Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lesson Learned in the Form of a Rant. From the TubaPlayingProf.

At the risk of being accused of ageism by Anonymous, I have to share one of my lessons learned this semester.

I will never use the term millennial again, and I won’t bother to learn what to call my students born after 1996. iGen, Gen Z or Centennials, whatever, I don’t care.

Bad students are bad students.

My two most trying, annoying, needy, dramatic, tortured, and inappropriate students are two male students in their fifties.

Those two (out of 72 students) have written the majority of the “drama” emails that I’ve received this semester: ill, car issues, scheduled medical appointments, “emergency meeting with advisors,” the always vague “family problems,” staying up late watching election returns, “just not feeling what we’re reading so I’m missing class” admission, requests for excused absences, extra time for essays in order to turn in work worthy of the grade they want, etc.

Inappropriate comments about “the girls in yoga pants,” references to Seinfeld episodes and Goodfellas that in no way contribute anything to the class discussion, disruptive questions and connections, random personal stories meant to mansplain, etc. “Hey Professor, this is out of left field....” No, it is not even in the same ballpark. Wait, that’s coming from a football stadium, not even a baseball park.

“Hey Professor, what’s on the exam exactly?” I covered that—when you were on your phone, or nodding off, reading for another class. By the way, NONE of the Seinfeld references, your contributions, questions, and personal stories will be on the exam.

“Hey Professor, I’m no grade grubber, but what do I need to do for a perfect score?” No, you are a grade grubber.

What set me off today and thus this rant? “Those millennials, right?” You mean the great majority of your classmates who are taking more classes than you, earning better grades, making contributions, and in general being better college students than you? Clearly balancing college, work, and “family issues” deftly? Those millennials?


  1. If it's not because they are interested in learning, why are they taking courses at that age? Are they just trying to pass the time or use the class as an opportunity to socialize? Is their employer forcing them to get a degree if they want to keep their jobs or to get a promotion they may already deserve, at least in their opinion, due to their job experience? Do they have any grudges, such as about not having been able or allowed to finish their education when they were younger? Are they already clearly above the level of a course they nevertheless have to take, or are they required to earn the proper credentials even though they have actual work experience? Do they think they have more knowledge than their own professors? Are they just taking classes because of some external incentive, such as a tax deduction or some kind of benefit such as free tuition?

    I would be really curious to know why exactly they are (mis)behaving like that.

    1. Several reasons:

      They don't know how to act in public.

      They've been able to get away with their sexist behavior their whole lives, and they're like kids in a candy store now -- and they mistakenly think that TubaPlayingProf is part of their club.

      They have had other people do things for them their whole lives, and therefore think that TubaPlayingProf, too, has to make everything all better when they screw up.

      They think because they're older that they're better than many of their classmates.

      While many of my older, nontraditional students bring great things to the classroom, I've had this experience as well with men and women both in their forties and beyond. I'm not generalizing I'm talking about specific students above the age of forty -- especially those in their fifties or older -- who think they absolutely are above their younger classmates. Sometimes, because they perceive their lives to be more complicated than their classmates' lives (they're not), they think they should be treated with special care. In the case of some men and at the risk of sounding sexist, sometimes older male students have never really had to keep anything but their job schedules tidy because they have spouses who have kept the rest of their lives orderly and they, therefore, have zero time management skills. With older men, too, occasionally the mansplaining is ridiculous; some of them actually think that I, a middle-aged woman, find their mansplaining attractive. I wish I were making this up.

      I don't have a beef with the entire generation of millennials except that most of mine were complaining about the outcome of last week's election but hadn't voted (but that's a rant for another time and place). Like you, TPP, I know that bad students are bad students.

      I have a once-weekly night class in which students are varied by age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity -- it's a great experience, for the most part. There is a student, though, a man in his forties who has been, for the most part, a decent student. He's freaking out about an assignment though and he's driving me nuts. He missed last week because of a family function, can't come in during my daytime office hours because of work, is miffed that I won't remain until 7:00 p.m. on any other weeknight to meet with him for 15 minutes (as my workday starts at 8:00 a.m.), and has not taken advantage of the help I have been able to give him, like email conferencing or even Skype. He sent me an email Tuesday about the assignment, which is due tonight. It wasn't specific enough for me to help him. More to the point, though, was that it was sent late Tuesday night and I couldn't respond to it until about 5:30 p.m. yesterday. During the day yesterday, he sent another email complaining that, as I hadn't responded, he was on his own and not getting the help he needed.


      He's really not malicious, but the freak-out energy he throws my way and the assumption that I am a 24/7 on-demand service is tiresome.

      No, whole generations of any age are not annoying, in my book. It's the individual students that drive me crazy. I will admit to becoming frustrated with millennials because they are younger, in many ways, than young generations before them, but I am also aware that their upbringing isn't their fault.

  2. There are many people who don't make it to college at 18, or graduate at 22 or so, for a variety of reasons, but are either ready to succeed in college at the traditional age, or build the life and academic skills necessary in the years that follow. Those are, of course, the traditional students with whom we enjoy working.

    But, as the examples above illustrate, there are also people who have issues that don't change, or even become worse, as they age. I've had a few of those, too (though I'm somewhat insulated by the fact that students have to make it to junior year to take my class). Anxiety issues/a need for excessive reassurance is the most common issue (especially but not exclusively among females); various versions of a tendency to mansplaining/blathering/looking down on "the kids" is the second.

    This is purely anecdotal, but my sense is that, over the 20 years I've been teaching, nontraditional students have moved from being mostly middle-aged women who had families early but probably could have handled college at any point in their adulthood, and came when they (rightly) judged they had time for it, with a few men in similar circumstances (and/or who chose the military, and carried that through to retirement) to a group of people who have an age of 25-30+ in common,but much more varied backgrounds and abilities otherwise. The veterans have also generally had more difficult experiences than they did pre-2001 (give or take the Gulf War), but that doesn't seem like a major factor.

    As with the apparent increase in traditional-age students who don't seem to want to be, or belong in, college, I suspect a difficult economy, and the increasing difficulty of getting a decent-paying job without a college degree, plays a role.

  3. Torquemada in TrainingNovember 17, 2016 at 11:07 PM

    Here's what worked for me the handful of times I needed it. The SECOND time it happened I asked the student(s) to see me after class. I looked them in the eyes and pointed out that other students had complained. That's right, I invented nebulous peer pressure. Turns out a little paranoia is an effective damper.


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