Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Do you have a moment?

Baskets in Haikou 03.jpg
A Basket case
(Foto by Anna Frodesiak
Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
A short interaction on a grey, snowy morning.

Suzy is lugging bags with various baskets for her basket-weaving class. She is late, as traffic was bad.

A student in a white T-shirt jumps out of the project room across the hall.

T-shirt: Oh, Mrs. Suzy, do you have a moment?

Suzy: [To self: Why can't they ever call me Dr. Suzy?] No.

T-shirt:  But I have some important questions!

Suzy: My office hours are on Thursday.

T-shirt:  But I have to work then!

Suzy: Well, I have to work now.

Is our school the only one where basket-weavers have such lucrative part-time jobs that they expect us to have time when it fits their schedule?


  1. No, Suzy, your students are not the only ones who do this. Just as I was composing a photo of the Moon illusion through a camera's viewfinder, under cover of night and in no way calling attention to myself, one of my particularly naive freshpersons materializes out of the dark, wanting me to help with his homework. And of course, he didn't even have the assignment on him. What do I have to do, wear black, with a ski mask?

    Now you know why I avoid eating on campus. When I was 12, I asked a teacher a question during lunch, and he said, "I'm eating now." If I did that, I'd get slagged on end-of-term evaluations for "not being available to students." They think that if you can't be infinitely available, you're not available at all.

    1. I admit that I did that to my profs while I was an undergrad. I guess I never really saw them as people who wanted to have time to themselves once in a while.

      However, moving ahead many years to when I was teaching, I would have been skinned by my supervisors if I put my foot down and refused to see a student. I was expected to be constantly available at their beck and call for them 24 hours a day. Any time spent on my own activities was seen as being "inaccessible" or putting up "barriers to learning".

      My assistant department head was particularly bad for that. He didn't buy for a second my argument that my students could always make an appointment if they really needed to see me. Then again, not many of them ever came to my office unless it was to mewl and puke over my marking and I don't remember anyone arranging to see me at a specific time.

  2. Happily there are some nice folks on campus and I tend to keep office hours AND leave my door open for a couple of extra hours and visit or watch Netflix with a colleague, or just do what I might be doing at home anyway, reading, writing, walking around in socks.

    There's a bit of an illusion I'm around more than my office hours, and that sometimes helps. But it is all a con, because nobody comes anyway. At least my chair sees me.

    1. I've heard a lot of variations on this at CM over the years, and it confuses me every time. I'm always up to my neck with work I need to do in my office. Grading, writing lectures, answering email, god forbid working on research, lots of stuff. I've never watched Netflix at school in the seven years I've been working - it would never occur to me.

      Why are office hours regarded as time when nothing else happens?

    2. I've had conversations with people about actual hours of work on campus and I think mileage varies. I'm in class a total of 7 and half hours a week. I've taught for a while, so I don't have to remake the banana bread each term.

      I keep 4 official hours on campus a week and probably 4 more on my own.

      We're up to 15.5 hours. Grading, yes, I teach writing, 4 papers a term. Those weeks I find myself busy, but most weeks, no, except for a meeting or two, or writing on my own - which I think of as my time anyway - I am not working more than 20 hours a week on average.

      I have colleagues who tell me they work 70, and I think it's bullshit. That's 10 hours a day, every day of the week. I see the same people sitting in their friends' offices talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Nashville. I hope they aren't counting those.

    3. This comes up a fair amount. I think the relevant RYS link is the Mr Bullshit stuff, which you can view here. (Then click NEWER POST. There are three total posts, I think.)

      One thing I'd add is that not all of our readers grade their students' material. I do grade grad student work, but those are 5-7 person seminars with one paper. I haven't read an undegrad paper or test for many years.

  3. I had a particularly scathing evaluation this past Fall semester. "Worst teacher ever." "She sucks." "Unwilling to help me." *

    You see this particular flake missed some class time for the death of a parent. I was more than willing to help them catch-up, etc. They only wanted to speak with me about the items missed when the whole class was in the midst of a new basket weaving adventure. I could not get this flake to come see me out of class.

    All I can say is, "Really?"

    *No worries about consequences for me.

    1. Yeah, when you point out there are 60 other people in the room, they so often seem genuinely surprised.

    2. Definitely the hallmark of a particular subtype of this generation (a particularly frustrating one). And yes, they suffer losses/tragedies like everyone else, but they cope (or not) with them in all-too-typical form (while others cope with the same or worse in ways that match their own personalities. While difficult circumstances can push people to extreme versions of their typical behavior, I don't think they change their basic personalities and/or approaches).

  4. Most of ours have part- or full-time jobs (or several part-time jobs that add up to more than full-time). I'm not sure whether they're lucrative (I'd guess not, in most cases), but they're definitely unpredictable, so much so that I'm as likely to have a student announce that (s)he has to miss class because of work as that (s)he can't make it to office hours. I used to think this represented poor planning and/or lack of dedication on the students' part; I now realize that this is just how shift scheduling in the retail/service sector works these days. (Of course, if this student had a truly unpredictable schedule, he probably would be available during your office hours some weeks. And he presumably has access to email, either to ask a question or to schedule an appointment.)

    My students come in many varieties/approaches/degrees of politeness/awareness of others. Some are as clueless as t-shirt guy (and Frenna's student), and want me to stop and pay attention to them and only them, no matter who or what else I should, according to my own schedule, be concentrating on. These are also, of course, the students who email at 2 a.m. about an assignment due at 9 a.m. that morning, and are surprised not to get an answer in time for it to be useful. The majority fall in a middle range: they never make use of office hours, but they're willing, if asked, to save individual questions to ask in the hall after class (which is where I seem to hold the majority of the conversations, including some fairly personal/sensitive ones, that one would typically envision taking place during office hours), and they're understanding when I wrap up such a conversation by saying that I need to make it back to my office in time for my actual, scheduled office hours, in case anybody shows up (they rarely do). And then there are the rare few who show up during my actual office hours, and want to go away when they see that I'm eating lunch (because that's the only time of day I can reasonably eat lunch, as well as the only time of day to schedule office hours that students might actually attend), and have to be coaxed to sit down and talk.

    The great majority do show up for scheduled paper conferences, and often express amazement at how useful the conversation was. This probably means that I should schedule another set of conferences earlier in the semester, but, given the fact that I've got c. 110 students this semester, I'm not sure I can cope with the results of their making that discovery earlier in the semester (also, once they do make it, they want me to be available at all times of the day and night for conferences, which I pretty much do for the 3 weeks or so it takes to see everybody for a single conference on the draft of the major paper, but I couldn't handle for the whole semester).

    P.S. Am I the only one thinking this student might have gotten a better response had he begun by offering/attempting to help Dr. Suzy with her bags?

    1. In response to the personal conversations in the hallway, that's where most students have learned to have personal conversations with their teachers. Most high school teachers don't have an office, and the hall is the most private space we can offer to have a conversation.

    2. Good point. That's definitely the way they seem to think about the hallway: they'll ask to go out there when they want privacy, while, when I ask someone to meet me in the hallway, I'm usually thinking more about the next teacher's need to get into the classroom and set up (and am anticipating that there may well be several students waiting to talk to me out there,not to mention all the other students and teachers coming and going, so I'm not expecting it to be a private space).