Category Archives: teaching

A Grabbag from my Email Inbox.

So, semester started, which means I already have a series of hilarious emails from assorted snowflakes, which I am of course willing to share, for the lulz.

First, we have the common or garden “I am going to miss the first 3 classes because I will be still on vacay in Mexico with my parents” email. This one never ceases to appall me, even though I get at least one a semester. There are a couple of things that make this kind of email elicit a WTF response. One, of course, is that the dates of the start of semester are not secret, and so what kind of parents are these, who jeopardise their child’s academic success for the transient enjoyment of some kind of hedonistic beach vacation, during which, odds are, family members bicker constantly, possibly even about Junior’s grades last semester? Two is, why do these morons think telling me they are lying on the beach is somehow something I want to know? I am slaving away getting up before the crack of dawn in order to hand out course outlines to slack-jawed yokels who will lose them by next week. Don’t you think I want to be lying on a beach somewhere drinking margaritas?

The next email, or “eamil” comes from a dude who is clearly in the right place in English for the Backward, but needs all the class time he can get, couch or no couch. I quote, for your delectation.

Hi my name is Flakky Snowflak. I’m in your class on mondays and wensdays.
I will be in class this monday but im going to  miss tomrrow becuase
i’m sick and I can’t stop couching. Please eamil me the course outline
and any homework you assin tomrrow.
my eamil is flakky@hotmail.com

He’s polite, I will give him that; most of them don’t say “please”.

Finally we have the email from the student who thinks I am incompetent. Already! Some background: there’s this software, possibly designed by a committee of Hell’s least competent demons, called “Blackboard”. It is “Courseware,” whatever the hell that means, and its supposed use is that it has a series of functions to support academics who are teaching at post secondary level. The word “supposed” here is key.

An example of Blackboard’s functionality I experienced just this week, when I contacted the teaching support goon at our institution:

Me: So, hey, I had this hip and groovy idea to do a short weekly podcast for my students, you know, announcements, things they missed, stuff like that.
Goon: That sounds very technology-forward of you.
Me: So can I do that in Blackboard at all?
Goon: Theoretically, you should be able to, but we are finding that the RSS feature doesn’t actually work very well.
Me: What does that mean, exactly? As in, with regard to implementing my idea?
Goon: Well, you can upload the mp3s to Blackboard, and then you can email your students and tell them to download the mp3 and figure out how to play it.
Me: [stabbing self in back of hand with plastic fork I am using to eat my lunch] Kthxbai.

It is experiences like this, along with the fact that the parts of it that do work annoy the hell out of me (like the gradebook. Do I want my grade-grubbing students to be able to see their marks to 2 decimal places at any hour of the day or night so they can come bug me about them? I do not) that have caused me to abandon the use of Blackboard, in favour of a nice simple blog where I post helpful information and links. No, not this blog, gentle readers; I laugh heartily at your pleasantry.

I explain this whole blog business to my students at great length, putting the blog address on their course outline, showing it to them in the first class, and linking to it from their college computer account thingummies. I say, “I do not like Blackboard; I will not use it, Sam I am,” incorporating jokes, dance moves and music to reinforce the message. Despite this, I get emails like the following, and no doubt will continue to get them throughout the semester.

I was looking on blackboard and it doesn’t list english 18th literature
as one of my classes on the right side. Should I contact someone to fix it?

The thing I really like about this is the snotty undertone, with its suggestion that somehow the student has more authority to get my course sorted out than I do. I offer you here my fantasy response, since in real life, I can’t put in the swears.

Dear Snotty McSnotterson,
Did you come to the first class before you decided to micromanage me? Your question indicates either that you are too stupid to understand plain English, even when a statement is repeated 3 times, twice orally and once in writing, or you an arrogant bitch who is emailing me with complaints about the way I decide to run my course without even bothering to attend a class. Either way, fuck right off.

Man, that felt good.

Back to responding to the emails about whether I will be attending “Meet a Prof” night at the pub – god, no; whether I prefer a 10am or an 8am meeting – duh; and whether I can manage without my textbooks for a couple of days because they are lost in the mail, or fell off the truck or something – experience having been a harsh mistress in this department, the answer is, yes, because I now routinely assume my students won’t have texts until week 3 of semester.

When pineapple goes bad.

So, things have been moving along, and there has been quite a lot of Nutcracker, and I did mean to write a post last week, but I got distracted by hilarious events in another corner of the internet. All of which means, I have to get you caught up on the Pineapple Boy business.

When we last heard of him, Pineapple Boy was a food-splattering jerk, kind of sexist, but generally lulzy. Things deteriorated a bit.

First, there was the incident in class when I was talking about my students’ oral presentations for their term projects. These are often on rather personal topics, and sometimes students get emotional, and often because they go that deep, the writing in them ends up being extraordinary. I had some wonderful ones this year, although not, I hasten to add, from Pineapple Boy’s cohort. Anyway, because sometimes these presentations do get emotional (read – people cry), I mention this beforehand, in order to say “Look, sometimes people get emotional. It’s okay, this classroom is a safe place, and crying in your presentation is not going to get you a bad mark.” I don’t court the emotional catharsis, but I do find that the ones who cry tend to be able then to go back to the writing and make it really good, having got the emotional stuff out of their systems, as it were.

In the one class – which I call in my head, the Good Class – there were some tears:  from the girl who got up and said “My Dad got married yesterday to the love of his life; the wedding was going to be in June, but they got married yesterday because he isn’t going to live that long”; from the girl who got up and read part of a letter she wrote to her brother who killed himself last August; from a couple of others who basically bared their souls in front of classmates whose response was respectful, thoughtful and admiring. Two standouts (who didn’t cry) were the girl who wrote a delightfully self-deprecating fairy tale about her experiences with drugs, and Silas.

Silas stood up and said “I want to start my piece by telling you about my friend Annie, who is a Jew”. It was one of those moments that stop a teacher’s heart. I mean, I give my students free reign to write about themselves and whatever they truly care about in this project. It’s a risk, but it usually pays off. In this case, though, I had a couple of seconds to worry about whether I was going to have to leap up and cut off some kind of terrifying neo-Nazi rant. But no. Silas went on to use the example of his friend Annie, who was so overtly proud of her religion that it became an overwheming part of her identity that she was practically one-dimensional, to illustrate his own dilemma. “I am a person with diabetes,” he said, “but I don’t want my disease to be my identity.” It was a brilliant piece, well-written, funny and moving. His classmates unanimously gave him 5 out of 5.

I came out of that class feeling terrific, like I had done a good job, and that my students had repaid me by trusting me with themselves, and that they were learning, and incorporating what they learned into what they wrote.

This feeling lasted an hour.

Then, I went to Pineapple Boy’s class. Because of the vagaries of scheduling, they were due to present the following class. So, I chipperly remarked that the presentations I had just heard were awesome, and that I hoped (vainly, forlornly) that this stupid, lumpish class might produce something of similar quality. “Did they bawl?” sneered Pineapple Boy. Ugh. And with that, my buzz was gone.

Two days later, the Lumpen Class were set to present. Pineapple Boy was being his usual cud-chewing self, with his massive tupperware of salad, and the usual lineup of power bars on the desk. Now, I am a professional, and if assholes are eating and farting and sleeping and texting in my class, I can pretty much suck it up and carry on regardless. But these students were nervous about their presentations, and I wanted to keep the annoying distractions to a minimum. So I asked Pineapple Boy to put his food away, just this once. No dice. “I gotta eat,” he said. (Subsequent events have made me aware that he has a class immediately after mine. A class in which, I now deeply suspect, he is forbidden to eat.) I repeated my request. He repeated his refusal. I threatened to throw him out. Finally, he gave in, with bad grace, and grumbled to his fellows.

Their presentations sucked. They sucked so bad, even peer marking couldn’t save them.

There followed a week, during which there was more truculence and backchat, but nothing all that noteworthy. Well, except I read a development in a story that a friend of mine had been telling in the Ivory Tower group over on ravelry, about a student who had touched her on the arm, and made comments about her looking hot. (I know! Ew!) We had encouraged her to report him, and he had been unhappy, and things had escalated, and he ended up breaking in to her house, and long story short, she had to buy all new underwear and the student is now in the loony bin. This would be a digression, except hearing this story put me a little, shall we say, on edge.

So, Friday morning, I am minding my own business, walking down the hallway when someone grabs my upper arm, quite hard. This is not a little tap. And I am not a little startled. And by the time I collect my self so as to say “Who the fuck is grabbing me by the arm,” the grabber is already some feet away, behind me, and it is Pineapple boy. This is not cool.

Before you say “why were his gonads still attached to his body?” I will mention that I had a cup of coffee in one hand and was dragging a trolley with the other. I mention my unhappiness to my Head of Department in an email, to which his response was, “meh”. Sarcastic Bastard told me to write up Pineapple Boy, because we do have a rules about behaviour at our place, and they have a spiral bound publication with schmancy gold illustrations on the front. So you know it’s srs business.

I kind of took the weekend to ruminate, and then had a conversation with the Official Rules Maven on Monday about whether Pineapple Boy was pertinent to their interests – i.e. whether I should follow through on the whole official reprimand thing. Since her response was “Oh my gosh, yes,” I went ahead and filled in the form.

Here’s where the pineapple starts going pear-shaped.

Before I went to class, I confirmed that Sarcastic Bastard was planning on being in the office, equipped with Mean Glare in case Pineapple Boy decided to give me any trouble, and I went down to the classroom. Lumpen Class were supposed to be doing a practice exam, so I set them up in the lab with their task, and asked Pineapple Boy to go upstairs and wait outside my office for me. I spent a couple minutes helping students, and then went to the door. He was standing there. I asked why he hadn’t gone upstairs. He said, in his inimitable fashion, that I wasn’t to treat him like a 5-year-old, and that he wanted to walk upstairs with me.

Now, I fully admit, that some of my reaction to him was being coloured by other experiences, and that I was choosing to err on the side of caution, but his truculence really put me on edge. I mean, come on. Your Prof comes in and says “I need to talk to you; go upstairs and wait,” if you are a reasonable person, do you argue? Or do you run like hell up those stairs, hoping that by appearing meek and biddable you may be able to engender some leniency for your crimes? I have never before had any student choose Option 1.

At that moment, I was absolutely jack of his shit. I didn’t want to argue with him anymore. So I went into the lab, shut the door, and pressed the speed-dial for Security. All I wanted was one guy. One guy to walk me up the stairs and possibly stand outside the door, so that when I had a difficult conversation with a dude whose neck is fatter than his head, and whose upper arms are fatter than his neck, I didn’t have to feel intimidated. What I got was 4 dudes. Who appeared at a fast jog.

It was overkill, and almost could have been embarrassing. Except for two things. 1) If you ever need to call Security, you would like to be confident that they will take you seriously, and provide, well, security. So over-reaction, in this situation, is totally preferable to the opposite. You know, like my Chair, who had essentially said, “meh”. 2) Pineapple Boy started to give them shit. Which kind of got me thinking about the kind of shit he might have given me had they not been there. So, all-in-all, I think I made the right call.

One of the Security guys menacingly put on his leather gloves while we approached Pineapple Boy, who had in the meantime wandered up the stairs on his own. This glove move, I am reliably assured, is a total mall ninja move, but it is nonetheless menacingly effective. We got Pineapple Boy into my office, and I started to explain the situation.

He interrupted me, as is his wont, to argue with me. I have been putting up with this, I now realise. The Security guy who was in my office told Pineapple Boy to shut up and listen to me. Which, naturally, he could not possibly manage to do. So they told him again. And again. All of which, again, was kind of part crazy comedy routine, but at the same time, it made me see that I had been letting this student push me around, and make me uncomfortable, and that part of the reason I had done that was because I was physically intimidated. Eventually, we got through the formalities, and I said what I needed to, and Pineapple Boy gave 4 different explanations of his behaviour, none of which impressed any of the parties present. It was quite uncomfortable, although the part where he said “This is about the pineapple, isn’t it,” was a brief moment of enjoyable levity in the otherwise depressing morass.

The Security guards took his details and menacingly asked him what his movements were going to be for the rest of the afternoon. This, I must admit, I did not expect, and I found it a little scary. Why were they asking? Did they think he might lie in wait to ambush me, while consuming his bucket of salad? His constant eating may be his downfall as a stealthy stalker, though. The tap, tap of chopsticks on tupperware could be a tell-tale clue that alerts me to his presence. Honestly, I don’t think he is that kind. I think he has been overstepping, but I think now, that it was not deliberate. He protested that he defends me when the others complain about me, and that he respects me as a teacher. I responded that in that case, he needs to make sure his behaviour matches his attitude, and if he can learn that lesson, well, maybe I have been an effective teacher for him this semester.

After all of this was over, I went back down to my class, who were being preturnaturally quiet and well-behaved. One of them tentatively raised a hand and said, “Do you mind if I ask a question, even if it might be a stupid question?” Normally, their stupidity doesn’t give them much pause. I responded, “Yeah, you probably don’t want to piss me off today, especially since I hear you all badmouth me behind my back.”

This has been an epic story, and not as funny as usual. Hopefully we can get back to the regular schedule of pointing and laughing at idiots soon.

The Pineapple Chronicles, Vol. 2

Pineapple Boy (previously referred to as Muscle Boy, but the pineapple thing is already reaching legendary status) is struggling. I think all his braincells are engaged in digesting all his food, and then there’s the build up of muscle in his neck, which may be restricting bloodflow to the important thinking areas of the head. His class were doing an in-class essay a last week, and he had a lot of trouble following instructions, and especially instructions to do with the citing of sources in MLA format.

I give you the following as an illustration:

Pineapple Boy: So do we have to do that thing at the end of our story?
[It’s like a giant flashing warning sign when students refer to essays as stories, you know, like they have no clear understanding of writing as having genres or audiences or anything like that. Words on page=story. This is not going to be a nuanced argument that is produced here. But I digress.]
Me: The conclusion?
PB: No, the biography, or whatever.
Me [stabbing in the dark]: The works cited?
PB: Yeah, that. What is it called?
Me: The works cited. I just told you.
PB: Well, I can’t be expected to remember it. [I think the rule about “no food in the lab” is making him testy.]
Some time passes. I wander around the room answering slightly less moronic questions from the general populace. Later, I look over Pineapple Boy’s shoulder, and see that he has written “Citation” instead of “Works Cited”.
Me: You need to change that to “Works Cited,” like I told you.
PB: Well, geez. It’s not like I do this for a living, you know.
Me [thinks]: This is probably just as well, or you would starve.

Pineapple Boy’s “story” was not a roaring success. Among other things, it claimed that the term “sir” was a racial epithet equivalent to the word “nigga”.

So, he got a bad mark, and he wanted to rewrite, and against my better judgement I agreed. He informed me, during our conversation (which lasted about 10 minutes, and during which time he consumed some kind of health food bar) that he had “never heard of commas until this class”.

On Monday, the rest of Pineapple Boy’s class, who are lazy slackers, except for Entrepreneur Guy, who is very focussed but had to run out of class because someone dinged his illegally parked $60,000 vehicle, did not do their reading. The reason? Well, I had listed the pages they needed to read from the textbook in their Course Schedule, but I hadn’t given the exact name of the “stories”. Apparently, “Chapter 2, pages 67-78” is not specific enough. (I got the same shit from a student in another class who said that the instruction “Unless otherwise stated, all readings are from Textbook X” was not clear enough, and I should list the every single reading by the name of the story, the page, and the phrase, “this reading is found in Textbook X”.) Since none of them had done the reading, I turfed them out of the class with orders to do it, and the reading for next class for next class. They left. 10 minutes later, Pineapple Boy wandered back into the room – he was on a food break – and asked where everyone went. I explained. “I did the reading,” he declared, confidently.

So, Wednesday rolled around, and I decided to give the slacker class a kick in the pants by making them write a short essay about the reading. Because I am not utterly evil, I offered marks for students who did well. They moaned a bit, but eventually got cracking on the task. Five minutes later, Pineapple Boy – who had been on a food break – came back into class, and asked what was up. I explained. He proceeded to pack up his stuff noisily, including repacking his lunchbox, and flounce out of the class.

He emailed me later about how he was “sure you would not care why i left the class but i will tell you anyway”. Apparently, it is unreasonable of me to expect him to retain information or produce written responses to the assigned reading, because this requires him to remember stuff about what he reads. He has a lot of other classes, and after a couple in a day, his “brain is fried”. He also said he had been spending a lot of time on his “grammer. not that you will belive me when you read this email but i dont think that is important in this case.”

He’s very determined to succeed, but he has no idea what strategies will help him, so he flails around wildly. I offer suggestions about how he might work more productively, but he dismisses them as ridiculous and fanciful. He came to see me, all earnest about how he had copied out the reading. Why? I have no idea.

Stay tuned. There is sure to be an update.

Tales from the start of semester.

Students are getting dumber, I swear. They are moronic in flocks, like the 25 who turned up to a 3 hour class in the second week of term without a book. It’s a lit class. What did they think we were going to DO for 3 hours, if they hadn’t done the reading? But this is just common or garden stupid. I have a couple who are already standing out from the herd.

Yesterday, I had an series of emails from a student (let’s call her “Precious”) who had missed both of last week’s classes for “personal reasons” she “didn’t care to explain”. Newsflash: I don’t CARE about your personal problems. Anyway, apparently, when she got to the classroom we were not there, and there was “no way” she could find out where the class had gone.

Let’s examine this premise, shall we? There was the info in the Course Outline about the fact that we were doing an in-class assignment in the lab. There was the fact that I had mentioned the room number of the lab in both classes the previous week. There was the option to go upstairs and ask the Departmental Secretary who booked the lab where it was. There was the “wander 3 doors down the corridor to the room marked ‘English Lab'” option (okay, that one might have required some dumb luck). And there was, of course, the giant not written in large letters on the board, which said “ENGLISH CLASS MONDAY, WE ARE IN ROOM XXXX”.

Because of my pathological need to keep the room number of the lab secret, Precious was instead forced to “guess” what the assignment required, and then she handed it in to an unknown location.

Here’s my dilemma: do I enforce my policy which says if you don’t excuse your absence before the in-class assignment you get a zero, or do I read (assuming it ever turns up in my inbox) her 700 word “guess” and give her a grade? The argument in favour of the latter is that it seems like I am doing her a favour while actually pwning her because she wrote a pile of crap, but there is a 1000 to 1 shot that it merits better than a D.

Either way, it seems I am doomed to have to hear about Precious’ personal problems because now she suggests that since this assignment was for marks, she supposes that she ought to give me an actual excuse for her absence. Please.

Then there is Muscle Boy. Muscle Boy is devoted to the gym, and has giant muscles all over his body. They don’t seem to be arranged in any particular order, and I think one of the biggest ones is in his head. He comes to class with a 4 litre container of water, and at least one protein shake. During the class, which lasts a little under 2 hours, he has to break out at least one tupperware meal, presumably because he has to eat constantly to maintain his bulk.

Constant eating does not restrain him from talking, though, which he does at volume. Does he say anything interesting or worthwhile? You know he does not. Generally he is either talking about something with whoever is unfortunate enough to sit within his food spatter zone, or he is asking questions about stuff we moved on from 15 minutes ago.

The other day, I had all the students come to my office in the second half of class so that we could caucus about their topics for their term projects. These meetings lasted approximately 90 seconds each. Muscle boy, who cannot go without sustenance for such a prolonged period, enthusiastically sprayed me with pineapple as he outlined his plan to write about how body-building helps him stay off drugs.

Yesterday Morning: the Good News and the Bad News

Good News: My Children’s Lit Class is meeting at the Children’s Bookstore for our field trip, which is usually lots of fun.

Bad News: I still have to get up at sparrowfart to go teach Milton to the early class. Milton!

Good News: Students are far more into Paradise Lost than I am, so my instruction to “talk about it amongst yourselves and figure out a list of questions you want me to answer” cop-out actually produces some interesting discussion.

Bad News: Despite my repeatedly leaving a pile of essays invitingly for them on my desk, the Marking Fairies have not made an appearance.

Good News: I get to go home and be fortified by coffee before I walk around the corner to the Children’s Bookstore.

Bad News: When I use my break time productively to check how my character is going in Forumwarz, I find I have been the target of repeated assholings by those jerks, The Knights of LOL.

Good News: More exciting sock yarn arrives in the mail.

Bad News: I am the kind of dork who gets excited by sock yarn.

Good News: Most of my class have turned up at the bookstore and they are having an excellent time browsing, reading and discussing the things they see. Woot! Education is taking place before my eyes.

More Good News: When I go to purchase Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach, the nice bookstore owner tells me I have $10 in frequent flyer credit.

Bad News: Students are clearly skeptical about my excuses for not having their essays to hand back. Damn you, Marking Fairies!

Good News: Disgruntled Students are distracted by the arrival of Feckless at the store. Students always like to get a glimpse of your personal life.

Not Bad at all News: Weird Korean Sub and Bubble tea place down the road has been replaced by Vietnamese Cafe.

Good News: It’s busy-ish, but there is a table free.

Bad News: It becomes apparent that the table is free because it is next two Ladies (not women; women do not have the kind of conversation these ladies are having) of a certain age, who are lunching and talking about their inane lives in appalling detail, VERY LOUDLY. Srsly, it is sad that your mutual friend has cancer, and isn’t it good that she seems to be recovering, and how nice that her nice children were so nice to visit her, but we really don’t want to hear about it. Other things we also don’t want to hear about: your dog’s manicure, or whatever the hell it was, and who came to visit at Easter, and what you made for dinner.

Good News: The spring rolls are delicious.

Bad News: The Loud Ladies’ conversation has taken a turn for the gynecological. Your friend Holly, do you really think she would be happy to know that you told an entire restaurant how many times she “tried” before she got pregnant?

Good News: Both Feckless and I have iPods. So we put them on.

Bad News: Now, of course, we cannot converse about how yummy the food is, and did I notice if there was any more chili sauce.

Good News: Also armed with cellphones, we can text each other. So we do. Feckless texts, “This is SO much better.” I reply, “I am going to pwn them on my blog.”

Bad News: When we finish eating, and disconnect the tech, the Ladies are still at it.

Good News: The current topic of conversation – the son of one of them, who is a Special Snowflake currently studying at a post-secondary institution and cannot make up his mind what he wants to study – offers the opportunity for some lulz. Snowflake Son apparently has dropped a lot of classes, including, most recently, Sociology, because he is “trying to find his path.” “Oh well,” consoles the other lady, “he is a deep thinker.” This last observation prompts me to reply, “That clearly isn’t genetic.”

Bad News: I didn’t say it out loud. I know you were hoping one of them was going to hit me with her handbag.

Good News: Food was excellent value for money. Also, the Ladies provide us with an excellent topic for snarky conversation on the way home, all the way to the Badly Built House, which, despite a booming housing market in this city, remains unsold after several months. Tip for property developers: giant cracks in the stonework tend to deter potential buyers.

In other news: Sarcastic Bastard got an essay with a little photochopped picture of a rubber duck with a stapler in the upper right hand corner.

In which I am unfair.

In my department, we have some policies, which are presented to students in handouts. Now, these policies outline our expectations with regard to things like spelling and grammar, and citation in essays. Essentially, they outline the bleeding obvious for the intelligence impaired. (You know, like Homer Simpson says, “Because of me, now they have a warning”.) I like to think of them as “Don’t Staple a Dead Duck to Your Essay” policies. I give these policy handouts to my students at the start of semester, and I also make mention of them in my Course Outlines and Assignment Handouts, and I remind them, a couple of times before work is due, not to duck up.

You know where this is going.

The Duck files. Conversation 1.

Little Miss Mallard: I see I got a D for my essay.
Me: Yes. That would be a D for “duck”.
LMM: Well, I did ask you if you wanted this work in “essay format”.
Me: Well, yes, but to me “essay format” means something quite different to “with a duck on”.
LMM: My prof last semester said it was okay to hand it in with a duck on.
Me: ORLY?
LMM: Yes, you can ask him. It was Professor Algernon.
Me: I will do that. If you go take the duck off and reprint your essay, I will, out of the goodness of my heart, reconsider your grade.
[Interval of a day, during which I ask Prof Algy about his duck policy, and he claims that no ducking way did he say anything of the sort.]
LMM: Here’s my essay!
Me: There’s still duck parts all over this thing! The D stands.
LMM [bursting in to tears]: No fair!

The Duck files. Conversation 2.

Muscovy Chick: I see you applied the duck policy to my essay. I just wanted to say that it’s not fair.
Me: How is it not fair? Did you know about the policy?
MC: Yes.
Me: And you have copy of the handouts where I explain that the policy applies to your essays in this class?
MC: Yes.
Me: I am failing to see where this unfairness lies.
MC: It isn’t fair.
Me: Are you suggesting that I don’t apply this policy equally to all students?
MC: No.
Me: Then I have to ask, how is it unfair?
MC: It isn’t fair.
Me [bewildered, and admittedly getting tetchy]: What about it isn’t fair? You said you knew about it.
MC: Well, it didn’t seem to me that I would get penalised for stapling a dead duck to my essay.
Me: Even though I said you would?
MC: Yes.
Me: So essentially, you are saying that people who have standards and then hold you to them are unfair?
MC: Quack.

The Duck files. Conversation 3.

Cayuga Girl [snivelling, which makes my score of criers for the week 3]: I have to talk to you about this. [“This” being her god-awful essay, and they always say it in that tone.]
Me: What about it?
CG: I can’t get this mark.
Me: Well, clearly you can, but you don’t want it.
CG: What did I do wrong? It’s not like it has a dead duck stapled to it, like last time.
Me: True, but it does have a metric duckton of, to put it mildly, infelicities and inaccuracies in it. Like this part where you say “anthropologists agree that women are genetically inferior to men”. Why drag the poor anthropologists in to it? This is a Chaucer essay.
CG: I meant “physically inferior”.
Me: I’m not sure that that is an improvement.
CG: Anyway, that is only one thing.
Me: It was your thesis.
CG: Well, what else?
Me: There’s this part where you go on for a page about the bourgeoisie in the 14th Century.
CG: My history professor does that; I thought it was okay. [You note this is a common theme? It makes me wonder what my students blame me for when they are arguing with my colleagues.]
Me: And there’s this part where you say that medieval women never talked about sex. What about Margery Kempe? She went on and on and on about sex: having it, not having it, wanting to have it with some guy other than her husband… You have no evidence for your claims.
CG: I did a lot of reading. And also, no duck!
Me: I saw that. But overall, it’s a clusterduck. You read all these feminist critics. I don’t think you really grasped what they were on about.
CG: So what do you want me to do?
Me: Me? I have no desires here. You wrote an essay, I marked it and gave it back. As far as I am concerned, this is the end of the transaction. Don’t make this about me.
[Long pause. Clearly this conversation is not going the way she wants. I think I was supposed to apologise and promise never to do it again.]
CG: What if I rewrote it?
Me: The last time I let you have a rewrite, you took the duck off and replaced it with a goose. I need some guarantee that letting you rewrite won’t result in more duckwittery.
CG: You are really unfair. [Exit, huffily.]

The Duck files. Conversation 4.

Snippy Duckling: What’s this D doing here?
Me: It’s a D for “duck”.
SD [with a real tone]: So. You’re telling me, I got a D just because I stapled a dead duck to my essay?
Me: Yes.
SD [tone now moving from snippy to threatening]: Interesting.
Me [thinking]: At least she didn’t call me unfair.

In other news, Gender Genie thinks I am a dude.

Can’t talk – Mario.

I don’t think I mentioned that our wii broke a while ago. In fact, I may have failed to mention that my family are totally Nintendo’s whores, but we so are. We have 4 DS handhelds for 3 people (including a special edition pink 1st generation DS that Feckless and StepLadder won in a contest), and we had a gamecube, and now we have the wii.

Nintendo’s customer service is totally awesome. Unlike, say, the cable company or the IT guys at work, Nintendo customer service dudes’ default position is not that you are an idiot who is lucky to have electricity. Rather, they offer sympathy for the problem (“Hard drive failed just after you beat Bowser? That’s so frustrating! That battle is really long!), and they listen when you describe the symptoms and tell them what you tried. Bonus points for the one who was helping me, because he refrained from howling with laughter at StepLadder, who was wailing piteously in the background that her “heart was broken”.

So we had to send the wii to them for a couple weeks, but they returned it promptly, fixed, and replaced the game that was zorched by the defective harddrive. It’s been home for nearly a week, and I have been playing Mario Galaxy quite a lot. Hence, the not so much blogging, because I am pretty sure you don’t really need to know how many stars we need to get before we can beat Bowser again so then we can play as Luigi.

Funny things happened at work, but I wrote about them for RYS, so go read it over there. I need to grab some more 1-ups.

Rating My Students

Student evaluations of instruction are a thorn in the side of any instructor; it’s like, once a semester, they get to throw a free punch, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Of course, you get quite a few who only manage a swing and a miss: “this teacher were to tuogh on spelling and grammer,” but others do manage to connect, and it’s the ones that hit you in unexpected places that can really be disheartening. I don’t mind the random jabs at my meanness, or my dress sense, but the one who said, “do not mock people who are funnier than you,” really stung.

I know it’s not just me who has angst over evaluations; look at all the ink spent on navel-gazing. And what do we learn from all this scholarly research? That student opinions of their teachers are swayed by chocolate. Nice. That’s really going to make me roll philosophically with those punches. If chocolate is all it takes, why would anyone stress about good teaching? But no, I will take the high road.

I do get a chance to make my case; there’s a form I have to fill in that talks about my teaching in the classes that have student evaluations, where I get to complain about the heating system making a sound like a jet taking off, or the fact that the motion sensor attached to the lighting in the room was located too far away from the teacher’s desk, so that halfway through the class, all the lights would go out, and students would need to stand up and wave their arms to make them come back on. There’s a leetle tiny space on that form for comments about student behaviour; just enough room to write, “never have I seen such a group of egregious sloths – these reluctant slugs could not even get it together to read children’s picture books.”

But, let’s face it, this is not enough. The fact that this is not enough is the whole reason Rate Your Students exists, bless their tiny cotton student-loathing socks.

This semester, I am preparing an Instructor Evaluation of Students. Based loosely on my institution’s Student Evaluation, it will have 20 items for me to rate my students on a 5 point scale. Here are the items:

  1. The student shows interest (real or feigned) in the subject.
  2. The student demonstrates respect for the instructor and classmates.
  3. The student’s behaviour is not actively disruptive to the class.
  4. The student demonstrates an openness to new concepts.
  5. The student makes use of offered opportunities of assistance.
  6. The student’s personal hygiene is inoffensive.
  7. The student does not actively try to make the instructor’s life harder.
  8. The student makes a visible effort to learn (includes grunting).
  9. The student responds to instructor’s overtures to promote participation (i.e. will respond to a direct question if eye contact is made).
  10. The student comes to class.
  11. The student shows an understanding of the duration of the class (is on time, does not leave early).
  12. The student does assigned reading.
  13. The student attempts to meet deadlines.
  14. The student accepts responsibility for handing in his/her work on time.
  15. The student demonstrates an ability to follow simple directions.
  16. The student gives some priority to fitting this class into his/her life.
  17. The student is responsive to instructor requests and/or advice.
  18. The student shows an understanding of grading standards.
  19. This student shows an awareness of the existence of other individuals.
  20. I would recommend this student to others.

That way, I will have hard numbers at which to point and laugh. And I’ll post them here, so others can do the same. I have not decided yet whether to rate all my students, including those who drop the course (skews negatively), or only those who make it to the end of semester and receive a final grade (skews positively), but I have the whole semester to ponder. Suggestions welcome.

Assorted amusements from the end of semester.

It’s a little pot pourri.

Marking when it is piled up at the end of semester makes professors exhibit their eccentricities more obviously. Professor Hobbit closes his door, but leaves it open a tiny crack so that he can periodically step out into the corridor, glare up and down, and then dive back into his cave. Professor Prankster reacts to this by thinking of things to do to spork Prof. Hobbit, and drawing as many of his colleagues as he can into his evil plots. They exemplify the essential divide between the hibernators, who put “Do not Disturb” signs on their doors, and the procrastinators, who suddenly become all social and friendly, and will even chat with their sworn enemies about shoe shopping.

Sarcastic Bastard made a student cry a couple of weeks ago for writing “Maybe if you spent less time on Facebook and more time paying attention in class, you would not have failed this assignment”. Since then, he has been racking up the notches he makes on his marking pen every time a student bursts into tears. I think the fact that one student wrote the comment “So MEAN!” about me is making him competitive. Today, I had a student in tears, although she kind of ruined it for me by saying “If I cry it isn’t your fault; I’m getting my period.”

Little exchange between me and a student who is trying hard, but is a little too obsessed with grades, and tends to overlook the obvious:
Her: I’m a little disappointed in my grade, because I tried really hard. You know I can’t get a C+ in this class.
Me: Well, clearly you can. I think your issue is that you don’t want a C+.
Her: So what was wrong with my essay?
Me: As it says in the comments, you didn’t have a clear thesis.
Her: But I showed you my plan, and you said my thesis statement was fine.
Me: Yes, but did you put your thesis statement from the plan into your essay?
Her: You mean that exact sentence?
Me: The one I put a checkmark next to? Yes.
Her: No?

Some academic sites and online reference resources have started including citation information on their pages, to help students with referencing. It’s a nice idea, although I prefer it when they provide this information in a recognised format like APA or MLA, rather than making up some wacky style of their own (I’m looking at you, Oxford Reference Collection). Which leads me to this little gem, found at the end of a student essay:

Works Cited
Jokinen, Anniina. “The Life of Sir Thomas Wyatt.” Luminarium. 14 Apr 2004. [Date you accessed this article]. <http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/wyattbio.htm&gt;.

You can make it so all they have to do is lift a pinky finger, but you can’t make them lift that pinky finger.

Mikey, attempting, possibly, to explain character development in a novel, went into a 5 minute incoherent explanation of how monkeys, when you have one over here, and you put another one over there, will change appearance. The class listened to him, transfixed, until he wound down. Bewildered, I asked if anyone cared to provide an interpretation. “Are you talking about evolution?” one student asked. Apparently not. Also what it was not was chameleons. There are no monkeys in the novel, just in case you thought there might be some kind of tenuous connection to reality.

Suck-up student brought a box of mini-donuts to class today, and I took the leftovers back upstairs to share with my colleagues. “These are from a student?” asked Darwin; “Have you eaten one? How are you feeling?” It’s not like that, I swear! She likes me.

We were discussing The Great Gatsby in class, and I was trying to make a point about the reflections on materialism in the book.
Me: So, have you noticed anything about how much the characters in the book drink?
Dumbasses omnes: Yes! They are always drinking!
Me: But that book is set in the 1920s in the US; is there an issue there?
Smartass Dumbass: Prohibition, duh.
Me: Does anyone in the book seem to be at all concerned that they are constantly doing something illegal?
Dumbasses Omnes: No. Not really, no.
Me: So, does that tell you anything about these people and their characters?
[pause while their brains grind into gear]
Pothead Dumbass: No, why should it? I mean, I smoke pot, and I don’t care that it is illegal.
Smartass Dumbass: There’s a surprise.

I read an essay with the following sentence in the introduction, “This essay will have a conclusion.” And it wasn’t even true!