Category Archives: attendance

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.

Oh, did we start, already?

So, semester started last week. On a Monday, no less, and how’s that for unusual? Although the start date of semester has been available since the calendar for the 2010/11 academic year came out in, what, MAY of 2010, many ‘flakes failed to grok what “start” actually means in this context.

Yes, the first day of class is kind of weaksauce, because we are meeting for the first time, and even I don’t think it is possible to email students before semester starts and get them to do preparation work in advance. I did try it once, and it worked about as well as you would expect, which is to say, not at all. However, we all have to start somewhere. Having a first day means I can set reading for the second day, which is then when the actual learning starts to happen. At least in theory.

(Missing the first class can mean you also miss vital information like “we only meet once a week, and the other day is for online learning,” which has resulted, this semester, in half a dozen students in my online class milling hopelessly around campus on Tuesday afternoons. Only one of them was bright enough to try contacting me via email to try to discover what my deal was.)

As I am sure you can all imagine, dear readers, literature classes involve the discussion of literature. In order for discussion, as opposed to lecturing, to happen, students need to do the reading. I provide a list of readings, and generally nag students to do the reading. When they don’t, I do mean stuff like calling on them and then embarrassing them when they admit they haven’t done the reading. This often makes the ones who don’t want to read and don’t want to get called out drop the class, which is fine by me. It winnows the class down to a smaller group who want (or are willing) to read and talk about the reading, and then we all generally have a good time.

This semester, I am teaching a class that meets only once a week, for 3 hours, instead of meeting 2 or 3 times a week for shorter periods. This means, among other things, that the first class, in which not much happened, was actually a WEEK’s worth of classes. I actually gave students some reading to do in class in that first class, and very sternly said “THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN,” just so they didn’t get some goofy assumption about not needing to do their reading.

The students who came to the first class, then, were prepared for the second class, having done their reading, and in some cases, even optional homework. That was great. Or, it would have been great, but for the 14 people who hadn’t bothered to come to the first class.

I am not talking about one or two random slackers here, but HALF the class, who didn’t bother, and who also didn’t bother to send me an email in the intervening week asking if there was anything they should catch up on. Oh, no, wait, one of them emailed me an hour before class to do that, which was a nice show of willingness, except it was totally ineffective.

These dozen or so students clearly thought missing that massive block of time wasn’t an issue because nothing happens in the first class. Except, of course, some things did happen, not the least significant of which was preparation for the second class. What are we going to do for 3 hours in class if you haven’t done any reading? The mind boggles.

Rather than accommodate their nonsense, I sent them all to the bookstore. “You need to read the first 2 stories,” I told them. “Come back and join the class when you are done.” This radical approach to not letting them sit in small group discussions like a bunch of wet puddings was really upsetting. One girl asked me 3 times what time she should come back. “When you are done the reading,” I replied. “No, like what time?” “When you have finished reading the stories, come back,” I said again, while she looked at me like maybe I was speaking German.”So, like, I can just come back when I am done?”

There were two dipsticks in the front row who appeared to be sharing a brain between them really didn’t want to go buy their books at all. “We didn’t do the reading,” one of them said, possibly because she was in charge of the speech centres at that moment. “Why not?” “We were not in this class. We switched from another teacher’s class.” Oh, shoppers. The phrase “because we thought that other class sounded like too much work, and we are hoping that meeting once a week means you are more slack,” hung unspoken in the air. I suggested that they do what I said and go get the book, then. “But we just joined this class.” “Yes, and now, in order to participate in it, you need to go get the book and read the material.” They had a whispered consultation, pressing their heads close together to facilitate neuron synapsing, and eventually left.

Once all the flakes had blown out of the room, I turned to the ones who were actually ready to be university students, and took attendance, saying I would give them a bonus participation mark for being prepared. This is a devious tactic designed to bring them into an in-group with me, united against the slackers.

We got on with class, and gradually, over the course of the next 90 minutes or so, the flakers drifted back in. All except 2 shoppers, who had left their laptops in the front row. We took a short break at this point, mainly because I had to pee. I was out of the room for no more than 3 minutes, during which time, they snuck into the room, grabbed their stuff, and fled.

“Oh, they bailed?” I said, when I noticed. “Awesome.”