So I read this bullshit article from Jesse Stommel yesterday; thanks, Ben for the bad vibes. And I just can't help but think of a small and powerful handful of my own colleagues.
It occurred to me that my job is made harder by delusional and self-righteous jagoffs like this.
Q: Do you have a Jesse Stommel in your department? Is there anything to be done about his kind?
Hiram, I'm sorry to hear that you have to deal with his type at work. I do not encounter them, or, if they are around, they are in such a minority that they don't try to silence the rest of us.ReplyDelete
Never had the misfortune. I think the Beakster is right, they are a minority. I do have colleagues who take pedagogy seriously and who put some serious thought into how to improve their teaching. But they don't seem to be self-righteous about it the way that asshat is.ReplyDelete
What kills me about Stommel is that he's castigating us for "ranting down" at the students when he's doing the same thing to all of his less fortunate colleagues. It's easy for the bearded hipster-doofus at fucking Madison to tell the thousands of proffies who work in much more challenging institutional settings (and don't have the benefit of being a white male hipster proffie) that they're doing it wrong. That seems to be a complex intersectionality that escaped his notice. Apparently he doesn't give grades (one of the many things I learned from the comments section of his rant). I'm sure the students think it's cool and edgy. But if a woman tried that she'd get her ass handed to her in the evals for being soft or not doing her job.
But to answer the actual question, I think calling them out for being asshats whenever they pop their heads above ground is the way to deal with them. I don't think Stommel understands the concept of shame, but I'm willing to try to help him learn.
In fact, in the interests of fairness, I did a quick scan of the people who invited Stommel's righteous ire by posting to Vitae. Almost all of them work tougher jobs than his and I couldn't help but notice how almost none of them look like him. I'm sure Stommel's either watching a horror movie or playing a video game right now (since he doesn't have to grade), but I think he ought to be invited to walk a mile in those other proffies' shoes before he spouts off again.Delete
The dick measuring of "who has a harder job" seems pretty irrelevant to me as a response to his points about the unproductiveness and ugliness of bitching about students and abdicating the motivational and guidance parts of teaching.Delete
I hear faculty moan about "not having enough time" to do their job all the time. Teaching is always the first thing on the chopping block of efforts as all focus goes on promotion and tenure, even though in my institution teaching is one of the missions officially defined for faculty (40% of their time, actually, though in practice it's really never given that much attention by tenured faculty).
Honestly, though, I can't really blame these complaining faculty, as departments have set up rewards and incentives to favor publishing, reputation, and so forth with almost nothing to reward those who put their efforts toward teaching.
So, in a sense, students actually are merely a nuisance to faculty because they aren't in systems that reward caring about them. All the great teachers I know are intrinsically motivated to do a good job, with very few external incentives.
But, I doubt we will see departments change in this regard because faculty will never vote to change the incentive structure to favor teaching anywhere near as much as research.
You're on point about the lack of attention to, and rewards for, teaching, I think. Of course, the most powerful demonstration of that attitude may well be not the reward system for tenure-track faculty, but the relegation of most teaching to the 70% of faculty who aren't on the tenure track (and who teach more than 70% of the classes, so most of what's going on, or not, in the classroom is affected by this second system). That's a whole additional system of rewards (or lack thereof), not to mention a level of compensation at which intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation yields to questions like "can I afford to do this anymore?"Delete
We've discussed the devaluing of teaching in the academy, and the difficulty of identifying and measuring good teaching, quite extensively on this blog, including, most recently, here.
We also do tend to bitch about students (and colleagues, and administrators, and occasionally each other and/or the RGM's design/content choices for the blog). I'm not sure that such complaining is always "ugly," however. Sometimes someone just needs to vent, and, more often than not, once (s)he is done venting, we get to work in the comment stream identifying the problem and possible solutions. That strikes me as the main loss if we avoid complaint: it's hard to identify problems, and potential solutions, without sharing experiences, including negative ones.
ColoradoProf, you call it dick measuring, I call it a reality check.Delete
Just last week I was asked to sit in as a tenured observer during a meeting between contract faculty and the admin at my institution. In the course of that meeting I watched the deans threaten them with non-renewal if their teaching evals and then in the next breath threaten them with non-renewal if their grading curve wasn't sufficiently gaussian. And our contract faculty are unionized. I shudder to think what those meetings are like at school without an adjunct union.
Compare that with Stommel's breezy acknowledgement that he doesn't even bother with grading because it jaundices his relationship with the students. Now tell me again why that's irrelevant dick-measuring?
edit: if their "evals were poor."Delete
Bastard computer ate my reply I hate this computer.Delete
We have 'em. i hear what the students say about 'em (my office is next to a classroom and apparently my open office door, my presence and my requests that they keep their voices down are all invisible. Also, if a student group chooses to use their group work time, when I am pedagogically required to wander around listening in rather than sitting idly filing my nails, to discuss my colleagues then of course I will hear them).
It's damned privileged to have "intimate confidants" to whom one can vent. It's privileged to have that sort of breezy level of mental health, confidence and I would say arrogance to never even feel the slightest trace of annoyance with the dear little lesser students who you so arrogantly meet with 'respect' - sounds to me like you don't think they are actually capable of being held to account. Feels rude.
Some of us are mere mortals who get tired and fed up and with the best will in the world struggle to meet the tenth "sorry I wasn't actually listening in class and my reading comprehension is terrible and clearly you do nothing but teach me so here I am so you can personally tell me that yes, I do have to read this article" enquiry with the same respect, positivity, kindness etc. as the first. Never mind the twenty-zillionth in the thirty seventh semester in a row when we've just heard there are no raises, no conference funds, and three new deanlets. We need to know we're not alone.
And actually I thought the linked articles' emails were considerably kinder and more helpful than the author implied - much nicer than the so-called modern comedy students watch, quote and wear about their person emblazoned on their clothing. It seemed to me to use humour to get a message across, an adult-to-adult message which left out the personal details and treated every student the same. I don't have a problem with that. But there again, as a middle aged, fat, white single female with an invisible disability and inadequate research grant/GlamourMag publications who believes that her task is to provide a space where students can fail, I am already a problem to people like that writer even before I bring my bad attitude into play...
Hey ColoradoProf, thanks for stopping by. I saw your comment at Jesse's blog. (Or do you read both our blogs regularly?) The biggest problem I've found with trying to be a better teacher is that it's hard to know what to do. Education research isn't as well developed as chemistry or American history. I've devoted a lot of time to improving my teaching only to find no effect on grades. Students can resent the efforts if better teaching requires them to put their phones away and pay attention. Spending more time on research has more well-defined results.Delete
I've been a couple of places where the faculty shaming was pretty above board and supported by the elite portion of the departments, a cabal of colleagues whose self-righteousness just seeped out of them.ReplyDelete
Their students, when I saw them in capstone classes for instance, were so incredibly ill prepared for actual work. They usually had all the buzzwords committed to memory, but most of their energy was spent explaining why the injustices of the educational system and their (often) self-perceived victimization for being too light skinned, too fair, too monied, etc. instead of sitting down and writing a fucking research paper.
Students I got who had been through my more "normal" colleagues were able to contend and do work, and rarely buzzworded their way out of the effort.
he is most certainly not doing his students any favors...Delete
I find the ad hominem and shortcut dismissal of Stommel's post to be very disappointing, but perhaps not surprising on this site.ReplyDelete
We blame students for not knowing what to do and being unable to navigate the crazy town we built. We should wonder about the system we have built that makes faculty so defensive in the first place!
I don't find the culture of bitching about students to be very productive and it can be pretty ugly to me sometimes.
Welcome to College Misery.Delete
Enough of the we - much of the constraints are inherited, or imposed by collective committee work which is in many places at least led by, dominated by, certain powerful cliques (I'm in STEM where those cliques are white, male, and aggressively self-confident, almost universally). And many of us work BLOOMING hard in very adverse conditions to offer students all kinds of support and guidance, but we cannot do the work, the hard and painful work, of growing up for them and we do them no service when we preach at them like this and don't call them out, kindly for sure, professionally for sure, on their mistakes (which are learning opportunities if I got the jargon right).Delete
Sure, venting is kind of ugly, and it's part of the animal side of human nature, but I'd rather the toxins were purged pseudonymously than allowed to fester. Not being perfect myself, and not being smugly inclined to pretend to be (that doesn't help anyone), I'd rather vent with humour then return to the individual refreshed with a new store of compassion than use my own superiority to bash people who handle things differently around the head. If I didn't get to vent somewhere to a reasonably receptive audience my students would suffer - in the individual, in the moment. I'd rather be as professionally kind and supportive and tough love and rational and all the rest of it to the students in person, because I think that really matters, and to do that I need to vent!
Also, the message I got from the article was not that the person wished to share ways to help students learn to navigate 'crazy town' (aka every place you will ever work kid - and you can do it because high school etc. were ALSO crazy towns) but to show how much better they were than people who disagreed with them and to publicly and dramatically make a point they could have made more effectively and professionally. But I struggle to read American rhetoric and certain kinds of 'humanities speak', especially that which apparently uses highly complex language to present a simplified charicature of a complex, dynamic and nuanced real world phenomenon - why not use simple words and explain some of the complexity? I do not get it. Maybe I'm just not the target audience...
Grumpy nailed it, I think -- especially the parts about venting in order to go back to being compassionate and reasonable and supportive in person, and about not bashing people who cope differently about the head.Delete
I don't have a dog in this fight, but I've read the excellent article by Stormwell and would say that he's right. He's done more good for higher ed than any of you have done in your hundreds of complaining posts.ReplyDelete
I'm reminded of the old axiom I learned in Ed School: better teachers = better students. Maybe something you could all take on in the future.
Archie, is that you mocking a student? Or is it Stommel sockpuppeting and calling himself "Stormwell" in order to make it look like it's really not him? Or is this a real, honest-to-dog person? It's so hard to tell. The absurdity is overwhelming.Delete
The main challenge for me is that I'm still trying to learn how to distinguish between the merely naive who will one day see the light, and the permanently confused who will be burdens for decades (i.e., What's Stommel going to be saying and thinking ten or twenty years from now? Is there a seed of usefulness in there somewhere?)
Still so much to learn.
Bubba, I wish I had the energy to think of something so devious.Delete
Well, "Kindly Doctorate" and "ColoradoProf" are both tracing back to the same blogger profile (created in March 2015, so I guess that means today). Just a word to the wise, Colorado/Kindly: participants on this blog are asked to stick to one identity when posting here (see the rules, linked on the right sidebar).Delete
As for the "better teachers=better students" axiom, I suspect it depends on how you define "better," but my understanding is that the one pattern that consistently and clearly emerges from the research on K-12 education is that test scores correlate more closely with family income than anything else. While I don't doubt that good teachers can have a significant impact on both individual students and whole classes, it's definitely possible for all of us to overestimate our impact/importance. Of course we should do our best, and do all we can to encourage our students to do the same (including resorting to some "tough love" when necessary), but we also need to be realistic, and modest, about our (in)ability to solve the larger structural problems that affect both groups.
"I learned in Ed School" I see the problem. As much as I like my Ed School coworkers I have found that they are often more idealistic than realistic and sometimes prefer theories about what SHOULD work in a classroom to what actually DOES work.Delete
KD, you can't compare our complaints with Jesse's career accomplishments. That's not a fair comparison. I'm not UW Madison material, granted, but I'm pretty good. My complaints may make me a better teacher. I'm going to blow my top sometime so it might as well be hear rather than in class.Delete
It's probably worth pointing out that this is not your typical academic blog. We don't use the term intersetionality often and when we do, it's only to describe when two roads cross eachother.
Archie nailed it, I think: while Stommel seems well-meaning, and I suspect he's actually a pretty good/effective teacher (of a certain type, in a certain context), he needs to (in a phrase I'm sure he'd appreciate, at least in other contexts) check his privilege. At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged female (i.e. nagging "mom" figure) I'd say he also needs to rethink his definitions, and his applications, of terms like "compassion" and "respect." Sometimes it's both compassionate and respectful to let someone (even someone facing difficult circumstances) know that you expect them to pull themselves together and bring their behavior up to the minimum standard expected of everyone, or withdraw from school until they can. Add to that the fact that he seems neither compassionate nor respectful of faculty with different experiences, positions, perspectives, and/or coping mechanisms, and I'd say that he's suffering from a bit of tunnel vision. That tunnel vision is no doubt reinforced by his certainty that his approach to students is the only right one; if someone responded to my describing a problem with a current student with the attitude displayed in the current blog post, he'd be unlikely to hear any more about my problems with students (and, thus, would fail to learn how my experience of being in the classroom may be different from his own).ReplyDelete
I'm not sure whether I've got any colleagues who think this way (though, as I mentioned before, I've got at least one former colleague, whom I generally respect, praising the article on facebook). I suspect I may have one or two, but they aren't coming to the faculty workshops, where, yes, there is a certain amount of complaining (behind closed doors) about students and their latest shenanigans, but also a good deal of collective brainstorming about how to respond effectively (and, yes, compassionately and respectfully), and where and how to set the sort of reasonable boundaries that protect us, the student in difficulty, and the rest of our students as well.
Mrs Archie has a Stommel for a colleague. He's super-popular with the flakes and he's definitely oblivious to the fact that not everyone enjoys the same charmed classroom interactions as he does. He can't quite get his head around the fact that those less attractive, less superficially charming, and less hip don't get the same kind of free pass he does. I doubt he gets that women start from a huge authority deficit either. The upshot is that he thinks teaching is just great and a real breeze, and that students are all just so awesome. That's nice for him, I guess. But he and Stommel would do well to reserve some of that boundless charm and empathy for their colleagues.Delete
I don't think it is significant necessarily (and my sample may be jaundiced by the fact that I'm always the last one to notice when people are behaving badly) but Mrs. Archie's Stommel-like colleague is one of the only proffies I know who has crossed one of those bright ethical lines with a student. All that charm can get you in real trouble. That's why I've never regretted not being charming.
Have enjoyed this conversation. Makes me think I'm not crazy.ReplyDelete
No, you're crazy. Don't get me wrong, though. We're all crazy. Or even in some cases crazzy.Delete
My department had a couple of Jesse Stommels when I started as a t-t assistant professor. At the time, they were the scatterbrained and overly excitable department Chair, and the Chair's sinister confidant. The confidant quite literally thought that everything in the classroom was the responsibility of the teacher, and that's a near-exact quote. He also thought junior faculty required some sort of fraternity initiation.ReplyDelete
Jeez, it was a hellish time. How we diminished their influence was an extended period of hiring, over nine years up to the financial crisis. We got so many new people with active research programs that involved students into the department, research-inactive Heckle and Jeckle became recognized for the irrelevance that they are. Mercifully, both are retiring this year.
Stommel’s article seems just like “What the Best College Professors Do.” I had to check, but that was by Ken Bain, not Jesse Stommel. Notice that the illustration on the cover of “What the Best College Professors Do” is someone doing a somersault. “The work of gatekeeping is anathema to the work of education?” That can quickly turn deadly in medicine and engineering. Beyond that one thing that makes me particularly queasy about Stommel’s article, being at Fresno State, is the photo illustrating it.
I want to write something really cerebral here to add to the conversation about Stommel. I've got plenty I could write. But it isn't worth the effort.ReplyDelete
"On grades. They're a red herring. Any teacher that regularly gets caught up in power and control struggles with students over grades has missed the point."
What the fuck? If my assignment states "Please generate X, Y and Z", I'm not a going to give out A's to someone who gave me a report that had only X and Y. If the student gets a B, clearly deserved a B, and they want an A, if I say 'No', I'M the one being unreasonable? I'M "caught up in a power and control struggle"? What the fuck, man.
The students who actually generated X, Y, and Z also tend to get understandably angry if they realize that people who did only X and Y got the same grade that they did. More important, I, as a teacher, worry that the student who didn't do Z now won't be able to do Z later, when Z is necessary to succeeding in a later class and/or a task outside school.Delete
As far as I can tell, very few teachers like grading. There may be a few who see it as a power trip, and a few more who over-focus on minor but clearly-definable issues as a way of coping with the exhaustion, the complaints, etc., etc. But most of us would be perfectly happy to give up grading, and only provide feedback, *if* students would actually pay attention to such feedback. The truth is that few of them would, if only because other classes and/or other areas of their lives involve rewards and punishments that they'd have trouble ignoring in favor of a class with no consequences.
So, no, don't get into power struggles with students over grades. As Prof P says, just state the criteria clearly, and stick to them, firmly (and hope you're in a place where those further up the ladder will support you in doing same).
But don't abdicate your responsibility to provide feedback in all the forms commonly practiced in the department/program/institution for which you work -- and for most of us, that includes grades.
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Thank YOU, Jesse, for livening up a dull weekend. Might I be able to invite you to write more here? It'll reach a lively audience, I can assure you.Delete
Oh, he talked to us! I'd like to wash my ear out with bleach.Delete
Now, now, CM. We're college professors, remember: we're supposed to try reasoning first.Delete
Jesse, you inspire me. I'll have something to say about my students later this week.ReplyDelete
I had a much longer comment but blogger fucking ate it.ReplyDelete
This post got passed around on Facebook too. Stommel's original post did have a few good points but they were mostly overshadowed by his "I don't complain, therefore I'm better than anyone who does" tone.
I'll try to recapture what I wrote: I teach at an open access school, where we're remediating about 30% of our admits. I teach writing. On purpose, I created my class so that the early portion of the semester is mostly low-stakes, to give students a chance to practice. I hold office hours (10 per week, to which almost no one ever comes). I currently have 25% of my students (two weeks out from the midterm) failing. Whose fault is that? Is it mine, for not accepting late work? Is it mine, for having low-stakes assessments when they're so used to high-stakes testing? Or is theirs, for lack of effort? Am I not allowed to say, "This is fucking bullshit--no one should be flunking my class this early in the semester"? And calling them--in class, generally--on their lack of effort?
The good news is, the ones who are flunking are finally coming to see me--to be told to drop, which will mercifully lower the number of minutes I spend grading. But that makes me a bad teacher, I guess.
And to answer the OP's question: YES. MY DEPARTMENT IS LOADED WITH STOMMELS. Hooray for me. But I have tenure, and they can't hurt me anymore.
Jeeze, it is particularly interesting to read Stommel's article and then Ben's Tweeter. There is no intersection of these sets.ReplyDelete
On this page, the profile atReplyDelete
is used by:
* Kindly Doctorate
and the profile at
is used by
* Jesse Stommel