Friday, December 18, 2009

RBOC: Thoughts at Semester's End

  • I realized today that a choice that I made for my own workload and well-being in a particular course was a huge mistake in terms of my students' performance. Am currently trying to figure out how not to make this same mistake next semester while at the same time not increasing my workload. No idea how I'll achieve this.
  • I've had approximately 4 students cry in my office this semester. Perhaps I need to keep a box of kleenex hidden in my drawer? Because I hate being so without the necessary props for dealing with this.
  • Note to students: getting an F on a paper does not mean that you will fail a course. Do the freaking math. The paper was worth 25% of the course grade. If you got half the points, and if you did ok on other stuff, there is no way that you will fail, and you likely won't even get a D. Seriously.
  • How the fuck am I going to grade (responsibly) 40 exams (all of which include short answer or essay, and with no TAs), ten 10-page papers, and six 20-25-page papers in the next 36 hours? And then manage to tabulate and report final grades? Just how?
  • An awesome and unexpected thing happened while I was waiting on my seminar papers tonight. A former student of mine, whom I'd taught as a first-semester freshman, ambled by my office on her way to turning in a paper to a colleague. It's been 4 years, and she's doing so well, and I was so happy to see her. She'll graduate next May, and she's fantastic. I love that I ran into her, and I love that she's doing so well.
  • What kind of grad student just doesn't submit an assignment that's worth a goodly portion of their grade? What kind of grad student misses at least a third of the class meetings? And still expects to remain in good standing in the program? I feel as if I'm going to get a person booted from our MA program by reporting hir actual performance. I'd feel bad, if I weren't so disgusted. Look: I don't think we're Yale, and I don't expect my students to perform at that level. But I do expect students to show up and to turn in the motherfucking work. Clearly, I'm a bitch and an awful person. And yes, I'm preparing for a challenge to the grade.
  • In nicer news, I got not one, not two, but THREE awesome thank-you letters from students this semester. I feel like I have to quote portions. So the following bullets will do so.
  • "I was very scared at first, but you taught me valuable skills that I will carry with me in this level of my education.... I may be a bit tired, sore, embarrassed and frustrated, but I'm a little more noble and quite a bit more enlightened." On the one hand, I feel sort of bad that I seem to have put this student through so much. On the other hand, more noble and enlightened? That's some good shit.
  • "I will take the knowledge gained from this experience well into the future and appreciate the time and effort you have given to make this class so meaningful and effective."
  • And finally, the best and last one. Ok, first, the card is a Shoebox card from Hallmark. There is a kitty on it, who has a photo-shopped cigarette in his mouth, and a full ashtray in front of him. On the front of the card, it says, "If you think this is bad, you should see my litter box." On the inside the card says, "You behaving yourself?" This is one of my favorite students ever, and the student's choice of card shows me that zie truly knows me. Love zie. Anyway. I'll just quote a portion of what zie wrote inside, with slight changes to keep the pseudonym safe: "The material you assign us plain rocks! My new-found love of Foucault was started in your XY class. ABC class has introduced me to wonderful writers I was completely unaware of. I hope we keep in touch. Whenever you read anything that blows your mind, recommend it to me! Thanks again. Have wonderful holidays and keep being awesome!"
  • Seriously, if anybody needed to know why being a teacher is worth it and truly wonderful, doesn't the above explain it? I am so proud of the above, and so humbled by it. I only hope that I can measure up to their praise.
  • So all of the work of Fall 2009 is in. By Sunday night, all of that work will be graded. And yes, I'm freaking exhausted. But, God, I love my job. I really and truly do.


Shannon said...

Isn't that just the thing about students? They often drive you up the wall with their bs, but then one (or three) small gestures makes up for all that and makes this job so worth it.

Shane in Utah said...

One of the nice things about teaching in Utah is that the culture here emphasizes expressing appreciation. So at the end of the semester I sometimes get cards, and baked goods, and books. At first the gifts weirded me out, as it felt like sycophancy or even attempted bribery. But I eventually figured out that they just like to show their appreciation tangibly. It's sweet, and it makes up for a lot of the aggravation associated with the job and with the location.

My captcha word is "eyoria," which I define as the sensation of feeling gloomy and pessimistic.

Michael Bérubé said...

Clearly, the only way to get all that work done this weekend is not to read blog comments. Good luck! I turned in my grades Thursday....

Also: a definite yes to the office Kleenex. And what kind of grad student doesn't submit an assignment that's worth a goodly portion of their grade and misses at least a third of the class meetings? A graduate student who really shouldn't be in graduate school. Just imho.

Oh, and just for the end-of-semester record, when you introduced yourself to me as Dr. Crazy, I thought, "cool." Sure, I have to admit that ten or twenty years ago I never imagined that someone would introduce him- or herself to me with those words. But that, I believe, is the true beauty of the Internets.

Dr. Crazy said...

Hi, Michael! 1) I've been avoiding reading both blog comments and blogs, and three of my four classes are graded! Huzzah! 2) I know I'm going to break down at some point and get the office kleenex. I think i've resisted so long because one of my mentors in grad school said it was a bad idea for female faculty to seem like they are a shoulder to cry on, and she never had kleenex in her office (and I was a snotty mess in there on at least two occasions, and I know the fact that she didn't provide me with tissues did help/force me to keep it together). 3) I entirely agree with your assessment of where that grad student doesn't belong, esp. after reading a "seminar paper" that mainly had internet sources in the bibliography and that included no citations in the paper as a whole. Let's see whether my colleagues agree, when the student challenges the grade, as I'm sure the student will.

As for thinking it was "cool" when I introduced myself that way, yay! I've felt like a dork for doing that for years, and now I no longer have to feel like a dork (at least for that reason) :)

PhysioProf said...

I have never had a student cry in my office--grad or undergrad--but I have had a few post-docs cry in my office.

Michael Bérubé said...

1) Wow! Tres impressive.

2) Yeah, I agree that it's quite another matter for female faculty to have Kleenex on hand. It does reinforce the shoulder-to-cry-on dynamic, and I know that Janet gets it on both shoulders, all the time. Perhaps having Kleenex with the texture of sandpaper would send the right message. You know, tough love.

3) Oy. Well, when that challenge comes, it sounds to me like the officials in the booth have to uphold the decision on the field. So to speak.

3b) Glad that's cleared up! I was kinda thrilled that the actual author of Teh Funny was in the room for that talk.

Have a fun break, and safe travels to/from MLA!

Dr. Crazy said...

Physioprof: I'm clearly a much meaner professor than you will ever be :) And without Kleenex.

Michael: I'm so excited that you're slated for the MLA presidency! Huzzah! I actually voted, and I rarely do for such MLA voting things! So my question is, how does a lowly person at a lame regional university become involved in MLA governance? I mean, who gets to be a delegate? I've yet to figure out how this works.

1) I so need to grade that last class. I so don't want to.

2)Kleenex with texture of sandpaper? I feel like that's the ticket.

3 (a) I have high hopes for the "officials in the booth" not in the least because I got out in front of the (surely coming) grade complaint. And because both of the "officials" really are awesome, even if this student has survived for multiple semesters with no challenge to the hir status in the program (though, seriously, how does this student *remain*?!?)

3 (b) I so am funny? Right? (I'm so kidding.)

Michael Bérubé said...

how does a lowly person at a lame regional university become involved in MLA governance? I mean, who gets to be a delegate?

Delegates come from all over, by design. Check out the bottom of this page and send in your name! Your real one, of course. Otherwise that would be funny. (For the presidency, people get nominated -- by the Nominating Committee, though anyone can suggest a name to the NC.) Which brings me to 3(b), um, yeah, you were the one who wrote the response to my "raw" / "cooked" blog that got the biggest and most appreciative laugh at that presentation back in aught-six....

Doctor Pion said...

You need a box of Kleenex and a can of Lysol in your office.

(One of our faculty had to disinfect the office after a student spent a half hour there and said "I really shouldn't have come in today since I've had the flu all week" as ze was leaving.)