Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bee From Brooklyn Sees the Misery Up Close.

I have met several special snowflakes during my TAship in Hamsterology, but never anything horrendous. I've also taught a bunch of ESL classes both at home and abroad, and the students I've had were an absolute pleasure. Unfortunately, since returning to my home country after my latest stint abroad, I haven't been able to find any work at all. Pretty much all my friends with Hamsterology PhDs are underemployed adjuncts, so instead of applying to doctoral programs I'm looking at programs in Hamster Therapy. Unfortunately, I have to take a bunch of undergraduate prerequisite courses, including some general education requirements that were not required for my original BA. One of these is a core mathematics course, which I am taking now over the summer session.

The professor is a graduate student who is not a native speaker of English; the room is a furnace without air conditioning. Most of the students sit in their seats, fiddling with their smart phones or staring cow-eyed at the board. I'm sure the students were bad back when I was an undergrad, but I never remembered it being as horrific as it was today.

The poor professor was doing his best in these terrible conditions to coax answers to problems from the class. One student, confused about the meaning of a word that he used, raised his hand and asked for clarification. Before the professor could answer, another student who hadn't said a word all day rolled her eyes at the student and suddenly snapped, 'This is a core Math course, not a tea-partying Philosophy class!" She proceeded to rest her head on the desk for about twenty minutes before storming out of the room a half hour before the class ended. To his credit, the professor kept his cool and answered the question clearly.

I was on the fence about switching to Hamster Therapy as my dream has always been to be a college professor. However, now that I get to see what undergraduates are really like beyond upper division coursework (Hamsterology courses typically don't count as general education requirements) and ESL classes, I'm very glad that I'm not signing on to deal with these f-bombing flakes for the rest of my life.

To all the brave souls in the trenches of Higher Ed, I salute you!


  1. Leave it to the clean, unambiguous truth of mathematics, where b.s. does not and cannot exist, to bring out the worst in modern undergraduates. Now you know why I use my tenure to enforce discipline in the classroom. I do not allow the inappropriate use of technology, and any student resting hir head on the desk I promptly invite to leave the classroom. If I were allowed to use a whip, I would.

  2. Well Frod, as a matter of fact I do own a whip (or two), and know how to crack it. I'm thinking of a demonstration on the first day of classes, to make a point. It's all about entertaining the kids, right?

    This "using tenure to enforce discipline" is my game, too. No laptops or cell phones in class, and I don't grade on a curve. But over the long term this works only if administrators (head, dean, provost) back you up, and mine don't. And then you find out how weak the tenure protection really is. In an environment where most profs are easily intimidated and "get the message", lower enrollments and weaker student evaluations stand out.

    The sad thing is, the snowflakes would work and learn to their full potential if "the system" actually required them to. Failing that, they'll sink to the least-energy behavior, and learn nothing. A system that prioritizes "graduation rates" is starting to produce millions of entirely meaningless degrees. Adminiflakes know this, and behave like bankers making "liar loans": somebody else's problem. Employers know this, too.

    And I'm with the OP here: I wouldn't recommend an academic career to anyone these days (at least not in the USA; other countries have not yet been entirely corrupted). I'd get my doctorate (in math), use a first postdoc to retool to something mathematical employable in industry, and pursue work on problems that interest me in my spare time. Weaken the boundary conditions of the profession, and the more ambitious people will go elsewhere.


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