Friday, December 31, 2010
I posted this to RYS in 2008. Since it was not among those posts that the archive kept and it is a possible source of New Year's resolutions, I figured I could re-post it here and now. Revisiting it now more than two years later I find it a bit too much like a sermon in tone and content. But I'll leave it pretty much untouched and resolve for the new year to publish funnier stuff soon...
Something has occurred to me over and over again when reading RYS and while listening to the bitching and complaining I hear at the faculty water cooler. Metacritical Mortimer moved me to spell it out. It isn't much in the way of a solution, but an idea about where to look for one.
There seems to be a certain determinism, a certain inevitability in our fate. One would think that we would be smart, self-critical, self-correcting people. One would think that we have a great deal of control over our jobs since there is (comparatively) little hierarchy in academia, at least in the sense that we don't have rigid chains of command. But we keep the cycle of misery going. There are things we hate and that we can change, but somehow just don't.
We hate writing all those letters of recommendation, and yet when we chair a hiring committee, we always (thoughtlessly, from sheer habit?) insist on them from every applicant, not just the final 10, say, or a list of references instead of full letters.
It often just exposes our vanity, however, showing that we are often no better than corporate, military, patriarchal or church hierarchies.
When we are administration, we seem to forget what it was like in the classroom, either as a student or, in some cases, as faculty, and we insist on evaluation methods we used to think were inadequate, superfluous, unfair and stupid. They're easier for us and they satisfy the bozos above us, so we conform.
We deplore the commodification of knowledge, but then complain about our pay or use job applications to other schools to negotiate more money from our current job or condescend to those adjuncts or others who are in it for it and not for the money. We tell people it is crazy to follow our example and give poor pay as the reason.
Our policies for grading, late assignments, make-up work and the like often enable the very snowflakes we like to complain about so much.
We can all think of more examples.
Much of this is because there are different people involved: The thoughtless full professor did not mind being treated like crap as a junior, or perhaps she wasn't treated that way and never learned the difference. Or we are the same people in different decades of their lives with changed experiences and personalities. Or other roles really do require different kinds of butt-headedness. But some of this is our own home-made grief.
So solutions should focus at least in part on our own empowerment and the control we still have over our own jobs.
I've noted over the months that several other CM readers are gay (Go dykes!), but I don't recall ever noticing anyone discuss what an issue it apparently is for the snowflakes to handle. I mean, O-M-G! *gasp* (with a snap!) there are real, live gay people in the world! And some of us are their teachers, supervisors and mentors! *gasp* (with a snap!)
In general, few of the flakes give a flying fuck (you know, the ones who don't need a scapegoat when/if they perform poorly), but over the years I have encountered a few winners. For instance, there was the dude who apparently had a real fun time making fun of me after I gave a guest lecture in his class. Ironically, that same semester his classmate gave a compelling, pathos-laden speech about how he transferred to our school to escape the gay bullying he experienced in a small town U across state. (I didn't have the heart to tell him he only took a step up in the security level with that move .)
But my absolute FAVORITES were the ones who performed poorly in a class I taught who decided to blame my OBVIOUS gayitude for their bad grades. You see, I am SSSOOO (add exaggerated "s") gay that I distracted them from doing well. Yes, my "flamboyantly gay" behavior FORCED them to ignore directions and written instructions, not read their books, not do their writing and reserch. One would think if I was such a flaming spectacle they would pay MORE attention. (Cuz, girrrrrrl, we all know the queers is funny, y'all!) Instead, they skipped class, arrived late, web-surfed, handed assignments in late, and all those other behaviors that are markers of student mediocrity. No, no -- It's the gay that did it! *snap in z formation*
So, here's a New Year's Thirsty:
What do my far-flung colleagues (homo, het, and all variations in-between) think of this? If you were the department chair, how would you handle the situation if you found out this happened to a colleague? How would you handle an openly homophobic student? I am upset by this; am I over-reacting? (To me, this is several orders worse than just falsely claiming I was a bad teacher, mostly because this isn't a critique of the teaching in any way, shape or form.)
Ah, winter break! 'Tis the season for requests for letters of recommendation, as all the little snowflakes dreading the economy devise ill-formed plans to attend graduate school. I dread the way those requests pile up; see illustration, right. It seems like there are more every year.
My latest request came from an undergrad I like well enough to recommend, though not with an overabundance of enthusiasm. I let her know that I'd need her c.v., a copy of her personal statement, and the form(s) from whichever graduate program(s) she's applying to.
I don't think you need to fill out a form, she says. You can just write a letter and send it to me.
Um, no. That's not how it usually works, I reply. Which graduate program(s) are you applying to?
She responds by sending me a link from a university web site. "Here," she says, "these are the guidelines for writing a letter of recommendation."
No way, McFlakey--that is a list of general instructions from a career development office, advising undergraduates how to approach professors for letters of recommendation. That's for YOU to read, not me--and you really should read it, actually. Now, you still haven't told me: Which graduate program are you applying to?
"The one at the University of Foobar. I know it's busy with the holidays and all, but if you can write something this week that would be great."
Oh, for chrissake. "The one"? WHICH one? And where's your resume and personal statement, missy? Am I supposed to imagine things to praise about you? "Student McFlaky is noteworthy for the way she rolls her eyes when thick-as-brick students dominate the class discussions. I always appreciated her well-timed eye rolls in class. I also like her ability to levitate."
I know a lot of undergrads lack the cultural capital to understand how the graduate admissions process works, and I was willing to help her sort out the process. But based on her inability to answer simple questions or even read web content correctly before forwarding it on to me in an email, I doubt her application will be very successful. So maybe I'll send this letter of recommendation along and be done with it:
To the University of Foobar:
With this letter, I am recommending Student McFlakey's graduate admission application as bedtime reading for members of the appropriate graduate committee. She is applying to a graduate program she calls "the one." Do you know which one she means? I don't.
I am relieved that you are not MIT, because Ms. McFlakey would likely be a menace to society if she ever found herself enrolled in civil engineering. I would prefer not to drive over a bridge or through a tunnel she had designed, that's for sure!
If she is referring to graduate basketweaving or perhaps even graduate play-doh design, I brim with confidence that she would be the most mediocre student in her cohort. She has potential, but not much.
In fact, Ms. McFlakey is a highly deserving applicant for a scholarship. I hear your funding has been cut so much that the average graduate student receives a scholarship consisting in its entirety of a swift kick in the rear. I like that idea a lot.
Thank you for reading Ms. McFlakey's application for graduate admission to your math / religion / arts and crafts / clown school program for me. I would have read it for her, but she ignored my request to send it my way. I hope her personal statement was informative and attention-grabbing and didn't call me any bad names.
So, for those who are keeping score (and it seems there's quite a few), this is my first post, despite being an early adopter. Truth is, I had a damn fine semester. I even feared that a few of the sweet little cherubs might have begun to chip away at my crusty shell. All was set right, however, when this little darling sent some flakery my way after my last final exam of the term:
Hi Professor Misanthropologist,
So i just wanted to ask a couple of questions.
Unfortunately, I fear the lower case “i” will be the only sign of your humility in the following exchange.
One is that I'm still unable to see my grades on those projects on blackboard, every time I click on my grades it isn't showing the update.
That’s not really a question. Don’t get me started on the comma splice. In response, however, you submitted those projects to me nine hours ago. Has it not occurred to you that my workday entails more than sitting at my computer waiting for late assignments to trickle in? Relax. I don’t want to be held responsible for any repetitive stress injuries you incur through all that clicking.
With that, when and where will the extra credit be added into?
This semester, this course… unless you’ve stumbled upon some interest-bearing extra credit account in which you’d like me to deposit it.
Also, I'm going to be honest here, I'm extremely disappointed with my grade that I got on the final exam especially because this test turned out to be so many points, it is going to effect my grade drastically. I studied really hard for this text like all my others this week, and because I got an A on the midterm, I was not expecting this.
You have much to learn about causality. The test “turned out” to be worth exactly what the syllabus stated 14 weeks ago.
I've worked really hard at this class, and feel like I've improved a lot especially since I have no background with introductory basketweaving.
Believe it or not, I find that many students who take Basketweaving 101 have had little or no experience with the topic. I would consider adding a prerequisite, but most of the class somehow seemed to manage.
So my point is, is the final going to be weighted? Or are our projects weighted more than our test. Because I personally feel I deserved the A I had earned in this class, because of all the hours and effort I put in, and the improvement I made, and this one test is going to bring my whole grade down, along with my GPA.
Hmm. Maybe I didn’t hand you a syllabus… or perhaps I blocked your access to it on Blackboard. On a side note: While basketweaving may not be your thing, you seem to have some potential in mathematics. I mean, you seem to understand what happens on the right side of the “equals” sign. I’m sure someone in the math department can help you grasp the items on the left.
So if the test is not going to be weighted, is there anyway I can do something to make up some points in the next few days. Maybe a paper, research project, a basket, anything?
Of course. Because I find that most of the things you’re proposing are best accomplished in a few days. I look forward to taking time out of my break to evaluate whatever you hastily submit. May I assign it negative points?
I know I'm grasping at straws, but todays events have really upset me, and I figured why not try. If not I understand. Thanks.
I admire your pluck; however, the series of increasingly frantic, less courteous emails that are to follow will convince me that you do not understand.
I'll keep the CMunity up to date if the emails continue. Hopefully there will be enough Scotch at the party tonight to blot her out until sometime after I get back to the office.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Original article is here
Date: Day 1
Subject: FW: Scholarship Application Deadline is coming up
To: Students in my class
I believe the following scholarship may be of interest to you.
--Forwarded message followed, which included the deadline and the appropriate web page for the scholarship--
Regular readers of CM can likely see where this is going. I received the following a day later.
From: Suzy Snowflake
Date: Day two
Subject: RE: FW: Scholarship Application Deadline is coming up
Can you please let me know if (certain demographic) students can apply for the Scholarship?
Thanks in advance. Have a good day.
Where, oh where, could one find such information?
As I prepare for the spring semester, I find myself weighing the costs and benefits of using rubrics. I know they are the big buzz among education folks, but my previous attempts to use them fell flat. My students are so literal that if something wasn't specifically covered on the rubric, they would argue that I couldn't consider it when grading. I'm not sure if rubrics do more harm or good.
What do you think? Do you use (and like using) rubrics? Why? Why not? What are the keys to developing good rubrics that don't hem you in?
I love it when the winter break forces me to hunker down in my little coziness. I daydream about the colors I would paint my home office, even though my home office is also what I call the kitchen nook AND the dining room.
I have a trip to make to a major year-end conference (NOT the MLA, which it seems most of the RYS and CM readers are always bitching about), and now I have to worry if I can get out of Amboy International Airport, where there are Christmas travelers sleeping on the floor and daydreaming about MAYBE getting out by early 2011.
But the trip, fuck it. I just like to be inside my coziness, resting up from the battles of Fall semester.
On the other hand, I require glorious weather in my summer break. I don't want to know from my house. I want to see cicadas beating each other in their mating rituals, and smell the honeysuckle whatever that fills the suburbs of beautiful Amboy.
Weather, or so it seems, doesn't exist for me during the semester. It's just home to car to classroom, repeat. Maybe I make it to the gym...not that my love handles would testify.
So, while weather is hitting my hometown, the Pacific Northwest, California, even down in the Carolinas...let us revel in it. If you have milk and bread and toilet paper, settle in the coziness.
At least there are no faculty meetings or student conferences.
And the TV, baby, it's burning!
Secondly, check your use of "keep". Attending class approximately 20% of the time doesn't indicate that you were ever "in touch" in the first place.
And finally, you're lucky your pathetic attempts to suck up before grades are determined was a waste of your time and that I don't open these insultingly transparent offerings (because the curiosity eventually gets to me) until after I grade because.... YOU SHOULD MAKE THE FUCK SURE A WOMAN IS PREGNANT BEFORE YOU WISH HER AND "the soon to be little one" LUCK, DUMB ASS!!!
San Diego college professor stabbed to death in his Tijuana apartment
from LA Times.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
This kid was a good kid. He had me for one of those classes for students who suck at my subject. The students were overall a hostile and angry bunch. Part of it was they hated my subject; part of it was my newness to the school. When you are the new prof you have lots of misconceptions about the students. You expect them to behave like they did at your last place but that’s hardly ever the case. I expected my students would be dishonest and massively underprepared for my classes. In truth, most of them are as honest as anyone and better prepared than I would have expected. Looking back there are many things I would have done differently with that group. Maybe I would have gotten a little more love out of them but maybe not.
But this kid was a really good kid. Toward the end of the term I passed back a particularly awful exam. Very few students passed it. I couldn’t believe how few of them understood the definitions of the stuff we were talking about. They couldn’t even regurgitate the definitions. The day before the exams were passed back I told them that during the next class they would be rewriting every single problem on the exam including the ones they “got right”. I would be at a conference that day and that I would send a sub to pass back the exams and collect the re-writes (which they were allowed to work on together). I would grade the re-writes and offer some extra points on the miserable test scores. I made a huge deal about re-writing all of the problems (about 5 minutes worth). Of course, many students would skip class. This day some of the most obnoxious ones were off somewhere else.
But this kid was a really good kid. The sub came gave them their directions. The students decided that if they all banded together they could leave early and only re-write the “wrong” ones. So every student save one (not my athlete, though, ‘cause the story isn’t that easy) failed to follow the directions and thus earned little extra credit.
But this kid was a really good kid. The hard part came when I passed the re-writes back and the students saw how few points they’d managed to earn. They denied I ever gave instructions. To say they were angry would have been an outright lie. They were furious and let tongues lash. You see students don’t understand that extra credit means extra rules and extra requirements. But this kid was a really good kid. He sat silently. He added no fuel to the fire. He created no more debate. He changed the subject to homework questions instead. He redirected the class.
This kid was a great kid. That evening I checked my email and found he had written me. I initially thought, “Oh. Gawd. Not another griping email.” I read it. The first sentence (as it pertained to the lecture that day) contained an apology for not following my directions. The second sentence acknowledged that he remembered the directions I gave and ignored them when the other students were. In the third sentence he expressed regret about the behavior of his classmates that day. In the last sentence he wished me a good week and thanked me for my time.
He really was a good kid. He was a solid B student in my class so there wasn’t much to gain by sending that email. So I choose not to think it was a suck up email or that his coach made him do it. It’s an unusual thing for students to be globally centered like that. It was even more unusual for a freshman to be with it enough to see other sides and other’s feelings. I think he might have made a good husband to someone or a good father. Maybe even a professional athlete we might have been able to respect.
I might go to the funeral. I might not. I’ve never been one for funerals -- too much sadness and pity for other people. Perhaps I’ll visit his grave instead. I did find his email in my Deleted Items file. I think I’ll keep it now. Maybe I’ll forward it to his parents to show them what a really good kid they had.
The Formerly Crazy But Now Just Sad Math Professor
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
write with style.
I don't care how they dress,
or how they address me.
They can bitch about grades,
water off a duck's back.
But they must write
with style & clarity.
I give them (not assign, mind you)
this book to read and use.
It has made my life remarkably easier,
as we all share the knowledge of that text.
When they prepare something for me
that does not meet my standards,
I simply send them back to the book,
and I refuse to take in work that is inelegant.
Some of them complain.
Those that make it through,
have earned it.
Those that pass my class,
will excel elsewhere.
I've seen it proven.
I'm at peace with it.
Academic Research Coat
Whenever you leave your igloo of history-riddled books, you pull on this autumn-hued tweed coat and strut outside in confidence. This coat's full-button front and figure-flattering sash keep you feeling smart, and its lined, plaid-patterned fabric puts your mind at ease so you can think about loftier things, such as what order of thoughts will best support your hypothesis once you begin writing.
Ivy League Scholar Blazer
Embody elegant and refined scholarly style with this pale ivory blazer as part of your sophisticated ensemble. In addition to rounded lapels, this blazer features lengthy sleeves decked out with covered buttons along the cuffs, a sultry, single-button closure in front, tailored princess seams, and a black- and white-striped lining that's downright fantastic. Earn an A+ in creativity.
Classics Department Blazer
Study the classics with authority and poise when you wear this velvety black blazer with round, brushed brass buttons by Tulle Clothing. Its accessible flap front pockets and notched collar give an official look to this exceptionally luxurious piece. Rubbing elbows with professors becomes a soft endeavor and reciting ancient philosophy becomes second nature when you wear it.
Straight 'A' Student Coat
You've done it again, and you have a spotless report card to prove it! Wear this long, fully-lined, navy coat as you waltz toward the refrigerator to display your proof! Baby blue, denim, and cream twill line the rounded yoke, collar, cuffs, and accessible, buttoned, front pockets. This heavy duty coat, designed and produced in the UK by Gonsalves & Hall, is ready for some serious study sessions, and promises to keep you comfortable during long, chilly walks to the library during finals week.
Scholarly Pursuits Jacket
With your thesis defense in a few hours, you've got to save plenty of energy for intellectual argument. Thankfully, you've planned to wear this chic, tweed jacket by Steve Madden in front of the committee, allowing you to both look and feel pulled-together when it really counts! The jacket's tweed, textured fabric is reminiscent of classic professorial garb, while the sleek, fitted shape keeps its look utterly modern.
Semester in Brighton Jacket
You've learned a lot during your time studying in the South of England - not the least of which is the importance of a good, versatile jacket. With roomy side pockets for stashing school supplies and a front that zips and snaps up into a cozy turtleneck, this dark khaki number offers just what you need for the grey fall days you spend walking to and from your school, while its pretty floral lining and flattering drawstring waist make it a handsome choice for hanging out with friends by the water.
Play it Cool Blazer
Whether it's relaxing in your romance, fretting a little less about finances, or letting the paint fly where it may, this navy blue, bolero-style jacket is a reminder that, sometimes, it's good to take it easy. Its loose, button-cuff sleeves, handkerchief hem, and lightly padded shoulders provide a casually structured look that's sure to please. Throw this cropped, cool garment over a white T-shirt, skinnies, and knee-high boots for a look that's absolutely à la mode.
Better Slate than Never Jacket
You'll arrive to your destination in good time, but first, you have some things to take care of - important tasks like stopping to smell the roses, or your coffee, or the lovely waft of perfume that drifts past you on a boutique-rich street. Wear this felty soft, silver-lined, slate coat to the next place your presence is requested. Its decorative, tiger's eye-buttoned front pocket flaps and loop button front closure keep distracting you from your lackadaisical journey toward your day's plans. You may be keeping your friends waiting, but aren't you worth the wait? Of course you are!
What do you say we come up with our own line of student clothing? Perhaps we could call it MISERABLE SNOWFLAKES. I'm sure we could work up styles, names, and descriptions that really fit.
At my lovely university, academic probation (i.e., admin intervention) starts at a measly 2.0 GPA. Thus, would raising this figure to a 2.5 minimum GPA create more or less snowflakes?
Regarding an increase in snowflakes, it's possible that students may be more prone to cheat under said policy.
Q: Would increasing academic probation standards create more or less snowflakes?
Monday, December 27, 2010
I was a periodic reader of RYS, and came by CM via the Chronicle article by William Pfefferle about RYS. I've been reading the CM blog, and occasionally commenting (under a different alias).
I've been teaching snowflakes for 15 years, nine of them as an adjunct at various institutions. I am now TT with a 4/4 load of mostly composition courses. Most of my students are first-generation, and most of them are willing to work, but I've also had some who are just begging for a boot to the head. I have a few stories from this semester that I'll be sharing as soon as I've gotten the TT stuff done.
In the meantime, I wish you all a lovely New Year. You've made things more enjoyable for me as I've slogged through this never-ending semester, and I hope to be able to return the favor.
Ah! The B+!! It is the cruelest thing in the world, isn't it? You, my lucky young friends, having been born into one of world's wealthiest countries where everything from frozen yogurt to dirty pictures* to celebrity gossip is but a Paypal click away, are unused to hardship. Even more, you have been fortunate enough to be the children of parents willing, nay eager, to spend $50K+ a year for your education, and probably have since you entered this fine world. I get it. You haven't really had your back up against the wall.
So, of course, when presented with the B+ you earned in my class, you are in turn outraged/devastated. Grief is a terrible emotion. It tears into your soul. Since I turned off my email the day before Christmas and haven't gotten back to you, you have written me emails every single day. Every. Single. Day. So intense is your grief that the emails change in pitch, day by day, as you believe that I am indifferent to the terrible injustice I have done to you. Why am I not in my office Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, hell, EVERY day waiting to fix this blot on your soul? Where in God's name am I? THE HUMANITY!
Only one of my B+ recipients has failed to fill my email box with her daily wails. Let's call her J. J was called alway to Hong Kong in October for her mother's death--a real death, not that kind that crops up when you need it to. You could tell it was the former rather than the latter: J came to class the week before she left for the funeral, and this normally lovely, bright-eyed, well-dressed girl dragged herself in to talk to me, her eyes red-rimmed, her face pale, her hair stringy and uncombed, her eyes fixed on her hands. She was barely able to answer a simple question. When she returned, she remained a zombie; her pixie's frame, which darted around at the beginning of the semester, moved as though she had to swim through molasses. She smiled, but the smile never reached her eyes—not once during the two remaining months of the class. She burst into tears during my office hours. "I"m so sorry! I'm so sorry! I was just thinking about something!" she cried. She is only 22, and while I get impatient with people who want to infantilize college students, 22 is awfully young to see your mom go into the ground.
She wrote me an email on Christmas Eve, too. "Dear Dr. Bear: Thanks for all your help this semester. I really enjoyed the class. And thanks for working so hard to make it fun."
That's it. That's all she had to say.
It is my experience that students are quite literal, so let me explain what I am getting at here in less abstract terms: there are bigger things on your horizon than a B+ in my class, or any class. There will be children, tragedies, triumphs, cancer, Alzheimer's, cheating spouses, divorce, people you trust who betray you, losses (real losses)--a million things a million times more important to you than what grade you got in my class, which I doubt you will remember in ten years.
One of my major flaws/features as a professor is that I never cared very much about grades when I was a student. I thought grades were childish. I still do. But I have to have to some way of giving you feedback to help you understand how you are doing, and the world wants us to have grades, so there you are. And so I freely admit that I am less sympathetic to those of you for whom your B+ is the Worst Thing Ever. When I was a student, I generally thought "a B! Gnarly!" (Yes, we said gnarly back then. Shut up.) I went to an undergrad institution where there were no pluses or minuses, so an 89 percent? It was a B. Just like an 81 percent. You sucked it up. Thus, in addition to wanting you to understand that, as in J's case, you will have to learn to cope with real pain, I also want you to understand that a B+ is actually a GOOD grade, not a bad grade.
Finally, the nice lady that handles grade changes is out of the office visiting her family in China until January 15th. So even if there has been a mistake, we can't fix it until then anyway. How's about you stop sweating it, stop pestering me, and just chill until January at the earliest? I know this means carrying around a frightful burden, but, please, try to be brave and carry on, despite the many trials you must bear, until then.
The Bitchy Bear
*Back in the day, we had to work harder to get our porn. Just saying.
Thanks for dealing with the idiots, the brats, the outright headaches over the last semester. It has been a long one and now you are all hopefully getting a well needed break where you can attend to the other chaotic parts of your lives. From the late night calls to the last minute emails asking for one thing or another (which you have already covered in class) you have all dealt with things many people will never have to deal with, and in many ways you shouldn't have to either but life has different things planned I guess (and the University appears to have let a herd of morons in).
Thank you for dealing with the snowflakes who truly do not know how to do anything: multiplication? Nope they don't even know it in High School. Forming a coherent thought/proper sentence? I doubt it. Original ideas? Plagiarism galore. These students are the ones who come back around 2am after a night of fun and partying to complain about how much work they have, how hard their classes are, how the professors are SO unfair, blah blah blah. I sit at my kitchen table where I have been studying and want to beat them up, throw them down the staircase, and out of a window to land on that nice expensive car mommy and daddy bought them. I don't have to deal with them in the classroom, I don't have to grade their work or deal with their complaints about how they tried so they deserve an A, or a C, or just a passing grade. I feel grateful to yall who do take the time to deal with them in and out of the classroom.
A trip to my old high school where they recently edited the grading scale over the past few years made me feel sorry for those teachers whose ability to fail those who simply need to fail has been all but eliminated, and it made me realize that these morons are the ones giving college professors problems later on. These are the ones who are coming back at 2 am. These are the little snowflakes I want to teach one day. From reading here I know some of the struggles I will face, some of the headaches I will undoubtdly have, and a glimpse here and there of what will make it worth it in the end.
You are all inspirations to me for various reasons, and moreover you all inspire a student at somepoint each year and make their experience in college better. You inspire students to be better writers, better thinkers, and better citizens in what ever country your in. Along with all the other stuff you go through you are inspirations and this is trully what I want to thank you for. For being the people who meet with the good students and help them in their studies, who point out interesting authors to read about for all sorts of subjects, and for simply taking the time to be the advisors and professors the good students need.
Have a good holiday and good luck during the next semester. Y'all will undoubdly meet new struggles and a host of snowflakes both new and old who you'll want to throttle. But you will all get through somehow and share the entertaining tales to us all.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Published: December 25, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
And, yet, one student wants to meet with me to “discuss” a failing grade. He agrees that he doesn’t want to resubmit any homework; he agrees that he doesn’t want any extra credit. He agrees that the curve has already been applied.
(By the way, do these intellectual giants really think that I would release their grades before applying the curve? Why on earth would I do such a thing? Just to tease them!?)
Anyway, even though this young scholar agrees to all the points above, he still wants to meet with me next week, when school is out. Sure, kid—works for me. I’m in it just to see if you come up with anything interesting. Good luck. However, if you don’t, I get to assault you with dripping sarcasm for wasting my time.
But that’s not why we’re here today. We’re here because of a Christmas miracle! Yes, the Spirit of Christmas has affected even me, The Devil Himself.
Today, I was preparing the class web pages for next semester. I found myself improving the web pages, trying to make the content better. I was reflecting upon the lessons, coming up with better examples, more interesting homework assignments, etc. I was optimistic that I will do a better job in January. It dawned on me—I haven’t become cynical. I’m looking forward to next semester. I haven’t been beaten down by the slackers, stoners, and weasels. I’ll be there for the good kids. I still have hope.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Mnemonic Ned: You expected a better final grade and blame the final exam? But as a matter of fact you did alright on the final exam. It was that F on one of the mid-terms that brought down your final grade. Didja forget about that tiny little fact? Hello! Learn math.
Feelings Fiona: "But I *feel* I know the course material better than my grade represents." Yes, that's how we assess your work -- feelings. Objectivity? We disavow it. In the end, it's how *you* "feel" about things that matters, not the considered judgments of experienced professionals. In future, you should be allowed to assign your own grades to yourself. I'll draft a letter to this effect to the Dean right now.
Friday, December 24, 2010
I raise my glass of spiced rum infused eggnog (hold the eggnog) to you all.
After reading the previous post, I was wondering what everybody's favorite drinks were. Because I know many of us will be imbibing over the holidays--if for no other reason than that the in-laws and little kids will drive us nuts otherwise.
Some of you may remember my post earlier in the term about Alcoholic Andrea. She came by my office right after finals to ask me yet another question about something she needed to do online. I was with another colleague who remarked afterward that she could smell Andrea before we could see her given that Andrea was wearing eau de distillery chased by a lame attempt to cover the smell with breath mints. She was in a fantastic mood. This was her best semester yet! The students were smart, she had over 80% pass rates in every class, everyone loved her, and she could hardly wait to see her student evaluations. In fact, she was sorry to see the semester end because it had been so incredible.
I really need to find out what she's drinking. Maybe Santa will put some in my stocking.
Photo courtesy of freefoto.com.
Gifts influence how kids grow up. I got a chemistry set, you hamanities folks got books, administrators got coal - you get the idea. How do we encourage our precious spawn to avoid snowflakery? Give the right gifts. For instance, gold, frankenscence and murr turned out to be good choices, as the story goes. On the other hand, consider this your Christmas 2010 shopping guide of ...
Top Ten Gifts that Cause Children to Grow into Snowflakes
10. “Dear professor, My assignment will be late because deadlines are optional for me. I hope this doesn’t cause any confusion for you.”
9. Taking good notes is the most important thing you can do in class. Well, 2nd most important.
8. Not only will this toy prepare you for a future career, it will help you understand how faculty should properly view themselves and their students.
7. You'll need a time machine during finals week when you ask how to improve your 43% to a passing grade. This will get you in the proper frame of mind.
6. Don’t let your lack of knowledge stop you from contributing to class discussions. You’re a winner!
5. Make sure students know what to say to faculty during negotiations of grades, deadlines and extra credit.
4. Even though they don’t say it, your professors want you to write about more than just facts, figures and evidence. Write about what really matters.
3. Here’s where to put all those syllabuses that your professors give you. Don’t worry, you can always ask for another.
2. Just because you learn to wipe and flush doesn’t mean you have to do it before class starts.
1. Don’t like your grade? Cry about it.
Merry Christmas everybody! I'd wish you all a happy new year but we all know that won't happen. Just don't get so drunk that you appear on YouTube.
The target here is corporate America, but the scenario looks pretty familiar to this denizen of the increasingly-corporatized university, right down to the "revisit[ing]" of "pricing." The kicker? When I visited the originating page, it was running an advertisement from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) decrying proposed reforms of the for-profit educational sector in the right-hand column (I do believe that there is still a firewall between editorial and advertising content, but it's worth noting that the Washington Post Company owns Kaplan, a far more profitable part of its holdings than the actual, money-losing newspaper).
Happy holiday(s) to all, whatever and however you choose to celebrate (or not); my sympathies to those whose online teaching assembly lines chug on relentlessly, regardless of holidays; and best wishes for many interviews, convention or skyped, to those on the job market. I'm going to concentrate on the less-miserable areas of my life for the next week or so; see you in 2011.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
B-ball Blane was a terrible student all semester. He registered late, skipped the first two weeks of the semester, and then showed up (about 5 minutes into a class) as if I were supposed to know who he was. When I asked his name, he said, "B-ball Blane," and rolled his eyes. Whatever. I told him to speak to me after class about his enrollment and continued with the day's lesson. He sauntered out of the room about 45 minutes later without stopping. Ok.
Half way through the semester, he received an academic warning explaining very clearly why he was in danger of failing, and what he needed to do to pass. He had several generous opportunities to raise his grade, but chose not to take any of them. Yet, he still continued to show up for class, as though, somehow, just being there would be enough.
At the end of the term, even though I knew he failed, I calculated his grade carefully, and submitted the F he earned to the Registrar.
A day later, I received the following email from him:
"I got a F in ur class."
That was it. There wasn't a greeting, a question, or even a closing.
I wrote back simply:
"Yes, I know. I entered the grades yesterday."
"Ya i know u know, but i was wondering what my percentage was overall."
So I emailed him not just his actual number grade (at least 20 points away from even a D), but also the breakdown. Yes, I did the math for him, and clearly explained every step of the way. A day or two passed, and I received another email, begging me to give him a chance to improve his grade. I did not respond.
After a few more days, he wrote again, even more desperately, asking to please allow him to improve his grade because he, B-Ball Blane, really needs b-ball in his life, and will lose his coveted b-ball scholarship if he fails this class, and he won't even be able to return for the Spring semester, in time for b-ball season, so like, this whole semester will have been a waste since he didn't get to play b-ball at all! He went on to say that he would hand deliver his work to my house if he had to. And then asked me to please be considerate.
At that point, I wrote to him, once again explaining his grade, and his failure to take opportunities to improve his grade during the semester, and that once final grades are submitted, it is too late. To avoid further contact from him, I told him he would need to speak to my Chair, and gave him the contact information. (Yes, I'd been forwarding all our correspondences thus far to my Chair, as I had a feeling B-ball Blane was going to become a problem).
My final email from B-ball Blane was downright rude. Once he realized he wasn't going to get anywhere by begging, he became a bully. I won't post the actual email because every time I look at it, I get angry. The tone had gone from imploring to nasty. The content was borderline threatening. Fortunately, he concluded that he would not bother contacting me again because "I'm not getting anywhere with you."
Nope, he's not getting anywhere with me, or my Chair. She didn't like his last email either. I won't bother with disciplinary action, since B-ball Blane will need to find somewhere else to play B-ball come Spring.
Today's issue of Inisde Higher Ed had decent blog about student evaluations. The blogger argued that professors should be able to evaluate students in addition to just assigning grades. Then he had this genious idea: "Heck, let’s even set up a Rate My Students website." Why hadn't anyone thought of that before?
Read the full blog here.
might have but
Yet, I can't stop myself.
Being so thirsty is a powerful
Let me begin.
My search committee
is wandering, wondering,
stumbling around in our endeavor.
So many people, so many credentials,
writing samples, rec letters.
We are baffled and buffeted.
They are all interesting in some way,
these men and women who aspire
to join us in our task of teaching
the great unwashed.
Q: What makes a candidate stand out?
A: Post replies from your experience below.
So what's the deal? Why the indignation over the suggestion that you comment without reserving spots?
And the real meat of the thirsty:
Q: If you don't want to contribute, why do you want so badly to have a spot?
I have some suspicions that never would have crossed my mind in previous weeks, but after various security related discussions cropped up, here they are:
Some of you don't want to participate at all, but you're real people. You want to be "contributors" so that you can read drafts and look for what people edit between draft and post so you can try to identify your co-workers, either to satisfy personal curiosities, or to out them to superiors.
Some of you want to participate, but you're not "real people", you're trolls and half of the silent spots are being taken by the same one. This way you can have "IP evidence" that there aren't as many members as are reported. I have no idea what motivates that, but clearly saying "One guy writes the whole thing." gets someone off because that notion is proposed with some regularity.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Okay, I am just starting another stack of research papers. My file of "things I hate in student writing" is already full from the last batch, so I present it to you for free. These are not the complete train wrecks we sometimes get under the auspices of a term paper or essay. These are the little things that annoy. I know they're learning to write and high school sucked and all of that. The poor bastards. I didn't know anything about passive voice in college myself. I do not mean this in a mean spirited way. Well, okay, it does piss me off a bit. All these examples are based off of real student writing.
- Let's start with that. Why is everything today "based off of" something? What ever happened to "based on"? What is so wrong with "founded on" or "supported by"? Many of the things students are referring to aren't really "based" at all, but simply "refer to," "are related to" or "were influenced by." But no, they have to write that Roman religion was "based off of" Greek religion or that "the voyages of discovery were based off of earlier advancements (another favorite word) in navigation."
- "The U.S. policy in Iraq is not empirical." Other students prefer "impirial." I have even seen "empiratic" (I shit you not). I am still waiting for "empyreal."
- The word "reference" is constantly used as a verb to establish some vague relationship: "The book references the ancient Egyptians several times" or "Both civilizations reference each other throughout history." I looked this up and found that it is not grammatically wrong. I don't like it, though.
- The word "state" is the verb of choice to sound authoritative without committing to any particular meaning other than the imparting of information. The author of some wise book doesn't just say things. He or she doesn't "claim," "argue," "assert" or even "reference" things. He or she "states" things, as in, "Fischer states that the Egyptian pyramids were built with slave labor." The verb "claim" hints that evidence might be lacking or holds the reader in suspense until the evidence follows later in the text. The verb "argue" implies that there is evidence and the text will provide it. The verb "assert" implies the lack of evidence. The verb "state" is just the statement – with no commitment made by the writer as to whether it is substantiated or not. This is particularly common when the students arrive in my class after having been taught English 101 by an attribution-obsessed colleague. There, the students have learned to constantly mention the authors of the secondary literature they are using, even when the issue at hand is simply some fact and not the role of the author in some controversy. Sometimes they run out of verbs and use "state" once. Sometimes, it's state, state, state. Thus, these once obscure colleagues of yesteryear come back to life as the "staters" of all kinds of wisdom. "In his 1975 article Trade and Communication in the Tokugawa Shogunate, Bryan H. Williams states that the merchant class was already growing at this time." Well Timmy, what else did he state? Did he state anything about seeing the forest through the trees?
- "In order to first do A, one must first show B…" This is a great way to fill up several pages of a vacuous research paper with irrelevant material. The paper can be inflated by pointing at that, "we can only properly understand Zwingli's role in the Reformation (what the paper is supposed to be about) by understanding where he came from as an individual. It was a dark and stormy night…" Then we get three pages ranging from his chronic butt rash as a toddler to his loss of virginity in an Alpine YMCA. This is usually inserted after the introduction, but before the real paper begins. It offers the added benefit of being chronologically-organized text that the students can lift whole from Wikipedia biographies of famous people.
- Using a question mark to express uncertainty about the content of the statement? This rarely appears in papers, but is common in e-mail and other online formats. "The Egyptian pyramids served a religious purpose?" Sometimes it is used, as in the first sentence above, without a complete sentence: "Egyptian influence on ancient Greece?" This probably comes from the e-mail and chat-room habit of assuming voice inflexion or compensating with "smilies."
- The use of "impact" as a verb is not incorrect, but I sense that it has become more common in recent years, both in the culture in general and in student papers. It is over-used. Together with the passive voice, it makes research paper time second only to beer on the list of life's true joys: "The Romans were impacted by Greek religion." When I read that, my head is impacted by my desk.
- The general culture can certainly explain the recent proliferation of "myself." A student writes: "I told one of my project partners to get back to you or myself before Monday." They would never say, "I'll get back to yourself before Monday," but the "myself" is somehow different. Just today, I got a non-academic e-mail telling me that, "You can contact myself at any time." Well thank you, I just might do that.
- I think the same thing is going on with the "John and I" thing. Several generations grew up getting slapped for writing, "John and me went to the store." So now the "me" has been banished to Hell, even when it is correct. "Dr. Slave gave Mary and I a C on our project." These people would never say, "Dr. Slave gave I a C", but the "Mary and…" clouds our vision. As for I, me never tires of pointing this out.
- "Alexander the Great has long been considered as one of the greatest generals in history." In what part of the country does "as" add any meaning to or play any role at all in this sentence?
- "His historical investigations is bias." "The source is clearly bias against…" The students are very attuned to issues of bias now that Faux Newz has exposed the terrible liberal conspiracy behind the media. But there are times when I wish cable TV were less adroit at injecting memes into the shit I have to read or would at least write the words on Beck's blackboard so that my students could tell an adjective from a noun.
- We've all seen the capitalization salad served up in so much student work. This is especially common in words that are somehow regal-sounding. It tastes best when seasoned with other crude errors: "The Oligarchy was rule by the Aristocracy in ancient Greece and rule by the Patricians in Ancient rome. Until the Monarch ascended the thrown and created kingshipness."
At the end of the semester, I often sit back, consider the state of academia, and get in arguments on Facebook with colleagues at other institutions (the tequila doesn't help - or perhaps it does!). One topic we covered recently was a fairly complex one: grants and integrity.
I'm a psychologist while my colleague is in the dreaded humanities. The social sciences, especially psychology, are currently experiencing a surge in grant pressure from on high. The assumption is that because we study people that we could theoretically be a part of any grant. And that's sort of true. I am myself seeking NSF grants for the first time as a result of this pressure, and it's actually not too much of a stretch.
But my colleague seems to think that grants dirty her. The mere idea of applying for a grant is somehow disgusting because it means that the humanities, as a whole, need to justify their existence through their ability to pull in external funding. My response to this is: well sure - why not? Progress in the United States is largely driven by corporate initiative - even technologies developed by universities often end up being distributed because a venture capitalist decided to invest in that technology. The technology is useful and beneficial to humanity. But you still need money so that other people know that. So what's so bad about seeking grants?
She adds to this - and this is the part that I wretch over - that ANY attempt to justify the existence of the humanities is contrary to its purpose. That somehow "reading literature" alone makes a contribution to the Academy. I'm not saying that reading literature isn't useful - it develops many important life- and work-related skills for students, like critical thinking. But it doesn't create the large-scale change the universities should be striving to make.
I suggested that English departments might try offering programs to business executives: "Understanding the Ethics of Mergers through Literature." What a fantastic way to demonstrate the value of the humanities while simultaneously maintaining control of your purpose! But even this is apparently "selling out."
Am I crazy here? Secretly, I do feel like I've sold out a little by seeking NSF funding. But it's not that bad. And the advantages it brings my university, my department, my graduate students, and even my own career seem worth it. Isn't a little selling out worth 4 years of guaranteed funding for two graduate students? She makes the "slippery slope" argument, but I'm not sure I buy it. Thoughts?
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Life has been hectic for me since I left CM. But, it has all slowed down a bit and I feel comfortable taking a correspondent position once more. And, since this is what CMers seem to like, a bit of smackdown!
Sorority Susan: You came to class the first day and then the next time you came back, you brought the wrong book. It is not my fault that you didn't listen when I told you which bookstores in town to go to. The Barnes and Noble at the local mall was not the right place. If you had bothered to read the ISBN I so helpfully put on the syllabus against the book you bought, you would have seen your mistake. Also, glaring at me while I graded your pitiful work did nothing to endear you to me. That your parting words were, "I'm not going to take this class again in a lab setting, since it doesn't help me," made me happier than you can imagine.
Mommy Maureen: I realize that it is tough to raise seven children and deal with a nagging spouse. I also realize how much working the swing shift can royally suck. But, you contracted to do the work when you signed up for the class. You were nowhere even close to earning an incomplete. That your life sucks is not an excuse. My life sucked this quarter and I still managed to get to work on time. (Well, I was 20-30 minutes late one snowy morning, but, otherwise, I was there on time.)
Procrastinating Penelope: I warned you at the beginning of the quarter that you would not be able to complete the entire class in the last few weeks. It being a lab class was part of it, but it was also a sincere way of trying to help you to manage your time wisely. You tried and showed me that you were at least capable of the work, but you did not complete the work, so you got an F. See you next quarter. Hopefully this time you will listen to me.
Touchy-Feely Thomas: Um, I know that you were trying to be nice, but touching me is off-limits. A handshake is fine, but a pat on the shoulder is uncalled for in 99.99999999% of the situations in which there is a teacher and a student. I do not pat students on the shoulder and they should not pat me on the shoulder. The only exception would be if you were family. But my family are either through with math or live far enough away from me that my teaching them would be near impossible. (My sister is the only exception and that was tutoring over the phone. Trust me, it's extremely difficult to tutor Math over the phone.)
Well, I don't want to sound too bitter about this past quarter, so I will end with some positives.
Boss Benny: That you went out of your way to make sure that I had what I needed to teach is fantastic. As far as the union thing goes, I say, "Fuck the union!" But it is not that simple, is it? I would not put your job in jeopardy to assure that I could go full-time sooner rather than later. You are the best boss I have ever had. Thank you.
Aides Aisha and Anica: You two were the best two work-study students I have ever seen. Thank you both for your continued help with the work. I would not have survived the last two week without your help. Saying thank you is hardly enough for all the work you did for me.