Category Archives: snowflakery

Phoning it in.

So, I am teaching a Spring class, and we are about halfway through, and there is one student who is not doing well. Most of them are motivated keeners who are asking how to make their B+ an A, but this one guy is just not engage. You know, comes to class with his iPod in, can’t always be bothered to take it out, never contributes to discussion, hands in half-assed work days late, that kind of thing.

Last night I had the chance to chat to him, and I said “I am a little concerned that you are not really engaged in this class, and that’s going to be reflected in your grade. Are you okay with getting a C-/D+?”

His answer was “I am in theatre performance so I don’t see the point of any academic class, and I am fine with just passing.” Then he offered to pretend to care. Because, you know, acting.

There are a ton of things I could get worked up about over this little exchange, and I did kind of gesture at this by saying to him, “are you so sure there’s nothing of value being offered in this classroom?”And it vaguely crossed my mind to suggest that if, in the unlikely event that the the whole acting thing didn’t pan out, he might want some literacy skills to fall back on.

But then I thought, I have 20 people in this class who care about how they do, and who want to learn, why expend any effort on this guy who doesn’t give two shits.

Which is freeing and depressing both at the same time.

Monday Mayhem

It’s Monday. Unusually for the weather here in the Armpit of Canada, instead of being fucking cold and sunny (bearable), it is overcast, foggy and frosty. While this means the temperature is slightly warmer than brass monkeys, it feels colder. The dull greyness is making people irritable, and, apparently, bringing out the crazy.

Do tell, I hear you say. I have four instances of nonsense today.

Nonsense the first. A student who has been to only 2 or 3 other classes this semester turns up, collects her essay, and then is irritated that she failed. I have to meet with her immediately to explain myself. “Well,” I say, “you have written a plot summary rather than an essay; you have no supporting quotes, and no MLA citation. We went over this a lot in class.”

Actually, I did this new thing where I spent about 10-15 minutes in 5 classes on specific things I wanted to see in student essays, and the vast majority of students actually managed to follow directions. Of course, they went to class.

Little Miss Absent pouts. I try the direct approach. “You have been to 3 classes, 4 tops this semester, right?” She grudgingly admits that this is so. “It seems to me that you don’t really want to be in this class. You don’t seem invested.” She replies, “I DON’T want to be in this class,” and stomps out.

I foolishly assume this is case closed until later in the day when my Chair calls me into his office and asks what was up with the student who got the F. “I asked her if she had quotes and citation in her essay, and she said no,” he says. I ask if she also told him she has only been to 3 classes out of 17. “No, she didn’t mention that”. She asked, instead, to change sections. Because clearly some other professor is going to be happy to have such a dedicated student turn up half way through the semester.

Nonsense the second. The Cheater from Friday is back with a bigger apology. She wants to apologize more. I thank her, but before she can go any further, I tell her I have already mailed the report to the Cheater Police. She sits for a minute or so, trying to get some tears going, and then storms out.

I later hear that she has been down to the Cheater Police to pre-emptively complain about my injustice. Apparently she asked them if giving an F on the course for the first instance of plagiarism was not too harsh. The Cheater Police, who are diplomats, say it seems rather unusual, but that they need to have more detail on the circumstances. I say “Five assignments,” to the Chief, and she says, “Well, that certainly puts a different light on it.”

Nonsense the third. My chair, while talking to me about Little Miss Absent says some other student wants to complain to him about me. I assume it is Friday’s Cheater, but he says no, it is someone who is complaining that I attacked and humiliated her in class. When was this? (See, I do it so much that I can’t be expected to remember every instance.) Apparently it was during a class last week about medieval women. The only thing I remember from this class is some nice discussion, so I have no idea what he is talking about, except that there was one student who said something wacky about breweries, and I said that her opinion might not have been entirely fact-based. “She hasn’t talked to you?” he asked. “Nope.” Stay tuned for updates.

Nonsense the fourth. In Children’s Lit today we were talking about Fairy Tales in general, with Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel as a specific example. There was a lot of quite thoughtful discussion of adult themes in Fairy Tales (pregnancy, death, kidnapping, getting blinded by falling out of a tower, wolves as seducers, that kind of thing), and I was talking about whether one of the reasons we as a culture still like to read them is that they let us explore deep-seated fears and cultural taboos. This is about as Freudian as I get, but it’s pretty hard to discuss Rapunzel, with the locking up of the girl in the giant tower shaped like a penis, without at least a nod to psychological interpretation.

If you see what I mean.

There’s some giggling, but generally the students take it reasonably seriously and we have a good discussion. Until just before the end of class, when King of Flakes puts his hand up and says, “So what you are saying is that this is a story encouraging children to have sex. I don’t get it. This is not a good moral for a story.”

How was your Monday?

Bow down to the King of Flakes.

Hang on to your hats, I am about to go ballistic.

To begin at the beginning: this semester I am teaching Children’s Literature, which is a course not without its problems, said problems often involving having to hammer info into the heads of those destined to be kindergarten teachers. This semester, instead of a bunch of delicate little kindergarten teacher types, my class is made up of monumental slackers.

How do I know? Well, they don’t come to class, and they are having trouble handing work in on time. Pshaw, I hear you say. That seems par for the course. Let me elaborate. These people are such slackers that the girl who turned up stoned to the exam last semester, who is in this class, is one of the more exemplary students.

Want more evidence? A couple weeks ago, their first assignment was due. The following class, I returned the assignment to those who had handed it in (about a third of the class). A couple others handed in their work that class, which meant it was 2 days late. At the next class, a week later, a couple more straggled in. I pointed out that the majority of students were still out to lunch on Assignment 1, and now, Assignment 2 was also due.

At this point, a guy in the class, hereby christened the King of Flakes, put his hand up and asked, “When is the last possible day to hand in the assignment?” WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT, ANYWAY? I mean, quite apart from the fact that they have a course outline that says “work handed in more than 7 days late will not be marked,” which is actually the answer to his question, what the FUCK kind of question IS that?

So that was the first couple of weeks of class. Sensing the mood of these dumbasses, and knowing that this week, I was kicking it up a notch by requiring them to give a 5 minute oral presentation, I began laying the groundwork for the presentation.

I told them it was coming up. I went through the requirements – to whit, you have to get up and tell a story to the class, as if we were, say 4-6 year olds, and it should take about 5 minutes. You can retell a story you know, or tell one about your life, or make up an original, or even just memorize a book and recite it, but there will be no notes. this is about Storytelling. You can even bring props or require audience participation, just as long as you are telling a story.

Is this rocket science? No. I’ve given this assignment to classes before, and they’ve all managed to do it, some of them even do it well. There has been enjoyment and success in the past. I know it’s possible.

I asked if there were questions. I brought in a kid to tell a story to the class. (It was a great story, by the way, and I don’t say this just out of fondness for the kid.) The kid, admittedly, told her story from notes. One of the flakes noticed this, and asked if they could also use notes. I replied: “this child is 9; I think you can probably manage this task without notes.” Following the demonstration, I asked if they were clear on the task. There were nods. I asked if there were questions. No questions.

So, Monday rolls around, and off I go to class, and the first thing that is notable is that of the 16 students scheduled to tell stories, only about 8 have bothered to show. Fabulous.

The first student gets up says “When I was 5 my mom took me to the petting zoo and a goat pulled my pants down.” THE END. That’s it? Apparently so.

The second presenter had the nugget of a fantastic story about how he got left behind on a family trip. This story could have had everything, suspense, exciting action, the emotional high of the eventual reunion, even an element of humour. Instead, he got up and flatly told the bare bones of the story in about 30 seconds, with a horrible scowl on his face.

And so it went. Of course, this is the peril of setting oral presentations. Sometimes they fall flat, or are cringe-makingly awful. I continue to persevere because other times they are interesting and informative and allow students to showcase their ability to convey information in ways other than written work. However, in this case, they were mostly dire, but at least they were short. Because of the pathetic efforts and the missing students, class was over in 30 minutes instead of 90. “That’s it?” asked the King of Flakes. Like somehow this was my fault for planning badly.

Today, I spent the morning debating whether or not to say I thought the previous classed sucked. On the one hand, telling snowflakes they suck means you are labelled “mean”, but on the other, HOLY FUCKING CRAP THEY SUCK.

In addition, I’m getting a vibe that their suckitude is going to be defended by whining. I’ve had a couple of emails, and there’s this whiny tone developing. So I decide to put my cards on the table. They can suck all they want, and half-ass the class all they want, but they can’t also expect to do well. Don’t want to hand your assignments in? Fine, but don’t blame me if you get a bad mark. Don’t want to put any effort into the assignment? Fine, but don’t expect to pass.

I comment on the general suckitude of Monday’s presentations (making sure to note the 2 honourable examples). And I know some of them agree with me because a couple are nodding, and one student had been to my office to ask a question and had made a comment indicating that she thought they sucked. So, yes, it is a dressing-down, and I am hoping that it will have the effect of making the ones who wanted to do well lift their game a little.

In the midst of my rant, King of Flakes puts his hand up. “To be honest,” he says (and OH GOOD, I think), he didn’t really understand what was required until he saw other people faceplant in the previous class. How can this be? Did he not hear the explanations? Read the assignment? Listen to the demonstration? Did he make any effort to ask a question to clarify his confusion? What more did he want?

“Well,” he said, “I thought it would be easier.” Fabulous. I don’t punch him, but instead ask if he can elaborate. “It just seemed that there were easier options.” Okay, whatever. I make the point that sometimes the easy way out isn’t the way to get the best mark, and we move on.

And, mirabile dictu, the presentations today are good. There’s humour, there’s audience participation; one guy accompanies himself on the guitar, one girl brings a friend to be a prop; it’s what I was hoping for the first time.

Then we get to King of Flakes’ turn. He gets up and starts to read Green Eggs and Ham. Just read the book. Not retell the story. He’s just trying to read the fucking book to the class.

Green Eggs and Ham, I will point out, is a set book from our reading list – he didn’t even go to the library or the bookstore or, I dunno a box of books in his house; just picked up the first handy book. He doesn’t recite it, like another guy did with a different Dr Seuss book, he’s just going to READ the GODDAMN set book from the FUCKING reading list.

I say to him “you can’t just read the book; the assignment says ‘tell a story without notes’. This is not doing the assignment”. He looks at me like I am insane. See, he wants to do something easier. Rather than, you know, the set task, which I will reiterate, isn’t difficult. I tell him to cut it out. He’s determined to read the book, and the class is bewildered, and I suggest that he sit down and figure out what the fuck he thinks he’s doing, and we’ll have the next presentation while he does that.

As a result of all of this folderol, we ran out of time, and there are a couple more people left, so I have to effectively give them an extension and let them present next class. So at the end of class, I have a talk to King of Flakes. Would he like to TRY the Herculean task of memorizing Green Eggs and Ham for next class? He just looks at me like I am insane again. “I won’t be able do that.” WHAT? This is his response? “I thought you would just take marks off if I didn’t memorize it,” he explains. Well. Yes. Yes I will. All of them.

Can I just repeat something here, in case you missed it in all of the foaming of the mouth? The book it will be too onerous to memorize is Green Eggs and Ham. Yes, that Green Eggs and Ham. The one that goes:

I am Sam
Sam I am

That Sam-I-am!
That Sam-I-am!
I do not like that Sam-I-am!

Do you like
green eggs and ham?
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.

Snowflakes, I present to you your king.

Rude, but not spectacular. Yet.

This one doesn’t have a nickname yet (please feel free to make suggestions in the comments), but I feel the need to tag his behaviour pending developments.

I don’t know if I have moaned enough for it to have entered into your consciousness yet, dear reader, but this semester, I have a dreaded 8am class 2 days a week. It is a class I enjoy teaching, and it is one that I can teach with relatively little audience participation. The latter fact is important because at 8am, your average student, being nocturnal, is even less inclined to be responsive to requests for verbal feedback than at other times of the day.

I taught this same section last year, and as you may remember, it was enlivened by the flailing sleeper. This time around, judging by their written work, I have a nice small number of female students who actually can tell their asses from their elbows with regard to MLA. Promising. Also in the class is one guy. This guy is a clueless asshole.

He was missing from class for a couple days. On Tuesday, there was an assignment due, which the studious female students all handed in at the beginning of class. Then I started enthralling them with the tale of Chaucer’s private life, which I know about because I read his blog.

About 10 minutes in, this guy comes into the classroom, walks up to the front of the class, where I am lecturing animatedly, and STANDS THERE WITH HIS ASSIGNMENT. Like, RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Dude. I am talking here. So I glare at him, and he holds his paper out, and either I have to take it, or he is going to fucking keep standing there. So I take it, and he walks to the back of the room and heads out the door.

At this point, I have to pause in my fascinating discussion of whether or not Chaucer was happily married, and, indeed whether or not that matters at all, to ask this jerk where he is going. And he says something about being ill (if you are ill, why did you take the trouble to come to class and give me your fucking germs, let me just get out the Purell, here), and I snap back “Well, thanks for interrupting class.” And he leaves.

So today I get an email from him – an email of several sentences, all jammed into one paragraph, with no capital letters and little punctuation – which explains, among other things, that his illness is some kind of skin condition (FANTASTIC), and that he didn’t get a doctor’s note, because it would cost $30. Is there in it one word of apology? There is not.

So, I am saying, just flagging this one, because I doubt this is going to be his only effort.