Showing posts with label english teacher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label english teacher. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Another Day, Another Life Ruined

It's that time of the year again, when students stir from their somnolent states, look up from their smart phones for a moment, squint into the sun streaming through the classroom windows, and realize, Crap! In two weeks I'm gonna get a grade in this class!  Then they converge en masse to demand I accept two month old homework assignments, administer make up quizzes in my office (strictly at their convenience), and understand once and for all that I am all that is standing between them and a first class ticket to the pharmacology (or MBA) program of their (parents') choice.

It's the storm before the calm, you might say.

Every day I pass similarly beleaguered instructors in the hall, and we mouth to one another, It's almost over. Yet the two weeks (or is it just ten days?) before finals week stretches endlessly before us, filled as it is with tedious end-of-academic year meetings and protocols and six inch stacks of papers to be marked, the grinding monotony punctuated only by the pleas of frenzied or despairing students whose brilliant future careers we have dedicated our own to ruining.

Today a student worked himself (and me) into near hysteria because he had checked his scores (conveniently posted online throughout the quarter just to avoid such last minute "surprises") and was shocked, shocked to find he was averaging 77% on all his classwork.

"Don't fret," I assured him. "Remember, I will drop your lowest quiz and your lowest writing assignment before I calculate your final grades. I expect you'll wind up with a B- in the class."

A B-? He almost erupted into tears. Didn't I see that was not nearly good enough? He had to have a 4.0 in all his classes.

Don't be ridiculous, I responded. Where was he planning to apply, Harvard?

Well, as a matter of fact...

Listen, I argued. I myself was an entirely mediocre student as an undergrad. Despite my underwhelming 3.3 GPA, I had managed to get into not one, but two, very well-regarded graduate programs. He was clearly unimpressed with my experience, and who could blame him? I mean, look where I had ended up.

At this point, I felt compelled to remind the student that not only had he failed to participate in class (being, like many of his back-row peers, hopelessly addicted to his smart phone), he hadn't done a lick of homework outside class either, which, although it counted little toward his grade, helped explain his consistently poor performance on the quizzes.

"Yeah, and now I guess I'll have to do the homework," the student conceded resentfully. "I'll need every point I can get."

Guess again, buddy. "I'm not taking late homework the last two weeks of class," I said firmly. Fifteen years of teaching community college had taught me to draw the line somewhere.

I did agree to let him revise one of his assignments and re-take one of the quizzes, mentally calculating the benefits of feeling magnanimous against the cost of the extra time it would take.

You're an engineering major, I said: They only care about your grades in math. I wasn't entirely sure that was true, but I did know a large number of engineers and high-tech professionals who couldn't (and still can't) write their way out of a paper bag.  If society required STEM majors to excel at English composition, advances in technology would grind to a stand-still.  Then where would we be?

Without smart phones, for sure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Students Weigh In On Elliot Rodger

I teach remedial English to students in a community college who are not native speakers.  They are mostly international students from Asia or Saudi Arabia, with a scattering of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia/Eritrea, or Mexico.

Today, when I overheard some of the "residents" chatting about the Elliot Rodger's case before class began, I was inspired to throw out my lesson plan du jour and focus on the sad story that has been so much in the news.  I am always looking for those "teaching moments," always cognizant that people remember best that which is emotionally arousing, and... I was honestly interested in their opinions. 

Had they watched Elliot Rodger's "retribution" video?  A Russian woman confessed she had not, but her mother in Ukraine had e-mailed her about the story.  She squirmed uncomfortably at the prospect of watching the video.  (She is a young widow with an adolescent son.)

Ad hoc, I hastily scrawled three questions for students to discuss in groups after they'd watched the video:

1.  Why was Elliot Rodger angry?

2.  Was Elliot Rodger "sane" or "insane" (according to the legal definition of being responsible for his own actions)?

3.  What could have prevented this tragedy?

Then, courtesy of Youtube, I played the video.  The students watched with apparent interest.  Rodger spoke slowly and dramatically, so he wasn't hard to understand, although I quickly realized that "slaughter" and "slay" were probably not within my students' lexicon and had to stop the video to define these verbs.

When Rodger spoke about how his virginity at age 22 was "a crime," many of my Chinese male students began to giggle uncontrollably.  The notion that their own (probable) virginities constituted "crimes" that merited punishment of the female sex was thoroughly risible to them.  What was Rodger's problem?  He was good-looking, he was rich, his dad worked in Hollywood...  In short, his complaints were ludicrous.  Elliot Roger was living exactly the "student lifestyle" they could only dream of. 

The middle eastern students put the blame on Rodger's family.  Clearly, his parents had not exerted sufficient control over, or provided adequate nurturing of, this wayward son.  They also speculated that Rodger had been exploited by girls who were only after his money.  One Saudi student astutely pointed out that it wasn't "sex" Rodger yearned for; it was love. 

The North African refugees viewed the issue mostly in terms of gun control.  Why had Rodger been permitted to own a gun?  Would their own children ever be safe in a country that allowed anyone to obtain firearms?  

Some of the students thought Rodger was both "crazy" and "sane."  In other words, while only a mentally disturbed person would do what he had done, he should have been held accountable for his actions in a court of law (had he lived).  I let this slide because I myself cannot reconcile the inherent contradiction between the "intuitive" and "legal" definitions of "sanity." 

The student from Cameroon was very skeptical that Rodger had killed himself; he was certain that the police must have shot him on the spot.

Only one lone Korean girl ventured that Rodger had been motivated by a sense of masculine entitlement.  She didn't use that exact language, but her message was clear:  "He kill because he think all girl must love him."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Academic (Dis)honesty

Although we're only halfway through the quarter, one of my students has already failed another class because she plagiarized an essay, apparently in a very blatant and deliberate way.  She sat in my class last week, tears rolling down her face.  I felt sorry for her.  I was also disappointed.  I address plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty in every class, warning students of the consequences if they are caught.

I tell them the story of the late Edward Kennedy, who was suspended from Harvard for convincing a classmate to take his Spanish exam for him.  Of course, his father quickly bought his way back in, but for the rest of his life, despite a long and distinguished senatorial career, this incident remained a blemish on his character. In fact, in retrospect, it seems to have foreshadowed a personal and public life that was plagued with ethical lapses.

If my non-native speaking students are particularly vulnerable to accusations of plagiarism, it's not because they are more "dishonest"; it's because they don't have enough control over English to "dumb down" the language of their plagiarized sources so that they can be plausibly passed off as their own efforts.  And when they "google" their material, they somehow fail to consider that instructors can also "google" it.  Which is how the hapless student (above) was busted.

Part of the problem, from my angle, is that too many assignments practically "invite" students to plagiarize: the topics are too general, too over worked, and do not require students to do any more than synthesize other writers' ideas.  The failure of instructors' imaginations in designing writing assignments is a big part of the problem.

But here's an example of academic dishonesty that troubles me even more:  There is a tenured writing instructor who habitually teaches 20 credits a quarter.  That's a stunning load in terms of marking.  How does he manage it?

Easy!  He farms out his students' papers to an outfit that, for a modest fee, reads and grades the papers for him.  It's common knowledge that he does this.  Perhaps his dean does not consider his behavior unethical.  (His students complain it takes a long time to get their work back from him, but no wonder; he probably sends the stuff in batches to India.)

I find it infuriating.  I also wonder if I'm a bit of a chump.  What is keeping me from recruiting my own cadre of "assistants?"  Marking grammatical errors isn't difficult, nor does it require any qualifications beyond a command of English sentence structure; it's just tedious.  Being relieved of reading and marking student papers would free me up to focus on the parts of teaching I do enjoy (e.g., story telling, pontificating), allow me to moonlight, and probably double my income.  Furthermore, there are some (bored housewives looking to supplement the income from their monetized blogs, unemployed English majors) who might view this kind of piecework as "an incredible job opportunity."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Students Say The Funniest Things

When I'm not tearing my hair out, my students' papers sometimes make me laugh.  Last week I showed my class the "Blackfish" documentary, which examines the case of Tillikum, a captive orca known to have killed three people so far.  I also gave my students a couple of articles to read, and then asked them to "take a stand" on the question of whether orcas should be held in captivity.

One student, perhaps conflating "Blackfish" with "Moby Dick," concluded, "If we don't start taking whales seriously, they will kill us."  

This film marked Bo Derek's debut, BTW, but what the heck were Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling doing in this ludicrous farce (besides looking fabulous)?

Another student, carried away by SeaWorld's PR, declared, "Orcas should be kept in captivity, where they are served restaurant-quality meals and much mental stimulation."  Come to think of it, why can't I live at SeaWorld?

And yet another student, also a hardcore SeaWorld fan, mused tenderly that "People and orcas need to be together... because of love."

Friday, May 9, 2014

What's To Be Done?

If you are a teacher or work in education, kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fuckin' soul.

Hey, if I thought it would help, I'd seriously consider it. But then who would teach my classes?

Learning that I taught in community college, a smart-aleck I once dated snarked, "You mean 13th grade with ashtrays?"

Yeah, in retrospect, he was "negging," wasn't he?  But it worked in this case.  And he wasn't far off the mark, although the ashtrays are in danger of disappearing thanks to a push to ban all smoking on campus.

This morning I devoted to "professional development," attending a series of informal talks and workshops designed to share "best teaching practices" as well as to acquaint faculty members and administrative staff from disparate disciplines with one another.  After a luncheon sponsored by the Foundation (burgers consumed on bleachers) there will be a variety of engaging activities, including an opportunity to roll around the floor of the gymnasium in "human hamster balls" (and yeah, the metaphor is not lost on me either). 
So very much... not me.
Actually, I get a lot out of these affairs.  I have learned more about teaching from watching other teachers (especially in the role of a student) than I ever have from classes in pedagogy.  I often admire their creative techniques, their classroom innovations.  I am always impressed by their caring and commitment, by their boundless optimism that seems to feed on thin air.  (Whatever one says about teaching as a refuge of the mediocre, most instructors care a lot -- at least the ones who show up for "professional development" sessions on a Friday.)  And since I teach remedial classes, it's helpful to be reminded what it is (and for whom), I am preparing my students.

The most interesting workshop addressed the problem of "under-prepared students."  Since the majority of my students will freely admit that they have never read a single book in their lives, and my objective is to prepare them to be successful in their college-level English classes, this hour promised to be highly relevant.  Ah, the eternal question: How do we get these students from A to B?

The session was heavy on statistics and predictably short on answers, because when it comes to education, I think we're all flummoxed -- especially the instructors, who are like soldiers sent forth to vanquish the enemy (of ignorance) by generals and a public at large who, far removed from the front lines, lounge comfortably in their barcaloungers, endlessly carping about the crap job teachers do.
Metaphorically, of course.
OK, here's a fun fact: 58% of students who enroll in community colleges in my state do not place into college-level classes.  They spend their first quarter or possibly first year struggling with the basic skills that you and I probably mastered in eighth tenth grade.  Except this time around, they are paying for the privilege (usually in the form of financial aid) to study "Fundamentals of Algebra" or "Vocabulary Development."  Because they cannot place into core college level classes until they demonstrate proficiency in high-school level math and English, they must supplement their schedules with electives like physical education or Introduction to Ceramics -- for which many must also borrow the money to pay.*

Of these under-prepared students who enroll in remedial classes, only 25% go on to earn either a certificate or a degree.  Those under-prepared students who decide to enter college part time have virtually no chance of ever graduating at all.

What accounts for such a low success rate?  We can assume that whatever roadblocks stood in their way as children continue to impede learning:  poverty, alcohol/drug abuse, chaotic families, mental disorders, or just plain PPP.**

Looking at various factors (race, age, etc.), the most salient one appeared to be gender.  Male students are significantly less likely to overcome the hurdles and wind up graduating (with either a transferable A.S. or a vocational certificate).  In other words, a single mom has a better chance of graduating than a single man with no dependents. 

We were invited to discuss why this might be so.  It was hard for me to discount the anger of certain manosphereans who claim education has become "feminized" to the point of disenfranchising the boys, but no one else was suggesting this as a possible factor, not even the several male faculty members present -- although one male math instructor interpreted the relative (modest) strides of women in obtaining degrees as "a positive sign."  

And complaints of "under-prepared" students are by no means confined to teachers in the humanities (which may be dismissed by manospherean sages such as Captain Capitalism as "feminine" or "fluff" fields).  In fact, the Construction Management and Information Technology instructors are equally vexed by students who are unable to read a manual or write a set of coherent instructions.

I have observed in my classes that the "under-prepared" women do seem to be more compliant: more willing to do what they are told they must do in order to pass my class, for example.  They exhibit a certain dogged persistence in pursuing their goals in comparison to the men, who are more likely to express impatience or "give up" (or "blow up") when faced with frustration.  

Female students, regardless of their degree of preparedness, are more likely to seek support (to approach instructors for help, to identify and consult with advisers, to figure out how to navigate the byzantine system of higher education).  Being a student, especially one with academic deficits, is humbling.  Before we can learn something, we have to admit we don't know it.  Is this something that women are socially more conditioned to accept?  In other words, is it possible that their typically "feminine" behaviors serve them?

I don't know what the solution is.  I'm not even sure what the problem is.  I've been known to piously intone that "College isn't for everyone," or that "Students deserve the opportunity to fail," but such sentiments are not only sacrilege in my circles, they seem like terrible cop-outs.   

*For profit colleges and technical colleges often lure such students with the promise they will not have to meet these pesky prerequisites, and indeed will often push students through their programs, but their rate of success in subsequently placing graduates in jobs is abysmal.
** "piss poor protoplasm"

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Humor, Teaching, Therapy

My therapist suggests I "intellectualize" my emotions, and she's absolutely right. My question is, What's wrong with that?

My therapist also suggests I use humor as a shield, and she's right about that, too. What else have we got with which to defend ourselves against the casual cruelty and endless stupidity of others?  As Mel Brooks proved in "The Producers," nothing cuts an enemy down as effectively as biting mockery.

But I use humor in other ways, too.  My students consistently report on student evaluations that "Teacher is funny."  I like to make students laugh at least once an hour because I think there is something inherently rewarding about "getting a joke" in a second language, and because the physical mechanism of laughter at least brings a burst of oxygen to the brain. 

But sometimes I wonder if this is too much of a good thing.  Am I sacrificing clarity of purpose for cheap laughs?  In other words, do my attempts to keep students engaged through humor obscure the teaching points I have been entrusted to communicate?  Are my attempts to make others laugh a gift to them, or just a way to prove to myself how clever I am?

Argh, there I go over-analyzing again, a propensity that makes me a very good therapy patient but a chronically exhausted (and occasionally exhausting) human being. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Feminist English Teachers!

Over at the Men's Rights Subreddit this morning, a high school student is plaintively soliciting help in dealing with his English teacher who is "very feminist."  Of course, because I am an English teacher (who also happens to be "very feminist"), this catches my attention.

The poster makes a number of claims I find quite improbable unusual:  first, that the boys are "often served detentions for being too quiet during class."  While I can imagine disciplining students for being disruptive, I've never heard of a teacher forcefully requiring students to speak in class -- although I have (gently) reprimanded students for sleeping in class.

He goes on to complain that "she started reading us articles about how men are rape creatures and are useless other than to the extent of conception [sic]."   When he complained, he was treated to another unjust detention.

BTW, in my world, spending time outside of class with students is more punitive for me than it is for them.  And another BTW, why is the teacher "reading" to her students?  Even in high school, aren't the students capable of reading for themselves?  But I digress...

What's becoming apparent to me is that this English teacher has her work cut out for her.

His third complaint is that "Every single paper that is submitted by the guys are usually barely passing [sic]."   That the male students have previously enjoyed extremely high GPAs clearly proves her anti-male gender bias.

The subsequent commentators have been predictably sympathetic ("the bitch!").  Helpful suggestions include telling the poster to record classes on his cell phone in order to provide "evidence" against the teacher.  That may or may not be permitted by school policy, but it makes sense.  I myself would love to hear what the instructor actually said, and in what context she conveyed the idea men were only sources of genetic material.  Did he abruptly wake up while she was quoting the author of some dystopian or radical feminist fantasy?  Or was he still dreaming when he "heard" her say that?  Of course, the third alternative, that she actually said and meant what he attributes to her, is possible too (possible, but not very damn likely).  In which case, and it can be proven, her head will roll...

Another commentator warned that, if the student approached administration, he not attribute the conflict to the instructor's being "a feminist... who hates men." Good advice.

That I have a liberal bias is manifest, and I freely cop to it in class.  When students ask me what I think about a current event, for example, I will tell them (and always with the proviso, "This is my opinion").  As a teacher, I do consider the extent my personal biases affect my students, especially in choosing topics to read and write about.  Sometimes, I frankly enjoy the authority to require students to think about and discuss topics I am interested in.  On the other hand, I use caution with material that might be interpreted as "male bashing" or derogatory about non-western cultures (my own culture I can freely disparage).  I try very hard to avoid writing prompts that are likely to elicit views that will upset me, too, because (1) I really, really don't want to dislike my students (after all, we're stuck with each for a whole quarter), and (2) marking papers is disagreeable enough a task without getting angry or sad about the content of those papers.  As you can imagine, just identifying "appropriate" topics can be a big part of my planning process.  Then add to that the chore of finding topics that are sufficiently "interesting" to inspire an "emerging adult" to write AND a mid-life adult to read and you can see why it is an ongoing challenge.

Anyway, next week I'm going to show them the recent documentary "Seeking Asian Female," and have them write about the mail order bride industry.  Because many of my students are from countries that are the source of many "mail order brides" (China, Vietnam, Ukraine), this could be a highly sensitive topic.

Getting back to class participation:  I have to constantly curb myself from calling on male students more than female students.  If there is a bias in that regard, it is toward the boys, mainly because they tend to be more assertive and fearless in expressing opinions.  It's rare for me to have a female student who challenges me directly or who "hogs" class attention.  What is more problematical for me are students that want to express their opinions without having done the relevant reading...

Friday, May 31, 2013

Punctuation is Misandry!

Over at Captain Capitalism, a rave review of Roosh V.'s new compendium The Best of Roosh, Part I.

First of all, Capt. Cap warns other self-publishing entrepreneurs that "until I get counter reviews, the book reviews will be limited to a tit for tat mutually beneficial relationship."  Ah, so that's how "peer review" works in the manosphere!

In defense of Roosh, whose self-editing tends to be as haphazard as his personal grooming, The Captain asserts that he, personally, likes the typos.  In fact, the more of 'em, the better! 
 I'm taking a religious stance with this in that I believe men are sick and tired of the predominantly female-dominated publishing/correcting-ones-english-at-the-expense-of-ideas industry.  I truly believe that with online publishing proper grammar will finally be ranked below "ideas and content" as it should have always been until academian charlatans came in insisting their knowledge of "dangling participles" was more important than pioneering lines of thought.  The more and more typos I see, overshadowed by intelligence, innovation, creativity, and just plain cleverness, the better for the publishing industry and readers.
I didn't realize until now that careful proof-reading compromised the creative expression of men's "ideas."  Now I see how I have been not only stifling, but indeed virtually castrating, my male students by insisting that they learn to observe the conventions of "academian" English.  For years, I've been trying to persuade them that "proper grammar" would strengthen their power to persuade readers, but am now chagrined to learn that I had it all ass-backwards.

This is why I cannot fear the New Misogynists.

And also because of this:

The Best Of Roosh has been downloaded 3,250 times. 136 of you purchased it. :)