good stoic as anyone else, but it's pretty obvious that Aurelius was no academic—he'd be pretty quickly disabused of the notion that everything acts for a reason, much less a good one. Lucretius? Well, everything's random, all right, but the provost is likely to point to Himself if anyone says there is no God. And the only thing we have to say about Pascal is that he forgot a few infinites—the infinitely stupid, the infinitely vapid, the infinitely pointless.
And all those people who go to show that even the most depressed of philosophers didn't know the half of it are in charge.
When do we get our life back? You know, the thing we handed over when we first caught sight of this supposed ivory tower?