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.

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.

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Blogger leftunsaid227 said...

I have no answer for you, as I am not yet a professor, but I do have a polite little question. If a student sent you the "ticker-tape parade for you" email After grades were posted, would it then be a credible email that you would hopefully take to heart? I am one of those few (maybe the only, I don't know) students who feels the need to send a thank you for teaching me note to exceptional professors. Is this just weird of me? Is it worth my time and effort?

December 17, 2006 5:06 PM  
Blogger Teacher lady said...

After the grades were posted if a student sent me a thank you (e-mail or snail), I would be truly touched and flattered. I suppose it's just the e-mails before-during-and-immediately after finals e-mails I find a bit disconcerting.

December 17, 2006 5:30 PM  
Blogger saintseester said...

Here is what I tell the student who is going to: be on probation, lose their financial aid, or whatever other tragedy befalls getting a C or worse in my class:

"You don't lose financial aid over ONE grade. It takes a series of problems, ie your overall average for the worst to happen."

Happy SEMESTER BREAK. Woo hoo, I am done too.

December 18, 2006 11:44 AM  
Blogger Ian Scuffling said...

I'm also struggling with how seriously to take those emails. For the time being, I take them at face value unless they've specifically asked for special consideration in the same email. Then I assume they're sucking up.

Maybe they're all sucking up, I don't know. But I also get C students telling me the same thing, and students saying that they know their grade doesn't reflect it, but they really liked the class. Until I'm rudely proven otherwise, I'm accepting those as compliments, because I need every little thing I can get.

Plus, I know course evals will bite me on the ass regardless.

December 18, 2006 3:01 PM  
Blogger Silliyak said...

Maybe there could be some formula where x# doing badly-suck up emails = y# did badly-poor evals

December 18, 2006 4:25 PM  
Blogger Terminaldegree said...

I share your frustration. Here are a few things that have worked for me:

1. First assignment of the semester: review the syllabus and write a one-page summary or answer a quiz/worksheet on it. That way no one can complain later on that they didn't know what was going on.

2. Syllabus needs to contain a manditory 48-hour "cooling off" period before contesting any grade. I tell students that it's to protect them from saying things they will regret later. Then, after grades are posted, my standard reply is "please wait 48 hrs and if you still need to talk with me, make an appointment for next semester." (But I do go back and double-check my grades, especially if it's a "good" student who has asked, just in case I did make a tabulation error.)

3. All grades are put on WebCT/Blackboard. There's never an excuse for not knowing one's grade, one's missing assignments, etc.

4. Repeat to yourself, "They are novices at adulthood. They are learning things the hard way. It's not about me..."

5. Eat chocolate, get a mani/pedi, or spend half a day on the coach with a paperback novel and the dog.

6. Start a "kudos" file for yourself. This is a collection of the cards and notes you receive over the years from students and colleagues who genuinely are writing because they like your work, not because they are sucking up. Save these for the dark days. Because we all have dark days.

Hang in there and get some rest over the holiday! :)

December 18, 2006 10:59 PM  
Blogger Silliyak said...

Terminal degree, what kind of coach do you recommend? Football? La Crosse, Swimming?

December 18, 2006 11:56 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

I also suffer from morning-after panic- as soon as I hit the submit button on my grades, I start to feel that dread. Who's going to email (usually, for me, one of two students)? What will they say? Was I really too harsh? And I'm a big pushover!

I've yet to encounter the whole omg I loved your class email, but I would absolutely consider the source. The great thing about the gushy email is the evidence of who sent the email right at the top, unlike the dreaded evals, which are only partially possible to ascertain the author.

December 19, 2006 11:00 PM  
Blogger Terminaldegree said...

Haahaa! That should be "couch." But maybe a day on the coach would be more beneficial. :)

December 20, 2006 1:22 AM  
Blogger Adeline said...

good ramblings!

ticker taper parades and beauty pagaents (this reminded me of a girl who curls her eyelashes in class before lunch--some day i will make fun of her)

i taught in college once. i was teaching at Oregon State University and at a local high school as well under a class A cast iron beeyotch who boasted about failing my types, teachers assistants. i was relieved from her tutelage, but while i was there, i too was a cast iron beeyotch of a teacher. one kid threatened to sue me because he got a c. it was ridiculous. he never turned in a final project and was overly confident because he has taken the class before, so he rarely came.

anyway, the thoughts running through your head ran through mine too but i never gave out my email address.

i think sometimes i know when i wasnt at the top of my teaching game, and in those times, the students opinion matters alot less. but other times when i felt confident about what i did, i am curious to hear how it was received. but i also no that no season happens twice, no 2 groups of students are the same and it does happen that when i do great, a dynamic in the room could still mean there is an burning effigy of me at the end of the semester.

oh my i must end now.

December 20, 2006 2:49 AM  

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