Thursday, October 16, 2008

WARNING: Horribly misanthropic post below.

I don't know how I can imagine surviving decades more of dealing with first-year students, without succumbing to a murderous rage.

I can't get over how they can't follow simple instructions. How they become so wrapped up in their grade-grubbing anxieties that they can't even listen. And so I deal with the same questions over and over and over and over again.

Yesterday I stood in front of my 100-person lecture and FOR THE FOURTH TIME was confronted with a barrage about the annotated bibliography they have coming up. I have fielded questions about this since October 1. I have posted a detailed handout about exactly what they need to do, on the course website. I have posted style sheets for the citation style. But no, they cannot look at this. Or they can, but their brains are sieves. I get exactly the same questions - and answer them - every. single. freaking. time. When all of this information has been provided to them in written form. The tediousness of this exercise made my eyes nearly pop out of my head, yesterday - I stood there and furiously clicked the pen I was holding, tapped my feet restlessly as I answered their questions in an incredulous, condescending voice. (I didn't realize how awful my body language and overall vibe were until some slightly more mature students in the front row started laughing - they got what was going on.) I just cannot imagine dealing with this inanity for the next twenty-five years.

I suppose I need to cultivate my bitch self - the one that pointedly says that I have already answered that question, and refuses to answer it again. But that's not me, and I would feel uncomfortable doing that. But is projecting the bitchiness I projected yesterday any better? I think not.


Anonymous said...

Maybe having them do a short assignment using the citation format you require would help ease their anxiety before they have to do it "for real" in a paper.

Anonymous said...

I agree this sort of behavior is exasperating. Could you turn it into a sort of game? "Who can find the answer to this question in the handout?" I encountered someone who promised the entire class a reward (a minor treat of some kind) if she didn't have to answer any questions already answered in the syllabus; the result was that the students kept better track of information and kept tabs on each other.

medieval woman said...

Oh m'dear - I SO feel you on this one. I'm having to fail a goodly number of people on a writing assignment because they didn't at all read the instructions and, thus, did the assignment completely wrong. Now I feel like "the Man" and like I'm being oppressive. But then I access my bitch-core and say, "F*ck 'em!"

I think you're reacting in exactly the right way - and I like anon's last suggestion about not asnwering questions on the syllabus!


P.S. How is Diamond doing?

Hilaire said...

Anon 1: Yup, I actually do this, which is what makes this all the more frustrating! They have a short assignment for which they must incorporate one reference in the citation style, but it doesn't count in the same way. They've done this and now have it back, graded. I just don't get it. In fact, one student yesterday - 6 weeks into the course, having done assignment already with this style - asked what kind of style they are supposed to be using!!!! Agh!

Anon #2 - I love that suggestion! Just after I posted this, I started thinking about ways to make this fun(ny), which I've tended to be good at in past. I need to reconnect with that self!

MW - Diamond is doing lots better. I think the liver medication is really working. Hurrah!!

Psychgrad said...

I think students in first year are completely overwhelmed at the level of independence and effort that is expected of them in university. Having said that - I'm glad that I don't teach first year classes.

Based on the questions I get (from 2-4th year students), I don't assume that anything I said in class was understood. A bit depressing.

From a students' perspective, I'd probably rather be told that the information is available in X location rather than be given a condescending answer.

What Now? said...

I am deeply sympathetic, having taught many first-year college students and now teaching first-year high school students. What I find interesting is how much more patience I have with this behavior in 14-year-olds, because (a) they're just kids, after all, rather than the not-quite-adults/not-quite-kids in college, and (b) I figure that part of my job is to teach them how to learn to use resources such as the assignment sheet and syllabus. So somehow the repetition of details already explained doesn't annoy me nearly as much as it used to, and in fact I can sometimes find real humor in it.

Dr. Bad Ass said...

When I taught high school, I gave myself a limit of answering the same question three times. These kids are older, so you could cut that down to two. After the second time, refer them to the (easily available) documents. As with teenagers, you will get from them what you expect.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

You know, I'm always really struck, when women talk about being "bitchy" in the classroom, by how often they're just talking about setting limits and expectations for behavior. I had a friend once talk about how she would go to class early and have a great time chatting with her students but it was really hard to shift from that to "it's time to work now" without being a "bitch." I guess I just wonder what adjectives we might use to describe "bitchy" behavior by the prof if the prof is a man? Because it's still fairly rare to call a man bitchy (unless he's gay), and I don't see men self-apply the label.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that being a "bitch" in the classroom isn't necessarily bad.

Bardiac said...

New Kid makes a good point about gender (as usual).

I find it difficult, but try to remember what I was like at 18. And it wasn't not pretty, especially academically.

Hilaire said...

NK - You're totally right. This was a very sloppy invocation of 'bitch', and I worried about it after I wrote it, for exactly the reasons you note. The problem is that I mean, in the first occurrence, the reclaimed, feminist-friendly version of the word bitch. But then use it in the same paragraph in a much less feminist way. Inconsistent writing, bad me! The problem is that even though I'm a 'professional feminist,' I myself need a few lessons in not being a doormat. I know I act in highly problematic, gendered ways in not being willing to be a bit harder-line sometimes, when it's called for.

Bardiac - that's a good observation. I've often thought that one of the pitfalls for most, if not all, professors, is that we actually *don't* remember what it was like to be an anxious student who couldn't listen or take instruction, cause we were kinda at home in the milieu. That's certainly the case for me, and it definitely gets in the way of my understanding what I disparagingly refer to as 'inanity.'

Earnest English said...

Errgh -- Hilaire and all, even when you can sort of remember or at least sympathize with these first-year students who are just all deer-in-the-headlights about being in college and are used to being led through every little thing, it's STILL totally annoying to have to repeat one's self and answer dumb questions because some people cannot manage to read the f***ing handouts or listen the first or second time something is explained! And you know what? I'll BET that there are students in the class who are totally annoyed with having to slow down class for all this as well. (Not to mention: is it that the students are inattentive when the stuff is first explained or is it that they don't understand the explanation and so explaining again the same way is not going to help ANYWAY. Sometimes students need to be more exact with their questions.)

I know it's hard to do, but I think that sometimes the best course is to say that that has been addressed on a handout and that I've answered that question before. Sometimes I just play the hard-ass because I think that it not every situation in their lives are they going to get the luxury of being so inattentive as to not pay attention the first dozen times the info comes around. (I especially feel this way when it's clear that my students haven't read something or haven't been listening. Okay, so they don't listen or read when they buy a car and it gets repossessed because they can't follow directions. Shouldn't they learn this lesson now?) I sometimes just call them on it and ask if they've looked at the handout. If they say no, I just direct them to it and tell them that when they're done reading it if they have any questions they should go ahead and ask me.

As I mentioned on a particularly annoyed blogpost recently, I feel that part of our job is, however unfortunately, to help these young adults understand what is expected of them as adults, because they are certainly not getting those expectations in high school (at least American high schools). So sometimes the best thing we can do is to show them that there really are consequences to acting like children and expecting their teachers to do everything for them. They are in college to learn, an active process, not be spoonfed. Okay, I'll shut up now.

epicentre said...

you need a TA babe. Invoke the hierarchy.

adjunct whore said...

i have absolutely no good advice. i am pissed off by the same things, though i always worry that it is my fault, that i haven't been clear enough, or some flaw has ruined their ability to understand everything i say.

i feel the awfulness and if you find something works, let me know!