Monthly Archives: October 2010

As Easy as A, B, C.

I posted this on CM as well, but I felt like I needed it here to cheer me up, too.

Because I am hip and awesome and let my students submit their essays electronically, I was online for a couple hours last night to be available for them to chat with me if they were having last minute panic, or trouble with the submission process.

Here, for your amusement, is one such exchange.
Student: I am having real trouble getting my list of sources in the right order for my works cited.
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Fuck you. Fuck all you all.

I nearly went over the edge today. I know you want to hear about it.

So, I am in class, explaining to the class my marking rubric, which I have used for several semesters now, where I let students use the rubric to predict their grades and they get a bonus if they get a bulls-eye.

As a pedagogical exercise, this is designed to show students what I am valuing and how I am marking, and also to get them to do a bit of reflection and self-assessment. Of course, it’s also a way in to having a “what makes a good paper” discussion in class. Generally, it works pretty well, and between 3-6 students a class actually manage to get the bonus.

Today, I explain the bonus and go through the rubric, and then this giant asshole puts his hand up and says “Yes, but how do we know you won’t look at our score and then change yours?”

EXCUSE ME? I looked at him and said “Are you sure you want to be asking that?”, to which he said “Yes, it’s a legitimate question.” A few lesser assholes chimed in. One wanted to suggest that I give the bonus mark if they got within the ballpark: no, because that is way easier – you have to earn the damn bonus. Then Asshole 1 and his buddy start going on about how they think they need a “guarantee” that I will stick to the rubric.

I have to admit, I was at the point of being so angry I wasn’t coherent. “This sounds like you are accusing me of cheating,” I said. “I presented this rubric as a way to help you understand how I am marking.”

Yeah, they understand that, but profs mark differently (DUH, I just gave you MY rubric, you moron), and how do they know I will stick to what I said?

Well, I dunno? Trust? Understanding that I am a professional? I said if they thought it was some kind of trap, they could opt out of the rubric exercise, but no, that wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted, I think, a promise that they could have the bonus. Which I wasn’t going to give.

I suggested that the way they were talking made it sound like they thought I was out to get them, and that their assumption that I would act unprofessionally was unfounded and unflattering, but there were at least 4 of them who insisted that voicing this kind of distrust was not disrespectful.

What it came down to, for them, was that “all profs mark subjectively” and that any moves I was making to make my approach as transparent and objective as possible was somehow suspect. IF YOU REALLY BELIEVE I MARK SUBJECTIVELY, WHY ARE YOU PISSING ME OFF? I screamed, in my head.

Some of it must have shown on my face, because a student in the front row said, “Can we move on?” Which was a nice lifeline. So I tried to move on, but I found myself close to tears of rage. I had to leave the room. I’ve never done that before. Honest to god, I said “I need a minute,” and went out into the hallway.

A couple of the female students came out to see if I was okay. I wasn’t going to cry, but I think they thought I might. I said “I just need a minute so I don’t yell at everyone,” I told them. So I counted to 10, and went back in, and ignored the assholes who were snickering, and pulled up my damn big girl pants, and taught them about editing their papers.

But I feel like I went somewhere new today. Not even Pineapple Boy made me feel this kind of despair.

A failure to prognosticate.

Amongst my many skills is a soupçon of ESP inherited from my maternal grandmother, who occasionally used to help the police in the smallish city in which she lived (trufax). While I have had the odd experience in my day, I have never believed in my ability to tell the future, which I suppose means that when I worked as a telephone psychic (more trufax), I was something of a charlatan. All of which explains why I am unable in normal circumstances to predict the future, or discern the unknowable. This inability has annoyed at least 3 people this week.

The first person was a student who wrote me an email in which he presented his essay topic as a sentence fragment. I wrote back asking for clarification, at which point I got a grudging sentence, which made it appear as if he had decided on a position in advance of gathering any evidence, so I sent another query. It took 2 more emails for me to understand that he did actually seem to have a grasp on the task.

Now, this is nothing out of the ordinary. Witness “child porn” girl from the previous episode. I make my students develop their own topics, because I think it is pedagogically valuable, although it does make them whiny. The reason I don’t make a list of essay questions, my dear snowflakes, is because I can.

Anyhoo, the student with whom I had the email exchange, and let us now call him Covert Genius, was apparently quite butthurt that I questioned his ability to write an essay. He came and told me so in class, saying OF COURSE he knew how to get evidence to support his point, and how dare I assume otherwise. He is a 4th year student. My response was along the lines of “given that this is a FIRST YEAR class, and all I have to go on is your sentence fragment of a topic, I was doing my JOB and making sure you knew what you were doing,” but with more ego-massaging in.

This was apparently not good enough, since he later posted a really really really long post in the class discussion forum about how he was an award-winning writer, and how dare I not know about his genius, presumably just by looking at him, since his writing is in no way remarkable so far. Dude, if you are such a genius, why did you procrastinate on doing freshman comp until your final semester?

I was contemplating some kind of sarcasmic response to him on the forum, but another student jumped in and smacked him down for being both boring and inappropriate. Awesome.

The second case involves a student from Winter semester. That’s two semesters ago, for those of you who are counting.

This student was doing well in my class, until she disappeared for several weeks. I was mildly perplexed, but these things happen. I then got an email from her saying she had been in hospital and was still very ill. She was worried about the class. I did what I could to reassure her, saying we could worry about her options when she was well.

A few weeks later, at the end of semester, she sent a bunch of panicked messages worrying about failing. I told her to come and see me, which she did. I suggested, since she had missed more than half the semester, that her best option was to take a compassionate W on the class and try again when she was well. But she had been getting an A! True enough. If you get an A once, you can probably do that again, I suggested.

She was pretty adamant that she wanted to take an incomplete and finish the work, and since she had been a good student, and since I was going to be teaching in Spring Semester anyway, I agreed. I gave her a list of the work she needed to do, and instructions about keeping in touch via email, and completed the paperwork.

I never heard from her again. I was mildly perplexed, but these things happen.

Then, this week, I got an email from the Registrar’s office saying that the student was asking for a very late compassionate W. Two semesters later? Is that even possible?

The reason for the late request, according to this email, was that I had “pushed the student into taking an I when she wanted a W” and been “negligent” since I had not seen “that she obviously was in no position to make decisions about her academic life”. Really? So now I am supposed to be a doctor and a mind reader? I suppose I should know that trying to be nice to students has a 50% chance of biting me in the ass.

The third case comes, oddly enough, from my actual life outside my job, in which I have recently taken on the volunteer duty of emailing person for my daughter’s ballet show. Now, I took this on thinking that unlike the previous emailing person (who is firmly of the opinion that the internet you use for the email is different to the internet you use for the web surfing), I had some idea of how to use a computer and an internet, and therefore it wouldn’t be all that onerous of a duty, unlike, say, building sets, which I did last year.

What I failed to take into account is that Ballet Moms (and yes, yes, there are a few dads and a few – well, TWO – boys, this is ballet and it is mostly girls and their moms) are even more speshul snowflakes than students. I kid you not. They don’t read emails; they misread emails; they need 4 emails to explain what “regular rehearsal time” means; they ask me to do stuff that is clearly outside my portfolio; they want me to email them separately from the bulk email; they refuse to believe me when I say I am getting error messages from their hotmail accounts (seriously, HOTMAIL? Is this 1998?); they generally act annoying and whiny.

The one who takes the cake, though, is the Mom who complained to me, in the smarmiest patronizing tone ever, that I had caused her daughter to miss a rehearsal on Thursday because I hadn’t sent out the rehearsal schedule for the week. “But I sent the schedule on Sunday morning,” I said. “And I didn’t get an error message from your account (mirabile dictu).” Well, as if that is good enough. “You should have known I didn’t get it and called me,” she said. Seriously? I should have divined, from no evidence at all, that she needed me to phone her?

My ESP skills are utterly inadequate.

Potpourri of ventage.

Okay, so it’s, like, Week 4 of semester. Here are some things that are happening.

This guy comes to my class and spends the first 5 minutes ostentatiously unwrapping his textbook from the shrinkwrap it comes in at the bookstore. Then he picks the wrong volume, despite the kind attempts of the student sitting opposite him to show him that he’s looking at the wrong book. A couple days later he comes to see me about the essay that is due the following day. I mention that I couldn’t help but notice he hasn’t done any reading, and it is WEEK FOUR, and maybe he’s fallen a bit behind. Well, he’s busy with work, donchaknow. I suggest that maybe he cut his losses and drop, but he’s not willing to do that yet. He thinks he can catch up. Can I help him with his essay? Oh, sure, what the hell. What is he writing it on? He doesn’t know. He hasn’t done any reading. So, he wanders off, I bang my head on the desk, and then he fails to come to the next class, and doesn’t, therefore, hand in a paper.

The majority of students in my online class continue to suck the balls of the donkey. It’s WEEK FOUR, and one of them wanders up to me in class and lets me know he still hasn’t figured out how to log in to the courseware.

I make a tutorial that consists of a flickr slideshow of screenshots with writing on them (and you know my paint skills are top notch) to help the students who are having trouble with the courseware. I offer bonus marks for students who comment on the tutorial. There are at least a dozen students who don’t watch the tutorial, and who still need help with the courseware. I suggest that they watch the tutorial, but they can’t figure out how. Seriously. Clicking a link is WAY TOO TECHNICAL for these people.

I get tricked into sharing my tutorial with one of those slug-like beings from academic support  about whom I complained earlier. His response is to ask me how I made the screenshots, to which I reply, “by taking screenshots and writing on them using GIMP.” He responds by linking me to a program that can do what I already did. I CAN ALREADY DO IT. I DO NOT NEED YOUR PROGRAM. When I express this sentiment, he suggests that we meet to discuss it. I am tempted accept the invitation and meet with him carrying some kind of sharp implement, but manage to restrain myself.

I have a student who is worried she is failing and can I tell her her grade. It’s WEEK FOUR. Your first assignment isn’t even due until tomorrow. There is no grade yet.

I have a student who has been mad at me ever since she told me she was missing the first 2 weeks of class and I said that I thought that was a bad idea. She sends me emails complaining that I don’t do things like her other teachers do, and that she continues to be unhappy with my attitude and behaviour. I have offended her at least 3 times, apparently. Once by saying I think attendance is important; once because I didn’t comply with her request that I “stay after class to discuss my attitude and behaviour”; most recently because when I clarified for the whole class my expectations on participation, she got into an argument with me over email about whether a week from Thursday to Thursday includes a weekend. (Apparently, it doesn’t, and I am foolish to persist in my belief that it does.)

I have a student who wants to write her essay on internet crime, and stuff. I suggest that she needs to narrow her topic down, since “internet crime” is a bit too broad, and she writes back: “I just want to look at child porn.” I laugh for 3 days.