roasting marshmellows in phd hell

The Science of Covering Your Ass

with 4 comments

How does a professor get students to take responsibility for their own actions and be proactive about their education?


No takers?

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:




4 Responses

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  1. I agree. There is no way to get students to care if they don’t already. As the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I just care about the ones who care and then either pass or fail the rest accordingly. I know you are supposed to teach all of your students, but when they obviously don’t want to pay attention and learn, they’re just taking time away from my students who do. I also work in a few redemption activities and rewards into my semester so that the good students get little breaks at crucial times and the bad students get a chance to redeem themselves grade-wise. But no, you can’t make them care.


    February 4, 2013 at 06:51

  2. The university you worked for cared about student complaints?
    Wish mine was like yours, IUS would cover the actions of their faculty no matter how bad it is it would seem. Easier for Admins to sacrifice students than discipline unprofessional tenured faculty and deans.

    Adrian Crenshaw

    July 12, 2013 at 08:20

    • wow. that’s horrible.

      My school was at the opposite end of the spectrum. No tenure + exorbitant tuition = the ‘customer’ is always right.


      July 12, 2013 at 13:08

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