October 19, 2010

Remnants of Hell Past

Posted in student stories, teaching revelations at 12:36 pm by profart

I received my student eval report from Fall 09. I don’t have the originals, just the report. Student evals are always the most depressing part of my job. After busting my butt trying to accommodate students, teach material (not just present it), work on writing skills, study skills, and generally get students ready to be college students, my reward for all the extra work are words such as “demeaning” and “inflammatory.”

I find less and less that I know what these words even mean anymore. Yes, I expect students to do their work. If they don’t footnote their papers, I hand them back and tell them to do it or they get a zero. Students argue with me, and I don’t budge. Personally, I think they ought to be grateful I don’t just put a big, fat zero on the paper and tell them “I told you to footnote. This is plagiarized. I warned you.” After two or three extensions, I don’t accept that assignment anymore. Sorry, it was due three weeks ago, the class has moved on.

Or are we talking about something else? I’m from these parts, and we still call people “hon”- especially when we feel a connection to them, and these are my students. You’re damn right I care about them. When I had a student hyperventilate because they had severe anxiety issues with tests, I provided alternate formats and tried my best to get them to the disability counsellor so they could have some official support. When I had a student who had a death in the family, I worked around that, providing extra materials online and again- alternate testing, at a time that was more appropriately separated from the event.

Yeah, I remember Fall 09. It was the Semester That Sucked. All those blogs I hate to read because they down students as lazy, nasty, mean-spirited, vengeful, ignorant, and manipulative? I came to learn why those blogs are written- because I had every student they described, all at once. I am not a professor that puts up with a lot of guff. It isn’t fair to the majority of my students- the ones that are in there busting their asses trying to get an education, trying to help their families, trying to move on in life and learn about the world around them. It isn’t fair to the real students to put up with crap from warm bodies who don’t know what college is, and don’t care to learn.

But demeaning? I want to know what that means. Only there is no way for me to investigate. Student evals are anonymous. They have now even gone online, so I don’t have handwriting to go by in knowing what might have happened. Did I have a student, a group of students, sitting in my room uncomfortable, feeling worthless? And why did they feel that way? How am I supposed to fix this? Should I even be in a classroom if I have students who are “demeaned” by my teaching style or speech patterns?

Students have the right to safe learning environments. I believe that very firmly. That’s why I don’t just slap that zero on that non-noted paper, but hand it back and tell them to fix it- no matter how hard (or loudly) they fight me. Because it is OK to make a mistake. Or in this case, two: plagiarizing, then fighting the teacher about correcting it. It’s OK to venture a hypothesis about an object and discover what you thought you knew had nothing to do with reality, or that you needed different words to express yourself. It is how most students actually learn. Make a mistake. Have mistake pointed out. Have right answer pointed out. Move on to next topic.

Perhaps this is now seen as “demeaning.” Enough to have it reported to the dean of instruction, and placed in my file on an official report. I wonder what happens to those professors who just slap the zero on and move on. Do they get reported as “demeaning”? Do they even lose any sleep?