Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nobody Knows the Trouble They've Seen

Today my 400+ Intro to Hamsterology class had its midterm. They had 70 minutes to answer 25 multiple choice questions and write an essay between 1-2 sides of a page long (you have to say “sides” because if you say “pages” they later point out a page has two sides and so you confused them and caused them stress. Time was marked off on the board in ten minute increments to help them keep track of the time left. Needless to say there was much whining before, during and after the midterm – here is a “best-of” from each phase of the whining.


Winning Whiner – Before the Test: Email Erna
Although there were many many worthy contenders, what put Erna in the lead was the extra excruciatingness of each of her questions/comments arriving in a separate email:

Email Erna: Your study guide was not clear!! Your practice question said “Assume your friend just bought her first hamster. Explain to her how to feed her hamster so that the hamster will gain maximum nutrition”. But there was no answer provided!!!

Dream-Killer: It’s a question for YOU to practice answering. How would you answer this?

Email Erna: Hamsters eat three meals a day? Is that enough?

Dream-Killer: You could also talk about the three types of food that are most nutritious for Hamsters.

Email Erna: Like what?

Dream-Killer: Grain, nuts and flowers.

Email Erna: What would I say about each of these?

Dream-Killer: so basically you want me to write out an entire answer for you. Here’s what you could say about Grain…. Now do the same for the other two.

Email Erna: What would I say about nuts?

Dream-Killer: ignores email as it is now 1.30 am.

Email Erna: Its not fair, how am I supposed to study for the test? You must answer me – its your JOB!!!


Winning Whiner – During the Test -Manic Matt:

Manic Matt [raises hand, snaps his fingers at me like he’s ordering a drink in a cheap diner. I walk over. He hisses at me]: Can you explain what a “Hamster Feeding Schedule” is?

Dream-Killer: Sorry I can’t because it was a term on the study guide so you were supposed to be able to explain it on the test

Manic Matt: You must explain it to me – its your JOB!!!


Winning Whiner – Post Test - Shortchanged Sally:

Shortchanged Sally: When we were told to stop writing during our test today, I did not understand why because the clock on the right hand side of the room that I was following said 12.28 pm on it. It was then that I had noticed the clock on the left hand side of the room was 2 minutes faster and it said, 12.30 pm. Therefore the two clocks in the test room were inconsistent and we were not told which clock to follow! Within the 2 minutes that I was cheated of, I could have completed my essay! I think you should scale the marks of everybody on the right side of the room to reflect this injustice.

Dream-Killer: don’t worry, I used a timer and you definitely got the full 70 minutes to do your test.

Shortchanged Sally: You must scale my marks, its your JOB!!!


And what do Erna, Matt and Sally win? Dream-Killer's extra special, super-duper detailed attention to doing my job grading their essay answers - not a single weakness or inadequacy will escape my busy red pen..... FAIL my beauties, FAIL!!!


  1. Is this what all posts look like before the mods format them? Egads.

  2. You must format your posts, its your JOB!

  3. Seriously, is there no moderator on duty. The text is so jumbled and tight that it's not so easy to read.

  4. Oh, poor dears. I had to go teach a class full of halfwits. Then I had a soda. Then I peed. Then I talked to my colleague who not so secretly wants me to fail and burn out like he did a hundred years ago.

    THEN, I worked on the page.

    Everything okay for you now?

    A moderator once again revisiting choices.

    1. You must punish us, its your JOB!

      (Never you mind that we *like* it...)

    2. And you did a wonderful job. I for one am never going to knock what you do; but it would be helpful if posters would at least put blank lines between their paragraphs, for before the overworked RGM gets to it.

    3. The formatting of posts is something people pick up as they go along. It's not a problem. It is a problem if readers complain about formatting when the post has only been up very briefly. I really do have a full time gig and get to the page in between my other duties as a mom, teacher, wife, and some others.

      One of the worst mistakes correspondents make is formatting text in another word processor and then dumping it into Blogger. It makes sense, but sometimes the formatting does not transfer well. Blogger is, admittedly, old school, so it works best when you compose text IN Blogger.

      There are good editing tools in the newest Blogger, and most folks get there through trial and error. We don't mind cleaning the odd post; I was only pissy because I felt like I'd fallen down on the job! Don't ask.

      The RGM

    4. Thanks for that RGM! It certainly does look so much better after you reformatted it. did format the post outside blogger and struggled to reformat it within blogger. Next time, I'll do better at doing my job- thanks so much!!

  5. You must fail them. It's your JOB.

  6. These stories remind me of something a former colleague once told me. One of his students came to his office and said something like: "I'm failing your course. What are you doing about it?" As I recall my ex-colleague promptly showed him the door.

    I knew about him because he was in one of my courses twice and failed both times. Years later, I crossed paths with him at the institution and he had decided to become an apprentice after abandoning his studies in my department. We chatted for a few minutes and he admitted that he needed to grow up but he had finally found something he wanted to devote himself to.

    1. This reminds me of the only time I had to show a student the door, years ago. After a particularly rude statement, I told him to get out of my office. He refused, and kept spouting nonsense. I moved from behind my desk, and gradually decreased the distance between us as we both inched towards the door, without touching him. Finally I was on the inside and he was outside, and I shut the door.

      He went straight to the dean's office and threatened to file charges against me for "assault". Nothing came of it; but I've decided that if this happens again it is better to call campus police to have the student removed.

  7. I'm so lucky I haven't recently taught people whose level of rudeness is such that they think they can tell me openly this or that "is my JOB".

    But it would only happen once: whether in class, or by email, it would be met with: "listen, you're a student: it is not part of your role in this interaction to tell me what is, or isn't my job. If you don't like it, drop the class now, for the chances you'll pass are slim."

    Yes, I'm tenured. But if I were in the kind of situation where saying this to a student would put my job at risk, it would mean I was in entirely the wrong profession. Time to move to insurance, accounting or banking (something trivial and quantitative).

    1. This is what one gets when one no longer has students but customers.

      One year, I was ordered by my last department head to take team-building "training". The chap who ran the session kept blathering on about "needs" and "expectations" of our "customers". I challenged him on that because, being in an educational institution, there were supposed to be standards, or so I was led to believe. Why else did we have to update our course outlines from time to time?

      I didn't get anywhere except get myself into trouble for raising the point. My emphasis on standards was quickly countered by the aforementioned "needs" and "expectations".

    2. I've never actually heard anyone directly refer to students as customers, but from the tales told here, it sounds like those embracing that model have a really limited, and often uninformed, definition of "customers."

      Here's just one way to deal with the wrong type of customer:

      While Kelleher gives his customers a great deal and a great time, he's clear that the people of Southwest come first -- even if it means firing customers!

      Are customers always right? "No they are not," Kelleher snaps. "And I think that's one of the biggest betrayals of your people you can possibly commit. The customer is frequently wrong. We don't carry those sorts of customers. We write them and say, 'Fly somebody else. Don't abuse our people.' "

      Business schools and popular business books love talking about Southwest, in part because Southwest openly acknowledges that its employees aren't expected just to take shit from customers.

    3. HPP:

      My former employer went whole-hog into the TQM/CQI/student-as-customer nonsense. Several departments ceased being departments and having heads, and, instead, became "work units" and "team leaders", respectively. Mission and vision statements were plastered all over the place. We constantly had to solicit "customer feedback" and, of course, the customer was *always* right.

      The kiddies soon picked up on that and used it as a weapon against me.

      To make matters worse, my last department head was responsible for inflicting it upon the institution. Personally, I think he simply used it as an opportunity to hobnob with the upper administration and, thereby, show that he was worthy of promotion to that place's equivalent of Mount Olympus. Whenever some new concept was to be introduced (i. e., forced upon us), he ordered us to volunteer to be the guinea pigs and, if we knew what was good for us, we went along with it.

      Personally, I don't think he believed a word of that nonsense.

    4. I have often fantasized about jumping ship to something more solitary -- lighthouse keeper? nightwatchperson on a remote Alaskan oil drilling outpost? graveyard janitor in a bar? -- but I've just never had the guts. Or maybe it's prudence and good sense. At this point, I honestly can't decide. I do know that there's a personal toll to pay, though, when I don't say what I darn well know I should say, what would be good to say, what would be educational to say -- and that toll is paid by both instructor and student.

    5. @Bloody Tongue, I know someone who got a PhD in math (from a top school, famous adviser, strong thesis), and after one postdoc and one book got a job as a ranger at national forest deep in Utah. He had plenty of time to think and write about math in his mountain cabin, and to meet with his colleagues in CA often enough. Sounds idyllic to me, but I don't know if he is still active (in research.)

      As to your other point: there is a price to pay if you speak up against admin nonsense that other colleagues accept uncritically, even if you're tenured. Still, if more of us spoke openly (at fac. meetings, or when writing to deans and others) the situations wouldn't be as bad as it is. Basically, tenured faculty in the US are gradually giving up the store without a fight, easing into retirement since the "new thinking" mainly affects their younger colleagues.) One thing I have found is that the proportion of sheep among (tenured) academics is not lower than in the general population, and it may be higher.

    6. Thank you. I take inspiration from the gumption and what I take to be self-knowledge of your acquaintance. Also, I do see the wisdom in not going too gently into whatever it is that awaits, especially when voicing legitimate concerns could change what we're going into. It would be a real shame to fume in silence and get the shaft anyway, kind of like that senator I read about years ago who defied his conscience voted in favor of the Iraq War to win re-election -- and lost the election anyway.

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    8. Peter:

      You described much of my time as an instructor at a craphole tech school.

      We had to suffer with some idiotic decisions made by the senior administrative but I was often the only one who openly made my opinion known. Many of those decisions, however, came as a result of my last department head trying to be noticed by those administrators and, thereby, be promoted into their ranks. Any objection on my part, however legitimate, was not only seen as questioning the judgement of those administrators but a personal attack on the DH.

      He never liked me from early on and my objections gave him even more reason to make my life as miserable as possible.

      I know many of my colleagues had similar misgivings about what we were told to do but hardly anyone spoke up. Either they were sheep or had the idea "if he leaves me alone, I'll leave him alone", going along with the status quo and not rocking the boat. Their collective inaction made me wonder how they could ever look at themselves in a mirror and not feel ashamed of themselves.

      Unfortunately, dissent of any kind was rarely supported by the institution's staff association. Only once did we have a president who was prepared to defend an individual instructor. Normally, the association was more interested in peaceful co-existence with the administration and it sometimes meant sacrificing someone in order to leave everyone else alone.

      It didn't help that, during the years I was there, many of the rights and privileges that the staff had in the old days were slowly frittered away with each round of contract negotiations. So, if an administrator wanted to hang a subordinate, so to speak, the staff association would fall over itself to help build the gallows.

      The support staff, however, were, on the whole, better off because they were represented by a certified government union and, so, the administration couldn't get away with a lot of nonsense.

  8. I just tell them straight up that if they annoy me or otherwise get on my bad side, that I'm more likely to go over their tests and assignments in excruciating detail. It is astonishing how much this improves their disposition.

  9. Echoes of the student who, on the first day of the semester, told me that since he's paying for the course, he should be able to turn things in whenever he wanted. I told him that would be fine, but he wouldn't get credit for late work. He didn't like that. He's also the same student who got an F on the second essay because he didn't address the assignment because he was "inspired by the readings" but didn't cite them or address them as the assignment required.

    DK, you have my empathy, and your method of dealing with PITA students works just fine.


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