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, March 30, 2007

At the Risk of Repeating Myself

Fifteen years ago (YIKES! How the hell did that happen?), in a search for my first post-college job, I interviewed with a man who asked me if I was comfortable reporting to men. I think that's like asking a person of color if he or she is comfortable reporting to a white person. Most times, in most organizations, ya don't get a lotta choice about that kinda thing. I mean, really. If you're not comfortable reporting to a man (or a white person) your career opportunities are probably going to be fairly limited, especially in certain geographic areas. (Minnesota, anyone?) Of course I blathered on about how I had often reported to men and blah, blah, blah, stupid things, blah. Then interviewer boss guy said, "That's good. Personally, I prefer managing women over managing men."

(This is where I may have told this story before): I came home and repeated my experience to my stupid post-college boyfriend. "Why," I asked, completely flummoxed, "Would he prefer to manage women over men - like it was the easiest choice, ever?" SP-CB said, "Simple. Because most men think they're better than they actually are, and most women think they're worse than they actually are." Which brings me to . . . my point. Yes, you knew I had one you patient little readers, didn't you?

I may have mentioned the aftermath of posting grades. I hate it. I always feel like I'm sending a bomb threat to an elementary school when I click the "submit" button in the online gradebook. I try to do it late at night, but it doesn't matter - I always find several interesting/furious/incomprehensible e-mails waiting for me the next morning. A few days ago, I posted students' grades from their midterm. Within less than 12 hours, I got this e-mail:

Hi Teacher Lady this is Steve from your sexuality class on mondays. I was just wondering what questions i got wrong on the test and if i could possibly see you in your office hours whenever they are. I just wanted to see my test because i felt really confident about that test after i took it, because i studied that study guide really good and i just thought i would have done better on the exam than i did. So if you could please e-mail me back i'd appreciate it. Thanks!

Here's where the male/female thing comes in. Maybe. Much to the annoyance of my college roommates (and now my husband), I often had either NO sense of how I did on an exam, or had a strong sense that I completely bombed it. Just last semester, I told Mr. J. how I thought I had bombed a particular midterm of my own. He looked at me and said very clearly, "I do not want to hear it anymore. Do you know who are you? You are the girl everyone hated in undergrad. You're the girl who cried, 'Oh, I think I failed' after the exam and then skipped out of class the next week because you got the highest grade." It sounds harsh in this rendition, but believe me, it was more funny than anything. And sure enough, the next week I came home, tail between my legs, hoping he wouldn't ask how I did. Because I did really, really embarrassingly well.

But in undergrad, when I did kind of blow it, I always thought, "Yeah, that seems about right." Or, "Well, what can I expect - I pretty much suck and oh yeah - I probably should have read the book." It NEVER occurred to me that I might have done better than my grade indicated.

Is this a male/female thing? (Although I have had one female student send me a similar e-mail, mostly these are from male students). Or is this a Teacher Lady has no self-awareness and a pathetic lack of self-esteem thing? Maybe it just boils down to confidence, but when you've gotten a low "C" on a midterm and you find that somehow impossible, does that cross the line from confident to cocky? Or maybe just completely delusional? I don't know. What has been your experience with this? I'd like to know your thoughts as a student (at some point in our lives, we've all been students, right?) or as a teacher, if that's your chosen profession.


Teacher "I think I'm worse than I actually am" Lady.

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Blogger KC said...

I don't know if this went through the first time, so I'll try once more.

Most of my students who were surprised that they had done poorly were women, but I was teaching art history and I rarely had more than a couple of men in any given class. I did notice that when the women talked to me about why they did poorly, they were usually very attentive to the points I made, while the men seemed impatient and unconvinced. (Of course there were exceptions.)

March 30, 2007 9:55 AM  
Blogger Alexandrialeigh said...

Interesting -- I've never thought about this! I was one of those who always, always thought I did bad, but I've never questioned whether the teacher's assessment was wrong or that I was improperly graded. Geez. I'm not sure it's 100% a gender thing, but there are always exceptions, right? That is a really interesting point.

March 30, 2007 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got to say the only time I got something other than what I did, was when I aced it and I thought I did poorly. I never had that "I so rocked on this" only to find out that I so did NOT rock.

And really, yeah, what I remember of my classes it was the guys who almost always thought they did better than what they actually scored.

P.S. - Have I said how happy I am that you are back in the blog world? If not, I am. Welcome back.

March 30, 2007 2:21 PM  
Blogger graycie said...

I see a similar thing with my high school seniors -- not so much the freshmen, though. Makes you wonder about the role of testosterone.

March 30, 2007 2:51 PM  
Blogger Tizzie said...

I have to admit that when I was a student, if I recieved a bad grade I assumed it was because I hadn't prepared enough for the exam I was taking. I NEVER had the audcity to suggest that it was my teachers at fault, but then I was raised to respect the aforementioned teachers. When it came to exams I always thought I'd done a bad job, but then I'm a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist so I had an excuse!

March 30, 2007 6:03 PM  
Blogger StyleyGeek said...

I teach in a field where undergrad classes are more than 90% female. Yet the few students who have wanted to 'discuss' their grades with me (two or three per semester at most: I think maybe our university's culture discourages students from thinking grades are debatable) have almost always been male (I can only remember one woman who has tried to do this).

On the other hand, the ones who do really scarily badly in the courses (grades of 20% or worse; majority of assignments not completed) are almost invariably male too. And so are the few who get 100% and are working at postgrad level in their research assignments. I don't get it. If this is indicative of something real rather than just my imagination, does it mean that my field (linguistics) attracts only deadbeats and geniuses among the male population? Or does the course Do Something to these students to make them like this?

March 30, 2007 10:03 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This is definitely a male/female thing. Maureen Dowd touches on this in her book "Are Men Necessary?" - Don't know if you're a fan; I love her - pointing out that men send her manuscripts all the time so she too can enjoy thier brilliance and possibly promote it to the world (or readers of the NYT) yet women rarely, if ever, do so.

I don't think it's a personal self-esteem thing. I think my self-esteem is pretty good, and I was always pretty confident when it came to my grades, and yet only once did I ever question a professor's grade, and I did so in person, during office hours, respectfully. Of course I gave up after thirty seconds and kept the grade when the professor didn't seem to want to budge. Ten years later, I still think that paper was worthy of a slightly higher grade, and yet I know I'd never have the gall to take it up with the prof even at this stage in my life.

March 31, 2007 3:04 AM  
Blogger Antique Mommy said...

Depends on the subject. If it was math, if I passed a test at all I was astonished and figured the teacher was drunk while grading.

On essay tests, I always had a fair level of confidence. I found that if you could write well, you could get a better grade, even if you didn't necessarily know more. Learn to write well students!!

An art tests, you were at the sujective mercy of the angsty-moody professor.

March 31, 2007 8:18 AM  
Blogger LeftUnsaid27 said...

As a current student, this topic hits in a personal spot at this moment. I teeter from thinking I'm worse than I am to being horribly disappointed when I think I'm better than I am. Complicated? Indeed. I'm a female by the way. It's started this past semester, doing much worse than expected. I try to rationalize by thinking that I could have studied harder, even when I know in reality that I did the best I could. But never once have I honestly considered asking the professor HOW I got such a low grade. Hearing certain tales like this about students just baffles me. Their audacity is frightening. In the end, I think this whole situation boils down to confidence confusions.

March 31, 2007 9:14 AM  
Blogger Denever said...

"I found that if you could write well, you could get a better grade, even if you didn't necessarily know more. Learn to write well students!!"

This may only work for undergrads. I once went over a law school exam with a professor who said, "This was a *really* well-written exam. I was so impressed that you wrote this well under exam conditions that I noted it in the margin!" He held it up proudly to show me the note.

"So," I said, "did I get any extra points for that?"

He looked at me like I'd just sprouted horns. "No ... of course not." (He seemed to believe it was all about issue-spotting, as if there were no place for persuasion or advocacy in legal writing!)

Nevertheless, I would like to think that a well-written exam of any kind has a subtle effect on the reader that redounds to the benefit of the writer and that writing well is never worthless.

March 31, 2007 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've never thought about this, but when i was a student, i was/am like you. think i failed and then do well. i will have to pay attention to this now in classes...

April 01, 2007 1:07 AM  
Blogger SAILOR MOON said...

i dont think i really fought grades. When getting my AA i did definetly in math class...Especially the first and only time i failed my Calculus class.. But once an undergrad, i rarely if ever questioned my exam.
Now did i doubt myself in every exam i took? Of course, and i dont know why. But i always thought i failed - and then i would get an A. But then there were those times , when i knew i failed because i knew i hadnt studied worth a damn. Like those two semesters of flunking that horrible economics course. But safe to say i passed it the third time. And to this day i will blame it on the crap teachers i had the first two times.
I mean honestly im paying for education i think i deserve to receive it once in class. If i wanted to read and learn by myself i would have never even thought about spending my hard earned money on professors that that dont "teach".
Or in this case: profess lol i just made that up..sorry English teachers...

p.s. i like your blog

April 01, 2007 4:10 AM  

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