Bad attitude Saturday

Got an e-mail from O-Ring this morning, and he’s sort of encouraging me with respect to my abilities and contributions as a teacher. He notes how much is at stake, and tells me that “we cannot afford to become exhausted now.”

To which I replied:

It’s not exhaustion. It’s disgust. I mean, I don’t have anything new to add here, I don’t guess, but the combination of entitled punks who will not be challenged and an administration (really, a much broader culture of administration driving an neo-Fordist anti-teaching agenda under the guise of accreditation and “accountability”) was more than I had any interest in tackling.

You remember how I was when we met? I not only wasn’t backing down from windmills, I’d go looking for them. I was going to take on the world and bend it to my will. Well, I’m not much like that anymore – at least, I’m not as generally like that. I’m sure I’m more than up for the fight that matters to me. But it has to matter, and there are some criteria that have to be met. Will I go to war to help somebody? Yes. If they’re willing to do their part. Will I shred my insides to save somebody from themselves when the biggest obstacle is their own stupidity? Ummm, not so much. I’m like the psychologist with that lightbulb – it only takes one of me to change it, but it has to be willing to change.

In the absence of a worthy cause, I have other things to worry about. I have a family to support and a job that needs finding, and I’m damned if some sneering little 18 year-old rich kid who’s been helicoptered and pampered into oblivion by equally self-absorbed parents is a millionth of a percent as important as the wellbeing of my wife. For that matter, if that kid and my dog are in a burning building, he doesn’t even want to know which one I’m running in to save first.

Good morning, and welcome to my bad attitude…..


23 thoughts on “Bad attitude Saturday

  1. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a bad attitude. But then again, my word last semester was attitude.
    I know how frustrating it is being another student in classes with people like that, so I can’t imagine what it’s like being the one trying to teach.
    I’ve got grad school applications half filled out all over my apartment, and some days I walk in and wonder what I’m getting myself into, career-wise.

  2. By the time you get into your academic career – say from where you are now to PhD will be the better part of a decade? – the worst will be over. College will start seeing the first post-Millennials around 2015-2020, maybe, and those kids will be the kids of Xers, and will be a different cohort than what you see around you.
    Sucks being the exception to the rule, doesn’t it?

  3. Well, that’s welcome news.
    And yes, it does. What really bothers me is that I’ve had some classes where professors will stop even trying to challenge their students. Lectures become a restating of the assigned reading, because obviously no one had been reading on their own, and the class is structured so even the least motivated student can pull a B.
    I think it has come to the point where I work harder to find a challenge than I do in any of my classes.

  4. You’re always the case I come back to when I ponder what I was up against last year. I guess I had to choose between the excellent two or three and the Mob. Oddly, I appear to have done rather badly on BOTH counts, because I know I didn’t challenge people like you and Jason and Tom, but at the same time, I didn’t make any headway with the rest of the crowd, either.
    Yeah, you’ll face that one, too. Start thinking about it now….

  5. Nor should you. The trick will be finding the best techniques for dealing with them, since kicking them all the way back to mommy and daddy isn’t allowed. You have to find productive ways of dealing with negative situations, that’s where I feel like I failed.

  6. Your bad attitude is kinda sexy….Oops did I say that… 🙂
    I’m like the psychologist with that lightbulb – it only takes one of me to change it, but it has to be willing to change.

    Well said….
    I remember when my son was about 15 and on the golf team in high school, I pulled up to drop him off for a match….They were playing the rich private school kids….Those kids were driving up in Porsches and any other expensive car you could own….Pampered, spoiled rich kids….They can’t play golf worth a damn though… 🙂

  7. No, Sam, that’s not Bad Attitude. That’s maturity.
    It’s realizing you’re limited, and knowing and being aware of just where those limits are. Teaching requires meeting in the middle. You cannot do better than meet a student halfway. They have to learn for themselves.
    One thing I noticed, during my office hours that 1 year as a TA, was that I saw the high-quality students during office hours. Now, they may not have been the best of my students in my recitations, but they were the most motivated, the most interested in a challenge, and the ones willing to do their part.
    When, on rare occasion, the dregs, the ones wanting a grade, not an education, would show up, one of two things would happen:
    One – I’d be one-on-one with them the entire time, kindly and patiently dragging them, kicking and screaming, to doing their part and learning. I could see them leave the office, steam pouring out their ears, a terrified realization on their faces that they Were In Waaaaay Over Their Head.
    Two – It would be a particularly tricky subject, and I’d have many other students in the office, too. Inevitably, I’d end up engaging and focussing on the high-quality ones. The sharp ones would “get it” quickly enough, while the high-quality ones would make an effort. The dregs… they’d sit there, taking notes, trying to “write down the answer,” horror walking across their face as they realized that there wasn’t “an answer” to any of the homework problems up there. They’d leave my office with their hair blown back, in shock, as the high-quality students were thanking me profusely for “helping them finally understand this stuff” and praising me for my patience.
    The upshot of both – the dregs left my office hours knowing that they were the problem, that there was simply no way they could shift blame to me, since either their fellow students pointed out my patience, or I’d just spent 2.5 hours with them when I had my own homework to do, yet never became frustrated or impatient.
    I went through an AP Calc class in high school, a class of the best & brightest, a class where every last one of us never scored more than a 60% on our tests. Yet, due to “the grade curve,,” we never got less than a B… on our report cards. But between cards, we never knew how well we were doing. Again, we knew, full well, that our test scores were due to us farging up. The teacher was nice, funny, patient. We couldn’t blame him. We knew he’d been waaaaay generous to us with that “grade curve”. And none of us felt we’d really deserved that kindness.
    Had I gone into academia, at an institution like yours, I would’ve been dangerous. See, I know math, Sam. And I could really, really mess with them. Once, I devoted 6 hrs. of my time to prepare for a recitation, the one after the lecture on Special Relativity. When it became clear that everyone had copied everyone else on the homework, instead of coming to me for help, I blew a gasket. Now, however, I’d have gone in, cheery and excited at, “…how well you all did with Relativity. So, here’s a quiz, to give you some easy extra credit and good practice for the mid-term. You guys will have no problem with it.”
    And, I’d be sure to give time to the motivated students through office hour appointments, to give them challenges and help them rise to them. Hmmm… could even give those challenges in the form of extra-credit…

  8. So, hmm… an earlier entry of yours made me glad I’d left academia. Now, I have want to become a professor again.
    Of course, the other half is a desire to stay put, since the kids out of college are, in the bulk, no competition for me in the job market…

  9. “The answer.” Ping. They want you to tell them the answer. Dammit, they’re PAYING for the answer. Connect the dots. Asking them to THINK? Uhhh, no – if you aren’t telling them the answer, then it isn’t measurable, and that means you aren’t being accountable.
    Wait for it: No College Kid Left Behind…..

  10. Hi, Sammy. Juan Marichal here.
    So, yesterday in editing class, we started riffing on “big picture” stuff, and one student — doesn’t really matter who he is, because he’s not the first student to have done this in my classes this year — raises his hand and says, “I took Intro to Mass Media from Dr. Smith last year, and he said —” and the point he cited launched us on a vigorous, pertinent discussion that we wouldn’t have gone on had you not said something last year that this guy found important. Let me use that word again, in case you missed it: important.
    Your mistake was thinking that students who WEREN’T like this one were windmills for you to tilt at. Entitled punks? Pretty good case to be made for that label, at least in some cases, but they’re not windmills, and if they didn’t appreciate and take full advantage of the opportunity to get Sammy-ized, then the words of the poet and prophet Robert Nesta Marley are most appropriate here: “In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty.”
    You help up your end of the bargain, my friend, and don’t you ever forget it.

  11. Well, this is good to hear. I guess I hope that some of those student will have picked up a bit here or there that sparks later. And of course, the problem with having these sorts of conversations is that the process of generalization, while necessary, also leaves the exceptions out in the cold. The truth is that I had some really good students, and I hope they know who they are.
    So, what was the thing that I said last year?

  12. The student was talking about points you’d made about corporate media ownership. He said how you said corporate ownership was a good thing, because the most important function of the media in our society is to make lots of money for stockholders — which is why we have a First Amendment. By the way, did I tell you all my hair has grown back? In dreadlocks?
    Seriously, he was suggesting ways that corporate ownership makes it difficult for reporters and editors to do their jobs. Now, in editing — a course that is seemingly all about the dictionary, the AP Styleboook and a grammar handbook of choice — that’s a pretty good bit of dot-connecting.
    So maybe more folks than you thought were listening, El Sammo — or maybe many of them were people like me who need an inordinate amount of time before “hear” becomes “understand.”
    That’s all for now. I have to go make sure I’m not missing the baseball game. The starting pitchers are Zapruder and King, but I’m not sure if it’s BB King, Freddie King, Albert King, Martin Luther King, Rodney King, King Kong, King Tut, or King Biscuit.

  13. >>The student was talking about points you’d made about corporate media ownership. He said how you said corporate ownership was a good thing, because the most important function of the media in our society is to make lots of money for stockholders — which is why we have a First Amendment.<<
    That’s probably how a couple of them heard it.
    >>Seriously, he was suggesting ways that corporate ownership makes it difficult for reporters and editors to do their jobs. Now, in editing — a course that is seemingly all about the dictionary, the AP Styleboook and a grammar handbook of choice — that’s a pretty good bit of dot-connecting.<<
    I’m willing to bet that I can peg who the student was in five tries. In any case, yeah, that’s a good job of understanding what they’re up against, isn’t it?

  14. You are one of the most profound teachers I have had in my education experience. Dr. Smith, you are one of the few educators that have actually made me think. You made me think more than any of the others.
    If you ever decide to teach again, let me know. I’ll take the class.
    Take care

  15. Thanks for saying this. It really does mean something for us teachers to hear that we mattered to a student. As I’ve said a couple times, I hate that my bitching about the bad ones overshadows the fact that I had some really GOOD students, too. I really enjoyed that CTC class, in fact.
    If I teach again, you’re welcome to sign up…

  16. I have to say that you were definitely one of my favorite professors ever. And maybe Professors could challenge students more if students didn’t have to take so many redundant classes, or classes like University 101. I know colleges want to keep students in school longer so our tuition can help fund their sports programs. However this notion of being well rounded in college is overrated. I still don’t read Shakespeare, and I still never do trigonometry. I can be “well rounded” on my own time. Don’t get me started on no child left behind. My Fiancé has to get her undergrad in general elementary education because her elementary art education degree is completely worthless to teach in NY (where she received her degree from in the first place.) So instead of learning Art from someone who has a passion for it, kids will have to learn it from someone who dabbles in it and are broadly taught everything. So the colleges make out, the parents have some solace in knowing that the teachers at least passed a test, and your kids get a watered down education. Actually that sounds about right. Isn’t everything in America watered down, just ask the Coors brewing company. I’m starting to believe that Churchs and Colleges are the best racquet in the whole world. I’m going to write some science fiction novels, charge people for the books, then charge people to get to the next level of the religion, get tom Cruise to be my spokesperson, then reap all the tax benefits of being a church. Seriously Sam are still one of the best Profs I’ve ever had and I’m sure you have a comeback tour. As of right now have some fun. Besides money the only stress in a mans life should be sports, if you achieve that, then everything should be fine.

  17. It’s good to hear that I touched you, dude.
    Ahem. I actually think that the issues you have with college curricula have less to do with the concept than with the execution. See, I’m a liberal arts guy. I never had a business course. I never had a marketing course. Or PR, or marcom, or advertising, or org structure, or ANY of that. Not even JOURNALISM. Nope, I had a traditional liberal arts program with history and philosophy and religion and lit and the rest of it. As it turns out, I had those things in a pretty good environment and it has served me well (except when I have been interviewing with people who can’t see past their MBAs).
    But yeah, a lot of schools half-ass these things, and doing it halfway can be worse than not doing it at all because if you do it wrong you turn people off to it forever.
    You think you liked my marcom classes – you’d LOVE my lit seminars and poetry workshops…

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