Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why Are Boys So Hard? A Big Thirsty from Missy in Miami.

I finished my first year of teaching in May and am dreading starting again. Why? The boys. Not young men. But all the immature boys who dominated my classes even though they made up only 40%.

What do you do about boys, and how can you keep the rest of the class engaged when they can't get a word in?


39 comments:

  1. Staple their dicks to the floor. I'd be glad to lend you my heavy-duty staple gun. Sorry about all the blood.

    Or you could use the old standby, "I'd like to allow everyone the opportunity to speak once before anyone speaks twice." It works surprisingly well, since it appeals to their sense of fairness.

    For bad cases, there's always, "WILL you GET A GIRLFRIEND or ANYTHING ELSE to take the inappropriate aggressive edge off your personality?" I actually used that one, on an ESL major in the general-ed astronomy class who'd just tried arguing against the idea that Earth is round and we can't see through it.

    One I've used in a physics class was, "This won't go over well on the job, after graduation." "This" was being a grinning idiot, but it was obvious enough what it was. One that works well with engineers grousing about the value of learning physics is, "This is how you innovate." It also helps to mention specific applications of everything, such as the power/area of solar energy when covering electromagnetism, but I've noticed that these stop whenever I get to relativity, because it's so cool. For extremely bad cases of grousing about physics, or "theory," as they often refer to it, there's always, "IT DOES REQUIRE INTELLIGENCE."

    But of course, I have tenure.

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    1. wait, they didn't believe the world is round??

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    2. Pennsylvania PennyAugust 5, 2016 at 8:19 AM

      How on earth can engineering students not see the value of physics? Speaking as a non-engineer, it looks to me as though engineering is a combination of physics, math, and materials science (which in turn looks like chemistry plus more physics). Do your proto-engineers really have such an unclear notion of their own building blocks, so to speak>

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    3. MAam: This little peckerhead was the sort that would try to contradict anything and everything I would say. It wasn't that Earth was round, nor was it that one can't see through it, that muddled him: what got him was that this was a compound statement, that Earth is round AND one can't see through it (so therefore one can't see the Magellanic Clouds from Fresno, nor can one see Polaris from Chile). He simply couldn't contradict fast enough for his pea-brain to remember every clause, in order to contradict it.

      PA Penny: Students of all kinds reflexively resent all required courses, particularly if given by departments that aren't their majors. I must confess that, as a 17-year-old freshperson, I was no different: I resented having to take introductory physics, even though I was an astronomy major. Talk about narrow-minded!

      I therefore put lots of effort into making my classes relevant for my students, by being mindful to give practical examples of how everything covered is used. Say, describing this in more detail is an interesting idea for another whole post: I should work one up and post it, sometime next week.

      All these considerations vanish when I get to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, however: even the most cynical ones become fascinated, because it is SO fucking cool. It helps that I show ten minutes from the 1960 film adaptation by George Pal of "The Time Machine," by H. G. Wells, to illustrate the concept of reference frames. (As long as he's in his time machine, he doesn't notice anything strange: it's when he looks outside that he sees a snail race by, etc.)

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  2. You have students who participate?

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    1. I do. But it takes a bit of doing. I think it's all about how a class gets started. In my very first days I just keep asking questions about the material, the field in general. I can sit there and stare out the window casually for a lot longer than they think possible. They are so used to being entertained that professors might as well be video screens. And I say bullshit to that.

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    2. You have windows in your classrooms?

      [Joking. Sort of. I've spent a lot of time teaching in basements.]

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    3. One good thing about working in a uni built on a flood plain. We don't have basements, we barely have foundations. However, we DO have a really arty design-award-winning 1960s building containing 31 teaching rooms with no natural light at all, all on the ground or first floor. It's... deeply, deeply unpleasant.

      ---Grumpy Academic---

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    4. You have a building? Luxury! (Sorry, just reminiscing on a Monty Python skit.)

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  3. Well at least they're talking. It's been some time since I've had the problem of needing to get a student to talk *less*.

    If they were talking over or challenging you, I'd say that this is one of those things that gets better (and to seek guidance from slightly-older female professors in the same or closely-allied disciplines, because both gender, age, and discipline all matter here. They're simply not going to react to you as they would to an older male proffie).

    Managing students' interactions with each other is actually a bit easier (though of course your identity will affect how well students respond to your attempts to structure discussion). It sounds like you're doing a good deal of relatively unstructured whole-class discussion. The solution is probably to spend more time in more structured activities, such as paired or group discussions with some sort of report-out (maybe oral, but maybe also written -- on a whiteboard or those huge post-its that stick on the wall. Women tend to get appointed to be "secretaries" in such situations, but that can shape the discussion. Or have everyone write answers/impressions/whatever on something on the walls, and shape discussion from there, maybe quietly taking note of what women are writing, and then inviting them to elaborate.)

    There are lots of approaches to try, and this is where not only more senior colleagues but also the oft-maligned teaching-support office (whatever it's called at your university; hint: the name will almost certainly have some variation of the word "excellent")can be helpful. At the very least, they'll have a library of books with ideas in them. The women's studies office (or similar) might also have some ideas. There's a pretty big literature on this subject, especially but by no means exclusively from a feminist angle (and of course if your student body is at all diverse there are undoubtedly class/race dimensions as well).

    You'll probably end up needing to buy or at least request some supplies (markers, index cards in various colors, etc.), and to haul them around. You'll probably also face some resistance (and poor evaluations) from the boys who enjoy freewheeling discussion, and associate more-structured activities (especially those introduced by a female teacher) with high school (or maybe kindergarten). On the other hand, a lot of students these days seem to associate being forced/encouraged to participate with high school; college, in their minds, is apparently supposed to involve sitting back and listening to a lecture (or not)in comfort. So having a significant portion of the class that *wants* to participate sounds like something of a blessing; the trick is to increase the quality of what those who want to speak are contributing, and find ways to help the quieter students get a word in edgewise.

    P.S. One question that occurs to me, in part because so many of us here have noted that students are very resistant to doing the reading: make sure that the discussion questions you're posing tie closely to the reading, rather than being more general/hypothetical/open-ended. That alone is likely to privilege the more mature, prepared students.

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    1. Obviously Gog (whose reply I didn't see before I wrote mine)and I had the same initial reaction. Students voluntarily talking at all, let alone too much, is a relatively rare phenomenon these days.

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  4. My "boys" are the same. They dominate, and the BEST of them will start out on the topic and then veer away into their own worlds after about 30 seconds of actual on-topic stuff. And I just shut them down after a while by saying, "That's great. Who else?"

    I get up and move toward them sometimes when they're nearing their limit, and I just turn my body toward the quiet ones and sort of urge them on. When the same person starts again, I just hold my hand up and say, "Thanks, bro, let's see if someone else wants to add something."

    And, I do have a lot of participation, but it's sort of the point of my classes, and they get tired of those awkward pauses I let happen when I just sit there and wait them out or talk about a terrific putt I made that morning.

    Years ago I learned that the waiting out can work, and it's not a problem for me.

    But the boys, yeah, I think it's worse, and it's partly because the ones I see have been told their opinions are REALLY important, and so to them they think these opinions are all RIGHT.

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    1. Justin Bieber's currently popular song lists among an ex-lover's failings that "you told me that my opinion was wrong." I think of College Miz every time I hear it.

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    2. If that line was laid down with any awareness of self and irony, it could be a turning point in the writer's development.

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  5. Sorry to butt in but I just noticed that our new counter bottom left shows how many people are online at a time. It reads 7 right now. It doesn't track my IP address so there are 8 counting me.

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    1. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I can't see the counter in Firefox (I am using a script blocker, but I've allowed everything on the CM page, including, I'm pretty sure, the counter). I'm assuming it can see me even though I can't see it.

      I can see it in Chrome, and Edge (and depending how it identifies people, I may currently be identified as 2 or 3 people).

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    2. If it's by IP address, then presumably it knows I'm only one person with multiple browsers open?

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    3. It looks to me that it sorts by IP address, so no matter how many browsers you may be using, it shows up as one "person."

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    4. So if all four of us are using the same computer, then it shows up as only one person? One of us must be running around campus opening CM in browsers on other computers. I hope it's not me.

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    5. I have a browser open for each of my personalities.

      My joint will likely show a single IP address regardless of where on campus the computer is located. I think our campus-wide connection to the internet is ultimately through a single DSL modem.

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  6. Be prepared for whatever you try to simply not work. Immature man-boys are notoriously asinine.

    They will be OFFENDED that you do not call on them when they raise their hands.

    They will be OFFENDED if you do not hang on their every. single. idiotic. word.

    They will be OFFENDED when you praise the mature students (and virtually any woman) for being on-topic and contributing.

    And they might (IME: will) band together like a little bully-band and bad-mouth you to anyone who will listen. They will accuse you of favoritism and they will (attempt to) sow discontent everywhere they go.

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    1. Welcome, Anon...could you use the NAME/URL option (you don't need a URL) for commenting? Or at least put a user name at the bottom of your comment. Tough for us when we don't know who's commenting. Thanks very much. Enjoy.

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    2. Just to be fair, I've had a gang of (sorority) girls (same proviso as in the original post; they weren't women) do just that (though the precipitating factor was probably my determination to stick to a grading scale in which fully satisfactory equaled B, not A rather than who I did or didn't call on; I probably shushed them a few times, but that was because they were talking over me or others about irrelevant subjects, rather than trying to dominate the discussion).

      Worst set of evals I ever received, including one demand that I be fired that was in all caps, underlined, followed by several exclamation points, and -- the piece de resistance -- written in glitter pen.

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    3. If B is for satisfactory work, A must be for remarkable, outstanding work. Or, their writing stands out and you have noticed ("remarked") it. "Remarked" in that sense may sound pretentious or non-idiomatic, like what a native speaker of French might say, but actually exists in English.

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    4. Immature man-boys will be OFFENDED if you staple their dicks to the floor. Let 'em.

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    5. @Monica: yes, exactly; in my grading scale (described in detail on the syllabus), As go to work that is "distinctly above average." So, yes, there are specific, nameable features ("distinct," "remarkable") that go above and beyond what is required (or at least do it extraordinarily well; this is a writing class, to there's room for saying something especially clearly and/or gracefully, analyzing in particular depth or with particular insight, etc., etc.)

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    6. I would like to get some remarkable work that didn't require me to red-ink the errors a second time before they were finally corrected.

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    7. There was a time, of course, when both A and B (and any available permutations thereof) would have signaled varying degrees of remarkable/distinctly above average, and C would have meant "fully satisfactory" (or maybe "more or less satisfactory"; I don't have the impression that the "gentleman's C" ever implied considerable effort, so maybe grade inflation isn't quite as bad as we sometimes think). So I have yielded somewhat, but not entirely, to the continuing upward pressure on grades. In practice, this means that I hand out too many Bs of various kinds, and the range for grading expression is not as wide as it could be.

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    8. Yeah, C is the new "slightly below average".

      What I was talking about with the "remarkable" remark is that too often, an error must be marked, then remarked, before it is resolved. Or before I am resigned.

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    9. Indeed. (I think we were writing at the same time, so I was remarking on Monica's "remarkable," not yours).

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    10. Are there several options in the A range, such as A-, A and A+, or is it just A? I would understand reserving the very highest option, such as A+, for such remarkable work that the average student may only get it once in a lifetime, if that. However, if the choice is really between A and B, I tend to side with the students. Such a grading scheme amounts to sentencing students to mediocrity unless they are geniuses or enrolled in classes way below their true level.

      Would a PhD holder or candidate even be able to get an A in that class, and if so, is it fair to expect A students to perform at that level? Striving to produce perfectly satisfactory work only to be unable to ever reach the A level must be demoralizing, especially when this is not the norm in most courses.

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    11. B is not a mediocre grade. There's nothing wrong with reserving a few grade levels at the top for those who exceed expectations. It does not take a genius to figure out that the way to get such a grade is to learn and understand the expectations, and, well, exceed them.

      When the dears get into the working world, it may shock them to discover that promotion requires that they both strive and produce. They will not be given the keys to the CEO's office (except maybe to empty the wastebin) just for punching the clock. If that would be demoralizing, then better that they learn how to handle it earlier in their adult lives.

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  7. Frod, I really want to understand the boy who couldn't grok that Earth is both round and opaque. Was it literally that compound premise, or the many implications thereof, that blew his mind? Your followup raises the distinct possibility of the latter, e.g., "one can't see the Magellanic Clouds from Fresno, nor can one see Polaris from Chile."

    The reason I bring this up is that I've had related experiences (at least one of which I now recall so vividly that I think I'll go write it up for a post now). Short-circuit to the punchline: it could be that this student has yet to progress beyond preoperational/egocentric in some of his cognitive abilities. This would be a big problem for a STEM major, and a YUUUUUGE problem in a presidential candidate.

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    1. Humph. It's endemic; I once had a long e-mail conversation with a supposed adult who was offended that I used an anthropomorphic metaphor in a discussion of evolution. He couldn't grok "metaphors" either.

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    2. This is one of the reasons they need to take that English distribution-requirement course. We actually teach some useful stuff.

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  8. Welcome to teaching, Missy! Frod isn't far off with the stapling. I call it "nailing them to the wall" in the first few weeks of class. I am prepared beyond belief, and I like to call them out when they use words they don't know the meaning of: Could you please explain that term to the class? Nothing like making them trip up in front of the class to get some relief from the constant talking.

    I teach Hamster Fur Weaving I, II, and III, so when I have the dear sweet little frothlings for the first course, I wear male suit coats with enormous shoulder posters with geek T-shirts the first weeks (they are going to stare at my breasts anyway, so there should be something there for them to learn). I actually got a compliment on my choice of T-Shirts (topic-coordinated) this year in my evaluation.

    Once I started doing live weaving for them and not just talking about it, I realized that the boys shut up quicker as they realized that I actually did know what I was talking about. I pointedly ask the boys to tell me what to do next and happily make a mistake when they tell me the wrong thing. Then it is their mistake, and I ask if someone has an idea how we can fix it. It can be a bit nerve-wracking the first few times you do it, but with practice you get them tamed.

    Also, since they are mostly looking for attention, learn their names and then say something like: "I know you know, Alfred, let's hear what someone else has to say."

    Now, if someone could tell me how I can keep them from using their damned smartphones under the desk during lectures? I tried all sorts of stuff this past year (we aren't allowed to collect them) and failed miserably. Okay, most of them failed the exam, but I'm afraid they don't correlate that with their mobile phone use.

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    1. Police officers are trained to watch people's hands and may actually say that they want to see somebody's hands. Tell students that you have been in police academy or that someone once tried to shoot you, so you feel uncomfortable when people are hiding their hands or that seeing them do so just distracts you. Feel free to actually ask random students to stop hiding their hands when it happens, or to just stare at them, but don't overreact or do it too often.

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