Professor’s Recurring Nightmare(s)

Not that I don’t love my students. Most of them. I do, they’re lovely. And all. But i. hate. teaching!

With two days to go before semester grades are due to the District, another incident happened that I have specifically designed my classes and my policies to avoid.

Three bloated sections’ worth of student papers are graded, and I am at last ready to file grades. Experience suggested, however, that it was best to wait until the last minute to enter everyone’s final scores and click the “done” button in the District’s software. Once you’ve done that, you can’t go back, even a few minutes later, and adjust a score. This means that if a student has a problem of some kind that you can help by accepting a paper a day late or giving the person an opportunity to rewrite some screw-up, you can’t change that person’s final grade without jumping through a complicated, time-consuming, annoying set of bureaucratic hoops. So: don’t hurry to get finished with the grading hassles.

Thank you, Goddess of Experience!

Two days ago, I get a message from a chucklehead who has turned in all of two assignments  (if you count the machine-graded quiz over the syllabus as an “assignment,” which I don’t): “Why do I have a score of 14% in this class when I turned in all the assignments correctly?”

Dear Mr. Chucklehead:

You turned in the first assignment but did not turn in any of the others. Attached is a screenshot showing how this looks in Canvas. As you can see, the system says “No assignment submitted.”

Mr. C. writes back:

Dear Ms. Crabapple:

But I did! I sent them all to you by e-mail. I thought I was supposed to do that.

Oh yah? Well then, why did you file the first assignment in Canvas, in the normal way? I refrain from remarking on the speciousness of this, because now I realize this idiot has

a) never registered (or cared) that he was not getting any feedback or grades on his assignments;
b) never checked into the online course to see what grades he got on the many papers he was supposed to have turned in; and
c) sent an entire semester’s worth of student drivel to my account in the campus e-mail system, which, in violation of the rules, I absolutely positively decline to use.

I don’t use the District’s system because they allow everybody and her little sister to blitz the entire mailing list of the largest community college system on the planet with all manner of stupid time-wasting irrelevant junk. On any given day, 50 to 100 inane messages are blasted out to everyone from landscape workers to the president:

From a campus in Chandler, halfway to Tucson: Our beloved janitor Joe Bltzphk is retiring on Friday. His retirement party is at noon in the department lunch room. Y’all come!

From a campus up against the South Mountains, halfway to San Diego: Having cleaned out our file drawers, we have a stack of 15 spare file folders. Please come by the department office and take them away.

From a campus in the northwest valley, halfway to San Francisco: Many thanks to Arnold Heffenpfeffer for photographing our campus picnic the other day.

From the same campus: Congratulations to Arnold Heffenpfeffer for getting thanks for photographing our campus picnic the other day.

From the same campus: Thanks to everyone who attended our campus picnic the other day.

From the same campus: Yes. Everyone who attended our campus picnic the other day was GREAT!

And on and on and on and inbox-cloggingly ON…

As a practical matter, as long as the students use the Canvas online course site, as anyone with any common sense would naturally do because that’s where the damn course resides and it’s where the damn assignments submission function IS and it’s where the “e-mail-your-professor” function IS, I’m not violating the rules. All Canvas’s e-mail functions are routed through the campus Gmail system — thus doth the contract with Google work. Anything a student sends to me or I send to a student is copied to Gmail and accordingly backed up on Google’s servers, there to dwell until the end of time. So technically we are using the District’s email system. Sort of.

However, if you send a message directly to me at the District’s Gmail address, naturally it does not forward to Canvas, and so naturally I will not see it.

What would possess the jerk to do this escapes me.

But when he did it, he put me over the barrel: I couldn’t refuse to read an entire semester’s worth of work, because when he complained to the chair and the dean (which he would, forthwith), it would become apparent that I never, EVER log into their annoying system.

It took almost SIX HOURS to read all that shit! He obviously hadn’t bothered to read anything associated with the course — he must never have visited the site after the first week (I could find out but do not wish to bother, myself). He passed with a C-minus, which, this being a junior college, is the equivalent of a D-minus or F-plus in more advanced realms.

This made me particularly angry because years ago, when I was just starting out teaching full-time, some jerk did the same thing by asking for an incomplete and then coming back, three years later, with a whole semester’s worth of papers. I hadn’t yet learned to put an end-date on an incomplete form; at GDU, if you fail to do that, the kid can come back sometime in another century and demand a grade in the course. My syllabi now state that I do not give incompletes unless all but one paper has been submitted and the student has an average grade of C or better in the course. At one point yesterday, obeying Cardiodoc’s order, I took my blood pressure: 157/135.

Holy shit. By comparison, this morning it’s 122/77, about where it’s hovered all month.

Paused long enough to bolt down lunch.

Then returned to the computer to write this summer’s syllabus. This also is a multi-hour project, because we’re required to reiterate our assignments and calendar three redundant times in the template that we have to use.

First, like this…


Grading Scale:

90% – 100% = A
80% –   89.999% = B
70% –   79.999% = C
60% –   69.999% = D
Less than 60% = F

 Then, like this…

Description of Assignments:

Note: All assignments and the essays are submitted electronically through Canvas. You may use the narrative box to paste in your reading responses and the syllabus response. The three required essays, however, will be submitted as attachments. The attachments MUST BE WORD-COMPATIBLE! That means they must be saved as .doc, .docx, or .rtf files. NO EXCEPTIONS, and no, I am not going to spend extra time grading papers that didn’t get read by the deadline because they were submitted in the wrong format.

Preliminaries: Introduction and Syllabus Quiz

Syllabus Quiz: May 28.

This is an open-book review of the course syllabus. You must score 10 points on the thing to get credit on other assignments in the course; you get five tries and can keep flailing at it until the end of the week.

 Introduction. Due May 29.

 Please write, in essay form, not as bulleted points, a short introduction. Tell me who you are, where you came from and how on earth you got here, and what you hope to accomplish at PVCC.

 Open-book Quizzes: Chapters in the Seyler Text

Please note that the number of the quiz does NOT correspond to the number of the chapter! The chapters are not assigned in consecutive order.

I know it’s a hardship for many of us, but you WILL need to buy, rent, or borrow the textbook. The library has copies that you can use there, but note that the library’s hours will be much restricted this summer thanks to our legislators’ short-sighted budget cuts.

Deadlines are short; you’ll need to read this material at a pretty fast pace. PLAN AHEAD and MANAGE YOUR TIME. One option may be to go in together with a classmate on the cost of a book and work on this material together. Note that you’re not required to do each quiz ON the due date but rather BY the due date. Thus you could, if you organized your time effectively, do some of these quizzes a day or two early and relieve some deadline pressure. Note also that quiz 11 is due the day before July 4; plan accordingly.

 You get 3 chances to maximize your score on each open-book quiz.

2syllDistrict-Required Essays

The first two essays (a cause and effect and an extended definition) may be used to build toward your final 2,500-word term paper. Note, though, that this will require you to think ahead! To make this work, you’ll need to decide on a topic for your final paper very early in the term, and you’ll need to make both the cause & effect and the extended definition essays be researched papers with citations and documentation on topics closely related to your final paper’s subject. This strategy is not required BUT will save you a lot of last-minute work at the end of the semester.

Cause and Effect Essay: Due June 22. 750 words

Write a causal analysis on a subject of your choice, using the rhetorical principles and techniques you have been learning about in your readings in Seyler. It is important to apply sound logical thinking and argumentation to this assignment! Your topic should be focused sharply enough for you to address causes and effects of some specific issue or phenomenon – do not try to explain all the problems of the world. This essay should be sourced and documented, even though you have not yet studied techniques of gathering information and documenting sources. Do the best you can to find material to support your argument and show where the material came from. Remember, if you find some solid, credible sources and record where you found them, you may be able to use them for your final, 2,500-word paper, assuming you choose your subject cleverly. In any event, follow MLA style for typing your manuscript; this is described in the textbook and also at the Purdue OWL website:

Extended Definition: Due June 29. 750 words.

Interpret, from your point of view, the meaning of a term, concept, or issue related to a topic of current interest. For example, in defining charter schools, you might take the point of view that certain charter schools whose entry requirements are very high or that have certain other stringent requirements are not really “public schools,” in that they cultivate exclusivity. This paper should have at least three sources, two of which should be solid sources from the library’s databases. Use in-text citation to indicate where you’ve found your information and ideas, and use a Works Cited page to describe each source using MLA style.

Preliminary Work on Final Paper: Due July 6.

Submit the topic of your position paper or causal analysis, with a thesis statement, one paragraph from any part of the planned paper, and an outline of the paper. The outline does not have to be graven in stone but should show what direction you’re going in and demonstrate some thought about how you will approach and organize the paper.

Position Paper: Due July 13. 2,500 words.

Against all comers, present and defend a considered, reasoned, and well researched position on a topic of current interest. Using plenty of facts and expert opinion, state your position and explain your thinking. Take into consideration what other people may think; describe other points of view and explain why you disagree with them or simply why you have concluded your viewpoint is more accurate or more effective. Consider the parts of your argument that others may question, and respond to any doubts or counterarguments in your discussion. This paper should have at least six solid sources from the library’s databases and hard-copy books or journals, plus as many lighter online sources as you would like to include. 2,500 words.

Extra Credit Items:

Extra credit will be offered for a revision of the cause & effect paper, and for a good, serious, no-nonsense outline of the final paper, which must be turned in no later than July 6. Also, extra credit is available for turning in the final paper (the 2500-w ord position paper) by 11:55 p .m. July 10.

Opportunity: A cleanly edited revision of the Cause and Effect argument, pasted into a document with the graded original in such a way that I can tell the difference, see my edits & comments in the original, and identify your edited version. Due by June 26 and no later than June 26. 15 points.

Opportunity: A credible, legit, full-length, complete, no-BS topic outline of the final paper, submitted by July 8 and no later than July 8. 15 points.

Opportunity: Post the final paper (the 2500-word position paper) early: by 11:55 p.m. on July 10. 20 points.

 Then like this…

3syllI have to ask you: Is that or is that not the stupidest goddamn thing you ever saw?????

All this crap could be distilled into one, count it, (1) table (I know: I’ve done it), which would be easier to read and would state the details ONCE, not freaking THREE TIMES.

Most of it is boilerplate, of course. But for every single semester, I have to go comb through the whole mess — the department’s required syllabus is SEVENTEEN PAGES LONG! — and replace all of the dates, trying to get them right. But every semester, there’s always some damnfool complication.

This semester, the complication is my decision to deep-six the busywork assignments requiring students to read and summarize the chapters (this was an attempt to get them to buy or borrow the book and then open the damn book, which most of them will not do unless forced to it). These are now replaced by machine-graded quizzes — ELEVEN of the little effers — which also amount to a form of busywork because classmates get to take them three times by way of trying to rack up a passing score.

The true/false/multiple-guess quizzes are not meant as assessment tools. Their purpose is to force the little darlin’s to read the book and to run their glassy gaze over the important passages in the key chapters. Most of them don’t read textbooks (if they can get out of it) because they can’t read. Well, they can parse out the meaning of a message on a billboard. But they don’t, by and large, read well enough to quickly spot the high points of a dense document like a textbook chapter. So, because reading is a strain for them, quite naturally they avoid it as much as they can.

At any rate, because they can’t read, my workload is multiplied by some uncountable factor.

The latest annoyance indicated that even though the boilerplate syllabus says “All assignments and the essays are submitted electronically through Canvas,” I’d better reiterate THAT again in more assertive language. Hence the bottomless syllabus gained yet another passage:

How to Submit Assignments in Canvas

Please do not email assignments to me unless specifically asked to do so. Submit assignments through Canvas’s “Assignments” function. Here are two sites that explain how to do this:

I will return your graded papers as quickly as I can, through Canvas. Turnaround may take several days. PLEASE CHECK IN to be sure your papers have been returned, and read the comments on your papers. They’re designed to help you do your best on the next paper. The only way you can be sure that your paper has reached me and your grade has been posted in Canvas is to check in to the course, view your grades, and download your graded paper.

It’s your responsibility to be sure your papers are submitted correctly and can reach me through Canvas. It is not my responsibility to read a whole semester’s worth of your papers because, three days before the end of class, you figured out you’d been uploading them to the wrong place. Do not expect that I will do so.

Can you imagine having to tell a college student, presumably an adult or near-adult who is paying to take the course, to read the graded papers? Honest to god.

You understand, they will not read the syllabus, any more than they’ll read the book. However, the District explicitly describes the course syllabus as a “contract.” Provisions are regarded as rules graven in stone.

So the syllabus actually is not so much a guide to your course as a CYA document. If some student pulls a stunt that you haven’t anticipated and so have not laid down the law peremptorily in your syllabus, you are SOL. Because it never entered my mind that some moron would e-mail his assignments through a different system, I was screwed: I had to spend five hours reading trash that should have moved off my desk weeks ago.

So, you ask, being a reasonable person, if they don’t read the syllabus, how do they find out what the assignments are and when to turn them in?

Well…some of them don’t. That’s why you give them a quiz over the syllabus during the first week of class.

Then, you have to take all of that material, which you’ve now already expressed in three different hard-copy formats, and reiterate it in your Canvas shell three different ways:

You post the 17-page hard-copy syllabus online, as a PDF.
You enter the assignments and their due dates in Canvas’s “Assignments” function, which generates a calendar-like list for them.
Once a week, you post an “announcement” that describes all the assignments due that week with their due dates.

So…after you’ve rewritten your syllabus, then you have to go through your Canvas site and rewrite all of that. And that takes the better part of another full day.

Yesterday I worked from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a brief pause for lunch and social media check; then flew to choir. Fell into bed after 10 p.m. None of the work I did between noon and 6:00 p.m. was paid — course prep is unpaid overtime.

You see why i. hate. teaching?

Student Performance: Is there any question?

Lordie! Yesterday I went to a workshop on how to identify students who are high or drunk in class, and what to do about it.

Thought I was pretty wise to the use of dope and booze among the kiddies. Wrong!

One side makes you bigger...

Some of the stuff people ingest for “fun” defies belief. A psychologist who specializes in drugs and a counselor who also has worked in caring for people with substance abuse issues—both full-time employees of the college!—gave quite an eye-opening presentation, complete with three pages of drug images and descriptions and an explicit PowerPoint presentation (refreshing well done, for a change) on the symptoms of the various kinds of drugs and combinations thereof.

Combination is the operative term. They said few people use just one drug; most combine their dope of choice with alcohol. Indeed, the specific reason I selected this workshop was that last semester a kid who was occasionally given to belligerence showed up in my classroom at 9:30 in the morning reeking of beer.

Asked how many students in a community college classroom, at any given time, are likely to be abusing some kind of drug, legally purchased or not, they said the figure is about 50 percent.

Fifty percent of students in a college classroom are using something, often more than one something. Think of that. Substances range from meth to over-the-counter cold pills and nostrums.

Among the newer fads, we learned, is a hallucinogen called ayahuasca, a brain-banger from South America.

And, my friends, damned if on the way home I didn’t tune in NPR and hear an adulatory story about some troubled soul who found spiritual peace and enlightenment by trotting down to Peru and ingesting ayahuasca to the beat of a chanting “shaman.”

Says the fool, “I thought something was missing in my life, in walking through the world. I have this job I hate. I feel miserable all the time. Everything is small and just how I related to people, everything was very superficial.” After a lengthy course of mind-bending herbs under the tutelage of a self-styled “shaman” from Los Angeles, who has set up a curative “center” (no doubt highly profitable) near Iquitos, our hero finds enlightenment: “There’s not this gigantic weight on my shoulders anymore, and I can sit up straight and breathe normally and just be alive,” he says. “The world is a significantly brighter and more beautiful place now.”

Tra-la-la la-la!

This  medicament causes you to vomit violently while you squirt diarrhea out the other end. Indigenous people use one of its two ingredients to rid themselves of intestinal worms. It induces hallucinations that can leave you screaming for hours.

Google ayahuasca and what comes up is page after page of woo-woo, replete with terms like “sacred vine,” “enlightenment,” “spirit vine,” “extraordinary healing plant,” “consciousness expanding,” and similar bullsh!t. We are told that worthies such as Sting, David Icke, Tori Amos, and Paul Simon have held forth on the glories of this magical potion.

Heaven help us. Is it any wonder that half the kids sitting in a classroom are busy frying their brains with drugs? Is it any wonder university juniors and seniors think Wisconsin is a Rocky Mountain State?

What became of common sense in this country?

Image: Psilocybe Cubensis by Rohan523. GNU Free Documentation License.

The joy of students

Students can be such a pain sometimes, you tend to forget how splendid they are, even the ones whose minds your subject escapes.

Early this semester I winced when Disability Resources sent a notice saying a student with Asperger’s Syndrome had signed up for one of my classes. Ungraciously, selfishly I thought, “Argh! More work, less pay!”

We must stop with the ungraciousness and the selfishness.

This extraordinary young man, who does indeed face some daunting challenges, has made himself one of my all-time favorite students. Polite, sweet-natured, attentive, and observant, he is an altogether brillliant young person. He turns in meticulously edited, meticulously organized, yea verily meticulously perfect papers. No, they’re not plagiarized (trust me: I checked). The things are works of art. His final paper almost reaches the professional level in quality; he’s certainly writing on the graduate school level. He wants to be a physicist, or maybe an astronomer. The kid’s a natural: let’s hope he makes it.

Then there’s Joe the Plumber. Yeah: a real plumber. A big, bluff red-necked bruiser in his late 30s or early 40s, this guy realized there had to be a better way to make a living than fixing pipes, so he’s come back to school for a degree or two in business. English will never be his strong suit, but by steady persistence (and a bodacious sense of humor) he’s nailed an A in the class. As yesterday’s final session was wrapping up, he wanted to be sure every item in the online grade sheet was filled in correctly, because, he said, “My mother is not gunna believe this!”

“Why?” I asked.

“I  never got an A in high school.”

🙂 “Well. Tell her you’re a late bloomer.”

And we have Sally Bowles, a pole dancer. Her mother thinks she’s a cocktail waitress in a chain restaurant and highly disapproves of that. Little does she know the girl supports her three-year-old by taking off her clothes in men’s clubs.

You can make a lot of money taking off your clothes in men’s clubs, even without having to perform any extracurricular services. She earns more in a single evening than I do teaching her English course over two weeks. Women we think of as “hard” are surprisingly fragile, though. Her toughness is a façade hiding a dangerous vulnerability.

Men can be vulnerable, too. The ex-Marine planning to re-up in the Army after he finishes at the junior college carries his fierceness as a Roman soldier carried his shield, something to bounce off the arrows, swords, and lances of disappointment and careless humanity.

They’re all like that, one way or another: dodging the slings and arrows. Gotta lov’em!

A modest proposal…

Over at The Simple Dollar, Trent is kicking himself for what he calls Seven Huge Financial Mistakes” he made while he was in college. Most of these, such as “Going into College without a Clue,” “Not Taking My Classes with Enough Seriousness,” and “Signing Up for a Credit Card—Then Using It with Reckless Abandon,” are functions of youth. No one should be surprised when a young person does exactly these things and all the other alleged missteps Trent describes.

Youth, after all, is wasted on the young.

As a veteran of 15 years of university teaching, I’d like to trot out a radical idea that has silently lurked inside my mind for a long time:

Students should not be allowed to go directly from their senior year in high school to their freshman year in college without passing “Go.” Given the staggering cost of a college or university education, its importance to a young person’s future, and the number of financial predators waiting to prey on the kids the instant they’re set loose with no real responsibilities and no parents to watch over them, America should make it an expectation that everyone will work or do paid community service for two years before enrolling in any form of higher education.

We should set up a national service program for young people, one that could send high school graduates anywhere in the U.S. and to parts of the world that are relatively safe for Americans to live and work. This program should provide jobs that pay more than minimum wage (possibly through a matching tuition savings plan) and build real-world, salable skills.

Then we should give high-school graduates three options:

a. join the military;
b. sign up for a national service program; or
c. get a job in the real world.

In addition to paying young people a salary, the national service program could provide something like a 401(k) for prospective college students, into which pre-tax dollars could be contributed—and employers would match this—to build a fund to help pay college tuition. Actually, for people under, say, 26 years of age, all private, municipal, and state employers could offer a 401(k)-style college tuition fund, with matching contributions. Since soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen risk their lives in the service of their country, the military should provide a benefit like the GI Bill with more generous provisions than the proposed tuition fund. The latter would apply only to the national service program and to real-world employment.

This scheme would have a number of advantages.

First, it would expose kids to a period of responsibility at a time when they need to build maturity…and at a time when, as Trent’s post so accurately reveals, many young people are simply not ready for college.

Second, it would allow the students themselves to earn a portion of their college tuition, even it it’s only a small portion. This would help them to appreciate what is entailed in earning the amount a university education costsbefore they rack up a lifetime of student debt, take some of the burden off parents’ shoulders, and give students time to learn responsible financial habits.

Third, it would get kids out of an environment where they can easily be exploited by credit-card mongers and others who make a business of ripping off college students. By the time the young people return to campus life, they will be two years older, more mature, and smarter. The difference between a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old is significant, particularly if that 21-year-old has been earning a living for a while.

Is a national service program socialism?

Yup. So are public universities and community colleges. So is federal support of research at private universities such as Harvard and Princeton. So are city roads, state routes, and interstate highways.

We work together to make life better.

It should be so. There’s nothing wrong with creating a program to employ young people productively and give them time to grow up before completing the final part of their education, when it ultimately will repay us all with a better-educated, wiser, and smarter workforce.