Monthly Archives: December 2008

Smackdown of Random Idiots.

So, I am feeling a bit financially challenged, in part because maybe one of my classes next semester may not have enough students in it to run – ugh – although it only needs to pick up 4 more warm bodies by Jan 5. So, fingers crossed, everyone. Economic downturn, blah, blah, blah. Isn’t it times like these when it is MORE important to understand the works of Chaucer? I am just saying.

But I digress.

The point is, depression about possibly straightened financial circumstances naturally leads me to plumb the depths of the internets – viz, “advertise your freelancing jobs and skills here” type sites. A lot of the jobs on offer look like slaving for pennies, even the legit jobs for actual companies with actual websites. And as for the “qualified” freelancers, they range from sad secretaries with minimal English skills to skeevy guys who probably get their girlfriends to do the work.  I am sure there are real people out there doing real work, but dude, srsly, the sliminess of the bottomfeeders is chilling.

Still, we are all about the lulz, here, right? So one ad catches my eye. It’s from someone who wants “an MLA style essay, 2000 words, must be able to deliver by 4pm today GMT.” Oh. I know what this is about. This dude is foregoing the lowbrow option of in favour of a high-end custom option.

Just for a laugh, I submit a bid for the job, as follows:

I can write your essay for you, if you give me the assignment sheet. I will do it for US$1000. That’s $100 for the essay, and $900 not to nark on you.

Despite the desperation in the original ad, and the urgent timeline, I hear nothing. Later, I check back. The job has been withdrawn. Reason? “Unreasonable bids”. Pwnt!

Of course the real joke here is that I would have narked anyway.

Back to the depressing review of the more legitimate-looking “work”.

Hey, if anyone has a line on an actual job, let me know.

You know what I am over? Pineapple.

So, today I popped into work to do a little marking, and my Chair said that little phrase guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any Prof – “do you have a minute”?

So, apparently, Pineapple boy is shocked and horrified that he didn’t pass my class, and he very cunningly went to see the Head of Department armed with the assignments that he passed, cunningly leaving the ones he failed at home. His cunning, let him sho u it. Unfortunately, the Chair has had some experience of student cunning, and asked him if there was work he a) did not hand in, or b) failed. So that was a bit of a blow.

Also, what came up in discussion (although I don’t know how, and am dying to) was all the eating in class. Pineapple boy mentioned the food, to which the Chair said “Oh, I know all about the food”, and proceeded to lay it on the Pineapple that eating in class was actually forbidden by policy, although instructors had discretion to allow it. This information so shocked Pineapple Boy that he was heard to utter the words, “Well, when can I eat?”

I don’t know what’s funnier, that the Chair clearly took the several minutes required to suggest to this guy that he eat during the break, or before or after class, or that he found it necessary to recount to me that he had done so. All of which is a great big check mark in the “It’s not just me” column when it comes to dealing with Pineapple Boy.

Anyway, all of this was because the Chair wanted to let me know that Pineapple Boy might be asking for a meeting to discuss his grades, but that all parties have agreed that this meeting might be better mediated by a third party. My choice:  some guy dressed up as a vegetable.

In other news, I am mean.

This meanness most recently manifested itself in telling a student, let’s call her The Wet Mess, that I wasn’t going to let her write the final.

Context: TWM managed to make it to 6 classes all semester. That’s not 6 classes of a class that meets once a week, either. That’s 6 classes for a class that meets 3 times a week. On two of these 6 occasions, she was advised by me to drop the class, since she wasn’t attending and had failed her midterm. Prior to the final, I emailed her to let her know that since she had not handed in a bunch of work, her grand total for the semester was running at 12%, and there was no way, mathematically, for her to pass the course.

Envirnonmental context: It was snowing like buggery the day before said final, and on the day, the temperature was hovering around -25.

Despite all of this, of course, TWM turned up to the final. Dude. Srsly. I pulled her aside, along with another no-hoper and suggested that they do something else with their 2 hours. I know other profs who don’t say anything, but, I dunno, it just doesn’t seem right to me to let someone sit, because the only reason he or she is doing so is out of forlorn hope. Mostly they leave, but occasionally they still want to do it. Okay, whatever.

TWM’s reaction was to burst into tears. At this point, I dug my heels in, for two reasons. 1) I knew I had a roomful of delicate little butterflies, and letting a crying one in was likely to be detrimental to anyone she sat near. 2) She said “Letting me sit would make me feel better”. No way am I enabling that kind of shit. If you fucked up your semester, you deserve to feel crap. You don’t get to sit the final, fail and then say “It’s okay, I tried my best”. Fuck that noise.

Then, of course, she tried to guilt me about her “medical condition”. This would be the medical condition you never mentioned to me all semester, even when asked the direct question, “Is there something going on in your life that is making it hard for you to cope with your courseload?” Outside the door of the final is not the place to be bringing this up.

So I drew a line in the sand, and no doubt she will relieve her feelings by writing nasty things about me on Rate My Prof. Anything to stop you having to take responsibility for your actions, sweetheart.

Also making me crabby: my wii is broken again, and the stupid buses that don’t come because it is -25. It’s -25! That’s when I need the bus to come get me before I freeze my ass off.

Ten Essential Pieces of Advice for Exam-takers.

  1. Pay attention to any instructions about materials you are allowed to bring. If your instructor tells you you may bring your text, the questions will probably require answers that relate specifically to the said text. Reading the text ahead of time is a definite bonus.
  2. Also, even though your instructor does not tell you to bring a pen or pencil, you should probably go ahead and do that, on the off chance that a writing implement will be needed at some point.
  3. Sniping at the professor for any reason just before the exam starts is equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot. Humour the poor dear, even if you privately think rules about turning off cell phones or not entering the examination room before the invigilator are “ridiculous and stupid”.
  4. Even if you are getting a B+/A- average, not turning up to the exam will probably mean you end up with an F for the course. Do not be surprised when this happens.
  5. I know it’s an English exam, but basic math skills are still important. “Answer 8 questions” means 8, not 6 or 7, or, WTF, 9.
  6. Similarly, “Answer one of the following in essay format” means answer one of the three questions, not write an essay that attempts to answer three completely unrelated questions.
  7. Spelling counts. It’s the little details that matter. When it’s an open book exam and you have to write an analysis of an essay by Sarah Vowell, referring to her as “Powell” throughout your exam is unlikely to get you extra marks.
  8. Try to answer the question. For example, if you are asked to write a persuasive essay on types of argument with specific reference to the three appeals defined by Aristotle, writing a narrative about your cousin who went to juvie is unlikely to meet the instructor’s requirements.
  9. A “bonus question” is your professor’s way of offering you a lifeline, in case you have screwed up (see points 1-8, above). Essentially, a bonus question offers free marks. Take the 2 minutes out of your busy life to throw a sentence at it, especially if you are done early.
  10. Professors are tired and cranky at this time of year, and overburdened with marking a metric fuckton of mediocre crap. If you have an inspired moment and think of a little joke or pleasantry that might lighten this load a little, go ahead and throw it in there. It’s best to avoid racist, sexist, or off-colour humour, but that little gem about how although playing Grand Theft Auto will not get you a girlfriend, playing the Sims will has got to be worth an extra 3-5%.

Asstards, Liars and Wankers from the End of Semester.

The end of semester tends to bring out all the creepy crawlies that have been hiding under their assorted rocks. The ones who disappeared weeks ago suddenly filter back up to the surface. Here, then, is a sampling of the delights they have to offer.

The Desperate, via Email:
Hi Prof
I realise I haven’t been to class since week 2, and I really wanted to learn, and you seem like such a great teacher, and I am sorry I didn’t take the time I should have taken to absorb your pearls of wisdom. Is there anyway I could still pass?
Me, ticked:

The Liar, who looks me in the eye:
Me: So, I don’t seem to have your research essay.
Liar: I totally handed it in on Wednesday [this, by the way, would make it 10 days late, but who’s counting].
Me: ORLY? Where did this supposed “handing-in” take place?
Liar: In the Office. I utterly gave it to the Secretary.
Me: So you signed the book of handing-in-ness?
Liar: Probably.
Me: [steely glare]
Liar: Not exactly.
Me: So, where did you hand it in?
Liar: Look, they obviously lost it.
Me: Are you sure you want to continue in this vein?
Liar: How about I give it to you on Monday?
Me: How about you print it and give it to me NOW, since we are in a lab, and we have the technology.
Liar: Oh, it is on my laptop, at home.
Me: Okay, so go home and submit electronically.
Liar: I have to go to work.
Me: So, submit it later.
Liar: Okay.
Needless to say, the essay did not show up.

The Arrogant Asshole:
Me: So, I don’t seem to have your research essay.
AA: I decided I could take the 15% hit.
AA: Sure. [Exit, stage right.]
Amusing Suck-up: I guess he missed the fine print in the course outline that said you had to submit that essay to pass the course.

The Guy with nothing better to do with his time, apparently:
Me: So, before you go in to the room for the final, I need to point out that you haven’t handed in any work, and therefore have a zero percent chance of passing the course.
Guy: Yeah, I kind of got behind.
Me: So, you know, writing the final isn’t going to resolve this situation.
Guy: I don’t mind.
Me: You get that you won’t pass, right?
Guy: Yeah. [Goes in and sits down, and gamely takes up a pen.]

When pineapple goes bad.

So, things have been moving along, and there has been quite a lot of Nutcracker, and I did mean to write a post last week, but I got distracted by hilarious events in another corner of the internet. All of which means, I have to get you caught up on the Pineapple Boy business.

When we last heard of him, Pineapple Boy was a food-splattering jerk, kind of sexist, but generally lulzy. Things deteriorated a bit.

First, there was the incident in class when I was talking about my students’ oral presentations for their term projects. These are often on rather personal topics, and sometimes students get emotional, and often because they go that deep, the writing in them ends up being extraordinary. I had some wonderful ones this year, although not, I hasten to add, from Pineapple Boy’s cohort. Anyway, because sometimes these presentations do get emotional (read – people cry), I mention this beforehand, in order to say “Look, sometimes people get emotional. It’s okay, this classroom is a safe place, and crying in your presentation is not going to get you a bad mark.” I don’t court the emotional catharsis, but I do find that the ones who cry tend to be able then to go back to the writing and make it really good, having got the emotional stuff out of their systems, as it were.

In the one class – which I call in my head, the Good Class – there were some tears:  from the girl who got up and said “My Dad got married yesterday to the love of his life; the wedding was going to be in June, but they got married yesterday because he isn’t going to live that long”; from the girl who got up and read part of a letter she wrote to her brother who killed himself last August; from a couple of others who basically bared their souls in front of classmates whose response was respectful, thoughtful and admiring. Two standouts (who didn’t cry) were the girl who wrote a delightfully self-deprecating fairy tale about her experiences with drugs, and Silas.

Silas stood up and said “I want to start my piece by telling you about my friend Annie, who is a Jew”. It was one of those moments that stop a teacher’s heart. I mean, I give my students free reign to write about themselves and whatever they truly care about in this project. It’s a risk, but it usually pays off. In this case, though, I had a couple of seconds to worry about whether I was going to have to leap up and cut off some kind of terrifying neo-Nazi rant. But no. Silas went on to use the example of his friend Annie, who was so overtly proud of her religion that it became an overwheming part of her identity that she was practically one-dimensional, to illustrate his own dilemma. “I am a person with diabetes,” he said, “but I don’t want my disease to be my identity.” It was a brilliant piece, well-written, funny and moving. His classmates unanimously gave him 5 out of 5.

I came out of that class feeling terrific, like I had done a good job, and that my students had repaid me by trusting me with themselves, and that they were learning, and incorporating what they learned into what they wrote.

This feeling lasted an hour.

Then, I went to Pineapple Boy’s class. Because of the vagaries of scheduling, they were due to present the following class. So, I chipperly remarked that the presentations I had just heard were awesome, and that I hoped (vainly, forlornly) that this stupid, lumpish class might produce something of similar quality. “Did they bawl?” sneered Pineapple Boy. Ugh. And with that, my buzz was gone.

Two days later, the Lumpen Class were set to present. Pineapple Boy was being his usual cud-chewing self, with his massive tupperware of salad, and the usual lineup of power bars on the desk. Now, I am a professional, and if assholes are eating and farting and sleeping and texting in my class, I can pretty much suck it up and carry on regardless. But these students were nervous about their presentations, and I wanted to keep the annoying distractions to a minimum. So I asked Pineapple Boy to put his food away, just this once. No dice. “I gotta eat,” he said. (Subsequent events have made me aware that he has a class immediately after mine. A class in which, I now deeply suspect, he is forbidden to eat.) I repeated my request. He repeated his refusal. I threatened to throw him out. Finally, he gave in, with bad grace, and grumbled to his fellows.

Their presentations sucked. They sucked so bad, even peer marking couldn’t save them.

There followed a week, during which there was more truculence and backchat, but nothing all that noteworthy. Well, except I read a development in a story that a friend of mine had been telling in the Ivory Tower group over on ravelry, about a student who had touched her on the arm, and made comments about her looking hot. (I know! Ew!) We had encouraged her to report him, and he had been unhappy, and things had escalated, and he ended up breaking in to her house, and long story short, she had to buy all new underwear and the student is now in the loony bin. This would be a digression, except hearing this story put me a little, shall we say, on edge.

So, Friday morning, I am minding my own business, walking down the hallway when someone grabs my upper arm, quite hard. This is not a little tap. And I am not a little startled. And by the time I collect my self so as to say “Who the fuck is grabbing me by the arm,” the grabber is already some feet away, behind me, and it is Pineapple boy. This is not cool.

Before you say “why were his gonads still attached to his body?” I will mention that I had a cup of coffee in one hand and was dragging a trolley with the other. I mention my unhappiness to my Head of Department in an email, to which his response was, “meh”. Sarcastic Bastard told me to write up Pineapple Boy, because we do have a rules about behaviour at our place, and they have a spiral bound publication with schmancy gold illustrations on the front. So you know it’s srs business.

I kind of took the weekend to ruminate, and then had a conversation with the Official Rules Maven on Monday about whether Pineapple Boy was pertinent to their interests – i.e. whether I should follow through on the whole official reprimand thing. Since her response was “Oh my gosh, yes,” I went ahead and filled in the form.

Here’s where the pineapple starts going pear-shaped.

Before I went to class, I confirmed that Sarcastic Bastard was planning on being in the office, equipped with Mean Glare in case Pineapple Boy decided to give me any trouble, and I went down to the classroom. Lumpen Class were supposed to be doing a practice exam, so I set them up in the lab with their task, and asked Pineapple Boy to go upstairs and wait outside my office for me. I spent a couple minutes helping students, and then went to the door. He was standing there. I asked why he hadn’t gone upstairs. He said, in his inimitable fashion, that I wasn’t to treat him like a 5-year-old, and that he wanted to walk upstairs with me.

Now, I fully admit, that some of my reaction to him was being coloured by other experiences, and that I was choosing to err on the side of caution, but his truculence really put me on edge. I mean, come on. Your Prof comes in and says “I need to talk to you; go upstairs and wait,” if you are a reasonable person, do you argue? Or do you run like hell up those stairs, hoping that by appearing meek and biddable you may be able to engender some leniency for your crimes? I have never before had any student choose Option 1.

At that moment, I was absolutely jack of his shit. I didn’t want to argue with him anymore. So I went into the lab, shut the door, and pressed the speed-dial for Security. All I wanted was one guy. One guy to walk me up the stairs and possibly stand outside the door, so that when I had a difficult conversation with a dude whose neck is fatter than his head, and whose upper arms are fatter than his neck, I didn’t have to feel intimidated. What I got was 4 dudes. Who appeared at a fast jog.

It was overkill, and almost could have been embarrassing. Except for two things. 1) If you ever need to call Security, you would like to be confident that they will take you seriously, and provide, well, security. So over-reaction, in this situation, is totally preferable to the opposite. You know, like my Chair, who had essentially said, “meh”. 2) Pineapple Boy started to give them shit. Which kind of got me thinking about the kind of shit he might have given me had they not been there. So, all-in-all, I think I made the right call.

One of the Security guys menacingly put on his leather gloves while we approached Pineapple Boy, who had in the meantime wandered up the stairs on his own. This glove move, I am reliably assured, is a total mall ninja move, but it is nonetheless menacingly effective. We got Pineapple Boy into my office, and I started to explain the situation.

He interrupted me, as is his wont, to argue with me. I have been putting up with this, I now realise. The Security guy who was in my office told Pineapple Boy to shut up and listen to me. Which, naturally, he could not possibly manage to do. So they told him again. And again. All of which, again, was kind of part crazy comedy routine, but at the same time, it made me see that I had been letting this student push me around, and make me uncomfortable, and that part of the reason I had done that was because I was physically intimidated. Eventually, we got through the formalities, and I said what I needed to, and Pineapple Boy gave 4 different explanations of his behaviour, none of which impressed any of the parties present. It was quite uncomfortable, although the part where he said “This is about the pineapple, isn’t it,” was a brief moment of enjoyable levity in the otherwise depressing morass.

The Security guards took his details and menacingly asked him what his movements were going to be for the rest of the afternoon. This, I must admit, I did not expect, and I found it a little scary. Why were they asking? Did they think he might lie in wait to ambush me, while consuming his bucket of salad? His constant eating may be his downfall as a stealthy stalker, though. The tap, tap of chopsticks on tupperware could be a tell-tale clue that alerts me to his presence. Honestly, I don’t think he is that kind. I think he has been overstepping, but I think now, that it was not deliberate. He protested that he defends me when the others complain about me, and that he respects me as a teacher. I responded that in that case, he needs to make sure his behaviour matches his attitude, and if he can learn that lesson, well, maybe I have been an effective teacher for him this semester.

After all of this was over, I went back down to my class, who were being preturnaturally quiet and well-behaved. One of them tentatively raised a hand and said, “Do you mind if I ask a question, even if it might be a stupid question?” Normally, their stupidity doesn’t give them much pause. I responded, “Yeah, you probably don’t want to piss me off today, especially since I hear you all badmouth me behind my back.”

This has been an epic story, and not as funny as usual. Hopefully we can get back to the regular schedule of pointing and laughing at idiots soon.