Monthly Archives: February 2009

Bossy and I throw down.

So, you know how it was, like, reading break last week? And there were no classes? And a bunch of my students missed class on the Thursday before, including Bossy, because it was like the last class before a week off? Well, I kindly sent them a reminder email late last week, since I had been getting emails that indicated confusion about a) when their essays were due, and b) which day we were having our library research session, and c) what the difference between their asses and their elbows might be.

Yesterday morning, it was snowing like fuck, and yes traffic was a little bad, and yes my class was at sparrowfart. When I got to class, there were 4 students there, and I wondered out loud, and rhetorically, where they might be, knowing the answer was, “in that bus that we can see out the window – the one that appears to be stuck in the driveway outside the building.” One student said, “yeah, the traffic is really bad,” and I was about to say something about giving them 5 minutes before we started when Bossy initiated the following conversation:

Bossy [with, like, totally a tone]: Maybe they went to the library.
Me: Why would they do that?
Bossy: Because of the email, which I only got at 7am this morning [sic].
Me: The email I sent 5 days ago? That says the library class is on Thursday, so don’t go to the library today?
Bossy: Yeah. Well, I don’t know when you sent it.
Me: I sent it 5 days ago.
Bossy: Well, I don’t have email at home. You shouldn’t be trying to contact me via email.
Me [applying the stink eye, which effectively communicates “how, then shall, I contact you, given that you missed the last class?]: [silence].
Bossy: Look. I am not trying to attack you.
Me: Thank you for clearing that up, because from where I am sitting, it certainly sounded like you were.

At this  point, the bus finally makes it up the hill, and another half a dozen snow-covered students stagger in.

UPDATE: She was 15 minutes late to class today because she went to the wrong room. After making a fuss about how she got the email. Saying which room the class was in. I KNOW!

Death by a Thousand (Paper) Cuts

Today was a day of small annoyances. I must confess, I kind of let them get to me, which I blame on a) not feeling well and b) just having had a week off making me ungrateful. Let me lay some instances on you.

Augh. Now, I have one more, which is that my craptacular internets combined with WordPress to eat half this post as I was trying to publish it.

You all know by now my feelings about the stapler. Students who don’t have staplers wanting me to produce one out of my ass, students who staple dead ducks to their essays, students who take my stapler without asking: sometimes teaching is just one giant carousel of stapler madness. This being week, I dunno, 6 or something, of semester, you would think my students who have lab classes once a week, would, after 6 of them, during which they write assignments on computers, and then print out 2-3 pages, which extrude from an ordinary printer, and not some kind of magical machine which puts their pages in the correct order and staples them… Hem. As I was saying, you you would think that these students might also be getting the hang of the stapler thing. But no. Every time they come up to hand in their papers, it’s a string of “do you have a stapler”s. “No,” I say. Every time. You would think after, like, 4 times, they would get the message that I am not going to produce a damn stapler. Dude, if you care that much, bring your own.

Today was no different. I had a string of stapling requests, which were fraying my already headachy nerves. I think I might have started to look a little bit tetchy, because the next student who came up tried a variation on the theme. “It’s okay if we don’t have a stapler, right?” she asked. At this point, I kind of lost it. “Look,” I said “we go over this every week. We are in a lab; you are printing out papers; there is no stapler in the lab because every time we put one in here, some bastard steals it. So yes, it is okay if you don’t have a stapler. What is not okay is this constant harping on about your stapling desires. I have had enough. The next person who says the word ‘stapler’ will lose a whole letter grade off his or her mark for the assignment.” I know: crazy and harsh, and possibly also crazy harsh. But the thing is – it worked. Not one further peep did I hear about staplage.

My next annoyance came in the form of a rather grubby student, hereinafter referred to as the Unwashed. It’s not so much her person that is revolting, though it is, it’s that her work is constantly grimed over with a slightly sticky film of dubious origin. (I could speculate, but some depths are better left unplumbed.)

Today’s offering was partially typed, although single spaced (a paragraph formatting choice guaranteed to raise professorial ire, saying, as it does – “your comments, I have no need of them”) slightly crooked on the page, and after the first two paragraphs, suddenly transitioned into an off-kilter, handwritten scrawl. The paper was also crumpled and slightly grubby, as if the Unwashed had been holding it in her sweaty paws, or possibly had shoved it into her pocket, along with unpleasant substances of a dusty nature.

Previous work from this student have included an assignment which was typed but had had the citation scrawled on in crayon, and a handwritten assignment on what appeared to be slightly greyish, lined toilet paper. This latter, mind you, consisted of questions and answers painfully transcribed because they had all been initially provided in electronic format. “Wouldn’t it have been easier just to copy and paste?”  I had asked, incredulously.

So you see, today’s effort was not without history, and I had commented on the importance of the impression given to the instructor by work that looked like the student gave a shit (this comes under the “dead duck” rules, really). It was 10 minutes in to a lab class, and I suggested that the Unwashed might like to use some assigned class time to have a stab at cleaning this mess up. “Oh, no. I have to be somewhere at 1,” was her reply. Class was scheduled to run until 1:50, but because WTF guy has so schooled me on the unreasonablness of expecting students to spend all 110 minutes of class time actually in the classroom, I let this one go by with scarcely a raised eyebrow. I was, however, goaded into being petty. “Well, since this is not the first time I have mentioned the importance of presentation, it will affect your mark.” Her only response was a glance of withering scorn and a “Whatever” thrown over her begrimed shoulder as she left the room.

In other news, not all my students are this rude. Hulking Ethnic Guy #1 raised his hand in class to ask a question. “Excuse me, Miss,” he said. “What did you say?” I asked. “Miss. I wanted to ask a question,” he replied. “I know you wanted to ask a question, but dude, did you seriously just call me ‘Miss’?” To me, “Miss” conjures images of 19th century urchins in charity schools; well, either that or the opening of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch. “What do you mean, Miss?” “I am sorry, I have a cold.”

HEG#1 (as I will refer to him, rather than giving you a clue to his ethnicity by giving him a name like Hakeem, or Dimitri) went on to explain that he was trying to be polite. Much as I appreciated the impulse, I suggested that there were perhaps better ways to express it. I turned to the room for support. “Room,” said I, “how might you address me if you were trying to be polite?” Thinking, as I did so that it seemed rather a gratuitous conversation to be having.

The complete and utter silence with which my question was greeted suggest that in fact it was a conversation that we needed to be having, much to my chagrin. I have heard several of my colleagues going on about how they have to give lectures on classroom etiquette and manners, and I have tended to dismiss them as partronising and fuddy-duddy-ish. Although, given recent events, it may be that I have just had my head in the sand. In any event, the discussion eventually came around to the conclusion that since I had said they could call me by my first name that it was actually okay (even polite) to do so, and that they could, for special occasions, bust out a “Professor Whatladder.”

A few moments later, Hulking Ethnic Guy #2 entered the room. “Sorry I am late, Miss,” he said.

I think I might be a remote Hebredean Island.

Wait, what? I was reading this article What if the feminist blogosphere is a form of digital colonialism which SJ linked me to this morning. Apparently it is causing a little bit of kerfluffle amongst those in the feminist blogosphere who are, as the article kind of predicts, taking it a bit like a personal kick in the teeth.

I think the article poses some interesting questions, but I have to ask whether the issues they point out about the dynamics of colonization are really particular to feminist online communities. Actually, I don’t have to ask, because I know: they aren’t. So what really is the issue, here? That somehow, we want things that call themselves “feminist” to operate differently? To be speshul?

Let me take a moment here to navel-gaze, and to take this post personally. Am I colonial power? Is this even a feminist blog?

Well, hmmm. Let’s see. I think I am a feminist, although I have at times been told that I can’t possibly be one because I am in a heterosexual relationship with a man (the person who said this had been in a heterosexual relationship with the same man, but had, after a subsequent heterosexual relationship, decided she was gay and moved into a lesbian household and perhaps at the time, this was more about her than me, but I digress…), but I am a professional person, and I try to see myself as an independent woman and a feminist. Ergo, this is a blog written by a feminist. Sometimes it is about feminist stuff, like reading Emily Martin’s essay with my class, pondering the issues of body image and my daughter or dealing with Sexual Harrassment Colleague. Sometimes, I dare say, it is about stuff that would horrify some feminists, like my previous post where I gave an annoying female student a rather rude nickname. To be fair, I do this to the male students, too. Equal opportunity sarcasm.

Is it a feminist blog? I guess maybe, although I have only had hatemail from one male reader, so maybe I am not trying hard enough. Let’s put a small checkmark in the feminist column, anyway.

So what about the other stuff? The potential colonialism? Full disclosure: I am white and currently live in what might technically be called a British colonial outpost. I used to live in a different British colonial outpost, so not now, nor ever have been exactly USAsian, which I think means I am not quite in the right group.  I am not a visible minority, and I have checkmarks in the “educated” column although I am not wealthy, dammit. So do I  fall into that mainstream  being defined here: “Larger feminist blogs are often run by a centralized group of like-minded, economically privileged, white, heterosexual, American women who follow a third wave feminist ideology”? Outside observers might say “yes”. I am not sure. Sometimes these feel like they might be my people, sometimes they are light years away from how I think about things.

The other issue is the one about the purpose of the blog. “Let’s be honest: blogs are businesses. They sell a product (writing) to their customers (readers) in exchange for revenue (via donation buttons, advertising dollars, referral programs, speaker’s fees, and book deal).”

Full disclosure: this blog costs me $20 a year. No, that’s not some kind of preamble to a donation drive. No ads, and I am not looking for ad revenue. I am not doing this for the cash directly. If someone offered me a book deal, would I take it? Hells yes. Am I in it for the popularity? I guess, but my desires are pretty modest. I look at my blog stats, now and again, and the fact that I have 100 or so hits a day makes me happy. I go, “cool”. But I did that when I had 30, too. I guess what I am saying is that I am happy with my population, and not really looking to expand my territory, to use the “colonial power” metaphor. I’m an outpost. A minor outpost, off the beaten track, with crap weather. If I get a little surge of tourist traffic now and again, well and good, but otherwise, as long as we have internet access and the local store sells coffee and booze, we are content.

If you want to thrash this out a bit more, there’s a discussion thread on Uppity Women.

Introducing Bossy the Cow.

Actually, I mentioned her earlier when she favoured me with her delightful email of helpfulness about how I seemed to have overlooked opening up Blackboard for the class she is in.

Bossy is constantly adding her less than helpful comments in class (when she shows up, that is) which often include providing us with slightly incorrect information on topics we discussed last class (when she was absent). She always has an answer for any question I have in class, and naturally it is never an answer of any use whatsoever.

Bossy has also taken a class with Professor Algernon, who makes up the rules of MLA to suit himself. This is starting to really piss me off, as Bossy is the 4th student of his I have had who tells me about how if “you are writing on, like, only one story, you don’t need citation.” Yes, you fucking well do. If for no other reason than you SUCK at MLA and need the practice.

She pretty much pushed me over the edge the other day when I was ranting about how my Chair, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to save wear-and-tear on the departmental secretaries by no longer allowing them to take in assignments from students. Now, it is all very well acting in the interests of getting them to do other work, which I am sure is Very Important (TM), but what am I to do about the liars, asstards and wankers? You know they will be spinning me a line about how they emailed their paper last week.

My solution is to tell students that until they have confirmation that their papers are in my hand (via, and I shudder as I say this, the digital dropbox on Blackboard, if they fail to come to class), they have to regard the paper issue as their problem. I refuse to take responsibility for vapour papers.

I explain this sternly, so as to make it clear I mean it. Bossy pipes up with “Well, you know, other profs have a policy where they let you email the paper to show it was done by the date and then you hand in the hard copy later.” I know they do, and it seems to me to be the worst of both worlds, and so I say “Yeah, no.” Which, apparently is not the way to talk to Bossy because she then pipes up with “Did you just mean to say ‘no’ to me?” The only response to this is a glare, which I give. No doubt I will get a note on my facial expressions next class.

My report card.

So, evaluations from last semester surfaced earlier this week. As I have said before, evaluations are an opportunity for students to take a pot-shot, and if not for the fact that they actually carry weight in the hiring process, I wouldn’t even bother worrying about them. Because basically, evaluations tell you how good you are at massaging the egos of a bunch of speshul snowflakes.

I must confess that I stooped to a bit of evaluation-pandering last semester, schedualling the evaluation for the class following a class I knew would go well, and during which I shamelessly gave out chocolate. As a result, my numbers were quite respectable (and don’t get me started on the statistical nonsense being perpetrated in our institution, which calls 4.0 out of 5 the acceptable average; grade inflation, anyone?). Do I feel dirty? Not to any extent that can’t be cured by a nice bath bomb.

Last semester’s students were embarrassingly reluctant to give additional comments, given that it was a writing class – oops! Perhaps because they were reasonably harmonious, and didn’t have any major complaints about things that are not in my control anyway – like the schedualling of the class, or the imposed common curriculum, the temperature of the room, or the odour of that one guy.

Written additional comments do tend to be educational; I think I learnt the most important thing about North American Snowflake culture from the student who commented that “when students give a wrong answer, she doesn’t even say ‘thank you for trying'”. Before that, I had no idea that my snowflakes were expecting to be thanked for their dumbassed utterances. Not that this comment caused me to change my behaviour, but it was an insight into just how incredibly narcissistic these products of self of steam edumacation really are.

This most recent evaluation had a little bit more WTF-ery with regard to student laziness. Of the few comments I received, most were positive, but there were two that had similar comments, clearly intended to be criticism. Are you ready? Apparently, I have a quite utterly unreasonable expectation that my students will pay attention and retain information. In other words, “she won’t repeat things if she thinks she has said them enough times for us to remember them, like more than 2 or 3 times.” Specifically, I am charged with only giving the instructions for the exam (which consisted of: “you will be writing 2 essays, one on a reading I will give you in advance, one on a ‘surprise’ topic based on class discussion”, so hardly rocket science) only 3 times in the hearing of one student, who thus, it is charged, “is not 100% confident I know what is required”.

Got all that? Because I am not going to repeat myself.

What did we do for lulz before email?

By which I mean, I get a lot of hilarious email from students saying stuff I am sure they would not be so foolish as to say in person. Email lets students send weaksauce excuses without having to go through the face-to-face embarrassment of barefaced lying, and it lets them ask stupid questions they are too chicken to ask in class, for the most part. I get a ton of emails that are sent 5 minutes after class often asking questions that were answered in class already, or that ask for clarification on things I mentioned (and have often asked “Is everyone clear?”), or that ask embarrassingly basic questions. (Eg, “What’s a tunic?” Answer: “Do you own a dictionary?”)

Sometimes students save these for the end of class because they don’t want to ask them in front of the group. I get that. You are a moron, and you want to keep that a secret from your peers. Somehow email makes this stuff less embarrassing, because maybe it feels like you are just asking your computer, and not your actual prof, and besides, asking in email means you don’t have to watch him or her hold back snorts of derisive laughter.

Then, of course, there are the inadvertently amusing infelicities in expression, and the emails that are so dreadfully written that they engender gnashing of teeth, banging on keyboards and demands that colleagues come and look at what this asshole has written.

Once in a rare while, there is an email that transcends all this mundane amusement, and launches itself into the realm of epic lulz. Such an email, I was lucky enough to receive on Friday. I share it with you, mildly edited:

It was my first term at college this year in the fall semester. I was enrolled in your English 101 course and completed the course. However, I checked my exam dates on the college website on the Saturday before the exam week. Unfortunately, the English 101 exam was on that Saturday morning and I had completely missed it. I was very concerned about it because I have NEVER before missed an exam, and never before had exams on the weekend. I am wondering how I could fix this.

Okay, you read that and you might smirk a little. Dude “completes” the course, but forgets to go to the final because he isn’t quite sure when exam week started. He’s a loser, but shit happens. It’s no worse than the girl who missed her exam because she confused the date and thought it was Thursday instead of Wednesday, or the stoner who slept in and missed the 8am exam, or the other girl who didn’t realise that she had two exams at the same time until, like 15 minutes before they both started, OMG.

Ask any department secretary, and she will tell you these are common or garden student doofuses, and that every exam period there will be a handful of them, suffering from terminal “can’t get my shit together” which is generally fixed by having them sit in the next available slot during the exam period.

Ah yes, the exam period. Here’s where “I can’t believe the final was on Saturday” dude really launches himself into the stratosphere. See, in all previous known cases, students who missed the final and figured it out, like later that day, as he claims to have done, were in contact with the prof and/or the department pretty much the next day. Monday at the latest. So while their mistakes were embarrassing, they were fixable.

Not for this guy, though. This guy waited – wait for it – 6 weeks before he sent his email. SIX FUCKING WEEKS! Can you believe that? He’s “very concerned” and that prompts him to wait an entire 42 days before doing anything about it. That was time for the entire exam period to be over (since, as he notes, the exam he missed was on the first day), all the marks to be in, everyone to be off for more than 2 weeks for Xmas break, the new year to start, the new semester to start, the add/drop date for the new semester to be over, the supplemental exam period for people who were hit by a bus to be over, and academic probation reports to come out. This last, presumably, is what finally prompted him to get in touch. That, or his parents to ask how he did on his exams.

You know what really puzzles me? This is not an outwardly dumb guy. He was getting a B before the exam debacle, and he can walk upright. Hell, he has a licence to fly a DC10. I am guessing that the pilot exam was not on a Saturday morning. Either that, or the airline industry has been involved in a long and complex conspiracy about just how hard it is to fly an aircraft.