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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


More griping about students

I like my students more this week - although I don't know why. But there are a few behaviors that really frustrate me.

1. They turned their project topic statements in on friday. On monday, the began asking me when they would get them back. It is actually hugely annoying to me when students ask when they will get anything back (I never ever would have asked a prof that) - but to ask a couple days later? Ridiculous. I had actually by monday's class responded (via email) to about half the students and had given them feedback. So that was particularly annoying because a bunch of the students who were asking were ones I had responded to - they just hadn't checked their email. But I don't really understand why students think this is appropriate. After they turned their first paper in on a monday a few weeks ago, on WEDNESDAY several students came up to ask if they were getting their papers back. I have 60 students! How the hell am I supposed to grade all of those in one day? Students just really don't understand how very labor intensive teaching is.

2. One of the things I do with this class is that I incorporate psychological measures into my lectures. My intent is to help them learn some things about their relationships, and to make some of theories more understandable by allowing them to see how they fit (or not) the theories. For example, when we were talking about attachment, I gave them an attachment scale so they could find out what their attachment style in relationships was, and then we talked about each of those styles and some of the research on them.

Yet, every single time there is a handful of students who refuse to take part. I can tell because they are supposed to answer questions in their own notebooks, and some students refuse to take paper out or just sit there staring at me!!! This is for you kids, not for me -- although it does upset me when they can't even pretend to care. At the workshop I went to on friday, they had us write responses to questions in our notebooks - and I really really didn't want to (because I would have found thinking about and writing about my responses to be upsetting), so I sat and wrote in my notebook about not wanting to do it. I didn't want the presenters to feel offended or hurt that I wasn't participating.

But some students just don't care - or maybe *want* you to notice that they are not doing the work. Which leads me to number 3.

3. My Lithunanian student is now the worst offender of both of these. On monday she asked if I had feedback yet on her topic proposal, which I didn't at that point. Part of the reason for that is that I read her proposal, found it ridiculous, and wondered if my reaction was perhaps emotional rather than intellectual - if I was being biased against her not because she is Lithuanian, rather because she really upset me during our meeting last week. Thus, I put her proposal aside until I could be more objective. Wednesday morning, I looked at it again, and had less of an emotional reaction, but just couldn't understand at all what she was proposing. So again, I set it aside until I could really spend the time trying to understand what she was trying to do.

Wednesday in class, I had them do another measure, and she sat and stared at me while all the others were completing it. ARGH! Then after class she came up and said, "Do you have any updates?" Huh? She asked what my feedback was about her proposal. I had announced in class (and she was there) that I had 10 more proposals to get through and would do them that afternoon. I told her I'd not gotten to it yet, and she acted really offended. I wanted to tell her it was in her best interest that I'd not done it yet because my feedback would not be as good and helpful when I am upset with her.

Plus, she seems to not understand that she is creating in me the exact thing she was afraid of. She was afraid that my failing her first paper was out of some sort of bias against her (given that she is Lithuanian, apparently). At that time, there was no bias, I didn't even know who she was - and in fact at the time, I had pretty positive feelings about her because I thought her name was cool. And even though I didn't put her name to her face - I also had positive feelings towards her in class.

But now, she is hounding me, is misbehaving in class, is being rather disrespectful, and doing odd work. These things are in fact creating some biases in me.

If it gets to be too bad that I worry my feelings are affecting her grade, I'll have a TA look over her stuff. I'm actually pretty good at knowing when my feelings about a student are causing me to lower their grade, and I *always* get my TAs feedback and I always allow my TAs to argue for a student at the end of a semester. I'm quite good at knowing my biases, and quite good at ensuring those don't affect students' grades.

Students seem to both want to affect us (make us feel ineffectual at teaching them) and to not affect us (our negative feelings about them ought not affect their grades or our responsiveness to their requests/demands, and that they should be able to behave badly without us having any emotional reactions).

I'll leave you with a student gem. On monday, I made a bunch of announcements at the beginning of class (as I tend to do each class). One student who came in late and thus missed the announcements came up to me after class and asked a question (a question that would have been answered had she come on time). I noted that I'd talked about that and that maybe since she was late (she often is) she should ask a classmate to find out what had been discussed. She said, "Well at least I came to class at all, right?"


At 12:57 PM, Anonymous wolfa said...

Re asking when things will be returned -- why not just forestall that by announcing it? "I'll have these back for you in about a week" or whatever (generally it's best to overestimate, then get things back early or on time). Most profs during undergrad did that. I don't think asking the questions is out of line. It's absurd to think you'd get a paper back 2 days later, but asking when you'd hear? Normal. Especially in this case, where presumably they cannot work on their projects until they hear back about the topic statement. (Also, especially for things like this, it can engender tonnes of resentment when you give people back their work over the course of a week instead of all at once.)

That last student seems like a twerp. Sure, lucky for her she went to class because then she, you know, got to learn. And she was there so could, after class, ask a classmate what she missed when she was late. That was a weird comment she made.

The Lithuanian student maybe does want to piss you off enough that she has an argument if she does poorly in class? "I did fine! Shrinky just hated me!" But you're obviously being careful about this.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

I notice that when people post comments like this, I tend to feel hurt and rather criticized. I'd ask that instead of pointing out to me what I am doing wrong and telling me to take my students' perspectives, that it would help me a lot if people who read this blog could instead try to take my perspective and offer support.

If you read my blog at all, you know I am concerned about my students and teaching. I don't think anyone needs to worry about whether or not their needs are being addressed. However, I think if you took my perspective, you might be able to see that being asked constantly by 60 students when things will occur when combined with how significantly depressed I have been could really feel pretty crappy. And frankly, I think I have a right to complain about them here.

And in terms of causing resentment among my students? They emailed me their proposals. I responded via email. I only got to about half of them the first day.

I should stop commenting, as i am feeling too hurt and defensive to respond graciously.

At 4:16 PM, Anonymous wolfa said...

I'm sorry that I hurt you. Please feel free to delete my comment, or delete the part that isn't just me agreeing that your Lithuanian student is a dink (and agreeing that you're very right for being careful in marking her), and that last student is just an idiot.

I do know you care about your students. It's always been very clear from your blog.

If being asked all the time about when something will happen upsets you, I was just thinking that maybe heading it off might be easier on you. If this won't work for you, then don't do it. I am sorry I worded it as criticism.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I can see why you are annoyed with your students. If it were me, I'd probably take their questioning as criticism and get irritated... I've never been gutsy enough to write a really detailed syllabus and answer every mundane quesiton with "look at the syllabus for your answer", but I'm really tempted.

The problem you are having with your students is that someone has trained them that papers come back fast, thus setting their expectations at a level you can't meet while giving thoughtful feedback. it is my guess that the fast paper return also didn't have helpful comments, so taking longer to get the papers back is better for their education than getting their grades ASAP.

I tend to tell my students about when to expect papers back and don't usually get questions about returning papers unless the student has missed class and is wondering if they missed getting the papers back. During the debate season I travelled a lot and would tell them that I was taking their papers to out of state tournaments... it got to be a joke in the class that their papers got out of town a lot more often than the students did.

If I have a class get sassy with me, I tell them how many papers I have to read and evaluate, do the math for them and ask how long it would take them to read and evaluate 500 pages or so of text.... I then tell them that if I grade too many papers in a row the grades tend to go down, so I need to take breaks so that I can grade them fairly... (of course, this is a lie because the grades go up when I'm at the end of a pile, but the threat of low grades also holds them back).

I also take my own sweet time reading and responding to late papers. They also don't get comments, just a grade. I tell my classes that I do this at the start, so if they want comments they have to have their papers in on time. This has saved me a lot of stress -- shifting gears to grade papers from prior assignments always takes me some time. I end up grading all the late stuff in one big push toward the end of the semester.

I know you are stressed by teaching and that it is probably more difficult as a result. I've had semesters like that and somehow students are like dogs smelling fear and I've had them react badly as a result. This sets up a negative loop that really sucks. I hope you aren't in such a loop and if you are that you can see some ways to change it.

At 8:00 PM, Blogger k8 said...

I pull out the math for my students, too. I tell them how long I spend on papers, tell them how many students I have, etc. I also tell them what this allows me to look for/consider and what I would be able to look for/consider if I took less time. They usually decide that they want me to take my time reading their papers:-)

I hope it all goes better! I know how frustrating it can be.


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