NMP: Not My Problem!

WonderAccountant has a term for the High Drama friends and family like to inflict on us (and everyone around us): NMP! That’s short for Not My Problem! You know whereof I speak, I’m sure: we all have a variety of Drama Kings and Queens in our lives. “NMP” is a  handy device for disconnecting from that noise.

Well, I’ve been in high NMP mode all day, trying to throw off the traces of not one but two Other People’s Problems.

First off, the college (or maybe the district) has an annual thrash-around in which they try to do “Assessment”: a perennially fruitless effort to quantify (digitally!) all the ephemeral qualities of teaching and learning that really can’t be quantified, so they can report this to the community college board and anyone else who decides to make it their business. A couple years ago, they devised a vast (I do not overstate here) online assessment survey and asked everyone to fill it in.

It’s a gigantic pain in the ass, and we are not paid to do it. What we have to do is navigate through several layers of websites, signing in with username and passwords here, there, and everywhere, and then pull up rosters of our classes and go through EVERY STUDENT’S PERFORMANCE filling in numerals representing how they’re performing on 87 gerjillion rubrics.

This is very time-consuming. Free, unpaid overtime-consuming.

And of course it means nothing, because to do it right, you would have to pull up all the papers the students have written and examine each one to figure out how it aligns with the rubrics. I have been specifically told not to grade student papers by the district’s rubrics because they are, in a word, inadequate. So that means the rubrics are only incidentally relevant to your own evaluation of your students’ work. So…you end up looking at their current grades and then just guessing at how they’re doing vis-à-vis the district rubrics. And that of course converts the whole exercise into a gigantic waste of time.

If it weren’t already that at the outset.

Well, a day or so ago the chair sends out his call to us to please get to this, attaching two .doc files full of instructions. I groaned when I saw that hit the in-box. It’s not like I have nothing to do here… And if the true assessments I promulgate — the students’ grades — mean nothing, why the hell are you asking me to read and grade their papers and assign them semester grades at all???

Having put it off as long as I could, this morning I re-opened his email and got into the two files. I’m sitting there studying them and I think…hm. Y’know, there’s nothing in any of the stuff that says we have to spend a couple of unpaid hours on this sh!t. There’s a lot of “thank you for participating,” but no “do-it-or-you-die” messages.

On reflection, I conclude that the whole clown’s dance is probably optional. And that makes it NMP.




Other People’s Problem #1: out the door.

So now I figured I would move on to my truly huge Other People’s Problems Evasion Project. To wit:

All of my comp courses are now online. This effectively turns our college courses into latter-day correspondence courses. And among the several large headaches associated therewith is the fact that most students don’t have the self-discipline to do the work on time, and about two-thirds of community college students are unable to read and comprehend well enough to understand more than about 10 percent of what a college course demands.

In the face-to-face classroom, you assign readings in the textbook or elsewhere, with the understanding that very few of them will read a word of it. You then remedy that by regurgitating the high points of the assigned readings as so-called “lectures.” Or you give them in-class exercises that force them to  pull the textbook out of their backpacks and at least rest their eyeballs on its pages. You can’t do that in the online environment unless you want to spend untold hours recording YouTube videos of yourself rehashing the readings, which I and most of my honored colleagues are not gonna do.

You can’t read? You won’t read? That’s NMP.

They need to read about a dozen of the book’s chapters to learn how to do a research-based position paper (many of them have never written a piece of exposition, to say nothing of a researched expository essay…and “position paper”? What’s that????).

So, to try to get them to learn something , I’ve been assigning “Reading Reviews,” which ask them a) to synopsize a chapter (try to explain what that word means to people who don’t know how to summarize to start with…) and then b) to apply its principles to one of the essays the textbook compiler attaches to the end of each chapter.

In some cases this works. In others…heh! One guy looks at each chapter title, guesses what’s in the content, and writes a “summary” of what he imagines the chapter is about. Others may venture a little further into the text, but not much.

To get them through this material in time to apply it to the District’s three required writing assignments (one of which is 2,500 words long…), I have to front-load the course with it. That means that in the first month or two, a great flurry of the time-wasting Reading Reviews come in. One week three of them hit the server by midnight Friday.

Well. We have two sections to deal with here, each of which hosts 22 students.

22 x 3 papers x 2 sections = 132 effing  papers!!!!!

Meanwhile, strangely enough, some of us have other things to do. Paying things to do. A hundred and thirty-two busywork papers was way, way too much low-paid labor to take on, especially with clients lined up at the door mewling for help.

Because these Reading Reviews exist to address the students’ Problem — they can’t read because they don’t read and they don’t read because they can’t read — what the RRs do is turn the Students’ Problem into My Problem.

And the fact that they can’t read? NMP!

So. I decided we should replace the Reading Reviews with machine-graded true/false-multiple-guess quizzes whose purpose is to highlight the important parts of the chapters. Although they’ll be scored the same number of points as the Reading Reviews, their real function is not to assess but to direct classmates’ attention to the details they should know about and think about. In the past, I’ve found this to be a surprisingly effective strategy. And we will never have to plod through another pile of bullshit again.

The problem is, though, that writing a dozen TF/M-G quizzes and converting them into digital format for a CMS is a BIG job. Coming up with questions that will work takes a good two hours. And then…o god. I actually timed the last upload: with me working as fast as I could (which is now very fast — practice makes perfect…), it took almost 45 minutes to get the crap online.

You can’t just click a button and upload. Nooooo…. You have to copy each and every line, one by one, out of Wyrd into Canvas. Then click to file the entire instrument  to disk. Then proofread it.

Can you not just write it in Canvas? Yeah, you can do that: at your peril. I’d rather spend the extra time to write it in Word and then paste it into Canvas’s “quiz” function than take a chance on losing data in some new digital fu!k-up. It’s only an extra 40 minutes, which is a lot less than it would cost you if you had to rewrite the entire damn thing from scratch.

So anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing this week: approximately three hours per quiz, eleven quizzes. That’s 33 hours required to turn the student’s problem into NMP.

4 thoughts on “NMP: Not My Problem!”

  1. Oh, Funny – this is a major reason I retired at 55 – loved the teaching, hated the paper work. Much to my surprise, I haven’t starved! In fact, its amazing how much less income is required after retiring!

    • Yeah, except today I’m living on less than a quarter of what I was earning before I was laid off my job — and that’s only because I have the adjunct income, which I won’t be able to earn forever. The minimum-wage adjunct pay represents more than half of my present income — Social Security doesn’t bring in even that pittance. Alas, it looks like indeed I can live on a lot less than I used to earn…but I don’t see how I can get by on any less than the present reduced income.

  2. I really like your view of NMP. I think that those of us who are overly responsible persons struggle with this most of our lives. I have taken on so many problems from people who couldn’t be very much bothered to deal with them. I think we slowly get better at this as we age. At least I hope so.

    • After awhile you’ve heard all the sad stories so many times you just lose patience with them.

      One of my friends remarked, talking about students (and others) that beg you to take your time and your energy to cut them this, that, and the other break, that when you agree to do that, you turn their problem into your problem.

      At some point in life, it dawns on you that you have enough problems of your own and don’t need anyone else’s.

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