October 29, 2009

The Craw of the Matter

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:15 am by profart

In case you haven’t noticed, students who can’t take responsibility for themselves and their own education really get on my nerves.

You see, most of the my kids are at a community college. Our demographics have drastically changed since I started there. When I started, the majority of our students, something like 65%, were non-traditional-age, working adults. Now, we’ve switched to something like 35%. However, many of our traditional-age students are also trying to work, support families, care for children, take a full course load to get through the degree as quickly as possible, etc. So though our demographic of age had flip-flopped, I would say the general life angle of the students have not.

In other words, most of my students are working their butts off.

Hence, I get annoyed and offended at students who want to shirk their work and complain about their lives getting in the way. Maybe you should take some time to put your house in order, so you can concentrate on your studies better. I get annoyed at students who shirk their work because they don’t care, or because Mom and Dad are footing the bill. You are wasting a precious opportunity, one that most of your classmates are working their butts off to maximize (or get at all). I get annoyed at students who fail to show up to class, then whine about their grades. You aren’t paying for grades. You are paying me to help you in your intellectual development. I know most of these people are not going to be art historians, but there are still skills of critical thinking, reading comprehension, and communication they need- skills that I consider critical life skills.

I get annoyed, because students who whine, complain, and shirk through their educational experience are an offensive affront to all those students who are working three jobs while raising their kids and taking care of their sick mother (all of whom have the flu this time of year) and taking a full load of classes yet manage to come to class, do their work, turn it in, all ON TIME.

And we’re not talking about the students who come to me with issues and need one or two days wiggle room. They may be irksome when I’m grumpy, but being flexible so that folks can manage their time with all that juggling is just part of being in a community college. After all, Janie does sometimes get sick and have to stay home from school, or you might be in a fender-bender or have the starter die, even on exam day. There is a big difference between the occasional and rare emergency and a Slacker.

Slackers suck. Slackers are the rotten apples that ruin semesters, and they manage to disrupt everyone else while ruining it.


October 28, 2009

Clues for the Clueless #23:

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , , , at 1:16 pm by profart

Hint: If you are already on a professor’s shit list, and you know it, it is a bad idea to ask for extensions or “rule bending” of any kind. That kind of crap just pisses your professor off and makes you BLOG FODDER.

Ever have a student you just want to throttle, because they are so self-centered and thick-headed that you wonder how they managed to get through the admissions process to get into your college?

When I was young, one of the great lessons I learned is of you piss somebody off, the best course of action is to not annoy them further. In the world of college, if you already have crossed a line with a professor, your best course of action is to toe the line of course policy. Come to all the classes. Turn in all the work. Turn it in on time. If the professor provides you with something like an extension, despite your previous run-in, turn that work in quickly, by the new deadline set, and for the love of All Things Holy, make sure you turn in high-quality, spectacular work, to show respect for your professional and beneficent professor. Because if you don’t, and you were already on the Metaphorical Smack List, you will get moved up to the Report Student to Advisor and Department Chair List. Oh, and you’ll likely flunk that crappily done assignment you turned in late.

I think in my next syllabus, I am going to include a Late Work Policy. If you forget to bring the essay I kindly allowed you to do at home instead of having to complete in class without any books or notes, you may turn it in by midnight for a Five-Point penalty. Each day that passes thereafter will be another Five Points. Be aware that your points may run to the negative. (So if you have an essay worth 25 points, and you turn in a C-level essay a week late, that would be 19 – 35, or a -16, to be added into your exam score.)

Seriously. The rise in this kind of shit is getting so annoying, it is making me cuss on my blog in frustration.

October 25, 2009

Clues for the Clueless #22

Posted in clues to the clueless, student stories tagged , , , , , at 2:04 pm by profart

Hint: Turn in all work you have, when you have it, and if at all possible, on time. Late work is extremely annoying to professors. We have to manage our time just like you do, and having work roll in late means we have to come up with new blocks of time to grade it.

I have had a huge number of make-up midterms this semester- more than I have had in ten years’ teaching put together. Midterms are a quarter of the final grade, you would think they would be taken seriously.

Not only have there been a mass of make-ups, but make-ups to the make-ups. I put together the make-up exam online, and had another group of students who failed to finish it by the deadline. I made the mistake of allowing students to do their essay at home- its two weeks later, and I am still waiting for some of them. We won’t be making that mistake again.

Then I have The Incredibly Unlucky Student. The student’s situation is a bit comical in and of itself. Either this student is an ace at getting away with shit, or they have the worst luck to ever hit a student in the history of the planet- but not bad enough to keep them from being a pain in the ass.

This is the second semester I have had Lucky, so I have the drill down now. Lucky appears in class, oh, maybe the third week of a semester, in time to be counted present in the federal paperwork. Lucky claims to have been sick, vaguely, and can even produce a doctor’s note if you so desire. Lucky then comes in late for the next week or two, straggling in and disrupting classmates. Lucky is coming from another class or from work, and does have quite enough time in-between to get here on time. Lucky is not stupid, and has had some education; they seem familiar with basic history and geography, in a world where most students aren’t. I have a vague suspicion that this is why Lucky is here- big fish in a little pond. Then the absences start again. Last semester, Lucky was in and out of doctors because of a mysterious condition that could have been serious, but turned out was totally not. Lucky was happy to produce doctor’s notes, which are notoriously vague. There were trips to emergency rooms, days in bed from dizziness and nausea, doctor’s appointments, and just “I felt too bad to come.” This semester, we have the lovely H1N1 to blame absences on and get vague doctor’s notes for.** So Lucky has, of course, had the flu for a week and a half. And then the morning of the exam, lo and behold, Lucky was in a car accident. They presented a doctor’s note about a shoulder injury, it was a little difficult to make out, other than “excused from school and work.”

So I bundled Lucky with the other third of the class who didn’t show up, bit the bullet, and put up an online make-up exam with a week to complete it. The day before it was due, our college’s computer systems were down for about 3 hours. Of course, they went down while Lucky was taking the midterm. And did Lucky contact me right away, or immediately after the systems came up, or even the next morning? Um, no. Lucky emailed## me the day after the exam was due to complain that they did not get a chance to finish the midterm.

The solution this student sees for this? Lucky wants me to just use the score on their final for their midterm as well. They see this as “fair.”

Ok, stop laughing. This student is serious. After all, they go on and on about what a good student they are, even though their attendance is poor, and how hard they worked. Hey, they passed last semester, right?

But wait- I look in my records, and realize not only do I not have the make-up exam they are taking online, I don’t have the essay, either. The one they were supposed to bring with them to the exam, remember? That should have been printed out in the car when Lucky was in the accident. Emailing it to me should have done immediately, or at the very least after I informed Lucky of the make-up exam when they showed up (late) for the next class.

The online midterm situation was easy. I reopened it, and emailed Lucky that I did so. I am sure Lucky will be whining Monday morning that they didn’t check their email, so I also let the whole class know that Monday at midnight is it- exams are done. If Lucky bothers to come to class, I can at least warn them in person, and email be damned. If not, Lucky can just take their ass to the dean and complain. With the latest update to our servers, I can actually see what work has been done on the midterm, so I’ll grade what I have and call it done.

I’m tired of waiting for students to decide to do their work.

** I wish I could insist a doctor sign a doctor’s note, or that it appear on actual letterhead, or something- I suspect a lot of these “notes” are just a word processor and a scribble.

## I seriously considered posting the email, but most of it a rant about how life is so unfair and why, and there was just too much personal information. When I cut it all out, it wasn’t all that coherent.

October 13, 2009

How to Eat An Elephant

Posted in Helpful Hints, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , at 2:42 am by profart

Midterms are upon us, and with it the usual whining about studying, cramming, and poor time management. This is moment when those students who complain about having lives, jobs, and kids get particularly annoying, especially to their fellow students.

One of my little darlings actually shared these complaints on our discussion board, and has been getting a plethora of advice on how to study. By far my favorite has been the one entitled “How to Eat An Elephant!”

So I share with you the wisdom of that note, because it is sound studying advice: don’t try to eat an elephant whole. You have to cut it up into smaller pieces, and consume it over at least several days. You should be studying all along, not just trying to cram things in before the exam. A review is no time to learn the material, it is a time to refresh things in your mind that you have already learned. The elephant should already be skinned, deboned, and ready for the barbecue.

Otherwise, you just get indigestion. And a dislocated jaw.

October 12, 2009

The Adjunct Shuffle

Posted in miscellaneous other matters tagged , , , at 1:03 pm by profart

One of the most annoying things about being an adjunct is being treated like pond scum. When registration approaches, regular faculty have an idea that they will 1. have jobs and 2. will teach x number of classes. As an adjunct, you are at the mercy of whomever is running the department.

Now, most college I teach for are very polite about it. You hear from them by the end of October for spring classes, and by about mid-February for summer and fall schedules. You say yay or nay, and they can plan accordingly, before registration begins. If you haven’t heard from them, they don’t have classes for you. You then start to plan accordingly.

For some reason, one of the colleges I work for has hired a person who seems completely unfamiliar with this idea. Registration comes and goes, and suddenly they are scrambling to cover the classes they have students signed up for. On top of that, we now have 3 campuses to cover (technically 4, but the one campus has been turned over to a single program, so we don’t teach there anymore). Our new person called a big meeting, and two of the three adjuncts turned up, and we made it very clear: the one adjunct covers the campus in the west, the one not there usually was given the east, and I took both east and online. Very simple. Don’t assign me west, don’t assign Ms. West to the east.

This past semester, we were still scrambling a week ahead of classes, so I agreed to take an extra class virtually (that’s through the fancy TV sets). It has been a challenge, but I have a good many of the kinks worked out, and am well on the way to finishing the kink-settling as much as one can in a given semester.

This time, I got the email with the classes (yay!) and was offered the online sections (yay!) and one in the west. That would be an hour and forty minute drive. Um… no. Why they are even trying to offer the day class out there I have no idea, the reason we never had before was because Ms. West has a day job and can’t do day classes, which we also told out new Fearless Leader at the big meeting. Yes, way to show respect to your adjuncts by listening to them, right?

My suggestion was to do what we are doing now, offer the class split with the east, and then connect virtually to the west. We’ll see how that goes.

October 9, 2009

Some good news

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:44 pm by profart

My colleague underwent surgery, and it turned out to be a very different problem- and far more fixable- than originally thought! They still won’t be back this semester, but YAY!!!! Thank you everyone for the positive thoughts.

October 4, 2009

I second this.

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:11 pm by profart

I love Phil Harding.

Hey, I’m an art historian who specializes in ancient and medieval stuff. How can I not love Phil Harding?

October 3, 2009

Syllabus Insanity

Posted in miscellaneous other matters tagged , , , , , , , at 2:45 am by profart

As you may know, my syllabus is completely out of control. It is up to 11 frickin’ pages. The college I’m working for insists that certain sections be included, even if the information is included somewhere else. The latest addition was a “Dates to Remember” section. Even though I carefully list every due date with the description of the assignment, I now have to have a section with every “important date” listed. When I first saw this requirement, I thought I was already meeting it by listing the add/drop, withdrawal, and exam dates on every page in the footer, and the list of things to be included in the final grade (also now required). But no. I was tongue-lashed by the instructional secretary and sent to syllabus purgatory, where I had to write the section required and insert it after the semester had begun.

I have to list every assignment, plus the instructions for the assignment, in detail. I have to include the description of the course quoted from the college catalogue. I have to list a clear and specific attendance policy. I have to include a paragraph about the disability center, which I have always done anyway. I must include a clear academic honesty policy.

Then I have to have certain things synched with every other professor who teaches the intro classes throughout the college. I don’t have to do this at any other college I have ever taught for, but whatever. Who needs control over their own classes, anyway? I was shocked to find, however, that despite the clear description of what time periods begin and end each section of the intro, one of the other profs was going way beyond where the first half was supposed to stop, because they were very into modern and contemporary stuff and wanted to spend more time on that in the second half. Never mind the description for the course catalogue which clearly states what general material the class is supposed to cover.

Eleven pages, people. The class I just took over at the local four-year school? Her syllabus was two pages. Just like I told you about, the way I remember syllabi being. Student knew they were expected to be in class. The assignments were listed, but everybody knew specifics came later.

Now, there is apparently a move to included a standardized grading standard, to be included in the syllabus. I have wishful thinking that this just means I have to list the grading scale, which I already do, but I have a bad feeling about this. I have never, ever had to put in my syllabus specifics about how each and every assignment is graded. If I grade holistically, and someone else grades substractively, and a third grades additively, we are not going to agree about how to assess students. It is a basic difference in pedagogical philosophies. It would be like asking Jews and Muslims to agree on religion, and now write it all down and nice and clear for everyone.

Part of being in college is experiencing different ways of doing things. Different ways of grading and assessment are part of that. When you go out in the workplace, bosses aren’t standardized. They all have their ways of assessing you, providing feedback, and setting goals. They have different ideas of how the same job is to be done. Some under-manage you, some micro-manage you, and you have to go with the flow and learn these different styles and philosophies.

These kinds of standardization may look good to students- hey, I know what to expect from class to class!- but I find it is not to their advantage. Slackers tend to figure out how to work the system, and with a single system, it makes it easier to work it. Teachers with differing philosophies than the one selected for the “standard” either go teach elsewhere, or squeeze their own standards into the standardized frame, so that students think they know what is expected, and in fact find that “interpretation” can vary. Besides, micro-managing professors? We’re not children, thanks.

I have the feeling I now have a 13-page syllabus. Plus the lecture outline.

October 1, 2009

Emergency Course Takeover

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:34 pm by profart

One of the positives of being an adjunct is that being a hired gun, you can still pull out your revolver in the middle of a semester. That means if there is an emergency, you can actually help. For example, my one semester started without coverage for one of the classes. Hook me up to a video camera and voila! Those students get to keep their course.

One of my colleagues is very ill. Its a sad thing, because said colleague is positively brilliant, both as a scholar and a teacher, and you can’t really say that about a lot of folks in academia. We are going to lose this colleague, and we were all hoping it was going to be later rather than sooner.

You don’t always get what you want.

The latest onset was dramatic and sudden, and here we are five weeks into a semester, and we have students in courses with no professor. I’m actually a little flattered that they thought to call me about the class. Being an adjunct, I may have 5 other classes, but they are at a different school (many school limit adjuncts to 4 classes, because they are “part-time”); I can take this one on. I picked up the notes and materials we could find- our colleague was apparently working on the class and had most of the materials at home- and it was very sad. This is my colleague’s favorite, in-field class. This is the baby. I have to do not just a good job with it, but a great job. I have to make my colleague pleased and proud that this course could be covered, and make sure the students get the education they want and paid for. With this colleague, that is a tall order. Big, big shoes to fill.

Going to be a very busy weekend.