Friday, September 30, 2011

"How I Wish I Might Annotate my Syllabus" by TubaPlayingProf.

Very prescriptive department requirements now limit what I can include on my syllabus, but if I could, I would include footnotes:

Footnote for Instructor: Please call me “Mr. Tubaplayer” or “Dr. Tubaplayer” or if you can’t pronounce my name “Mr. T” or “Dr. T” will do. I will answer to “Hey Tuba.” I will even answer to mispronunciations of my name. Just do not call me “Professor” unless you use it with my name. I am a professor; that’s my rank. I am admittedly proud of that accomplishment at times, but usually humbled when I think of all the talented, hard-working, excellent colleagues who might never achieve that rank here, especially the abused adjuncts for whom we can find work but no job. The word professor has now come to mean “college teacher” for students who don’t know if their instructor has another title and for students who don’t now their instructor’s name. Others might disagree, but you calling me “Professor” means to me that you either don’t know my name or don’t care to learn it. Other titles I prefer to the generic “Professor” include “sir,” “dude,” and “you.”

Footnote for Email Address: Parents reading this syllabus be assured that if you try to contact me about your child—whom I assume to be a college student—I will politely explain that the regulations of FERPA forbid me from any further communication. I don’t know if that’s true, but I will delete subsequent e-mails from you—even the one asking me what FERPA stands for.

Footnote for Contact Info: I will respond to your email messages quickly—but I reserve the right to sleep eight hours each day, have time with my family, have time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, time to move around the track in what I adorably miscall “running,” read, grade, teach my other classes, and selfishly take Saturdays and Sundays off. A conventional old man, I sleep at night, so expect no reply until the morning—when old men awake. And no, I don’t have Face book as I fear the poke feature. I do have a smart phone with a texting plan, but I use all my minutes on people who are in my life before and after the fifteen weeks you and I will share; these people are called “friends and family.” Pardon me for having privacy issues, but I will not give out my cell number even though as some of you will argue, “it’s how our generation communicates.” Learn to use e-mail, the way my generation communicates—and it’s free and unlimited, just not as convenient. Also, I would not appreciate two a.m. butt calls from drunk students screaming at me, “Who is this? Who is this?”

Footnote for Attendance Policy: I have devoted my life to understanding, appreciating, studying, and loving this material. I left family, home, culture, and language, earned two graduate degrees, and relocated to teach this “stuff.” If you were to drop by my office, you would find six bookshelves, with books and journals that I have read, to have something significant, worthwhile, and essential to say each and every class. I know that for you this class is only one of forty courses you “need to get out of the way” for your degree, but it’s more than that for me. So, please know that I will always answer “Yes, why, of course,” when you ask if we covered anything important when you miss class. I won't say it to upset you; I really believe it. For that reason, I will be here for every class, always on time, always for the entire period--that's my attendance policy.

Footnote for Class schedule: This class meets at 8 a.m. twice a week. Please know that that’s true for the rest of the semester—during the baseball playoffs, homecoming, your formals, your work schedule, the day after concerts, rain, snow, heat, and lovely weather, etc. I can’t change the starting time of the class. I know it’s early, yet you chose to take this section. Please don’t announce that you’re tired. Get enough sleep, or don’t complain. And please see the next footnote about grading.

Footnote about Grading: I know that some of you take my sections to avoid the other guy, who purposely cultivates his reputation as a “hard” teacher. Don’t assume that I’m the “easy” teacher. At best, I’m the fair teacher. I will expect you to read just as much as the other class, write just as much and as well as the other class, and know the material for the exams. I will only promise to work “harder” at trying to help you—if you ask for help. In other words, you will work just as hard, yet as I don’t have to maintain a self-perpetuated reputation as a hard-ass-therefore-serious teacher, I can work with you. But you must work.

Footnote for Required Text: Yes, it is big and expensive. Yet if you don’t bother to read the book, it becomes useless and expensive. And don’t complain about the cost when you’re wearing a sixty-five sweatshirt and drinking a six-dollar coffee. And no, the publisher doesn’t yet offer an e-edition. I will admit that if I bought a 500-dollar tablet computer, I would want to use it for everything too. The required text doesn’t have Angry Birds, the Face Book App, your calendar, and photos of your significant other, so it does limit your ability to multi-task while I try to teach you stuff. Pardon me.

Archie here, with the latest Crampicle Hyperbole

Hey you. Yeah you. You're a crappy fucking advisor. Did anyone ever tell you that?

Now I'm not saying that the problem this column identifies doesn't exist, because, well, some of what she says describes a few of my colleagues quite well. But... how much can she be making if she is billing grad students by the hour?

Thanks, I'll be here all week.

The fucking flava:

To: Professors; Re: Your Advisees

Dear faculty members: I sell Ph.D. advising services on the open market. And your Ph.D. students are buying. Why? Because you're not doing your job.

Lest you think that by advising, I mean editing research papers and dissertations, let me disabuse you. I offer those services, but rarely am I asked for them.

And here's the fucking link.

Discuss (like you won't).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jackie Jordan: Linked In

Three or four times a year I get emails from LinkedIn. These emails generally come as a result of some former student wanting to add me to his (it’s always a man) network.

I’m pretty fuzzy on the workings of LinkedIn since I don’t see the need for yet another social networking site even if it’s supposed to be professional. But from what I’ve gathered on other online forums it’s basically a way that you can recommend people as good potential employees. Apparently someone can ask you for a recommendation and you can somehow create one out of the ether (or Ethernet, as the case may be).

The first few of these requests that I received were from decent students. They weren’t in my department but they were workers with a generally good attitude. With each one of those requests I thought about it for a while before deciding that I just really wasn’t interested in being on LinkedIn.

Three days ago I saw yet another request waiting for me one morning, I was absolutely gob smacked when I read the name. Jackie Jordan is absolutely the last student I’d ever add. Jackie was one of the worst students I ever had. He didn’t buy the book or the online resource that I required for the course. He came to class 15 minutes late on the days he actually showed up. I didn’t even see him for the last three weeks of classes. I honestly thought that Jackie had come to his senses and taken a W in the course. That was until I received an email from Jackie’s mom asking me what he could do to pass the class. I couldn’t have been more shocked. This guy missed 90% of the homework and had failed each exam. He wasn’t going to pass. He wouldn’t have passed even if I were a pervy prof with whom you could bargain with your body.

But the real kicker of the email was that he was requesting to add me as his supervisor. Are you kidding me?!?

Ol' Red

I apologize for the lack of any graphic with this post. For now, grief has drained all color from my life.

Ol' Red
It is with a sorrowful heart that I write to you about Ol’ Red. He ran out of ink last night. Ol’ Red was not is his real name, of course, but he faithfully graded exams for so long that his manufacturer’s logo has worn off. For as long as anybody can remember, my pens and I knew him simply as Ol’ Red.

Ol’ Red was not some space age gel rollerball pen or a snotty, elite pen that came in a fancy wood box. Nor was he some cheap promotional pen, whoring himself out to whoever picked him up at a trade show booth. He was a ball point pen with a cap and old fashioned values: simple, hard working and modest (some pens like to show off their inner plumbing but Red preferred an opaque plastic around his). He and I had an unspoken (obviously) friendship. He was my favorite.

Grading chemistry tests is a hard life for a pen. The first quiz of the year was a bloodbath and it took a toll on Red. Not that he complained – his lines were as smooth and consistent as ever, always the right amount of ink regardless of how angrily I marked the incorrect answer. In that way, Ol’ Red was a calming influence on me and I like to think that he had a sunny disposition towards the students, despite the amount of ink they took from him.

Ol’ Red gave his last drop as I graded the second batch of quizzes. We were making our way through the pile, pleased that the students were doing well. His end came suddenly when he simply stopped, drained. Even this act was typical of Ol’ Red. Some pens drag out the process, failing to write more frequently as time passes but Red just kept showing up to work, giving it his all, until he could write no more. His last contact with paper was a check mark next to a correct calculation.

I still have to grade the rest of the papers. I have a new pen, a new-fangled retractable Paper Mate with some type of Sure-Grip Coating® for easier handling. We are both going through a transition period with each other. Some of the other pens call him Clicky. He’ll probably do ok but he’ll never make me forget Ol’ Red.

Can I email you about that later? Or maybe meet -- on Saturday?

Yesterday, I took one of my classes to the library. They're already supposed to have ideas for their long research-based paper, so, after a few general comments on their written descriptions of their plans, which I'd read over quickly just before class, and a very brief orientation to the library ("there's the microfilm; there are the stacks, where the books are; here's the listing of what books are on what floor; here's the circulation desk, there's the reference desk, this is how you decide which desk you need"), I gave them most of the class period to search for sources (on terminals or in the stacks), and consult with me and/or the reference librarians. Most made good use of the time, some taking off immediately to search and wandering back to ask questions later, others talking with me about their topics first, then heading off to search. And I'm sure a few simply disappeared in the direction of the food court or the parking lot as soon as my back was turned. That doesn't particularly bother me; they're going to have to refine their topics and find the sources eventually, or suffer the consequences, and this was an especially good opportunity to get a solid start on the process, with varying kinds of help conveniently available. Taking advantage of it or not was their choice, and at least they made the choice without bothering me about it. Yes, they'll get attendance credit on false pretenses, but their papers, which represent a far larger part of the grade, won't be as good, or they'll have to work harder, on their own time, to make them as good.

But then there were two who clearly had questions, but somehow couldn't quite figure out what to do with the opportunity to consult with me. One waited around a little while, eavesdropping on others' questions (which is fine; often one student's question is answered by listening to my conversation with another), then asked if she could email me, since her question would take far longer than the (quite productive 2-5-minute) conversations she had overheard. She was going to go find a terminal and email me right then, so I could answer that evening (which I -- perhaps foolishly -- agreed to do, and mentally added to my evening "to-do" list). 20 or so hours later, I haven't seen anything from her. And then there was the student who arrived 3/4 of the way through the class session "because he had to work," and couldn't make any of my office hours for the same reason, but wanted to know if we could meet on Friday or Saturday (when he's free, but I'm not on campus). With some persuasion, I managed to get him to talk to me there and then, and we had a fairly productive conversation. But it remains clear, from this and earlier conversations, that he really doesn't want to concentrate on my class on the day it actually meets, and would very much like to have my one-on-one attention, in person or via Skype, on weekends.

Admittedly, these students are in the minority, in this section and others, but I still find the combination of reluctance to engage with the class material at the appointed time and the expectation that I will be available to give more or less immediate feedback when they are ready to engage disturbing. Among other things, there are simply too many of them for me to offer individualized instruction on their schedules (though I try to offer it on mine). As I wrote on Monkey's recent thread, I wasn't always, by some definitions, the most engaged student during class time, but I knew that, if I wanted feedback from a professor, I had to seek it according to his or her schedule, not mine. And as a teacher who actually does try to accommodate my students' preferences and schedules when possible, I find it quite disturbing to set aside time to answer a detailed student email, then not hear a peep from the student who was so anxious to consult me (and to know that the question is still out there, lurking, ready to demand my immediate, extended attention at the worst possible time). I know some of them are struggling with the assignment -- which is a pretty challenging one, not the sort of "research paper" most of them have written before -- but how am I supposed to help if they won't talk to me? And, when we're standing there face to face, both of us clearly available, should I really have to spend energy persuading them to talk to me (and rejecting alternative times to talk) before we get down to business?

Take that pen and shove it!

Image by John LeMasney
Creative Commons license via flickr
Introducing Armond the Author!

I'm sure many of you have met Armond. He of the "My work has never earned anything less that perfect scores" delusion.

I have Armond (version 1314) in class now. I thought I had dodged a bullet as his last message declared that he would no longer ask me any questions after he insinuated that instead of the published university-wide rubric, his work was being judged against my own writing.

But because the Armonds of the world cannot back down ... a new message today.

After, of course, insinuating that this is my requirement alone, he has finally capitulated to university policy and submitted his first assignment to the anti-plagiarism service. Of course, this was done under protest, as Armond has determined that the service is "useless" and "manipulative."
To thwart this, he has included his own copyright notice on his assignment. (More on this in a moment.)

The coup de grĂ¢ce, however, is that his first assignment was flagged as mostly unoriginal! A typical lame introductory "describe and discuss" question, Armond decided that it required 1/3 of his "writing" to consist of cut-and-pasted definitions from the assigned reading. Two large block quotes ensconced within truly insightful observations of how "through his extensive reading for the assignment," he has discerned that the definition of hamster fur weaving is best summarized by quoting the entire definition from the text. His "analysis" consists of yet another quotation, but integrated with the body text so not flagged by the algorithm because the quotation filter is engaged.

And then there is the copyright notice.

It is not © 2011 Armond the Author but © 2011 Armond Extraordinary Incorporated.

He declares that a brief assignment early in a course cannot be "published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed" -- as if someone is likely to pinch these two pages and somehow profit from it.
And uses a business identity to do it.
For an essay that is ... mostly other people's writing!

I am not unfamiliar with the copyright criticism of anti-plagiarism services but, I've been doing this awhile now, and have never seen a student include a copyright notice -- certainly not to a business entity and particularly not on a two page essay.

Is this a brave new world of hubris?

I had started this term with a bit of enthusiasm ... now the dread of getting bashed for actually doing my job has returned.

more bad haiku

In autumn, the geese
come back from the north. Their calls
are winter's fanfare.

Returning students
flock and call like raucous gulls,
heralding grading.

My next analogy
would link the dean's office with
ravens (croak! more work!).
So perhaps I'd better stop here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Survey Says??

I have thousands of students in my past in a variety of classroom styles. I have won teaching awards and I feel very confident in my teaching. But this year I have a class that just won't talk. Oh sure, there's always one. But this one is the worst I've ever seen.

The first day of class, I had a large chunk of students actually try to refuse to announce their name/major/expectations for the course.  Not one but THREE got red in the face and looked on the verge of tears.

I have tried the socratic interactive method, the listing method, the barebones-basics where no one could get the answer wrong (what is the name of the author?), the group-work-and-presentation method, the preparation-for-submission so you'll have the answers right in front of you method, the LOOK AT THIS PICTURE WHAT DOES IT SAY TO YOU ANY ANSWER IS CORRECT STOP BEING SILENT method.

And after the last one failed to spur their little mouths into action, I'm stuck. I have a lot of experience with professional training and pedagogical theory. But even when I ask them about them, their lives, pop culture, music, what they are watching, anything, they shut up.

I have never ever encountered such extreme shyness before. They all prefer to "listen" they say. That's bull shit. Because listening to lecture does not equal learning. That's passive learning, and the retention rates in lectures are ridiculously low compared to discussion, interaction, collaboration, etc.

If this were online, it'd be fine: just check the comments and grade accordingly. I cannot simply retract attendance points here, because then I'd have to reveal that I cannot remember any of their names. And name tags? No.

Please: give me an activity that will get them talking.

Can a Haiku end with a question mark?

Because I'm just an admittedly uncultured lab rat and there's a lot about the form that escapes me.  So here's my first CM Haiku, and it is inspired by an apparent newly formed allegiance between Silverbacks and Snowflakes. 

How about I just
Shoot myself in the eyeball?
Would that content you?

An Early Thirsty on Slave Labor in the Tutoring Center

Early Thirsty!
Remember the obnoxious Lead Tutor that I wrote about earlier this summer?  Well, we have a new Lead Tutor now, so I've decided to work in the tutoring center. 

Unfortunately, there are a few trade-offs.  I will share one of them, and then ask for your input.

They want me to work 4 hours on Tuesdays.  However, I am not allowed to clock-in until students actually show up.  If students leave early and the center is empty, then I must clock out.  But regardless, I must stay the entire time even if I am clocked-out.

If they are going to clock me out, then maybe I'll just go home.

Q:  What are your thoughts on this?

Hilly from Honey Acres With Some Snowflake E-Mail.


My name is Well-meaning William. I took your 1865 to present history class my freshmen year, which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way. I'm currently in ENG 200 English Literature and composition and have been assigned to write a 3 page paper for which I am taking a stand on a particular topic of my choosing. I have chosen to write why Theodore Roosevelt was one of the best and most macho president in our country's history. 

The reason I am emailing you is that I have been required by Professor Oldschool to acquire 8 sources with only 2 being from websites and the other 6 should be from books or personal references, either by email or interview. It would be a tremendous help to me if I could set up a time to meet or come in during office hours to get a little bit of your insight, knowledge, and opinion about President Theodore Roosevelt. If an interview is not possible, a simple email with a little bit of information about him would be much appreciated, as well as leads to sources for more information on Roosevelt. The final paper isn't due until next Thursday but i would appreciate meeting at your earliest convenience, at a time that is good for you. I would greatly appreciate any help you can give me for this project. Thank you so much. Hope all is well!

W-m Wm.


He's a nice enough kid, but how on earth does he think I'm an appropriate source on TR? (I am an American historian, but no authority of any kind on Mr. Roosevelt) I feel like I should meet with him and just spout off a bunch of utter bullshit about good ol' Teddy. "Didntcha know he was a secret transvestite? Had a hemp plantation in Panama?" Any other suggestions are welcome; this kid will never know, as he plans to do no actual research. And just what does Prof. Oldschool mean by "personal references?" I'm really glad I'm on sabbatical right now...

Measuring interest in a new program.

I'm attempting to propose a new minor in my department.  I thought some data on student interest would be useful.  I sat down to write a survey, at which time I realized that I don't know:
  1. What to ask.
  2. How many questions to ask.
  3. Who to ask.
My original idea was something along the lines of. 
  1. would you be interested in a minor in gerbil fur weaving if it existed?
  2. which of the following electives would most interest you, if they were offered:
    1. weaving of gerbil fur for medical professionals
    2. the structure of gerbil fur
    3. the suitability of gerbil fur substitutes in the hamster fur weaving environment
    4. other (please specify) __________
  3. would you be interested in a major in gerbil fur?
  4. if you are a hamster fur weaving education major, would a minor in gerbil fur weaving interest you if it would fulfill the state's teaching certification requirements for a 2nd certification in gerbil fur weaving?
I thought I would write something up and as for volunteers in hamster fur weaving, hamster fur grooming, counting hamsters, modeling hamsters and hamster fur weaving education to give them to their students after class on a day that suits them.  I thought I'd also ask the one gerbil fur weaver we have in our department to pass them out to his students in our only gerbil fur course.

But then I thought... we are the State College in our area, very close to one of the University Centers in our system.  The University Center has a comparable undergraduate program in hamster fur, but a kick ass program in gerbil fur.  Should I see if I can go to college fairs and poll students with a few more questions such as:
  1. Are you interested in gerbil fur weaving, or gerbil fur weaving education?
  2. Would lack of gerbil fur weaving curriculum influence your decision to attend State College vs. University Center?
  3. If you are considering University Center, would the addition of a gerbil fur weaving program to State College's offerings affect your decision?
I'm very early in the process.  I was wondering if anyone had either questions they think they would ask if they wanted to propose a new program, or suggestions for who I should poll.   I would be very interested in any ideas the CM crowd could throw my way. 


Office Hour Thirsty

You're in your office, working on something. You have 30 minutes, 15 minutes, or 5 minutes until your office hour starts. Perhaps you have the door open to fit in with the department ethos and appear collegial. But what you're working on must be done soon.

Someone knocks, or doesn't knock. Perhaps a colleague comes in to shoot the breeze before the meeting she stuck around for. Perhaps you hear a cheery, athletic "Hey, Doc, I was passing by and since you're here, I just need a little help on my homework."

Perhaps you've closed the door, but the dept. chair knows you're there, so when there's a knock you answer it. Perhaps the knocker is a shy ESL student with frothing white goobers on his teeth. Perhaps a second, very needy student was already lurking and feels she's entitled to come in too.


Three times this semester I've asked brightly, "Oh, did we have an appointment?" and then turned the student away until the appointed hour, closing the door and feeling terribly callous. Right next to the dept. chair's open door.

I didn't say that to the senior colleague (who I like enough), and she sat down while I continued to look busy, hoping she'd get the hint.

THIRSTY: Do you turn away walk-in students outside of office hours? Do you limit colleagues' visits? How?

The new misery competition: "That's 'Professor' Uptight to You"

Another place to kvetch

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Idiotic Timesucks and the Fat Chance That They Aren't Dumbasses" or "Because I'm Tired of the Shit"

Dear Internet Development of Industrial Occult Theocracy Students:

I have just finished reviewing and grading all outstanding papers from you IDIOTS on the Technology of the Industrial Microbiology Emergent in the Sociology of Underwater Compositions in Kinesiology, and I would like to say that they weren’t. Outstanding that is. I wouldn’t go even so far as to call them moderately mediocre. To think that I wasted a weekend on this fluff. What a TIMESUCK. No, I apologize to fluff for the insult. At least fluff can be a light, airy read, occasionally uplifting. The only thing I thought of lifting after reading this schlock was another tumbler of Crown. A gallon-sized tumbler.
I insist that you all do a better job with your next paper on Fully Antipodal Theaters of Curtailed Hierarchies that Atrophied in the Neo-Classical Era. Yeah, I know. FAT CHANCE.


To the Dissection of Underwater Mechanics Based on the Architecture of Serpentine Statistics Evening Students in the lab across the hall:

I realize that yours is a lab section and that you are allowed to work at your own pace and with your neighbors. However, you DUMBASSES do need to work and not just shoot the shit about how crappy your aptitude in the subject is or how you loathe this subject. Especially since there are some serious students in the my lab that are trying to complete their work in a timely manner and can’t think or concentrate over your inane blathering. In fact, when I look into your lab to ask you DUMBASSES to shut the hell up, I don’t actually see any work being done (or an instructor, but that’s another issue). What, you say that you’re all members of the Men’s Whack-a-Mole team, that most of you come to our podunk CC from out of state, have your out-of-state fees waived, get priority registration, and never show up to your other classes. Well then, good for you for actually attending this class. But still, shut the hell up.


P.S.: Didn’t you out-of-state DUMBASSES do any research about our podunk CC’s Men’s Whack-a-Mole transfer rates to Division I, or even Division II, schools. Well, it’s 0.2% over the past 20 years. Three out of 1500. It’s made even tougher by being academically ineligible due to non-attendance. Enjoy your dreams of being Whack-a-Mole pros. Dumbasses.

So far this semester, my students missed class because:

10. He got hit by a car. I have no doubts about this story. I would like to point out that this would not have happened if you were home studying for my class instead of walking on the sidewalk.

9. Her brother's wedding, which apparently lasts all week.

8. A child custody court date. His ex is a bitch who uses drugs and he loves his daughter and really wants to do well in my class but he wants custody at that point I said ok just leave my office.

7. An appointment with a shrink.

6. The mighty flood of twenty eleven! A broken pipe left an inch of water on her floor right before class. She and her friends cleaned up and repaired the broken pipe themselves! Thus, there was no repair bill from the plumber or documentation of any kind. As the Church Lady would say, "How convenient!"

5. Some undisclosed physical ailment, simply explained as being really gross.

4. An emergency apendecronologene therapy session removal transplant. Or some such big long doctor-sounding word that he probably made up.

3. A hockey game. Sure, we excuse participation in athletic events. By the way, when did our school get a hockey team? Oh, you are going to see a local hockey team play. Well then, go puck yourself.

2. A major religious holiday which you enjoyed with your family back in your home country rather than show up for the first two weeks of classes. That’s way too much time to be gone from class, even if you are spending your days fasting and worshiping. On second thought, as an international student, you pay the special 140% tuition rate compared to a US student. You’re prayers have been answered! Get your homework to me by next Friday. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that I’m culturally insensitive.

1. Oversleeping his alarm because he stayed up late Monday night to study and missed Tuesday’s class. I don’t teach class on Tuesday but thatnks for stopping by. I’ll mark you absent anyway because stupidity should not go unpunished.

poetry for Tuesday

Slow death in week four

Drinking, deploring, dreading,

Retirement soon?

What Would Yaro Do?

Shift into auto-pilot

or find other work?

Flip at McDonalds?

Shovel shit at a farm?

Work on a chain gang?

No, I’ll grade papers.

Learning management system

Leaves muck in my soul.

Quine from Quinnipiac with a Query.

What do the community members of CM think of students who take courses for no economic gain? I ask because I seem to be alone among students when it comes to the purpose of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Is it strange/snowflakey that a Teamster in his mid-twenties is obtaining a Philosophy degree with no prospects of ever using it for economic gain? The best I can come up with is using it for a possible move to Canada.

-- Quine

Monday, September 26, 2011

Snowflake Smackdown, Chrome-style

Fun times today. Tweaked the course calendar for HamsterFur Weaving 101, printed it off, and handed it out to the class. Because there were some significant changes (including for today's class, because I'd realized that I'd left a necessary lecture completely off the schedule), I wanted to go over it.

Snowflakes Trixie (in her girlie football jersey and heavy makeup) and Dopey (Trixie's non-too-bright sidekick) sit in the back row, and they're talking while I'm trying to explain that the paper isn't due Wednesday, it's now due next Monday (you're welcome) and what all has changed with the new calendar and they're still talking. Loudly.

And because I had spent the weekend in MyKindaTown with friends, drinking and laughing and having the kinds of conversations about art, music, philosophy, and sex that I cannot have with these children I teach four days a week--I lost it.

"What the hell are you two talking about that is so important?? I AM TALKING HERE. SHUT UP AND LISTEN. If you cannot do that, I will separate you permanently for the semester, or I will ask you to leave, because you are incredibly irritating and rude."

And without skipping a beat, continued to explain the pertinent changes to our schedule before firing up my lecture for the day.

I don't feel like I was out of line. I feel like they are fucking lucky that I don't believe in physical violence, because this is the second time since the start of the semester on 9/8 that I have to call the two of them out and I was really feeling like just cracking their heads together like a couple of coconuts.

What to Say? A Job Seeker Thirsty from Old Oscar from Osceola.

I consider myself an old hand at the job wars, having held 7 positions in 15 years.

I've been a happily trailing spouse (my wife works in the railroad industry), but it's made my C.V. a bloody mess.

I've had VAP spots and some adjunct spots, and even - gloriously - one job until tenure.

But when my wife's business took here elsewhere, away we went. I've had campus visits where people have said to me, "Why would you leave a tenured spot?"

And I just say, "Well, my wife makes 3 times my salary, and we have to feed the kids, the hamsters, the dog, and ourselves."

But life has changed. My wife has left her field because she's grown disenchanted with her role and the changing industry. And now I want to wade back into the job search. (And yes, poor me, I'm in English.)

Q: But what do I do about my traveling history? I've left a tenured job. I have great references, but I've moved around. I've taught community college part-time, and was a VAP at a top tier R1. But I LOOK weird on the CV. Do I fess up about my trailing spouse situation in my opening letter, or do I wait for phone/conference interviews? How would you react to someone like me asking you for a job in your department?

It's everywhere!

It's not just students... but we knew that, didn't we?

A short post from the director of a theater company:
I placed an ad last week for an actor to play a part in an upcoming television series. I got an email from one guy and offered him a slot last Friday, audition by appointment, any time during the day or evening he could make it. "I've got to work," he tersely replied, and suggested no alternate dates.

Then I placed another ad this week. He applied again. I offered him 9:30 am this Friday (Sept. 23). He made the appointment, then emailed me late tonight (Thursday, Sept. 22) saying, "I've got to cancel. I've got to work."

When I told him I would not reschedule him, that two attempts were all I was going to make to audition him, he wrote back (and I swear I am not making this up, it's a copy and paste, punctuation and all) ...

"you should respect the artists personal life before your own selfish need. Dont reply back to me unless you are mature enough to understand my side."
Leaves me just shaking my head; my students are (Gott sei dank) not this bad.

Original post

Sunday, September 25, 2011

pretty bad autumn sunday haiku


autumn leaves drift by
my window. plagiarism?
everyone does it.


now you can find me
by my window, my face turned
to the waning sun.

i breathe sunlight, the
breeze ruffling stacks of early
efforts, my eyes closed.

with little effort,
i am ten again, running
home to dinner, warm

autumn night. homework--
so different then--still beats
september's cadance.


yellow marks passing
time the way red marks failing
grades--autumn display.

Sometimes There Is Hope

Sometimes there is hope. A decade ago I was sitting at my desk talking with a friend who had retired before returning to work as a contractor. I was talking about all the things that my wife and I want to do when we retired. “Why are you waiting until your life is almost over to do what you love?” my friend responded. Taken aback, I didn’t answer. I had already passed 40 and, while I had a job I loved and that paid well, long hours on swing shifts made it physically taxing and no one was allowed to continue in that one position for more than a couple years. Usually it was filled by people doing their last tour before retirement, but I had another 20 years to go, and whatever my next position would be, it’d be a move backwards. Besides, my degrees are in the humanities: I lacked the IT training I’d need move on. I was stuck.

Then came 9/11. I was at home when the attacks occurred but went back into an evacuated building to keep vital systems running so the government could continue to operate. I wasn’t in any danger, but I didn’t know that at the time. The guards took my name as I went into work and told me that if there was another attack my office was “a tomb.” For the next 16 hours I sat with a handful of coworkers keeping essential systems running and watching the towers fall again and again on the BBC. I drove home past fire engines and ambulances with a plume of smoke in the sky above us. The events of that day caught my attention and made me think "what is it I am doing with my life?" My wife and I talked and talked about what we wanted to do. Her career was (and is) going well and she loved what she was doing. We knew we couldn’t leave the area, but I wanted to teach college--to do what I love before I was too old to enjoy it.

So when my position tenure expired the next year I reentered the workforce, looking for a door into academia. We knew it could be a long haul, but I worked for years on my doctorate; working fulltime, researching on weekends, and writing at night. My wife and I knew I had the patience to grind it out. I spent the next few years scrambling to find work. I did museum exhibits and websites, swept floors and cleaned out old garages and basements for historic sites. I tracked down photographs for authors at the archives, and sold stuff on eBay. Running a small online book store that specialized in academic titles made money for awhile. My wife got used to having the housework done and dinner ready when she got home.

When not working I spent my days at the library doing research and writing and began to add to my thin CV. When I found a temporary position we put some money away and paid off what debts we had accumulated. “Vacations” were quick trips to conferences to give papers and make contacts. At one point I was promised that a short-term grant-supported position would be made a fulltime job and, since my car was on its last legs, splurged to buy a new one. It wasn’t fancy, but it was new and it would run. The day after I signed the loan, my boss announced that he had changed his mind and my job would disappear at the end of the week. Still, while things were tight, we were never poor, never missed a meal, never had to skip any medical treatments, and I was never late paying a bill. Nonetheless, we always knew we were one serious illness or accident away from the financial edge.

Five years ago I applied for a teaching position at a small university and was hired as an adjunct. I enjoyed teaching and liked my coworkers and the vast majority of my students. Unfortunately the pay was low, even for adjuncting. When a TT position opened I applied, but they wanted someone with a different specialty and I was passed over. Still, I taught what they asked me to teach, at the hours they asked, and did work outside of my official responsibilities. I mentored senior projects, worked on faculty committees, advised a university club, and acted as the unofficial IT person for my coworkers (my old skills came in handy). Even better, the job gave me access to a library so I could continue writing.

Not long ago my department chair told me they had the money for an additional fulltime spot. It’s not TT yet, but will be, and they asked me to apply. Last night she emailed me and told me that I have the job. My contract will be ready this week and I can pick up a key for my own private office Monday. My boss also began discussing what types of future projects will look good to a tenure committee. Tomorrow I am going to walk into “my office” for the first time in a decade. I already know the first thing I am hanging on my wall--an award I received at my previous career that I had been given for sticking with a long-term project when most of the others bailed out.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Not only is this almost too short to be a Thirsty, but I also suspect that no one will respond in the affirmative. Nevertheless....

Q. Have any proffies here ever gone for a whole year without having had students evaluate you?

Blizzard...and it's not even officially winter yet.....

I think I may have blundered into a new definition of misery this week. It is blizzard.

Blizzard (n). The academic white zone when the snowflakes silently flake out during an attempt to engage them in classroom discussion. Accompanied by dull, vapid stares.

This is the scene I had in Remedial Hamster Fur Weaving the other night. Half of the class failed to materialize (several emailed me perfectly understandable reasons—hospital visit, required presence at child’s Back To School night conference), and they were, sadly, the better half, that engage actively in discussion. Not even a cricket chirping to break up the silence. Deafening! I felt blind, groping through the required material.

When I had gone over the material, I filled time with discussing their projects and what they needed to get those done within the next three months, then let them go. Forty five minutes early. I felt frustrated, angry and empty. I questioned my fledgling career path into academe…..and then, as I made my way out toward the parking lot, I saw four other professors also making early escapes, and began to think maybe I wasn’t quite a total failure after all.

I have a grueling in-class assignment workshop planned for next week. They’re going to learn something whether they want to or not!!!!!

Hacker Makes Conan the 
Barbarian a College Professor
By Matt Liebowitz
Published September 17, 2011

The esteemed English department at Trinity College, Dublin, recently added a frightening and powerful new professor to its ranks: Conan the Barbarian.
The fake announcement came courtesy of a hacker, who tapped into the university's website and plastered a picture of Dr. Conan T. Barbarian to the site, The Guardian reported.

The hacker, however, did more than just place a picture on the site of the iconic character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982's film adaptation and its 1984 sequel, "Conan the Destroyer."

Dr. Barbarian was given distinguished credentials, including a Ph.D. from University College Dublin, an FTCD (Fellow of Trinity College Dublin), and a B.A from Cimmeria (the fictional barbarian homeland of the Conan character.) His official title: "The Long Room Hug Associate Professor in Hyborian Studies and Tyrant Slaying."

The real genius of the extensive hack lies in how Dr. Barbarian landed his new teaching gig, and what he plans to do with unruly students.

"Dr. Conan T. Barbarian was ripped from his mother's womb on the corpse-strewn battlefields of his warn-torn homeland, Cimmeria, and has been preparing for academic life ever since," the faculty bio reads. "A firm believer in the dictum that 'that which does not kill us makes us stronger,' he took time out to avenge the death of his parents following a sojourn pursuing his strong interest in Post-Colonial theory at the Sorbonne."