Author Archives: whatladder

About whatladder

I am a snarky professor and feminist.

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.”

Fuckin’ words, how do they work?

My very first ever blog post was inspired by a student malapropism, so it’s pretty true to say that students’ struggles to mash words into sentences is part of the bread and butter of blogging for me. That, and swears, of course.

Lately, I’ve seen a rash of students talking about things being “close nit” or even “closenit”, and once “close nitt” (fancy-ass hypercorrection?) which makes me ponder their absolute lack of understanding of the concept of etymology, to say nothing of their ability to relate the meaning of that particular term to its spelling. Being a wag and a trickster, the first time I saw it, I asked if the student thought the term had something to do with lice, which went down about as well as one would expect.

In a related incident, I had one essay that talked about a person being a “gun ho”. Vivid, eh?

Usually, although not always, when I correct misapprehensions about word usage, students are nice enough about it, say “okay” and move on to mutilate new and different words. Last week, I encountered fascinatingly stubborn resistance. Let me regale you.

I have this student, and she’s definitely up on the high end of the business student stereotype scale, which means (for those of you who have had the pleasure not to encounter such a type), that she is extremely literal,  very determined to follow directions exactly, determined that following exactly the exact directions will earn an A, upset when there are no exact directions which will allow this process to occur, and argumentative about all the above. In addition, she’s pretty resistant to new information, and ever so slightly ESL. (To clarify: I understand ESL is like pregnant, and either you are or you aren’t, but generally her English is very good, although also tending to the absolutely literal.) Let us, for the purposes of this exercise, call her Dogged Dora.

The task I had given was to write an analysis of one of a selection of essays. Dogged Dora chose to write about the one written by Margaret Wente, who is insightfully described by one blogger as “the Globe and Mail’s resident imbecile”. A quick review of her recent columns reveals that she wrote one on Valentine’s Day entitled “Why Romantic Love is Overrated,” dear GOD, she is a hack. But I digress. Here in the Empire, teachers of Freshman Comp often fall back on Wente’s essays for these kinds of tasks because they are both dire (lots of easy things for students to comment on) and help to up our percentage of required contain Kanadian kontent. In short, of the list of choices which were better-written and more interesting, Wente was the softball.

Among the stupid things she does in this piece, Wente makes a statement which more than one student described as “racist against Europeans”. That is, she says, “Fortunately, we do a whole lot better than the Europeans. They are the world’s worst cheapskates,” from which you can extrapolate a pretty good picture of the Wente oeuvre. Now, there’s plenty to criticize in that statement, and students can and do call her on generalizing, and using inflammatory vocab and similar.

Dogged Dora, I suspect fooling around with Mr Thesaurus, came up with the word “indiscreet” to describe Wente’s word choice in this sentence. When I marked her essay, I commented on this and said it wasn’t quite the right nuance of meaning, since indiscreet tends to refer to revealing secrets. No big deal, just something to take note of. Everyone moves on, right? Wrong.

See, Dora did a solid job on this task and earned, as a result, the mark Business students hate most – an A-. So naturally she had to move on to Stage 2 of getting a grade – bargaining. Most of my other comments she found acceptable, but this thing about the word, she got really hung up on it. “I looked it up in the dictionary,” she told me, “and it means saying stuff you shouldn’t say. Like Wente shouldn’t say this about Europeans.” I conceded that while that was true, “indiscreet” meant more revealing secrets or things that should be kept private. “Exactly,” said Dora, “if she’s racist against Europeans, she should keep that a secret.” Well, yes, but no. I tried again to explain, and Dora again just couldn’t see the difference in the shade of meaning. All “stuff you shouldn’t say” is in the same category. We were there for 10 minutes on this thing, with Dora digging her heels in harder and harder, and me giving examples of indiscretions, and getting nowhere. I eventually stopped it by saying “look, it was a minor point, and not the main issue with your essay.” So then, Dora was able to move on, not because we came to an understanding, but because I had let her know that this particular error hadn’t been worth marks. “You are still wrong,” she muttered.

Now, it becomes clear that in large part the problem is that she hasn’t encountered the word before, and really, the dictionary definitions (especially in the stupid-ass that all students insist on using even though we have online subscriptions to the OED and half a dozen other good dictionaries and they are only a click away, arg, rant) don’t really do a good job of explaining the shades of meaning of words. You learn that by reading and hearing people with good vocabularies talk. Which she doesn’t do, and let me say, this is in no way about her being ESL or a Business student, although they may be contributing factors.

Let me bookend this with another example from last semester. My students were workshopping thesis statements for their essays, and one student put hers up, and it contained, correctly, if a little hyperbolically, the word “profoundly”. A be-hatted guy who was not generally a dumbass stuck his hand up to comment, and said “you can’t just make up words,” indicating that “profoundly” was the one he had trouble with. “It’s a word,” said the female student, to which I concurred. “Can you explain what it means?” I asked her, and she gave him a solid explanation.

“Huh,” he said.

Huh, indeed.

Whatever happened to me?

Not much. Same old, same old, which I guess is an explanation. Last semester, I had a lot of students, and they were pretty much the usual, and yeah. Let me catch you up.

Remember Neddy? He turned up in one of my colleagues classes, which I managed to find out by accident. I could not resist asking about how he had been, to which she replied “he is very keen, and he asks good questions, and he persists until he gets the answer”. Anything about crazy shit he says in class? Nope. Anything about how he can’t string an idea into a paragraph? Again, nope. “Of course,” she says, “he does have accommodations for his learning disability”. Nice that things are working out for him, and I get a fist pump for knowing it wasn’t just me.

Last semester I tried out some new technology in the classroom, and this caused a crazy-ass student who was doing badly to report me to all kinds of authorities. The logical fallacy here was that her disliking my method of taking attendance had anything to do with her inability to think. Lest you accuse me of harshness, I will illustrate by the following example: when asked the most interesting thing about herself, said student responded “I went on holiday to Mexico.” ORLY. Did you encounter Mexican culture and thus broaden your mind? “No, we stayed at a resort. She then dropped the class, because I was “teaching it at the wrong level”.

This semester we have an exciting new agreement about hiring that means I now get yelled at by a committee when my student evaluations aren’t high enough. Evaluations are being taken MOAR seriously. I need to work harder to get good evaluations. I have to take this seriously. Except, fuck me, I find it hard to take seriously the comments of jerkwads, snowflakes and dickholes who use the evaluations as a platform to complain about general curriculum requirements over which I have no control, my personal appearance, my accent, and the fact that they were stupid enough to voluntarily sign up for an 8am class that they find “too early”.

This brings us to the present. It’s Reading Week. All of my classes were supposed to give me essay proposals last week, so that they could be working on their essays this week. My amazing Children’s Lit class (srsly, this class is made up of geniuses, eg the guy who wrote an essay arguing that Hop on Pop teaches kids important science facts like Newton’s 3rd Law, which it totally does, just think about it) all had proposals in hand which they showed me on the designated day. The point of the exercise was for me to tweak them a little where needed, give suggestions and send them off. Mission accomplished.

In all the other classes, very few students remembered or bothered to do this. The instructions to all the classes were the same, except, no, I lie, I don’t think I reminded the Good Class. So I’ve had a few emails about it. Well, I’ve had a few emails from a few students, and 25 from this one guy. I am beginning to suspect he doesn’t want to write the essay. Because he suggests a topic, and I say “yes” or “no” or “this would work if you narrowed it down to x”. And then he sends a new email with a new topic. JUST PICK A FUCKING TOPIC, ALREADY, I wish to cry. But no, this dipshit gets to evaluate me, so I have to be responsive to his needs.

So, I’m back. Thanks to everyone who in any way nagged me or reminded me that I have a blog, and a special shoutout to Sarcastic Bastard, who really needs to write a guest post about teaching creative writing in drag.

Arrogant Asshole and the Quest for the Exam

Exams at my institution, as I have indicated previously, are appallingly slapdash, at least compared to the regimented ordeals they were in my day, hem hem. This is particularly true in the case of what we are pleased to call Spring Semester, when there are so few classes the scheduling of the exams by the central authority consists of saying “exams will be in the same timeslot as class, on either of these two days; sort yourselves out”. Sometimes, as was the case for me this year, there is a class immediately before and/or after my class, in which case one class moves to a different, empty classroom, of which there are many.

I mention this time-honoured tradition in the first week of class, particularly for the benefit of students who are working, to let them know that they won’t need to ask for different or special time off for the final (presuming their work schedules are arranged to let them come to class in the first place). This semester, I mentioned the time and date of the final at least 6 times, specifically telling students to take note of the room change to NEXT DOOR. In a charming ye olde touch, the schedule was printed on a piece of paper and posted on a noticeboard outside the department office, and handily labelled “EXAM SCHEDULE”.

In the middle of the semester, in response to a question about what would be on the final, I provided this information, which nowadays, thanks to the Shrinker, includes a digression on why it is not okay to pre-write your essay for the final, shrink it down to 6pt, cut it into strips and paste it to the reading handout for the exam. This conversation also included a reminder of the date and time of the final, and the key information that its location had moved to a mysterious distant room, known as “NEXT DOOR”. This information was repeated in the ultrapenultimate week of semester, the penultimate week of semester, and on the final day of class. Which class consisted of me collecting final assignments and asking if students had all the information they needed for the final. One slightly confused student was, at this crucial juncture, set straight on the fact that the final was on Wednesday, not Tuesday, so clearly it was a valuable conversation, even if it was brief.

Unfortunately for Arrogant Asshole, he missed most of the penultimate week of class, and, by his own admission, did not lollygag over to class on the last day until 27 minutes after the regularly scheduled starting time, by which point, all other students, their thirst for knowledge sated, had departed. AA also declined to read the note I had left on the board indicating that although class was over, I was in my office and would remain there for the next couple of hours. Had he bothered to come to see me, he would have walked past the noticeboard on which Ye Olde Paper Notice about Exams had been posted, but this he failed to do.

Having failed then, to see me, he instead wrote a very snippy email about how it was “obviously too much to expect that class would meet for more than 27 minutes on the last day” (YES, DUH), and that he had submitted his final project electronically.

(I must digress momentarily to have a little MOMENT about this piece of shit he produced. As previously chronicled, AA had declined to present a proposal, and hadn’t done the work for the draft presentation part of the task. He also declined to participate in the peer marking activity, to show me how much he disdained the work of his classmates. When I read his project, however, it became clear that he didn’t ACTUALLY disdain his classmates’ ideas, since he had cobbled together the concepts of two of the best projects into a “blog” which he had written in, best guess, a couple hours. If I had had any doubts about him being a douchebag, they were put to rest.)

This snippy email was followed by another snippy email asking for confirmation of the details of the final. To which email I replied saying, “I don’t know the exact room number, but it’s NEXT DOOR; check the posted information.” I fully admit, here, dear reader, that it did not in the slightest occur to me that the request to confirm the “details” of the final was actually a request for the date and time of the final, since that information had been given half a dozen times in class. My assumption was that it was a request purely about the one piece of information that might have possibly been in dispute, viz, the room change to NEXT DOOR.

Well, apparently this was woefully naive of me. AA then phoned various authorities at the university (including unrelated services, but not, mysteriously the Department Office, outside which the schedule was posted) asking for the date and time of his exam. He was informed that there was no online schedule posted for Spring, because of the “EXAM IS AT REGULAR CLASS TIME” rule. None of this was enough information for AA to be able to deduce the time of his exam. So he waited until 4:22pm the next day (well after the exam was over, what a coinkydink) to make further enquiries.

These enquiries consisted of:
1. Yet another snippy email to me including my name with no salutation, and several one word sentences like “Okay.”
2. Finally a phone call to the Department Office, at which point he was informed he had missed the exam.
3. A snippy email to the Assistant Head of Dept, who awesomely replied it was a shame he hadn’t thought to contact the Department earlier.

I replied to the snippy email saying I would be in my office at a specific time the following day, and that he could take the final at that specific time. RADIO SILENCE.

Seriously. 24 fucking hours of not one single peep from him. He didn’t show up at the scheduled time, although since he is in my gmail contacts (yes, another plug for the Google Empire), I could see that he was online. I took a screenshot and forwarded to the Assistant Head, saying “if he says he didn’t see my offer, that would be an untruth”. Oh, little green available button, what secrets you can reveal.

My Department Secretary, who had been lucky enough to experience some AA douchebaggery first hand when dealing with him on the phone, was highly cynical about his actions, describing them as “playing silly buggers”. She suggested that I enter his grade as an F, since I had finished grading the rest of the class’s papers, and was now, officially, on VACAY. “That will get his attention,” she predicted.

Sure enough, an hour after the posted grades went live, AA proceded to have an email exchange with the Assistant Head about what his options were. I shall paraphrase it for you:

AA: While I admit that Prof Whatladder did, indeed mention the exam during the course of the semester, I still say it is her fault, and not my fault I missed the final.
AH: Yes, it’s a shame you didn’t have the sense to contact the Department earlier. You need to get the “I missed my final” form.
AA: So, is there some kind of timeline on when I should do this?
AH: Minus 24 hours, and counting. Everyone is on vacay, and even the keeners who are still hanging around for a few days will be gone after tomorrow.
AA: Okay, well, I am forwarding the info about my situation to the Dean.
AH: What on earth for? 3 people have now told you to get the form and then come and sit the final. What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?
AA: I meant the Head of Department.
AH: He’s on VACAY, that’s why you are dealing with ME. Time is ticking.
AA: Did I mention that the last few classes were “practically cancelled”?
ME to AH: This means he skipped them. The rest of us went to class.
AH: I fail to see how this is relevant. You have until tomorrow afternoon to sit.

I called in late this afternoon to see if he had turned up, which he had, BUT without having paid the “I’m a fucktard” fee which the institution wisely attaches to all finals deferred for craptastic excuses. The Department Secretary said “you can mark his final, but we are not changing his grade until we get the cash.”

Arrogant Driveby.

In his essay for the week, Arogant Asshole (from the previous post), referred to “blue collar workers” as “generally ignorant and uneducated”. This was in no way relevant to the task, but it did allow me to write the comment on his work that he should “take care with vocab choices because making judgements like this makes you sound arrogant.”

Did I fist pump? Fuck, yeah.

The Tale of Arrogant Asshole.

This semester I have an Arrogant Asshole (herinafter AA) in my class, of a type I have described before. This one has put off freshman writing, which he sees as beneath him, until the absolute last minute, which means he is forced to do it in the spring semester, when he clearly has better things to do with his time, and my goodness, is the entire thing an imposition. He also (descriptive detail to add realism to the piece) has a piece of hair which he has grown so that it flops over his eye, in order that he can flip it for emphasis when he wishes to particularly express his contempt for me.

I could tell he was an arrogant asshole from Day 1, when he came late, lounged back in his chair and didn’t bother to participate in activities designed to engage the class in learning. He usually comes late to class, and of course he feels entitled to skip at least one class a week.

In the Spring, I have my students do 2 take-home assignments (Task 1 and Task 2) , the details of which they get on Day 1, included in the course syllabus, which has other gems of information like details about what to read, and what the in-class assignments are, and my policy on nose-picking in class (it’s a “no”). The syllabus includes a chart of activities for each class, including deadlines for each part of each assignment, neatly arranged in an easily-readable table. I tell you this because it has become a bone of contention.

On the day the first part of Task 1 was due (viz, a 2 sentence proposal describing students’ chosen topic), AA declined to provide such a thing. “I’ll get it to you tomorrow,” he lied, and then failed to do so.

On the day the first part of Task 2 was due (viz, a 2 sentence proposal describing students’ chosen topic), AA declined to provide such a thing, this time without even bothering to lie about doing it later.

So, the scenario rested in this wise: AA had failed to provide proposals for either of the 2 take-home assignments.

A couple of classes later, we had a class in the library with Lovely Librarian, designed to help students with research for Task 2 (cunning readers will divine that this was the reason I had required students to nominate a topic in advance, so that they wouldn’t spend library time merely scratching their asses). All students but AA arrived in that class with at least a topic idea, and some of them modified their topics in response to help from me and Lovely Librarian, in accordance with my masterful pedagogical plan.

Not AA, though. He had no fucking idea. At the start of class he fed me some bullshit about wanting to write about social media and political change, and then an hour later, his topic was changed to chickens. WTFever, was my response. Having explained in class that the purpose of having a topic approved was to help students not make asses of themselves, I had done my bit. If you want to do your essay at the last minute, I can’t stop you.

So, to be clear, at this point, AA kind of had managed to do ONE of 2 required proposal tasks; the one for Task 2.

A few days later, students were due to give their oral presentations on Task 1, the task Arrogant Asshole had still not started. I sent them a reminder email, entitled “Oral Presentation Reminder Email,” in which I reminded them of the points they should be sure to cover and so on.

On presentation day, students got up and gave their presentations, and a couple were fabulous, and some were okay. In the middle of one, AA, sitting behind me, said “I think I have made a mistake”. How so, I enquired. “My presentation is on my Task 2,” he said. There was only one response to this, so I made it. “How is this my problem?”

AA made a variety of meeping noises, then, said, “I think I can still present.” I suggested he go for it, at which point he got up and started to present on his chicken paper. Students in the front row immediately questioned his method. “How is this about Task 1?” they asked. AA conceded that it wasn’t in any way about that. “So, just tell us about your project,” one helpful woman suggested. This suggestion was particularly kind, because the presentations were being peer marked. Basically, it was an offer to give him a 3 or 4 out of 5 for the task, rather than the zero that appeared to be looming.

AA was forced to concede at that point that he couldn’t even kind of do that because he HAD DONE NO WORK ON TASK 1 AT ALL. This is, FYI, week 4.5 out of 6.

I suggested firmly that he sit his ass down. Fine, but he did it huffily, flicking his hair and thumping into his seat. To further teach me a lesson, he did not fill in the peer evaluation sheet on all his peers, but left it obviously blank, while he sighed audibly during all the following presentations.

At the end of class, he came up to talk to me, asking, in the most fucking obnoxious way possible, what he could do to “redeem himself”. Resisting the urge to suggest prayer, I asked him to explain how he had managed to get himself into such a muddle. His answer was that when he sent me his proposal (for Task 2), I should have recognised that he thought it was also a proposal for Task 1. “Did it anywhere indicate that you thought it was for both tasks?” I asked. “No,” he conceded.

So, basically, having forgotten all about Task 1, he got the two tasks conflated. AA was unwilling to concede this point. So, I turned to consult the Sacred Text (aka the syllabus) and as I turned, he made a noise like a wounded hippopotamus. Seriously, this really loud “AAAARG” of frustration.

“I beg your pardon?” I asked. He said he didn’t want to have a discussion about what he had done wrong, I just had to say if I was going to let him go home that night, cobble a presentation together on a topic yet to be determined, and present on the morrow. “Given that the whole point of breaking Task 1 down into stages was to prevent that kind of last minute behaviour, no,” I said. “You didn’t do the work, so I think a zero on the 5% this was worth is warranted.”

As I was saying this, he pulled out his phone and started texting. “I assume we’re done here, then,” I said, and turned to deal with the other student waiting to talk to me, whose jaw was on the floor at this point. AA is so arrogant, you see, that he is teflon to the embarrassment another student might feel at arguing with a prof in front of other people.

I went home and shared this tale with Feckless Husband, who, in flagrant violation of Freedom of Information laws asked me the guy’s name. “Oh him,” he said when I revealed it. “When he was in my class, instead of doing his interview assignment, he made stuff up, so badly that it was obvious.” Trufax.

Arrogant Asshole declined to come to class the next day, but appeared the following day, and at the end of class, harangued me for another 10 minutes, because, he decided, his failure to present was my fault because my syllabus was ambiguous and UNCLEAR. My response to this was twofold. One: everyone else managed. Two: had you ever done the proposal for Task 1, you would have not been in this mess.

“So, you’re not convinced by my argument?” he asked. This was hilarious, because Freshman Comp is a class that teaches argumentation. “I don’t think you’ve really supported it with compelling evidence, no,” I replied. “Well, I thought it was pretty good,” he retorted, which, I have to point out, is TOTALLY his problem here. Perhaps that swishy piece of hair is a barrier through which information cannot pass.

He flounced out again, much to the amusement of the girls at the back of the room, who said “we were so hoping you wouldn’t give in”.

Google Dox should reward me for all this free advertising.

Another triumph for the technology this week.

I made an assignment which was a list of questions for my students to answer, and I shared it with them as a google doc, giving them write access so they could copy the questions into their own document. Which was maybe a mistake, but I have done it before.

They are working away on it in the lab, when I notice that Question 8 has MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARED.

Revision history to the rescue! I can not only restore it, I can name and shame the deleter. All the students got really mad when I told them I had restored it, too. They were like “Can’t we just do the 9 remaining questions?” To which I replied, “Sure, if you don’t mind getting a score no better than 9 out of 10”.

Is that the Smell of your Pants Burning?

I know, long time no storytelling. In all the hullaballoo of the end of semester, I was a bit too exhausted to make with the histoires. I do have some saved up, and then there’s this nice new one to tell you about.

You know how sometimes, you just get the feeling you are being lied to, and while you know it in your soul, you just can’t prove it? This isn’t one of those.

So, I am teaching my regular spring class which is essentially condensed Freshman Comp, and I scared the bejeebus out of half a dozen potential students on the first day, and that one student who told me staying in my class was “a matter of life or death” presumably died, and now I have a nice manageable group of 20 who appear to be able to find their asses with their elbows. Oh, and one flake.

Naturally, it is the flake who generates the content for a blog post, so I suppose I should be grateful.

Spring classes meet every day, and then at the end of the week I have students write a piece in class in which they show they can now do the stuff they learned this week. This structure cuts down on homework, but makes regular attendance absolutely critical. Of course my flake, (hereinafter referred to as the Fibber) hasn’t been to class all week, but she manages to turn up for the crucial in-class essay day.

The first thing she does is start a conversation with the nice helpful student sitting next to her, who has been to class all week, and done the reading, and who then apparently feels obliged to explain 6 hours of class time to the Fibber in 5 minutes. Once I can see this is happening, I wander over and suggest that although it is kind of Helping Student to be helpful, she has her own essay to write, and the Fibber should come to me if she has any questions.

Oddly enough, the Fibber’s questions then dry up entirely. Since the essay is based on class reading for the week, which the Fibber hasn’t at all done, she is kind of stumped. I wander past all the computers a couple of times in the course of the class, and I notice that she has managed to write about a paragraph by the time the class ends.

Now, because I am hip with the technology, and also because I listened to my whiny-ass students from last semester who hated the courseware but loved google docs, this term I am letting my students do all their handing in of work via the google docs. So, at the end of class, half of them have handed in, and I give the rest a few more hours, since all they have to do is share the work electronically, rather than putting it in to my hot little hand.

By the deadline, I have all of the essays, except the one by the Fibber. I spend my weekend procrastinating, but by Monday, I have marked them all, except the Fibber’s, which still isn’t appearing. When she emails me about something else on Monday, I include in my reply the comment “what is up with your essay? I don’t have it.” To which she replies that that is very strange, since she definitely handed it in, ya ya ya.

(Also, delightfully, she tells me she “feels guilty” for “not coming to class”: foreshadowing.)

Now this, I very much doubt given the non-attendance shenanigans, but we go back and forth a couple times, her insisting that she has totally shared the essay with me, and me looking in my documents and saying “well, I don’t have it, make sure you give me access”.

I do suspect at this point that the essay fails to exist, and I wonder whether her insistence that it does is intended to make me shut up, or perhaps make the essay appear out of thin air. Neither of these things happens.

After class today, I showed her my document list, so that she could see that whatever she thought she was doing, she wasn’t getting her work to me, which, I said firmly “I see as your problem, not mine”. Outrageous, right? Perhaps it was her computer at home, failing to share correctly, she suggested. Again, I said “This is your issue. Figure it out and hand it in.” Note the hardness of my ass.

So, finally, this afternoon, she miraculously manages to correctly press the “share” button on the google document (I know, not rocket science), and I take a look at her essay. And by take a look, I mean, go in to the document and press the “revision history” button. And here, let me sing the praises of the “revision history” button, because it reveals, in glorious detail, that the Fibber wrote a paragraph of her essay on the day it was due, and another paragraph a day later, but the majority of it at 2am this morning – yes, that’s right, days after she first assured me she had handed it in.

I contemplate writing “LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE” in the comment box, but instead settle for “the revision history makes it clear this is late work” which, thank god, excuses me from commenting in detail on her essay, which is a shonky piece of dreck.

I am filing this one under “BUSTED”.

Prof Blaming.

Today I had a rash of students who were very upset with me. They were very upset with me because they had ignored, overlooked, or forgotten instructions I had given them, in writing, earlier in the semester. Their inability to get their shit together makes them very angry at me.

I am holding the line on this one, but man, it is a constant onslaught. I have to keep repeating “failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part,” and similar. Honestly, I think a lot of it is that no one ever made these students deal with the consequences of their actions.

#1 How dare you apply the late penalty?

In my syllabus, I have a clearly explained late penalty; essentially, students get a couple of penalty-free days, then after that it’s 3% per day. The student with the invisible essay from the last post eventually handed her essay in, but by the time she did, it had racked up a record number of late marks. Like, in the region of, after she got her grade, the essay narrowly missed having a negative score. Boy is she mad. Her other essay was a couple days late, so it lost 6% for lateness, too. She stopped me after class to give me a telling off; “What does this -6% and -69% mean?”  I explained it was the late penalty applied as per the policy in the syllabus, which she has had in her possession since DAY ONE OF SEMESTER.

The idea that I would actually TAKE these marks off made her so mad she couldn’t even make the words come out. I mean, she was MAD at me, and she was staring and me and her mouth was moving, but no sounds came out. You handed your essay in 3 weeks late. How is this my fault?

#2 What do you mean, deadline means deadline?

Students in one class have to sign up for presentations, which are on books of the students’ choosing. I am very strict about not allowing duplicate presentations, on account of the extreme physical pain the boredom they induce causes in me and the other students. I deal with this by having a “first come first served” policy. This has the added bonus of allowing the keeners and the nervous get stuff out of the way early in the semester before they have time to get too wound up.

This week was the last week for presentations, so last week, I warned the stragglers that they needed to nail down the book choices for today’s presentations. One student, let’s call her Unlucky Una, said “can I do book A?” to which I replied, “no, that’s taken.” So then she says she will email me, and doesn’t until Monday, when she asks “can I do book B?” Nope, taken. (She’s choosing, let me be clear, from a potential field of thousands of choices, and her problem is that she is going for the utterly obvious every time, as have a number of her fellow procrastinators.)

Then she emails me late yesterday evening with a bid on topic C, which is, guess what, also taken. Said email I do not manage to see before class this morning. In class, all the other students present, but at the start of one presentation, Una sighs audibly and, I kid you not, stamps her foot. We get through all the other students, and I call on Una, and she says “I can’t present because SHE took my book.” I dismiss the class, and say I will talk to Una separately.

At this point, I am subject to a tirade. It is not fair of me to have let other students pick their books before Una. “But, I said it was first come first served, and they told me their choices weeks ago.” Well, I should have answered her emails more promptly. When did she send that last email? Yesterday evening. “I’m sorry, I teach until 9 on Tuesday nights, and I didn’t look at my email after 5.” Well, I should have let her know this morning, then. At which I boggle, because really, she is going to slap together her presentation in 2 hours or less? What a valuable insight into the working processes of a procrastinator. I point out that she has seriously had ALL SEMESTER to work this out, and she left it to the last couple of days, but it’s still my fault.

I want to give her a zero, seriously I do, but instead I offer to give her all the marks for the task for the essay portion (remember, the famous essay portion). I am not really holding my breath for a quality product, here.

#3 But I didn’t look at the due date

In my other class, students have an assignment due this week. A couple of them (and they are a couple, about which I need to rant on another occasion) decided that this task was due next week. From whence did they get this impression? I have no idea. “The date in the syllabus is this week.” It’s been in there all semester, but apparently the fact that they didn’t check is also my fault. I am sure that one is going to bite me in the ass on the evaluation.

Neddy update

I’ve had a few requests, but the sad fact is that Neddy, after making me spend 45 minutes explaining to him why he got a D on his second paper (it was the 21 spelling and apostrophes that did it, and YES, I COUNTED), and another 20 minutes trying to help him get the idea that “I am just going to talk from my own experience” is not a good approach for a research paper, and then a talk about his attitude and how, if I have spent over an hour with him in meetings ALREADY, I AM FUCKING NOT GOING TO TALK TO HIM IN THE 5 MINUTES I HAVE BETWEEN CLASSES, has vanished almost without trace. He sent a couple emails explaining he had missed classes because he had, and I quote, “appointments,” but since then, radio silence.