Monthly Archives: March 2012

Is that the smell of your pants burning?

On Monday, my students had an Important Due Date for a Thing they had to do. This is a date that was in the course outline they have had since the very first day of term (or in the case of Flakey McFlakerson, the 4th class when he eventually rolled up; a long time, regardless). The syllabus is very clear that this particular Thing is Important with a capital I, and that it has to happen with no excuses, absent being hit by a bus.

After class on Monday, I emailed them about class on Wednesday, also congratulating them for having completed the Thing. I then had the following email exchange with Flakey McF.

FMcF: Oh, hey Mrs LadWhatter, I thought the Thing was on Wednesday.
Me: Nope. It says in the syllabus Monday, and Monday was when it was.
FMcF: Are you sure you didn’t change the date? I am pretty sure it was Wednesday.
Me: Nope. [Thinking, given that you are the guy who told me on 5 separate occasions at the start of term that you had “no idea what I am supposed to do” I am going with you are an idiot.]
FMcF: Well, it so happens that I missed class today because I was at the hospital.
Me: Sorry to hear that. Hope you feel better. Show me some documentation, and we can talk about making up the assignment.
FMcF: Oh, yeah, it wasn’t me that was in hospital, I was there because I had to take my kid.
Me, startled at the sudden appearance of a child not previously mentioned: Okay, well, again, documentation, and we can deal.
FMcF: So, you are saying I have to go back to the hospital and get a note or something?
Me: No, I am cool with you getting a zero. If you want to make up the marks, you are going to have to show me some documentation.
FMcF: Okay, well, I think in that case you should give me full marks even though I haven’t actually done the Thing. And also, I want a make-up assignment.
Me: Yeah, that’s not what will happen, but again, I am not negotiating until I see a doctor’s note.

Some time passes. The next day, I get another email.

FMcF: So I went to the hospital and asked them for a note and they said they don’t do that.
Me: ORLY. Okay, well, too bad then.
FMcF: Given that I tried to get the note, I think you should give me the marks. Or I could write an essay.

At this point, I made a phone call to the mother of a school friend of my kid’s.

Me: So, I called the GM of the hospital, and she says yes they do give notes, and if you are having trouble, give her a call and she will make sure you get one. Her number is [redacted].

FMcF: RADIO SILENCE.

 

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In which I am collegial.

My timetable this semester sucks and blows. In addition to containing a class that meets twice a week at the ungodly hour of 8 in the fucking AM, on other days, my classes are arranged in such a way as to exactly overlap the time when my best chums are free, and vice versa. So, apart from a little passing chat with the hardy souls who are around at 7:45am, I generally don’t get much time for social interaction with my colleagues.

However, this last week, in a fit of uncharacteristic generosity, I agreed to take a couple of classes for a colleague. Taking classes for someone else is often a really frustrating experience; students tend to assume there will be nothing of value offered, so they may or may not show up, and then the ones who do pay only halfhearted attention, preferring to play Facebook games, or chat amongst themselves. “How is this different to normal classes?” I hear you ask, to which I would answer that it is not different in substance, but more a matter of degree.

When you take a class for someone else, you don’t have any authority, so basically, your only option is to be entertaining enough to capture the attention of jaded slackers who feel like they did you a favour for turning up. It was in this wise, then, that I approached my task, but events conspired to make it fairly entertaining. First, because my colleague had set me up with movie clips to show, which helped with entertainment value, second because the class was stacked with students I knew, who were more kindly disposed towards me, and third because it was a topic I know well, and can be amusing about without great effort. In other words, all I had to do was show up and make snarky comments about the fight scenes in Excalibur.

None of this is much worth recounting, except that at the start of class, I had the following exchange with some random Mormon girl. (I am guessing about the Mormon part, but you will no doubt understand my reasoning.)

RMG: I can’t see this movie.
Me: Do you have a visual disability? Can you sit in the front row?
RMG: No, I mean I can’t see this movie. It is rated R.
Me [looking at the box]: Is it?
RMG: Yes, I looked on the internet.
Me [thinking, dude, if you went on the internet, I am betting you were exposed to worse stuff than is in a movie rated R in the US in 1981, but whatever]: Well, okay, but I am not really understanding the reasoning here. This is a senior university class, so I doubt you are under age.
RMG [like this is a trump card]: It’s for religious reasons.
Me: Okay, then, but watching clips and talking about them is what we are doing in the class, so, I guess you are going to miss class.
RMG: Can I get the discussion questions?
[NB: m’colleague had provided a cunning sheet with a couple discussion questions and a space for students to fill in their names, so that she could tell who had come to class.]
Me: Yes, but I can’t see how you are going to answer them.
RMG: I will just put my name on it, so I can get credit for attendance.
Me: But you are not attending. You just said you were not staying for the class.
RMG: I came to class. I can’t stay for religious reasons.
Me: Did you discuss this with Prof Wenttoaconference?
RMG: Oh, I guess that would have been an idea, but no.
Me: Well, I have no authority here. You need to talk to Prof Wtac. I know what I would say, but it’s not my call.
RMG: I think you should tell her I was here and that I talked to you.
Me: Oh, I will.
Exit RMG.

So the rest of us had fun watching the clips, and, my has this movie really not aged well. I think we were supposed to be taking all the symbolism seriously, and shit, but they all kept giggling, and I can’t say I blame them. When we got to the mortal fight between Arthur and Mordred, the giggles turned to open guffaws.

I tried to chide them for heartlessness and lack of appreciation for cinematic doohickery, but not very convincingly.

But I digress.

The fact that I was filling in for these classes meant I was hanging around for a couple of hours on the relevant days, and instead of occupying my time fruitfully, doing marking, I wandered the halls, chatting. This gave me a chance to catch up with one of my chummier colleagues.

This colleague was bemoaning the behaviour of a particular student who was in her Freshman Comp class. “He’s just so rude,” she said, describing how he came late to every class he showed up for, declined to participate in classroom discussion and activities, generally acted like the class was beneath him, and argued with her at every turn.

“The other day, I assigned students some questions to answer in pairs, and this guy pulled out some Literary Theory book that wasn’t a text from the class, and just started reading it, while his partner was sitting there wondering what to do. So I went up to them and asked if they were done, and he made some comment about knowing the answers already. I suggested that he might want to give a bit more thought to the task, and in any case to put the book away, which he declined, and then I kind of lost it and told him if he felt the class was so beneath him he could leave. Then I went to help someone else, and I heard him say to his partner, ‘I guess it is my fault you were subjected to that tirade.'”

My chum said she had been tempted to throw him out, but hadn’t, although god knows why. We talked some more, and I shared with her my similar experience with Arrogant Asshole last Spring, during which I mentioned the program he was in. “Isn’t it typical,” I said, “of students in that particular professional program, that they act all above learning how to actually write.” (The program in question being one that starts with J and ends in “ournalism”, dear reader. And I know, this is an unfair generalization based on the behaviour of a limited number of people, but before you write mean comments, read on.) “This guy is in that program, too,” remarked my friend. “I was thinking of talking to the co-ordinator about him, because I wanted to know if they have program standards of student behaviour.” I remarked that since the program co-ordinator is himself an extremely arrogant asshole, the answer to this question might not be best answered by him. We chatted on, and she gave me another couple examples of the student’s behaviour, during which she (accidentally) let slip the student’s name.

“THAT’S HIM!” I cried. “Arrogant Asshole! The very same!” After which we boggled at the fact that someone who failed a class because of acting like a douchebag could take the class again without in any way moderating his behaviour. Actually, when I come to think about it, he’s been failing classes for at least 3 years now, which might explain why he told my friend he was a second year student, and didn’t mention he’d taken this very class at least once before.

One moral of this story, I confess, is that 2 guys can give an entire professional program a bad name for assholery.

The other is colleagues are awesome. But I knew that already.

Lazy is the New Stupid.

I’ve been saying this for a while, and now it’s totally turning into a koan. Let me illustrate with some examples.

Exhibit 1: Sighing Saul

Last semester I had this student, let’s call him Sighing Saul, who was doing terribly in the weekly writing assignments. I was getting really frustrated because every week, I’d write the same kinds of things on his paper, like “saying the article is ‘fucking stupid’ isn’t really appropriate, especially if you aren’t providing evidence of its fucking stupidity.” The next week, there would be the same mistakes. Anyhoo, week 6 or 7 rolls around, and suddenly Saul storms out of the room, muttering something about “fucking bullshit”.

A couple of classes later he comes up to me, muttering something about how I “may have noticed” his tantrum of the previous week, to which I admit that, yes, it might have been something I saw out of the corner of my eye. Well, says Saul, he hadn’t actually bothered to look at the feedback on his first 6 assignments, so that was why it came as a bit of a shock to him that he was failing. Got that, everyone? LOOKING AT HIS GRADE WAS TOO MUCH WORK.

Shortly after this discussion, Saul came to see me about his research essay, which was “too hard”. After about 15 minutes during which I made suggestions about ways he could approach the task, during which time Saul sighed heavily, rolled his eyes and then sighed gustily, I said, “Look, this actually does require some effort on your part. You have to think about it and do some reading.” His response was to drop the class. Better luck next time, Saul.

Exhibit 2: Chatty Charlie and Yakkity Matt

Both these guys have the same MO; they talk a lot in class, and clearly have decent ideas, but when it comes to sitting down and doing any actual work, they prefer to bail. Charlie sent me at least 24 emails proposing topics for his essay, searching for one, and I quote “that would be easier to write”. When I finally snapped and told him to pick one from the list of his suggestions I had already approved, he dropped the class.

Matt mysteriously forgot to hand in the first couple of assignments, plagiarized the third, and pulled a “I forgot to send it to you” which was debunked by google docs for the 4th. I am still waiting for his most recent assignment, but I am not holding my breath.

The thing about both of these guys is, they are seniors who are still getting tripped up by Freshman Comp. They are clearly both capable, intellectually, of doing the work; in fact, it should be easy for them. Dropping my class solves the problem temporarily, but they are both running out of time. Charlie told me this was his “last semester”. Not anymore.

Exhibit 3: Slackerman

I know, these examples I have given you are nothing new, just part of a regular pattern of snowflakery. Perhaps this is true, but this last guy, this one takes all the cake, and eats it. Except that’s probably too much effort.

Slackerman didn’t do the first couple of low-stakes assignments. Then, just when I was about to write him off as someone who was going to fail for not handing in any work, he produced a 150 word paragraph, for an assignment where the requirement was a 750 word essay. It was kind of a half-assed 150 words, mind you, not some fancy-ass soul-of-wit type thing, either. I (kindly, I thought) gave him 1/10.

Slackerman emailed me about his grade, begging for me to “at least give me 2/10” on the grounds that, I SWARE I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP, he “tried real hard”. Got that? Producing 20% of the required work for the assignment constitutes, in his world, “trying real hard”. Leaving aside the absurdity of the notion that effort rather than results should be rewarded, how in hell can that pathetic amount of effort be considered sufficient? It took every ounce of self control for me not to write back “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” but I managed it, instead providing some temperate comments about the requirements for university being rather more rigorous than those he had perhaps encountered at school. No response.

For his next effort, a 2000 word research paper, Slackerman produced one page (approx 300 words) of text. Appended to it was a note explaining that his computer had “done something” to his essay, and that this was all he could produce. I emailed him, pointing out that if he took a day to try to fix the computer problem, the late penalty of 3% would be a better bet than letting the 300 words stand as the whole essay, since he was forfeiting considerably more marks with this incomplete piece of work.

His response? “No, I’m good.”