Monday, March 25, 2013

Winner of the "No Duh!" Sweepstakes. Student Professionalism.

I love the breaking news from the past couple of days about how student "professionalism" is on the decline.

Really, Seth?

I've followed the insane new rules our dictatorette (errr, moderator in flowing white) for adding some context, but let's begin with the "flava" from a recent Crampicle of Higher Edjumucation.

In a recent survey of college and university professors, more than one-third (38.3 percent) said they felt that fewer than half of their upper-level students exhibited qualities associated with being professional in the workplace, and nearly as many (37.5 percent) reported a decrease over the past five years in the percentage of students demonstrating professionalism.

The survey was conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, which over the past four years has conducted an annual study of employers' views of the professionalism of recent college graduates in the workplace.

According to a report describing the survey's findings, "2012 Professionalism on Campus," the qualities the respondents most strongly associated with being professional included having good interpersonal skills, being focused and attentive, being dependable in completing tasks on schedule, and displaying a work ethic.

Stunning, I know.

But I wonder if "professionalism" is even the right word. I wish there was just a graph that charted students and their "laziness," "cleanliness," "ability to open ears," etc.

I don't mind if they're a little unprofessional. I don't mind if they're not QUITE ready for college. But I've lost patience with the ones who are blank and unwilling to accept that they might be able to learn a different way of doing things.

I'd like a survey that unearthed whether freshmen are willing to do something in college that was not done in high school, read a different way, cite a different way, do ANYTHING other than what Mrs. Grundy had them do when they were a junior at James Franco High in San Luis Obispo. That's a survey I'd partially fund (with the vast coffers I have access to from those Google Ads that generate pennies per day!)
The full article, if you choose to read it. You don't have to, because I've captured it perfectly above, and contextualized it flawlessly in my OWN here.


  1. Fab, the only way to get those study results is to do the damn study yourself!!


  2. YES! What is with the level of unwillingness to learn? Do we blame the consumerist society that makes them think they can just pay for things? Is it that they're so used to cookie cutter curricula from NCLB (yes, I know the K-12 teachers are in a bind, too), is it that we're raising a nation of fearful children whose self of steam is at stake if they can't do things correctly and perfectly the first time? I can't get even get students to TRY new things. I think I even wrote a post about that recently, but the past few weeks have been a haze, so maybe I dreamed that I wrote a post about it.

    I'd settle for professionalism from colleagues and administrators on any given day. Then again, my definition of "professionalism" also changes from day to day. Today, on this, the first day of Spring Break, for those of us on the dreaded quarter system, my level of professionalism means I got dressed. Period. I'm not matching and my sweats likely have mud on them from yesterday's caper through the woods.

  3. I just got the SNL reference...Really, Seth?

  4. I'd like to see the results of that survey, too. My best guess is that they're not so much lazy as afraid of failing (which, yes, has something to do with high-stakes testing, and probably also with being part of a large population cohort that has to compete for resources, and with the nervousness that engenders not only in students but also in parents), but it doesn't make it any easier to teach them. Giving any assignment that involves uncertain results (e.g. doing anything that resembles real research) is just exhausting, because some of them are so, so nervous about doing it "right," and/or not doing anything "wrong," that they are incredibly reluctant to venture into even slightly unknown waters, and, if they do, need constant reassurance. I don't mind doing it; I'm learned to (mostly) not take it personally; but as the numbers that need such nudging, hand-holding, etc., etc. increase (and it becomes increasingly clear that teaching well in this way -- which, in students' minds, is often puzzling at best and "not doing my job" at worst -- is not going to win me any kudos from anyone), it becomes increasingly tempting to do something more mechanical and predictable. And so the circling of the educational drain continues.

    1. CC I totally agree with you about the "real" research thing. In a lab I taught one group did everything PERFECTLY. Another group tea-partied everything up (not in a messy or slacker sort of way) just that anything that could go wrong did. Things got contaminated, animals died, electrodes did wonky things. So they had to explain in every lab report a) what they should have found and b) why they got the results they did. For the final exam (which was all application and problem solving) the group that screwed up all the time kicked ass. Because they knew how to problem solve! The perfectionists only did OK. So sad the system doesn't encourage mistakes and learning from them.

  5. But I have to admit, even taking into account the above (and judging from how often paid work is given as an excuse for missing class), my life would be easier (and I'd have more energy for nudging them into/shepherding them through unfamiliar territory) if they'd all just show up to class on time, on a regular basis, with all assignments completed to the best of their ability. So I suppose I wouldn't object to a little "professionalism."

    1. As this implies, I also suspect that my students are more "professional" in the workplace (a setting with which most of them have experience) than in the classroom. I wonder what sort of a cross-section of "recent college graduates" the employers York surveyed were thinking of. Some of my students' employers may barely notice when their already-existing employees graduate, but students in that position are "recent college graduates," too.

  6. While it is no doubt the case that many recent college graduates exhibit irresponsibility and just generally act weird, there's something about the term "professionalism" (especially repeated over and over like this) that just sets my teeth on edge. It reminds me of Alasdair MacIntyre's brilliant work about how managers maintain their power by constructing languages no one else can understand. Acting, and especially looking, "professional" can also be race and gender coded in some particularly nasty ways.

    None of which is to say that students shouldn't show up for class on time, etc.

    1. You want to be the man? You gotta dress like the man.

    2. "You want to be taken seriously? You've got to have serious hair."
      ("Working Girl")

      Kate, I haven't read the work you're referring to, but I will look for it. I've certainly noticed it, particularly with senior men deliberately using acronyms and then getting patronizing when junior colleagues (especially women) ask for a translation. As for race and gender coding, amen. We could add disabilities to that list, too.

      Would it set your teeth on edge if we referred to the desired skill set as "discipline"? I would like my students to show discipline regarding being dependable, staying focused on a task, treating others with courtesy, and displaying a work ethic in all assignments.

  7. OK, I get the concern that "professionalism" has been used as code for "someone who we don't want to be part of our club." Still, there is something to be said for people joining a community of similarly trained and employed people, who are ready and able to engage with those co-workers using the language and process common to that profession.

    For the love of Webster, I just came from a child's middle school event.
    Held in the library, my gaster was flabbered when I saw a flip chart with notes about how to utilize MLA citations.

    Now, this isn't my cup o'joe -- I use APA. But could someone explain to be how in tea partying NCLB world could my FIFTH grader be more adept at sourcing material than my under- and graduate students?

    Oh, and just to smack my gob even further, I raked across the coals in a online student's message because I had the temerity to post grades before the unit was over. Problem was, the grades weren't posted until three days AFTER the unit ended. But *I* am mucking up the near perfect GPA of a student who cannot follow a calendar!

    Really, if this is what we have to deal with ... what's the point?

  8. Now, this isn't my cup o'joe -- I use APA. But could someone explain to be how in tea partying NCLB world could my FIFTH grader be more adept at sourcing material than my under- and graduate students?

    Yep. I learned citations in high school. We did reports with sources in the FOURTH GRADE. I have graduate students who don't do citations unless you tell them to and don't know anything about them when you do tell them. They have obviously never done them and apparently never noticed citations in anything they have ever read, because they don't even seem to "get" what citations are for. It's just some arcane requirement that they have to tack onto their verbal barf to pass.