Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Respectful Request

Today I came across a comment on an academic blog I frequent https://collegemathteaching.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/teaching-evaluations/#comment-3905. To be honest, I am a college student, but one who will eagerly join your rank and file one day soon. I have the utmost respect for the profession and one day when I join you I am going to work hard to do what my great professors have done to me.

I gave a speech last quarter about Rate My Professors, and I said, among many other things, that such a place as Rate My Students should exist. Quid Pro Quo.

But when I saw this commenthttps://collegemathteaching.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/teaching-evaluations/#comment-3905 and then read through a few of your pages, it was not what I found at all. For my personal edification, I would wonder if each of your writers or editors could answer these questions for me, so as I could understand the mission of your website:

1 = Why are you anonymous? Is there something shameful about what you do? What are you ashamed of? Are you ashamed that your students will read this and see you for who you are? Do you treat your students differently in person than you do when you are cloaked in anonymity?

2 = How do you decide which students to "call out?" Do you choose ones who don't belong in college? Do you choose ones who have challenged you? Do you choose the laziest ones?

3 = What does your boss think about your activity on this blog, or are you anonymous to him as well? What would your boss say if he knew you were doing this? Would it cost you your job or your tenure track?

4 = Have any of you been rated on Rate My Professors? Is there any correlation between the way students rate you and the way you rate students? Wouldn't you think that the grades you give students are your ratings already? How would you like it if students rated you to your boss? Is that information you use when you grade student projects and presentations and capstone essays?

5 = How long has your website done this? Are there a lot of writers and editors or are you just a few?

6 = I give you credit for "telling it like it is". But is there another way of telling your students to be better students. As in a lecture or a Prezi?

Than you very much for your time. My name is Travis, but I will not give my last name, to like you remain anonymous. I hope you will take the time comment on my questions as I sincerely would like to know the answers to my questions.

Again, I'm just a student, but I have always wanted to teach, and I've only got one year left of my undergrad degree and then I hope to enroll for a certificate and Master's so that I can begin teaching as well. It's always been my dream.

But if the students are as bad as you make them out ot be, maybe not!! LOL.

Thanks,
Travis



39 comments:

  1. Hi Travis,


    I think that if you are called to teach, you should do it.

    I don't think any of us has the time to give you an executive summary, such as one would prepare for one's boss (mine is "she", BTW). Many of your questions (the ones that don't presume an answer) are answerable by simply reading the blog. This is a good post to start with.

    I have a few more thoughts, but duty calls.

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  2. Just speaking for myself, I use a pseudonym because I don't want my coworkers and bosses to know about the things I say here. It's not that I'm ashamed, just protecting myself. I wouldn't lose my job but I might piss some people off, and I don't want that.

    I call out the lazy and willfully stupid students, annoying coworkers, and clueless administrators. There are many things wrong with academia so it's a target-rich environment.

    Colleagues and students think I'm a good instructor. I'm funny, I know my shit, I'm not an asshole. That, along with student biases for people who look like me, get's me 4/5 on my evals. I encourage students to go to RMP and tell me how I did. My bosses see my evals, so students do rate me. Here, we rate students' behavior. If you're an annoying shithead but manage to pass my class, you pass my class. Grades are separate from what we say here.

    You can read the history of this site in the sidebar.

    Students don't pay attention to my lectures as it is so there's no reason to think that another lecture would solve the problems I have with students. This way is more fun. Besides blowing off steam, I occasionally entertain people and I can be a part of a community of faculty and staff who share the same problems and perspective that I have.

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  3. 1. Yes, I treat students respectfully in person, and the great majority of them treat me that way, too. I do care what students think, and I pay attention to interactions in class, the comments on their (anonymous!) course evaluations and even read the YikYak at my college. I take YikYak as mostly ephemeral venting with an overarching picture of student frustration, and that is how I suggest you take this site as well.

    2. The accounts I give of students aren't accurate portrayals of specific people. Names, sometimes genders, courses, etc. are are adapted to protect the real people generating the frustration some of us feel at times. Episodes are chosen that are representative of bigger issues. I think most posters do the same, but I'll let them speak for themselves.

    3. The idea of a "boss' is pretty different in academia. If I were calling out specific people by clear identification, I think that might be a problem at the university. I don't think most people do that here, though. I know I don't.

    4. I think most people are rated on RMP at least some. We also get regular required feedback on course evaluations and many of us seek additional feedback as well, because we actually do care. No one goes into academia for the fabulous salary, so cognitive dissonance has us feel that what we do genuinely matters, so we want to do a good job. Even when I get rude, unprofessional behavior from students, I do my best to grade the work, not the person. I wish I got the same courtesy from all students on evaluations, but, alas there are always those few...

    SKIP

    6. This blog isn't really addressed to students. Also, I could give 1000 prezis on how to be a good student. The good students would pay attention. The others, I doubt it. But they are free agents, so I try to not stress about it too much.

    Thanks for writing.

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  4. Students giving homework? What has the world come to?

    The Gog

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  6. Travis, we are venting. Venting is fun, and I bet you do it, too, in one area of your life or another.

    We are anonymous because this is the internet. No, there is nothing shameful about venting, but I don't actually think our bosses would want to listen to us vent about our job. Would your boss want to listen to you venting about your job? Would you want her or him to listen to you vent? Have you ever had a job? (joke)

    I have posted some seriously hard core venting on this site. Shit, I read some of my stuff from a few years ago and I can't get over that I felt that way. I am way more laid back at this new juncture of my life. But if you need to vent, it's great to have people who know EXACTLY what you mean!!! Who have also been through it. And you might not be able to do it with folks at work----they might not be venters! Or be ready to admit they are!

    Even during the period of my life/career where I posted the most vitriolic posts here, I was actually very nice to my students. I'm REQUIRED to be nice, Travis! The college where I work prides itself on the sympathetic, kindhearted, helpful nature of its faculty and staff. We are (most of us) all of those things, most days, even when students are at their most abusive.

    Here's a comparison you might understand better: If you are a waiter, you need to be nice and helpful to your customers, even if they are awful. If you are not nice and helpful and respectful, you won't get a good tip, and you might lose your job. But Travis, being nice all the time, when people are abusing you, it's exhausting. Sometimes, waiters just need to share stories and frustrations with other waiters----simply to blow off steam! Are all customers abusive to waiters---of course not. But I bet the ones who are take a large toll on them!

    Which students do we target? The snowflakes, of course! And to answer another of your questions---they are in the majority at many institutions (although certainly not all students are snowflakes).

    Sincerely, Bella

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    1. "I'm REQUIRED to be nice, Travis!" Very seriously, this. I'm never allowed even to very softly suggest to my students that they have not fulfilled an assignment's requirements, because my dean calls that "being discouraging and not KIND." I recently came across some undergraduate work of my own, and I was filled with awe at the liberty my own professors had to say, "This is insulting. Never hand in anything like this to anyone again." (That proffie was absolutely right, by the way: I had no idea what I was doing, and I learned by messing up and being sharply hauled in. Very effective.) A student once complained to a colleague that they had "thought they had seen really quick expressions on my face that made it look like I didn't approve of everything my students did." It's not always easy to look as though I'm not working hard to be patient. Nowhere to read that my pain is shared? I'd be a lot closer to the grave. Here's to the RGM for saving my sanity. Here's to the blog. Long may it die.

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  7. Travis, it seems like you may be a math major. I'm sorry if you are offended by the venting (I agree with Bella - it can be fun!), but when reading the vents on this page about students, you should bare in mind the difference between "there exists a student..." and "for all students..."

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  8. This isn't real. It's clearly a joke written by whoever running the page. And I can tell you with 100% certainty it isn't Crystal or whoever. It's the same couple of guys Ben and Archie or Archie and Cal or whatever. There was no Fab or any of the others. It's 2 guys, obviously guys, it's one of the most dick-swingingest pages I've ever seen.

    Why are you sheep so stupid?

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    1. Didn't you say you were leaving after the last one?

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    2. You got the wrong guy. I'm waiting until it closes for good.

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    3. (Anonymous 2)

      Well then here's an idea. Just don't read posts made by students. Thousands upon thousands of people, some of whom are certainly students, are reading this page at all times. THAT doesn't seem to bother you.

      So one can only assume that it's student submissions that bother you. So just... don't read them if they bother you?

      It's really easy, actually.

      Delete
  9. 1. We are not ashamed. We do not interact with students anonymously at all, so the question of how we "treat" them in anonymous interactions is moot. All email correspondence is signed, and students know exactly who is giving their grades. Face-to-face, we are required to be polite, as in Bella's waiter analogy.

    2. We call out the lazy, entitled, rude, and combinations thereof.

    3. Everyone in my department, including the chair, has stories of difficult students. We often share them with each other. However, some situations are delicate enough to require anonymity. Examples include FERPA, difficult colleagues, airhead administrators, etc. You can certainly put your job in jeopardy by complaining about the administration.

    BTW, thanks for assuming all bosses are men.

    4. Yes, I have been rated on RMP, very few times. I also have a few scattered ratings on other sites. One is libelous. I've thought about asking the site administrators to take it down, but it's not worth my time.

    The grades I give my students are ratings (of their classwork, not their value as human beings). However, the difference between course grades and RMP is that I am accountable for my grades. If a student complains, I have to be ready to show my assignments, exams, and grading rubrics to the chair and/or dean, along with the student's work. My grades will be compared with other instructors' grades to see if I am too harsh. The bottom lines is that I have to justify everything I do. Any random joker can rate a professor on RMP, as many times as s/he wants.

    Students DO rate me to my boss. That's exactly what the anonymous course evaluations are. The administrators scrutinize them closely.

    I cannot consider student evaluations when I assign grades. I am only allowed to see the evaluations WAY after my grades have been turned in. Furthermore, student evals are anonymous, so I can't associate negative comments with specific people (unless they give enough information for me to identify them).

    Other people can answer 5 and 6 better than I can.

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  10. If this IS a fake post, I've got my money on Ben. He always loved the left hand photo. DAMN HIM!!!

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    1. Nah, I'd have asked, "How much more fulfilling is your life, knowing that you share a blog with Beaker Ben? How do I send him nude pictures of my girlfriend? Do you sell a Beaker Ben plush toy?" I'm not subtle.

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  11. I know I'm silly to have responded at all, much less twice....but. Travis! #4?? Seriously? Have you read this page at all? Student evaluations are solid gold to our bosses. Students evaluate us, and those evaluations can impact our ability to be promoted or get tenure, for sure. For those of us who are part time (70-80% of us) those student evaluations can keep us from being rehired next semester. And of course, you silly Travis, we don't grade students based on their evaluations! We don't even see them until after grades are long posted. And of COURSE you silly boy, we realize that if we give every snowflake a good grade, our evaluations will soar. In spite of this, we try to have integrity.

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  13. In spite of this, we try to have integrity.

    Believe it or not, I think this pretty much sums up the whole enterprise (which, yes, I'm going to comment on as a whole, because many if not all of your individual questions Travis, can, indeed, be answered by reading the syll--, er, text--, er blog. We've even discussed things like pseudonymity, which is different from anonymity, and involves taking responsibility for what one has said in the past under the same name, even if one's boss (mine's a she, too, by the way, and as a composition teacher, I'd recommend gender-neutral language in any case), students, students' parents, etc. can't make the connection.

    But the short version is pretty much what Bella said (and I could say something very similar about how I felt when I first came here, and how I'm feeling now, though my circumstances haven't changed all that much): we come, we vent (because we actually do care, and want to do as well as we can by our students, preferably without driving ourselves insane/into an early grave), we go back out and keep teaching with as much integrity, sympathy, and rigor as we can muster.

    Since you're planning to be a teacher, I strongly recommend paying a bit less attention to the posts about students (you know what most students are like; they're all around you. Just remember that you *won't* be teaching younger versions of yourself, and take a look around) and bit more attention to those about colleagues, administrators, legislators, et al. Especially but not only if you're thinking of going into K-12 education, that's actually where most of your headaches are likely to come from (and, if you read the blog carefuly, where a lot of our headaches are coming from. Even if the story starts with a troublesome student, it often ends with a troublesome administrator -- and remember, all the time spent dealing with the troublesome student and the troublesome administrator is time *not* spent teaching our other 80 or 200 or 500 more responsible students. That right there is often the real misery).

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    1. K-12 teaching, good lord. I teach HS at a really good school: the kids are great, my colleagues are fantastic. But JAYSUS the administrators make you want to rock back and forth in the fetal position weeping softly at the sheer waste of skin. I had to take an online harassment certification course for my adjunct job, and it was as though every hideous, harass-y scenario was based on my principal. Our academic dean combines astonishing stupidity with a blind, passionate love of rules. Nuance just confuses him, like a cat scared of a ceiling fan. I suspect ol' Travis has the mind and heart of an administrator. So Travis, dear, we're anonymous to protect ourselves from people like you. Good luck with your...choices.

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    2. Travis, you didn't ask why we read here (in fact, that seems to be about the only thing you didn't ask; are you trying to write a paper about us or something? Your questions look sort of like the ones my students used to write when they tried to interview people via email, which is one of several reasons I don't allow them to do that anymore), but one answer lies in Surly's post:

      Our academic dean combines astonishing stupidity with a blind, passionate love of rules. Nuance just confuses him, like a cat scared of a ceiling fan.

      A number of people around here right really well, including some pretty brilliant meetaphors, similes, analogies, etc.

      And sometimes we just play round in nerdy ways (e.g. the prose poem in parens a post or two up).

      EC1's explanation of hir name is pretty brilliant, too.

      For all the misery, this place is fun (and mostly not mean fun, though that does occasionally happen, too).

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    3. And then some of us, apparently, are illiterate, or at least ispellerate and/or easily confused by homophones (not to be confused with nuance or ceiling fans; I can handle both of those reasonably well).

      for "right" above, read "write."

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    4. And for "meetaphors", reed "meataphores."

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    5. Which reminds me of the book "I never metaphor I didn't like".

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    1. Travis, you may have been surprised to learn from Surly that administrators have minds and hearts. It's true! 100% pure phlogiston in many cases.

      I post under my real name. EC1 is a postal district in London, and I was conceived in a gutter there. My parents, being sentimental types, decided to remember the occasion by naming me after it.

      But I'm not bitter. Nobody takes my brother Elephant and Castle seriously, and my sister has always hated being Cheapside.

      Delete
  16. Initially, I was not going to say anything, but then I thought I’d have a quick go. Then, during the workday, I found myself pondering these questions, and how we are occasionally called upon to answer them. I thus dashed off some things into a document to paste into a comment when I got home. I thought the exercise of some use, and I can always copy, edit, and paste it again if the need arises later.

    1 = Why are you anonymous?

    Please see this page.

    Is there something shameful about what you do? What are you ashamed of?

    No, and Not Applicable.

    Are you ashamed that your students will read this and see you for who you are?

    No, but I do worry that they'd see themselves for who they are, which could distress them if they took it personally and/or out of context. You see, they are still growing the thick skin that I already have, the perspective that allows me to see the constructive part of ostensible criticism and to ignore the rest.

    Do you treat your students differently in person than you do when you are cloaked in anonymity?

    Short answer: no.

    Longer answer: the students here aren't my students in real life, so my treatment of such disparate groups is not an issue.

    My “students” here are caricatures built from stereotypical behaviors that I really do encounter in my job, which I do because if my writing were to hew too closely to the actual events, I'd risk identifying the real-life students. So, to some extent, the events are caricatures as well.

    I can assure you that no students were harmed in the making of my posts or comments, but at the same time, what I write here is “authentic” even if not a totally accurate historical record. And “I” am a caricature, too, and both the real me and pseudonymous “me” have no cognitive dissonance about this.

    2 = How do you decide which students to "call out?"

    The students self-select. They almost beg us to write about them. You just can’t make this shit up.

    Do you choose ones who don't belong in college? Do you choose ones who have challenged you? Do you choose the laziest ones?

    Sometimes, sometimes (for multiple meanings of being “challenged”), and often.

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    1. [continued doe to 4096-character limit]

      3 = What does your boss think about your activity on this blog, or are you anonymous to him as well?

      I have not talked to my boss about this, but I don’t think she thinks anything about it because she simply doesn’t know. Nor am I going to tell her.

      What would your boss say if he knew you were doing this?

      She’d probably say something like, “don’t shit where you eat,” and I’d understand that to mean: keep it on your own time, on your own computer; don’t make it personal; don’t go overboard or do anything you can’t walk away from; don’t jeopardize the good we’re trying to do. And then she’d leave it to my professional judgment.

      Would it cost you your job or your tenure track?

      No.

      4 = Have any of you been rated on Rate My Professors?

      I have not, but many here have. Also, many here have submitted reviews for themselves and for colleagues real and fake, which is further evidence that RMP is bullshit.

      Is there any correlation between the way students rate you and the way you rate students?

      As discussed here many times, there is a wealth of research on just this topic. A good paper to look for is “Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors” by Carrell and West, 2010. They found that when students expected to get good grades, they rated their teachers highly, even though they were less well prepared for the next class in sequence (i.e. they had actually learned less). The more rigorous graders got lower ratings from students, even though the students had fared better in the follow-on curriculum. Further evidence that student ratings are not the be-all end-all that some would make them out to be.

      Wouldn't you think that the grades you give students are your ratings already?

      No, not by a long shot. My rubrics don’t (and shouldn’t) rate them on overall unpleasantness, self-importance, bad grooming, cluelessness, etc., all of which speak to their ability to be a good co-worker in any job situation.

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    2. [continued doe to 4096-character limit]

      How would you like it if students rated you to your boss?

      This phrasing implies that students are not already rating me to my boss, and that situation is unfair. But I am rated that way, so how I “like it” doesn’t matter.

      But let’s be clear on the things that students can anonymously rate me on to my boss:
      * whether I’m “hot”,
      * whether I’m a white, cisgendered, male heterosexual (I get extra points for that combination),
      * whether I appear to know what I’m talking about (the poorest performing students will mark me low on that, as if they were experts despite their demonstrated incompetence),
      * whether they had a bad day and just feel like taking it out on someone,
      * and so on.

      Those may not be explicit items on the rating sheet, but research has shown that these all factor into the ratings that students give.

      Every grade that I record for a student has my name attached to it, and I must be prepared to defend every aspect of that grade. Students, on the other hand, can take anonymous snipes at me by my name, and they have zero accountability for it.

      Is that information you use when you grade student projects and presentations and capstone essays?

      I don’t know what my student evaluations say when I submit final grades. Student opinion of me can’t (and shouldn’t) be a factor in what grades they get.

      5 = How long has your website done this? Are there a lot of writers and editors or are you just a few?

      No doubt others will have covered this by the time I submit this comment.

      6 = I give you credit for "telling it like it is". But is there another way of telling your students to be better students. As in a lecture or a Prezi?

      I appreciate your giving “us” credit, but not as much your implication that we have been derelict in seeking ways to mentor our students better. Surely a lecture would have been the first thing we’d think of, yes?

      Moreover, as regards this blog, there are nothing BUT other ways of telling our students to be better, because this blog is not intended for student consumption. We come here to discuss what’s wrong with the academy, because we need to vent. Sometimes we discover new ways to help each other help our students, as a bit of actual reading the blog would have shown.

      It has not escaped my notice that not once have you mentioned our colleagues. In point of fact, I have likely written about them, administration, and “the system” far more than about students, and others have covered those topics as well.

      As I mentioned in a comment to a post I linked to earlier, we come here because we see how things could be better, and we care that they be made better, and caring about things means that those things can frustrate you from time to time. We seek the comfort and counsel of kindred spirits.

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    3. OPH, this was masterful. I hope Travis is paying attention. Although if had given things a moment's thought, he could have answered every single one of these questions all by himself.

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  17. I'm going to ignore the rest of the questions, more than adequately dealt with by my colleagues here (or obvious, in the case of #1), and simply address: "But is there another way of telling your students to be better students. As in a lecture or a Prezi?"

    What makes you think we don't? We give instructions in the syllabus, we give instructions on the assignments, we explain the syllabus in class, we explain the assignments in class, we answer questions in class, we answer questions by email, we answer questions on the LMS discussion boards, we answer questions by phone, we review before the test, we review the results after the test, we have study sessions outside of class, we answer emails and phone calls and LMS messages about the tests, we encourage or require office hour visits, we model scholarly thought and practice, we try to treat our students as much like adults as we can and we try to treat our colleagues as much like adults as we can and we try to treat our administrators as much like adults as we can, and you can lead a horse to water if you're strong enough, but you can't make a horse drink anything they don't want to without highly specialized equipment that's illegal to use on students.

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    1. I know a guy who can get such equipment. Just saying.

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  18. Christ on a cross! Why has no one else just said it?

    Travis, you're a fucking snowflaky troll. Go do your homework and stop eavesdropping on the teachers' lounge!

    Also, when and/or if you EVER become a teacher, remember what a jerk you were today when shit starts going awry in your classroom. Karma's a bitch, hunny.

    -The_Myth

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  19. This horse is probably dead, since "every1" has already been thanked by the original poster, but to answer all your questions:
    1. 'cause of your mom
    2. your mom
    3. my boss is your mom
    4. I rated your mom
    5. just me and your mom
    6. I suppose I could use a Prezi -- about your mom

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  20. Travis, dear,
    Don't take anything you read on the Internet too seriosuly.

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    1. When someone named "Drama Queen" says something shouldn't be taken too seriously, you can take that advice to the bank.

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