Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Teacher Lady and Small Children: Who is the Messer and Who is the Messee?

On Christmas Eve, I got to spend some quality time with my cousins' children. I have two wonderful cousins, Kyle and Kristen, (yes, they are siblings and no, their parents didn't hate them) and they each have two wonderful daughters. Kyle has Octavia and Sybill and Kristen has Rachel and Haley. All four girls are blonde and under the age of six. As far as kids go, I like them. They're about as well-behaved as kids can be and plus, I don't spend a lot of time with children so what the hell do I know?

First, let me explain some things. No, I don't have children of my own - that I know of - and no, that doesn't mean I hate all children. I just hate yours. No, just kidding. Oh, Teacher Lady, put DOWN that vat of eggnog, you silly!

For those of you who are new around here, I will review: When you don't have children and you don't burst into tears every time someone asks you when the wee rugrats will make an appearance in your life and you're not actively filling out adoption paperwork, people then assume you don't have children for one reason and one reason only: You hate them. Are you kidding me? I LOVE children! I think they're especially delicious served with Fava beans and a nice Chianti. Kidding. Again. Sheesh!!

Kids are the same as other grown-up human beings as far as I'm concerned. Some are funny. Some are cool. Some don't dress so well and some are just really annoying. Some are bossy and rude and some always seem to have really bad breath. Some, I think I can say with some confidence, will end up on the front page of the Times because of their involvement in an Enron-type scandal and you can almost always tell which kids those are within five minutes of meeting them.

Since I think kids are basically smaller adults with shorter attention spans and worse haircuts, I try to treat them like smaller adults with short attention spans and worse haircuts. None of this goo-goo gah-gah crap for me! No sir. Just basic conversation.

In my experience, children are fascinated by the only adult in the room who is not interested in them. That adult is usually me. Again, not because I hate children, but mostly because I don't know what to talk about. "Hey, Timmy. How's your car? I just got my brakes replaced. Guess how much THAT set me back? Oh, you'd rather pick your nose than have this conversation with me? Okay, never mind. You and your crusty nasal fluid just go back to enjoying each other."

When I arrived at my aunt's house for Christmas Eve, Sybill (who is 3) ran up to me and yelled, "BOO-yah!" Wow. Pretty political for a three-year-old, but you're never too young to support our troops. "That's the spirit!" I yelled. "Go MARINES! BOO-yah!" Sybill looked at me like I had just vomited on her, burst into tears and ran away. Kristen had witnessed this whole thing. I just looked at her. "What? Okay, Aunt Kristen. What the hell did I just do?" Kristen rolled her eyes. She then pointed at the television. "ROO-dolph! Not BOO-yah! Rudolph. Sybill loves Rudolph. All she wants for Christmas is a stuffed Rudolph. You just scared the crap out of her. Congratulations." Okay then.

Later we were all playing a card game and I was trying to get Rachel to help me cheat. When you're 36 and you cheat at cards, people hate you and you never get invited back. When you're 4 and you cheat at cards, it's freakin' adorable. Mostly. Unless you're Jeff Skilling, Jr. and then it's a completely different story. Rachel was sitting next to me and I couldn't reach the deck of cards so I asked her to pick two. She did and then handed them to me. They stunk. (The cards, not the kids.) "Now Rachel, these are very bad cards and Santa is going to be VERY unhappy with you." Kids are so dumb. Sarcasm is totally wasted on them. Without missing a beat, she took the cards back to the deck, slipped them back in, pulled out two new cards, handed them to me and walked away. All very stealth-like. Kristen, Rachel's mom, witnessed the last few seconds of this transaction. "What just happened?" she asked me. I acted all innocent. "Nothing. I just told her she got me some bad cards and Santa was going to be very unhappy with her." Then I did feel a bit guilty. "I didn't think she'd believe me. What? Did I like, totally traumatize your kid?" Kristen was laughing so hard tears were pouring down her face. "Are you kidding? I think that's hilarious!"

See? It's genetic. Unwarranted sarcasm and emotionally manipulating pre-schoolers? It's in our blood.

At one point, Rachel and I were coloring together. She stopped coloring and then looked at me very seriously. "Can I tell you something?" she whispered. Now this is my kind of kid. Totally up for gossiping with virtually unknown relatives. I looked around for signs of interlopers. "Yes," I whispered. "Hayley is really stupid. She doesn't even know the words to Jingle Bells." Then she stared at me to see my reaction. I totally understood. From one big sister to another, I completely got where she was coming from. I nodded. "Yeah. Little sisters are usually pretty stupid." She looked at me and smiled, extremely satisfied with my response. "Yeah. Only Mommy and Daddy don't know it yet." I looked around. "Don't worry," I whispered back. "They will. It's only a matter of time." Vindicated, she asked if she could use the green crayon. I handed it to her. Coloring carefully, she said, "Hayley doesn't even know what color a Christmas tree is. She thinks it's blue." I rolled my eyes. "God, what a dumb-ass."

Okay - everything up until the "God, what a dumb-ass" comment is true. But don't think I wasn't tempted. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don't have kids. And also? Why you should never let me near yours. Today's magic phrase is "'Bad influence."



Thursday, December 28, 2006

Answer Key

The answers to yesterday's fascinating question(s) are:

a.) I wish. (Although Moobs is a freakin' riot.) No, in our family we celebrate the birth of our Lord not by buying each other expensive leather goods, but by bidding on a house that has been repossesed by the local housing and urban development department.
b.) Sadly, yes. There is nothing that says Christmas like a bright red, completely chapped nose and upper lip, is there? No, there is not. This holiday portrait is brought to you by the lovely folks at Kleenex, Chapstick and Vicks' NyQuil.
c.) I'm not sad, exactly, but the answer is yes. (I gave you a big fat hint, did I not? See my response to "a" people.) Pictures will be posted shortly. You do the math. A house that is 70 years old needs . . . work. Much, much work. But supposedly it is worth it because of all the "quaint" features like falling down garages and ripped up driveways.
d.) See above.

Off to consume copious amounts of drugs and chicken soup. Cheers!


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Test Question

Teacher Lady received which of the following for Christmas? (Check all that apply.)

a.) Coach hobo bag
b.) Nasty cold
c.) "New" 70-year-old house
d.) None of the above.

Answers tomorrow . . .

Labels: ,

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Christmas Meme

Saw this over at Terminal Degree and thought I'd play along. And I'm also tagging everyone else who sees this - Tag! You're it!

1. Eggnog or hot chocolate? Eggnog. Although I can’t remember the last time I had real eggnog. The Starbuck’s eggnog latte is vomitous. (And yes, vomitous IS a word. A word that I just made up.)

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just put them under the tree? Wrap, silly. It’s an agreement he made with the wrapping paper manufacturers years ago.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? We had a mistletoe ball in the house I grew up in and I never quite understood what it was. Wait – did I answer the question?

5. When do you put your decorations up? This one is tricky, since we don’t have a lot of decorations. Mr. J. was (apparently) Ebenezer Scrooge in a past life.But my mom made me a GORGEOUS Christmas tree this year and we picked it up the first week of December.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Um, anything that I didn’t make myself. Which is pretty much everything.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? One Christmas morning, my mom had hidden our “big” presents. We were supposed to find them and I said, “Give us a hint! But not just a regular hint. Make it like a rhyme or something from a scavenger hunt!” And that woman rattled off a three-line rhyming clue that actually made sense. Many points for that and many more points for indulging my nerdiness.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I still (honestly) don’t like to talk about this. Let’s just say I was in third grade (I know – not the sharpest knife in the drawer back then) and I came home from school the day I found out and told my parents and then I cried. Then I flopped on the couch and stayed there all night, crying. My parents took turns coming into the living room and trying to console me, but to no avail. I think I cried all night because it was the first day I realized that life wasn’t nearly as amazing and magical as I thought. And I knew it was my first step on the path to being a “grown-up” and I wasn’t the least bit interested in being a grown-up. I can’t explain it. I was just really, really traumatized.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We have always had Christmas Eve at my maternal grandparents’ house, so yes. Christmas Eve has pretty much always been a bigger deal than Christmas Day.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? This year, my mom made me this total "Martha Stewart-looking" tree decorated with white lights. It also has burgundy and gold bows and burgundy and gold ornaments. I love it.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? Both, I guess. Love it Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Then it can go away. And not in that painful, slow melting way where there are blobs of gray snow everywhere until about April.

12. Can you ice skate? How are we defining “skate”? I learned a bit as a kid, then in college took an ice skating class as a way to meet the hockey players (they taught the ice skating classes and we were all in love with the hockey players.)

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? My senior year of college, my dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I said I would like a Claddagh ring. He said, “Oh. You mean like a Pina Colada ring?” (And he’s the Irish one. I know. I mean, seriously. What on earth is a Pina Colada ring!?!?) So I didn’t exactly get my hopes up. Then Christmas morning, I opened a little ring box and there was the Claddagh ring to end all Claddagh rings – WAY more than I had expected. Gold, with an emerald heart which was surrounded by diamonds. I was both surprised and touched.

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Honoring family traditions and trying to create new ones.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? My grandmother makes these “stained-glass window” cookies. They’re only for Christmas and I love them.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Brunch on Christmas morning at my parents’ house. Stockings and omelets? What could be better?

17. What tops your tree? A cream colored ceramic star with the word Believe written on it in gold script.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? Giving. And not because I’m that deep. Actually, I'm pretty selfish because I only like giving when I KNOW I’ve found the PERFECT present for someone. Something that maybe they didn’t even know they wanted or needed, but it’s just perfect. Then giving blows the doors off receiving. When it’s out of obligation and you don’t have a clue (exhibit A: My brother’s ex-fiancée ) then it’s no fun at all.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? Religious: O Holy Night. Secular: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

20. Candy canes? Only if nothing else is around.

21. Favorite Christmas movie? Love, Actually and The Christmas Story. Oh – and Elf! A new favorite.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Epitaph

I want to be cremated, but just for fun, I came up with my epitaph this morning. Ready?

Here lies Teacher Lady. She asked the important questions in life, like:

What the hell is wrong with people?

A few causes of my most recent aggravation:

A lovely female student came to my office hours to double-check on her grade. She's very intelligent, a physics major and really did pretty well - a B+ - which, compared to my other students isn't too shabby. We chatted, had a nice conversation. Then she asked, "Can I give you some feedback about the course?" Sure. I love nothing more than to get feedback from my students. I put on my professional face. "Certainly!" She really liked my class. Her only complaint was the quizzes. What, specifically, about the quizzes bothered her? HAND-TO-GOB quote: "Well, we never really knew what you were going to ask about, so if you wanted to do well on the quiz, it meant you had to read, like, the whole chapter. If it weren't for the quizzes, I would have gotten an A." Wow. No wonder so many of my students struggle - my intent was for them to read the whole chapter. Well, duh! Shame on me!

This semester, I had another former sex worker come talk to my class. Let's call her Lauren. She was very different from Kiki. Polished. Articulate. Totally mini-van-driving soccer-mom looking young woman. Currently wrapping up her master's degree in epidemiology. In order to work her way through an expensive private college, she was a call girl for two yeas. She was neither ashamed nor apologetic. Actually, she was more interested in educating my students about sex workers in other countries in the world. Lauren was also very knowledgeable about the difference between making sex work legal and "decriminalizing" it. Then she spoke about sex workers' unions and told us that in countries where sex workers are unionized and have health benefits, rates of HIV/AIDS and other STIs (in the entire population, not just among sex workers) are significantly lower than countries where sex workers are not unionized.

And guess what? My (female) students hated her. After she left, the room became a sea of waving hands. A quote: "She was not at all ashamed of herself! And she's crazy if she thinks she's going to get me to feel sorry for her!" Luckily, for me, another student raised her hand. "I don't think Lauren was trying to get us to feel sorry for her; I think she was just trying to explain that sex workers need insurance just like anybody else." Then another (very dear) student said quietly, "I guess if she would have seemed more embarrassed or said she was sorry, I might have been able to like her. But she just wasn't sorry at all!" That was the consensus - at least from the female students - the men were conspicuously quiet. It's okay to come to a class and talk about being a former sex worker as long as you cry and thank the Lord and act ashamed and sorry. So last week, I was reading papers about students' reactions to Lauren, and the same female student who made the first comment about Lauren not being ashamed of herself wrote, "This lady should have gotten a REAL JOB and not tried to take the easy way out! I have a full-time job at a restaurant, and I have a car and I work hard so I can go to school. THAT'S what she should have done." Here's why I had to ask, "What the hell is wrong with people?" (And my answer was, honestly, I hope it's just that she's 20. When I was 20, I was judgmental and sanctimonious as all hell. I pray she grows out of it.)

I shared her writings with Mr. J., who came up with an excellent response of his own: "The easy way out? Somehow, I think risking your life and subjecting yourself to an array of sexually transmitted infections like AIDS and Herpes is probably a lot more scary than getting yelled at because you forgot the mayonnaise on some guy's sandwich. Easy way out. Ha, ha, ha. That's really funny."

And finally, we have an annoying female DJ on a local radio station who does this evening show during the week. I try not to listen to her, but sometimes when I'm flipping around on the dial, I inadvertently hear her faux-new-agey, simpering, condescending voice. This poor young woman called in and said she's like to dedicate a song to her mother, because at six in the morning, her mother was undergoing surgery for (can't remember what kind of) cancer. Let's call the DJ Leila. This poor girl said, "I just want my mom to know I'm praying for her tonight and I thought if I played her favorite song, it might make her feel better." Annoying, condescing Leila said, "Oh, honey, no. A song can't cure cancer. Nothing can make cancer better." I don't THINK the poor caller meant that the song Wind Beneath My Wings had magical properties and was going to cure her mother of cancer! So caller girl stammered and stuttered and said, "Well, you know, I just thought that maybe she might relax if she could listen to her favorite song from me." Again, stupid Leila said, "Oh, honey, no. She's going in for surgery tomorrow morning. She probably won't even sleep a wink tonight. No song is going to make her feel better."

Lady. Lady! Isn't that your JOB?!!? To play whatever the hell people ask you to play and act like you're happy to do it!? Sheesh! Shut yer piehole and play the damn song. I ask you, "What the hell is wrong with people?"

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Crack Open a Bottle of Whine! The Semester is (almost) Over!

Also called: Mindless Mental Meanderings of Someone Who Has Truly Lost "It." If she ever had "it."

Except for a "situation" I have with one student, I am done.

All papers graded (with much bleeding from my eyes). All exams graded. All grades entered into online grading system. I already experienced the dreaded "morning after."

"What is the morning after?" I hear you ask. Well, it's like this. I post all the grades online and then I go to bed. When I wake up in the morning, I have about 27 e-mails in my inbox from students, most of them time-stamped between 1:00 and 4:30 a.m. (I often wonder if this means they were taking a study break from their other finals or if they were drunk when they sent them - with some of the spelling, it's really hard to tell.) Although they all include various (non-sexual) propositions, threats and questions, it's all the same: I'm surprised. How did I get the grade I got? Can you change it? I really need a ____ (insert grade here) if I'm going to (choose one): get into the basketweaving program, keep my financial aid, stay in the basketweaving program, not get kicked out of school, get in the honors program/stay in the honors program, keep my football scholarship, not be killed by my parents and then forced to work at Burger King, etc., And it always ends the same way: I really thought I did better than that on the final. Can you tell me which questions (out of 50!) I got wrong? 'Cause again, I really think I did better than a 48%.

Sigh. And you know what? It's never, ever the students who showed up to every class, did their reading and turned in every assignment on time.

It's the students who missed 50% of the quizzes, left early whenever there was a last-minute beauty pageant, the students who turned in 2 out of 3 papers late and "forgot" to turn in the third one at all. It's also the student who had every damn thing go wrong in their lives in one semester.

Disclaimer: I am not manufactured from 100% heartless bitch. I understand that certain things (especially bad things) happen in clusters - some would even say they happen in threes. For example, my junior year of college, before school even started, my parents announced they were getting a divorce. Then, the second day of classes, my boyfriend dropped me like an anvil on someone's foot. And, finally, the dog I'd had for 13 years died you know, just in case God thought I wasn't enough of a weepy, non-functioning mess.

I'm talking about the student who has an ovarian cyst, an aunt killed in a freak scuba diving accident, witnesses a crime and is subpoenaed several times during the semester, gets in a car accident, has to go home to help her boyfriend while boyfriend's father must have serious surgery - he's getting a wart lanced off his big toe - AND she has to plan her parents' 25th surprise wedding anniversary party. All in the same semester.

On a completely different note, I have a question for other educators. Back in my first semester of teaching, someone complained and told my program coordinator that she was disappointed I didn't spend enough time talking about abstinence. Not sure if I was supposed to fly the abstinence flag during every class, or conclude each week with a rousing "Pet your dog, not your date!" chant or what. But, since I had never taught college before and I was (if you can imagine!) even more sensitive than I am now, you would have thought someone reported that I was bringing puppies to class just to kick them in front of students, say, "This is what I think of YOU, except you're all too big for me to kick!! Bwah! Ha ha ha!" and then top off the whole thing by tossing the puppies out the third-floor window.

My advisor made an excellent point: You've got to consider the source. But this also means, when you get raves in your evals that "Teacher Lady's class was all that and a bag of chips," you STILL must consider the source. And determine this equation for yourself: Students' opinions - positive and negative - mean X percent to me in my own evaluation of my teaching skills.

I haven't quite figured that percentage out yet. But what I have noticed is that the last two weeks of the semester, I get at least half a dozen (if not more) e-mails from students. In the e-mail, they're typically asking for something or asking a clarifying question about the final exam. Then, they end the e-mail with: I just want you to know I really enjoyed your class. It was the only class I looked forward to attending and you did such a great job and I really learned a lot. Blah, blah, ticker-tape parade for you.

The first semester teaching, when I got a few of these e-mails, I was all, "Aww . . . melty, melty." Then, over time, I started to realize there was a correlation between how poorly the student was doing in class (pretty high -although not 100%) and how flattering their e-mail was.

I think I forgot what my question was, and my brain needs to be removed to sit in its charger for the next 4 weeks before I can use it again, but if you're still following: Do you take e-mails like this with a grain of salt? I should probably just ignore them, but sometimes they just irritate the crap out of me. Like, do you think I'm so gullible that I don't notice you're carrying a 64% in this class and it's the last day of the semester before finals week? And then I'm bummed. I've only been doing this for two and a half years andI'm already one of those professors who doesn't trust students as far as she can throw them? How do you find the balance between cynical curmudgeon and clueless optimist? Don't ask me why I care, because I don't know that either.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 15, 2006

To Foster or Not to Foster? That is the Question

Okay, gang. I need your two (or five or ten) cents here:

Mr. J. and I have been talking about adding a second dog to our family. However, as you know, Minnie the Biting Wonderdog is quite a special case. On one hand, her foster mother (this is over 3 years ago) told us that Minnie won the "plays well with others" award (meaning other dogs, not humans.) This is the same woman who told us that she couldn't believe that Minnie would snap at or bite anyone (and Minnie snapped at 8 people in 7 days). Yet, when I pressed Delusional Foster Mom, she admitted there were a "few" circumstances under which Minnie might snap. Like, during the day. Or at night. Or when there were people around.

Minnie, Mr. J. and I have made GREAT (but very, very painfully slow) strides in the past three and a half years, but we're afraid adding another dog to the mix might be like dethroning a beloved only child who has been the only child for at least 5 years (wait . . . now who does THAT sound like? Oh, yeah. Me.).

So, we've found a dog on who is in a "death row" situation and needs to be taken out of the pound before he meets his untimely end via the doggy gas chamber. Since we're not sure how things will go, we didn't want to make a permanent commitment just yet, but thought it might be nice to foster this fella until he either finds his permanent home or we all decide his permanent home is with us.

Here's where I want your advice: Have any of you ever fostered a dog? What is it like? Is there any way to know what to expect? Or can you only expect that you don't know what the hell to expect? Do you get too attached and then have your heart ripped out when they finally get adopted? How do your other dogs (if you have any) handle the situation? Is this something you would recommend doing?

I patiently await your wise counsel.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What? Everybody else is doing it!

All my brain cells were used up during finals week and Mom 101’s hilarious post inspired me to do another one of my own on searches. (Wait – I guess I did learn something from my students – plagiarism is okay if you admit you’re doing it! Or if everybody else is doing it, hence the title of today's post.) Hers is brilliant. Mine is a cheap imitation, at best.

Lately, a lot of serious pervs have been showing up here. I teach human sexuality. Not sexual perversion combined with “how to be the worst speller, ever.” But I give you ANOTHER collection of searches that brought folks here, but this time, I've added my oh-so-hilarious commentary.

santa sex
It IS the most wonderful time of the year!

Sexy mom teach has soon video

Bookreport on extremely loud and incredibly close
Book report is two words, you cheating little bastard.

Unexpected kidnapping
Who knew this was such a common problem? At least 3 searches this week!

Sex lady.
Well, I guess . . .

Brooke Shields nude
Ew. Not Brooke Shields nude, because I’m sure she does Pilates and everything, but this person MUST be over 40 and now Brooke Shields has a husband and two children with completely incomprehensible names and SHAME ON YOU!!!

Showed my ass
As long as it wasn’t in church, I think you’re probably okay


Good God, person. Stop shouting. And also: Stop skipping your spelling class.

Break up with your hairdresser.
See? And you all said I was being silly. Other people worry about these things, too.

Gracious george gingerbread
He sounds lovely. I would like to meet him. And then maybe bite his little cookie head off.

Fall in love with teacher.
This seems to be a common problem. But personally, I never had any teachers I could have fallen in love with. I mean, yikes. I must live in a state where it’s the law that teachers must be unlovable.

Position fellatio.
You know how to spell it, but you still have to look it up? Interesting.

Sex movies.
Seriously. What with all the FREE! HOT! PORN! Flashing ads that come at you when you type those words into Google, I seemed like your best bet?

A sexy lady with no eyebrow and hair on the head.
Congratulations. You have just won the “creepiest search of the year” award.

Gold mons.
Oh dear. Talk about being all dressed up and no place to go!

EDITED TO ADD: I had to delete all references to a little four-word movie that Jess was kind enough to Wiki for me. Of my past 100 Google searches, about 80% of them were NOT looking for my insightful writings on college teaching and . . . I was starting to get REALLY creeped out. Just, um, eew!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Too Tired to Be Really Mad

Warning: The spelling and grammar in this post will stink up the joint. Please ignore to the best of your ability. Time permitting, I will come back tomorrow and clean up my mess.

Guess what, folks? I have the answer to the question: Why do students think my class is going to be the easiest A they've ever earned? Even when I say, sternly and repeatedly on the first day of class, "Students in this class seldom earn As." (Like the trick with my vocabulary? Back when I was a NOVICE novice (now I'm an "advanced beginner" as we used to say in gymnastics - wait - maybe I have that wrong. Too tired to care), I would say, "Students don't often GET an A in this class." Now I use the word EARN. Pretty tricky, huh?)

My course is actually required for a few majors at the university. And apparently, every. single. academic advisor in a few of these programs tells students, "It's a totally easy A. It's exactly what you'd expect a sex class to be." Question: What DOES one expect a sex class to be? Dirty jokes and dirty movies? I honestly have no idea. However, the students who have friends who have taken the class get the real dirt: It ain't easy at all. Or to quote one of my students, "Yeah, I heard you've got to like read and write and stuff." (Bless their wee hearts).

I don't want to immediately make assumptions - and I won't - but CRIMINEY! Are academic advisors really encouraging their students to take this class as an "Easy A"? I worked in the advising center this summer - and we were told repeatedly: NEVER tell a student ANY class is "an easy A." You may not know a particular instructor's requirements, you don't know a student's interests or strengths or weaknesses. It's almost a guaranteed method of creating a bad situation.

I know the academic advisors in one of the departments - they all have master's degrees in college student personnel or counseling and they all seem like reasonable people.

I've heard almost universally this past week from all of my students (in one particular department) that this class (not just my section) is touted as "The easiest A you'll ever get". No wonder I get whiny, bitchy evals complaining that my class was "too hard" and "way too much work."

Now: The question: How - if I bother to take this on - do I find out what (if anything) the academic advisors are telling students without coming across like I'm super-sleuth or offending some very nice, very hardworking people who are just trying to make a difference in the world and get paid a little something at the same time? And I'm so loopy right now I just realized something else: I guess, who cares? Because even if I went in with colors flying, I have no control over what anyone says to any student once I'm out of the room. Actually, I don't have control of what anyone says when I'm in the room. On the other hand, I feel a bit as though I'm the victim of false advertising. Unless I'm deluding myself (entirely possible) and all students complain about the amount of work in any given class.

I'm off to bed - I'll leave it up to you to solve and I expect an excellent answer in the morning! Ta!

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Green-Eyed Monster Rears Its Ugly Head at Mr. J.

I’d like to think jealousy is not one of my many flaws. Although when I was in third grade I did confess to Father so-and-so that I was jealous of my cousins’ piano, envy is probably the only one of the Seven Deadly Sins I don’t wrestle with on a regular basis.

I once worked with a beautiful, thin, fashionable woman. Her husband was extremely successful. She was known to show up to work wearing $800 Burberry shoes. She was a self-confessed Botox junkie and she always looked (as a co-worker said), as if she had just stepped out of a magazine. (I think the permanently tattooed-on eyeliner and lip liner helped.) Her children were healthy and adorable. Her husband had a Porshe just for “driving around on weekends, for fun.” Their house was a stunning century Tudor that included such necessities as “a library.” Both she and her husband together were seen several times a year in the society pages of our newspaper and local magazines.

Imagine our surprise when she came in one Monday morning, not her usual cheerful self. Her weekend, she said, had been terrible. Hubby’s boss had invited them over to dinner and she couldn’t believe hubby’s boss’ house. It was so completely amazing that she cried in the car all the way home. She cried all day Sunday, too. As she said, she just had a terrible case of “The Green Meanies.” Within three months, she and her husband had bought another house about six times the size of a small country and she was already feeling much, much better.

The point of this story about someone you don’t know and will probably never meet is this: This is so far from me, I cannot begin to tell you. If someone I know and like has something fabulous, I’m happy for them. If someone I know and don’t like has something fabulous, I think, “Oh, well. Them’s the breaks. Karma doesn’t always work.” I’m not the Cruella DeVil in the corner, pulling out my hair and howling, “WHY isn’t that MINE?!?”

So how shocked was I yesterday when I realized I was not immune to jealousy?

Mr. J. brought home his course evals. With his department chair's permission, he wrote his own evaluations (in addition to the department evals the students also completed) and used them to ask questions he felt the department evals didn't address.

All of the evaluations can be summarized in this short (and somewhat - but not entirely - facetious paragraph):

Mr. J. is the most amazing Calculus teacher ever in the history of Calculus. I would have failed this class had I taken it with any other professor (this is an actual quote and almost all of his students wrote it or something like it). I already signed up for the second level of this class for next semester and I have held several Novenas to assure that I will have him as my instructor. Otherwise, life has lost all meaning and I will kill myself. I wish he were my dad. Although this class was a lot of work, for the first time in my life I understand Calculus and I think that we should throw Mr. J. a ticker-tape parade through the center of town. Totally worth all the work we had to do, because now I am smart. As long as you showed up to class and kept up with the reading and the homework, you could do a good job. All hail, Mr. J., King of Freshman Calculus. Let me know if he needs a kidney ever, 'cause I am first in line.

After reading his evals, I was so jealous I could barely see. So incredibly, hatefully jealous. If I recall correctly, I think that envy is when someone has something you want and you covet that thing. But jealousy is much, much worse - you see someone who has something you want and not only do you want that same thing, you want them to not have it and maybe you wish a pox on their house. Or something.

Mr. J. has been teaching college much, much longer than I have. Since 1991 (plus or minus about 4 years or so when he moved out of state.) One of the things that made me fall in love with him was his passion about math. Because really? It's easy to be passionate about the things I'm passionate about - teen pregnancy, AIDS, abortion, etc., But to be passionate about math!?! Now that's a special person. Usually I know someone who knows someone who happens to know one of Mr. J.'s students and the reports are always the same - "He really loves Calculus - you can totally tell and then he makes you love it, too." How can I not love a man who makes 18-year-old kids love Calculus, right? (By the way, I'm treating Calculus like a proper noun for some reason and I'm not sure I'm right. But I'm too jealous to really care at the moment.)

My evaluations? They're kind of all over the place. Not this universal, "All hail Teacher Lady for making us want to always use condoms!" I always get a few, "This is the best class I've ever taken ever in my whole life and should be required for all students at this university," and one from this summer that made me smile " She deserves a 10% raise!!" (Although why or how that student came up with 10%, I'm not sure.) But overall, I get this kind of stuff:

This class was too much work. The tests were too hard. I don't understand why she gave us the quizzes at the beginning of each class. Why didn't she teach us the chapter and then give the quiz at the end of the class? She was really tough on our papers. If you didn't write the required 5 pages then it really affected your grade. We shouldn't have been expected to show up so much. She shouldn't have included content from guest speakers on the exams. It wasn't fair to those of us who couldn't show up to class during sorority rush week. Why did she make us do all this extra reading from recent external sources? Completely unfair. Just reading the textbook is enough work, thank you very much.

Now I'm going to explain the obvious, but it still bugs me: Students have math anxiety. They take calculus (oh - I must be really miffed - no longer a proper noun) expecting to suffer. On some level, they've had enough experience with math to know that they can't expect to skip class, blow off reading, not keep up with homework and understand what the hell is going on. Here's what else is interesting to me: Out of approximately 18 students, Mr. J. said one of them will get an A, two or three will get a B and the rest will get Cs and Ds. And yet, they're singing his praises like they all got As. When you take calculus, you're thrilled with a C. Mr. J. said he figures that most of them (with another prof) would probably have failed the class. But his students feel that universal satisfaction of working hard to understand something and actually understanding it - it's not about the grade. (At least that's what it would seem based on his evaluations since most of them included a line like, "This is the first time ever in my life I've understood calculus. Praise be to Mr. J.")

As I've said before, I think students expect my class to be all about porn and Jell-O shots so when I expect them to do all the same things Mr. J.'s students do - keep up with the reading, be prepared for class, complete assignments, hell - show up for class - then I'm the Wicked Witch of the Sex. I mean, honestly? What student would miss a calculus class for an emergency fashion show? Probably only the student who was going to drop or fail anyway. Yet, I suppose my students never expect that they will have to learn about various ART methods (Assisted Reproductive Technology for those of you playing along at home) and are completely flabbergasted to find questions about it on an exam.

I think even I'm exhausted by my whining, moaning and kvetching so I'm going to abruptly end this post. I just find it ironic that clearly people expect to work hard in math classes and any other class (well, at least mine - no, make that especially mine) can be the ultimate blow-off and you should get an A simple for existing and breathing. Bah. All hail the end of finals week.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cringe-Worthy Moments

The past 2 weeks in our residency class, we’ve had to “pretend-propose.” Technically, the purpose of residency is to complete the first 3 chapters of your dissertation with support of a faculty member and your peers. I “proposed” last week and although it’s cliché, I can’t think of anything else to write except, “Boy, am I glad that’s over!”

One of my fellow doc students – and it’s one I adore – was faux proposing yesterday (can we call it faux-prosing?) and she was extremely nervous. Like, looking green and sweating nervous. “Teacher Lady,” she said, “You don’t really seem to get nervous when you present, do you?” I was trying to enter some quiz scores into my electronic gradebook, “Mmm . . . no, not really,” I said distractedly. Clearly she was looking for more support beyond what crumbs I was giving her. “Why not?” she pleaded. I had to think about this for a minute. “Honestly?” I asked. “I have publicly humiliated myself so many times in so many ways, I think I must be used to it. Hell, it could be some kind of new mathematical equation: Me + any public setting + lots of people = complete and total utter humiliation with an alpha level of .05 and a .25 likelihood of physical comedy.

Now she was looking much more interested and much less green. “Like how?” she asked brightly. “Oh, Allison. I’ve had so many ‘cringe-worthy’ moments, we could stay here for hours and you’d never hear all of them.” She begged me for just a quick few humiliating moments to keep her distracted until her faux-prosal and after all, what are friends for?

I told her of the time in undergrad when I was presenting at a local conference for the student version of a professional organization. I was truly nervous and I (still) have the habit of running my hand through my hair when especially jittery. During this presentation, in front of about 50 or so of my fellow undergrads (some from my school, most from other schools within the state) I ran my hand through my hair. I forgot that I was wearing a lovely cuff bracelet that had a hinge. A hinge that got stuck in my hair. And not in a subtle, “Oh, let me wander off quietly and you’ll never see me pull this thing out of the back of my hairline” kind of way. Oh, no. My life doesn’t work that way. It was stuck on the top of my head, about in the middle. Sticking. Straight. Up. And it actually kind of hurt. Pulling it out would have resulted in my ripping out a good portion of hair and probably some of the skin on my scalp. For about 5 seconds there was a collective horrified inhale and then everyone burst out laughing. And laughed and laughed while I tried to pretend nothing was happening and careened ahead with the end of my presentation. Have you ever tried to give a presentation while having a large gold bracelet stuck to the top of your head? (Never thought you’d get ask that question, did you?) After that, pretty much anything else feels like a rip-roaring success.

I must have been strolling down undergrad lane because then I launched into the story of the day at the end of my freshmen year when I was returning from some business-y networking type event. I had a long walk across campus on a lovely spring evening and I passed at least 100 people. Almost all of them smiled at me brightly and said, “Hi Teacher!” and “Well, hello, Teacher!” and as each additional person greeted me by name I started feeling better and better about myself. “Well,” I thought, “This might be a fairly big campus, but clearly I’ve made quite an impression over the past year. People really know me!” The trek took about 20 minutes and by the time I got home, I’d never felt more confident or proud of my 18-year-old self. And then I walked in the door and my roommates fell on the floor shrieking with laughter. “Please,” one of them said, laughing so hard she was bright red, “Tell me you did NOT walk across campus like that.” I turned around, expecting to see my skirt tucked into my underwear or some such humiliation. No. I checked the bottom of both shoes for toilet paper or small children. Nothing. What? They both pointed at my chest. I was wearing an ENORMOUS name tag with “TEACHER LADY” written on it in bright. Red. Marker. And all caps. Of course. Even worse? I wasn’t so much humiliated as I was sad that I didn’t have all the new friends I thought I did.

I regaled her with the tale from my corporate days about my videotaping a training class. This was back in the day when I was terrified of anything faintly stinking of technology and when a video camera lived on a tri-pod. I was taping people who were much higher up the ladder than I was. And it was the first time I was conducting this particular class. My nerves weren’t so much jumping as they were having epileptic fits. While trying to look cool, I announced to the training class that I would start the camera and begin taping their presentations. Then I walked the step and a half up to the camera, sort of leaning forward to put my eye into the lens (thing? Eye hole? View finder?) and tripped over the cord, lost my balance, fell forward and hit my eye on the camera. Not only did it hurt but then I had a wee bit of a black eye for about a day and a half. Classy.

Allison felt much better after that and did a bang-up job on her faux-prosal. I was glad I could help. And I realized it’s probably very dangerous for me to leave the house.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Woo-Hoo: A Post That Takes No Time at All

This is the last week of classes, hence my crappy-ass posting record.

Imagine my delight when Rate Your Students posted an e-mail I wrote in a fit of (what else) anxiety and neuroses last week.

Hope to be back on track by this time next week! (I know, you're all biting off your nails from Teacher Lady withdrawal. Poor dears.)

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 04, 2006

Procrastination: It's Not Just for Grad School Anymore

Although I may be in the running for best procrastinator of all time, I think more than a few of my undergraduate students may knock me out of first place. I mean - damn, can those kids put stuff off!

Hence, I have spent most of the weekend grading literally dozens of papers. My students (conceivably) could have turned in all 3 papers within the first 3 weeks of class. In fact, I encourage it. But (of course), things don't work that way. Last week, I was nearly suffocated by students turning in all 3 of their papers at once. And since I'm trying to be superstar instructor, I have attempted to turn their papers around within a week. That's a hell of a lot of grading.

And also? My writing is seriously suffering. Last night I read a sentence about Margaret Sanger's mother who bared 11 children. I knew that sure as hell wasn't right, but what should it have been? Bore? Borne? Beared? Someone should warn you: There's a direct correlation between one's knowledge of the English language, vocabulary and grammatical rules and the number of college student papers one grades. The more papers you grade, the more ignorant you become. Everything starts looking right. More or less. After all, when you read a paper about the "matting habits" of certain groups of peoples, after the fifteenth time "matting" starts to look about right. The indigenous peoples matted just about everything - postcards, sketches, even oil paintings! They were CA-RA-ZEE!

You know what else? This kid, who could not figure out how to find my classroom - or even e-mail to find out WHERE I might have moved the class - e-mailed me this morning to ask why only ONE of the two papers he turned in last week was graded. And if I could answer him as soon as possible, because he is worried. Dude, step the fuck off. 50 times 3 is 150 papers. You'll get nothing and like it as far as I'm concerned because if you knew how to use the e-mail at the beginning of the semester and didn't need Daddy to call my department chair, I think I might be a bit more understanding. But I haven't graded all of your papers in less than a week and NOW you're troubled? NOW you can figure out how e-mail works?! Oh, hell no.

And finally, please do not report me to the insensitivity police. After reading the above chap's first paper (in which he reversed "there" and "their" and used each one incorrectly every.single.time), I lost it. (Not that I had it to begin with.) I explained the difference between their and there and then I wrote, "Someone in the English department of your high school should be ashamed of him or herself." Please don't throw garbage at your screen. I know, this was NOT the paper on which I should have written something so unprofessional and rotten. My MOTHER is an English teacher so I wasn't taking a swipe at English teachers - more a passive-aggresive (I'm brave that way) swipe at him because I was so pissed at having to translate his paper into English and FINALLY, I'm sure his father will be on the phone with my department chair by tomorrow morning, I'll be forced to lick the young lad's boots and then I'll be given my marching orders and sent packing. See ya all in hell. It's been fun!

Soon-to-be-unemployed-Teacher Lady

Labels: , , ,