Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bountiful Bonnie Sends in an Early Thirsty on Class Decorum.

I am one of the hopeless newbie proffies with insecurities galore.

Yesterday in class a student told me that I was "wrong" to not let her send questions and comments via text message.

"Why not," she said. "You have a cell phone. I see it there. Why should we have to use ancient methods just because you're older than us?"

I know this is probably easily dealt with by putting my foot down, but not only do I not want to be inflexible, I also sort of admire the chutzpah of the student who I think honestly believes an occasional text is her best way to reach me.

Q: Is there an art to saying no to ideas or changes suggested by students that I simply don't want to do? Because I do have a cell phone, am I under any sort of obligation to make that mode of contact available to students?


  1. Just show them the video below and tell them: "my cellphone is my personal world, my College email is another."

  2. This one is easy: "I do not share my cell phone number with students. You may communicate with me during office hours, via my office phone, or via email."

  3. As college professors, we're strongly obliged to try reasoning first. When I was in the U.S. Navy, I found that people take orders more willingly and carry them out better when you explain the reasons for the orders. I'd ask the student to please stick to e-mail, because I'm the one who will be receiving it, and I pay close attention to e-mail. I'm more likely to miss a text, since I don't have a lot of idle time during the day: I spend a lot of time doing things that demand my undivided attention. This is similar to the reason I give to my students to explain why I will accept only paper copies of homework handed in during class during the first five minutes of class on the due date: my classes are so big, it's too easy for student work delivered in any other way to get lost.

    By the way, whenever a student asks for my cell phone number, I just give the student the number for my office phone, without commenting about it. You should not be available 24/7/365 to your students. One thing they ought to learn is that human beings ought to be treated as human beings, not machines. Also, if your pay is comparable to that of most college professors, you don't get paid enough for that anyway.

    Trying not to stifle a modern student's chutzpah/self-of-steam is not necessary: they have far more than enough of it already. It reminds me of one of the Marx brother's directors, who at first made an effort not to stifle their spontaneity. This director quickly found this would be no problem, particularly when a script writer commented, "I don't believe it, but I think I actually heard a line I wrote."

  4. To the general question, no, you don't have to engage in any technological innovation you do not find pedagogically useful - nor any that you find more trouble than they're worth . Breaking off lectures to answer text messages, which would (incidentally) break your eye contact with the class, would be hellishly disruptive and break everyone's concentration. And isn't the point of being in class that you're actually physically in each other's company? So you can, you know, talk to each other and make eye contact and the rest of the class can be in on the discussion?

    To the passive-aggressive little whiner's dig "why do we have to use such ANCIENT methods just because you're not HIP and COOL like US!", let "pedagogically effective" be your watchword, now and ever. Hipness and Coolness and Nowness are not your concern. Getting the information into their little noggins is all that matters to you. And "ancient" methods like actually talking to each other in class work extremely well.

    Plus, absolutely, give your cell phone number out to your class? As if. I don't give my home number out either. That will NEVER EVER happen. And no, they have absolutely no right to expect it. In fact, if you can arrange to have a work email that is only for students, do that. And then only check it at the beginning and the end of normal office hours.

  5. I guess the first thing I have to ask is if the student really said that, exactly that way. As in, "You're ancient--you need to do things my way. ACCOMMODATE ME!!!" Because if you weren't exaggerating then what you need to do is not put your foot need to put it up that student's ass.

    As in (and this must be said with a very serious face): "I hope you were just joking, but you should know that calling me 'ancient' is extremely rude. And just because you see something doesn't mean it's there to be of use to you."

    And no, it's not incumbent upon you to use your personal cell phone to contact students. Unless the university has given it to you and pays your monthly bill, but my guess is that's not the case. In fact, you don't have to use your home computer, or ANY computer, to communicate with them.

    An office phone number and regular office hours are all that you absolutely need to provide for your students.

    1. I suspect in my classes that the other students would have whopped the kid before I got to it: we have a pretty wide age range in addition to the usual still-maturing-we-hope crowd, who have a much better sense of how technology is used in the real world and don't enjoy adapting to the faddish ways of their fellow students (and short-sighted instructors)

  6. (after a little more thought) - there's a more general issue here:

    It's very easy, when you are around a person who thinks without a ghost of irony that they are genuinely entitled to expect you to go way out of your way for them, to begin to wonder if maybe they're right. After all, they seem so sure you owe them all these many services. Maybe they have a point? Maybe you missed the memo?

    Maybe, actually, you're just a decent human being who expects that others will behave according to the civil social contract you follow, in which you don't ask other people for things you can't reasonably expect them to do for you. So when other people assume you will do stuff for them, you think, well, maybe this is reasonable now and I just didn't realise that?

    Entitled morons, however, are NOT OPERATING by those rules. They will ask for everything they can get without any sense at all that they are operating in a civil society that has any reciprocal claims on them whatever. It is all about them. They don't care if a demand is reasonable; they only care that they want something from you. This is because they are not decent human beings; they are narcissistic jackasses.

    So you need to repeat to yourself every day,

    "just because they act entitled doesn't mean they ARE entitled."

    Because they really aren't.

    There is hope, though: some of them - quite a few of them - do eventually grow up. But this is partly thanks to the efforts of those of us who don't give in.

  7. So, you're "ancient," are you? Okay. You could give in, but then say that the exam will be technologically on your terms. S/he will have use a wedge to press his/her responses into a clay tablet. The tablet must be completed and dry for stacking by the end of the exam period.

  8. I'm a little bit stunned that any professor could even entertain the idea that they are obligated to allow students to text message them. Seriously?!

    There is no art to saying no, you just say it. You don't need to give a reason. The classroom is not a democracy, and since you make all the policies and grade all the work, you have the position of power. Own it already.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. First year teaching at my college, poor little me, encouraged by a rainbows and unicorns colleague, give my students my cell number. Second week of classes, a stupid student starts behaving stupidly, and it rapidly escalates. Fourth week of classes, I receive a dead threat text message. Campus Police investigates, and finds it was sent from the phone of a friend of my stupid student -- no way to nail him.
    Thanks heaven, I caught him plagiarizing in week 6, threw the book at him, he came to my office and loudly threatened me -- where my colleagues could hear him -- and was walked off campus by Campus Police and kicked out from school. So happy ending, ultimately.

  11. Bonnie, it would help if you did not have you cell phone out at all. Put it away in your book bag or purse and never take it out in class. My students are easily distracted by anything that is out on the desk. A cell phone is too much for them to see. It reminds them to check their own, over and over again.

    1. I make a point of taking mine out, turning it off, and dropping in my briefcase right before class so that the students can see me do it.

  12. I totally concur with the sentiment that a professor need not feel obligated to provide each student with his/her preferred contact method. (And I enthusiastically join the chorus advocating protection of privacy and assertion of authority!)

    But ... some of us -- even "ancients" -- do find texting a viable communications method.

    My privacy work around? Google Voice.

    I have a dedicated number that I know only students call.
    It can be forwarded to any phone or device.
    You can place calls using it so it appears that the call is coming from the Google Voice number.
    You can be alerted (via EMail and/or text) when you have a message. (It will even try to transcribe it -- by no means a perfect system, but it does lead to some interesting misspellings.)

    But my favorite feature ... you can then choose to respond by text.

    Frankly, I don't want to get involved in playing phone tag by returning calls. So, I can reply with a quick text via Google Voice. It can also be done using their Web interface, meaning, I can just take a quick couple of seconds at my computer and send off a response.

    You certainly can use technology to YOUR benefit.

    1. I learned about Google Voice this term and it has been a god send! Since my cell phone IS my office number I love the ability to have a different number for them to contact which is not linked to my personal information. Also I love the DND feature which saves me from a 1 am phone call from a snowflake, and yes they DO try to call me at 1 am.

  13. Ha. We don't even have land lines; they were ripped out for budgetary reasons, and *I* pay for my texting plan. So they can come to office hours, e-mail me, leave a message at the main office, or drop dead.

  14. I've had this exact scene in my class. I swatted it away, but I really just wanted to tell the kid to fuck himself. I hate students like this.

    Yet, I don't have tenure, and my teaching evals count 30% toward T&P. I HAVE to avoid bad evals.

  15. You don't have to do it, and the easiest way to say so is that you can tell them you don't use your personal phone for work. If they go buggy about that, tell them the truth--the University does not subsidize your phone. Some schools actually do now, and do encourage professors to use them to e-mail and text students, and maybe if enough darlings requested it your school would too. Hey! Free cell phone plan for you!

    That said, I do allow my students to text me NOT because it is their preferred method of contact but because it is mine. No more long drawn out excuse-y e-mails, no more five minute long voicemails with a question at the end. Nope. No more of that. 160 characters or less per question baby--and it's FABULOUS.

  16. How about the appeal to authority? I was told I could not use my iPhone for ANY communications with students (including email via the phone), and that apps for attendance or any teaching were also forbidden because of "security issues". Sorry, students, I would love to text and tweet, but we are NOT ALLOWED. Take it up with IT and the Freedom of Information officer.

    1. All university business must be conducted through official university channels - .edu email, office phone, office hours. Home or cell numbers, personal email and meeting outside of normal work hours is forbidden because the university must be able to monitor all faculty-student interactions for both quality control purposes and safety.

      I've actually dumped that load of shit on some students once in a while. They are impressed.

  17. Good news about being a hopeless newbie proffie: it gets better. The thing to remember is that you are the authority in the classroom. You don't need to apologize for that; indeed, if you ignore that fact you do so at your peril. Someone is going to be in charge in any classroom, and you damn well better be sure it's you.

    Now, you're a kind and benevolent person, so you may sometimes consider feedback you receive. We all have room to grow and improve. But you don't negotiate, or feel compelled to explain your policies. It's like parenting, where again the adult is the benevolent dictator. There are times to be reasonable and listen, but also times to whip out: "Because I said so."

    So the art of saying no really is the art of saying no, knowing that no means no, and knowing that you wield that no as a right and responsibility of the total power differential between you and them.

    Of course, until you're seasoned enough to do this in a full curmudgeonly way, there's always humor. If a student asks to text your personal cell, reply "There are two answers to that question. No, and Hell No."

  18. I would have just said, "I'm sorry, No."

    Google voice sounds awesome though!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.