As I read the many recent academiblog posts about catching plagiarists, excuses for late papers, students missing finals, etc., it becomes clear that coping with the demands of whining students is most difficult at the end of the semester.
How can we manage to maintain our grace and good humor in the face of the small but frustrating batch of students whose last-minute demands and lame excuses and have given us headaches?
This is the topic of my article "Coping with Oy Vey Students," which appeared on Monday in Inside Higher Education. My premise is that we need to find respectful but effective ways of coping with the unreasonable few that cause so much of our frustration as teachers.
I also poke fun of the tactless requests and unbelievable excuses that students concoct. I provide a translation sheet of what a student says and what the professor actually hears.
Usually, students don’t seem to be aware of the off-putting impact of their approach. Some are surprised when we don't believe that they "really didn't mean to plagiarize." The students who make outrageous excuses are often immature and egocentric – but they are rarely hopeless - and I counsel patience, empathy and generosity with our verbalized responses.
Inwardly, of course, we can’t help but roll our eyes and sigh. Oy Vey!
Coping with Oy Vey Students was intended as a light-hearted comment on common frustrations. But my attempts at humor offended several readers. I was labelled by a few as insensitive, unprofessional, anti-Semitic, pessimistic, depressing and a disgrace to my profession. Wow.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, since trying to be humorous in a p.c. world is always dicey, shrinks are not supposed to be glib, and people with intense responses are the ones most likely to make comments.
Actually, I'd thought I'd been quite mild -- and I chuckle to imagine what the critical readers would think of some of the rants of Dr. Crazy, Professor Bastard, Seeking Solace, A Gentleman's C, Astroprof and many others ;)
On the other hand (and this is why I like the IHE interactive format so much) many commenters (including the highly critical) have great points. Some profs share thoughtful ideas about the difficulties faced by both teachers and students. Some told about elaborate fabrications students used to avoid work. Good management techniques were shared: I especially like the strategy of one professor who said he'd started giving oral make-up exams to students who missed the final and found that such absences dropped by 80%. Excellent idea, at least for some disciplines, right?
Coping with Oy Vey Students was inspired by the many sad but hilarious stories my blogroll comrades have been posting about students' self-destructive gaffes. I even linked to specific posts by Adjunct Kate, Dr. Crazy, Stewgad and New Kid. (Unfortunately, the links to Dr. C's rant on student emails, and New Kid's thoughtful post about class participation, appear to have been messed up by IHE.)
Since y'all have been my muses, I'm especially interested in your feedback and further anecdotes. If you have time to check out the article, I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts and reactions: either here or or at the comments section of IHE.
(BTW New Kid, I thought that your thoughtful response to Mike Sacken was well-put. And isn't Sherman Dorn's comment funny?)
Have you spent hours, like me, reading New Kid's wonderful December Teaching Carnival? If not, be sure to do so. I'd already read and enjoyed many of the posts she has collected. But there were many great ones I'd missed, and several from folks I hadn't read before. New Kid is a saint for taking on the task this time of year, right?
I do agree with New Kid that Jane in the Academy gets the award for most outrageous student behavior. Jane's student handed in a late paper along with some books and the following note:
"Dr. [insert Jane's last name here], I am enclosing some books for you to read to go with the paper since you don't know much about [insert name of topic] and so I didn't have to write a lit review. That could have been five pages or so.
"I will pick up the books and paper next semester when I come to campus for my first class."
Can you believe it? Don't you love it?
So after catching that story, I read the next post and discover that only a few hours later she gets another outrageous email:
"Attached is my latest revision. I have not taken your suggestions or questions in this version. I will email you my latest revision between 3 and 4pm. See you at 4pm today."
I'm having so much fun reading that I've gotten completely distracted from posting something original....
I frequently recommend small, regular, persistent work habits - as recommended over and over again by one of my heros, Robert Boice, a psychologist who spent his career studying the writing habits of academics. (Please do read Professors as Writers and Advice to New Faculty Member if you have not done so already.) Unfortunately, my own proclivity is for bursts of enthusiasm directed in a few hyperfocused marathons, followed by a shift to a new burst of focused attention at an equally beguiling project. Sustained consistency is far from my forte. Those that can't do, teach. Sigh.
In June, when I discovered blogging and the blogsphere, I became an addict. By the end of the summer, my obsession had shifted to controllable enjoyment. Come September, my focus shifted - with the onset of the school year - into high gear mommy mode, in part, because of the necessity of being the afternoon chauffeur queen and in part because of the increased homework demands placed on my third grade twins (fortunately, my fifth grade daughter is homework-independent and my kindergartener daughter gets no homework - yet.)
Come October, I developed a procrastination passion sparked by my curiosity over this fad called Sudoku. Cursed be Sudoku. November brought a slew of new requests for coaching and the concommitent need to refer most folks to colleagues (my wonderful colleagues/friends Joanna Friedman and Sam Ball and Gina Hiatt -- if you need a coach I'll tell you more about these helpful folks.) But I "took on" a few new clients and therapy patients and thus have been swamped with the fascinating and consuming process of getting up to speed and getting to know these folks. (I'm so very blessed to have found work that consumes me with a never-subsiding passion.)
I also notice in my resumed browsing that others have taken or are taking a hiatus as well. One voice I'm missing is Cleis at Sappho's Breathing who hasn't checked in since mid October. I'm terribly sad that Camicao has stopped splurting at Academic Spat! - perhaps permanently - his was one of my favorite voices and already-tenured advice seems relatively rare among the circles I travel.
What was the most wonderful post I read upon my return? That's easy, it was the Scrivening Whiskerino's November Teaching Carnival (calling this my favorite post is cheating, of course, because it comprises about a gajillion awesome posts and comments.)
(And yes, this post is reminding me why I took a hiatus from keeping track of blogs -- I've spent many hours over many days writing this post because of all the linkydinks.)
Probably the best news I've seen now that I'm back: Mon at "My So Called ABD Life" has already gotten a tenure track job. Wow. Attention job hunters: before you go to the MLA or other job-hunting convention or individual job interviews, be sure to read Mon's job hunting advice for thinking about exactly what kind of place you want to find.
There is the sad and worrying news: the difficult-to-diagnose health problems of the lawyer in Yankee Transplant's life or the shifts in Bright Star's life (that have at least led to a gorgeous new template.)
But the saddest news. O. Dear. The day before I went on hiatus I read about a fall family picnic. The next entry (missed by me) was about hospice. And last ditch treatments. The very saddest news is that Dorcasina's dear husband lost his fight with cancer in mid-November. My thoughts rest with her and her daughter. I'm awed by her ability to write beautiful, thought-provoking passages about grief and survival even during this darkest of months.
I quote the e.e. cummings poem that Dorcasina posted when Badger lost her husband:
one's not half two. It's two are halves of one: which halves reintegrating,shall occur no death and any quantity;but than all numerable mosts the actual more
minds ignorant of stern miraculous this every truth-beware of heartless them (given the scalpel,they dissect a kiss; or,sold the reason,they undream a dream)
one is the song which fiends and angels sing: all murdering lies by mortals told make two. Let liars wilt,repaying life they're loaned; we(by a gift called dying born)must grow
deep in dark least ourselves remembering love only rides his year. All lose,whole find
I loved Stewgad's post over at Pretty Hard Dammit about making good on her threat to answer any student cell phones that rang in her classes. I can't resist repeating her delicious story verbatim. It all began when one of her student's phone rang:
"The whole class looked at him, then they looked at me. He looked at who was calling, rolled his eyes, and said, "It's Jane,"* and smilingly handed the phone over to my outstretched and eagerly awaiting hand.
"John's* Phone," I said.
In a slightly bitter and hostile tone, a young woman's voice replied, "Is John there?"
I said, "He's in class right now and can't talk. He'll have to call you back."
She said, in an increasingly bitchy tone, "Well, he can't call me back. I'm not at a place where he can return the call. Can you just tell him that Jane called?"
I said, "Sure." Then I paused for dramatic effect and said, "This is his professor."
Dead silence. And then, " OH.... MY.... GOD...."
LOL LOL LOL
Now, thanks to the Chronicle, I know what to get Stewgad for Christmas: A CELL PHONE JAMMER. Only $292 -- and who cares if it is illegal in the U.S....
I've got to say that there were several items listed in the CHE article that I'd like to purchase family members, clients, blogging friends. If I join spoil a blogger can I request special items?
For those of you who are dirt-poor, for just $6.99 you may buy me a bar SHOWER SHOCK SOAP. This desperately-desired cube is the world's first soap that contains caffeine. No, you don't eat it, the stimulant is absorbed into the skin as you take your morning shower. The description: "scented with peppermint oil and infused with caffeine anhydrous, each bar of Shower Shock contains approximately 12 servings/showers per 4 ounce bar with 200 milligrams of caffeine per serving." And as the advertising copywriter at ThinkGeek points out "When you think about it, ShowerShock is the ultimate clean buzz ;) "
And for those of you with a bit more money -- at least $400 to be precise -- the academic coach would dearly love her own PERSONALIZED ACTION FIGURE.
Move over Barbie, here comes academic coach to the rescue.
I still remembered how disappointed I felt when news reports began coming out about Martin Luther King Jr.'s consistent and pervasive plagiarism.
Stanford History Professor Clayborne Carson, the Director of the King Papers Project wrote the following passage:
"When our research was published in June 1991 in the Journal of American History, the article made clear that King's plagiarism was a general pattern evident in nearly all of his academic writings. Although the plagiaries in the dissertation were less egregious than the press reports had suggested, they were more extensive throughout King's papers than had been reported. We found that instances of textual appropriation can be seen in his earliest extant writings as well as his dissertation. The pattern is also noticeable in his speeches and sermons throughout his career."
Sigh. I am still shocked. And I am also still shocked by how prevelant plagiarism is among college students. Must be my naive genes.
'Tis the time of year when academiblogs begin to bemoan the hassles of having to do google searches and the painful process of confronting students with their cheating. 'Tis so very discouraging.
Bardiac recently wrote a sensitive and compelling story about noticing, trying to understand, and then deal with a student's plagiarism. He raises questions about how to handle situations in which plagiarism may be based on incompetence rather than an egregious wish to mislead. He wrote:
"My general read on the student is that he's earnest and needy, smart but behind in some ways, not as attentive in class as I'd like (I consistently have to repeat instructions for his benefit). I don't think he was trying to fake the paper. I think he made some mistakes....
So now, what to do? I can clearly demonstrate the lack of quotation, and technically it's plagiarism. But it's petty plagiarism, if that makes sense. It's the kind of first year student mistake that deserves a little generosity and instruction rather than seriously punitive measures....
Considering how much I hate plagiarism, I generally take a teacherly stance towards it when I can, and make sure the student recognizes the problem and corrects it. At least that's what I do when the work seems misguided rather than purposefully deceitful."
"A close friend of mine just confronted a student about a plagiarism case, and he met her with tears, and a more affecting story than usual. While she did not regret her actions on the matter, she felt bad about that moment of triumph she felt, that twinge of glee at catching a dishonest student, which made the tears she witnessed later all the harder to contend with.
This is a place I've been a lot, and I've come to a point where I think that I just have to understand that I can't have it both ways: that I can't be passionate about my teaching, and yet emotionally impervious to those moments when my passion and my values are trod upon."
Hmmmm. And what does it mean that your friend the academic coach is moping about intellectual stealing when she routinely uses google to snatch and post images taken and owned by others? Naughty? Pot calling the kettle black? (That ol' saying which I only learned last decade was racist.)
Help, folks. Anyone a whiz at typepad? There are many technical skills that I'd like to add to my limited repertoire and I'd like to pay someone to tutor me and to just march into my blog site and fix/add/tweak some things. I would especially like to hire a cash-strapped grad student/ post-doc/ adjunct/ debt-infested junior prof to help me out.
"I am beginning to wonder if anyone ever makes true friends in graduate school. Most everyone here seem super competitive - I tend to be more of a cooperative learner....I find myself feeling pretty lonely within my department. I have some acquaintances, sure... but I feel like there is no real safe ground to create friendships...."
She went on to ask the following questions:
"Anyone got any suggestions? Fellow gripes? Experiences to share? Feel free to post anonymously - I really would like to get a feel for the variety of academic experience... are other schools more friendly? Does it get better when you become a professor - or worse because of issues of tenure? Speak up... I am listening."
I answered Aspiring Academics post as follows:
"My experience is that whether or not bonds of friendship develop depends on the culture of the department and the group dynamics of the particular entering classes. Often, it depends on the collegiality of the professors as much as they students because they set the tone of group dynamics. If the professors are squabbling divisively, and competing for scanty departmental resources, the negativity often filters down to the grad students' relationships. In contrast, sometimes departments that are highly dysfunctional will create a bonding-against-bad-parents spirit among grad students."
In my coaching practice, people work with me either because they have problems with their work habits -- usually difficulties getting themselves to write -- or they have political problems. The most common political problem I hear about is advisor angst. Many grad students seek help to try to manage a difficult dissertation chair: especially harshly critical or neglectful advisor. The most common complaint I hear about is advisors who don't hand back drafts and/or don't provide useful guidance and feedback.
When junior faculty have political problems it tends to be in coping with extremely dysfunctional departments. Or enemies on their tenure committees. I've also worked with many folks whose problems stem from even higher in the university system (such as departmental cuts, lecture appointments that never become tenure track jobs, a horrendous dean or provost, etc.,.)
I probably have a skewed sense of how frequently departments are dysfunctional -- over the years I've heard many extreme stories about abusive advisors (from sexual harassment, to plagiarizing the student, to complete emotional instability and unexpected rages.) I've also heard some pretty extreme examples of back-stabbing colleagues and incompetent administrators.
Grad students don't seek coaching, usually, because they lack friends within their department. When a lack of camaraderie becomes a major complaint, it is more typically at the level of junior professor, in my experience. In most cases, it seems easier to make good friends as a grad student than as a junior professor. Even when there is competition among grad student peers, it has no real consequences -- unlike the ramifications for junior faculty who are being judged by their colleagues. And the ramifications of social isolation is most difficult, I think, among single faculty who are far from metropolitan areas. It can be really hard to make close friends. (One of the reasons blogging can be so wonderful as a way of creating a "virtual" support network.)
I know many people who have made wonderful friends in grad school. This was not my own experience however. I was in a clinical psychology department where we were not only vying to be the most brilliant but the most warm, empathetic, understanding and insightful. It was a recipe for underground competitive angst that left many of us unhappy and isolated. In my first year, there developed a clique of about 4 or 5 of the 14 students in our cohort. By halfway through the year, grad school felt like junior high school. Some of us were "in" and some of us were "out." This situation eased over time -- perhaps because we became more secure that we were not "impostors", perhaps because we lowered our expectations about the social connections we'd have within the program. At least one student dropped out of the program because of the exclusionary nature of the clique.
Competition among peer grad students seems to be most intense, and problematic, when it happens in a science lab. Here, when the professor assigns projects to students, and dissertations depend on the quality of experimental results, there can be severe consequences from favoritism and competition becomes a real career threat.
Wanna know the new self-diagnostic tool I use in my not-so-private practice?
The Extra-Easy Dyslexia Detector:
How do you know if you have visual-spacial sequencing deficits? You know you're dyslexic when you type the wrong letters into Blogger's word verification boxes two out of every three attempts to post on spam-protected sites.
The Fast 'n Friendly Low Frustration Tolerance Detector:
How do you know you have impulse control issues and lack mature levels of task persistence? You know you have low frustration tolerance when after just two measily mistakes typing letters into Blogger's word verification boxes you give up further attempts to post your comment.
BTW, these diagnostic tools also work for non-learning disabled folks who want to ascertain whether they've been procrastinating on the academogosphere for toooooooooo long. After 3 - 5 hours of blogperusing, even academics with upper-range neurological processing skills will begin to believe to think that twisted "q"s are "g"s.