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.

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.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think you nailed it. they expect a class about sex to be easy. a class about gender to be that schedule filler you can miss and still ace.

and yah, it pisses me off too.

maybe you should try cross-listing with Math dept? I am sure there are tons of great names involving sex, numbers and fill-in-the blank that would make for an excellent course title.

December 10, 2006 10:57 AM  
Blogger Tense Teacher said...

I think you're right... I had a parent tell me this week that she didn't understand why all children couldn't just make an A in English; it is, after all, what we speak on a daily basis.

December 10, 2006 11:05 AM  
Blogger saintseester said...

Yes! All hail the end of finals.

Once I got these two reviews: She is the BEST teacher in the department, always prepared, fair, etc. The other one - she is the worst teacher in the department, she's never prepared for lecture, blah blah. From the same course!

So I posted them side by side on my office door.

December 10, 2006 12:02 PM  
Blogger Terminaldegree said...

I'm in the same boat. I teach a class that students expect to be "just for fun." There are 100 students in the Fun Class, and roughly 90 of them go into shock when they learn that I (gasp!) want them to read part of the textbook, (gasp!) take three short exams, and (gasp!) turn in some short writing assignments (we're talking a paragraph).

Furthermore, it's a subject in which they already think that they are experts. After all, everyone knows how to listen to music, right?

So my evals are always split. Students love it, or they get ticked off that they had to work a little (and let me tell you, mine is one of the easiest classes on campus), or they get mad that because they blew off the exams, they are failing.

And then there's the plagiarism. I've found at least 10 cases this semester. And these students retain the right to evaluate my teaching? How on earth is THAT appropriate?

I think next semester I will start out with the warning that YES, students fail this class, and YES, they ought to come to class and read the book. If that sounds like too much, they should drop the class. We'll see if that helps.


Sorry you're so frustrated. I'd be jealous, too. And not about the $800 shoes.

December 10, 2006 2:24 PM  
Blogger The "Mind" said...

It definitely has to do with a majority of them thinking they can pass the class in their sleep. There isn't much you can do to change that mindset, though.

On Wednesday night, my interpersonal communications teacher asked me what lot I parked in. I told her and she asked if she could walk out with me after class. Uh, okay. *me, completely confused as to why my teacher needs a body guard in our town, but okay*

On the way out, she told me that the student who had slept through the entire semester...that she had also helped out after each class and did her best to get him to participate...had threatened her. She had approached him and told him earlier in the week that because of his lack of participation, he was not going to be getting a very good grade and encouraged him to withdraw and take a W so his GPA wouldn't suffer.

What?! He threatened her over that? Good grief. It is his own fault. Our entire class would testify in court that he refused to participate and she did her best. I can't believe it.

So yeah, I played bodyguard this week because some kid couldn't grow up and take responsibility for his own shortcomings. Loverly. Crap like that just blows my mind.

December 10, 2006 4:50 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

Lady, I teach art history, I so hear you. I mean, how hard can art be, right?

Hehehe, and then with the memorization of the dates, etc etc. And I am such an easy grader, wait till they get some of the other profs in the department.

December 10, 2006 7:08 PM  
Blogger negativecapability said...

Another thing is that not everyone even takes calculus. You can get through college taking college algebra or some such thing at most places. I'd imagine a lot of your "reading the chapter before the quiz is too much work students" never even get to calculus.

December 12, 2006 3:35 PM  
Blogger Ian Scuffling said...

It's also true to some extent of psychology classes - after all, everyone has their own lay theories about crazy people, and it's all about crazy people, right? Then I hit them with the chapter on psychobiology, and oh, how the eyes glaze over.

December 12, 2006 4:04 PM  
Blogger flossie said...

Hello! Just found your blog and am devouring the archives. This entry especially resonated. I too am married to a Best College Professor Ever To Have Lived. He does things the students love, like set his own book on fire in the middle of a lecture. Whereas my inaugural comment in rateyourprofessor included the following helpful suggestion: "Talking about literature all hour can get boring." Grr.

December 30, 2006 1:53 AM  

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