Friday, April 29, 2011

Out of Touch Olivia Reports from the Sock Hop.

At my hopelessly inadequate community college yesterday, I was traipsing back from my last (fourth) class of the day with a box full of final projects, and the remnant notes of four 90 minute final exam preps.

It had been about the hardest day of the semester for me, and the worst grading slog was still to come. The final exam prep is something I take seriously, not something designed to make the precious dears feel good about themselves going into the final, but a no-holds-barred barrage of all the stuff I've taught for 15 weeks. I want students to fear the final. I want them to get scared and spend this last weekend reviewing all of the stuff I told them they SHOULD have learned.

As I headed to my office with a briefcase in one hand, and a large box I pushed with my feet along the hallway, I started hearing Frankie Avalon - no, really - music coming from an open classroom door. It got louder as I went, and when I got there and looked in, I saw my colleague, a pleasant and lovely woman of 50, dancing in the middle of her classroom with about 15 students.

The lights were off. Some industrial looking lights with colored plastic paper over the bulbs sat in the corners of the room. The music played out of some kind of boombox. The desks were all pushed to the sides of the room, and two folding tables were filled with Domino's pizza, silver trays of meatballs, crackers, cheese plates, a slow cooker filled with cheese, bowls of cut up vegetables.

Strung above the classroom was a long strip of paper with the words, "Dr. Xxxxxxx's Final Exam / Sock-Hop."

My colleague spotted me and waved me over to the door. She dislodged herself from the dancers and met me at the door in her stocking feet.

"Hi, Olivia," she said. "Come on in and have some food. We're celebrating the end of the semester."

I set my briefcase down, grabbed a toothpick which I speared through two meatballs and said, "Thanks. I've got  to do some work."

What am I doing wrong?


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  2. I wonder whether she handed out evals that day?

  3. You aren't doing anything wrong. Nothing at all. I don't know what else has gone on in your colleague's class. Maybe it was a hard ass class. Maybe they had completed some really difficult work.

    Maybe they did this every Friday.

    Actually, if they had booze, then you messed up by not stealing it from them.

  4. I've managed to pull off the end of semester party before by having that final project that takes me for freaking ever to grade due a couple weeks before the term ends. The last day, a big group project is then due that has presentations, and I bring food.

    No dancing though. Clearly I'm doing that part wrong too. :)

  5. I had a colleague who brought food and drink to his final classes quite regularly. He was an awesome teacher. His students learned amazingly well from him and some have gone on to do great things. He was great as a colleague too; always had time to talk to a junior colleague and always had helpful things to say. He retired a couple of years ago; taught the occasional course elsewhere in the uni for awhile but has finally handed in his keys and is planning to travel some and write a book or two. He had amazing generosity of spirit. I cannot tell you how much I miss him.

    OMG. Reading this over - I was working with Yaro and I never knew it.

    So, are the rest of us doing something wrong? Yeah, we are, of course we are. But we aren't all Yaro. We have to do the best we can with whatever gifts we have. If our gift is persuading our students to learn by scaring them out of a years' growth, hey, that's what we bring to the table. :)

    Damn I miss our departmental Yaro though. The place isn't the same without him.

  6. @Merely

    I don't see anything in any of the Yaro posts that would suggest he'd throw a sock hop with food for his students. I know we all read and take in things differently, but am I alone in being shocked at the Yaro comparison?


  7. It's the warmth of their relationship with their students that struck me as Yaro-like, CC. Yaro, and my colleague, clearly have a much more formal relationship with their students than Olivia's colleague does, and a sock-hop doesn't strike me as Yaro's (or my colleague's) style either.

    The common element is the warmth of their attitude towards their students, and also, the general impression I get from Olivia's colleague, Yaro, and my colleague, that they genuinely enjoyed teaching, really enjoyed being around students, and really cared what happened to them. Their generosity of spirit, in fact. That is what seemed Yaro-like to me.

  8. @Merely

    I understand that explanation very well and I agree.

    I read the sock hop story with such uneasiness. I thought the proffie in that example sounded out of touch with college, and needy in some very elemental way. I don't want to belabor it, but dancing with one's students in the classroom, lights dimmed, Frankie Avalon (?), hot foods!

    I always compare stories about college profs to my own stories of profs I had eons ago. Perhaps I'm out of touch.

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  10. I admit that the idea of a sock-hop in specific strikes me also as a little creepy; unless the class was in 1950's pop culture, and for all I know it was. But food and relaxation at a final class? I just wish I could ever manage to pull that off, and weren't frantically trying to cover everything I hadn't got to yet. Though I did bring cookies to the last class in my senior seminar this term. I gave out the evaluations the class before, so it wouldn't look like a bribe.

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  13. In one of my graduate classes (Anthro of Spirituality, with a strong orientation toward participation/practice), one of my fellow students presented her semester-long research project on ecstatic dance on the last night of class. After her presentation was over, we had about half an hour of class time left. Our prof, a darling little 90-year-old old lady and also a well-known expert in the field, looked at us with a twinkle in her eye and said "Well, shall we give it a go?" We pushed back the chairs, cranked up some music, and spent the last half-hour of the semester dancing our hearts out. It was the best end-of-semester that I could possibly have imagined.

    We anthroes are a wacky bunch, I'll freely admit, and this sort of free-spiritedness wouldn't work in every class. But I do hope that when I'm 90 years old, I'll be leading my students in an impromptu dance celebration.

  14. Whilst the entertainment offered seems a bit inappropriate - pizza, perhaps (if eating in classrooms is allowed), but crockpots and dimmed lights sound like something health and safety would come down on like a ton of bricks, never mind dancing, not wearing appropriate footwear.... - the idea of using the last class for some kind of celebratory event does seem to fit well with some kinds of teaching.

    For example, if the assessment is via major project, and the students give presentations and submit work that day, then it's fun to finish on a high note. I have to admit I've done that sort of thing, had snacks and drinks to go along with final presentations - it celebrates student achievement and is not incompatible with being a hardass about the work in the class.

    The exact DETAILS described sound pretty worrying, but I would still just scuttle off to my office with anything chocolate or alcoholic I could scrounge from them, and get on with my work (unless of course you are Chair or in charge of teaching or health and safety so can't turn a blind eye to events without appearing to condone them)...

    1. I'm so glad others bring food to presentation days! I felt guilty all morning, as I brought veggies and, yes, cookies to my Hamster Research Methods class where they will be doing all the work today! and turning in MONSTER APA style papers as their final.

  15. I swear to God that the scene described above is horrifying.

    I would have pulled nearest fire alarm or found the nearest extinguisher and gone right after those meatballs.

  16. I bake cupcakes to bring to the final exam if the class is small enough.

    This is after the evaluations, of course, and I like baking cupcakes.

    1. Physics by PhyllisMay 3, 2016 at 12:19 PM

      I bring in cupcakes or cookies during our last day of class, and I invite the students to bring in something to share with everyone. We spend the class reviewing for the final, so no dancing (which I think would be ridiculous). And it's done after evaluations, so there's no effect on them. I just find it to be a nice way to end the semester.

  17. @ Calico

    What else is new? They called me misogynist because one of my problem students was female.

    Isn't perception a bitch?

  18. Sorry to see you drag that up again, EMH, but since you have, surely you do understand that it wasn't "because one of (your) problem students was female" that people suggested you were a misogynist. It was because you suggested (apparently with no evidence) that she was screwing the Dean, and that's why she expected to be able to get away with stuff, that people took issue with your post. It was, in other words, the baseless accusation of sexual manipulation of authority that people took amiss.

    We all have difficult female students. I'm dealing with two right now. Neither of them is sleeping with the Dean, so far as I know.

  19. If it's so important to you, she bragged about it. Did you want video evidence?

    And, as far as I can tell, everything on this site is "baseless", which is where the fun comes in.

  20. And, as for sexual manipulation of authority, it happens way more often then we realise.

  21. Sexual manipulation may happen more often than we realise, but people - almost invariably female people - are accused of doing it far, far more often than it happens. That is why I called the accusation "misogynistic"; because it is a such a common accusation to level against women, and so often without any evidence whatever.

    However, if you actually had evidence, than it was not in this particular instance standard misogyny and of course I apologize.

  22. I'm amused that so many people seem shocked - shocked! - that there was SHOELESS DANCING happening. Frankie Avalon - subversive? Really?
    Maybe it's because I teach theatre and we do what are apparently subversive and crazy things all the time, but this didn't sound like anything but a class and their teacher enjoying their last class (it could have been someone's birthday, and it could have been the students' idea). As far as the type of party thrown (sock hop), it's entirely possible it was related in some way to the class or even to an inside joke that arose one day from class discussion. That happens all the time in my world. I'm not sure the dim lights were a good idea, but the rest - what's the problem?
    As for the person who sourly suggested that she gave out evals on the same day - I seriously doubt that. Even students can smell manipulation, and they don't tend to like it any more than we do

  23. Not taking more free food. That's what you did wrong.


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