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.


  1. How can we properly give you moral support and/or mock you when you don't give us specifics?

  2. Will, do not dispare. Keep enforcing your current rules, no matter how much you feel they pander to students' unreasonable demands. In a few years, the students will be worse in every way. You, with your lax 2012 rules and policies, will appear to them as a mean ol' ogre of a professor.

  3. Thank you for owning up to this. I wish more of my colleagues were able to admit that they are the reason students expect ME to also alter policies and continue smiling at them when they give me shit.

  4. Sorry Nathaniel. I meant to say that I've discovered that students have pinned me in on policies, encouraged me to soften them mostly, be more flexible, accept more excuses. And despite my keen sense that this was wrong, I did anyway, acting like an easy touch. I'm to blame for what has happened.

    I think I might have thought my students weren't really working me. I can always call "bullshit" when I see someone else have this problem, but I couldn't see it when it happened to me.

  5. It's not too late, Will. This year for the first time in ages I decided to stop pretending to myself or my students that attendance didn't matter. So I told them all they could skip two classes for free but after that it came off their participation grade (whose percentage I increased). To my astonishment, only 2 students have missed more than two classes; and they're only 1 class over the line. I've had nearly 100% attendance all term. I had no idea.

    As for "excuses I've accepted" - any excuse is a good excuse in context; the thing is to make sure it doesn't become a get out of jail for the rest of term card. So any student that comes to me with an I was sick/ I was depressed/ my girlfriend dumped me/ my best friend was in a car crash/ I had to move and lost all my notes/ my landlord didn't fix the flood in the apartment for 3 weeks excuse - fine. They're all fine. But they don't get a "whenever you can get it in then" response. They get a "let's look at the calendar, okay, let's say next Monday; you have until then" response. So they've still got a deadline. Also, without documentation I still deduct marks for lateness.

  6. What MA said. It's not too late. And by recognizing it, you've taken a step few ever take. I, for one, salute you! You've inspired me to bite the bullet and respond to this student who asked how important it is that she "know all the readings" for the midterm.

  7. Oh, 8 years after tenure and 1 year after Full I am that mean ogre. Grades on late papers go down 1 full grade per calendar day unless there is documentation of the sort approved by the college. After 5 days I will not comment on them; they just get an F so my grading burden and that of my TAs isn't spread out all over the calendar. Late papers with an excuse get the number of days the excuse covers to get it in. I don't take attendance; instead I do random Scantron reading quizzes (drop 1, but no makeups) and daily in-class writing assignments, the latter graded pass/fail (drop 2, but no makeups). And you know what? Students, bless their little hearts, thank me for "keeping them on track." Not my job; I'm just looking out for my own sanity and control over my time.

  8. Whoops, that should be "Bearers of late papers with an excuse."

  9. Lex, I'd be tempted to answer that by saying: "How important it is will depend on how important a good grade is to you. If you don't care about failing, then it's not important at all; if you want a good grade, it's essential."

    I agree with Merely Academic about dealing with excuses in context, and not allowing them to become all-purpose excuses for every subsequent problem.

    Part of the context also includes exactly who the student is. I don't mean what race or ethnicity they are, or whether they're male or female, or whether they're hot or not. I'm talking about how they are in your class. Much as we tend to promote an idea of perfect equity, and insist that all students should be treated exactly the same, the fact is that we also take student credibility into account when evaluating their excuse. Or at least I do.

    If two students come to me and ask me to bend my rules and provide an extension for a deadline, I'm going to be more likely to listen sympathetically to the student who has been turning up every week, doing all the reading, and participating intelligently in class discussions. The student who has missed one-third of the class meetings, and who spends the whole period when he's present sitting at the back of the room posting to Facebook on his computer, might not get the same consideration.

    The rules are the same for everyone, but whether to bend them or not is at my discretion, and that discretion will depend, at least in part, on whether the student has built up some credibility over the course of the semester.

  10. Well, thanks for coming clean Will.

    Would you please stand still so I can smack you upside the head now?

    I just got a forwarded EMail from a classwide message sent by a student to his classmates (apparently unaware that selecting "Send to Class" in a LMS automatically copies the instructor to the message!)

    The diatribe was overflowing with "Is anyone else upset with the grades you're getting from Scared?", "I totally disagree with the feedback I get from Scared," "To guide my assignments, I asked for examples of Scared's published work -- which every other instructor has quickly provided -- and Scared cried to the dean who then asked me to explain my request", yadda, yadda.

    (I'm not exaggerating for effect. The student repeatedly referred to me by last name only.)

    You give your students a portfolio of your work so they can match your professional writing style on their schoolwork?

    You're the one who gives out the 4.0 for showing up?

    You think a student who was supposed to write about how he would appropriately practice Hamster Fur Weaving but instead penned a screed about how Hamster Fur Weavers are egomaniacal bullies hellbent on superimposing their products on others deserves a perfect score on the assignment?

    You're the one who answers their EMails 24/7/365 so when I take a couple of hours to respond I get panicked calls wondering why I haven't replied yet.

    You sir, are a fuckwad!

  11. Yo Will, here's the way to think about it: cultivate a sense of orneryness. You want to change this, right? Good news: you actually have the high ground. It's called fairness and high expectations. You have policies for a reason, and you have to apply them equally. Students might not like that but some will respect it. The ones that don't can bite me.

    See what I did there? I viewed adherence to meaningful policies as a principled stand. It is. Then, when a hypothetical student objected, I flashed a cantankerous attitiude. Stand firm, open a fresh can of whupass on them, and deliver with a whiff of amusement. FTW!

  12. @A&S

    Your comment is clearly against the rules of the blog. You're doing your utmost to drive someone off the page and I think it's bullshit.

    "You're the one!" Oh, please. Break the tablets in half.

  13. I agree with Reg! Aware and Scared needs to calm the frig down and stop attacking people. I hope Gordo the Great pulls that post.

  14. Beat down the students, not each other.

  15. No, folks, I am with A&S. This kind of behavior is more than just spineless: it's educational malpractice by culpable negligence. I wish Will would find a backbone or some integrity, and start running his classes like an adult, or even better, like a professional: his not doing so makes it harder for the rest of us.

    Will richly deserves to be called a fuckwad, because that's exactly what he is. I -SO- wish he would STOP IT, both for his students' sakes, and for mine.

  16. Hey, why don't we take him out back and kick the shit out of him?

    Frod and A&S are way way out of line. The guy has realized his mistake. I would think we've all misjudged students at some point, and got taken in.

    The righteous indignation that is flashing here is almost comical.

    When a student of mine tells me that he/she got away with murder in some other class, it doesn't affect me one bit. I just say, "Well, not here," and that's it.

    Of course Will already knows his mistake. I can't think that calling him a fuckwad is going to do anything to ensure that he does better merely for Frod and A&S's sake.

    Will, you've been gamed by some students. They're good at it. Now you know. That's the end of the lesson. Good luck.

  17. I was going to say I made a mistake once...but never mind...

  18. Thanks for the encouragement, folks. I raised the issue because I was surprised I'd been duped and I'm going to fix things.

    I didn't expect the place to have a couple of unfriendly curmudgeons. A colleague told me that College Misery was a great place to vent, but if Aware and Scared and Frankenstein are just going to tee off on me for admitting I've made a mistake, then it's just not a place I need to hang out in.

    Support each other, people.

  19. Oh Will, Relax! And welcome to the Misery.

    What did you expect - that we'd kill a fatted calf? That old story about George Washington admitting to his father that he chopped down the Cherry tree (or was it apple? prune?.. whatever) is probably just a myth. By your own statement, you caused a fair chunk of the misery. Some have offered concrete suggestions for doing better. Some have dished out the smackdown. Sack up and face the music.

    We support each other - but sometimes we do that by telling it like it is. (You didn't expect the place to have a couple of unfriendly curmudgeons? Have you even been reading this site? The misery exists so we can unleash our inner curmudgeons from time to time). If we call bullshit on someone else, it's still bullshit when one of 'us' does the same thing.

    Look at it this way. If a student says "Gee, I realize now how badly I screwed up that essay on hamster husbandry," you can help him do better next time, but still agree that he screwed up. You don't suddenly change his grade to an A and give him a gold star.

    And if you do, then you haven't changed as much as you claim.

  20. I don't think Will is this person:

  21. Shame on Frod especially, who, if you remember, left this page for many months because of his thin skin.

  22. Interesting how the indignation is righteous when it confirms one's own sensibilities!

    Will, I do apologize that I was sharp to you personally. However, your presentation was of an archetype which raises ire and consternation in us all. And, unfortunately, your post happened to coincide with a particularly unpleasant student display of "you're a mean professor" theater -- the content of which the rightfully indignant chorus seemed to skip over entirely.

    @ Prickly, Bella, Reg - so smackdown is appropriate when YOU deliver it?

    Trying to push someone off the page? Seriously?
    If a little vented spleen is all it takes to accomplish that, I'd be wondering how the proffie survives evaluation season ... or a classroom?

    Of course we all suspect that the howls of "I've never gotten lower than a 4.0" or "No instructor has ever criticized my work" are BS. But they keep coming. There must be some success being had with this tactic or it should have died off by now.

    The chestnut "No one complains when they pass" does exist for a reason.

    Again, Will I am sorry for making it personal. But there are proffies out there who avoid confrontation (and pad their evaluations) by only telling the students what they want to hear -- and that needs to freaking stop.

  23. Oh, I didn't read A&S and Frod's stuff that way. Calm down, peeps.

  24. I'm with Pablo. I can't think of a better form of discourse than calling each other fuckwads.

    Keep it up. And I'll see you all over at the Chronicle Forums when this sad place finally loses its last desperate readers.

    Three, now, right?

    You will be pleased to get out of here and enjoy professional posting and comments befitting our roles as college academics.

  25. Maybe I'm missing something, but I read any comment that ends with a phrase comically mixing archaic language and up-to-the-minute playground insults -- "You sir, are a fuckwad!" -- as incorporating a certain degree of hyperbole, and a sense of humor.

    Just as I assume that noone has called in the bomb threat from this post.

  26. Hang in there, Will. I get exhausted and give in too now and then. All we can do is pick ourselves up and try again.

  27. Yeah, I didn't wanna say the word satire, at the risk of being yet again a boring literary critic as befits my role as a college academic.


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