What do you mean, essays don’t just materialize out of thin air?


My students had to do oral presentations, which were then followed up by essays on the topic. So they presented their ideas, had some class discussion, and then had a week to write it up. The marks for the task were evenly divided between the presentation part and the essay part.

Yesterday, a couple weeks after the latter part of the task was due, and I had marked and returned the essays, I had the following conversation with a student – hereinafter referred to as Clueless Carla – at the end of class.

Clueless Carla: So, I missed both classes last week, can I get my grade for my presentation?
Me, gathering up and enormous stack of books I had to bring to class for an activity: Uh, yeah, I don’t have those essays with me, but you can come upstairs to my office and get it back.
CC: I don’t need to get anything back, I just want my grade for the presentation.
Me: Yes, I put participation feedback on the essays; if you get yours back, you will get the feedback.
CC speaking emphatically, because clearly I am an idiot: I am not talking about our midterm essays, I am talking about the MARK for the PRESENTATION.
Me: Yes, those marks were written on the essays.
CC: What essay are you talking about?
Me: The one that was required as the second half of the presentation task.
CC getting a little tone: Oh? When did you tell us about this?
Me: It’s in your syllabus along with the instructions for the presentation, so, like, on the first day of class.
CC: Huh. Well, I didn’t know anything about it. Are you sure you made it clear?
Me: What can I say?  It was in the instructions, and I handed back a bunch of essays last week.

At this point, Carla goes to check with her friend, Sensible Sue.

CC: Did we have to hand in an essay about our presentations?
SS: Yes.

Carla then lowers her voice considerably and has a long conversation involving Sue and a couple of other students. I head out and go upstairs to my office. A few minutes later, Carla and Sue show up – Sue is playing the role of prop in this scene.

CC: So I am thinking that I did write that essay. I might have just forgot that I handed it in.
Me going through a charade of looking: Okay, here’s my pile of unreturned work. Let me have a look… Nope. No essay here. Let me check this other pile from my other class… Nope. Sorry, I don’t have your essay.
CC: Do you think maybe you lost it?
Me: Do I think I maybe lost an essay that 10 minutes ago you were saying I had not told you to write? No.
CC: Well, can I get my grade for the presentation?
Me: Your grade for the TASK is an F, because you didn’t do 50% of it.

Exeunt Carla and Sue .

Update on the schedule on the door thing.

So, today I am back at work, and stop by to say hi to our department secretary, and she asked how my trip was, and I said “so awesome I didn’t even mind answering a ton of student emails while I was away.”

And then she said “only one student came looking for you,” to which I replied, “well I told them all in class I would be out of town and to email, but I guess maybe someone didn’t get the message.”

And then I said, “there was one who emailed about not understanding the notices posted on the door.”

And she goes, “Yes, that was him. He stood around and worried about it for so long that I actually walked him across the hall to your office and explained the timetable to him.”


Neddy has company.

So I get an email from a student who I have no idea who he is, and I swear I am not making this up, in it he says:

I haven’t been attending class lately [read, have not attended since that one time on day 1] and I was wondering if there is anything I can do to get caught up in class.  I had registered for this class with a friend of mine who ended up switching out, but when I looked on Blackboard today I was still registered in this course.  I don’t want to withdraw and I was wondering what I could do to get all the assignments and work I have missed.

I had to read it a couple of times to get the gist, but it seems to be that he thought that his buddy dropping the class would somehow magically communicate to the Registrar that he wanted to drop as well. This is a new one on me me.

In other news, Neddy is cross with me. Let me contextualize.

I, in company with the majority of known Earth Professors, have a little diagram, grid or table on the door of my office. This grid, has, listed across the top of the columns, the names of the days of the week, and down the left hand side, numerical representations of a range of hours of the day, such that the grid forms little boxes, each representing a block of time, that is to say, an hour of a day.

(Artist’s conception)






You get the gist, I am sure, dear Readers, because you are not morons.

So, Neddy, having BEEN to see me in my office hour at least 3 times, emails me to complain about the “diagram on your office door” because, apparently, it is “not clear”. HOW it is not clear, is, of course, not clear.

It’s a good thing I am all calm because we had a week off, and I spent it here:

Neddy on Feminist icons.

This started out as another driveby, but then I had a bit of a feminist digression.

In class yesterday we were talking about body image and messages for girls in children’s books and tv, and we talked a lot about Dora. (I must admit to being surprised to learn that there are people who complained that Dora was a lesbian, possibly because of her hair? or is it her sensible shoes?) Our discussion was focussed on how it was a shame that Dora, who was a positive role model for girls, seems to be being made more stereotypically feminine.

First, she had to have Diego help her, because obviously, girls can’t really solve problems by themselves without a boy to help them. There was also the old, tired mansplanation that boys wouldn’t watch a show about a female character (despite the fact that they manifestly did watch the show.

Then there was that brief abomination of tween Dora, with her better-coordinated outfit, more feminine silhouette and less sensible shoes. Tween Dora got a lot of pushback at the time she was announced, and she seems to have quietly disappeared. However, the efforts to feminize Dora are continuing. Lately, she’s all about ballet and being a princess instead of being an explorer. Ballet Dora has much nicer hair, and properly girly clothes.

So we talked quite a lot about images of girls (cartoon and real), and what kind of pressures they might put on real girls.

That was all by way of giving you context for the Neddyism. I asked if there were other shows that did present good examples of strong girls (in the context of us having talked for about half an hour about unrealistic body image), and Neddy’s hand shot up. “Sailor Moon,” he said.

Sailor Moon.

Are you shitting me? At least 10 heads snapped towards him with expressions of incredulity and outrage on them. “How is that a positive example of body image?” one of them asked, quite mildly. Neddy’s response, which was about how Sailor Moon has girl heroes in it, made it clear he had really no idea about what body image was, or that it had never occurred to him to think about the pressures women might experience with regard to their appearance.

Now, granted, he’s a young man in the 18-22 age range, and some of them can be pretty damn sexist, as any of you who spend time on the internet may have discovered. In my experience, though, guys of that age KNOW about issues like body image. The ones who choose to argue against media pressure on women tend to counter with “it’s just as bad for men,” or “you can choose to ignore media stereotypes”. Neddy’s response was an example of complete obliviousness.

Naturally, he wanted to talk to me about it in that brief 2-minute window between classes. “I got the impression I said something wrong,” he said, apparently because he noticed a bunch of people “looking at him weird”. Oh, good god. Yes, Neddy, you are about to have an existential crisis, but I really, honestly only have 2 minutes.

Cowardly, me?

Neddy vs the MLA

Right, so, I mentioned that Neddy was unhappy with his grade because he “thought he did better” on his essay than the D he earned, and I didn’t want to discuss it with him pediconference-style on my way to my next class, even though he walked right along and kept asking me to tell him what was wrong with his citation, and I kept saying “I am not discussing this right now”. Eventually, like the next day, he came to see me in my office hour.

Now, the task that Neddy’s class was set was not rocket science. It was “analyse a picture book”. Just to put that out there. We spent 2 classes talking about words and concepts for analysing illustrations, and 2 classes talking about, among other things, MLA, citation, writing paragraphs with supporting evidence in them, and ways to talk about language and vocabulary in literature.

Did Neddy’s essay show evidence of any of this? You know it did not. It was basically a list of all the things that came into his head until he got to the end of the second page, at which point he “constructed” a “works cited”, and that was it.

I spent some time explaining to Neddy that the colour of the pictures in a book is not an example of “sentence structure,” and various things of that ilk. Neddy’s response was basically to dismiss all my comments, rather as he does in class, when he comes out with something really bizarre and then when asked to explain his position, says “well, that’s what I think.” I’ve been banging on in all my classes about how, sure, literature interpretation is subjective to a degree, but that doesn’t mean you get to make shit up. You still need to support your dumbass assertions.

At one point when Neddy was contradicting me, I tried, gently to suggest that part of the problem was that he appeared “resistant to new information”. Which I then had to explain, citing examples from class (yes, the whole “kids” thing came up again, and yes, he said “well, I still don’t think you should say kids are crap”).

15 minutes went by and I was trying to wind it up because there were other students waiting to see me, but we still hadn’t got into the issue of his wildly non-standard citation for the book. The book, I need to inform you, was a SET TEXT. We had been over, in class, how to construct a works cited for this text, so I was rather startled by Neddy’s offering, which had a different publisher and date of publication than the standard, and also the words “Electronic Print” at the end.

I pointed out these flaws to Neddy, asking what “Electronic Print” meant. ”

Well, he explained, he got the book from a collection, rather than a stand alone book. I expressed mild surprise, but agreed it was plausible that such a collection existed. The book is a pretty standard children’s classic, and there are treasuries of Children’s Lit, and similar.

This, however, did not explain the use of “Electronic Print” for the medium.

Well, he explained, the thing was, he had an electronic book, rather than the physical copy. When pressed, he admitted that by “electronic book” he meant “PDF my buddy gave because he scanned the book out of the collection he had.”

Several questions popped into my head, but I asked the first one that occurred to me which was why on earth Neddy had gone to such lengths, rather than purchasing the book, which was a REQUIRED TEXT, from the bookstore. (Said book costs around $10, for those of you who are about to interrupt with a rant about textbook costs.)

Well, he explained, there were no copies of the book in the library, that he could find. Ignoring, the obvious opportunity to remark that I doubted he could find his ass with both hands, I addressed the book-buying issue directly. “This does not answer my question about why you have not bought the set texts for the class!” I said, rather emphatically. Neddy looked at me as if I were mental. Apparently, the idea that you buy required texts is some kind of crazy professorial fantasy. No one does that, dude.

Fine, whatever.

Getting back, then, to the issue at hand, I asked him again to explain exactly what kind of source he had. “My buddy scanned it and sent me the PDF,” he said, and again complained that MLA wasn’t clear on how to cite such an object.

“The MLA is not in the business of supporting your piracy. That’s why.” I explained, rather forcefully (according to Sarcastic Bastard, who was in the room, and offered later colour commentary, I was getting “rather loud”.) “What you did violates copyright, and MLA is about avoiding doing stuff like that.”

Neddy was not prepared to acknowledge that he had pirated the book. “It’s just the same as if my buddy borrowed me the book.” I suggested that since borrowing the book would a) have not created a new copy and b) have not created a problem with determining the medium, as a book would have remained “Print,” that this was not actually the case. (As I am sure you recognise, dear reader, some one a little more savvy would have managed to pretend the PDF WAS the original, thus cunningly fooling me with authentic-looking citation.)

Naturally, Neddy resisted my position, at which point I started waving around the Plagiarism Police’s manifesto on Good Student Behaviour. Neddy allowed that I might have a point, but more in the manner of a person tolerating someone with a medical condition than in a true spirit of concession.

I suspect this is not over. The moral of the story is: “You, sir, are too stupid to be a pirate.”

A Neddy driveby.

I will tell you all about Neddy vs MLA when I have the time for a longer post, but I thought you would enjoy this in the interim.

Neddy approaches me at the end of class (this is his favourite “me” time, even though the whole “Prof has another class RIGHT NOW” issue still applies, and will for the whole semester), with the following concern:

Neddy: I don’t know what a graphic novel is.
Me (thinking “HOW is this my problem?”): Well, we will talk about them in the class on Graphic Novels. You could go to the library and read some, if you want to learn about them.
Neddy: I did go to the library, but all they have in the Graphic Novel section are comic books.
Me (dying): Okay, well, then maybe you can save the questions you have until we talk about them in class in a couple weeks.


Introducing Nervous Neddy.

I say “introducing” because I have the feeling he is a developing story. I was going to write about him last week, and now there’s twice as much material. Let’s start with the background.

You know those people who are a bit nervous, and so then they say stupid shit, and stand a bit too close to you, and this makes you a bit nervous as well, just by rubbing their aura up against yours? Neddy is one of those.

Once  he made a stupid remark in class and everyone stared at him, and then he came up to me at the end of class and asked if I knew why people were looking at him weird. Do you know how hard this question is to answer?

He’s got just a whiff of the ‘berger about him, too (although, since I know this really really really ‘bergerish berger elsewhere on the internets, my whole ‘berger standard has changed radically, in the direction of tolerance). In addition to the nervous part, Neddy has a couple of extra zesty layers on top of an already difficult personality. One, he’s a fucking moron, and TWO, he has no idea that he is a moron. This leads to scenarios like the following:

Me: So, these essays you just wrote, class, that I am handing back, I wish to point out some common errors, in the hope that you will stop making them.
Class: Okay, we will indulge you by pretending to listen.
Me: So, this is children’s literature, and in essays, when we write about children, let’s refrain from referring to them as “kids”.
Class: Okay, seems fair.
Nervous Neddy: Why?
Me (Socratically): Why do you think?
NN: No, really I have no idea.
Me: Class?
Class: It’s slang. We shouldn’t put slang in an essay, and those of us who did are kind of embarrassedly going “doh,” right now.
NN: How is it slang?
Me: How do you mean, “how is it slang?” “Kids” is an informal term for children.
NN: They mean the same thing. I don’t see the problem.
Me: Class?
Class: “Kids” technically means “baby goats”. Saying it for children is informal, and we don’t use informal language in an essay.
NN: I never heard this meaning for kids before. Therefore, it doesn’t count. I am refusing to acknowledge this point, and maintain that it is fine to say “kids” in an essay.
Me (searching for an equivalent): It’s a slang word like “crap”. You wouldn’t use a word like “crap” in an essay, would you? (After I say this, I have a flash of a second where I realize this is by no means a given.)
NN: Why are you saying kids are crap?
Omnes: BOGGLE. (Discussion continues for another 4 minutes.)
Me: “Kids” is slang. Don’t use it. End of discussion.

We then proceded to have another  round over my next point, which is that “relatable” doesn’t mean what they think it means.

So, then I give their essays back, saying “I have a class immediately after this one, as you know, so I don’t have time to talk to you about your essays right now. Come see me in my office hour.” Class ends, and I am packing up, and Neddy comes up to me. “I think I did better than this in my essay,” he says. To which I respond, “Neddy, I just said I don’t have time to talk about this because I have another class RIGHT NOW, and I have to go to my other class RIGHT NOW.” And I start walking out the door, and he starts following me, asking about the comments I made on his paper.

I jump cowardly in to the elevator and tell him to come see me in my office hour. Which he does, and that, dear readers, is a long story for another day.

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.”

Damned with faint praise.

So, I finish class, and deal with the questions at the end, and then I leave the classroom and a clump of students are following behind me, and they have this conversation:

Student 1: So, was that an hour?
Student 2: Hour and 15 minutes, I think.
Student 1: Huh. It didn’t seem that long.
Student 2: I know. Some of that discussion was actually kind of interesting.

I don’t know whether to feel flattered.

3rd Annual Advice for Exam-goers

This is totally a tradition now, since I have done it twice before.

So, here goes.

  1. Be willing to accept that “this course has a take-home final” is an actual true thing. I am not saying you have to take the instructor’s word for it the first time you read it on the syllabus, but be willing to draw a line. Give yourself a guideline, like “the tenth time I hear this, I will be willing to believe it,” or “I will only email the instructor to ask this 3 times, if I get the same answer each time”.
  2. Accept that the take-home final will not get an official time and room allocation on the exam schedule. Sure, we could put “Your Bedroom, 2am on the morning the final is due at 9am,” but that would only work for 85% of students. The keeners would go mental asking if they PLEASE couldn’t do it earlier.
  3. This might seem like an undue technological burden, but if your take-home final has to be submitted electronically, you need to learn the submission process. This may take more than 60 seconds, especially, and this is critical, if those 60 seconds are the 60 seconds before the absolute and final deadline.
  4. Recognize that turning up to class on the last day, when you haven’t been to class in a month, is not a subtle and cunning plan. Your Prof, while she may not know whether you are Kaytlin, Caitlyn, Kate-Lynne or Qua’tlyn, does have rudimentary arithmetical skills, and being more wily than you, gave the vital exam hints in the third last class. PWNT.
  5. If you are going to cheat by using the high tech method of texting a photo of the exam question you can’t do to an accomplice, you should work out the details in advance, so that you don’t end up leaving clues like “look this up in the book and then text me the answear” on your exam paper for your prof to find.
  6. If you fail to adequately pre-arrange your cheating via text, then write your instructions in PENCIL, so you can erase them, thus avoiding leaving the vital clue on your exam paper.
  7. Make sure your accomplice is not a moron who, after all your preparation, sends you the wrong “answear” anyway.
  8. I have given this one before, but it bears repeating. “Answer 6 questions” means answer SIX questions. Not five, or WTF, seven.
  9. Take a stab at the essay question. It’s an English essay, for fuck’s sake. You can probably bullshit your way to a D+. Writing “I have no idea” just makes your Prof depressed.
  10. If your Prof rushes out the door of the exam after calling “time” at the end, in order to vomit into a handy garbage can, wait patiently for her to return. Running after her waving your exam book just risks getting your answers sprayed with puke.