Every year, grading sucks more. It's not writing the comments that sucks. It's reading the damned papers. Padding, fluff, imprecision, a refusal to engage with ideas -- it's hard not to imagine it's a willful refusal, a defiant refusal. "Sartre says that everyone is the same because we're all children of God." "The reason in which Black describes Satan in Marriage is the believe he has in which he has of Satan."
And the most insidious, because they expect a pat on the back for it: "Sartre is an existentialist philosopher, which means he thinks meaning comes from the choices people make." Yeah, I know, kid. I read Sartre for the first time before you -- no, let's not continue that train of thought. But burping Sartre up on your paper isn't going to please me. If you throw him back up, it just means you didn't digest him.
Faculty meetings and shitty student papers. The two most demoralizing parts of my job.
You have my deepest and most sincere empathy. I have only just begun to go through their discussion board posts for Nick Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Sigh.ReplyDelete
I figure it's Karma for the crappy papers I wrote as an undergrad. Although a few papers make me wonder if I was amass murder in a past life and am just now paying for it.ReplyDelete
The garbled syntax in your second example sounds heartbreakingly familiar. You get kudos from me for making them read Sartre at all instead of giving up and entertaining them with YouTube videos.ReplyDelete
Also, "If you throw him back up, it just means you didn't digest him" -- Is that yours? May I steal it?
Not quite mine. The concept is stolen from Epictetus, who says that sheep don't throw up grass to show the shepherd that they ate well. They use the grass to make wool.Delete
I've learned something new today.Delete
“Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don’t talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should happen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don’t throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested.”
That is the best argument to STFU and just "walk the walk" that I've ever seen. I fear that I don't always practice it.
On the other hand, whenever I am called a philosopher or asked whether I am one, I consider it a great honor. Likewise for being a musician.Delete
I, too, am honored when someone asks if I am, or deems me, a philosopher. But usually it's when one or both of us has been drinking, so I must consider the source, and/or consider my ability to consider the source.Delete
I assume you have of course accepted that you, as a paid professional "teacher" are at least partially at fault for the lack of thought and clarity in these papers. Rather than seeing reading them as a burden, you would better serve your students by doing what you are paid to do and look happily upon this opportunity to assist them in becoming the obviously exceptional person you believe yourself to be.ReplyDelete
Is this a new entrant in the berate the CM'ers saga or a reincarnation of a previous iteration?Delete
Thanks for mentioning twice that I'm paid. That's a really good indicator of your priorities.Delete
I've known them for about two weeks. These are their first papers. Of course I'm going to teach them, you sanctimonious twit. It's just clear that it's going to be fucking hard, and I'd rather talk about Blake's interesting ideas rather than correct "Black" to "Blake." Again, I know ideas are probably difficult for you to comprehend, since money appears to have replaced ideas in your world, but for some of us, ideas matter.
So, in short, do bugger off, you self-righteous asshole.
This comment has been removed by the author.Delete
(Ah, I see Prof. Chiltepin has beaten me to the punch. Good for Chiltepin. No matter, I'll post this comment I was writing anyway.)Delete
I have 17 years of experience as a college teacher, and the way I read this post is that Prof. Chiltepin wants to be a good teacher, but can't because the students are incapable of understanding the basics of the material that is supposed to be covered, having the minds and work ethics of spoiled, petulant young children. This can get to even the best teachers. I teach physics and astronomy. My general-ed science class is at middle-school level, since that's all they can do, but the really frightening ones are the engineering majors, since they design, build, and maintain the bridges over which I drive.
If you want a fuller description of the problem here, see "Adjunctivitis" by Gordon Haber. At least Prof. Chiltepin hasn't started throwing up when reading the vacuous, trite, chiches so common in the "work" of modern students (yet).
I don't know how many of our regular correspondents knew the internet before the web or during the brief time after the web when usenet still mattered, but I have to say that the good professor's response here filled me with the warm homey feeling that I once had idling before the hearth at alt.peeves.Delete
Come to think of it, this places shares a with that older forum in terms of expectations of the denizens.
Well, I think that we're "scholars" first, who have decided to become "teachers". I don't think there's anything wrong for a "teacher" at a postsecondary level to have expectations of their students to actually know something substantive beyond knowing how to wipe their ass properly after taking a dump, and to be less than happy when even basic expectations are not met. According to Complaining, apparently that makes us assholes. Actually, I think that makes us even better teachers.Delete
When I looked at some of my old freshman college papers I cringed at the poor writing. I had some vague notion that college writing was supposed to be wordy and, I don't know, sound serious. At the time I truly didn't know any better. I am eternally thankful to my Writing 102 professor who took essays from the previous year's students and had us go through them to correct errors. It was less painful after that when we had to correct our own material. I'm also grateful to him for explaining that good writing takes time and practice. Years later, I told some soldiers to "stop fluffing" on their reports. They started giggling. and explained the term has a very different meaning in another industry. Anyway, your post reminds me that I owe a lot of professors an apology.ReplyDelete
Aargh. I feel for you. I think part of the solution, at least for some of the padding and fluff, and maybe also the imprecision and refusal to engage with ideas, is to have them right shorter, but much better/tighter stuff, in which we have them practice combined rhetorical/intellectual moves (somewhat a la the "They Say/I Say" model, but less simplistic, with a wider variety of moves involved). One major barrier to this, at least at most institutions where I've taught, including my present one, would be the need to get rid of minimum words-written limits associated with writing-intensive (or similar designation) courses, *without* losing the class-size limits that often come with such requirements (though those have been steadily eroding in many places). Many of our students can't write paragraphs, or even sentences, well (because they haven't practiced enough in K-12, through no fault of K-12 teachers, and because they haven't read enough, ditto). And we're in a world where shorter writing is increasingly valued. So there's an argument for moving in the direction of having students write shorter things; what I fear is lacking is the realization that commenting on, and helping them revise, shorter texts can take just as much time as doing the same with longer texts (all the more so if they've never really learned to write sentences or paragraphs, and/or are struggling to keep their prose together as they grapple with more complex ideas -- also a common phenomenon, but one that isn't always recognized outside composition circles, leading to those complaints that we haven't taught them to write).ReplyDelete
Courage, Chiltepin! Hope they're done by now (or at least that you're able to take a break sometime this weekend).
speaking of prove reading, and the difificiculty thereof, "right shorter" should be "write shorter."Delete
But Shorter has fallen over and can't get up.Delete
And we're in a world where shorter writing is increasingly valued.Delete
Some writers have been heartbroken to imagine their short writings not being a part of their future tenure dossier -- as a kind of scholarship that "counts."
I resisted the temptation on that one (maybe for the first time).Delete
The Twitter essay was another one that really wound me up.
I wonder whether Dr. Stommel would do anything differently now, given the chance?
One thing that - in my mind - connects him and Stop all the Complaining's comment is the level of naivety on display (plus the preachiness, of course).
But I suppose "valued" is a multi-valued thing.Delete
One of my bosses says he often does not scroll beyond the first screen of an email on his iPhone.
If it's like a lot of the admin-generated mail I get, I can't really blame him.Delete
Of course, the danger with such an approach is that the stuff can be long on purpose, with a sting in the tail buried somewhere towards the end.
("...you sanctimonious twit...")ReplyDelete
I graded my first set of papers last weekend. More than 2/3 failed to meet my minimum standard (in the syllabus) in use of MLA and basic written English. I returned them to the Little Dears without a grade and with clearly written instructions (in the syllabus) about how to revise and resubmit them and what the point penalty would be. We also went over the expectations and revision instructions in class. Not one student visited my office hour for help or clarification. The day the revisions were due, there was an air of general panic as students checked with each other about what they had been supposed to do. I refused to answer questions about it in the five minutes before class because Syllabus.
This weekend I'm grading the revisions. An appalling number did not follow the instructions. Some didn't include the original with the revision; some changed their essay topics; and some used correction tape over the original errors. Many (sigh) committed new errors.
Whats so had About prove reading.
The only part of the above that surprises me is that they know about correction tape (and can still obtain it). I thought that stuff went out with the typewriter.Delete
P.G., you're reminding me of a painful instance from my freshman year.Delete
The assignment was a three-page paper, assigned to a group of three students. Each of us took responsibility for one page. We worked on our sections and brought them to an in-class workshop session.
My page, the first page, was solid. Put in a comma here, call it good.
The second fellow's page, the middle page, was OK. Replace this word, rewrite this sentence, tweak the punctuation there, and it'll be peachy-keen.
The third and last page was an utter disaster. "Okay, Conan," we said, "listen up, 'cuz here's what you need to do. Totally rewrite this first paragraph. Pay attention to spelling and punctuation. Cut out the middle paragraph and paste in a new paragraph that actually matches the subject of the paper, Totally rewrite this end paragraph. Make it a real conclusion. And again, pay attention to spelling and punctuation."
After class, we went on our separate ways and made our recommended fixes.
The next class session, the professor produced a stapler, and all the groups met to assemble their papers.
I'd made my fix and reprinted the page. The second student had done the same.
Conan hadn't made any changes to the existing text. He had, however, somewhat followed one of our suggestions; he'd cut-and-pasted in a new paragraph...by taking scissors, cutting his paper in half, and gluing (yes, actually gluing) another paragraph in the gap. Another paragraph that was...
printed on a buff-colored piece of paper...
printed in a different font...
riddled with errors...
and glued at an angle.
Perhaps he was imitating a Burroughs cut-up?Delete
@ Cassandra, yes indeed there is correction tape these days, and it is way better than correction fluid. One just swipes the little tape cartridge across a line of hard copy and immediately writes over it. Brilliant for correcting grades on a roll sheet.Delete
(Yes, you read that right. I keep my roll sheets and grades on hard copies as well as a flash drive and in Dropbox. Never know which version will crash and burn.)
@ Dr. Mindbender and Trish: Groan.Delete
> Whats so had About prove reading.ReplyDelete
After I laughed I grimaced, because I almost always see what I meant and not what I actually got onto the screen or page. Unless I can set the document aside for a few days.
This has been the advice I've given my grad students about writing. Well, similar anyway, I tell the that they need to think about the paper from the reader's perspective and make sure to tell the reader what they need to know to follow the argument being presented, because the reader doesn't already know what the writer wants to say.Delete
Reading this makes me realize I need to somehow present the idea to my undergrad classes as well.
I was a volunteer editor for a while, and as such experienced numerous authors who "see what they meant" when they read their own writing. I tried to get them to read it themselves a few days after they wrote it, or get someone else to read it before submitting it to the journal, often to no avail. But I did get better at recognizing true typographical errors that slip through spellcheck.Delete
Cassandra, you should write a book. I actually have embraced more shorter writings with more chances for revision for this very reason. Which is why I react so badly to those who sniff and snort and snidely insinuate that I'm a bad teacher. I spend a hell of a lot of time working on these things.ReplyDelete
And no, I'm not done. Not even remotely. I took a break to take a walk, and I really would like to write a few thousand words on my own goddamned writing at some point here, but yeah, about twenty more are waiting for me, in various states of disarray.
But! The good news: I have given three A's, which is extremely rare in the first round of papers in my classes. So maybe it's not all bad.
Ugh! I meant "you should write a book" as in "you give good advice and are very smart and helpful," not in any snide way. It occurred to me it could be read like that, and that's the exact opposite of my intention.Delete
Not to worry. I actually considered the "you write long things" meaning (which, after all, would be completely true), but was pretty sure you meant the "useful ideas" one. So thanks. I'm not sure I ever will, but I do occasionally going into the advice-giving business (usually while listening to an ill-prepared outside consultant, or even a good one, who I know makes far more than I do, say things that seem pretty obvious to me -- like, for instance, have them write shorter stuff. The only part of what I said that I'd consider, if not exactly original, then at least mildly useful/illuminating, is the part considering the context: it's hard to do this because of the institutional tradeoffs that might ensue).Delete
And yes, as we more than occasionally note here, the first step toward fixing a problem (or at least trying out the first of a possibly-infinite string of imperfect solutions) is identifying it. And sometimes it even helps to rant and rave and hyperbolize before getting down to work and dealing with the situation as it is (which I'm pretty sure we all do, eventually). Better we vent here than directly to the students.
Hurrah for the A papers! That's cheering. I hope a few more turn up at well-spaced intervals, to keep your morale up.
Just to check: somebody naming themselves "Stop all the Complaining" aims to persuade us to stop complaining by, uh, complaining?ReplyDelete
Yes! Never complain! Complaining is bad! It's how change occurs, and change scares us.Delete
I saw this post and some earlier responses at about 4:45 PM Friday the 18th, not long after I'd returned to my office from running a small-group extra help session. Although the students had come because of difficulties understanding what I'd covered in class, they were soon asking questions deeper than what I'd lectured on, tying in concepts from other classes, and bringing up topics that will be the subject of the next course in the sequence. That's the type of opportunity I can look happily upon again and again.ReplyDelete
With some horses, you only have to point in the general direction of the trough, and they'll find their way to it.
Some horses, you have to lead them, but together you'll get there in good time.
Some you have to drag a bit, and the journey is fraught, but you get there eventually.
Some expect you to carry the trough to them, and they'll meet you partway only if you're lucky.
Some horses, once they're at the trough, drink deeply.
Some just want to play in it, and you might have to show them how to drink to receive the water's full benefit.
Some will stare down at the trough, daring you to ladle its contents into their throats.
Some can't even be bothered to glance at the trough, or do so only long enough to dismiss it.
Some make a great show of kicking the trough over and taking a piss on it.
A public whose opinion on teaching is informed by movies like Stand and Deliver (or Mr. Holland's Opus or To Sir, with Love or many of that genre) might think that student problems can be permanently dealt with in the space of two hours if the teacher can just "be inspiring" or "do their jobs" or other trite piffle. What they miss is that our days are typically more than four times the length of a movie, several days a week, several weeks a semester, two or more semesters a year, and that the problems are ever evolving.
It should surprise no one that professionals are at times frustrated by the unprofessional behavior of their clients. When someone comes here and insinuates that this forum is "part of the problem", I sometimes think we should just direct them to notalwaysright.com. Other times I want to respond, "Tell us what your job is, so that we can opine on it as if we were experts, and then you'll see firsthand how stupid you look to us now."
To the specific issue of our complaining, I can personally do little better than what I wrote more than a year ago, which I now reproduce below to correct a few foibles in the original.
Funny that you should bring up horses. I had just read my comment to my Loving Husband, who remarked, "You've been holding the horses' heads under water."Delete
Drinking at the fount of knowledge, Gitmo-style.Delete
I come here because I love my students. It's my colleagues I can't stand. (That second thing's a joke... mostly.)
I set the bar high in the utter conviction that my students will reach it, and they typically do; when they don't, I try to do better. If I didn't love my students, I would check out, phone it in, cash my paycheck, drink more, etc., anything but try to improve, anything but seek the council of other professionals during my leisure time.
It is a fact of life that in dealing with other beings who possess self-determination, one will occasionally be disappointed. Among other things, my position demands that I resolve other people's disappointment with each other. None of them can do the same for me, and that's part of why I'm here. It would not be acceptable for me to be isolated because some other people are not able to accept being reminded that the world is not perfect.
I doubt that I could take seriously a blog where everybody is always positive and everything is always kittens and rainbows. If they haven't articulated some of the problems I've had, how can I trust that they have actual experience? Too many times, solutions offered by those who have not "been there, done that" are long on idealism but short on efficacy (c.f. Dunning-Kruger Effect).
Here, we tell it like it is, and if we embellish, it is in the manner that art is the lie that reveals the truth. We empathize, then we provide real solutions born of experience. I believe that people of high intellectual capability have no problem partitioning what happens here and what happens on the job, keeping only the constructive aspects of the former when acting in the latter.
I will now be blunt. If you're a parent, and you raised your kid right, then anything negative about students we may say here does not apply to you or your kid; in fact, your kid is at a completely different institution. You may move along, nothing to see here. If you are a student and you don't do the stuff we complain about here, you may move along. If you're in the profession and nothing like this happens at your institution, you may move along if you are so inclined. Telling us not to talk about the problems as we see them will not make them go away. Trust me: we are all better off if we deal with this stuff in the manner we do.
If you're in the profession and nothing like this happens at your institution, consider yourself both very lucky and warned of what might happen - because one day you will almost certainly encounter a class, or a Dean, or just a needy individual repeatedly confusing a drinking vessel and a urinal, since nowhere is totally immune, and then you will be grateful to have a few strategies to draw on.Delete
Oh, and send any job ads our way...
This is exactly what I needed after grading my first midterm. (Well, this and a big bottle of Apothic Red.) Thanks, OPH.Delete
Apothic Red. I'm having some now.Delete
Oh, and, de nada.Delete
I am grading my first stack of papers this semester as well. I decided to provide a very detailed grading rubric as well as step-by-step instructions for each PARAGRAPH. I honestly believed this would fix the problems of years past. The problem, I had decided, was me. I was not providing enough structure. If I provided enough structure and provided the instruction in the form of detailed handouts that they could easily follow, they would all do well on the assignment. And so... I sat down to grade and quickly discovered that at least half did not follow instructions. Of those that did not follow instructions, I was frequently assaulted with mangled sentences and outright gibberish (e..g, "The research of the hypotheses is ground work that students put to action in the beginning of the lab altogether. They are, did looks and stereotypes change the responses to the actions made. Also, mood will effect shoot-or-don't-shoot thought process of hijabs".)ReplyDelete
Being able to talk about my pain helps. My pain is still there, but it helps to know that others out there understand my pain. My stack of papers is waiting for me to continue...(sob)
It seems that like you, I have fully accepted that I am at least part of the problem. And I look at every student "mistake" as an opportunity for me to "up my game". So I don't need anybody to tell me to start doing those things. All I ask is that the students "bring it".Delete
My 10th-grade English teacher had what we called "The Wall of Shame", upon which were posted passages of student writing that he considered to be opportunities for teachable moments. Stop all the Complaining's comment would have been posted in full. Let's see if we can help this person out a bit.ReplyDelete
I assume you have of course accepted...
This is an example of padding and fluff, a probable attempt to appear erudite. In this usage, "of course" implies that the speaker has knowledge of fact or has at least made an assumption. Therefore, "I assume" or "of course" could be eliminated with no loss of meaning.
as a paid professional[,]
More padding and fluff. A professional is one who is paid for his or her expertise. We also have a words for those who are not paid: volunteer and amateur. While professionals sometimes volunteer, there is little risk of reader confusion on the issue of pay if "paid" were omitted here. I would further argue that leaving out "paid" would evoke other aspects of "professionalism", such as doing the right thing irrespective of remuneration, which is closer to the central theme of the passage.
Rather than X, you would better Y.
Rather than risk getting laughed at, writers would better make their point if they would avoid setting up false dichotomies and presupposing things for which they offer no evidence (c.f. begging the question and non sequitur).
"We also have a words"Delete
There's a Murphy-like law for this type of thing.
Titivillus found you, OPH.Delete
I would pun on his name, but that might be better suited to the post on Murdoch and the National Geographic.
Heh. We should get Epictetus and Titivillus together some time. That would be ... epic.Delete
I was thinking more of the law that I first heard of in the days of Usenet, but has also been called Skitt's Law.
And of course, that I made an editing error in no way affects whether redundancy or false dichotomy were evident in the comment I was critiquing.
And there's Murphry's Law.Delete