Monday, February 28, 2011

Autopilot and an Early Thirsty

Dear Class of Slackers,

I have decided that, as a whole, you are a waste of my time. So far, I’ve given the best I have of myself to this class, as I do all my classes. You haven’t proven yourself worthy of my best, though. You’ve barely proven yourself worthy of my consciousness. So, here’s how the rest of this semester is going to work.

You don’t have your book? Oh well. You don’t know what page we’re on because you went to the bathroom? Oh well. You don’t know when the assignment is due because you were late to class? Oh well. You think it’s unfair that I won’t accept your late work past the grace period? Oh well.

I’m going to show up on time. I’ll begin the lesson. You either will or will not pay attention and participate. Frankly, I don’t care anymore. If you don’t participate or ask questions that are actually relevant to what we’re doing, I’ll simply continue on.

At the end of class, I will pack my belongings and leave. That’s it. You’re on your own.


Q: I am preparing myself to turn on autopilot for the rest of the term, but already feel guilty about it. CM colleagues, have you ever just given up on a class and “gone through the motions?”


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  2. Autopilot? This is how I teach ALL my classes. When I was just starting in academe I used to get all co-dependent about my classes; if they did badly on a quiz I'd lie awake wondering what I did wrong.

    And of course one can always improve - perhaps there was something I hadn't explained well, and I could do better next time; or I'd taught them one thing and then tested them on something else, and I'd take more care about that next time. Learning to teach is a long process and I do have a responsibility to do it well.

    But that's the end of my responsibility. My responsibility isn't to fret when they don't do the work. The work is their job. That isn't 'autopilot'. That's just healthy boundary-setting.

  3. This is amazing.

    It's amazing that so many proffies are buying this shit from the administrators and policymakers and assessment people. They want the proffies to somehow work miracles and change students who are unchangeable.

    There's not that much you can do. Be there for the students. Do your job. But don't waste your time thinking you can do some magic that will make all the students succeed. You'd be better off writing a letter to the admissions office asking them why they admitted the students in your class.

    Be there for the students. Help them learn if they want to, but know your boundaries.

  4. =>"You think it’s unfair that I won’t accept your late work past the grace period? Oh well."

    Grace period? You do know that by accepting late work, you are just conditioning them to turn it in late, right? Last semester, I had homework due on the second Thursday. (TTh class), and a student came in with the assignment on the next Tuesday.

    Me: "This was due last week."
    Him: "I wasn't here last Thursday."
    Me: "Yes." (thinking: "How does this contradict what I said?")
    Him: "What should I do next time I'm not in class when an assignment is due?"
    Me: "Arrange for someone else to hand it in, or at least contact me earlier than 5 days after the due date."

    =>"I’m going to show up on time. I’ll begin the lesson."

    I begin class on time, even if only one student has shown up. The rest should be on time. I only have 75 minutes, and I'm not wasting it waiting. Do you really start class late? This seems irresponsible.

  5. I've just finished adjusting my classes so they can run on autopilot. I'm just learning how to let go and let the students sink or swim of their own accord. All I can do is create the environment for them to learn in; I can't make them learn.

    In some ways autopilot makes for more effective teaching. At least, it reduces the amount of rage and stress I will carry into the classroom, which will help me concentrate on teaching, and not on various creative forms of vengance.

  6. No late work is allowed. Those that come to class late more than twice over the semester are penalized by points taken off their final grade. Those that go to the bathroom aren't allowed to return to class, let alone to bother me about what page we're on. Those that are called on and cannot participate because they are unprepared also lose points from their final grade.

    This is not running a class on "autopilot." This is creating a positive learning environment.

  7. I tend to think of my attempts to arrange things so that I spend time and energy on the students who will actually make some use of my efforts as "triage," but the principle is the same as others have articulated above. In my case, it means putting lots of time and energy into commenting on the rough drafts of students who get them to me by a well-in-advance-of-conferences deadline, but also giving students the chance to bring a draft to conference and get briefer oral comments there, or even to just come and talk about their paper-in-progress. There are some students in the last two groups who would undoubtedly do better work if I set a firm deadline for a full draft, but there are far more who would give me a really bad and/or incomplete draft, and then do very little with my detailed comments. If there were some way to tell the former group from the latter, I'd be delighted, since I feel a bit guilty about the ones who just need me to nudge my class up their priority lists a bit. But, at least in my present situation, not ending the semester absolutely exhausted and demoralized (especially when I have to turn right around and start a summer term) is worth a bit of guilt.

  8. I have never given up on a class, no matter how bad, because I've been lucky enough to have enough good students in each class to make it worthwhile. I therefore do my best to ignore the bad students, while teaching to the good students. It may not be easy, if there are bad students who are active in their badness; still, I try to waste as little time and energy on them as possible, with policies enforced without exception ever of no late work, no make-ups, all homework must be turned in as paper copies during the first five minutes of class, no study guides (other than a list of readings I call a study guide), no reviews, no electronics in the classroom, -without- exception: it's all in the syllabus. Now, for students who want to learn, I have nothing but time.

  9. It's sad, but triage accurately describes what a teacher must do these days, to educate those who can be educated and stop spinning their wheels on the ones who can't, or more common, won't. Remember also the middle group, who can if encouraged. A key point is not to decide who's in the middle group too quickly.

  10. I'll add my "huzzah" to the previous commentators. It's critical to your own mental health and well-being to set clear boundaries with your students. Start on time, finish on time, expect work on time. Be prepared and expect them to be prepared.
    For those snowflakes unwilling to do their part, just ask them "Do you want fries with that?" They'll no doubt be speaking that phrase a lot in the near future.
    - FRP

  11. After last year when a student commented: "Why are you getting so worked up? Just do your thing and we'll do our thing," I started to realize that if I truly do view them as adults (insert uproarious laughter here), then they need to learn to take responsibility. And I'm no longer making it MY job to teach them to be responsible little ducklings, despite what Administration says about it being my job to form collaborative learning communities. No one made it MY professors' jobs to form collaborative learning communities for ME when I went to college (granted, we proffies are NOT the normies, either). I would have resented anyone trying to MAKE play groups for me in college. They need to learn to grow up, and it really isn't my job to teach that... My job is to teach the material as best I can, to not allow them to bulldoze me into allowing late work or accepting of rampant excuses. And by running after them and trying to change their behavioral problems, I'm not doing MY job. SO I quit doing that and am now teaching my content. I've never allowed late work (which earns me the dept. reputation as a "hard teacher," but who gives a shit? The harder I'm perceived, the fewer students sign up for my classes and I have fewers fucktards to glare at when they return from the bathroom or stroll in late). It's not my job to make them like me or each other.

    I've been doing this "Oh, well" all year and am having a fabulous year. I've even started just shrugging and saying, "Oh, well" when they say something like, "I forgot my book." Sometimes I'll add a "That's up to you" when they ask permission to return to their car/dorm/house to get their books/papers/glasses/pens. It has worked so far to help me not try to take responsibility for THEIR slacker behavior. I don't think it means I care less. It means I'm making THEM care for their own behavior. I think self preservation is a healthy way to teach.

    And the students haven't suffered because of this attitude. They're still separating themselves into a group of slackers, a group of over-achievers, and a group in the middle that I ignore most of the time because they don't need me and just want a C or a B to move up and out of my class. We're all content with the way things have been so far. And I no longer give myself a near-aneurysm when I see someone texting or someone else who should be in class strolling by eating an ice cream in the snow (yesterday).

    Life is so much better now!

  12. Rule #1.
    Do not care more about your students' education than they do.

  13. As a student, I feel for you. It's just as painful for me to watch my classmates act ridiculous, think the rules don't apply to them, and think that our teachers are genuinely out to get us just because they assigned homework. What's worse is when they band together to bully the teacher into relaxing deadlines and taking late work. Don't do it!!! Like someone else said, it only encourages them to think they can get away with it again and again...

  14. Oh, I AM making it my job to teach my students some responsibility. It's easier than you think: just get proficient in saying, "NO." As in: no late homework, no excuses, no (insert long list of dysfunctional student behaviors here). Another handy rejoinder is: "A boss in the real work wouldn't like that."

  15. P.S. It helps enormously that I have tenure, of course, so I really can't be harmed by those popularity contests referred to as anonymous student evaluations of teaching. It's not my job to be their best buddy: it's my job to be their teacher, and they do learn from me, or they get bad grades, in which case I hope they learn from them.

  16. "Collaborative learning communities"? What the hell does that mean? Sounds to me like an idea so bad only an academic could possibly take it seriously. I used to hate small-group work when I was an undergraduate: almost always, it was me doing all the work and other people copying and taking credit for it. Discussions in some classes (e.g. literature and philosophy) can be made to run well with everyone sitting in a circle, but it demands that the prof be absolutely expert in the subject and to moderate the discussion actively, and it requires the students to have done the reading.

  17. @Ben:
    To use a phrase from *my* college days, Right ON!!!!!

    I keep hearing how the part of the brain that assesses risk and consequences isn't fully formed until age 25, but I can't see people of my parents' generation being so dim-witted. I've come to believe that the snowflakes do know that there will be consequences for their behavior, or lack of it, but they think they'll be able to negotiate, mitigate or sidestep them, or have someone else (parents) take care of it for them. That mindset has gotten them this far in life, so why shouldn't it now.

    Reality can be a hard thing to slam into, but the lessons we learn the hardest we remember the longest.

  18. Just a note on the bathroom thing that a couple of you have mentioned above...
    In my MA cohort of 10 people, 2 could never get through even an hour-long class without going to the bathroom (sometimes repeatedly) for legitimate medical reasons.
    What I learned from this is that no one wants to have to explain over and over again (to profs, to colleagues, to students) that they have, say, an ostomy bag that needs to be emptied constantly or uncontrollable menorrhagia. If people can just use the facilities at will, without penalty, no one has to - and nor do they have to answer to anyone else why the stated rules don't apply to them.
    To me, this is one of the times that I have to accept that when I try to make a rule to address the (small, and often soul-killing) minority who will try to f*ck with me no matter what, I make life unnecessarily difficult for others who are just doing the best they can.
    Just my $.02...

  19. @Frod: we not only have Admin pushing "learning communities" on us, but they're also actively setting up specific class sequences so that GROUPS of students move together through college learning from the same professor (like in high school) and these students view any new-to-them professor as out of the loop and an interloper. They claim it helps with retention.

    It's making for a very interesting dynamic on campus when getting students who all know each other (like a clique) in a class with other students who all know each other. It's like West-Side story, only with mixed ethnic groups. I just sit back and watch the carnage. I'm tempted to play music just to see if I can get them to pirouette in a rumble.

  20. First, I love all the responses. I'm relatively new in the classroom, and I don't yet have tenure, working at a CC with a solid "old boys" network. Sometimes taking the hard line is harder on me than it is on my students.

    @ mathesian:
    I think I may have misrepresented myself in my original post. I'd just like to clarify that I already do start on time - exactly, every class - and plan to continue to do so, despite students' complaints that "It's only 9:01!"

    I probably should not have a grace period, but I've found that it provides flexibility for many of my responsible students who actually do find themselves in difficult situations. The semester I had a student just diagnosed with MS come to class in tears so she could hand in her assignment on time got to me. I guess I'm a softy in some ways. This way, if there are legitimate reasons, they can still submit work, but only one day late, and with a 10% penalty, regardless of the reason. After that, no excuse will do, and I've stuck to that. I've found that it reduces the number of begging students and ridiculous stories.

  21. I'm bookmarking this post, and the comments, for when I start overstressing about rude students, and worrying that I could be doing more to reach them, and getting all worked up over some snide comment, etc.

    Like Mestopholita, I'm somewhat new too. I beat myself up way too much over some of the crap they do.

    I started giggling when I first read Ack-ademic's "Oh well" response! I can see myself doing that, and just repeating it each time they offer some lame excuse. I can see them thinking WTF?!


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