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.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I Think I Might Be Happy

I've always been a "grass is greener" kind of person, which pretty much eliminates any chance for personal happiness.

When I was single, I envied the security and stability my married friends had. Then, when I was married (the first time), I envied the freedom my single friends had - you know, didn't have to account for a penny they spent, could spend a whole paycheck on shoes and not look like the worst wife in the world, that kind of stuff. And then when I got divorced and was single (again!), I envied my married friends and how they always had someone who would "have their back." I started to wonder if I happened to die in my small one-bedroom apartment, how long would it be before anyone noticed? And then, perhaps even more terrifying, would they write it up in the local newspaper as "Local single woman found living in squalor"? Before I met Mr. J., I wasn't exactly close personal friends with a dust rag. Or a vacuum. Or a mop. I guess it depends on who found me - by Mr. J.'s standards, I was definitely living in squalor. The good thing about this time around with Mr. J. is that my envy of single friends is limited. It's still there - mostly I envy the excitement when they go out on a first date with someone they really like. I remember buying the perfect outfit, planning your makeup, talking to your friends that day about how the evening might pan out, where you were going for dinner, etc. And then the wistful reminiscing ends just as soon as I remember that about 90% of those dates were train wrecks and half the time I drove home in tears, sobbing to my mom or one of my friends that apparently every normal man was married because only freaks were left in the singles' world. I am finally in a good place - for the most part, the grass is very, very green where I live. Only occasionally do I witness a patch of greener grass and normally that turns out to be due to some kind of swamp gas.

Still, it should come as no surprise that while I've gotten to a place where I'm perfectly satisfied with my marital status, I cannot stop doing the "grass is greener over there" thing with my career. I think I've swung back and forth between Corporate America and higher education more times than I can count. And it was sort of like those relationships where you dump the guy and then you miss him and then you get back together and then two weeks later, you remember exactly why you dumped him the in first place and dump him again. And then you repeat the cycle until one of you moves away and/or all your friends have stopped speaking to you because they think you're certifiably insane. Or was that just me in the late 1990s? (And, if I'm honest, the late 1980s. And, okay, I confess, most of the 1990s.)

So, don't throw garbage at your screen, but toward the end of October, I started getting misty-eyed about the classroom. (I know. I need medication. However, I don't think Merck has invented a pill for this particular breed of mental instability yet). I can blame Mr. J. a little bit. He taught again this past semester and sometimes he'd have such great stories about class or be so excited planning an activity that I couldn't help myself: I missed the classroom.

Gob must be watching out for me, because I had dinner with one of my friends (who is a kick-ass professor, by the way. I always wanted to be more like her and less like myself when I was teaching) and she had a story. Dr. Friend isn't easily rattled. And she has been teaching in the college classroom for 20 years. And it was with a morbid sense of glee that I watched this story unfold. Don't get me wrong - I did feel badly for her, but man did her experience bitch slap me right back to reality: I don't belong in the classroom.

Here's the skinny: Dr. F. teaches a course that is for majors only; you don't usually take the course unless you're majoring in our field. On the first day of class, she had all the students go around and state what other courses they had taken (in the major, of course), what their career goals were, any relevant internships they'd had, etc., etc., She gets to Nancy Nightmare who picks her cuticles and stares at the ceiling and says, "Yeah, um, so . . . yeah. I'm a Finance major, but I heard this class was really good. Plus I needed three more hours and this class had three more hours and also, it fit in my schedule." Much to Dr. F.'s dismay, she found out her course was listed as "Easiest A You'll Ever Get!" on Rate Your Professors (Hell, no I'm not going to link to that site!!!) So, it wasn't that Nancy heard the class was really good; she heard it was really easy.

But sometimes the problem with taking an "easy A" kind of class is that you overestimate yourself and underestimate what will be required of you. Nancy did just that. She disappeared until the first midterm, which she failed. She immediately set up a meeting with my pal, Dr. Friend. During the meeting, Nancy asked quite sincerely, "I guess I'm not doing very well in your class and I wonder if you had any suggestions on how I could improve." And Dr. Friend -who is also VERY sincere and never snide said without a hint of sarcasm, "Well, I've noticed you don't come to class, so a good place to start would be to, you know, show up." And Nancy nodded very seriously, as though she had never heard of such a thing but would consider it.

And then of course she disappeared again. During the second five weeks of the semester, Dr. F. gave the students a group project. In no time at all, Nancy's group was incessantly e-mailing Dr. F. with questions like, "Is this person still enrolled?" and "Have you heard from her because she won't respond to our e-mails?" and "Is it okay if we get started on the work without her because we're running out of time?" And Dr. F. told Nancy's group to go ahead without her. Oddly enough, Nancy showed up on group presentation day with something completed. It didn't fit with her group's presentation, exactly, but it fit with the overall topic, so Dr. F. - patient saint that she is gave Nancy a C- for showing up and presenting something remotely related to the assignment.

She got a D on the second midterm and of course scheduled two emergency, "How can I do better in your class" meetings with Dr. F. And of course, she completely blew off both appointments without so much as an "I'm sorry I blew you off" e-mail. Gob I remember those. They made me very angry when I lived an hour away from campus, but I got used to them and was only moderately irritated once we moved and lived only 10 minutes from campus. Still, it made me wish I was a doctor's office just so I could charge somebody $40 for not giving me 24-hours cancellation notice.

Nancy continued with her Spectacle of Failures by turning in their final paper 2 weeks late. She also only wrote 3 of the required 5 parts of the paper. I believe she got a C+ on the final if I'm remembering this story correctly. Can you guess where I'm going with this?

Dr. F., saint that she is, notices that Nancy's final grade is a "D". But, with 3 extra "I'm not going to completely ruin your life" gift points, Nancy's grade was a D+. That's right - Dr. F. gave her a D+, just to be nice!! And then she did that thing which always made my stomach churn - she hit the "submit" button. Once you hit that "submit" button and final grades are posted, you'd better be ready for the shit to hit the proverbial fan. Within 12 hours or less, you will have a minimum of 2 e-mails demanding to know why the student got "x" grade. For example, remember this young chap? Oh, wasn't he a treat.

Hence, none of my dear readers should be surprised to learn that within 6 hours of hitting that submit button, Dr. F. was on the receiving end of a similar e-mail: I can't believe I got a D+. I know I did really well on the final and thought for sure I'd get at least a C in the class. Please get back to me and explain how this happened.

How I wish I lived in my fantasy world where I could respond with an e-mail that began, "How this happened is that your parents failed to use birth control and spawned an irresponsible idiot. Fast forward 20 years to this day. The end." But I digress.

Dr. F. kindly responded, breaking down points earned, points lost, and how things shook out. And Nancy responded - all via e-mail, of course - "You don't understand. I totally cannot flunk out this semester." What intrigues me is that I totally cannot interpret the exact emphasis in this sentence. Would it be okay for her to flunk out any other semester, just not this one? Has she flunked out in the past and she can't have it happen again? I suppose we'll never know. Dr. F. took the high road: She e-mailed Nancy back with this response: "This discussion is over. Your grade is a D+. Good luck to you in your future endeavors and Happy Holidays." Then Dr. F. proceeded to delete (unread) any subsequent e-mails from Nancy Nightmare.

And me? I don't miss teaching so much right now.

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Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

Argh. Yes, that would relieve me of any nostalgia as well.

January 02, 2008 7:30 PM  
Blogger Ambitious Blonde said...

That? Is EXACTLY the reason why I opted NOT to continue with a teaching degree....and sick people have the opportunity to cough on me several times a week instead. ;)

January 02, 2008 7:36 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd said...

AH! If only I'd read this about 2 years ago, my confrontation-phobic ass would have been saved some grief!

The very worst happened to me this semester, though- I assigned a B- to someone who got 83 out of a possible 100 points. Damnit!

January 02, 2008 8:02 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

I love that she deleted any more emails from that twit.
I am amazed at people's unmitigated gall. Amazed.

January 02, 2008 8:56 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

I love her final response, excellent. I'm assuming here that she's not going to have some department chairperson questioning her reasons for doling out that D+, right? I think that is the part that makes all the difference.

January 03, 2008 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

any tips for how to get over the grass is greener mentality? i suffer from that particular affliction, too.

January 03, 2008 12:44 PM  
Blogger firstcitybook said...

If I were you, I wouldn't let one anecdote deter me from entering teaching again if that is what I want to do. Your friend, after twenty years of teaching, should have anticipated what would happen if that student got a high D. In those cases in which students don't show up for class, the best thing to do is to organize the class (that is, per the syllabus) so that students who don't attend class regularly are almost sure to fail through the loss of points for such things as unannounced quizzes and short writing assignments due at the end of class. The problem your friend describes can be anticipated and prevented in many cases.

January 06, 2008 5:52 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

In one of my MBA classes, there was one fellow student who could not understand why he was failing a course. See he works part time and he has a life and the professor can't possible understand where he is coming from!

During class he would sit there text message and read magazines.

He was a real winner!

January 22, 2008 12:14 PM  
Blogger Fraulein N said...

Holy... Nancy is an asshole. And a moron. And, alas, there are many (many) more like her out there. Having read your blog before, I shouldn't be surprised by these people. I shouldn't be, but somehow I always am.

February 14, 2008 3:29 PM  

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