Saturday, December 18, 2004


I'm speaking of the perception that students feel entitled to good grades these days. Admittedly, this is my first semester teaching full time, but in one of my courses, I've had probably 10 students e-mail me about their grades (when they found out they weren't getting A's).

So the thing is, these students rarely (and in some cases never) participated in class. Participation was 10% of the grade. You don't talk all semester, you could lose up to 10 points. Is that hard to understand?

Apparently, they all think you just get the participation grade automatically. "I had an A going into the exam." Well, no, you didn't, because you never participated. But you didn't calculate that part, because you assumed you were getting it.

My favorite complaining student told me in his e-mail that he should get full participation because he came to class, paid attention, and etc. (and how is that "participation"?) He also said I was ruining a semester's worth of hard work with my ridiculous participation policy, and that it was the stupidest such policy in his four years in college. Oh, and he also said he shouldn't be penalized for being 'naturally quiet.'

Yes, and I suppose I shouldn't penalize people who get nervous and tank the exams. It's a natural tendency, after all. Why should they be penalized?

So when I quoted the syllabus to him and explained that he should have discussed his 'naturally quiet' tendencies with me BEFORE the end of the semester rather than assuming I would just give everyone credit, he went off on me (via e-mail), using some ample profanity and instructing me not to e-mail him back because he would just delete it because "just the idea of you pisses me off."

Man... I know people were disappointed that they lost so many points for particpation, but get a grip. Naturally quiet? Get over it. You need to be able to speak up. If you can't, you will get nowhere in life. And this assumption they all seem to have that the participation grade is a 'gimme'? Well, I guess I'm not surprised, but puh-leeze, people.

I have spent much of this week royally pissed off at this student (though I didn't even respond to his immature ranting) -- so pissed off that I didn't even want to blog about it. I shared the content of the e-mail with several colleagues at my school and other universities, and all were universally shocked at the vitriol (I got several of these: "I always get complaints, but never anything like THAT.") So I forwarded it to my department chair, who recommended I discuss the matter with the dean in charge of discipline.

The thing is -- I just don't think this kid should get away with talking to a professor like that. And the e-mail was so angry and out of control that I admit I felt midly threatened. One senior colleague told me a story about a similar angry response some years back and a slashed tire... so while I am not really worried too much, I think it's worth getting it on the record now.

Unfortunately, with Christmas holidays starting, the process kind of got stunted. I was finally able to get in touch with this discipline dean on Friday, and she wanted to read the e-mail exchange, which I forwarded. And I never heard back. But it was the Friday before Christmas break for the university, so I didn't expect to get too far with it. I just would have liked to hear back, even with a "let's talk as soon as break is over" so I could get some temporary closure for the holidays.

It ticks me off because the whole thing has made me gunshy. Every time a student in that class (or in any class, I guess, but only the ones in that one class have done this) writes to inquire about his or her grade, I expect some angry response. So here I am sweating my student responses, which is ludicrous.

I'll get over it. I've been spending time trying to get Christmas shopping done (finished today!) and get the house clean in anticipation of (1) my parents' visit and (2) my in-laws' visit, which is four days after my parents leave. I'm actually looking forward to the company (we moved pretty far from family to take this job) and the help with the kids. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I'm beat. I just want to sleep in late for a few mornings, which I will do starting on Tuesday!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

I guess I'll be needing some cheese...

... you know, to go with my WHINE from the previous post. Didn't mean to come off that way. I had had a long day, and several VERY little things contributed to a foul mood. Weird, you'd think I'd know myself well enough by now to not let things affect me so much. I KNOW I'm going to be fine in a day or two, but various things, like little comments from my division chair (comments that are totally innocent and of no cause for concern), somtimes have the power to drag down my entire day.

The thing is, the comment in question, in response to a query of mine on a minor topic, wasn't a negative thing in any major way. Perhaps not the response I was hoping for or expecting, and I don't think the tone was negative either. I still don't know why it bothered me. Maybe because I was just tired and hoping to get a different response to my e-mail.

I've been trying to polish the script I'm going to be shooting next summer, and I am SO not 'feeling' it right now. It's an offbeat comedy, and when I wrote it, originally, and as I was rewriting it over time, I was very into it and little ideas were flowing like an open tap. Now, as I need to come up with a better opening that captures the quirkiness of the main character... nothing. I haven't had a single good idea.

The reality is I just need to start writing and something will come to me, and I'll delete all the crap I just wrote, and I'll have my idea. But since the move here, life at home has not made for a great working environment. Life at hone, mind you, is still fine. No major worries, other than still trying to get the family to settle in, but I don't have a defined "working" space at home. The spare bedroom, which is supposed to become my office, has not been doing it. Rolltop desk doesn't have space for my laptop (PowerBook with 17" screen), and the old desk chair in there is now broken and uncomfortable. My last attempt to work in there was disastrous -- comepletely uncreative experience, and I was only working on a syllabus for next semester!

So now I have this phobia about the room and haven't tried to go back in there to work. My office at work is smaller and more cluttered, but somehow less claustrophobic, which is weird. Distractions abound there, but I get more done. Different type of distraction, I guess.

And all of this has made me neurotic about writing a new script sometime soon. I haven't finished a completely new, polished script in a while. We're talking more than a year or two. I've worked on projects for other people, including adapting for the screen a play I wrote in my MFA program (said adaptation was for a specific project and became a low budget indie film, which probably helped me get this job).

But as far as something new? From scratch? Hmmmm, not so much.

I've been working, on and off, on two very good ideas for a long while. One is an almost complete first draft but is VERY rough. The other I've never gotten past structure problems (but I like the idea and really want to crack it sometime).

I think I'll take up the rough first draft one next so at least I'll be closer to completion when I begin, but even that feels like a copout since it's not 'starting from scratch.' I'm starting to fear my ability to do that -- to take an idea from scratch to completion. A little silly... perhaps.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

So Ready For A Break...

Final exams next week, major projects coming in tomorrow, so I'll probably grading all weekend so I can work next week on spring classes -- stressed about that because two of the three are new to me. Stuff I mostly know, but haven't taught before. All while I also need to be doing pre-production on my next film. So things are hectic, but I am going to take a week or two off for the holiday and try to relax a little.

Had a meeting today in the closest big city, about two hours away, with my producer. We were meeting with an experienced producer who has a friendly relationship with the university... just seeking advice and hoping he might be interested in what we are doing. The lunch went well, and I think he is (slightly) interested, but it didn't give us a whole lot of new information. Stuff we new already or that really didn't apply to us because of the small scope of our project.

But it was a good roadtrip for the day, good to spend quality time with my producer, who is a new friend and colleague on faculty who I've really connected with. We got to talk about departmental politics, as well as personal stuff like family and etc.

I came home just feeling tired and run down -- not just physically, but emotionally too, though I can't say why. I think it's just the mountain of work I know is ahead, combined with the ant problem in the pantry when I got home. Though that's about solved now, it still meant putting all the food back in, which was just tiring at the end of a long day...

I'm so tired, I'm having trouble coming up with anything fruitful or interesting to say on here at the moment. I've been reading all the wonderful introspective blogs I usually read, and I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface here most days. Just cataloging incidents and events.

I'm also preparing for my first year tenure review, which is stressful. I haven't done anything yet; it's only been one semester. They know this of course, but this meeting will set the tone and structure for the rest of them, and I'm supposed to develop a five year plan for teaching, research (which is creative work for me), publication (er, how do I interpret this for me? distribution? film festival invitations?), and etc. Just getting this all on paper is challenging, and I'm never satisfied with this kind of document; I never feel like it really represents who I am and what I am all about. It's just a collection of words on paper, and I'm not yet convinced that the powers that be outside my department (dean, provost) understand how what I do is tenurable on its own merit, without me having to write scholarly articles (which, even if I was inclined to do, I'm not really equipped to do -- it's just not my thang, if you know what I mean. Since that meeting is not long after spring semester starts, I'm obsessing about it as well.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Dealing with Students

I was reading Bitch, PhD's post about empathizing with students and it got me thinking about my dealings with my students this semester. It's been eye-opening in some ways.

As I mentioned, it's my first semester teaching full time. I didn't expect students to all be perfect little learners, but I was surprised at how passive some were, how they expected me to solve their problems and concede to their sometimes odd arguments and excuses. I had my share of "my computer crashed" and "my car broke down" and "I've been so sick this semester" excuses, and while I am not naive enough to believe them all, I really struggled to discern between the legit problems and the liars.

And I had some who were flat-out lazy and didn't seem to care if I knew this. Some of the comments students made about attendance left me, literally, speechless. Students would try to verify that they had been counted that day (I use a sign-in sheet in large classes), and when I mentioned that there was no attendance sheet that day, a student said "I could've stayed in bed!" Another, coming in late to class as I was dismissing it early, said she was sorry she was late but "there was a sale at Limited."

I'm not making that last one up.

In my screenwriting class, I was working with small groups of students on their scripts, advising this one student that his script had no direction because he simply hadn't taken any time to think through what the script was about. As I was giving him some advice about where he might go with the concept, he replied, "well, it's not like I'm going to finish it."

It's not like this was a big surprise. So fine, he was going to submit what he needed to submit, and he wouldn't ever look at the script again, but to come right out and say this to your professor just seems, well, odd. Brazen, perhaps. Then he e-mailed me recently begging to get into one of my spring classes that required my permission for entry. What the hell? I told him to come by my office and talk to me about it. Haven't seen him since (not even in class).

I think I was too laid back about tardiness and absences this semester. This is because I was just trying to keep up with my lectures and etc. So it was hard for me to worry about the absences, but when they got out of hand, and when latecomers were becoming a problem, I couldn't deal with it effectively because I hadn't set up expectations ahead of time.

Live and learn...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


No blogging of late. Final exams are upon me, next semester is banging on the door, and my PowerBook had a massive crash over the holiday weekend, from which I am just now getting back to full speed (several days behind).

My last class meeting of Fall 04 is tomorrow (Thursday, 12/2), and I can't believe I am done with my first semester on the tenure track (well, 'done' as far as class meetings go. I still have final exams to administer and projects and scripts to grade).

I feel like I need to have a New Semester Resolution list... (1) I will be tougher on my students when it comes to deadlines and not let them slack just because I am too unorganized to do anything about it...

Any other ideas to add to the list?