Monday, May 6, 2013

An RYS Flashback. 4 Years Ago: "Boston's Bitchy Bear Passes Out a Final, And then Brings Us Various Heads to Enjoy."

One RYS character I most miss is the Bitchy Bear from Boston. She is not forgotten:


I warned them the first day of class. I warned them at midterm. "The final requires some thinking, you'll want to take notes over my discussion," I said at various points in the semester, as I looked out at a sea of slack-jawed faces, eyes glazed as they gaze into their laptops, tapping away on FB / IM / WTFEver instead of paying attention. And before anybody gets all preachy-teachy student-centered yada-yada- yada on me, I usually lecture for 30 minutes out of a 3-hour class. The rest of the time is play-time, whee, where all their little creations are praised as the very products of genius. I know: thirty minutes of something being not about them is akin to waterboarding, but what can I say? I'm old school.

So there I am last night, handing out the final on the last day of class. I am shocked to see people in the room that I have not seen since about the second week of class. It is a take-home exam.

"Do you have any questions?" I ask.

Dead silence. They start talking to each other. "Can we go?" A guy in a baseball cap asks. I recognize baseball cap guy as the guy who has turned in the crappiest work I've ever seen. "Sure." I say, "You can go. But I'll stay and discuss the exam with anybody who has questions." Most start packing stuff. "Sure you don't have questions?" I say.

"Do you expect us to have read the books for these questions?"

Me: "Yes."

Another baseball cap guy: "Do you know if they still have the books in the bookstore?"

Sweet cracker sandwich, kid. I found a kitten on 9th Street I'm pretty sure is smarter than you. Why not just raise your little arm and say "Hey, proffie, flag my exam for extra scrutiny for plagiarism, 'mkay?" Do you attach a sticky on your 1040 EZ telling the IRS not to look too hard at your W-2 as your employer always prints them on Hello, Kitty paper like this?

Me, in response: "I have no idea. There may be some copies left."

A little more silence. They are glaring at me. Another kid says "Are you going to give us an outline?"

I'm dumbfounded. "An outline? What for?"

Ok, this is the kid who overparticipated and routinely talked with his mouth full of half-chewed food and who props his skateboard against the wall. He looks at me like I'm an idiot. "For the questions." He draws out the last word to help me understand how stupid I am being.

"No, I am not giving you an outline. I already know how to write essay." I say. "I encourage you to write your own outline, though. It might help you organize your essay."

The rest of them scatter. Whoopee. Class is over with an hour left to go watch TV or whatever it is they do when I am not ruining their lives with my irrelevancies. I take the bus home. By the time I get there, there are seven individual emails from the wee flakes. I'll only present the gems:
  1. A pronouncement from one of the (seemingly 100) athletes in the room that she needs to reschedule the final because she has a photo shoot and her agent has told her to be available.
  2. A long, detailed question from the kid who threw one of his homeworks on the floor in a snit because I wouldn't take it a week late. This email essentially asks me in email form to write an answer to questions #3 and #5.
  3. Two as-yet-undisclosed and undocumented learning disabilities, with long-drawn explanations about how they can't be expected to answer essay questions under such time constraints (they have two weeks). One suggests that I just use his average grade so far for his final score; another proffie has done this little thing for him and he's sure this is the easiest for both of us.
  4. A request that I allow students to decide how much the exam is worth, as that is what Proffie X does, and Proffie X is a real proffie while I am just an assistant proffie and so I should go with the policy that Proffie X uses since he is my manager, and she's good friends with Proffie X. (Proffie X is actually an adjunct, and a very nice man, but the department has no such policy; I guess he's a real proffie by virtue of his old-guy-ness.)

Now, since I don't actually care about teaching, I don't take any of this nonsense too terribly seriously. I'm in this gig because I want steady health insurance and to be able to practice my obsession into old age and not have to eat cat food. But honestly. For those of us who see teaching as a grand 'calling,' how do you stand it semester after semester? Do you keep flasks of Knob Creek in your backpack? Special brownies? Or have you just successfully shoved all the crappy first-year, required-class teaching onto your junior colleagues so that you can now sit back and lecture one and all about the joys of teaching (...honors and doctoral seminars)? Do you only care about the four or five students every semester who seem to have two brain cells to rub together? Or do you also possess a riding crop and ball gag?


  1. so that you can now sit back and lecture one and all about the joys of teaching

    That would be my department head. Gives me the crappy lower-div courses to teach, when he himself has taught nothing but honors students for the past ten years. And then wonders "why my students are so bad".

    Do you only care about the four or five students every semester who seem to have two brain cells to rub together?

    That would be me. These are the only students who will get anything out of the course anyway. The others will pass or fail, but won't learn the stuff no matter what I do. They don't care enough.

    Or do you also possess a riding crop and ball gag?

    They're so not worthy. But I do keep the Academic Regulations Handbook close at hand.

  2. Bitchy Bear sounds like fun!

  3. Maybe the students so thoroughly resent having to take and pay for the class that ANY effort is seen as going above and beyond the call. What else can explain all the hostility, contempt, and the in-your-face nonchalance? A student barging into an hour class at the forty-five minute mark assures me that I should be "grateful" that he moved heaven and earth (i.e., shook off his hangover) to get me the paper "on time." Grateful? Like the piece of shit he deposits on the stack is a gift to me and mine? We're through the looking glass already, so "special brownies" would send me right over the edge.

    1. What you described is one reason I quit my teaching position.

      When I started my job nearly 25 years ago, I already had to deal with the I-am-special attitude. However, I could still demand that my students do some thinking and hold them responsible for doing certain things themselves, such as punching holes in their papers or stapling them.

      By the time I quit nearly 11 years ago, I wasn't allowed to do that any more. I was expected to provide all those "services" as well as doing all their thinking for them as well as much of their work. Had I stayed there much longer, I probably would have been expected to write their exams for them as well.

      If they didn't like that I expected them to do anything, they didn't bother trying to resolve the matter with me. They immediately went over my head and guess who got hauled into the department head's office each time that happened.

      From the bits of tattle I hear about the place, things haven't improved since I left.

  4. I care about all my students, but not necessarily an equal amount. The "doesn't care, can't be bothered to come to class, doesn't care if he fails" gets the very bare minimum amount. The "really-trying and putting forth their best effort" gets a lot more. The "kinda trying, happy to do enough to pass" is somewhere in the middle.

    1. Don't you know it's *your* fault that there are students who don't care about attending your lectures or failing your courses? It's because *you* failed to motivate them or didn't create a "safe" learning environment.

      I'm being sarcastic, of course. I had students like that all the time. There are some you can help. There are some who don't need any help. There are some who don't want to be helped. The first group I did something for, if they wanted my assistance. The second group I didn't have to worry about. As for the third, I left it up to them. My students were supposed to be adults and that meant they had to act accordingly, even if it meant paying the consequences for one's actions or decisions. If they didn't want my help, it was up to them.

    2. I need to work on not caring (yes, I know, Beaker Ben). I get all up in their glazed faces if they sleep in class or attend randomly, in futile hope that they'll feel stirred enough to change their ways. Kind of like trying things, anything, to get the right kind of attention from an alcoholic parent.

      Hey -- is there an Al-Anon for professors?

    3. I get in their faces if they sleep or text just because I don't want the rest of the class to think those are acceptable behaviors. There are those who will slack off no matter what, and those who will slack off if they think they can get away with it. It's the latter I am trying to influence.

  5. I'm with MA&M. I care... ish. I honestly only expect one or two students in any given semester will be worth a damn, so anything I get beyond that is bonus. Of course, maybe I'm so relaxed about because I do, in fact, own a riding crop and ball gag. I just take out my frustrations on third parties.

  6. A recent gem, which seems along a similar vein as this thread.
    TA: "Hey, you know the rules, no eating in the lab."
    student: "Oh yeah...but, I'm hungry."

    1. It's probably hopeless, but I tell students with that line about the time I had circa 10 lethal doses of Po-210 on the lab bench. At the same time as that guy was dying of the stuff in London. Sitting next to the source safe, none-the-less. It came in the day I was packing for international travel, and I forgot to pop it in the safe.

      Then I explain that if the solution I had it in dried on the benchtop they'd never even notice it there.

      There is a reason for not eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, chewing pencils, sucking you thumb or picking your nose in the laboratory, and even though we try to prevent these things from being lethal in the Freshman Intro to Laboratory Rodent Assessment section I'd like my student to take note.

      And to live through the experience. Most of them.

  7. We could use a little Bitchy Bear around here. Has she ever been on CM?

    1. According to the Real Goddamned Search, she made lots of comments in fall semester, 2010. I don't see anything after that, but I didn't check all the pages the search gave me.

      She is, of course, Cal, Fab, Leslie K, and Strelnikov if not you, Hiram.

    2. Is this one of those movies where we find out the courage/Bitchy Bear was inside Hiram all along?

  8. I love these flashback posts. Moar, plz!


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