Monthly Archives: March 2008

Why I’m Going to Miss Teaching at TCC

TCC is a little, podunk-y nothing of a school. It carries with it no prestige, no reputation for excellence, and certainly no enviable salaries. My experience here, though, has been nothing but positive from the point of view of the working environment. My superiors have never been anything but supportive and encouraging, and I can only hope that I find bosses half as respectable in whatever my next position will be.

This was from Dean G. in my inbox this morning concerning Betsy’s plan to contest her grade in our composition class. Plain, simple, and to the point:

She gets what she earned.

I love my bosses.

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Filed under colleagues, composition, failure, frustrations, hybrids suck, I love my boss

And AWAAAY We Go!!

From Betsy this afternoon; again, completely unedited by me:

 i did the assignments plus handed you drafts you never got back to me on any of them. so how am i supposed to know if there good or not. An F is a little harsh. I am contesting this because i thinks its a bad call on oyur part.

(my favorite bit of that is “because I thinks its a bad call on oyur part.”)

I’ve not yet had the pleasure of student contesting my grade before; this will be an interesting adventure.

I have several things working in my favor: the truly substandard work that this student did, the fact that she was only occasionally in class, the fact that she handed in most of her assignments late (without arranging with me, as Last Minute Larry did, for their acceptance), and the fact that she is one of only three students who were unable to make the cut.  That nineteen other students managed to work to the standards of the class ought to be evidence enough that the failure wasn’t mine as an instructor.  That I was willing to work with Last Minute Larry – and that he managed to pass as a result of our negotiations – speaks to the fact that I’m not an intractable bitch with unreasonable standards.  Still, it’s unnerving to be challenged like this.  I’m astounded that her opinion (fantasy, really) of herself is so skewed that she actually thinks she stands a chance.

The Dean of Academics is someone I admire and respect.  He’s tough, he’s pragmatic, and he believes very strongly that all our students need a solid foundation in literacy skills – stronger, even, than they’re currently getting.  He’s a big supporter of the General Education department, and I’m not at all concerned that this is going to be adversarial.  I’ve done my job – perhaps not as well as I would have liked, given the circumstances of this term, but I’ve not committed any reversible errors.

I’ll keep you all posted.

Sigh.

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Filed under composition, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, hybrids suck, I love my boss, Learning, self-analysis, student chutzpah, Teaching, Yikes!

Because It’s ALWAYS the Teacher’s Fault

If I weren’t actually living it, I wouldn’t believe it.

Grades posted at TCC yesterday.  I received this in my inbox this morning (as usual, completely unedited by me):

I do not understand why i failed this class. i handed in all the assignments that i missed if you could explain this that would be great.

Well, for starters, Kid, if you can’t manage to compose three properly-written sentences, I’d say that’s a pretty good start for an answer as to why you failed a writing course, but that’s just me.

Here’s what I replied and (and I cc’d the academic dean, just to CMA):

Betsy, simply handing in all the assignments is insufficient.  The work that you did was not done well enough to meet the standards of the course; for example, several of the missing assignments you handed in were only barely completed – on many, you answered questions with sentence fragments.  Your research paper was poorly done, and the revision that you submitted was only marginally better. The work that you did is not enough to meet the objectives of the class and was insufficient to earn you a passing grade.

Sincerely,

Mrs.  Chili

I received this as a response to my explanation:


Mostly because the guidelines given for the assignments were not done well either. Having a writing assignment and giving free will to the assignment, and then failing them isnt fair. Whatever thats fine.

Can you just SEE the eyes rolling?  It’s all MY fault, clearly.  The student feels she has no responsibility for her failure.

Here’s my latest (and, as far as I’m concerned, last) volley, also cc’d to Dean G., to whom I’m going to refer any further correspondence from this student.  I’m done:

I beg to differ, Betsy.  The class was given a rubric for the research paper – you all knew exactly what I was looking for and how I was going to grade it.  The “free will” of which you speak was for the topic of the paper; I told the class that I wasn’t going to assign topics because I wanted you all to find something that interested you as individuals.  I was, however, very clear about how the paper should be formatted, how citations were to be completed, and how the organization should be arranged.  Not only did I hand out, several weeks beforehand, the very same rubric I used to grade the papers, but I also assigned the research chapter in the book and went over it in class.  As for the assignments in the book, the instructions for each exercise are very clearly stated.  I don’t believe that your assessment of the grading practices in this class are at all accurate.

Sincerely,

Mrs.  Chili

Unreal.

*Last-minute addition under the “I love my boss” heading; I’ve been forwarding all of this to Dean G.  I woke up this morning to find this in my inbox:

Chili;  Point well taken.. interesting  how issues of freedom and free will  can play down to sloppiness and lack of attention to detail.

If you need to have a 3-way with you, me and Betsy, I am happy to accommodate.

See you after break if not before.. surgery in the AM .. oy.

Dean

This is the sort of thing I’m really going to miss when TCC closes….

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Filed under composition, failure, frustrations, hybrids suck, I love my boss, student chutzpah, Yikes!

Grammar Wednesday

I love California Teacher Guy, I really, really do.

I have this hole in my head, you see, and my thinking is slightly less than stellar lately.  I was wracking my poor, holey little brain and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to talk about for Grammar Wednesday, and I was just about to resort to putting a style guide on the table by its spine, letting it drop open, and writing about whatever was on the pages.  CTG came through for me, yet again and just in time, with this email:

My Dear Mrs. Chili,

I was reading Tess Gerritsen’s The Mephisto Club when I stumbled on this sentence:

She startled awake what seemed like only moments later, to find that they were now struggling along an unplowed road, Jane’s tires churching through snow.

While “startle” can be both transitive or intransitive, to use it in the former manner demands an object. For me, “awake” just doesn’t work as the object of “startled” in this sentence. Or am I wrong?

Thank you, as always, for your sedulous attention to matters of decency in grammar!

Fondly,
CTG

Now, please recognize that I’m recovering from minor but still traumatizing surgery, and that even if I weren’t, I’m still the first to stand up and say that I’m not an expert at this sort of thing (though I may play one on the internet).  That being said, I’ve got a couple of problems with this sentence.

First, I agree with CTG; I don’t think that “startled” and “awake” work well together here.  She could be started awake only moments later, but it seems to me that she should be startled awake by something; the sentence feels unfinished to me.  It may well be that the sentence is grammatical – but it’s awkward and clunky and the fact that we’re investigating the structure means we’re not appreciating the point of the sentence.  The movie isn’t nearly as entertaining if one can see the stage hands, you know?

My second gripe with the sentence is the first comma.  She was startled awake what seemed like moments later is an independent clause; to find that they were now struggling along an unplowed road is a dependent clause – but there’s no need for the comma separating the two structures.  I can’t come up with a single comma rule that would explain that mark’s placement in that sentence.

Is “churching” even a word?  Is it supposed to be onomatopoetic?

Happy Wednesday, Everyone.

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Apostrophe Obsession

I’m having outpatient surgery this afternoon, so Mr. Chili will be picking Beanie up from her after-school program.  I’m sending him in with this note to stick to the sign which, Bean assures me, is still wrong:

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Seriously.

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Panic

Xena and I weren’t kidding when we came up with Tuesday’s post. Here is an actual email exchange I’ve been having with a student from my composition class over the last two days. The ONLY editing I’ve done is to change our names to protect our identities; everything else is exactly as she’s written it:

Erica: Hello Mrs Chili, i just want to know if i did good on the final , and if i got a passing grade
Thank you

Mrs. Chili: Dear Erica

First of all, it’s “if I did WELL on the final.” Sigh.

You got a 77 on the final, but your final grade in the class is a 49.1, which is an F. I hate having to record this grade, Erica, because I KNOW that you can do excellent work – you just didn’t DO the work that was required. Zero grades kill averages, and that’s what happened to you.

I’m teaching composition again next term; I’ve got two sections on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’d love to have you as a student again because I know you’re an eloquent and capable writer. Please take this skill seriously; you will find that it will serve you well in your profession.

Warmly,

Mrs. Chili

Erica: Hi Mrs Chili
i know i didn’t do as well as i would have liked to. Is there any extra credit i can do to get a passing grade, i really need this

Mrs. Chili: Erica, I’m sorry, but there really isn’t anything you can do at this point. You’ve missed far too much work, and you essentially plagiarized your research paper. You’ve not demonstrated skill in the objectives of the class and I can’t, in good conscience, give you a passing grade. I encourage you to take the class again, and to really commit yourself to getting the work done on time and according to the directions.

Again, I’d love to have you as my student next term. Remember that, even if you get a different teacher, you can always come to me for extra help.

Warmly,

Mrs. Chili

I’m interested to see if – and if so, how – Erica hits this one back into my court. I’ll keep you posted.

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Filed under composition, concerns, failure, frustrations, funniness, General Griping, hybrids suck, student chutzpah, Yikes!

Grammar Wednesday

Beanie participates in an after-school program on Tuesdays. The school sponsors a bunch of “enrichment” classes – build-to-learn, young scientists, fiber crafts, pottery painting, that sort of thing.

Last week, I went to pick her up and passed this sign in front of the reading paraprofessionals’ office:

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I went to Beanie’s classroom, found a BRIGHT FUSCHIA!! sticky note, wrote “this apostrophe is wrong!”, and stuck the note to the sign. There was NO way the teachers (let me be more specific here – the READING teachers) could have missed this note.

I came to the school to pick my bean up from enrichment yesterday and guess what I saw? That’s right; the same sign with the same incorrect apostrophe. I’m trying to remember whether “room” was on the sign when I put the sticky on it, and I wonder if they think that the addition of that noun makes the apostrophe correct.

Sigh

Sometimes, I wish I just didn’t see.

** Just as an aside** I brought Beanie to this post as I was writing it and asked her to explain what I was so upset about. She said, and I’m pretty much direct quoting here, that “the apostrophe is wrong because there are two paras.”

“Okay,” I said, “but what about the word ‘room’ there? Does that make the apostrophe right?”

“Nope,” she said. “there are still two paras – the apostrophe needs to go on the outside of the s. Want me to tell them the next time I see them?”

Yes. Yes, I do.

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Filed under General Griping, Grammar, out in the real world, Yikes!

Ten Things Tuesday

It seems that I’m not the only one disenchanted with students at TCC. My dear friend and colleague, Xena, has been less-than-pleased with the performance of some of her students this term, too.  She tends to handle this kind of thing with a wonderful sense of snarky humor, so here is Xena’s top ten list of answers to the question we all get this time of year:

“What can I do to pass this class?”

1. DANCE! Like you MEAN it!

2. Call upon Jesus and ask him to raise his blessed sandal and shove his holy foot up your ass.

3. Crisp 50-dollar bills attached to all of the work you owe me would help.

4. Tug on your earlobes, pull your head out of your ass, and do your damned homework!

5. Drop and give me twenty!

6. I’ll accept your sworn promise that you’ll never accept a job that requires that you have any kind of important responsibility whatsoever.

7. More homework, fewer drugs.

8. Learn to say these two phrases: “paper or plastic?” and “would you like fries with that?”

9. First, you can bow to my greatness…

10. There is nothing you can do. Prepare yourself for a life in retail.

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The Final Exam

Today is the last day of classes for my composition students.

I was going to have a portfolio as their final exam; they would submit to me pieces of writing that they’ve been working on all semester that would count as a test grade. The discontinuity of this term, though, made portfolios unreasonable (and besides, most students didn’t turn in about a third of the required work as it was).

I’ve written a final exam for them instead. There are ten subject/verb agreement questions, ten commonly confused word questions, five pronoun reference questions, and an abysmal paragraph for them to edit, courtesy of Henry from two terms ago (remember Henry? How could we forget!?). Finally, they are to write two short essays, one based on their choice of an image and one on their choice of a written prompt.

Here are their choices for images. The instructions for the essay read as follows: Choose ONE image and write a well-crafted and thoughtful response. What are your first impressions of the piece? What does this image mean to you? What do you think it might represent to others? Both of these images are famous in American culture; what do you think the image you chose says about us as a people? What other issues or questions can you address?

I can’t WAIT to see their answers. I’m sure I’ll want to share some of their answers with you; watch this space…

rosie-riveter.jpg

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Rosie image credit

guns and flowers image credit

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Last-Minute Larry

I’ve got a student. We’ll call him Larry.

Larry is really pretty representative of most of my students. He’s smart enough to do exceedingly well in all of his classes – mine included – he just chooses not to. Whether he realizes this as a choice of his own making or whether he considers himself an unfortunate victim of circumstances, I don’t know (but I can certainly make a good guess). Regardless of WHY Larry doesn’t turn in his work or show up for the majority of the classes, the fact remains that Larry DOESN’T turn in his work or show up for the majority of the classes.

We at TCC run 11-week terms. Around week 5 or 6, I distributed progress reports* to those of my students who were in danger of, or who were in fact, failing. Larry actually received one of those reports because, as the Universe would have it, Larry actually showed up for class that day. Attached to that report was a copy of Larry’s entry in my grade book, showing him all the assignments that had been recorded as zeros because I’d not received anything from him. (It might be important to mention here that this is at least Larry’s second attempt to pass composition. O’Mama told me the other day that she had to record his failure in her class last term.)

I announced to the five students (who showed up and received their reports that day – I wrote many more than five) that I would accept their work late. This is a CLEAR violation of the stated policy in my syllabus, I reminded them, but if they were willing to knuckle under and do the work that was expected of them, I would be willing to go back a bit on my policy.

We’re in week 10. Guess who came to me in a panic after class on Monday, horrified that he was going to fail the class? He can’t fail the class, he explained, because this is his last opportunity to take it before his internship. If he fails, he loses the internship and has to arrange for another in a later term.

Week 10 of an 11-week course, is what I’m sayin’ here.

I met with Larry on Wednesday (it should be noted that I had to hunt him down – he was supposed to come looking for me) and gave him a repeat performance of the speech I gave him when he got his original progress report, along with a not-so-gentle chiding about his choice to wait until week 10 of an 11-week course to begin to attempt to do something about it.

Because I’m rather fond of my ass and like to keep it safe at all times, I composed this email to Larry this morning and cc’d it to his department head. I want to make sure that this doesn’t turn into a he-said/she-said scene. I know that kids get nutty when they’ve realized how badly they’ve screwed themselves over, especially when the loss of an internship is the consequence of that screwing. I don’t want to be the recipient of the rage of a cornered student on the losing end of his own stupidity.

Larry:

I’m writing you this email as evidence of our conversations and the agreement that we made yesterday, Wednesday, March 12. If you have anything to add, email me back and I’ll keep that as part of the record, too.

You came to me on Monday, March 10 (in week 10 of an 11-week course), concerned that you were going to fail our composition class. You’d received a progress report from me earlier in the term (I’m sorry – I don’t have the date that I gave that to you handy, but it should be on your progress report copy – I believe it was around the middle of February), warning you that your grade at that point was insufficient to pass and that, if you continued your current performance, you’d fail the course.

It is my policy, stated clearly in my syllabus and repeated often in class, that I do not accept late work. If I were to hold to that policy, there would be no chance that you could pass this class; you’ve failed to turn in many online assignments in addition to several in-class pieces, a writer’s journal, and a research paper (I gave you a copy of your current entry in my grade book both with your progress report and when we met yesterday). I am willing to bend my policy in your case; however, all of the work that was assigned for this class must be completed and handed in no later than Monday, March 17th by 1:00 or I will leave the zero grades in place and you will receive a failing grade for this course. If all the work is completed and handed in on time, the best grade you will receive is a D.

When we met yesterday, also I told you that you would have served yourself far better had you come to me earlier in the semester to discuss your trouble in keeping up with the work. I stated several times in class – and more than once in emails to the group – that I understand that many of you are working very hard; that you have a lot of work in all your classes, combined with jobs and responsibilities outside of college. The fact that you waited until literally the last minute to come to me with your problems does not speak well of your ability to manage those responsibilities. My hope is that you take that away as a lesson in all of this: people are very often willing to make arrangements and compromises if you come to them – early and honestly – with your needs.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Chili

* I despise progress reports. These are college students; they should be able (and willing) to keep track of their own grades. I resent them even further because we have to write them by hand (despite the fact that my gradebook program has a neat-o feature that will print progress reports for me) on a four-part form, so not only do we instructors have to fill out all the information on every report (and trust me; there are a lot of them) but we’ve got to use ball-point pen and use the force of a silverback gorilla.

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Filed under composition, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, hybrids suck, student chutzpah, Yikes!