Monday, October 31, 2011

Education Disconnection

I just saw Shannon Doherty in an advertisement for Education Connection. It was actually worse than that horrible song. Is she that hard up for money or will they really let anyone in?

Lundi Thirsty

Q. Have you ever looked a student (who was in "acceptable" academic standing) in the eyes and said, "You don't have what it takes to be here. Drop out." (or something like that)?

A. ... instead of just waiting for their accumulated string of bad grades (or drug overdoses or whatever) to convince them?

Brian from Birmingham Is Blue.

I teach at a community college. The faculty don't want to be here. The students don't want to be here.

Among my teaching cohort is a large group of humanities PhDs from the great humanities bust generation. We're overqualified, heavily in debt with student loans, and teaching intro courses in fields where we've been expansively prepared to teach something else.

The students can't find classrooms, have lost the ability to read an email if it comes from an instructor, don't "get" why they have to attend every class meeting, and would like to take tests over and over until they pass. They are, after all, paying for their education.

I've been on the job market for 4 years and have had 3 conference interviews, 4 Skype interviews, and one campus interview.

I teach full time, 5/5 load, 80% freshmen. I don't have time to write, not if I want to do all the grading. I hate my life. I eat too much, drink too much, started smoking in order to hang with a couple of pals who've also given up, and my main pastime has become sitting on the couch, thinking about the mess my life has become, and watching cartoons from my youth.

Yes, I know I could turn things around, focus on the good parts of my life. I know I could make time to write, and be encouraged by the occasional good student.

But no, I want to sit here, in the last few minutes before I start a triple header of back to back to back intro courses (for which about 60% of my students will attend, at least half of them having not done the reading), and bitch about what a fucking lie I was sold about being a college professor.

And they ask me why I drink...

A student retaking my freshman chemistry class informed me that he missed class this morning because it was raining.  Yes, indeed, it was raining, Scooter, buckets and buckets.  How do I know?  Because I was here, in class with all (ok, most) of your very wet classmates.  Buckets and buckets it was raining.

I relate this episode to you not to get sympathy for my squeaky, smelly, soaking wet shoes.  No, I want you to know that he concluded his tale of woe by saying, "So you agree that it was raining then the excuse is legitimate" and then walked out of my office with a wave.

I'm stuck in a meeting this afternoon so somebody, please, start drinking this away for me.  I promise to catch up in an hour or so.


When I logged on to my school email address this morning, Gloria's name appeared in a note from the registrar's office as a "drop."

When I called over to the office I was told she had been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing regarding a drug charge.

I feel absolutely destroyed.

I appreciated all the comments people left on my weekend posting about this. My heart is broken.

Ho Fo Sho. Halloween on Campus.

Sexy Halloween costumes in college leave nothing to imagination
By Colleen McSweeney
from the Rocky Mountain Collegian

As a college woman, I, along with my female peers, have an unspoken expectation placed upon us on Halloween: look like a “ho fo sho.”

One friend from class who was planning on dressing as the Black Swan –– which she said consisted of a black tutu and bra –– likes the sense of lost inhibition that comes with a college Halloween.

“It’s the one weekend we can dress like hoes and get away with it,” she said. “No one judges you, so you can really do whatever you want. It’s just reckless fun. And everyone wants to look hot sometimes, you know?”

I talked to other girls who said things along the same line –– it seems some college women don’t dress provocatively on Halloween with male interest in mind, but rather for the fun of “letting go” without the usual judgment and stigma.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Post midterm smackdown

Texty Tom:

Do you think I don’t notice when a young man stares intently at his crotch for 15 minutes straight with his hands under his desk? Ten years ago, I would have thought you were masturbating, but if you were masturbating you’d be done by now. You’re texting, Tom. Which is expressly forbidden in my class.

When I said, “Tom, you’re texting under your desk, aren’t you?” you looked up, startled, and put your phone away.

“That’s okay…” you said as I marked you absent. Do you think I’d care if you thought it wasn’t okay? Do you think I’m stupid? I’m going to be watching you now, Tom, positioning my desk carefully so that I can see under yours at all times.

P. S. I also have a “no masturbating in class” policy, so no doing that either.

Brown-nose Betty:

Firstly, I don’t know you from Adam. So plopping yourself down in my office and telling me how great you think I am and how much you hear I love my students doesn't really register as it would if I actually knew who the fuck you are. Even then I would be taking such praise with about five pounds of salt, as students rarely come to my office to begin with, and if they come bearing heaps of acclaim I know that they want something.

Which you do. I am teaching a course next semester that you need to graduate. No one wants to take it, but they have to. Including you. Apparently since the course has been offered the past two springs online, you assumed it would be offered online perpetually. You were wrong, and now you can’t take it in person because of work commitments. Betty, I don’t see how this is my problem. But you’re making it my problem because you want me to offer you an independent study, whereupon I saddle myself with hours and hours of unpaid work on behalf of a student I don’t even know because that student failed to plan properly. Look at my face. How likely do you think it is that I will do that? You’re lucky I’m teaching it online in the summer, and you can take it then, when I will actually make a bit of money for teaching it. Mama needs a new kitchen, Betty.

Recommendation Rita:

Why are you going to grad school, Rita? You want to become a college professor, like me? Rita, this will never happen. There are no jobs out there, Rita. Are you listening to me? No? You still want to go to grad school? Oh, dear. Okay, then.

I don’t mind recommending you even though I don’t remember you and only had you for one class. Your transcript is stellar, and you received an A, so I can say some nice things. But Rita, I don’t teach creative writing. Why are you asking me to write you a recommendation for creative writing programs? Because no one else who’s read your creative writing feels that they can recommend you? Rita—oh dear Rita—this is not a good sign. I can’t recommend your creative writing either, because I’ve never seen it. I would rather have gum surgery every day for the rest of my life than teach creative writing, because teaching students creative writing would mean I would actually have to read their creative writing. I do this occasionally when I am asked to be a judge for the student literary magazine, and each time I do I am subjected to prose and poetry so atrocious that I am tempted to claw my own eyeballs out with a grapefruit spoon. I would never subject myself to that agony on a regular basis. Therefore I doubt that my recommendation would do any good.

Give up now, Rita. Give up.

Daughter-in-law Dottie:

Our test is tomorrow, and I do not give make-ups, ever. So you’ll need to get someone else to take your sick mother-in-law to the doctor. My mother-in-law is often sick too and I don’t miss class to haul her old ass around. And my own mother is 1200 miles away, so when she gets sick no one hauls her old ass around but her. These women are both well over eighty. You’re a lot younger than I am, Dottie, and my guess is your mother-in-law is probably about my age. Tell Miz Thang to suck it up until the test is over.

When Life Intrudes.

Gloria is a student with problems.

She's anemic. She's had the flu twice already this term. Her roommate tried to get her kicked out of the dorms because of some disagreement over cooking smells. Gloria's dad and mom are getting divorced, and Gloria's brother was arrested for distributing drugs up in Seattle over the summer and he has a trial that is running in fits and starts.

And Gloria is the best student in my sophomore literature class. When she's there.

I see Gloria in office hours once a week or so, usually after she misses one of my classes. She's at the very limit of absences that my college allows. (It's not an actual policy, but a guideline. When I started teaching here this term I was told by longtimers that nobody ever uses the policy, that students never need an attendance policy.) Gloria has done all the major work; she's never missed an exam or a paper, but she's missed enough class that other students are aware of it.

I saw Gloria on a stretcher in front of the cafeteria two days ago. She smiled and waved at me. "I just passed out," she said. "I'm okay, though. Sorry I missed class."

She's funny, smart, works well with others, and could probably pass the class without attending the lectures or discussions at all.

But should she? Isn't part of the class the attending, the taking part?

One student asked me last week, "Do you let Gloria have excused absences? What if the rest of us only came on our good days?"

When Gloria sits in my office, we talk about class. I don't redo the lectures, but we have discussions about what we've read. She usually just tells me what she thinks about the work, its value. She's always forceful and clear, and the book she holds up to make her point is full of notes and scribbles.

I worry about her. I worry life will get in the way and she'll never be what she might.


Note from CM: This is day # 493 since the blog started, 
and this is post #2000

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Other Careers For Science Grads?

OMG, So Many Science Careers
By Adam Ruben
October 28, 2011

Sometimes it seems that grad school mentors convince their young science students that they have only two career options: They can become academics, or they can become disappointments.

Last month, I spoke on two different career panels to roomfuls of young scientists. Every time a student raised a hand to speak, I noticed they all had the same question about jobs in science: “May I have one, please?”

As general as the panelists tried to keep their advice, the questions had a predictable undercurrent: Those aspiring young scientists didn’t just want to find out what it was like to work in science. They wanted us to say, “Okay. You win. I’ve got 50 open positions, and I’ll offer them to all of you today. Who wants health insurance?”

Rest of the Article.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gerry in Georgia Sends In Some Flava: "I'm Asleep by 9 Every Night. But if Midnight Students are 'Awake, Alive, and Vibrant,' Then Sign Me Up!"

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

It's midnight. Do you know where your students are?

Well, they're in class.

A handful of colleges across the USA are offering "midnight classes" that cater to the schedules of students with children, inflexible jobs or just a yen to stay up all night. On overburdened campuses, the late-late classes have the chance to use space that's booked during conventional hours.

"They would rather do anything than turn students away," says Norma Kent of the American Association of Community Colleges. "If you've got faculty that's willing to teach at an unconventional hour, then it's a solution for a lot of things."

The idea took shape in 2009 at an overcrowded Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, where an instructor volunteered to teach a class at midnight, just about the only time when classrooms weren't in use. The college's facilities, built to accommodate 2,500 students, struggle to make room for 13,000 enrollees.
"We found out there are many more folks than we'd imagined in the Boston area who are working third shifts," Bunker Hill President Mary Fifield says. "It's a population that we didn't know existed."
The school this year offers five midnight courses.

Goodie calls her Intro to Psychology class "Insomniac Institute." It meets weekly this semester from 12:01 a.m. to 2:55 a.m. She says two kinds of students take the class: those, like her, who are up late anyway and those who mistakenly thought they were signing up for a noon class.

A self-described insomniac, Goodie says she keeps the class active and engaging, telling jokes and getting students on their feet for presentations. By 2:30 a.m. most weeks, she says, "everyone is pretty miserable." But for most of the class period, it's exciting. "They're awake and they're alive," she says, "and they're very vibrant."

Countdown to New Moderator.

Ten, nine, eight, seven...

Mo' Mizry from Wisconsin

Honest to God, I am as sick of posting the ongoing shenanigans of Governor Fucktardo as you are of reading them. But I got up this morning to find this posted on my Facebook feed:

(STATE CAPITOL) High schools would be allowed to drop math and English graduation requirements to set up vocational-only diplomas under a bill being backed by Gov. Scott Walker.

The plan in the governor's special session on jobs would let local school boards decide their own curricula and create vocational diplomas that carry the same weight as regular high school degrees. Oshkosh Assembly Republican Michelle Litjens supported the change at a public hearing. She says right now students don't always see a connection between the classes they're taking and the labor market, "And sometimes they're right. For the student who doesn't have the desire to pursue a higher education, who just doesn't want to sit still in an English class anymore, why are they there?"

And I just sat here with my mouth hanging open, unable to fathom the utter fucktardedness of this plan.

I can't imagine a job, besides an unskilled service job, that doesn't require math or writing/communications skills. My brother-in-law, who is a journeyman electrician, does more math on a daily basis than I've ever done in my 40 years on this planet. My OH, who didn't finish college, still needs to do math and write, daily.

My mother, in one of her teacherly incarnations (she was double certified), taught vo-ed in a suburban high school outside of Cleveland in the 70s and early 80s. Besides skills-based classes (typing and stenography), she taught business accounting and business communication. So these students needed both math and writing does jettisoning math and English make for a stronger, educated workforce? What fries my circuits is that this is even an option.

And what if, somewhere down the road, these vo-ed students want to go to college? What if the last time they were "forced" to "sit still in an English class" was in 10th grade? Or 9th? or 8th? We're already forced to remediate a high number of our incoming students, thanks to NCLB, which does nothing to prepare them for college-level work. How are we to remediate 3 or 4 completely missing years of high school instruction? The mind boggles.

Seriously, if you are looking for work (and strangely, we are hiring here in Wisconsin), look elsewhere. Anywhere but here. To quote the nasty maitre'd from Ferris Bueller, "I weep for the future."

Read the full article here.

"The Latest Lesson I learned at School" from TubaPlayingProf.

My spouse and I were in our hometown for a wedding—on the very weekend of Homecoming back at our alma mater. It’s been years since we were on campus.

The curse of age is nostalgia, yet confident that as college teachers we would not succumb to the pain one feels going “home,” we decided to spend a morning walking around the old place.

We couldn’t help ourselves, and we spent much of our time contrasting a place that we love to the place where we work. At least twice, I made the big mistake of wondering what it would be like to teach there.

We found worthwhile, clever, and interesting expansion—new buildings and renovations that reflect a campus with a thriving architecture department—that complements and enhances the old buildings we still love. Restaurants and cafes—one that promises “farm to table” meals—and coffee kiosks were busy. The parking solution that was implemented when we were in school is still in place, and although I hated it as a commuter, I see its value: all these people on campus, walking, sitting, etc, with no cars. On a campus in the middle of a small city, surrounded by busy streets, the quad was quiet except for the students sitting under the trees. We found students sitting and talking to each other everywhere, killing time outside the library and the massive student center. We checked out the library, and to our amazement, students were doing research, reading, and studying—in the freaking library—on a freaking Friday. The art building was old and funky as it has always seemed to be. Right next door and fitting in well, the new computer science building—a beautiful and impressive building—was filled with students working together; it looked like a picture on a college web page. And as we walked through, I counted at least four languages being spoken. I realized that I miss a truly diverse campus culture, with people of color and international students on campus—not merely in pictures on the web page of the sports teams. I must admit that I was overwhelmed by familiar accents and people who look like me. I could go on and on, but you understand my point.

Where we work, we knock buildings down; new is always better we seem to believe. Yet no one's here. Students are always moving from class to class, from class to car or dorm. This place is only slightly smaller than the alma mater, and the ratio of commuter-to-resident is identical; it shouldn’t be so noticeably different. Yet at this place, no one “hangs out.” The school spent nearly 400, 000 dollars recently on “common areas,” with steps, benches, landscaping, etc where teachers and students were to congregate and debate issues that people living the life of the mind wonder about. The one outside my building is on the other side of the building, the side no one uses: the squirrels have free range of the area. Traffic and parking are true nightmares; every few years, we try new patterns, pave new lots, but we can’t hide the busy and often dangerous highway that cuts through campus—because forty years ago no one here thought about the possible need to cross the street to add buildings. Fortunately, few people cross the street to go to the library, an empty, quiet place as no one is ever there—the feds should think about using our library as a hiding place for the witness-protection program. The only people hanging out and talking are the smokers who share a quick smoke then move on. Resident students evacuate every weekend—which for most of them begins early Thursday morning. The most impressive new building is the “university” bookstore—which is actually the latest store of a national chain that has a small section for university sweatshirts in the corner, but in all other aspects is just like every other store of that company. The most desirable dorm rooms are in structures that look like townhouses and hotels—as one student said, “it’s like you’re not on campus anymore.”

Where we work cannot buy or fashion or conjure what my alma mater has: 150 years of intelligent, deliberated planning and growth. It is a campus that invites. It is a school that knows what it is and what it wants to be. Most importantly it is a school that doesn’t want to be everything to everyone.

Here, for all our ambition, we’re still a young school desperate to be everything to everybody—and not doing that very well. Flagship University upstate will always be the measure, and we will never ever measure up. Hell, we can’t measure up to Flagship University—Big City Branch. No vague promises published on the web page can actually create a campus and a community. All the photos on the web page here are staged. I know most of the people in them; one snarky, grumbling bastard never smiled before or after taking the picture of him sitting under the one impressive tree on campus with his students who are strangely smiling back at him, clearly confused by his smile.

We shouldn’t highlight on our web page our bogus rankings in national publications that suggest we are good at what we do then promise that we’re working to be something different that we maintain is better. We shouldn’t argue that we must become a R1 school to receive more state money but work to become a state-assisted school, and no longer a state-supported one.

Where we teach we’re installing veneer on the fa├žade. Merely changing the campus doesn’t necessarily mean changing the culture.

After a long walk around campus, we headed to find the office of a former student now in graduate school at the alma mater. Awash with sentiment and longing, I recalled the sincere encouragement and support of the undergraduate faculty when I asked about graduate school; looking ahead, some favorite teachers wondered if I might not be the ideal replacement for the senior member in my chosen field, who was due to retire about the time I was to hit the job market. Unfortunately, he died before I was finished, and the department hired someone else.

Much to our delight, my student was in his office. It was great to catch up and talk about the school with some one attending it now.

And then I asked about the specialist in my field—a prominent scholar by most measures—the “someone else” who got the job that I once thought mine—the person that I must admit now remains the better choice for the position. My former student said, “He’s good; his new book is out, and it’s amazing. He’s disgruntled of course; he can’t get sabbatical, and he hasn’t gotten a raise in five years, but he’s good.”

So, yes, undeniably the alma mater isn’t perfect as we might want it to be. It has some of the same issues, problems, and I guess misery we all share here at CM, and it is struggling to fulfill its mission with less and less support from the state. But I can’t help feeling that it’s trying to remain true to itself despite all.

The recent posting here from the Tenured Racial blog has me thinking about the changes at the alma mater. Unlike the trend for “student recreation” and “luxury environment,” the old place seems to be designed for interaction. So much older than here, it seemed fresh and attractive—even though the money is going for academic buildings, not townhouse dorms and corporate bookstores. As we walked around, we kept feeling that the buildings and space were designed with the innovative notion that people would use them, want to be near them, and decades later want to return to take a look. It had changed as it should, yet not merely from trying to reinvent itself over and over.

Lana from Lawrence With a Friday Thirsty About Beer Night.

We all joke about being raging alcoholics. We all joke about needing it to get over our students. Well really maybe some of us are joking. I know I am, because I don’t drink. As a grad student I started to discover that this was a problem for me, and not one I was that willing to solve by starting drinking. I went to a decent school in a large dead north east industrial city for a masters degree and basically all social life was done in the bar a few blocks from school. In some part because it wasn’t a city you really wanted to wander around at night, drunk or sober.

The drinking culture was encouraged by my adviser who often bought the first couple of rounds but never stayed past that. I went to these things because they were fun and I don’t have trouble if other people drink. I’d get something non-alcoholic and stay as long as I liked. I didn’t think this was a problem except it marked me out from his crowd of people and at conferences I was … rarely invited to the bar to meet other professors the way my adviser’s other students were. That might be because my adviser and I always had a good professional relationship but I don’t think I was his idea of someone he’d hang out with. I suspect in part because I didn’t drink. Vicious circle there.

I am now at a top tier PhD program in my field, at a school you have all heard of, in a small town that is often described as having only one other thing to do besides studying underwater basket weaving or hamster fur weaving. Everyone here has a list of the best places in town to get “cheap beer.” I do socialize with my peers here too. I go and I just order something non-alcoholic and don’t make a big deal of it. If someone offers me something of the pitcher on the table I just smile and say I don’t drink but thank them.

Is there a better way to handle this? Am I making myself look like a raging alcoholic or alternating an uptight asshole? It’s simply a matter of preference. I don’t like the taste or the lack of control, and while I wasn’t an alcoholic one of my parents was and I see no appeal in the stuff at all. I do offer to drive people home if they are going to walk home drunk (I’ve never actually seen anyone I thought shouldn’t drive try). I don’t dwell on the matter, and if the subject of my lack of drinking comes up it usually is brought up by someone else with a “well that must be a real handicap here…” Luckily enough my PhD advisers aren’t part of the issue the way my Master’s adviser was.

I honestly enjoy “beer night” or “pub night” when I go. I don’t think that I’m judging anyone. I’d like to continue to be invited.

Q: Is drinking a requirement of these social settings? If you do not drink and do not wish to start, is there a better way of handling it? What did you think of your colleagues or grad students who didn’t drink in these kinds of social situations?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New required equipment for proffies

It's my least favorite time of year: the start of the second accelerated term. In the course schedule, a note should be added which reads, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Students are allowed to start signing up for this term at the same time as the others, thus guaranteeing that at least a couple will forget they even registered. I email them upon registering to give them the start and end dates for the class. I email them two weeks before the class begins to remind them, tell them how the class works, and give them book info so they can get their texts as inexpensively as possible. I tell them that it's an accelerated term, so they don't have time to mess around. They also get all the requisite information about taking the college orientation ASAP, doing mine sometime between the day before classes start and the due date of the first assignment, and needing to attend class the first week (being online, this means actually doing some work) to stay in the class. The day the class orientation opens, they get a detailed message telling them exactly what to do, including what steps to take if technical issues arise. If the first assignment draws near and I've seen nary a peep, they get another warning. Then I follow through and do what my college requires of me. By the time someone is dropped, that person has heard from me at least four and perhaps as many as six times.

This term, I've learned none of it is enough. Not only am I supposed to tell them repeatedly what to do, but I'm also supposed to have a crystal ball to read their intentions. I'm even supposed to know what they've allegedly done so I can tell them I can't see they've done it in the course. In the past 24 hours, here's some of the flava from the emails I've received. Details are altered slightly to protect the stupid:

Clueless Clara: HOW COULD YOU DROP ME????? I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do for the course. (See redundant detailed info above.) I need this course to graduate!!!!

Pissy Patrick: I don't understand why you dropped me cuz I did the orientation. (Student did no work at all after orientation and never even logged into the portion of the course that had the assignments in it.) I've been checking this course regularly since September (impossible since the materials weren't even posted until the beginning of October). This is your fault. You should have told me that my posts weren't showing up. (Course log says you did no work and didn't even check the work area.) I arranged my entire course schedule around this class. (It's an online class, and all your other classes are on campus. Not buying that one either.) Your a crappy teacher who doesn't care about students.

Transfer Tina: I am a full-time student at Sub-Par Private University. I need this class to graduate. I thought it didn't start till this week. (See all that crap I sent out above.) Could you please reinstate me?

Never Logged In Nathaniel: I see your class isn't on my list of courses anymore. I guess that means you dropped me. Why?

Perhaps this is all just a scheme to replace faculty with employees from the Psychic Friends Network. They would know the students meant to log in, they didn't read any of the course information, they meant to make posts, and above all, they MUST graduate in December. (I didn't even include several of those. I've always wondered how, if a student absolutely needed a course to graduate, that person wouldn't be extra conscientious about that class, contact the instructor before it began, and actually read the freakin' college calendar and course materials. Someone somewhere must be telling them that the magic G word is the ticket which gains re-entry to all courses.)

I'm teaching two of these accelerated classes. Following college policy and state law, I dropped 14 students to avoid being guilty of defrauding the great Southern State of Undervaluing Education's taxpayers (not to mention the rest of you Americans paying into the Pell program). These students have no comprehension of what it would mean to do one month's work on college-level material in one week while taking other classes, working, and doing whatever else is going on in their lives. On the plus side, at least my classes will be manageable and those who stayed have a decent chance of making it.

A Second Big Thirsty: "Have You Ever Seen a Bad Letter of Recommendation?" Peter in Pomona Postulates.

Am I off my rocker on this? I've never seen a bad letter of recommendation. I've never even whiffed one that I thought was coded to reveal a weakness in the candidate.

I've hired more than a half dozen English proffies over the past 17 years at a pleasant SLAC, and I have found that the rec letters are nearly useless to me and my committees. (And, please, I know this is just from one viewpoint, so I honestly wonder what others are seeing.)

All of the candidates love teaching. They all also have rich research potential. They all are among "the top 5% of grad students this mentor has ever taught!" (They're all above average drivers, of course.)

And when we meet these people, they end up being a mix of good and bad and average candidates. 

But surely my experience is limited. So, tell us about the bad rec letters you've seen.

- Peter in Pomona

Smackdown - It's what's for dinner (and breakfast, and lunch)

After a couple of feisty posts the past couple of days, and Gordo's request for glossary suggestions, I noticed that "Smackdown" isn't yet in the CM glossary.  So to rectify this lacuna, may I suggest:

Smackdown (n. slang)
  1. The time-honoured art of telling someone who richly deserves it that they are full of crap.
  2. The opposite of diplomacy
  3. An occupational hazard of posting on College Misery, because...
  4. It's what we do.
Comments, criticisms, revisions, and of course smackdown are all invited.

The Hound of the Basketballs Sends In This Week's Big Thirsty, And Shares Some Bad News.

First, the bad news: Last week I learned that my adjunct contract won't be renewed for the spring. After having a good cry and several stiff drinks, I have climbed back into the saddle of job-hunting. I am particularly proud of myself for resisting the urge to drive off one of the highway overpasses on my way home from the present Adjunct-Land.

Second, the Thirsty: I've been researching available adjunct teaching positions at online universities. I know, these are Not The Most Fun things to do, but at this point I need work. (I've also registered with our local temp agencies because it's more likely I'll find a job as a receptionist than as a college teacher, but that's neither here nor there.) The problem is that many of these jobs require prior experience with distance-learning software.

Q: How, exactly, do I get this experience if I'm just going into the online teaching world? Can I get trained to use this stuff someplace? Anybody got any ideas?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How Not to Run A Campus Visit

The recent post about search committees brought up something that I have thought about writing for my professional organization’s monthly publication (not the Chronicle since it’s not widely read in my discipline). I always thought that I’d want to write about how to not to run a campus visit. If you recognize me from my tales please don’t out me and I won’t out you. OK?

Rule 1: It’s not the candidate’s fault that the flight was delayed. Don’t plan a cross department dinner for an hour after the flight is scheduled to get in.

Rule 2: Always take the candidate to his or her hotel after arrival. This will give the candidate time to freshen up and drop his or her bags. Besides you don’t want some hoodlum breaking into your car to get at the candidate’s laptop bag anyway.

Rule 3: Respect time zones. If you happen to live on the Atlantic and you fly someone in from the Pacific don’t drop the candidate off at 10PM and expect that a 7AM pick-up will result in a well-rested and ready to perform candidate. For those of you who can’t do the math, the candidate will likely have to get up at 6AM which will be 3AM body time. If you can’t figure that out you don’t deserve the least qualified candidate in your stack. A similar rule is true if the coasts are switched.

Rule 4: Pay attention when you are driving. You don’t want your candidate to be late because you were in an accident.

Rule 5: If you are in an accident, leave a note. No one really wants to work with a dishonest colleague.

Rule 6: Arrange for some sort of fruit basket or snack to be in the hotel room. An apple costs like 50 cents and could save you candidate from a hunger headache in the night.

Rule 7: Send your candidate a rough schedule ahead of time so that he or she can plan for his or her needs.

Rule 8: Leave several small gaps in the schedule which could serve as bathroom breaks or stretch breaks.

Rule 9: Don’t schedule a 1 hour meeting with HR just because you don’t want to entertain the candidate while you all teach. There is only about 30 minutes of stuff that HR has to say.

Rule 10: Don’t use your candidate to push your agenda with the president/provost/dean.

Rule 11: Feed your candidate at times similar to when they might eat in their time zone or at least provide a snack near those times.

Rule 12: Put your candidate up in a decent hotel. It doesn’t have to be the Ritz but it shouldn’t be a Super 8 (unless that’s the nicest hotel in town).

Rule 13: If the hotel you choose doesn’t have a continental breakfast be sure to feed your candidate before the day begins.

Rule 14: Don’t leave your candidate alone with that creepy colleague.

Rule 15: Small talk is fine but don’t let your candidate in on all the sordid details of your life/family.

Rule 16: Don’t converse about things at dinner that the candidate has no way of contributing to. Talking about your colleague over in carpet weaving would be an example of this.

Rule 17: Enquiring about dietary restrictions beforehand is a good idea and when the candidate volunteers his or her dietary restrictions respect them. Red Lobster isn’t a good place to take someone with a serious shellfish allergy.

Rule 18: We all like going to hip, local restaurants on special occasions. But make sure you know where the restaurant is and you’ve made sure their menu has at least a few “normal” food options. After all, blue cheese crusted sheep’s testicles aren’t up everyone’s alley.

Rule 19: Don’t drink at dinner. Most candidates are advised not to by the infamous “they”. Don’t make your candidate feel pressured to drink or uncomfortable not drinking when the rest of the table is.

Any others I’m leaving out?

Nella in New England Wants Job Seekers to Give Themselves a Chance, and Give Her a Break.

Give me a break already with the job misery.

You don't know job misery until you run a search almost entirely on your own. Okay, so my colleagues are official members of the committee, but as the junior female of the group I somehow got all the clerical bullshit. I get to vet all the applications, sorting them into Yes, No, and Not in this Lifetime!

Our job ad - field unimportant - says clearly: "Letter, vita, writing sample, evidence of classroom excellence, and three job letters addressing teaching and dated this year must be sent as a single PDF file to We'vegotjobsandyoudont@XxxxxxxUniversity.EDU.

I am happy to tell you that I'm dying to hire someone. We desperately nead a new faculty member, and so I'm doing everything I can to be flexible. But here's what I normally find in my email inbox:

  • Long emails explaining that candidates letters are only available through a dossier service or direct from referees. "No" pile.
  • Emails with as many as 5 separate attachments, DOC files, TXT files, even a fucking JPG of a transcript and we didn't ask for that. "No" pile.
  • Job letters that talk about the candidates research first and sometimes teaching not at all. "No" pile.
  • Job letters with 2010 dates. One had a 2009 date. The explanation? The person had retired. "No" pile.
  • Emails asking me to further specify the above requirements for a single PDF file. One person wanted to know where he could find software for that. Well, open up Microsoft Word and use it. 
I, too, have been on the job market fairly recently, but do not have much sympathy for the complaints of jumping through the job hoops. We have a job, folks; it's your job to show us you want it. Start by following directions. Get it right, people, and then we'll talk.

- Nella in New England

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tenured Radical's Post at Chronicle

Tenured Radical has a blog post that is a terrifying and brilliant indictment of the state of education in the United States. She nails it. To the wall.

Respectful of complaints about reposting articles here, I'll share just the part that made me want to stand up and start cheering...but my kids are asleep so no yelling. Here's my favorite part of her manifesto:

"Committing to a full-time, stable, and well-paid faculty workforce at all levels of education. This is essential to any claim a campus or school has to nurturing education-as-democracy. Education leaders who support education-as-democracy (as opposed to education-as-commodity) will speak out against attempts to disinvest in faculty by manufacturing an ongoing fiscal crisis for education; austerity policies that suppress salaries and expand the contingent faculty and staff labor force; and the simultaneous, and apparently paradoxical, “necessity” for investing in actual space (vast buildings devoted mostly to student recreation and selling the university as a luxury environment), an expanded managerial force and a virtual (teaching through technology) future."

Read the full post here.

snowflake axioms

The first writing assignment of the year has shattered all my remaning illusions about the intelligence of my froshflakes. Even after an informal poll conducted in class last week revealed that over 90% of them think reality tv is "real", I held out some faint hope that they couldn't be *that* stupid.

They are.*

The (imposed) draft/comment/re-write/repeat structure of this particular assignment has meant that for days now, I've had to don a Hazmat suit to open my academic inbox. Even with judicious pasting of particular repeating comments, limiting exposure to two one-hour blocks a day, and a polite and firmly stated refusal to engage with any draft that doesn't follow the instructions, I have a wicked case of radiation poisoning, caused by exposure to a toxic soup of stupid, obliviousness, apathy, and entitlement.

Since it would be unwise to bitch on Facebook, I have other deadlines to meet that preclude self-medicating or hibernating, and laughter is a powerful antidote, would anyone care to join me in compiling a list of snowflake axioms?

When it comes to snowflake epistemology, what propositions do you consider to be self-evident?

To get the ball rolling, I submit:

My willingness to help you is directly proportional to your ability to spell my name correctly.

Thanks in advance for sharing the misery.

drunk in a midnight choir.

*Except for the 8% who can apply critical thinking skills to what they see on TV. Shockingly, they are the same students who can also apply critical thinking skills to the politics and praxis of hamster fur weaving.

now watch while I balance this ball on my nose!

A recent article in the Harvard Crimson boils down the reasons students check Facebook during lecture as follows:
  • Professor was just regurgitating the text; student became bored
  • Professor was not regurgitating the text; student lost the thread, became agitated
  • Student did not understand material; student became frustrated; paying closer attention apparently did not occur to student
  • Student's brain was full; student needed time to decompress
  • Student was on a tight schedule and "multitasked", presumably so as to save valuable beer-drinking time later
The (student, I'm assuming) author points out that it's not necessary for students to pay attention, really, because most of the information is available on the web anyway, and suggests that faculty can deal with this problem by remaining "constantly innovative" in order to "serve (student) needs better".

I'm sure their parents are delighted to kick in that $40,000+ per year so their kids can ignore lectures whose content they could apparently have got on the web for free. I cannot help but feel, myself, that the Facebook-checkers are not the students whose needs I feel most strongly compelled to serve.

Another Reason to GTFOut of Wisconsin

Two words: wage freeze.

This means that our next hope of any kind of a raise--even a cost of living adjustment--will come when I am 42. I will be 42, making less than $48K/year to teach a 4/4 load (most of it comp) and sit on god knows how many committees. [And in the meantime, the cost of EVERYTHING is going up. Including food, which is projected to rise 4%. Hooray. And let's not forget the increases in my contributions to my healthcare and pension.]

My OH is going to Chicago for a big meeting tonight. My hope is that within the next 8 months I will again be a resident. And believe it or not, that makes me sad--because I love my campus, my colleagues, and yes, my students. I fear that if I remain here, and have to watch this state slide down the toilet, I may end up self-medicating again, and I have a family to take care of now, so self-medicating's not really an option.

Seriously, if any of you have friends looking for jobs, steer them the fuck away from this state. It's headed for Arkansas. (See, I didn't attack Mississippi, which at least has a few things to recommend it. Arkansas, on the other hand...)

A VidShizzle That Leads Me To This Story.

As an old guy,
I'm occasionally asked
questions by students.

These rarely have anything to do with our class of course.

"What was it like before TV?"
"Did you know Richard Nixon?"

My favorite question lately has been
"What is the biggest change you've seen
in America?"

Actually asked to me by a reporter
at our crack paper.

"Smoking," I said.
"Everyone use to smoke.
Grocery stores, planes, libraries, churches.
Indoors. For pleasure.
I taught when half the class smoked.
Some sat by the window, but most didn't."

"What about the internet?" the reporter asked.
"9/11?" the photographer said, hopefully.

"Nope. Smoking."

They shake their heads like I'm pulling their legs.


From the NY Daily News:

A quirky political ad for Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has some people scratching their heads.

The video, hidden on the 2012 hopeful's YouTube page, features his chief of staff, Mark Block, tossing out a few lines to the camera then taking a drag from a cigarette.

"Mark Block here," he says, awkwardly, in the ad. "Since January, I've had the privilege of being the chief of staff to Herman Cain, and the chief operating officer of the Friends of Herman Cain."

The final moments feature Block taking a drag from a cigarette and blowing smoke at the camera. The music ends with a woman singing, "I am America."

Block dismissed criticism over his smoking.

"I'm not the only one that smokes in America for God's sake," he said on Fox News. "It was a choice I made and it was at the end of the ad. The real message that we're trying to get through was the Cain train is on a roll."
Full article.

An Early Thirsty From Carl From Coffeyville.

Q: Say I like to offer individual meetings to students, and these students sign up happily for the appointments. Say that in the past these meetings have worked well. Then say my current classes are showing up about 60% of the time, leaving me staring at my office wall for 15 minute chunks of time? Is blowing up the campus an overreaction? One colleague suggested I give my students points for showing up! Has the world changed? Are we in end times? Should I give up on offering personal help?

Monday, October 24, 2011

"I'm to blame..." From Will in Winston-Salem.

Full disclosure. I've snickered along with the rest at this page and others over the years as apoplectic proffies seemed to be unable to master the vexing snowflake barrage.

And then I started to look at my own students, the ones who I thought were angels in comparison.

And I was wrong. They get away with murder. They've pinned me in on policies until I've given up. I keep smiling, because that's sort of the person I am, but when I stand back and consider it all from afar, I'm an easy touch. I've let them win.

And it's not that they're masterminds or anything. I just didn't have enough spine. I'm to blame for what I've become.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Excuses I HAVE to accept.

Now that my diploma mill, I mean university, is so very student friendly and my dean is more concerned with customer service than education here are a list of excuses I had to accept so far this term per marching orders:

1. Their work schedule requires them to drive a lot. Really? They deliver BOXES for a living, they knew this before they enrolled. It never occurred to them that this might intefer with their class schedule?

2. I'm not being sensitive enough and I am coming across as mean. Ok I will give them that, but there is a good reason. I DON'T CARE. You know what I care about? Teaching this class, following university policy (whatever that happens to be this week). Let's be honest Deany Boy, if I came to you with a sob story about my sick hamster and how I couldn't come to class you would toss me out on my tooshie because I'm an adjunct and I'm expendable. Let's teach some real world expectations here. I will give extensions where warrented, and will even bend over and ask for another when they aren't warrented, but you CAN'T make me kiss their arse. Customer service is your thing. Teaching theory in hamster weaving for the masses is mine.

3. They dont understand the material. Of course they don't, they havent shown up to class in 3 weeks how could they. But SURE I will spend my weekend grading their late assignment so you can take their tuition.

Maybe your corner of hell is better than mine, I hope so. What excuses have you had your arm twisted to accept?

Shut the F*** up!

At the beginning of class the other day,

Student:  I heard we're behind.

Another student:  That's what I heard too!

Yet another student:  What really?!

Student replying:  Yeah, well I got the syllabus in front of me and it says we are supposed to be doing Quadratic Equations right now and we have just finished the laws of exponents!  How are we going to cram the rest of the topics together in rest of the semester!

And another student:  What is to become of those of us who are going on to A Real College Class in Algebra that Tends to Cause Ed Majors to Cry?

And another student:  Yeah!  Not fair to us.

Me:  If we take class time to discuss this, then we will be even more behind.

Student:  Wait, I'm confused!  Did you just admit that we are behind?

Me:  I am not going to take class time to discuss this.  I am in the process of modifying the syllabus and will pass out a modified schedule the next time we meet.  I am starting the lesson now.

Me:  Let's open our texts to section 12.3.  Polynomials are algebraic...

Student:  Excuse me Mr. EMH.  I would still like an answer to my question!!

Me:  I am continuing our lesson.  This section on polynomials talks about how to add...

Other student:  You didn't answer his question.

And another student:  I can't hear the lesson because of all the complaining.  Can you please start over?

Me:  This is everyone's warning.  Continuing to interrupt the lesson is disruptive.  The next person who disrupts class will be sent home with no credit for the day.  Stuff is still on the test, even if it doesn't get covered.


My God?  A few weeks ago, these same people also complained that we were going too fast!  They had such difficulty understanding things, that I think I watered the material down too much.

What am I going to do?  And who told them we were behind?  Maybe that one student who actually read the syllabus?
A scientific study of a problem well known to us all: the dead grandma.

strawberry sundae thirsty

Anybody ever removed a student from a class for a good reason? ... but not the student's fault, and not your own fault... just some peculiar awkward reason you couldn't easily discuss... and it was in everybody's best interest for you to remove the student from the roll/roster.......? (Could I be any more vague?)

Q. How did you handle it?

A. ________
(Please share....)

Miserable Adjunct Send This In...

by Zack Weiner

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Complaining About Students Online

Profhacker has a post up warning about the dangers of complaining about students online. I'm a bit surprised (but pleased) to see that several comments point out that there might be some value to students seeing such complaints, including the possibility that it might help students "realize how ubiquitous (and therefore) legitimate those complaints are." So far, however, noone seems to have hit on the alternative of posting such complaints in a pseudonymous forum. I'd suggest it, but Cassandra doesn't have a Disqus account.

Late to the Finish Line (a Weekend Thirsty)

Weekend Thirsty!
I am trying so hard to make my algebra class as comprehendable as possible.  This means finding a balance between going too fast vs watering everything down worse than a bad Long Island. 

Q:  Have you ever been unable to cover all of your course topics?

A:  Share 'yer mizry!

"Why Do I Send Email Reminders if the Students Don't Fucking Read Them Anyway?" Keith From Kansas Joins the Party Late.

After my last class of the week, I often send a reminder email to all of my students. It's nothing breathtaking; it's just the most basic list of things that are going on in our next week of classes. I find it provides easy access to them for email replies if they have questions. Not many do that, of course, but one did today.

The email I sent:
As a reminder, next Tuesday we're going to discuss pages 320-349 of the Xxxxx textbook. And on Thursday we'll work in small groups on part 4 of the semester-long research project.

The email I got back:
Hi Dr. Keith. I don't think you told us in class what we're going to read next week. I've lost my syllabus. Could you send me the pages? And I also was wondering when we're going to work in groups again on the project. Thanks!

>From: Dr. Keith
>Sent: Friday, October 21, 2011 1:34 PM
>To: Xxxxxx, Section 190
>Subject: Next week's Reminder for Dr. Keith's class.
>As a reminder, next Tuesday we're going to discuss pages 
>320-349 of the Xxxxx textbook. And on Thursday we'll 
>work in small groups on part 4 of the semester-long 
>research project.