May 3, 2011

Must I say it yet again?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:19 pm by profart

Dear Snowflake:

In my syllabus, it clearly states that if you plagiarize your paper, I reserve the right to flunk your derriere. If you are stupid enough to pull your paper from a cheat site, it is likely that I will catch you, since I can use Google perfectly well, thank you very much.

If you are stupid enough to then post your paper to another cheat site with your name still on it, you can bet your bippies I am sending it to the dean of instruction to have it in your record.

And that excuse that you “sent the wrong file”?

Horse hockeys.

Passing you would do you no favors.

Sincerely and ever your servant,
Professor Art.


April 3, 2011

What Does an A Look Like?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:21 am by profart

Ever have a question that pops up, and throws up a huge red flag? Increasingly over the past, oh, six semesters, I have been asked to “show us what an A looks like” for a variety of assignments.

I need to find a good answer for this question. Something akin to the Buddha’s answer of “that is not an edifying question.”

The whole attitude is wrong. Students are searching for formulas to fill in instead of working to learn and express their understanding of material. I can almost guarantee you, if you are filling in a form instead of being concerned about content, you are doing, at best, C-level work. It is adequate. Nothing more.

Higher Education teeters at the very edge of mediocrity at regular intervals in the growth and life of academia. The more we try to standardize– curriculum, teaching, testing, students– the closer we stand to the brink. If you train children to standardize, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to be creative and thoughtful. They simply do not have the skills to analyze and synthesize. They are so concerned about the box, they forget the contents have any meaning at all.

Standardized students need more crutches to get through the work, and get irked when they are expected to create those crutches for themselves. Want a “study guide”? That’s what you take notes for. What does an ‘A’ look like? Well, commonly, it has two lines inclined to an angle,and a horizontal connecting them about 1/3 the height of the lines.

March 20, 2011

What gets my spirits up

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:55 pm by profart

There are moments when being an adjunct is, simply and honestly, depressing. Being the pond scum of the academic world when you feel teaching should be the better part of the academic challenge is depressing. When those couple of bad apples get on your nerves because they are so not fair to the majority of hard-working, really trying students, it gets depressing.

Sometimes I blog. But sometimes I put this on, and remind myself of my own philosophy of teaching:

And then I feel better.

February 27, 2011

What My Professors Really Taught Me

Posted in miscellaneous other matters, teaching revelations at 8:19 pm by profart

Now that I am teaching, I keep in mind what it was like to be a student; and I find I have learned many valuable lessons about teaching simply by being in successful- and unsuccessful- classrooms. When I think about the world of academia as a whole learning process, I remind myself that my students are at the beginning of that process, and I am in the middle. Not at the end. PhD and all.

Most of the important lessons I learned about teaching were from my professors:

If you want real students, give them real challenges. Students rise to challenge. I had a professor who tested on anything and everything covered- if it was in your book, if it was even briefly mentioned in class (whether it was in the books or articles or not), it might appear in that exam. As students, we often bemoaned the hours in the library digging up items that weren’t in our books, but we learned how to do it. How do you start with a photo, and end up with full identification of an object? How do you track things and information down? (And this was before Google!)

If you want students to meet a challenge, make sure give them the tools to do it. That same teacher had a little corner in the library where she had a box. If you paid attention to the syllabus and went to that box, you found photos of every single thing she mentioned in class or was in any book or article you read for her. Every. Single. Thing. So at least you had a place to start to track it down.

Be holistic. When you are teaching students to think, analyze, and communicate, don’t over-emphasize any one of those elements at the expense of another. Don’t ignore one just because a student excels at another. Work to have your students present with a whole package- that’s education. You have to think to analyze. You have to analyze to understand. You have to be able to communicate those thoughts to be taken seriously in the world. All three are skills that can be taught.

Be present. There is nothing more frustrating to a student than actually having a question, and not being able to find the professor. In this day and age, there is no excuse for it. Email is open 24 hours a day.

Share. Why is research considered so important to Universities and to academia? It gives you something new to share with your students, new perspectives for you and for them to explore. Any student can read a book. They’re college students, after all. They are paying your salary to get you in front of them, to have you share your perspective and knowledge and understanding, and train them to do the same.

Even as a hired gun, these ideas are important to teaching, and getting real education to the students in front of you. Teach them to give and meet challenges, look at the world as a whole, be truly present and truly experience the world, and share that experience with others.

We only have one lifetime, and it seems it is never as long as we think it should be. Unless we become educated and alive, we risk missing that lifetime. And what would it really mean, if we don’t bother to pass it on?

February 23, 2011

Natalie Munro: Keeping Blogs Anonymous

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:56 pm by profart

Every once in a while, I Google my real name to see what pops up. Interestingly, my other blogs pop right up, as well as the (pretty ugly) Rate My Professors page, but not this blog. I’m glad. I walk a line here that could cost me my job, if I really was a professor anywhere, and not a llama herder in Indiana.

Blogs form a sort of community. Who reads blogs, but other people interested in the topic of the blog? With teaching blogs, you run the risk of colleagues and students reading your blog- the one where you point out the problems you see in academic life and try to discuss the pressing issues of students, faculty, administration, and teaching. If they figure out it is you, and become offended, your livelihood is permanently on the line. It is dangerous to speak freely. Anonymity is paramount. Privacy is not just for students, but also for your own safety and security.

I have run into my share of the kinds of students Ms. Munro was berating in her blog, and yes, I think the situation is getting worse. Do I complain on my blog? Darn tootin’. Is that the end of it? Hell no. I look over the comments- rare as they are, since I don’t really advertise this blog is out here. I re-read what I have written. I think about improving student engagement, how to deal with the issues I write about. I use my college’s resources to try to improve my teaching and get feedback and ideas, to meet the changing needs and challenges of students as they shift and change.

What is the point of having this blog, anyway? Hopefully, it gets everyone thinking about the issues of teaching. It provides some guidance for being a student to students who come here. And it lets professors know they aren’t alone. That those students they are dealing with? They really exist, it isn’t just in your head, we’re all in this together dealing with these problems. And it is OK to tell a student no, you can’t turn that work in late. No, “I needed cigarettes” is not a valid excuse to be late for class. Yes, you can do better than this, re-write it. And plagiarism is not acceptable, you just failed this class- just as it says in the syllabus.

But I am glad this blog does not seem to be connected to my name. Not only do I want to remain anonymous, but that anonymity is important to protect my students- even when I usually don’t write about them until long after they are gone. Or I would, except I have to go feed the llamas.

February 20, 2011

Watching Wisconsin

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:33 pm by profart

If you have been hiding under a rock lately, you might not know that teachers are among the public sector workers raging against the governor in Wisconsin. I am watching the protests against stripping unions of their ability to bargain collectively, because I live in a Right To Work state, and work as an adjunct. I know what it means not to be able to bargain collectively, to be lost in a sea of isolation with no way of fighting against unfairness, yet not being able to afford to stop working, and not being able to move on despite efforts to do so.

What is that life like?

I don’t get to chose my own schedule. I either accept the classes offered or I turn them down. At the same time, I am limited to how many classes I am permitted to accept. This only serves to limit my income.

I teach more classes per semester than the full-time professor/instructor in my department. Only I don’t get benefits, and make about 2/3 what they are making, and that only because I have a higher degree than they do.

I have no way to appeal for a raise in pay. Fortunately, I am working for a college that worked very hard to not cut pay to adjuncts. Not every adjunct in the system as been as fortunate. I have worked for twelve years, and only had my pay cut once.

If the college decides it doesn’t have enough money, it simply does not offer me any classes. There will be no warning of this, nor any recourse. They can decide to offer my classes to another person at their whim, and I have no warning or recourse.

In a Right-to-work state, you can be fired for no reason at all. No reason is needed. It makes it incredibly difficult to prove cases of discrimination, because they do not need to state any reason for firing you.

Collective bargaining is an important tool for workers to get fair treatment and recompense for their labor and efforts. It allows economies to be stable because everyone knows what is expected and how much preparation is needed if something goes awry. It gives workers channels for appeal against unfair policies, practices, and situations.

A school is only as good as the teacher in front of you. Taking away pay and benefits is not a good way to keep excellent teachers in the classroom. And is your nation’s future something you want going to the lowest bidder?

January 26, 2011

Theme Problems

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:08 am by profart

Every semester seems to take on a set of problems of its own, ones that are rare every other year, but THAT semester, you have a bumper crop. This semester is the Semester of Student Who Can’t Figure Out How to Attend a Class.

Every once in a while, I will get a random first-year student who has no clue about college. They send me odd emails or leave me weird phone messages such as, “When does class meet?” or “How do I buy a book?” This is usually a problem in the fall, not the spring, and I usually just have one of these. This semester? I have four. Three weeks into the class, and I have an online student who emailed me to inform me they just now got the syllabus to open and will be catching up (that same syllabus says “I do not accept late work.”) I have had two from the live classes asking where and when we meet- both having missed 4 classes already. I have one that started with “where do we meet?” and then went on to “how do I find a cheaper textbook?”

Folks, when you sign up for a class, get a class schedule, and see when and where you meet. If you don’t know where a room is, ask someone on campus- the first day of class, not two weeks after classes start. If you don’t like the price of the book, either hit Amazon, or go to the library. These are not things to be emailing your professor about. It sends up all sorts of red flags. Shiny, red, annoying flags.

January 7, 2011

Start with a Giggle

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:19 pm by profart

Welcome to Spring Semester 2011! Woo-hoo!

So I have all my students take a quiz on the syllabus, to make sure they get the info they need (and as backup later in the semester when they try to tell me they didn’t know about a policy or deadline…). I changed the syllabus a little, so I rewrote the quiz. One of the questions was a little too vague, a problem pointed out to me by a student when they emailed me, saying they had tried their answer three times, and it was still being marked wrong!

After giggling to myself, something about insanity and why not try a different answer, I did go into the file and re-write the question. No point pushing them over the edge, right off the bat.


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.

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.

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