Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quitters Never Win

It never ceases to amaze me how easily students give up if something is even the tiniest bit hard. I just started an accelerated online class in modern British hamster novels. I have lost three students already for the following reasons:

1. Plagiarizing Petra did her first post on French literature, forgetting which class she was taking. Petra is one of those famous international students we were just talking about. Her sentences with nearly incoherent structure were interspersed with perfectly formed ideas not on the the assigned topic. Dr. Google and I readily located her sources, so I told her she was getting a zero on the first assignment and needed to do her own work and follow directions. She then proceeded to redo the assignment, tell me she "miss understood" what she was supposed to do, and begged me to give her another chance. I told her she'd already gotten a break because by my school's standards, I could have given her an F and filed an academic dishonesty report. Instead of sucking it up, taking responsibility for her actions, and getting on with the class, she dropped. I'm sure she's out on The Site that Shall Not Be Named now looking for the proffie who's "international student friendly."

2. Whiny Wendell was having trouble with the first assignment, which was due two days before he emailed me to tell me so. He decided to inform me of this on a Friday night at 8:00 p.m. Even proffies have a life and sometimes go out on weekend nights. When I checked my mail this afternoon, Wendell had flounced because a whole 16 hours had passed and I hadn't responded. Buh-bye, Wendell.

3. Sullen Stacy informed the class in her introduction that she's here because she has to be even though I specifically told students to think about the question "Why are you enrolled in this class?" in terms of what benefit it might bring to them personally, professionally, or educationally and they should NOT say "I'm only here because I have to be." I don't care if they are lying through their teeth; I want them to at least demonstrate that they're capable of thinking about why a course might be required so they have a chance of getting something out of it. Stacy also hates to read and sees no reason why she as a business major would ever use English. She had no problem denigrating my field and my class on our discussion board. When I publicly but politely told Stacy she should look for the positive since we have nine more weeks together and it would be much easier if she tried to look for the benefits of having the opportunity to improve her reading, writing, and analytical skills, she sent me a note saying I had "humiliated" her in front of the class, so she was leaving. I'd hate to see what happens the first time one of Stacy's customers is unhappy.

Those are just the three I have confirmed. Tonight I emailed four more who have yet to do one lick of work for the course. If they don't turn in something by Monday, I'll get rid of them myself as I refuse to lie to the state about their attendance in my class. At least one will then tell me how unfair I am, threaten to file a complaint, or outright insult me. The nerve of me to have course requirements and expect students to meet them--what am I thinking? The administration will back me up in terms of keeping them out of class but won't do a thing about the disrespect.

I'm so glad I have two other sections of mostly good students who seem happy to be there and are really trying even if they're not always succeeding. But for the others who gave up before they even had a chance to get started, the big L above is for you. It's the one thing you earned.


  1. "I'd hate to see what happens the first time one of Stacy's customers is unhappy."

    She will give a fake smile, apologize, and swap the regular fries for a large.

  2. > It never ceases to amaze me how easily students
    > give up if something is even the tiniest bit hard.

    Ah, but with plagiarism and other dysfunctional behavior, this can make things easier. It reminds me of a line from "The Seven Percent Solution," where Watson, while tricking Holmes to get treatment for his cocaine addiction, did nothing to stop it, noting that, "I was curiously dependent on it."

    > "I'm only here because I have to be."

    My snappy comeback to that one is: "You have a variety of similar classes to take, so why this one?"

    1. You don't want to know the answer to that question, either. It will never be what you want to hear. What you WILL hear is:

      1) It fit my schedule.
      2) My boyfriend is taking this class.
      3) I won't take any class that starts before noon.
      4) The voices told me to.

      Or other variants of the above.

      It's best not to know why they are there, and just deal with the fact that they are.

    2. (1) Astronomy fit my schedule? Then why do I have to explain so often that since I can't make the Sun set any earlier or later, labs must be at the times they are?

      (2) If he's a good student, why don't you just send him, then?

      (3) As an astronomer, neither will I.

      (4) OK, I'll admit, this is a good one...

    3. > As an astronomer, neither will I.

      Whenever serving as Chair of the physics department, I inevitably get scheduled for 8 a.m. meetings. I am always there, and after having been up all night, so I am looking and feeling my best. It makes the meeting go better, too: I am so much less tolerant of nonsense, particularly admin nonsense.

    4. Admittedly also, the comeback should be:

      "You have a variety of similar classes to take."

      I agree, it's not advisable to invite a dialogue with such a limited mind.

    5. That was also part of my reply, Froderick. Our core has a "general humanities" requirement which can be filled with any number of classes: world civ, foreign language that requires enough skill to be able to read well in it, art history, various ethnic studies classes, and even a huge number of other lit classes. Since the class is online, "it fits my schedule" doesn't even work as we offer several online courses, all of which fill up at about the same rate.

      I guess I am still hopeful enough to believe if I ask them this up front, they do have to actually start thinking about their education in a little different way. Some actually have told me at the end of the term that their mindset changed during the course as they started seeing connections to other classes and understanding how the material fit in with things they saw in real life. If I can plant that seed on Day One, it might grow into something students didn't expect. Even if works on just a couple, that's better than none.

  3. > At least one will then tell me how unfair I am,
    > threaten to file a complaint, or outright
    > insult me.

    One of the best things about tenure is that it gives me the ability to say, "MUAA-HA-HA!! Your shrieks are music to my ears!" I do so in a manner that would make any mad scientist proud.

    1. Yes, I do have tenure, but as my system is considering eliminating it as a "cost savings measure" and our governing body has members who see tenure as bullet-proofing faculty from anything short of being caught on video having sex with a minor and a farm animal while also stealing from the college till, I tend not to flaunt it.

  4. "I'm only here because I have to be."

    Pretty much sums up every gen ed I had to take. I side with the student on this one. "having the opportunity to improve her reading, writing, and analytical skills" can be read as publicly saying her reading, writing, and analytical skills are sub par. It's her choice to give a shit about your class or not. Stop trying to force it with ego-building gems like "I don't care if they are lying through their teeth"

    1. The problem here is that engineers who don't take their general-ed seriously tend to design ugly things that customers don't buy. You will therefore be stuck in a cubicle by the time you're 25, and your job will be shipped overseas by the time you're 30, and I will be laughing at you, when it happens. I do -not- like putting the power of a STEM education into the hands of a knuckle-dragger who doesn't understand people, and never will: one is just as ineffective at their job as a physician who is a mechanic, and nothing more.

    2. Frod, do you have data to back up your claim? In most of the world, an engineering degree requires no college-level humanities classes. Are engineered products in the US noticeably less ugly than those from, say, France?

    3. Students in France, the UK, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe get a more extensive background in the humanities before they even enter university.

    4. Do you have any evidence for this? I've looked into French and British secondary education, and it doesn't look like they have more humanities preparation in high school than US students. In fact, they may have less because they start specializing even before college. Certainly, they don't get a US college-level humanities education, with close reading and citation of journal articles.

    5. I have two words for those who think liberal arts are irrelevant to good work in engineering, technology, etc: Steve Jobs.

    6. Oops, I see that was covered in the previous post's thread.

      I keep forgetting that arguing with an entitled and clueless undergrad is like talking to a brick.

    7. Steve Jobs seems to be a data point supporting a lack of education, not a Liberal Arts education. How do you think his story creates relevancy for Liberal Arts?

      I don't think a rank-and-file engineer employed as a CAD operator needs a liberal arts background, any more than I think a plumber needs a business background, or a politician needs an understanding of algebra. However, to rise above tracing curves and swinging slide-rules requires_something_ more. That something can be found in a variety of places, as a camp counselor at a summer camp, at an internship that asked questions harder than "Is the coffee fresh?", at the national convention of some-such-youth-organization, or in the mind-stretching that comes from getting the joke in 17th century bawdy poetry or creating your own alliterative kennings for a norse poetry assignment.

      However, that _something_ is not guaranteed to be found in any of these places. On the student side, our resident engineering troll is never going to find his _something_ in a class he only attends because he has to, be they liberal arts or STEM. And, like any engineer, unless he does find something beyond being a tool-operator, then when the tools he knows become outdated, he'll be stuck in a job waiting to be phased out. Unless he can program FORTRAN, in which case he'll always have a job.

      The bottom line, and this applies in STEM and out of STEM, is that the workers of the world are either tool users or tool makers. Good tool users will always be in demand, and will be able to sustain long careers as long as they are willing to train on the latest tools, but they will always be operators, depending on someone else to make the things they use to do their jobs. Tool makers are the problem solvers, the creative thinkers, who can take what they have learned and apply it in new areas that require new solutions and new tools.

      Liberal Arts, when taught (and learned) well, does a good job of forming tool makers. But it is neither a guarantee nor does it have a monopoly.

  5. The college is willing to back you up in keeping those students out of your class. It sounds like the administrators at your school actually mean what they say. Or, you have tenure. Either way, you have something I've never had.

  6. Sounds about right. I get a few of these each quarter who drop out for no real reason beyond their own egos telling them they shouldn't try something they haven't already mastered, and if they have to work for it, then it's not something they need to master. They are deathly afraid of being told they're not good at something because no one has ever made them do something they couldn't succeed at. The fact that they think that having to read a book and write a response or reaction is so hard shows how unprepared for college they truly are.

    As far as people not thinking General Ed courses are important, in spite of needing to master content beyond one's major, they're also a really good lesson in how to open one's mind beyond a myopic focus to be curious about the universe and life. Moreover, while I hated doing some of the Gen Ed courses, they taught me discipline and endurance of something I didn't always appreciate at first, but came to appreciate later on.

    I was also mature enough to know that not everything was about me, and the professor might also have an ego that I might not want to threaten. But students who answer that they have to take a class because it's required simply show their limited intelligence and inability to be flexible about their own egos. They show how their minds haven't developed beyond the world revolving around them and that they're spoiled and entitled enough to believe it should continue that way. Sometimes they think they're being funny, at the expense of their own imagination. I hate those students. They might as well drop out of college now because they're going to go through life expecting everyone to cater to their whims and desires.

  7. Re Sullen Stacy: It's the old life rule they don't teach in school. If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.

  8. Politicians don't need algebra? What if they have a problem that needs solving in their every day life??

    People need gen eds beyond their job training because they have lives outside of their jobs. The crazy single-minded focus that says that college should ONLY be about making yourself into a better worker is, I think, quite sad and shortsighted.


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