Sunday, April 01, 2007

My 100th post

How 'bout that? It's taken me a while to make that first hundred, as rarely as I've been posting this semester. It's happened that most of the time when I've thought, "huh, that's an interesting thought. I might could write about that," I've ended up being too busy to post it before forgetting about it again. (Me? Busy?)

I've come to realize that for the most part, bloggers are either

1. college freshpeople who have more time on their hands than they know what to do with, writing about why Green Day is the greatest band in history (hint: they're not), or

2. pseudo-intelligent ex-English majors working in the food-service industry, writing about the brilliant conversation on Sartre they shared with the checkout guy at the Piggly Wiggly, and who think that now that they're blogging everyone's gonna find out what sort of genius they possess and that they're sure as hell gonna land that six-figure book advance.

Considering these options, it's probably best that I don't often have time to blog.

Nevertheless, I do corner a few seconds here and there, and sometimes those few seconds come at a time when I happen to be thinking about my teaching, specifically or generally.

Like now.

I just spent an hour or so hanging out in the comments section of one of my favorite blogs (Waiter Rant). Recently he (the anonymous New York-based blogger going by the name "Waiter") devoted a couple of posts to "assholes": one post listed 50 signs that you might be an "asshole customer"; a second, 50 signs that "your server might be an asshole."

This makes me think of an exercise I recently read in Maryellen Weimer's Learner-centered teaching, a work I referenced a few posts back, and which has given me a number of neat ideas to try out in my own classes.

Saith Prof. Weimer: think about starting the semester off with a brainstorming activity in which your students finish open-ended sentences like "I find that I learn well in a classroom where..." or "I find it annoying when the professor...". Let them discuss the matter, arrive at a consensus. This exercise promotes reflection on the learning process and on creating environments conducive to learning, and can serve as a prelude to a "classroom contract" in which the instructor agrees to work to construct an environment where the students' admitted concerns are addressed, and in response, the instructor can offer up a short list of behaviors s/he finds annoying in students and ask that the students do their best to avoid said behaviors.

Both I and my sole colleague in this semester's Learning Circle (shout out, Darlene!) agreed that this activity would probably seem condescending in an upper division class, but it might be a useful one to pull on first-years at the semester's outset.

Why not try it now? I'll share with you a list of my own pedagogical pet peeves, and in response, I hope you can feel free to share yours with me. I'm not claiming that any of my current students are guilty of any particular charge, but you might just recognize yourself in one or two of them. If you do, I hope that you'll do what you can to rein it in. As you'll know if you've been in one of my classes, I'm an easy-going guy, and I'm not likely to tear you a new one if you occasionally step out of line, let your cell phone ring because you sincerely forgot to set it to vibrate, can't seem to stay awake because you were up all night cramming for your Organic midterm, come in unprepared every now and then...I'll let it go, because I know we all have days like that, and I'm not an ogre.

And I like my students. I really like you guys. I have to say that in the almost-decade I've been teaching at the college level, of the roughly 700-800 students I've had in my charge at one time or another, I've personally liked about 99.5% of them. There have been a small few who've rubbed me the wrong way, a couple here and there that've gotten my cheese for one reason or another, but at the end of the day, I can literally count on one hand the number of students I've had whom I just couldn't stand. Really. You wanna know how many? Two. For real. Just two, and neither at UNCA. One at Vanderbilt University (initials RG), and one at the University of Illinois (initials KC). That first was a real piece of work. Remind me to tell you about his golf game up in Kentucky sometime.

If you find yourself identifying with one of the annoyers in the list below, please remember that it's the annoying habit I despise, not the person performing it. Chances are really good that I like you, and I want to continue to work with you as best I can. Just cut the crap, and we'll get along fine.

With no further ado, let me present you with

8 Annoying Student Habits
(I honestly couldn't think of any more. See how easy-going I am?)

1. I'm annoyed by endless complaints about how long it takes one to do one's homework (in my class or someone else's). Complaining about it doesn't finish it, it doesn't make it any easier, and it's not going to earn points from your professor (me included). If I think an extension is warranted (and often one is), I'll figure that out for myself, I don't need your help. Note: freshpeople are most often guilty of this behavior, as they've generally got a pretty poor sense of how much homework is "appropriate." By the way, I'll almost guarantee you that I spend at least twice as much time (often much more) in thinking up, designing, writing, photocopying, posting, grading, commenting on, and returning any single assignment or exam than you do in completing it. (If you ever wanna know how long a particular assignment took me to process, I'd be glad to give you an estimate, it's probably longer than you think.) Please keep that in mind before lodging a complaint.

2. It annoys me when students ask in class about course information that's available on the website. This isn't a big issue, but it's an annoying one nonetheless. I keep a pretty well-stocked website (this too takes a lot of time to maintain properly); if something's not listed/available from the course website, chances are it's not all that important. So if you've missed a couple of days of class and you need to find out what homework was assigned while you were gone, please don't ask me to spend three minutes at the beginning of class tracking that information down for you.

3. In the same vein, if you miss a few class periods, please don't expect me to give you a "synopsis" of the classes you missed. If you had a valid excuse for being gone, I might very well be able to spare 10-15 minutes to brief you on what went down while you were away, but I'm much more likely to actually give you this time if you've taken time beforehand to prepare for this briefing by reading the material we covered in your absence ahead of time.

4. Please don't complain about having to work in a group. I don't care if you don't like to work in groups. You know what? Not all of us do. I include myself in that list. I've always been one of those folks who wants to do everything for himself because he's not quite sure anyone else is going to do it as well as he will. You know what else? At some point in life, you're going to have to work in groups. It's called "committee work," another term for "hell." The experience in group work you gain now, in the relatively low-stakes, comfortable, safe environment of your classroom, the better you'll be at it in the future.

5. I've never been a huge fan of going over homework problems in class if doing so is not an integral part of the course's design (as is the case in my current 280 and 368 courses), especially if the students are not the ones doing the "going over" (see previous parenthetical comment). Some profs like to devote a good chunk of time to going over homework problems, while I, most of the time, don't. Occasionally I'll find it worth the class's while to go over the odd problem, but I'd rather you not ask me at the beginning of every class, "can we go over Problem 346?"

6. In classes where the solutions manual is broadly available, it annoys me to no end when students submit homework which was clearly copied from the manual. The manual can be a useful tool, if used properly, but it's worse than useless if the only purpose it serves for one is as a crib sheet. In the end, it's usually the student's loss, for a few extra points on the homework will be more than counterbalanced by the smack in the face the hapless student'll get come exam time when the solutions manual is unavailable for consultation.

7. Obvious obliviousness on the students' parts annoys me. If you're not gonna mind what I'm sayin' at all, then go home. If you're going to be your group's fifth wheel, go home. If you just can't be bothered to stay awake, go home. If you'd rather sit back and check out the box scores (Spring 2006, Calc II, Section 1?) in the sports section than focus on what the rest of the class is doing, go home.

8. Hateful speech. I hope this goes without saying, but for Pete's sake, people: please don't be crackin' "jokes" or whippin' off "smart" remarks about others' color, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual preference, disabilities, intelligence, and so forth, whether it's in general or specific terms. There's really no room for that kind of thing anywhere in this world, and there's sure as heck no room for it in my class.


That's it, for now. Honestly. That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I'm probably in the minority, but little things like inadvertent cell phone rings and discreet lunch-eating don't get to me much. I don't even mind class clowning, if it's not too rambunctious or mean-spirited. It's just the big things, really.

So how 'bout it, Studenten? What professorly habits annoy you? What things have your profs done in the past (no names needed!) that you really could have done without? I'm truly curious.

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