Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Student Evaluations

So today I got called in to Random Head Honcho's office at BCMU to discuss my student evaluation scores. Turns out I am supposed to engage in self-reflection about my teaching practices, taking the students' input into account.

SO. Maybe all y'all can help me with that.

On the written comment form, one question is "If you were asked how the instructor could help you learn more successfully in this course, what would you recommend?"

My hand to God, I am not cherry-picking these answers. This is all of 'em.

"Classes be more entertaining." (I have no words.)
"She should want the student to succeed." (This is pretty damning, if true, but what leads the student to think I don't want him/her to succeed?)
"Be more helpful when students come ask for help." (None did. I had exactly zero visitors to my office hours.)
"Stop saying Fab to everything." (I do say that a lot, and I remember from my own undergrad days that instructor's particular verbal tics can really get on your nerves after a semester, but....honestly.)
"A new teacher."
"Go to their office hours and hope to get a spot." (This person, I guess, misunderstood the question and thought she was supposed to give advice to a future student. I guess. Again, not so hard to get a spot at my office hours.)
"Get students more motivated." (This is one of the more helpful comments in the batch.)
"Make the class harder. Everything was stuff we already know." (This student brought this problem to my attention during the semester. She probably should have gone straight to 015. Since it's an outlier, I can probably safely disregard this one.)
"Don't be so mean."
"Nothing, she did what she could." (The only positive comment in the bunch. I think I know which student this was, too--she wrote in her journals a lot about what a pain it was that no one in the class did any work.)
"Didn't answer the question." (My best guess is that this student meant that he/she didn't want to answer the question, but it may mean that I didn't answer students' questions, or that I shouldn't have. I'm a little mystified)
"More positive toward the class."
"She just talk like we already know the information which is not the case." (If this was more detailed, it could be useful feedback...on the other hand, I probably say, "Does anyone have any questions?" almost as often as I say "Fab," so it's not like this person didn't have a chance to ask for more detail on whatever information she felt I was glossing over too quickly.)
"Learn more material to do with English 15." (Again, this might be useful if I knew what it meant. On the other hand, who knows what the student thinks English 015 is like, and if his/her perception is at all accurate?)
"Learn how to teach and grade."
"Quit." (These two were probably sitting next to each other.)
"Lower your standards." (Second time for this idea. I'm going to be humming the Carlos Mencia parody "Lower the standards" for the rest of the day, at least.)
"She was a horrible teacher and person." (I can't begin to imagine how many meetings I'd have to go to if I wrote on a student's paper that he/she was a horrible writer and person, or even just a horrible writer.)
"You should lower your standards when it comes to the papers."
"Lower standards for this class!" (Hat trick!)
"Make it more interesting Also to change grading (very strict and not lean)" (Last word doesn't make sense, but that's what it says.)
"Don't be so demanding. Don't grade us like Wall Stret Journal Writers. Your expectations were very high." (I'm going to count this as "lower the standards" #5. I'm amused and a little mystified by the WSJ reference.)
"Nothing really." (I guess that counts as positive too.)
" " (Left blank)
"Don't even try. This is an English 4 class it was supposed to prepare us for higher writing and it didn't. The grading is too harsh for the level we were at." (This student says elsewhere on the form that "the majority of the class got D's," which is not the case. I explained to the class--several times--that the grading on essays would be strict, but in-class assignments and homework would be leniently graded, and on journals they'd get full credit as long as they did it, so it all balances out. The only people who got D's or F's were those who screwed up very, very badly.)
"To actually tell us what she wants instead of assuming we already know." (Like the similar comment about ten lines up, this one gets at something important--but again, there's no shortage whatsoever of opportunities to ask question if I'm not being clear enough about what they're supposed to do.)

So, you can see, the majority of these comments are childish, mean-spirited, and/or stupid. What am I supposed to take away from this? I'm inclined to engage in serious self-reflection about getting a different job. I mean honestly. I probably am a little crankier than would be ideal, but look what kind of spoiled brats I have to deal with.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Still Alive

ProfessorDog is still among the living. Nothing interesting has happened in the last month. As soon as something happens, I'll blog about it, promise!

Thursday, November 02, 2006


So I have this student. Apparently, she has always considered herself very good at writing essays. Being placed into remedial writing at BCMU did not lead her to re-evaluate this particular aspect of her self-concept. Nor did her grade on the first paper that we wrote in class. Or the second. However, when the secoond paper came back, and the grade failed to reflect her unusual skill in the area of essay writing, she did realize that there was a problem. So, after the next class, she came up to the front of the room and said, "Um, I got my paper back, and I saw my grade." Since i had given the papers back, and I knew she was not blind, none of this was new information. "I got ____ out of ___. [Exact numbers withheld] That's like an F. I don't think I can accept this grade."

I've had plenty of grade complaints in my life, but this was the first time one had been stated so baldly. I never know how to handle these things. Finally, I picked my jaw up off the floor and told her that it was not appropriate to inform a teacher that her grade was unacceptable, and advised her not to do it again.

This is where the story gets really funny. She looked at me with complete bafflement and said, "Why?"

I proceeded to explain that it's the teacher's job to decide what is acceptable performance and what isn't. Students do not have veto power over their grades. She looked extremely skeptical about this information, so I added that the immediate consequence of such an ultimatum would be that her teacher would think she was a spoiled brat. Then I asked, "What do you think is the alternative to accepting the grade?" She explained, as if I were a five year old, that the alternative was to go to the head of the English department and tell them that she had recieved an unacceptable grade. I explained that, if she did so, the Head of the English Department would not pat her on the head and give her a cookie and a higher grade. (Fortunately, at my insitution, this is the case. ProfessorDog's Inappropriate Soul Sister TeacherLady is not so lucky.)

I further advised This Student that if she wished to do better on the next paper, taking a draft to the school's Writing Center would be a very good idea, then began industriously erasing the board.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My Favorite Spelling Errors

Of course, I see a lot of spelling errors in my job. Most of them do not involve what any reasonable person would consider hard words. Things like using the wrong "there" or putting "quiet" for "quite," make up something like ninety percent of spelling errors at both of my institutions.

Still, I have two favorites:

1. "Defiantly" for "Definitely": This one is an artifact of spell-check. I do find "definitely" sort of hard to spell, so I have some sympathy for getting the red wavy line on it. BUt if your best guess has the letter A in it, then the computer's first suggestion is going to be "defiantly." If you remember your hooked on phonics and sound it out, you'll realize you want choice two--but most people don't bother, which leads to sentences like, "I defiantly recommend this book/movie/thingy to anyone," or "I defiantly didn't want to be working for minumum wage the rest of my life." It amuses me to imagine someone defiantly making these declarations.

2. "Pregnate" for "pregnant." I admit, I see this one on my rodent lists a lot more often than in class-- things like, "I brought her home from the pet store, and a week later I found out she was pregnate," or "Litter available--my mouse is pregnate!"

Anyone else have faves typos or spelling errors?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bad ProfessorDog!

First off, let me say that I know it is wrong to cuss out a student in front of the class. Or in any other setting, really, but in front of the class is especially bad because it gives you 20 people who can potentially complain to the Dean and get you fired, rather than just one.

But here's what happened. We were doing a grammar lesson on subject-verb agreement (this is the remedial class at BCCC). My stnadard grammar lesson plan involves me going over a rule or trouble spot, with a few examples, then doing a few questions out of the book out loud (which means I read the question and wait for someone to whisper the answer in the tiniest of tiny voices. Only when I say, "You were right, can you just repeat that so everyone can hear?" will anyone give an answer in an audible voice), then the students do a couple more questions in writing (because it's always the same two or three people who whisper the answers, and I need to know if everyone else knows), and then they write an original sentence or two that demonstrates what we just learned. It's not the most exciting thing in the world, but it's also not listening to me drone on and on for hours on end--it's five minutes of lecture, five minutes of participation, five minutes of individual work, lather, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, on this particular occasion there were two young women in the back row who were having a private conversation so interesting that it was not possible for them to stop talking. Besides being rude, this prevents me from hearing the whispered answers during the participation portion of the program. Also, I have a number of students with disability letters saying they should have a distraction-free enviornment during testing, and I figure have people talking during individual work qualifies as a distraction (although not as testing).

My first step in dealing with these matters is glaring. That usually doesn't work, and didn't this time. Next, I say very sweetly, "Do you have a question back there?" Both young ladies gave me dirty looks, and one managed to say, "No," (in a very snotty tone, of course) before turning back to her friend and resuming their chat. Next, I said, "If you'd rather talk than be in class, go outside." Another dirty look; conversation resumes. Then I said, "I'm serious, shut the fuck up or get out."

They did shut up, for about ten minutes.

On Edit: I teach at a community college in Amish country. Our students are not used to hearing the F-word from teachers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

I've finally succeeded in getting through to my students the message that if they wish for an absence to be excused, they must have had an emergency. Great, huh? Only now they simply describe every reason for which they intend to be absent as an emergency. I'm going to Puerto Rico to see my family for two weeks. It's an emergency. My mom had to borrow my car, because of an emergency. I have a court date, because I ran a stop sign on my way to an emergency. I don't have my paper done, and I can't bring it to the next class because I have to go home for a family meeting. Anemergency family meeting.

I'm especially annoyed with two-weeks-in-Puerto-Rico guy. I understand wanting to see your family, really I do. When I was in Illinois, which might as well have been a foreign territory, I came back home every chance I got. But, you know, I scheduled my visits for school breaks. I know, he says there's a family emergency--but what kind of family emergency do you know about two weeks in advance (when he first informed me of his intended absence)? And you know in advance it's going to take exactly two weeks? I'm thinking "emergency airfare special." Plus, he gave me this note saying that he was "willing to sign an agreement" that he intended to make up the work. WTF? If you want to pass a class, you have to do the work. It's not something extra that you do to placate the teacher. Even if you had a genuine emergency, doing the work is not optional. Fortunately, I have two weeks to decide what I want to do about this situation.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

BCMU Students Surprise Me

On Tuesday, one of my remedial writing classes at BCMU classes sucked. They universally failed to do the 27 pages of reading that they'd had a week to do (one of our classes last week was cancelled, so they had two whole classes worth of reading to do, poor lambs). When I asked them questions about what they were supposed to have read, they sat there and stared at me. When I put them in small groups to discuss another part of what they were supposed to have read, they sat there and stared at their textbooks for thirty minutes. It was one of the worst classes I've ever suffered through.

Today, I opened my class with a little sermon about how they won't learn anything in this class if they sit there like lumps on a log, how I get paid the same either way, so it's no skin off my butt if they don't learn anything, but they should think hard about if they want to waste their time and money taking a class and not getting anything from it because they were too lazy to do their part.

And with one or two exceptions, they responded well to it. Participation was the best its been all semester. They worked during the group work--and stayed on-task, except for a little bit at the end when all of the groups except one were done--and I checked the groups that said they were done, and they actually had done a reasonably thorough job of what I asked them to do.

So now I know, next time they stop working, they respond well to ranting.