Tuesday, April 24, 2012

RYS Flashback. Six Years Ago.

Someone Is Worried About the Future of America 

I try very hard to accept the modern student. I've been teaching for almost 30 years now, and still remember the halcyon days when students actually dressed for class, when they arrived on time, and took part in class actively. These notions are apparently completely outside the bounds of what the modern student thinks to be civil or possible, so we get what we get. And I've modified my teaching in all the ways I've been told I must. I offer entertaining classes. I challenge them less. I hand out grades like they were Halloween candy; students get them for just ringing the bell.

But last week's 3 pm Business Communications class about did me in.
  • B walked in carrying a Sports Illustrated and a muffin, but no paper, pen, or textbook. 
  • C took her shoes off as soon as she got into the room and put her bare feet up on a neighboring desk. 
  • D, and this was not unusual, arrived in "pajama" bottoms with Spongebob Squarepants all over them. 
  • In the middle of class, E wondered if we might go outside and sit on the grass because it would help her "concentrate better." 
  • F said, apropos of nothing going on in class, "Man, those Chinese are really getting powerful." 
  • G laughed out loud once during my lecture, and when I peered over to see what had happened, saw a wide open newspaper on his desk. 
I'm not saying that this is typical, or that the modern student has doomed us all, but is there anyone out there being successful in getting students to take class seriously? It seems that the only time I can get my students' attention is when I holler "midterm exam" or "final exam." And even then it takes a bad grade to get them motivated and willing at least to argue about that.

Some of these students are seniors, presumably on the cusp of entering the world, being in charge, taking over, leading whatever will be the future of the country. Am I the only one worried?


  1. You better nip the newspaper b.s. in the budd before the evaluator comes to your class.

  2. Call on B relentlessly, asking for evidence from the textbook. Walk by and casually knock C's feet off the desk. Hand D a cup of coffee and a bagel. Tell E she is free to go outside by herself to concentrate. Deliver a karate chop right into F's solar plexus and say, "Yes indeed." Pick up G's newspaper and read aloud from it for a few minutes for the entertainment of all.

    We can always dream, can't we?

  3. This inspired me to compile my own list:

    *Jane wore giant, smeary-lensed sunglasses that made her look like a drunken bug (in our classroom w/no windows/sunshine and hello, we're inside) AND chomped her way through a greasy bag of Mickey D's
    *Peter said, "Wait, citations? We're still doing that? Why are we still doing that?"
    *Scott fell asleep and was out so soundly I honestly kind of thought he might be dead
    *Lisa came in 30 minutes late and left the room twice to take calls on her cell phone

    Honestly, though, none of these holds a candle to "Man, those Chinese are really getting powerful."

  4. You are not the only one worried, because this is too typical. The good students, who can read, write, and think at the level of university students, are in the minority: often, it seems like none are left.

  5. When I recently recounted something similar to a colleague (who is not a professor, btw), his response: "Why do you professors allow students to behave this way?"

    1. I don't, but it's only possible because I have tenure and seniority, and more than a few of the darlings run crying to my department chair whenever I tell them to stop texting. It also seems like all of them are texting all the time these days: but at least I can and do grade appropriately.

      Tell your colleague that the majority of college instructors today are contingent, depend critically on whether they can keep their "customers" happy, and can be dismissed for no reason at all merely by being "not rehired" for the next term. "Corrupt" is not too strong of a word to describe what higher ed has become.

    2. Because it's just exhausting to take a stand against that kind of behavior. And because other TAs and professors do nothing but undermine those who actually have standards.

      I remember taking a hard line in my first years as a TA. I locked the door after taking attendance. I chewed students out when they tried to sleep in class. When texting became "a thing," I called out anyone who was texting and told them to put their phones away. (They did.) In other words: I expected of my students the same things that my professors expected of us.

      Now that kind of behavior, as others have mentioned, is so normalized that taking a stand against it would require nothing but constant surveillance.

      But more than that, I don't really stand up to it anymore because no one else does. Who the hell wants to be the lone voice in the desert? TA Suzy allows her students to eat and drink and come in late and turn in assignments a week late without penalty. TA John cancels class every Friday and lets people post on the message board instead. Worse still, Tenure-track Tilly, the new and excited Ivy-educated professor who's constantly auditioning for an award, is AMAZING: she lets her students make "plot maps" rather than write papers.

      And as the job market draws nearer, I just need evaluations that say I'm amazing too.

  6. And in the intervening six years, the Chinese have gotten more powerful, and we're getting closer and closer to a time when students not only won't bring newspapers to class, they'll ask "newspaper? what's a newspaper?" -- but will still want to use the online version of USA Today as a "scholarly source."

  7. Shoes off. Luckily I have a crippling foot fetish, so when it happens I just pull up a chair right next to the offending party, and take a good look!

    (That's a joke. I'm high on erasable markers after a marathon final exam review session.)

  8. FF: Precisely right. I correct abhorrent classroom behaviors as much as possible, but considering my low spot on the faculty totem pole, there are certain constraints I am always aware of. I try to focus more on their work and participation, not the fact that they are texting or talking amongst themselves incessantly or chowing on pretzels or whatever--the sad truth is that many of these behaviors are normalized at this point and truly difficult to eradicate/improve. At least twice a semester, however, when I can't take it anymore, I will invite the offending student to take their disruptive behavior and move it out into the hall, so the rest of us can concentrate on our work. When I do this, the students are mildly shocked and immediately knock it off--at least for a week or two, until the whole cycle begins anew.

  9. I'm currently having a lot of success with student-driven knowledge, where they are required to learn and present material and then test on their classmates' presentations. The nerves of speaking in class encourage them to do a good job (I make each person contribute to a presentation) and the quiz afterwards makes them pay attention.

    Of course, you can't do this every period, but it's been working for me lately.


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