January 6, 2011

Clues for the Clueless, #31

Posted in clues to the clueless, student stories at 3:46 am by profart

Hint: If you didn’t turn in a paper, you get a zero. Claiming after the class is over that you turned in a paper is not really much help, especially if you then follow up with a claim that your computer crashed and you have lost all your work. I have no trace of you turning in the assignment, nor of my sending you acknowledgement of receiving the assignment. In fact, I have no email from you at all, except these whines about how you have to pass this class because {insert reason here}. You might have noticed that such emails are considered academic dishonesty in my syllabus. If you read it.

I still have no paper to grade. I have nothing to work with. There is no paper.

That’s a zero. For a quarter of your final grade. And you didn’t do so hot on your exams, either. Which makes an F. Oh, and I noticed you were late to class over 1/2 the time. That didn’t help you much, either.

So get a clue. Turn in your work. And come to class on time. And if you forget to turn in work? Take your F like an adult, and get out of my face.

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December 14, 2010

Thanks For Ruining My Day, PITA Student.

Posted in student stories, teaching revelations at 5:40 am by profart

Every semester there’s at least one. The student who either can’t be bothered to read the syllabus, or doesn’t think it applies to them. They ask for extensions, but granting them makes things worse. They complain about the formats of tests, that there is too much work, that they just can’t be expected to do all this on time, they have other things to do!

Then they go running to your boss to complain about you. And that is when I am glad I keep my emails, both coming and going.

As the years press on, I am less and less inclined to shift due dates, grant extensions, or do anything else to bend the rules stated in my syllabus. The fact that a student is asking now sends a red flag up the pole: Potential PITA. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

It is the kind of get-under-your-skin itch that makes you wonder if you want to be teaching anymore, especially when the boss the student goes whining to then comes and starts asking you about it, as if you should have to defend yourself against a whining student. Some department chairs just want the facts. I think this current one just wants to cover bases. My last one? Lambast. Full in the face, writing it up on my eval to the dean. Great. Peachy.

Maybe I really ought to be looking for a new line of work. Apparently asking students to complete work, and complete it on time, is no longer fashionable at the college level. I wonder what my new boss will say when I start whining that I have a family, can’t I finish that important project I was supposed to do yesterday sometime next week? And just because I do a so-so job on it, shouldn’t someone give me a medal or something?

Yah, that will go over so well.

December 12, 2010

Clues for the Clueless, #30

Posted in clues to the clueless, student mistakes, student stories, teaching revelations, Uncategorized at 4:52 am by profart

Hint: If your professor says that you must appropriately notate your paper or they will flunk your butt, Professor isn’t joking. And if Professor provides you with an online tutorial on notation, you should look it over, before turning in your paper (in fact, read it over before even starting your paper.) And that mention that no re-writes will be allowed? Take that seriously.

Because if you don’t take it seriously, you’re likely to wind up with a flunked butt. And in my class, that is 25% of your grade. Ouch.

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?

May 8, 2010

End of Semester Blues

Posted in Semester endcap, student stories tagged , , , , at 7:45 pm by profart

As the spring semester winds to a close, I would like to share one of my (least) favorite emails I have received from my students- the kind that makes me bang my head on my desk and wonder why I am here. Several years ago, I received this (and yes, I kept it. Remember, friends, email can be forever!):

Dear Ms. Arrt:

I was wondering if you could help me with my final grade, I’m trying to figure it out. I’m transferring to DecentFourYear College (DFYC), and I’ll have to retake this class if I didn’t get at least a C so it won’t effect my GPA.

Baddat Maths

Note the mis-spelling of my name. Yes, this person actually mis-spelled my name, and continued to do so throughout the whole email exchange, which was a general back-and-forth of “The formula for computing your final grade is stated in the syllabus, as well as conversion from letter to numerical grading. I do not discuss final grades.” “But I can’t figure out my grade!”

And here was the crowning moment:

Ms. Arrt:

When I added up my grades of 58.8 for my mideterm, 45.6 for my final, 72.9 for participation, and my 72 for my paper, I got 251.4, and divided by four, I got a 63.85. Is this a C? I really need to transfer to DFYC.

Baddat

Did you all get out your calculators? That’s right- not one of those calculations is correct. And better yet, neither is the participation score. When I actually tallied it according to the conversion I provided, I got 62.8 (apparently, Baddat didn’t realize that when you get a 0 for a week, you have to actually count that in, and divide by the total weeks, not just the weeks you participated in. And it would still be wrong.) Oh, and according to the syllabus, a 63.85 is a D. Since I consider 62 the cutoff for a D-, the student still got a D. How Baddat would get through DFYC with this kind of problem with simple arithmetic, I have no idea. They certainly took none of the classes I teach at DFYC.

I get a few of these every semester, but none this bad- and despite my “I do not discuss final grades” clause in my syllabus.

April 28, 2010

Letting the Students Vent

Posted in student stories, teaching revelations at 11:42 pm by profart

My classroom opens up about 15 minutes prior to class, and I go ahead and let the students in and settle. I also get set up and ready to roll, and then often prick up my ears to listen to the latest in the student world. Usually, the conversation is about jobs or kids or movies or whatever. However, it occasionally opens into a student vent session. My ears prick up extra sharp, because I get a good idea of how students view their professors, and policies and practices that may be problematic. Its very , very useful. Although often, the thought that crosses my mind is, “put on your big kid panties and do the work your professors tell you to do”, sometimes all I can do is wonder what the professor is thinking, and what gaps there are between practice and perception.

Today (and I don’t often blog about things really happening right now), I found myself speechless, aghast. The horror stories were just… incredible. Professors who throw papers directly into the trash without looking at them. Papers handed back with “redo” in large letters, but no other comments. Papers given an F because the student used a “bibliography” instead of a “works cited.” It went on. And on. And on.

Now, I am not going to sit in judgement of any of these professors. I have no clue what was going on, no objective context for these events, no idea what instructions were given, no idea what frustrations may have lead to extreme actions. I just don’t know.

I was, however, mightily concerned about what I was hearing in terms of perspective. Whatever the context, the perception of these things was shock, anger, almost tears. I honestly didn’t know what to say. I finally jumped in and said, “Wow. I don’t do these things, do I? Would you please tell me if you feel this way?”

The shock I got back was equally concerning. Mouths dropped open. A professor was asking them to tell her if they were unhappy? It was their turn to be speechless, partly because it was clear that I was serious. What I got was a chorus of “oh, no, we really love this class”, but knowing what I’ve seen on evals in years past, I know that wasn’t universally true, either. But the clear gap between students and professors at my college was definitely a shock.

It can be a good thing to let students vent, and to listen to those concerns with an ear for your own practices. Have I become cynical and frustrated? Or do I help students and stay professional? How are my actions and practice perceived? How do I communicate to students that comments are intended to be constructive and helpful? When I correct something in a student’s paper, I want them to understand that I am telling them these things so they become better writers, not because I hate them.

Because these kids are absolutely convinced that the entire English department hates them- and so they have stopped listening. That’s not good for learning.

March 26, 2010

I Have a Live One Here!

Posted in student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , at 10:15 pm by profart

One thing I have learned as a professor of intro-level classes, break the paper assignments up into little chunks. First, have them give you a thesis statement and partial bibliography. Check on the progress two weeks later (outlines? drafts? something). Then have the paper due. If I had more patience and was teaching English instead of Art, I would break down even more. I have too many students without a single clue how to put together a writing project. With the huge push for standardized testing, I am getting more and more students who can’t think up a project for themselves, and much less research one. I still remember my own first research paper. I twas on Emily Dickinson. I was in the tenth grade.

I digress. My point is… my classes turned in their topics this week, and I have a live one! I have a student who knows what a bibliography is, how to write a thesis, and on top of that, wow! Its a real thesis, not just a book report. Even cooler, I have a friend who wrote a dissertation on the awesome topic, and I just sent off email of said friend to said student, so said student could actually speak with a real, live scholar about it.

Remember, I teach at a community college. How awesome is this?

March 23, 2010

I can count

Posted in student mistakes, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , at 12:13 pm by profart

In my online classes, I require students to post twice on each discussion forum. This is a requirement born of experience, as students who come, post, and disappear fail to read the actual discussion or do any actual learning. Not meeting this minimum requirement results in a failing grade for the forum, because, well, they didn’t do the minimum required for a passing grade. Oh, and the posts have to be of passing quality.

Whenever I post the grades for the forums, I often get a light shower of “Why did I get an F? I posted twice!” And I carefully go back and check, and find the student had one post. Very often, it is not even an adequate-level post. I then write back to say minimum requirements were not met.

And occasionally, I still get a student or two who complain that they should have gotten credit for that one post (after first claiming there had been two). I have to then write a note stating that they did get credit; if they had not, the grade would have been a zero.

Perhaps I ought to test my students for basic arithmetic before allowing them into the class.

March 19, 2010

Discussion Posting WIN.

Posted in student stories, teaching revelations at 12:19 am by profart

This is from one of my students, discussing the role of monasteries in the Byzantine era:

Life and religion had to have been confusing back in the Byzantine day. I don’t imagine it could have been easy. They didn’t have google.

Ignore the English for a sec, this student is ESL. Check out the thought. Check out the connections. And check out the chuckling sense of humor. There’s real potential here.

Another student goes on from this to connect the fact that without google, you go to a library to get information, and the Byzantine libraries are in monasteries. Major WIN.

I am so proud of my students. Had to share.

March 9, 2010

Clue to the Clueless #27

Posted in clues to the clueless, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , at 3:52 am by profart

Hint: When your midterm is an untimed, take-home, open-book, open-notes examination, there is absolutely, positively and without a doubt NO excuse to flunk it.

None.

I have no idea what else to say about that. Seriously.

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