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.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

So Many Gripes, So Little Time

Big changes in the life of Teacher Lady, y'all.

I am officially going back to Corporate America. That's right, bitches! I've been interviewing for a "real" full-time gig, complete with benefits and a 401k for a while now. I start the 8-5 grind the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

I have very mixed feelings about this and the day I got the job offer I wasn't exactly leaping for joy. And that was also the same day I posted final grades. So of course within about 6 hours, I got this pleasant little e-mail:

Mrs. Teacher Lady,Why is it that I checked my final grades 2 days ago and I had a Final Grade of a B in your class and today I check and it dropped to a C+? Joe You-Work-For-Me-And-Don't-You-Forget-It

I responded politely and professionally (believe it or not!) like so:

Good morning, Joe!I'm not quite sure. I download the electronic gradebook from WebCT Vista weekly, and most recently, I have your final score at 435. If you check the syllabus, you'll see that 435 lands within the high end of the C+ range of 418-439. Did I fail to enter one of your exam or reaction paper scores? If so, please help me out and we'll get this fixed. Teacher Lady

Of course, I was right and he was hallucinating but I didn't want to be unnecessarily bitchy and point that out. Do you THINK for one second I heard back from the punk? Something along the lines of, "Wow. I guess my e-mail had a really accusatory tone and I didn't realize it and also, since I missed ALL the classes between the first and second midterm which means I missed 5 out of 10 quizzes and since I didn't even HAND IN one of the three papers due, I guess a C+ is a damn good grade"? No. Of course not.

Mr. J., who is intimately familiar with such e-mails and much less reactionary than I am said he didn't think the e-mail from Joe had anything wrong with it and I was just reading too much into things. His exact words, "I don't think it sounds demanding or accusatory." On one hand, Mr. J. is so often the much-needed voice of reason in my life, this could be very true. On the other hand, I KNOW this student. This SAME student who came to me groveling before the second midterm with this sob story about how he bit off more than he could chew this semester and he really needed to do well on the second midterm and did I think he could do well enough to save his grade so he wouldn't have to drop the class? He did really well on the second midterm and I thought we had cleared things up, except for every subsequent class when he did show up, he spent the whole time leaning forward and whispering into the ear of the hot little sorority honey sitting in the desk in front of him.

Now although I bitch endlessly about my students, for the MOST part, they get how insane I am (well, in general, of course) about not talking when anyone else is talking. And yet, every week, dirty looks, calling on him, asking him questions, doing everything but grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and throwing him out of the classroom . . . nothing. He insisted on having conversations with HSH throughout the entire 3-hour class. If I weren't afraid of getting sued, fired or ending up on the local news, I would have said, "Dude. Go buy a condom already and get it over with. You're disrupting my class."

So, it is with mixed emotions that I bid farewell to the classroom. I may return next year in the spring if my schedule permits, because I truly do enjoy my actual time in the classroom. It's everything else teaching involves that I hate.

As always, Rate Your Students summed it up for me. Check this out.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

The Dumbest Conversation, Ever!

Mr. J. and I almost never fight. I don't say this to boast. I say this because he is an introvert and we are BOTH super-conflict avoidant. So perhaps we could do with a good air-clearing fight now and then.

Instead, we have some pretty dumb conversations. Have I mentioned that Minnie the Biting Wonderdog is terrifed of my triple hole punch? In what is perhaps the best example of ___ (some kind of) conditioning I have ever seen, it started simply enough. When I was printing out articles and organizing them to study for comps, I would get out the triple hole punch and start punching away, so I could put my articles in my handy-dandy studyin'-for-comps binder. Minnie does NOT like the noise of the triple hole punch, so after a punch or two, she'd run upstairs or find Mr. J. and hide behind/on/beside him. Over the past year, she has gotten so attuned to the warning signs of the imminent arrival of the triple hole punch that now she runs and hides when I open the drawer in which the triple hole punch lives.

Last week I was frantically trying to complete the take-home final from hell. If you've ever had a newly minted Ph.D. tenure track professor for class - a professor who happens to have his picture next to the word "overzealous" in the dictionary - you feel my pain. I'm guessing that there are published masters' theses shorter than this take-home final. It had "short answer" five-point (5 points! For pages' worth of writing!) questions like, "Explain the meaning of life," or "Support or refute the statement, 'In God We Trust.'" Related to health, of course, but you get the picture.

For whatever reason - the sparks flying out of my brain - me and my office were a little too intense for Minnie so she ran upstairs to find Mr. J. Later that evening, he came downstairs to find me (still) typing. "What did you do to poor Minnie?" he asked me. Never, EVER ask me what I "did to poor Minnie." How about spent like a BAZILLION dollars trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with her? I kept typing. "Nothing" I said, rather distractedly. "Well," Mr. J. replied, "You must have done something with the triple hole punch." During finals week, them's fightin' words (Don't ask why. Never ask crazed, sleep-depraved women why anything is the case). I stopped typing. "Look around. Do you even see the triple hole punch? I've been working on this take-home final." Mr. J. looked at me like I was the worst liar ever. Yet he tried to say kindly, "Well, perhaps you were simulating the use of the triple hole punch."

Simulating the use of the triple hole punch!?!?! How, exactly, does one do that!? And WHY in gob's name WOULD anyone simulate the use of the triple hole punch? It wasn't my miming class take-home final.

I stared at him open-mouthed for about 30 seconds. Then I said, "Does THIS" -frantically miming wailing away on a keyboard-"look anything like THIS?!?!" and then I mimed angrily punching holes in peer-reviewed journal articles. (Yes, I am THAT good of a mime. You could tell not just that I was using the triple-hole punch but also that it was to punch holes in peer-reviewed journal articles.)

He looked at me like I had officially gone insane and then took his Diet Pepsi back up to his office, while Minnie looked at me in fear and then raced after him like he was the dog version of the Pied Piper.

A typical "fight" in our household, ladies and gentlemen!

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A Very Slender Thread

Finals week is over. Halle-freakin'-lujah!

Grades are due tomorrow. I am postponing the inevitable because I've already snapped once. I wish I had snapped in a way that was half as witty as this brilliant post, but alas, no.

I don't quite know what my problem is. Chemical imbalance, maybe? I truly felt that this semester was in many ways, my best ever. Not only have I learned what classroom activities work and what classroom activities are guaranteed to be a spectacular failure, I thought I was becoming more patient. Now I know that students cannot string together a sentence, but I no longer feel rage at them. I blame the entire American educational system, which is much easier because no single culprit = no one to plot murder against.

But the last three weeks pushed me. Or I let them push me.

I won't link to a post about this particular student because you'd have to re-read too much angst-laden rambling, but a quick summary: This is the student who told me his aunt didn't send him a check in time for him to buy the textbook and did I have any suggestions as to how he might study for the first midterm? Instead of asking, "This is my problem, how, exactly?" or saying, "Get one of those free T-shirts for filling out a credit card application and sink into debt. It's the American way!" like a dumb-ass, I LENT him an extra copy of the text with the (clearly delusional) belief that he would return it when he got his check from his aunt. No. Actually, he used it the whole damn semester and returned it to me after the final on Friday. This is also the same student who left me a voicemail instructing me to call him between 5:00 and 5:15 because that was the only time slot he had available to discuss with me the fact that he would be too ill to take the midterm the next day.

On one fateful day, toward the end of class he raised his hand. I thought he had a question. Instead he said, "I have an announcement to make." I asked if it was in any way related to class. He said no, it had to do with something his fraternity was sponsoring. Immediately, I had visions of my classroom becoming the "live version" of the Greek community's event website and each subsequent class beginning and ending with announcements about wet T-shirt contests and beer pong and drunken tug-of-war fundraisers for "the children". Shockingly, I had my wits about me enough to ask him to check with me first after class and if I thought it was appropriate, he could announce it the next class. In spite of all these annoyances, do you know what pushed me over the edge? THIS e-mail from him:

did you say that we wasnt doing chapter 18?

In spite of his sleeping through many of my class sessions, he was a very consistent e-mail pal. At least once a week, I could expect an e-mail from him asking me a question that - had he actually been awake in class - he wouldn't have needed to ask me. His e-mails were chock full o' bad grammar, but that's not what drove me battier than usual. It was how every single e-mail contained NO salutation (or salvation, as a very poorly written website on how to write good cover letters read), no sign off, no "Thanks" and never, EVER any "Please." From the first week of the semester, I tried to "role model" appropriate behavior. I kept telling myself that he should probably know how to e-mail politely because future bosses would find his style a bit abrupt and offensive, but what the hell do I know? Because in spite of responding every. Single. Time. like this:

Dear Dudley,

Thank you for your excellent question. You are correct. I do not expect you to read chapter 18 for the final exam. Have a nice week.

See you Friday,

Teacher Lady

Nothing changed. Role modeling appropriate behavior, my ass!

So after dealing with Dudley the scintillating e-conversationalist, I was already teetering on the brink of lunacy.

Then, last week, I got this e-mail:

Hey Teacher Lady,I was wondering if I could take the final early on Wednesday? I have to go home to babysit and if its possible could I take it in the morning? I am not sure if like you can leave it with the geology department and I can go in and take it with someone there... If not that is okay, but please let me know! Thanks! Suzy Center-of-the-Universe.

Here is what I wish I could have written without being strung up by my ankles (by my department chair) in front of the faculty lounge as a warning for all to see:

Hey Suzy,

Hey. Hey you. Hey Suzy. Kind of annoying, isn't it? Clearly, your parents didn't have the intellectual or social capacity that God gave a goat, but for future reference, you don't address your professors, your parents, your pastor, your policeman, your anyone important or anything starting with the letter "p" as "Hey." It is rude and obnoxious and shows that clearly, you were raised by wolves.

The good news is, "You're a winner!" Not a winner in life, but the winner of a very exciting contest called "The lamest excuse I'VE EVER HEARD for wanting to take a final early." The sad part is, you are being punished for being honest. And clueless. And so self-absorbed it takes one's breath away. Had you lied and said your father was having emergency surgery to remove his ingrown toenail, I might have been a tad more understanding.

Thank you for letting it be "okay" for me to give the class the final at the time dictated by the university many, many months ago. I would hate for you to "not" be okay with that. Phew. What a relief! Sure wouldn't want THAT hanging over my head!!!

And finally: Just this fall, my department's secretaries declared a moratorium on administering and proctoring make-up exams for students. They sent out a formal memo detailing all the reasons they would no longer offer "this service," but it boils down to: "Not their job." Since I wouldn't dare ask the administrative support of MY department/college/building to give a make-up exam, I would rather receive a public flogging than ask the department secretary of another department/college/building to do a big fat inconvenient favor for someone she's never seen and doesn't know. But clearly asking people for favors doesn't bother you in the least, so I don't expect you to understand that.

Oh. One more thing, my darling. The shameless use of the word "like" in conversation is the equivalent of hanging a giant billboard that reads, "I'm an idiot" over your head. Using it (the word "like") randomly, like, in e-mail is the equivalent of concluding every e-mail with "I'm an ignorant slut" instead of your signature.

More to come . . . please excuse me while I finish this bottle of wine!!!

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