Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bad Student: I Was an Undergrad Snowflake

(We're finally watching Bad Teacher because it's now available on PPV; it seems fitting that I write this particular post while Cameron Diaz plays a deplorable human being, let alone teacher, in the background.)

There was an interesting discussion over at Prof Hacker about venting about students using social media. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I, from time to time, make negative observations about my students. They are general and they never discuss grades. What I often am looking for are some words of encouragement and support, as well as a place to sort through my often conflicted feelings about how things are going in my class. And, more often than not, these tweets (and the responses to them) turn into blog posts (like the most recent one on plagiarism). I don't tweet anything that I wouldn't tell my students in class. 

But, as I wrote in the comments of the Prof Hacker post, 
I think that when we express some of our frustration about our students online, for me on Twitter, I think it shows us as human, who get frustrated and discouraged, just like our students. I also think that an angry tweet about, say, catching a plagiarizer serves as an immediate reminder that a) yes we will catch you and b) it will not be good.

Our classes don't always go as planned. Sometimes it can open up a conversation about what went wrong and why from both our perspective as well as the students. Also, I think some students need to know that certain behaviors are unacceptable from them, and that that is a "universal" sentiment, expressed through tweets and RT from lots and lots of professors on Twitter. 
I know that if I had seen behavior that I recognized as my own tweeted out by one of my profs, I'd have actually reconsidered my own attitude and actions. See, I was an undergraduate snowflake. In fact, I was probably the worst kind; the kind that still got really good grades, despite a) rarely attending class and b) putting little effort into the assignments. I left just about every single paper until the last minute, handing work in late, and just generally not caring about my classes very much.

(There were a few exceptions, of course.)

I kept behaving badly because I got away with it. No one called me out on my crap, at all. I know now that I must have driven my professors absolutely crazy. Either that, or they didn't care (and really, maybe they didn't). If there was a way that I could have known that they did, indeed, care and that my behavior (and, to be fair, the behavior of many of my classmates) was unacceptable, I probably would have changed it. It wasn't until I realized myself, through a mixture of professional quasi-failures and hitting an academic wall during my MA, that really, being a snowflake may have been fun for me, but it was totally unfair to my professors.

(In writing this, I am beginning to totally understand Worst Professor Ever's attitude towards teaching.)

My professors were human and professionals. They deserved better treatment than what I gave to them.


  1. Ha, thanks for the shoutout. I don't know how snowflakey I was. I do know that, having missed class, I once asked a professor if I could come by office hours, and was soundly shot down. But then again, I foolishly thought that profs were there to teach. And I certainly did some unadmirable things, such as paying bills in a TA's section. So when I taught, I accepted that there would be a certain amount of karmic retribution for my undergrad stupidity.

    But you know what? When my undergrad slacking didn't produce great grades, I didn't whine or wheedle. Ever. I knew it was my own damned fault. And I didn't think the profs were my own personal service providers.

    I think a big part of what needs to happen is an honest dialogue. Remembering my experiences was why I always made it clear to the students that they were NOT my only priority, and to explain exactly why giving everybody their own test/deadline/whatever was completely not feasible. Of course the university was telling them otherwise, but I was just covering my own ass.

    Also, I love Bad Teacher. So much.

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