"When I was a kid we didn't have arms and legs, so we used to have to stump to school, uphill, both ways, in the snow"
Monty Python and the Final Rip-Off "The Welshman Sketch"

To say that I am displeased in this moment is kind of like telling someone in the path of a tidal wave, they might experience moisture; it's an understatement on an epic fucking level.

So last week I got up at six o'clock in the morning to cpme down here in order to print and copy my syllabus, and teach a workshop at 9:30.

Two students showed up.

This week the others showed up complaining that no one had emailed them about the room change. They came meandering in saying it was unfair of me to mark them absent since no one had bothered to tell them that the room had been changed. Uh, wouldn't the utter lack of me, their teacher, be a hint? They were going off the schedule they had in DECEMBER. And not one student, not one, thought to CHECK THEIR SCHEDULE via phone (their cellphones, which often interrupt my class, can access Torchtone) or the internet this month. Not to mention ALL of the workshops were printed and posted in the office. All they had to do was walk by and look for the love of G-d and all things holy.

Nope. For the majority of them, this was just way too much common sense to possibly hope for. Instead, I get a visit from Bleeding Heart telling me I have to excuse the absence because of "the snow" and "clearly these students put their best effort into being there." Uh, would their best efforts have involved asking someone or checking their schedules? "Well, you are holding them to your standards. Remember you were a very smart and compentent freshmen."

Yes, one would say almost fantastically brilliant in the room checking department.

Bunni: You know, I went to school with other people. It wasn't just that I managed to handle checking for room changes, it was all of the students I knew.

BH:And what was that based on? Your experience.

Bunni:Actually it was based on empirical data. I was in class with other people who managed to be there too. The profs have attendance records.

BH:But you observed them.

Bunni:So any phenomena, any thing I observe is tainted?

BH:Well these kids aren't you.

Thank fucking G-d. I lie awake at night lighting candles and praying that I will never be so ridiculous as not to handle picking up a phone and checking on a room assignment. Should it ever occur that I degenerate to that level, you have every right to take me out back and shoot me. Screw a nursing home. If I'm that far gone, I don't want to live.

Beyond the laziness of their excuse. These students in the wrong room didn't make an attendance sheet (often students do this to protect themselves from unexcused absences-for example a prof. of mine once missed her own mid term-we made an attendance sheet and signed it so she would know who was there). Further, I have a hard time accepting that they never bothered to print or check their schedules after december. Many students get waitlisted for classes or decide to change classes after their first week. More likely this was just an excuse not to attend a class they frequently skip anyway.

So I am being forced to make the absence excused because "that's what fair" and "I want their experience here to be the best experience possible."

It's at moments like this I understand why Socrates voluntarily drank hemlock.


So the silence in my Tuesday class was overwhelming. I spent fifteen minutes trying to drag a response out of them. And I wasn't picky. I was looking for something resembling anything vaguely like a comment. Even interpretive dance would have been acceptable. Finally I covered my face with my hands and said "OK everyone take out several sheets of paper. You're going to write me an essay." Taking a cue from Edmondson (see following post for details), I decided to go the way of the one of the professors he described who used to ask his class to write two essays 1. Describe in detail the required reading you disliked the most for this class 2. Identify and describe the major personality flaw in you this dislike points to. I asked them to write two short essays. The first was a reading comprehension question utilizing the two readings. The second was....

"Explain why you can not participate in a useful discussion of the required readings in class."

I read the responses. Some were honest enough to admit they hadn't done the reading, others made ridiculous excuses ( ie "I don't want to interrupt the other students" Interrupt them doing what? Their silent meditations on the text?).

And one student wrote one sentence.


But guess what? Wednesday I didn't even mention the essays, and they talked. As one of my other ballroom teacher's would say, "You need to adopt the cookie-whip approach. Sometimes I give you the cookie; sometimes I give you the whip."

Often times I avoid such an approach. I try to be the supportive loving teacher Bleeding Heart would like me to be. But the result is that I swallow a lot of rage, and clearly the students get away with not doing the reading, which isn't good for any of us-Bleeding Heart included. So I decided for whatever reason to try being the bitch that I always fantasize about, the one that kicks out students for sleeping and doesn't accept ridiculous excuses for absences. The one who, like the Bad Buddhist, isn't afraid to rant at my students about how pathetic their "entertain me" attitude towards education is. The one who says "I can't require you to go to tutoring, but I recommend that you go, or I will beat you to death with your copy of the Bedford Guide" and really mean it. And becoming her not only resulted in the students doing their damn reading and talk about it, but also I felt a lot better. I wasn't walking around brooding and bitter. I went home that night and went to sleep at midnight. I can't remember the last time I did that.

So it is time for somebody to pass me my knee high, lace up, stack heel, black boots. Milk and cookies time is over.

Those who can't do

It is intriguing that someone who has taught logic and reasoning for so many years and is now in charge of other professors who teach the same would be so UTTERLY LACKING in it herself.

Today's staff meeting was the usual mixture uselessness that raises my blood pressure and ridiculousness that drives me ever closer to insanity. The meeting started with a passing out of how our students faired on a pre-proficiency examination. In a class of 17, 9 of my students failed. Such an event would depress anyone, but when the rest of the meeting is spent systematically depriving me of any measures I COULD take to help such students, well, all I can say is I am in the realm of needing a bucket of margaritas. After the distribution of the results, we then had to discuss which students were required to attend extra tutoring. Students who "really" failed would have to attend tutoring, but the head of the department decided, despite dissent from the teachers, that students who "just" failed were not in need of extra help. And I am expected to get them up to par in another three months without being about to require tutoring because " We don't want them to feel bad , we want them to feel good about their writing."

THEY ARE FAILING. Whether it is by an inch or a mile, they aren't going to make it to their sophomore year, never mind get an actual degree, if they don't pass this exam. They aren't supposed to feel good about their writing, if they are failing. Pain and failure are a key part of the learning process. They indicate to us that we did something wrong or that we are ignorance of some key factor. The Head of the Department, Bleeding Heart, wants to remove pain from the classroom. As if that is even possible. She is in stark contrast to teachers I had like Travis Preston and Marlene Pennison, who not only expected failure, but demanded it. Travis said "You have to embrace failure. If you can't fail, then you aren't in the right place. If you can't fail, you aren't learning." Marlene told us our very first day at NYU, "I want you to fail. I want you to fail here and now so that when it matters, when you are on your big broadway audition you WON'T fail then. Fail here, where it is safe."

Arthur Kleinman, author of the Illness Narrative, claims that the West has decide that pain is not a necessary part of life. Pain is indeed a necessary and natural part of life, and instead of trying to remove it, people should be taught that a certain amount of pain and discomfort is perfectly reasonable. Kleinman is referring to physical pain, but in this case the aversion to pain has spread to emotional as well ( hence the widespread prescription of anti depressant and anti anxiety medication). According to Allen Bloom, author of the Closing of the American Mind, "all the vulgarities of the world outside the university will flourish within it" (337). And the aversion of emotional pain, if we consider this a "vulgarity", has certainly flourished in the university setting. Mark Edmundson in his essay "On the Uses of Liberal Education: As Lite Entertainment for Bored College Students" relates the following story, "I remember a college student telling me how humiliating it was to corrected by a teacher. by me. So I asked the logical question: 'Should I let a major factual error go by so as to save discomfort?'The student-a good student...said that was a tough question.'" He points to the "generation of parents who sheltered these students, kept them away from the hard knocks of everyday life, making the cautious and over-fragile, who demanded that their teachers...flatter them endlessly so that the kids are shocked of their college profs don't reflexively suck up to them" as one of the main causes for the failure of modern students to consider pain part of the normal learning process. Ellen Langer , the author of The Power of Mindful Learning claims that students are "unhappy with an educational experience that ha sonly rewarded them." So if Edmundson and Langer are correct, students not only need to fail, but they need to learn that failure and pain are an integral part of the learning process.
Of course, the head of my department needs to learn it first.

But I digress.

Furthermore, when I pressed that I wanted all of my students who failed to be required because I was concerned about how their failure would reflect on me as a teacher, one of the other teachers, who is tenured said, "Think about what their failure says about them as a student." Well that's all well and good for you, as you are guaranteed a job next semester, as for the rest of us (only one teacher in the department is tenured) a majority of our evaluation is based on getting these students to pass. I know damn well that Miss Bleeding Heart, who supported the tenured prof in the meeting, would sit me down and ask me how I failed as a teacher if even three of my students don't make proficiency. Suddenly the burden would shift from them to me. And then I had to teach my totally apathetic two o'clock class.

In the words of the Reverend Horton Heat, It's martini time.
( Or maybe Time to Pray would be more appropriate.)


Ah yes, as usual I have been driven into a suicidal depression by my bi-monthly department meeting. I don't have time to write the details now, but to give you an idea of inanity I suffer on a regular basis, I present you with what I consider the "high point" of the meeting:

"We need to think about how to make these students feel good about their writing. We don't want them to feel bad about their writing." Head of the Department on students who failed the practice proficiency exam.

Uh when exactly did part of my job description become academic cheerleader?

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