Archive for January 2013
For me, the experience of writing up a phd dissertation is not unlike that of
being in a long distance relationship in 1836.
You are lodging in the servants quarters in the home of your father, the innkeeper, while your beloved set sail for Jamaica with the East India Company. Each day you hope for a letter scented with the exotic aroma of sugar cane, and as the sun sets you pray that Mister Aloysius Fetherington III has not been scalped by natives or crushed under one of those newfangled tractor machines.
But the letters are few and far between, and on those rare halcyon days when an envelope with 8 stamps on it does arrive, the missives are rather breezy and never as reassuring as you hope they would be.
“Dearest UniversityofLies, I pray you and your family are keeping well. Jamaica is glorious this time of year and the crop is exceptionally fine. There is a wonderful Englishwoman here, whose father makes 5000 a year, who has been introducing me into ‘society’. I am sure you would not want your Aloysius to be lonely in the hot sultry sweaty colonies! Anyhow, must dash—meeting Portia for a game of croquet!”
And of course, since it is 1836, there are no good ways for you to check up on Aloysius and Portia and her father who has 5000 a year. No airplanes, no phones, no skype, no facetime, no dice.
What the fuck does this have to do with a phd, you scratch your head and wonder? Well I hope you don’t have lice, for one thing.
It is amazing how advisers can pretend they are on the distant and exotic island of Jamaica when they have not read your stuff and are hiding from you. Now I realize that they are busy people, but come the fuck on. After several months in ye olde inboxe, a phd student deserves some fucking feedback, a meeting, or at least a courtesy email or phone call, just so you know they are still shuffling on this mortal coil. something quick but informative so you don’t have to despair, like, ‘hey wasaap homeslice, in the middle of an indigenous uprising but we should meet up for a starbucks soon and discuss your fascinating chapter on the socioeconomic patterns of victorian shoplifters!’
And then I wouldn’t feel like I was being ignored, and this shit was just being dragged out for another fucking 3 years because nobody really gives a shit about you finishing your phd except for YOU.
How does a professor get students to take responsibility for their own actions and be proactive about their education?
Okay, so that concludes today’s edition of ‘fake question with no good answer.’ As I’ve learned after a few years shoveling shit against the tide, if someone is 19 and doesn’t give a shit, it is impossible to fucking ‘inspire’ them to take their sunglasses off, earphones out, cell phone away, open a book, read, and comprehend. Gregory Hines and Fred Astaire doing a homoerotic tapdancing tango couldn’t do it. And I can’t waste my time trying, because there’s the other half (or ok, 1/4, math was never my strong point) of the class who try and struggle, and need what time and attention I have to give.
So how do I make this disaster easier on myself? How does one potentially avoid confrontation with angry/lazy students and ridiculous wars with university staff (whose office walls are laden with meaningless degrees from diploma mills) who entertain every ridiculous complaint, no matter how unwarranted?
How best to cover your own arse?
A syllabus is not enough, I now know. Even if you spell out every single rule you can think of, a good portion of your students will take no note of this carefully drafted document, and claim to have no idea what you are talking about. Just like they will have no idea what your email address is (even though it’s probably firstnamelastname@yourschool dot whatevs.)
Then I read some new agey type thing on the internet last semester, about asking the students to devise a list of ideal behaviors in a student and write em on the board. Invariably, the list would be something like, ‘shows up on time, is always prepared, respectful, blah blah.’ And then you smile brightly and say something like, ‘now, wouldn’t a good instructor also show these same qualities? Tell ya what, gang, you do your part and I pledge to do mine!” Well, I am embarrassed to say that I tried that method too and I had my worst semester ever, behavior wise.
What else is there? I know people who make their students sign a contract, where they must initial after every line filled with draconian laws like, ‘thou shall not park thy camel on the easterly side of the road after the golden orb reaches its daily zenith.’ I have no delusions that this actually modifies behavior, but at least it must cut down the redonk phone calls from Dr. University of Phoenix Online, who wants to know why the hell I didn’t let Mr. Apathetic Sunglasses-Head redo every assignment on the last day of class.
I really really hate trite expressions you might find embroidered on a pillow, but ‘it is what it is’ does fit the situation. It is what it fucking is. If I don’t like it, I need to channel my 1990s angst into fuel to finish my fucking phd and get the shit out of academic for good.
And just to end this on a positive note, listen to this:
I have not slept peacefully these last few nights. My inner subconscious must
be preparing for the nueva semester, which commences next week.
I was in a classroom with lab tables and bunsen burners, 10 year old children crowded around hooting and hollering like they were hopped up on bath salts or sinusitis drugs or whatever else people snort these days.
I addressed the class: good morning, please open your books. But the shrieking did not stop. Someone swung from a chandelier. (Yes, my dream labs have fancy french lighting.) Papers, books, and fists were flying. So then I broke out the big guns, my extremely loud authoritative voice (which in reality probably sounds like mickey mouse). MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE.
Nobody noticed I was there. Chaos ensued, and I lost the power to speak. Freudian, no?
Then comes the part where I woke up in a cold sweat, wondering how the hell I’m going to face the class tomorrow after that shit show. The sense of relief I feel upon the realization that it was ‘just a dream’ never feels that great, because the lost-control-disaster-scenario is always just a hair’s width away.
In reality, I have never had a lord of the flies type situation occur. I’ve certainly had a handful of ‘problem’ students who were disruptive and challenged my authority in the classroom, and while there were times where I got flustered, I never gave up control of the conch. If someone turns their dickhead level up to 11, I know what to do. But as someone who doesn’t like confrontation in my personal life (who does?), I have come to dread these mini-chaos in the lab type scenarios. The ones where people whip out their phones while I lecture, say horribly graphic or offensive things to the class, or accuse me of being racist because they aren’t happy with their grade.
I know that all jobs come with positives and negatives.. maybe this is just another reason why academia isn’t for me. I hate dealing with this particular set of negatives.
In post offices and on trains around the world, there’s usually a sign expressing some variation of this sentiment: “Our workers deserve the courtesy of doing their job without being harassed. Attacking/Harassing our staff may lead to fine or arrest.”
As must as I wish I didn’t need one, I’d like one for my classroom.
Currently hiding under the covers, drinking a neverending cup of coffee, reading some trashy shit and pretending the new semester isn’t starting in a week NO SERIOUSLY IT ISN’T GO AWAY AND SHUT THE DOOR BEHIND YOU.
This essay echoes my thoughts perfectly about the Fall 2012 semester and is well worth a read: Teaching Students who Seem Unengaged.
It’s got cell phones, apathy, madness, and more cell phones!
More soon, honest injun.
Ok so clearly I am not the first person to jump on the I Hate James Franco
bandwagon. If I was, it wouldn’t be a bandwagon..just an old lady shopping cart or something.
Anyways, Mister Franco is currently pursing the following, when he’s not being a professional film and television actor: phd at yale, masters in film at NYC, masters in creative writing in brooklyn, poetry masters in north carolina. Oh and some other degree at the rhode island school of design. (this is def true bc wikipedia says so. I am NOT lazy.)
What the actual fuck? By all accounts, he’s a brilliant fucking student and does all his work and shit. How come I can’t handle one phd and this dude is doing 78?
And then when he needs more money, he literally sells AIR to rich people for 10,000$ cash moneys!
I am outraged, annoyed, and maybe a tiny bit jealous, though I would never be so fucking douchey if the Great Creator had blessed me with such good hair and the ability to bamboozle everyone.