Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sheila is so very Sorry

Sheila, when you sent me that e-mail, the one where you told me in a scolding manner that you would not be in class today because you had been up late completing the essay assignment that was due today, you said after working that hard, you simply had no energy at all for class or for anything else.  None.  Your tone implied that it was all my fault.

I could care less, really, Sheila, if you make it to class or not.  I'm sorry to say it.  I suppose if I were a better professor, I'd care or something.  But I don't.  I also don't care that you are trying to blame me.  Whatever.  That's what students like you do.

But, I do care about my doing "right" by you.  For some reason I care about that.  So my knee jerk reaction to just ignore your e-mail did not sit right with me.  I deleted it, and was just going to ignore it.  But a crazy little bird, maybe it was a duck, would not just shut the fuck up in my head.

So I sent you an e-mail back, reminding you of the conversation we had just last week about how you wanted to do anything, anything, have sex with me, sell your soul, kill a duck, anything at all, to pass this class.  I reminded you of how close a thing it was going to be, and that every little bit counts.  I told you I was going to be giving out the last essay assignment in the class you said you would be missing, and answering questions about it, storyboarding it for the class.  All the ridiculous things I do to make it very clear what I am looking for in an essay assignment.  So I told you I thought, really that you should drag your ass into class so you would not miss all this great stuff.  I reminded you that if you miss that class, all you get is a stinking handout that you have to actually READ and then ask me specific questions about.  I reminded you of how much you hate that.

If It's Tuesday, Hiram Must Be Baffled By the Meetup.

I like the idea - the general, vague idea - of the meetup. Sure. Meet some new folks.

But folks from here? Miserians?

What are the chances that I really want to go to a secluded bar in Kalamazoo to meet Strelnikov, who I imagine might have gun residue on his hands. Or Bubba, who I imagine I'd have to bail out of jail before we met up at all?

Or Cal, who would be coming straight from some golf course, and therefore a Republican!

I support the meeting up of people. I see other academic blogs do it. Go for it. Do it right. Enjoy the company.

But I can't go. I'm not as interesting in person as I am on the blog - a low bar to be sure. Just ask my wife. She doesn't want to meetup with me most days anyway.

Now if Katie were going to be there, well I'd like to go just to stick pins in her, but otherwise, I'll wait - online - for a report.

When mentors are the biggest flakes of all (with a bonus Early Thirsty)

So yesterday I read this little gem from the Crampicle about how all academic failure is basically your own damn fault, especially if you fail to seek a Decent Number of Quality Mentors. It's not the mentors' fault if they suck--it's your fault for not finding enough of them.

The same day, I got an email from a grad school mentor informing me that zhe has managed to overextend hirself for the foreseeable future and will be unable to write the rec letter zhe promised me not even a month ago. A rec letter that, as I tried to explain to hir, has basically already been written (by hir own hand), and would simply need to be readdressed to a new committee.

Add to this epic failure of time management the fact that I emailed my adviser about the same rec issue more than a month ago and have yet to hear back from hir. Strike two.

The only long-term mentor I've been able to count on has, in fact, been carrying on a torrid affair with a former grad student (creating the department's most scandalous open secret), so my professional trust has been severely curtailed by personal disgust.

An Unthinkable - Well, Not Really, Someone Thought of It, and Soon Many More Will - Early Thirsty From The French Professeur.

So, the end is nigh and finals are about to happen. I just checked with the departmental secretary to see how many students have completed the teaching evaluations, and there's like six-seven out of twenty students who have not done them yet (and likely will not).

I, on the other hand, have a nice stack of passwords that, just idly speculating, I could take to one of the computer labs and use to give my evals a boost.

Now, this would be cheating. But in my school, students cheat by grabbing papers from the internet, lying about ill or deceased relatives, or by claiming to have homework-eating pets; my colleagues cheat by using travel funding for personal tourism, stopping research after they get tenure and, I am pretty sure, filching office supplies; and the administrators cheat by making empty promises, raising their already inflated salaries and proliferating like rabbits on Viagra. The only decent people around seem to be the janitorial staff.

Q; Now, the question: would you do it? If you were certain that you couldn't get caught, would you use those passwords and give yourself the best evals ever? Would it be an act of rebellion against an inane system, or, by giving away all decency, signal the ultimate submission to that system?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Last Week's CM Hits.

Post-Literacy Post

"If they're REALLY too dumb to live, how are they HERE?"
So, I realize that we live in a post-literacy world. A world where, occasionally, the kids in my class are astonished to find out that certain words have spellings other than the ones they learned while texting each other. I get that. I daresay I've even somewhat made peace with it.

What I cannot make peace with is the idiomatic illiteracy (illidiocy?). Mind you, I'm not talking about the majority of my students, so maybe it's a little unfair to condemn "kids these days" for the stupidity of just a few, but even if most of my students aren't turning in these malapropisms, there's a steady stream of them, and not always from the same kids, leading me to believe that the problem is rather widespread. And I'm not just talking about classic and common confusions such as "baited breath" or "tow the line." Oh, no.

CM's Newest Published Scholar: From the Onion.

I've Been Having Some Pretty Fucked-Up Bread Thoughts Lately
Commentary Opinion ISSUE 49•17 Apr 24, 2013
By A Duck

I consider myself a regular duck. I float around the pond, I waddle through the park, I fly south for the winter, and every so often I get to thinking about eating some bread. Sure, we all enjoy the occasional daydream about some nice old man sitting on a bench tossing us sandwich crust after sandwich crust, but I’ve gotta say, recently I’ve been having some really fucked-up bread thoughts.

You can read on if you want, but I’m warning you, this is some seriously depraved stuff I’m talking about here.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve found myself in the middle of one of these weird, vivid fantasies about all kinds of bread—wheat, white, pumpernickel, French, you name it—sometimes even two or three different types of bread at once. No matter how much I try to distract myself by diving underwater or preening my plumage, it seems like every thought that runs through my head ends with me covered in crumbs and bill-deep in a bakery-fresh Kaiser roll.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

In which the Linguistics Major Instructs

Hey, Kiddos, time for the Sunday comics.  Don't forget to hover.

Kidding! Of course it means 'a statement with a one in ten chance of being true.' OR DOES IT???

What can one do with a linguistics degree apart from teaching?

Alan from Apex With a Query About His...Cough...Friend. No, Really. Srsly.

So, this friend of mine has this problem… Wait, that’s too transparent.

I know this guy who… Ughh… Really?

Here’s the deal. It’s not me, it’s not my field. It’s about a job. Two jobs, actually, it’s a tale of two jobs. One is at a Big-State-Satellite campus. We’ll call it University of Somewhere at Else. Not tenure track, but renewable, with reasonable, but not awesome, Big-State Salary. Oh, yeah, and it’s service classes. All service, all the time. University of Somewhere is well known and generally respected, but the Else campus is probably not recognizable unless you really enjoy geography.

The second job is temporary. It’s an accursed visiting assistant professor at mediocre-but-not-bad private, small-town SLAC part way between Somewhere and the West Coast, let’s call it Losttown College. Same load, smaller school, lower pay, temporary, mostly service classes, but with some upper level classes in the right field. Rumor (with some identifiable data to support the claim) suggests a similar full time job may open for the following year. Someone’s retiring, or hasn’t made it back from sabbatical and is presumed dead, lost in the archives of Internationally Famous Library. Unless you grew up in Losttown, or drove in from the boonies to watch a movie on the weekend, you've probably never heard of the town or school, but it's solidly above the "Rank Not Published" crew at some horrid ranking site.

I won’t ask what you would do. Primarily because if I did, you’d ask all sorts of other questions like, “What’s the weather like?” or “Do they have a good mascot?”or “Are there any good coffee shops in town?” and “Where is the duck?” Also because I don’t care what you would do.

Q. How would these two places appear to future schools? Would Losttown VAP appear any better to another SLAC than being untitled at U. of Somewhere – Else? Would the brand value of U. of Somewhere outweigh the better position at Losttown to another Big Uni?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dear Colleague

Dear colleague,

With the utmost respect and collegiality, I have to ask you, on the behalf of our shared students, what the hell is wrong with you?

The dates and times of finals are set by the registrar.  You cannot move them, because if you do, you will inconvenience other people -- you know, other people?  Those faint dim shapes you suspect might exist just outside the range of your perception?

Here's what's going to happen:  our three shared students will attend my final.  They will sit there for the full schedule time and take the goddamned test.  They will focus on that test, and only that test.  They will attend your final at the scheduled time.  I will notify these students that I want their grade in your class reported to me.  If that grade has been lowered because they didn't show up to your pretend final date, I will march my angry ass right into the goddamned president's office.

Yours in red-hot spicy rage,
Prof. Chiltepin, Ph.goddamnedD.

Affordable Care Act Implementation Misery

This one isn't even mildly funny, for which I apologize, but it is something to be aware of (perhaps especially for those of us  in positions that are at least incrementally more secure than those of by-the-course contingents).

In a nutshell: in a number of states, colleges and universities (public, private, and even, in at least one case I've heard of, church-sponsored) are restricting the number of classes adjuncts can teach, and/or underestimating the hours involved in teaching a class to a ridiculous extent (1 hour for prep/grading/email/everything else for each hour in the classroom!?!), in order to ensure that said adjuncts' duties can not be construed as including 30 hours or more a week of work, which would make them eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Guidelines are apparently still being written (the IRS held hearings last week),  but there's a built-in Catch-22: if adjunct faculty acknowledge how hard they actually work, they will find themselves with less work (or the same amount of work spread over more schools) next fall.   In some places -- e.g. ones where many adjuncts have worked both for a state college or university and a local community college -- it may no longer be possible to put together something resembling a livable income (not that that was really possible anyway), since they'd be working more than 30 hours total for a single employer -- the state.

We Welcome Submissions of Linked Articles - With Commentary. A Policy Update.

For the past six weeks we've been following a  new policy on posting linked article. We announced that we needed some kind of commentary from you, a few lines, a paragraph, something before we would post it. We're happy to clip some "flava" from the article and do the blurry graphics, but we asked community members to help us with some thoughts of their own about the article before we'd consider it.

Our readers have consistently shown us with their comments, emails, and low click totals, that linked articles with no commentary are their least favorite thing about the page.

Of course this new policy has absolutely killed the linked article. Personally, the RGM likes the linked articles. I love when we can be an aggregator of topics and ideas germane to the misery. But this policy may have killed that off forever. We continue to get a dozen a week or so, but when we reply with our policy, nobody follows up.


Friday, April 26, 2013

What I Wish I Could Say to Most of My Students' Reponses

h/t to PHD Stress

Grading Charade

"Lawrence of Arabia"!
As I was slogging through the grading misery last weekend, I suddenly remembered a brilliant old animated short called Charade (safe for work and highly recommended).  It simply consists of two contestants acting out movie and book titles while voices off screen offer guesses.  Contestant #1 clearly acts out obvious references while the voices make wildly erroneous guesses.  Contestant #2 strikes bizarre and irrelevant poses, from which the voices immediately guess the correct answer.

And as I graded, I realized that I'm contestant #1.  No matter how clear I make the instructions on tests and assignments, they will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misapplied or simply ignored.  Any actual ambiguity on my part is grounds for aggrieved complaint.

But a lot of the students think they are contestant #2.  From the bizzarre bolus of bafflegab some of them scatter across the page, I am expected to infer a lucid exegisis on the care and feeding of Cricetinid rodents.  I should 'know what they mean'.  If they say "X", then "Y and Z" should 'go without saying'. 

And the double standard is completely invisible to them.  Unfortunately, professional decorum prevents me from resorting to the solution offered by contestant #1 in the cartoon.

Ya know what I meme?

Stuck in Front of a Blackboard is THIRSTY!

I'm in grading hell right now. I gave a test on Monday in my Elementary Hamster Methodology class. This is probably the most difficult test of the semester because it covers some of the most technical material in the course, and so I decided to stay away from asking harder questions. I didn't give them freebies or anything, but I focused on some of the more straight-forward questions in each topic. I figured that I'd be thrilled if the little snowflakes could just get through the basic procedures, calculations, and problems.

They couldn't. Holy shit, they couldn't. About a third of them scored below a 50%, and only about a quarter of them passed. And it wasn't a problem with students making a few calculation errors here and there. No, students were throwing basic procedures right out the window! You don't feed your hamster by throwing a grapefruit at it! You don't get two hamsters to mate by sprinkling rose pedals in their cages! And for the love of God, when preparing your hamster for a show, the pants go on before the underwear! How do you manage to dress yourself properly but not your hamster?!?!

What baffles me is that they were able to do all of these things correctly in class and on the homework. And when we had a review session, they didn't seem to think they were struggling with the material at all.

So here it is:

Q: How do you teach students to accurately assess their own knowledge, skills, and preparedness?

I know that there will always be a portion of the students who won't care or study or do anything, no matter how we try to help them. I get that. I've written them off. But I've had a lot of conversations with some of the other students who failed, and I know they're trying. Just...not trying the right things. And I want to find a better way to teach them to study, not just so they can do better in my class, but so they can do better in life. Meta-cognition is golden!

Looking for laughs in all the wrong places

If I wanted to find vagina-first near me, I wouldn't want it to be yellow now.

CM Assignment

1.  Swallow your coffee, tea, bourbon, or sherry.
2.  Visit the link above (click on the graphic).
3.  Respond below with the best "Related Results" ad you've seen.

Extra credit if it relates to snowflakes!