26 October 2013
I have spent the last week feeling rage at both my students and the current system of higher education.
It springs from the assignment. I asked my students to use online sources for their research — library catalogues, databases — to locate scholarly information and learn how to create a bibliography. One aspect of the assignment asked them to show that they understood the difference between how to cite a book in a footnote, and how to cite it in a bibliography or “works cited” page. In anticipation of the assignment, I showed them essentially how to find the answers to every question.
Everything went wrong. Only about 20% used the right online sources to answer questions. No one understands how to cite anything, despite all the information I provided. Some of them cited radically incorrect material, like novels or advertisements. After grading 15 of these, the highest grade was a 67.
To be fair, many of them use the term novel to describe everything — scholarly books, journal articles, memoirs — even though I’ve told them this is incorrect. I tried to teach them the word monograph to describe focused scholarly books, so 50% of my students now refer to them as monograms.
This is so frustrating for me, perhaps because I want to believe my students might actually be better at locating online information than I am. “Are they just stupid?” I spluttered at my colleague on Thursday, using a term I strongly dislike and almost never use except when referring to members of Congress.
But of course the true reason I’m so frustrated is because they didn’t pay attention while I tried to teach them to fish, and because I’m so goddamn tired.
My frustration is unfounded, because even if my students might be good at this kind of quest, they’re just goddamn exhausted. Many of them work at least 40 hours a week at the same time that they take 5 or more classes. One student — a highly capable guy in his 30s who has returned to complete his degree because he has discovered that his true calling is to become a high school teacher — got teary-eyed in my office this week telling me that he can’t handle the pressures of work and school, plus the family crises that have plagued the past few months.
Another woman told me that her boss has decided to stop allowing full-time student employees to adjust their schedules around their school schedules. So unless she wants to lose her job (and not pay her rent), my student has to skip classes to show up to be a hostess at a restaurant.
This is a crisis, folks. And it’s a direct parallel to what is now facing our government. My students have high tuition rates and extremely low financial aid of any kind, which necessitates all the part-time jobs. They cannot succeed in college if they work that much. Which means that they are being starved of a respectable education, only to receive the halfhearted one they can fit in between work schedules.
And meanwhile us college professors are left wondering what this means for us. Do we lower our expectations? We get told all the time to liven up our teaching, to make it more interactive and more dynamic, but the problem is not that we are tedious bores.
The problem is that our students are starving, and that we are being asked to ignore it — or to adjust our expectations, given the fact that they’re starving. At the same time, our universities ask us to do more with less — faculty is getting starved, too. And I’m one of the lucky ones, with a secure, tenure-line job, benefits, retirement program, etc.
I’m so goddamn tired.
13 October 2013
I put a lot of work into my teaching. I don’t say that to brag, as I sometimes worry that it’s not healthy. But then you’ll read a paper that really gets it — a student has taken everything you’ve suggested and worked hard — and suddenly it seems like what we do matters after all.
And then you get the plagiarism case.
Although I’m sure a few students over the years have figured out ways to fool me, on the whole plagiarism is pretty damn obvious. Like when they use a foreign-language phrase clearly lifted from Wikipedia (my favorites are when they use something in Latin). Or when they use English terms they clearly do not understand. Or when, suddenly on p. 2, their writing goes from belabored to clean, neat, and effective.
After working this hard, I have no energy left for cheats.
I don’t want to listen to anyone apologize, offer excuses, cry, feign ignorance of the university’s rules, or deny it. I wash my hands.
Here’s my response: I find the original source, fill out a report with the university’s honor council, send them all the documents, and let that office take over. I send the student an email stating that this process has begun and that it is entirely in the hands of the Honor Council. And my university takes these offenses seriously. Their staff studies the documents I provide and meets with the student to discuss the matter. Then they contact me and we discuss any final details, as well as preferred punishments.
The typical punishment is an automatic F in the class with a notation on the student’s transcript that the F was earned due to academic dishonesty. If the student is a serial offender, they can be suspended or expelled. After five years, the student can petition to have the notation about dishonesty removed from the transcript.
Having now faced down plagiarism case #2 of the semester, I can only say that I’m tired. And I still have 20 papers left to grade.
I mean really. Is this some kind of test? I even dislike texting, with its nagging insistence that I look at it immediately. Do you think I’m going to put my uncombed, coffee-slugging head in front of a camera phone at the drop of a hat?
I can’t believe I’m saying this — considering how much time I spend answering email — but at least I can happily ignore it during my morning work hours without it pinging at me via the iPhone.
30 September 2013
… is that the men don’t answer their @#$%ing email. I’m on a committee with 3 women and 3 men, and here’s how we make decisions:
A woman makes a suggestion via email that we discuss an important policy change.
The other two women respond within an hour or two, batting the proposal about, offering thoughtful ideas or tweaks, each time asking for input from the entire committee.
Four days later, not a single man on the committee has responded at all, even as time is ticking by for said policy changes to be effected. (This is not an age issue; two of the men are young, untenured guys.)
The women suggest we put the issue to a vote of the whole department.
So no wonder my attitude by the end of the day is:
After agonizing a while about yesterday’s angry/ desperate post on a guerrilla response to rape culture, I opened up a new novel last night.
After reading the first five pages of Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, I want to kiss her on the lips. Here’s how it begins on p. 1:
How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.
I’m a good girl, I’m a nice girl, I’m a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody’s boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents’ shit and my brother’s shit, and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty fucking years old, and I’m good at my job and I’m great with kids and I held my mother’s hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father ever day on the telephone –every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it’s pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to say “Great Artist” on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say “such a good teacher/ daughter/ friend” instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.
Don’t all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury. We’re all furies, except the ones who are too damned foolish.
And with that, I’m now 5 pages in and feel as if I have a new best friend who’s also a Betty Friedan version of those visionary doomsayers of days of old, who looks a little disheveled perhaps but then lapses into otherworldly trances like Sybill Trelawney in Harry Potter and scares the shit out of you. Just wait till you read (on pp. 4-5) what she means by The Woman Upstairs (and those of us whose first thought was Madwoman in the Attic are on the right track).
This is going to be scary and awesome, like having to run through a house on fire. I feel like I’m being tugged by the hand by my new unfiltered visionary friend, and I might have to dedicate the afternoon to her.