Saturday, August 11, 2012

Five Students You'll Meet as a Professor

Hello.  I'm new.  I don't know how to do fancy blurry graphics things yet, or how to get my little chili pepper to wear a mortarboard (heh, heheh), or what exactly this devil-machine is that I'm typing on.  Hopefully I'll figure it out at some point.  But in light of the recent post about the professors our students meet in college, I thought I'd return the favor and write a little introduction to five kinds of students one meets as a professor.  The list isn't exhaustive, certainly, and use of gendered pronouns shouldn't indicate that these taxa are limited to particular genders, only that I get tired of pluralizing everything.


The Consumer: 
She's here to get what she (or her parents) paid for, and that's a piece of paper. She'll tell you this, unabashed and unashamed, if you ask, and wonder what else anyone would ever go to college for. She wants a good job. That's all. And you're her employee; your job is to serve up the double-latte half-caf skim, and be quick about it.
Favorite Question: "When will I ever use this?"
Common Quotation: "I pay for your salary."
Professor's Internal Response: "Then I demand a raise."

The Grubber: 
He wants half credit. Quarter credit? How about a sixth of a point? I mean, yes, the answer was wrong, but it wasn't wrong wrong. You asked for the river that bisects Egypt. The Amazon is a river, and it's in Africa. It's not in Africa? Well, it's a river. This student will wring every precious point out of every question, essay, or quiz. And be very afraid of participation points, because this student keeps meticulous records. He can tell you that he spoke seven times last week. That's four more than he had to!
Favorite Question: "Is there extra credit?"
Common Quotation: "You should grade on a curve."
Professor's Internal Response: "I'm not sure you know what that means."

The Socialite: 
She's on the cell phone, texting, checking Facebook. Nothing is as important as what her friends are doing, even though she hasn't seen some of them in the flesh for two years and some of them she actively disliked when she was in high school. Now they're besties! In fact, if she doesn't ignore you, she wants to be your BFF too! The upside, you might get cookies. The downside, she might be a nutter (see the Nutter) in disguise. She is out and about every weekend, and weekends start on Thursday. If your class meets on Friday, you might as well grade attendance now and give her an F.
Favorite Question: "Huh?"
Common Quotation: "I didn't get around to reading."
Professor's Internal Response: "I was drunk on cheap red wine, and I got around to grading."

The Nutter:
 These come in several flavors, including the political, religious, and just plain bonkers. No matter what kind of flavor, they dominate class discussion, make you lecture with one finger on security's speed dial on your phone, and generally make your life a stranger place and your job much more exciting. Will they snap? Should you call counseling services about that common about cannibalism, or were they just trying for humor? You can tell this student is truly nuts because other students began approaching you asking you to do something, as if you can wave a wand and make someone sane. They do, at least, give you practice in your "Hmm, interesting idea -- let's move on" face. And the people at counseling services are very, very nice -- and totally helpless.
Favorite Question: "Do your toes ever itch so badly you want to gnaw them off?"
Common Quotation: "We should just build a giant fence and then fill it with water so we could boil all the criminals for soup."
Professor's Internal Response: "God, I hope you're in therapy of some kind."

The Offended:
 How dare you? You criticized his writing. You graded his work. You assessed his learning. What gives you the right? Often, this student has gotten by on bluster and raised voices, and so that makes them quite easy to deal with unless you are small in stature, quiet and meek by nature, or easily enraged yourself. Sometimes, this student will try to bend your criticism into a racial or sexist or heterosexist accusation, usually with absolutely no basis at all: gay, white, straight, black -- doesn't matter. You must hate everyone like this student if you gave him a B or failed him for plagiarism.
Favorite Question: "Why is this wrong?" [Accompanied with a stabbing finger at a clearly wrong answer]
Favorite Quotation: "I always got A's in high school."
Professor's Internal Response: "Then go back."


  1. I've seen all five of these... and I'm a student. Although as crazy as the nutters are, they're definitely the ones I remember even after the class is over.

  2. Last term my Nutter started snapping his finger at me when I let someone else answer a question.

  3. This is a work of beauty. Stick around, please. (praying that I only get the socialites and consumers this term and few nutters and offenderandi)

  4. I recognized each and every one of these students far more readily than I recognized any of the professors from the original post. Well done! Or do I mean "well observed"?

  5. The Interested, Enthusiastic, Competent Student:
    Critically endangered, nearly extinct in some areas.

    Favorite Question: Anything thoughtful and intelligent, and particularly not, "Is this going to be on the test?"

    Favorite Quotation: Anything thoughtful and intelligent.

    Professor's Internal Response: "Why can't I ever get more of these?"

    1. Amen. And many of the IEC students I get are scientists. But not only scientists -- they also show up among the social scientists, and the humanists, and the creative types. And many students show sparks of potential to be and IECS now and then, in between being exhausted and overwhelmed and, often, hence, whiny, defensive, etc.

  6. Bravo! like Myth, I have more luck placing students I know in this taxonomy than I do placing myself or my colleagues on the professorial one below (or the Groenig version). Maybe it's a matter of perspective.

    I must say, many of my students are hybrids of several types, or shift according to situation, time of semester, etc., etc. I do think environmental factors as well as innate dispositions play a role, and that many of mine, at least, would come much closer to the ideal that Frod describes were somebody to plunk them down in the kind of situation I enjoyed: 4-year residential university or SLAC with the majority of professors full-time TT with reasonable loads, and the majority of students working 10 hours or less at work-study jobs during the school year. Of course some would still waste their time (or spend it on worthy extracurricular passions, which isn't necessarily a waste, though it can be annoying to professors), but a lot more would do a lot better. All of the types above would remain, but the consumers and grubbers in particular, I think, and at least some of the offended, all of whom are probably more anxiety-driven than we realize, would decrease in number. Nutters and socialites (and grade-grubbers headed for certain professions, especially medicine and the law) are perennial types. Consumers may be, too, but once upon a time they just wanted a Gentleman's C, since the connections that got them into college in the first place would also get them a decent job (assuming there wasn't one already waiting in daddy's firm). So, yes, the anxieties created by a world that is more competitive (and, if not exactly a level playing field, at least somewhat fairer in deciding who gets to enter the competition), are probably playing a pretty big role here. Add to that the fact that many professors' jobs are less secure, and you've got a good recipe for misery all around.

    1. I agree. I actually think anxiety is probably what drives the vast majority of obnoxious student behaviors, and probably a lot of obnoxious professorial behaviors too. It's hard, though, to alleviate anxiety, because it's really part of learning. A learner should be a little scared at the thought of new knowledge, and a little excited too. It's hard to get students to realize that the anxiety of learning is more like the frisson of anticipation of a new date or the excitement of a roller coaster or exotic vacation than it is the crippling anxiety of doom they seem to expect. So they go out of their way to avoid the experience entirely, never learning that behind the fear of learning there is a tremendous amount of pleasure.

      That doesn't, though, make their avoidance strategies any less noisome.


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