Top 10 Hate Crimes Against Professors

I was chatting with my best friend about how much I detest grading papers that are overwritten. I shared an example of a student’s paper whose first sentence was 3 lines long and contained 4 words with 5 syllables and 3 words with 4 syllables. What I actually said to her was: ‘It’s like she took an idea and beat it to death for the next 10 pages.’ My friend responded: ‘that’s a hate crime against professors.’  And it is. So I thought of other things students do that constitute hate crimes (because we hate it).

10. Saying you will come to office hours and then not showing. We have office hours because we are supposed to. BUT if we know students are not going to come to office hours, we spend that time working on other things. If a student happens to come, then we stop and speak with the student. If you tell me you are coming, I plan my office hours accordingly. When you don’t show, I want to require you to attend an event I know was canceled.

9. Using a laptop or cell phone during class. Uhmm hello…I have eyes. I can see that you are off task because you are staring at your crotch or smiling at your computer screen. Nothing about self-efficacy theory evokes thoughts of masturbation or girlish giggles. Put that crap away.

8. Being sick and touching everything in my office. Look, you’re lucky I let you come into my office with your hacking, sniffling, sneezing, heavy breathing self. Please do me the courtesy of NOT touching every item within reach. Just sit there—preferably while wearing a mask and gloves—and listen to what I’m saying. Then leave promptly so I can disinfect everything before the germs take root.

7.  Asking for extra credit. This is not middle school. You don’t have get out of jail free cards in college. If you didn’t do the assignment correctly the first time, why would you magically be able to do it now? No. I am not grading extra work because you chose not to follow directions. Please move on. And don’t pass Go, and don’t collect $200.

6. Sending emails after 8pm and expecting a response. You don’t respond to ANY email I send no matter what the time so why should I be expected to respond to your 11.29pm request for help with the paper due in 8 hours? If you send me another email that late at night, I’m going to send you a virus.

5. Plagiarism. This is just plain foolhardy. The same way you searched the internet for terrible things to copy, we can search the internet and find what awful document you copied. But most of the time, we don’t even have to do that. When you include sentences like ‘I use this term in the sense in which it is used in cybernetics, that is, in the sense of processes with feedback and with feedforward, of processes which regulate themselves by a progressive compensations of systems.”, I know you are plagiarizing Piaget. What the hell is cybernetics? You don’t know do you? Because you aren’t an engineer. And neither am I. The jig is up.

4. Asking for handouts for missed classes. YOU missed class. I was there. Why should I go out of my way to catch you up because you decided to go to your cousin’s best friend’s brother’s wedding in Oregon? I didn’t get an invitation to the wedding and you aren’t getting the handouts from class. See how it feels to be left out?

3. Unprofessional emails. If we have never met, please don’t address me by my first name. Because you are not my personal friend, you have no clue if I am married or not. Please do not default to Mrs. because I am a woman.  Though you don’t know my age, it is safe to assume that I am not your peer; therefore, please do not type your email as if I am your bff and we lol 2gether. I don’t care if YOLO. This is a place of business. Use proper diction and complete sentences.  Which leads me to….

2. Poorly written papers. This includes lack of organization, poor grammar, awful spelling, too short and too long papers, incorrectly formatted papers, off topic papers, papers you submitted in your last class with me, papers you submitted in my colleague’s class, hastily written, and poorly researched papers. If I have to read one more essay that begins ‘Since the beginning of time, man has…’ I am going to drop kick someone in the throat.

And the most offensive hate crime is….

1. Asking questions whose answers are ON THE SYLLABUS! I didn’t write that for my health. I wrote it so I wouldn’t have to tell 20 students individually where my office is, my office hours, when assignments are due, how many points assignments are worth, what the required texts are, the grading scale, attendance policy, or that I don’t accept late work. For the love of God, READ THE SYLLABUS!

 

hate crimes

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Politicians Could Learn from My Students

After watching the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, I absolutely have to mention the parallels I saw between my undergraduate students and the candidates. To be specific (unlike the politicians): these politicians could learn a lot about debating from my very smart, very passionate, and very respectful students. To take a page from Governor Romney, I shall enumerate some things:

1)      Admit you don’t know. Congressman Ryan, when you’re asked to provide specifics on how your ticket would pay for a 20% tax cut across the board, don’t keep talking. Just admit you don’t know. When my students don’t do the reading, they don’t even attempt the pop quiz. Instead, they just say ‘I don’t know’.

2)      Stand by your beliefs. Governor Romney, when you’re asked about your plans for Medicare, don’t speak around it and introduce the idea of a Medicare voucher. Just say you have, and will likely continue to, increase the cost of Medicare. My students often say ‘I know it’s not the general trend at this school, but I have to be honest and say…’

3)      Don’t rely on the high road. President Obama, the high road is rarely taken so most people lack familiarity with it. What’s more, taking the high road passively is even more likely to go overlooked. If you aren’t going to say ‘I am taking the high road’ then just don’t take it. No one is giving you credit for that. My students rarely take the high road when they are debating in class. They aren’t above calling people out. Exposing their truth (note: not the truth) is paramount to being polite.

4)      Don’t laugh at others’ incompetence. Vice President Biden, when your opponent is clearly struggling to develop coherent and consistent thoughts, don’t laugh at him. My students have developed great tactics for hiding their dismay at their classmates’ lack of preparation. They put their head down and act like they are taking notes, they flip through their notes as if searching for more evidence, they lean their head back and look up as if in deep thought. Any of those will work.

5)      Speaking quickly does not mask your incompetence. Congressman Ryan, as a follow up to point number one, if you aren’t going to admit you don’t know, then please don’t speak fast in hopes that the audience will not notice. What that does is draw attention to your speech. Just be quiet. When forced to speak, students who didn’t do the readings say one thing specifically and clearly. Try that next time.

6)      Enumeration without clarity does not improve comprehension. Governor Romney, enumerating disjointed points does not make your dialogue easier to understand. On the contrary, it increases confusion because the audience is trying to figure out how you linked these ideas. This is a useless effort because your points are in fact, not related. To tackle the issue of unrelated ideas jammed into the same statement, my students use transitions like ‘and on another note’ or ‘somewhat related to this’. This cues the audience that you are shifting conceptual gears.

7)      Toot your own horn. President Obama, we the people are tired of you downplaying your successes as President. Your administration has captured and killed Osama Bin Laden, you’ve passed a major healthcare act that allowed students (specifically graduate students like myself) to stay on their parents’ healthcare until age 26, you’ve granted people the right to marry the person they love, and you’ve stood by women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies. While many may not view all of these as successes, your administration does, so be vocal about them. My students are quick to say ‘As a dean’s scholar, ‘When I was president of the class’, or ‘As a triple major’. Providing context and credence for your opinions is not arrogant. It is often necessary.

8)      Repetition makes you look like you have nothing to say. President Obama and Governor Romney, we the people never want to hear ‘5 trillion’ and ‘American people’ again. We get it. We got it the first dozen times you said it. Move on to your next point. If you don’t have one, refer to number one on this list. My students quiet down when they’ve exhausted their ideas. It’s how I know we are ready to move to the next reading.

9)      Know your facts. To all of you, please stop relying on biased interpretations of data. You are educated people with critical thinking skills. We the people don’t want to hear ‘statistics’ gathered by your party, organizations that support your party, organizations your party supports, or any other biased entity. We also don’t want to hear old data, poorly collected/analyzed data, or simple wrong data. I tell my students all the time, ‘I don’t care where you fall on this issue; I care that you back it up with credible facts’.

10)  Acknowledge that your personal views are PERSONAL. Vice President Biden did a good job of this so he is excused from this lesson. The rest of you need to remember that your feelings and beliefs (note: feelings and beliefs are not facts) are personal and derivative of your experiences. We the people have not lived your life and you have not lived ours. It is for that reason that your personal views should not be imposed on others. I work with my students to create a classroom climate in which everyone feels safe to not only express, but to also live their beliefs. I wish you all could work together to create the same for the people of our country.

Turn My Swag On

Today was the first day of class in my Ed Psych course. All weekend I was kind of dreading the first day because…well, I don’t know why. I just was. I’ve taught this class plenty of times so it wasn’t nervousness. I’m teaching in my favorite classroom so there was no anxiety about getting to learn the space. I just wasn’t feeling it. As of 9pm last night I was most excited about my new outfit.

A friend texted me early this morning and woke me about 30 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off. I read his text and then closed my eyes to get my last stretch of rest. Then my eyes popped open and I had one thought: class starts today!  To my surprise, I was excited. I thought about getting out of bed and just getting dressed and eating a good breakfast (as opposed to my usual yogurt or pop tart or instant oatmeal). Then I thought how exhausting my day was going to be so I opted to get more sleep. But I didn’t sleep. I laid there anticipating what I was going to say to my students, if I was going to accept students off of the wait list, how best to organize the classroom, reviewing my lesson plan for the day, deciding which shoes would facilitate all the walking I do around the classroom.

Then my alarm actually went off.

I hopped up out the bed, turned my swag on, and got ready for a new group of students. I went to work, answered emails, ate my yogurt, gathered my materials and headed to class.

And class was awesome blossom.

I had them working in small groups on multiple activities within 20 minutes. Their primary activity (after we defined ‘education’, ‘psychology’, and ‘education psychology’) was to design a course syllabus for a future Ed Psych class. In groups of 4-6 they were to outline daily topics with special attention paid to the order of coverage.

As they worked diligently I strolled around the room listening to their conversations and reading their notes. I posed questions to get them back on track or to (more often) rein in their thinking. After about 30 minutes we came together and each group presented their syllabus. The students made wonderful observations not only about the difficulty of creating a syllabus, but also about the breadth and depth of educational issues and the intersection of social factors, school functioning, development, and learning outcomes.

Yes, they did well. They obviously got what I wanted out of the activity, but most of all, they knew they got what I intended out of the activity.

By the end of class I could tell my students were surprised. They were surprised they actually did meaningful activities on the first day of class, but more surprised they actually learned something from them. I overheard one student say: ‘If this was the first day, I can’t wait to see what happens by Thursday.

Neither can I.

A Letter to Grad School Applicants

Dear Applicants,

It’s the fall semester, which means many of you will not be paying attention in class because not only do you have senioritis, your thoughts are on the 12 grad school applications waiting for you. And after you finish not paying attention in class, you will be asking your professor for a letter of recommendation. To make this process easier for us all, I’ve compiled a list of tips derived from my experiences 7 years ago as an applicant, and my experiences during the last 2 years on a graduate school admissions committee.

General Advice:

  • Have an actual plan. Know what degree you want and why. Grad school is not for you to find yourself; that’s what college was for.
  • Research careers associated with your intended degree. You may discover that you don’t need an advanced degree to do what you want to do. Or you may find you need a different degree.
  • Research the program, not the school. Pay close attention to funding options, graduation rates, graduation timeframes, faculty research and teaching interests, internship opportunities/requirements, and course scheduling. These details are the ones that make or break your graduate school experience
  • Only apply to programs in cities in which you would like to live long-term. You can’t predict the future so you truly don’t know how long it may take for you to finish the program or what may happen after. What if you get a job offer through the internship? What if you meet the love of your life and he/she lives in that city?
  • You may consider talking to current students and graduates of the program. They will have insight you can’t find online, in brochures, or by talking to faculty.
  • Drop your ‘I know it all’ attitude at the door. Grad school is a whole new world. You have no idea.

Letters of Recommendation:

  • Please pay attention to deadlines. If your completed application is due October 31st, do not ask for recommendations on October 15th. Give your writers a minimum of 4 weeks (I gave my writers 6).
  • Choose your recommendation writers very well. You need someone who has worked with you beyond merely being your professor. We see a lot of students every day. There is no guarantee I will remember that one witty thing you said one time in my course 16 months ago.
    • Be sure to include a professor whose courses are relevant to the work you will do in graduate school. Committees want to read about your applicable knowledge and skills. Not what you learned to do in Basket-weaving 101.
    • If you got below a B+ in a class, you may not want to choose that particular professor (unless you have a strong personal relationship that extends beyond that course)
    • Present well-rounded letters. If you have 3 letters, have 2 professors and 1 supervisor or coach. If you can include a personal reference, do it. But don’t choose your bestie from way back; choose an upperclassman, a family friend, or the person with whom you volunteer. Just be sure that person is literate and actually likes you.
    • If your program requires 3-5 letters of recommendation, try to send 4. That fourth letter may be the tie breaker between you and another candidate. Or it could be the letter that pushes you into the ‘accept’ pile.
    • Please provide your writers with a portfolio of pertinent information to aid in their writing process. This includes but is not limited to: your transcript, a resume, your personal statement, information about the program, a stamped and addressed envelope in which the writer can place your completed letter, a cover page with clear instructions and due dates.
    • Feel free to send your writers reminders about due dates. Be sure to phrase these emails or conversations graciously. And please do not send them a reminder every 3 days. If you allot them 4 weeks to write the letter, check in after 2 weeks. Then give them the 5 day reminder if necessary.
    • Please don’t be rude and ask to read the letter of recommendation. If you don’t trust the person to write a good letter, don’t ask them.

Personal Statement

  • Read the instructions!!! Every personal statement does not ask for the same information. Practice those middle school skills and number each detail of the prompt to be included in the essay.
  • WRITE AN OUTLINE. I can’t express this clearly enough. No one wants to read the hodge podge mess of ideas you threw on the paper with no prior thought.
  • Provide specific, relevant examples. Don’t just say ‘I loved science as a kid, so my interest in the field is long lasting.’  Instead, give examples of ways you demonstrated your interest in science from high school and beyond (or college and beyond if applying a few years removed from college). No one cares that you held a magnifying glass over ants when you were 6.
  • This is your opportunity to tie together disparate aspects of your resume. Explicitly state how your internships, volunteer work, major courses, independent study, and extra curriculars relate to one another AND to the knowledge and skills you’ve developed that will help you be successful in that program.
  • Please write your essay specifically for each program to which you apply. Committees recognize a ‘form essay’ after two sentences.
  • This is not creative writing class. No one wants to read fiction or your autobiography. You are not telling a story; you are advocating for yourself with the use of honest evidence.
  • Proofread your work. Microsoft Word is not your editor; you are. Have a friend read it. Read it aloud to yourself. Send it to a parent. (do all of this before you give it to your recommendation writers)

Test Scores

  • Unless you are genius, it would be a good idea to take a refresher course before you sit for the actual GRE/MCAT/LSAT/GMAT. If you’re anything like me, you haven’t looked at geometry since 9th grade. If you can’t pay the ridiculous prices for the review courses (first off, decide if you truly can’t pay it or if you’d just rather spend your little bit of money on shoes, alcohol, clubs, and clothes), find sample tests online. It’d be best to look for these on the test publisher’s website.
  • Taking a review course is not enough. You need to actually study for these tests. In silence, with notes, regularly. Try to create the testing conditions when you study. When you encode information the same way you are required to retrieve it, retrieval is faster and more accurate.
  • If the tests are entirely electronic, please take practice tests in this format. Time yourself using the same time allotted during the test.
  • Know to which schools you will apply before taking your test. Sometimes, they send your scores for your (included in the testing fee) to the schools. If you don’t know where you are applying, you can’t choose the schools on testing day.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Applying to graduate school is a serious decision that should be given more thought than I myself gave it. I am one of the fortunate few for whom it all worked out well. ‘Don’t trade places with where I been’ (Miss Sophia, Color Purple).

Good luck!

Incognegros: ‘Hidden’ Blacks on Campus

Incogs. That’s what we called them. Short for Incognegros. This was the term/label for Black students who didn’t associate with the Black community in undergrad.

I don’t recall how I learned this term, but I know it was very early in my undergraduate career. I can remember walking around campus freshmen fall trying to figure out who everyone was. When explaining to my (now) best friend who someone in the dorm next to mine was, she said ‘oh, she must be an incog.’  I blithely agreed and we kept it moving to dinner.

As a 17 year old freshmen at an Ivy League college I wasn’t dumb or naïve. I knew that label was wrong, inappropriate, judgmental. But frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t care because another part of me—a larger part—was annoyed at these students. Why with only 350 Black students on campus would you choose to disassociate? I felt like we needed to ban together. We needed to support the African American Society and other affinity groups on campus. Yet these particular students never showed up to meetings, events, and they certainly didn’t speak to us in the cafeterias.

And we didn’t speak to them.

As an adult I wonder if the ‘Incogs’ consciously chose to not associate with the Black community or if they were simply forging friendships with whom they’ve always befriended. I hope it is the latter because why would anyone purposely choose to not speak to an entire racial group, especially when to everyone else on campus, you are a part of that group?

I know now that most of these students were doing what everyone does: staying in their comfort zone. I can admit that it is difficult to connect with people you’ve never had the opportunity to get to know. You don’t know the social norms of that group, and it takes a lot to learn them past the age of 8.

But there is hope.

My research takes me into middle schools, but my volunteer work allows me to closely work with high school students. During my weekly practices with my high school students, I notice a stark difference in their school compared to my own high school: friend groups are significantly more diverse. The social clubs and organizations, along with the sports teams are also more diverse. There is not the age old White soccer team and Black football team. Even my step team has males and females, freshmen through seniors, and at least 5 racial groups represented. I love it!

But I don’t see this on my campus. It may be the small numbers of ethnic minority students to begin with, but having lived on campus in faculty housing last year, I still did not see many diverse friend groups hanging out on campus. If in fact high schools are more socially integrated now (which may not be the case in most cities—I have no idea), why isn’t this trend sustained in college? What is it about college that pushes students to prioritize their identities and make relevant social connections? And what can I, as a faculty member, do to encourage interracial student interactions?

Or is this even a necessary battle to fight?

Black Women on a White Campus: You Got a Ghetto Booty!

Today, the class of 2016 moves into the dorms. My school is proud to have successfully recruited and admitted around 20 African American freshmen. This may not sound like a lot, but let me contextualize it for you. The undergraduate student body contains roughly 2000 students. Of that 2000 last year, about 10-15 were self-identified African American (not ‘Black’. Black is a race; African American is an ethnicity. International students from Africa and the Caribbean for example may check Black as their race, but they do not identify as African American). I know for a fact that we graduated at least 2 of those 10-15 students. To bring in 20 is basically doubling the African American population on campus. Great! Well done! Hats off to you!

Now, what are you going to do for them?

I am gravely concerned for these students. So much so, that at the end of last academic year, I met individually with African American students to gain their perspective on the lack of diversity and segregated sense of community on campus. I wanted to know how they were faring. What I found was a gender difference. The guys are doing just fine for the most part. They’ve each found their niche—be it in academics, sports, music, whatever. They are dating, going to parties, going out of town with classmates, and having a great college experience. They are in effect, enjoying many of the advantages of male privilege.

The women are struggling. They are bonding with one another out of necessity, not always out of desire. They find themselves left off emails inviting floor mates to eat lunch together. They find themselves navigating social scenarios wherein other women say things like ‘you got a ghetto booty!’ They feel like objects on display for white women who’ve never had a ‘black friend’. These women want to touch their hair, ask them about their eating habits, and try on their ‘urban’ clothes. My African American female students know their classmates do not intend to be offensive. But that does not make the abuse easier to bear.

Interactions with white male students are worse. The ladies shared many stories about things their white male classmates say at parties once they’ve had too much alcohol. I won’t be crass and repeat them here, but I will say that no woman, regardless of ethnicity, should have to suffer the verbal and sometimes physical assaults these women endure. They are not viewed by these men as friends, and certainly not as possible girlfriends. They are an anomaly only seen on TV or from across the cafeteria. They are merely tolerated, never accepted.

So the African American women retreat. They hang out together in someone’s dorm room. They go out of their way to befriend students at other colleges. They join clubs and sports teams in the community. They travel to another city to get their hair done. In essence, they’ve created their own college within the college. We’ve pushed them away by not offering any support. By not creating a community in which they are a member, not a neighbor. We have not offered them the same opportunities for a college experience as we’ve offered their more privileged classmates. We have displaced them. Yet we are doing nothing about it. Instead, we place the burden on them.

And they carry it well.

I commend my students for still trying. For not responding to their peers in anger. For having the courage to speak with me about sensitive issues. For not letting their social experiences affect their academic experience.  For still being extremely excited—despite their personal experiences—that a new generation of African American students are coming to campus.

It is only youth who can endure such hardship and still be smiling and enthusiastic. Still want to mentor and befriend a new generation. Still want to develop organizations and clubs and make them open to the entire campus. Still find the strength to not shut down, but to be even more open to new people and new opportunities. I admire their fortitude. I admire their determination. I admire their positivity.

But for how much longer can we expect them to silently bear the burden of creating community?

Yes, we have a new class, but an old classroom. Things haven’t changed all that much.

A Letter to College Students (from all Profs)

Dear Students,

Before the academic year begins, I have a few things I’d like to discuss with you. Please listen carefully. No, no, no-don’t speak. Just listen. In fact, take out your phone and record what I am about to say.

Number one: Read the course description before you register for my course. Pay close attention to the course title and number as well. The numbers are not arbitrary. 100, 200, and 300-level courses increase in difficulty. This means that my 300-level course is probably not suitable for you first semester freshman year.

Number two: If I email you before the beginning of the course, please read that email. In all likelihood, I am relaying some important content in that message. In fact, I AM relaying important content. For example, you may need to have some readings done prior to the first day of class. You are responsible for those readings whether you read the email or not. If this bothers you, drop my class.

Number three: If I email you during the course, please read that email. Again, I am either a) clarifying course related information (scheduling, assignments, readings); b) providing you with extra information to aid in your learning process; or c) asking for your feedback/input on course related issues. If you do not read the email, you are still responsible for that content. If this annoys you, drop my class.

Number four: I do not exist for your amusement. I have a life of my own. I do not sit in front of my computer waiting for you to email me at 10:52pm so I can give you feedback on your paper draft. You have friends for that. Use them.

Number five: This is MY course. I choose what time we begin, end, if we have breaks, when assignments are due, course readings, grading scale, and learning goals. Now, on the first day of class, I always negotiate these things with my students. If you are absent on the first day of class, your vote will not be counted retroactively. And if I choose to not put any of these issues up for negotiation, I have that right. If you think this is unfair, drop my class.

Number six: IT IS ON THE SYLLABUS. You will hear me repeat this at least one time per 35 minutes of class. I will repeat it now as an example of what you will hear in class: IT IS ON THE SYLLABUS. In case you are confused, the ‘it’ I am referring to is whichever piece of information you ‘swear’ is not on the syllabus. This includes but is not limited to: the title of the course, the course description, the course number, my email address, my office number, office hours, required texts, due dates for all assignments, due times for all assignments, the grading scale, policies regarding late work, policies regarding absences, policies regarding athletic travel. So, for what I wish would be the last time: IT IS ON THE SYLLABUS.

Number seven: Excuses—I don’t need them. If you have excuses, drop my class.

(you may stop recording now)

Have a wonderful year 🙂