Saturday, March 31, 2012

I'm Not Merely Baffled. I'm Pissed Fucking Off.

Dear Students in Friday's afternoon class.

You know what, I'm sick of your bullshit. If you fuck up by not reading the assignment, the last thing I want you to say is, "Oh, I didn't read that." I've been biting my tongue, but my patience has worn thin.

When Rachel said it today, I thought I was going to burst a fucking vein. Not only was the instruction to give "five examples," I also wrote it on the whiteboard. So when Rachel hustled through her work and brought up a sheet of paper with one example on it, I thought she was checking to see if she was doing it right.

After I said it looked okay, she clapped her little hands and spun to get her purse and leave.

"Uh, Rachel, it's okay, but you need 4 more."

"What?"

"The assignment was for 5 examples. You've only got one."

"You want 5?"

"Yes, it's on the handout. It's on the board."

"I didn't read that," Rachel said.

"Yeah, I guessed that. But you can see it's on the handout and on the board, right?"

Suddenly, Scott in the back raised his hand. "I'm just doing one, too."

"Yes, but you need 5. You won't get any credit if you just do one."

Rachel thought of something. "But there's nothing on the handout about you taking points off if we don't do enough. What if my one is really well done?"

"Well, the assignment is worth 10 points, so I guess if your one was great, you might get 2 out of 10."

Scott joined in. "Yeah, it doesn't say that on the handout, the thing about what the penalty would be if we didn't do all 5."

What I wanted to say to you all was, "Are you impaired in some way? Did someone drop you on your head?"

Then Rich, right next to Scott, the brain trust area of class, said, "Really, it doesn't say that on the handout. I don't see where it says 5 examples. No wonder we're confused."

I picked up a handout from someone's desk, looked it and said: "Third line from the top, after the colon. 'Five examples must be given.' Do you have that on your handout?"

Rich held it up to the light and stared. "I can see it now, but that's easy to miss."

"Easy to miss? There are 6 sentences on the whole page."

Then silence.

Students, we're about 4 weeks away from the end. If you act any dumber, you're not going to pass. Play along, do you hear me? Act as if you have brains. Read what I write. Listen to what I say. Act in good faith.

26 comments:

  1. I think you should stop giving partial credit. If the assignment said "five examples" and they only give you one, or four, then they didn't do the assignment and shouldn't get credit for it.

    That's the only rational response to that kind of half-assed classroom lawyering.

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  2. Yeah, time to start handing out zeroes like candy.

    This shit must end, not just to save your own sanity, but also the world. These people are too dumb to live.

    Best and brightest my ass.

    I used to give similar in-class assignment. "Give five examples of..." and I'd often get 3, with 2 repeated in different words. For instance, someone might say "The sky is blue" but then say "The sky is not green." They didn't get credit for both and much whining would ensue. No one ever bothered to tell them that FIVE means FIVE DIFFERENT; it's not that the second is wrong, but it's not different. The need to specify all these little fucking obvious details on simple assignments is getting out of hand. No wonder we're all on the verge of nervous breakdowns.

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  3. Remember that episode of Star Trek where Mr. Peterson from the Bob Newhart show goes all apeshit and starts screaming that he's going to kill everyone?

    DIE DIE ALL OF YOU DIE!

    Reading this just made me think of that for some reason.

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    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ7mau61sPg

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    2. Hah--that is what we need: more professors yelling at students. Maybe then they'd shut the fuck up and do the fucking work.

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  4. When I first started teaching, I was astounded at how many people failed assignments, even the entire course, for not following directions. I remember so many teachers from grade school on up drilling into our brains how important it is to read directions carefully. We even had exercises on how to do it, underlining key words and phrases on standardized test questions (how many, except for, give 3 examples, in millimeters, etc.).

    So I am a stickler for directions. When I give students specific instructions, I mean them, because I know what they need to do in order to learn the material. In general, students have no idea what's good for them, even though they might think they do. Still, every semester, after harping on them for weeks to read directions, reminding them that students fail for not following the directions, I get final projects way out in left field.

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  5. I have zero sympathy (no pun intended) for people who can't read the fucking manual (RTFM for you old timers). I can't even come up with a response for this situation beyond a series of expletives followed by zeroes followed by telling them to leave and come back when they grow a brain.

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  6. Once, a student blew off most of the semester and finally appeared one night, just as I was leaving, during the penultimate week of the semester.

    I politely informed her that since she had not done any of the assignments, and we were well past the date on which she could still get credit for any of them, she should see whether she could get some sort of withdrawal.

    Well, the following class-day, she showed up with the assignments. I refused to take them; she threw a tantrum and threatened to go to a certain dean who always sided with the students.

    So I read those assignments: ten short reponse and position papers, as well as two longer ones. They were even worse than I expected. The best of them was a C-; the rest were D's and F's. And I wrote comments that, I thought, explained why they were such bad papers.

    She asked whether she could re-write them. I said, "No." She said, "All right" and walked out.

    Well, two days later--the day before the final--she showed up with her "revisions." She ignored everything I said in my comments; she merely "added" to her assignments by restating things she'd already said (mostly unclearly). So, the C- and some of those D's turned into F's.

    When I gave back her assignments, she was furious. "But I made them longer."

    "Yes. But you didn't pay attention to my comments, and you made your papers worse."

    "But I revised them. I'm supposed to get a better grade."

    "First of all, you ignored me when I said you couldn't submit those assigments late, or revise them. And you ignored my comments. In doing so, you made your papers worse. It's like baking a cake: Adding more ingredients doesn't make it better."

    "But I worked on them."

    "Yes, but you didn't make them better."

    "Well, it doesn't say anywhere on the syllabus that a revised paper has to be better."

    And they wonder why we drink.

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    1. Why did you read them and then give them a grade higher than F in the first place?

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  7. Failing to read the assignment is one thing. Then claiming that because you did not specify an EXACT penalty for EVERY POSSIBLE way they might have failed to read the assignment, you therefore can't deduct anything? "You didn't say making the assignment sheet into a paper airplane didn't count, so you have to give me a grade for it?" That's just not on.

    I can deal with people who can't read. I can't deal with classroom lawyers who think that shouldn't matter, plus ha ha they nailed you because you didn't SAY so you can't take any marks off so there ha!

    No, no, and no.

    Currently dealing with a student who thinks that because he and his friend studied together and wrote kinda sorta the same things on the exam it's not fair that he didn't do as well as his friend. Answer a): I can't discuss someone else's paper with you. No. No, I can't. No. And stop emailing me. Answer b) (unexpressed): your friend did a better job with the material, because your friend is smarter/a better writer/was awake, I don't know which. Answer c) (unexpressed, but I wish I could say this): suck it up, buttercup.

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    1. Or what I really wanted to say: "Your friend did better because she is smarter than you. She has not pointed this out because she knows you would take it badly. Treasure the time you have with her, because she is going to move on fairly soon, to someone who is a closer match to her talents and interests. And hey, have a good summer."

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  8. It's shit like this that makes me loathe my job. I get a fair amount of this "half-assed classroom lawyering" (nicely put, ahistoricality) and it has done two things. One, my syllabus is nearly airtight. Two, I have become really good at saying, "Follow directions or get no credit."

    I was working one-on-one with a student a few weeks back when she had a light-bulb moment. "So," she said, "you really do want us to do what you tell us to do."

    Yes, Ms. Sherlock.

    Another student emailed me after midterm grades were posted. She didn't understand why her grade is so mediocre. She also walked out of class one night when students were working in class on essays, and on her way out the door she said, "I like my paper the way it is. I'm not going to change it like you told me to."

    I consider it a personal victory (one hard-fought, too) that I am not on the path to killing my own liver.

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  9. Now you know why I have the following statements on the syllabus, among many others:

    - Always show all work in all course assignments, especially in homework involving mathematical calculations, including the units. Not showing all work, with the correct units, will be cause for taking off points.

    - All students are required to keep all course materials for the duration of [my course].

    - Do not ever recycle Scantrons in [my course]. Anytime any kind of Scantron form is used in [my course], whether for homework or other assignments or for exams, it must be a new Scantron at the beginning of the assignment or exam. As always whenever using Scantron forms, use pencil to write on and otherwise fill out all Scantron forms.

    - All assignments must be handed in during class in as paper copies during the first five minutes of class. By "assignments," this means homework, research papers, paper titles and summaries, and all other work to be turned in for credit for [my class]. All work in [my class] must be in English, or in standard mathematical notation that is correct and complete for the task at hand, and preferably a mixture of both.

    - NO late assignments will be accepted. "Late" means at any time more than one second after the first five minutes of the class in which the assignment is due.

    All the above chestnuts are on the syllabus courtesy of the class from hell, general-ed science for 80 education majors. (DANGER, Will Robinson! Education majors!) That people this stupid were intending to become teachers filled my heart with dread.

    My syllabus is now 16 pages long, and growing. I do repeatedly say, nearly every week throughout the course, that no late work will be accepted, and that all assignments must be handed in as paper copies during the first five minutes of class.

    If any other items come up, I can say, "IT'S IN THE SYLLABUS." Obviously, it's not possible to cover every possible contingency in the syllabus, but then almost never do modern students bother to look anything up in the syllabus anyway. I do repeatedly tell them to read the syllabus, which is marked "Please read carefully," and I do have some homework problems on it, but if they want to play lawyer, two can play at that game.

    All Hiram really needs to say, the next time his students pull something like this, is that "a real boss in the real world will not like this." Amazingly childish, isn't it?

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    1. P.S. To the maximum extent possible, I have converted all class work and exams to multiple choice. I know, it's an inferior way to teach, but it's necessary for classes of 100, particularly when seemingly all of them want to argue about everything, because they claim that everything I do a "trick" question, a valid retort for which should be, "IT DOES REQUIRE INTELLIGENCE."

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  10. Hiram, if you kept your cool then my hat goes off to you, because I would have blown. my. fucking. stack.

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  11. It's because of crap like this that syllabi become longer and longer. It seems like every term, some snowy snowflake comes up with yet another creative way to do something this stupid that should be obvious to anyone with a brain stem. You know if you don't put it in the syllabus, some idiot chair or dean somewhere is going to say, "Well, it wasn't in the syllabus, so technically you can't enforce it" and make you overturn the grade or overturn it for you if you refuse.

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  12. My blood pressure just shot up reading this because we've all had these little shitty students in class. Instead of drinking my liver into oblivion, I want to shake them. "Never, never, never shake a student!"

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    1. This nearly made me spit-take my beverage.

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  13. I choose the path of least reistance. Want to turn things in late? Sure! Don't want to follow the instructions? Not gonna argue with you! As I see it giving these kids all this rope leads to them hanging themselves not crawling out of the dark hole of ignorance. The late assignments never get turned in or are so terrible they barely pass, they don't know the material and fail the tests (all multiple choice) and I don't appear to be the asshole I am because I am being "centered on student success".

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  14. My partner and I both teach at a university.

    We're both of the opinion that an inability to follow instructions is possibly the single most significant contributor to poor student performance in our classes. Yes, some students are simply not academically talented enough to be in college (don't get me started about admission standards), some can't write their way out of a paper bag, and some just crash and burn on particular assignments due to poor time management or some other similar reason.

    But a basic failure to read and follow the requirements set forth in the assignment instructions is the number one cause of shitty work, in our experience.

    I sometimes think it results from a sort of wishful thinking. "Hey, if I don't read the instructions really closely, and then just go off and do whatever seems easiest, he'll probably says it's fine and give me a decent grade anyway." Almost willful ignorance combined with an oblivious optimism.

    What is even more astounding to me is that some students can't get it right even after I point out to them that their own paper hasn't followed the instructions. I allow my students to submit drafts of their term papers, which I then read and return so that the students can learn from their mistakes and improve their grade. Most of the students who take advantage of this opportunity improve considerably between their first draft and their final submitted version, and receive a better grade than they would have otherwise received.

    If a student submits a draft that fails to follow the assignment instructions, I return the draft and make it very clear that the student has not fulfilled the requirements of the assignment. In such cases, I also outline what the student needs to do in order to bring his or her paper up to scratch. In some cases, though, the student completely ignores my rather long, detailed comments, and submits a final version that is almost indistinguishable from the didn't-follow-the-instructions draft. It's astounding.

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    1. This term I met with a student who claimed that my insistence that students follow instructions given in the Course Outline "wasn't fair." When I asked for elaboration, he claimed that all students "only read the instructions right before the assignment is due."

      Later in the meeting he blamed his performance on his small dorm room.

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  15. I am following the suggestion of some on this board, and writing only minimal comments on essays this semester. It is kind of wonderful. I tell them that if they want to rewrite their essay, they need to make an appointment with me to go over it. Otherwise, the are not allowed a rewrite. It has been working okay so far.

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  16. Sorry, I meant the above as a reply to Defunct Adjunct.

    Hirram, this post reminds us all how much it sucks to deal with the group think mentality. "If we all act equally stupid, then we are right and the professor is wrong."

    Sorry kiddies, that is not how it works. Sigh. Sometime you just get a class full of stupids.

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  17. Oh dear fluffy Lord. I would have lost my shit *entirely*. Kudos to you for keeping your cool.

    The comp students who are failing or getting Ds in my class right now are doing so because they don't follow directions--when they do attempt the homework (10 points for a post, 5 points for 2 responses, but I've explicitly stated that they must do both responses to get the 5 points), they often half-ass it and expect full credit. Nope. The buck stops here.

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    1. It's the combination of an inability (or unwillingness) to follow directions coupled with the grade grubbing that makes me appreciate how much patience I do possess.

      "dear fluffy Lord" = big smile.

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