Monday, November 30, 2009

not bells

Listening to Christmas music while grading, I realize that Carol of the Bells has pretty much been ruined for me.

Most recently, by Wal-mart, and their inane "flip the lights on the checkout stands" ad (Yeah, like the wal-mart near me EVER has enough checkers. Though I could see them playing with their lights rather than checking people out)

Then, previously (and still, I see they have a new semi-surreal ad) by Garmin, the GPS makers.

But, first off, it was ruined for me - at least, as any kind of semi-reverent observance - by "Ding, Fries are Done."

And I admit it. Ding, Fries are Done is one of those things that I laughed at, even if at the same time I said to myself, "I'm gonna have to answer to the Big Guy some day for finding this funny." (I don't think I'd quite be sent to Hell for laughing at it, but I can imagine God looking very sternly at me and shaking His head a little bit)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A moratorium on "I'm dieting and I LOST SO MUCH WEIGHT and I'm going to make my family eat raw vegetables and plain turkey breast for Thanksgiving because I don't want to sabotage my diet" stories. And "I find turkey boring, therefore I decree NO ONE IN AMERICA SHOULD FIX TURKEY THIS THANKSGIVING" stories. And "When did Thanksgiving become an excuse for gluttony" stories (Um, the original Thanksgiving? The colonists had been starving? So to have enough food for once was a joy?) And all the other freaking KILLJOY stories surrounding this, my favorite non-explicitly-Christian holiday.

Grr. I am SO EFFING SICK of the health nannies. Just let me enjoy my damn turkey and sweet potatoes and dressing AND PUMPKIN PIE. For ONE day. Just STHU.

Thanksgiving break kind of sneaked up on me again (But don't worry, I have plans. I did make plans. I won't be sitting at home alone crying in front of the Macy's parade because I waited too long to try to get tickets to travel).

I'm grateful for this break. I really, really need it.

And I'm grateful Congress is on break. For two reasons:

1. They can't do anything to us this week
2. Maybe they'll get an earful from their constituents (I hope) about the steaming pile that is "health" "care" "reform" (Each word deserves its own set of scare quotes, I think)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kind of sad but kind of not

By this point in the semester, I can almost predict what grade someone will earn before I look at their paper.

Super-competitive tightly-wound guy will get 100% or damn close to it (and if he doesn't, he'll try arguing for points).

Speshul Snowflake woman will talk a big deal about how good her project is, but it'll be a half-assed B at best.

Compulsive Man will go way beyond what the assignment required and will earn a 100% (or even if he didn't dot every last i that I expected, he will earn it out of sheer overkill on other stuff)

Slacker Dude will earn a 60% - at best.

Never-there-Girl will pull maybe a 60, maybe a 70, depending on whether she read the assignment closely or not.

Quiet-but-takes-good-notes-person will score somewhere in the low 90s at least.

So far, of the papers I have, I've graded Quiet-but-takes-good-notes, Compulsive Man, and Super-Competitive Tightly-Wound guy. Par for the course. And I flipped to the next paper - Slacker Dude. He left out a major part of the assignment, I can tell even before I read it, because he has one size-16-font page with a bulleted list on it instead of a narrative, which is what I asked for.

Students claim sometimes that profs stereotype them and grade accordingly. Well, I'm not so much stereotyping (I still read all the stuff and hope against hope that one of the low achievers got their act together THIS time) as noting patterns that seem to recur.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Debate topic:

"Is 'Bridezillas' the stupidest thing ever to have been on television?"

Go. (In the comments).

(I saw part of an episode today. Couldn't look away for about 10 minutes. Wanted to smack every person involved. And then wanted to take them and drop them in a middle of a starving village in Africa or some-damn-where in the hopes they'd develop a wee bit of perspective.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I've occasionally watched episodes of "Community," a sitcom set at a community college.

I'm not sure how I feel about it - some of the humor borders on mean-spiritedness (like the other NBC comedies on Thursday night) and I'm not really one for that type of humor. But usually the episodes have at least one thing that makes me laugh out loud.

Tonight, it was this: Senor Chang, the dispirited Spanish teacher (yes, he is of Chinese heritage) has a student talk back to him in class. So he starts by assigning a one-page essay, en Espagnol, on a topic. And then someone asks a question. So he increases the length and makes the topic more complex and related to the person or what they just asked about. Finally, one of the students tries to placate him, in the hopes of making him stop being crazy.

And he looks at her, and says, "TWENTY PAGES! On ASS-KISSING!"

I've been there. Not done that, but certainly been there.

(He does wind up rescinding the essay, because the smarmy-guy lead character gets him back together with his wife. At a Greene Daye concert. (Yeah, they had the obligatory annoying "Green Week" environmental-theme tie-in. I almost didn't watch when I realized that).

Having a hard time

Everything's hitting the fan right now. I have students in full-on freak-out mode because they just figured out that they won't pass. There's other stuff going on that I can't talk about here that isn't pleasant.

And I'm feeling my frequent sense of "no one cares, all I get is work heaped on my head, I do crap that's above and beyond what's expected and I never hear one word of thanks. Everyone takes me for granted."

And I don't know. Maybe just everything sucks right now. Maybe we're just going through some kind of times where everything is bad. But I just want to hear someone, once, say a gorram THANK YOU when I agree to accept their homework late. Or when I make an effort to get them a handout they missed. Or to fill out paperwork I really shouldn't have to fill out.

And because I'm a responsible person who actually gives a crap, whatever thankless task becomes my permanent job. And yet I don't hear thanks for it.

I was raised to thank people - to thank the waiter or waitress when he or she comes and refills your water glass. To thank the person at the drugstore for filling your prescription. Hearing the occasional "please" or "thank you" makes the day go so much easier, makes you feel that your work is actually valued and valuable.

I know, I know: we live in a post-civility society and I just need to suck it up and learn to live with only hearing feedback about how what I have done is inadequate.

But sometimes, doing stuff for people and having it totally taken for granted makes me want to cry. I feel like no one gives a flying flip, that if I were to die tomorrow the only way people would find out would be that the stuff they counted on me to get done wasn't getting done. "Hey, where's ricki? She OWES us stuff! Could she be slacking off?"

And then, I imagine they go to my house to demand why I'm not grinding away at my desk like always, and they find my rotting corpse. And then they ask, "OH no, who will we get to do the thankless tasks now."

And I realize that's unrealistic and very colored by my bad mood today, but seriously, that's sometimes how I feel. Like all I am is a cog in a machine to people. Like I don't matter as a person.

And I fantasize about other careers: maybe if I were an artist people would give a damn. Maybe I'd actually hear someone praise my work. Or maybe if I learned how to groom animals, and I took care of people's dogs and cats and horses for them, then I'd hear a "wow, you made her mane look so great! You got all the burrs out!" Or something.

But I realize realistically - there is probably no job on this Earth today where you hear thanks and appreciation. Everyone's a demanding special snowflake now who can only see what THEY want and what THEY think they deserve - other people are merely obstacles to them, or merely devices for providing them what they want.

I'm just P.O.d at the entire human race today.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

dude, you voted for the guy...

One of my colleagues is complaining about a new push here on campus, to get students involved in "mandatory volunteerism." About how apparently there is a new stealth program to eventually make "volunteer hours" a requirement for graduation.

And he talks about how it could take away from classroom instruction (I agree). And he talks about how it affects "academic freedom" (I agree). And he even said, "It's like they're trying to set up some crazy Maoist state thing in the university, where it's 'you WILL do this for us.'" (And I also agree).

The thing that's killing me - and I don't want to get into the whole issue because he's a friend, and I don't argue politics with friends - is he was a HUGE Obama supporter.

Um, this is just the tide of the future. Or Hope N Change. Or something. Your guy PROMISED something like this. And now you're upset?

The thing is, when I talk with this guy, a lot of the stuff he says - about personal freedom, about responsibility, about not relying on the government for stuff - that's like the opposite of how he votes. I've tried to make some gentle nudgey comments but he ignores them, and after a blow-up with another person I tend to eschew discussion of politics on campus - because there are a lot of really smart people who are really dumb about politics, it seems.

(All of that said? I really, really didn't like McCain and I don't like him any better now. Some party somewhere needs to get its ass in gear and pick a good person for 2012, that's all I'm sayin'.)

But I've seen this phenomenon a lot: academics who call themselves hard-core liberal types, but when you sit down and talk with them, a lot of stuff they advocate is the commonsensical sort of stuff that people who are more moderate-to-conservative support, but they would never in a million years vote for a conservative. Which puzzles me.

(I actually had one colleague once comment that "higher taxes on the rich don't affect me, because I'll never be rich." Um, by some people's definition you already are, buddy - if you're making more than $50K. And this is someone who has "outside plans" for a second career that could make him a lot of money. We'll see. And even then - even if I'll never be "rich" in the sense of making $100K a year, if the rich get taxed to death, it does affect the rest of us. Because there are fewer jobs. And there are fewer little luxuries for those of us who want little luxuries, because there's no one buying the big luxuries. And even beyond that, it seems unfair to me to penalize someone for working hard or innovating or taking risks - which is how most of the rich entrepeneurial types got rich.)

The thing is, a lot of the folks I know who support Obama or even Pelosi are themselves very careful and frugal with money, and seem to resent the sort of intrusion into our daily lives that the "enhanced government role" brings. But they STILL can't bring themselves to switch affiliations.

It's strange.

Friday, November 13, 2009

ricki's newest rule

A long time ago, I posted a list of rules, including several for students.

I have a new one:

If you miss class on a day when I explain a BIG IMPORTANT TOPIC and work an example of it, you are not allowed to come bitching to me that you don't know it because you missed class. What's more, you're not allowed to expect me to re-teach an entire 50 minute class for you and you alone. You are not allowed to get mad because I say, "I know Cubert* in the front row takes good notes, see if he will give you a copy."

(*I have decided to anonymize names with the most ridiculous names I can come up with.)

And sadly...

My head may explode anyway even if I learn to tolerate childishness from 20 year olds (and nearly 50 year olds):

Pfizer, winner in the Kelo "eminent domain" case, pulls out, leaving empty fields.

Stupidest Supreme Court decision I can remember. Pfizer should be made to give all the people they eminent-domained back their lots, PLUS rebuild their houses as close to what they were (or better) if possible.

If that happened to me? I'd probably make a big sign saying, "[Company that got eminent domain] STOLE my property and the government helped them" and go and sit with it outside the place where my house used to stand for as much time every day as I possibly could. I think it's unconscionable how eminent domain has been allowed to expand.

HOW old are they again?

This week, I have had two students - in two separate classes - come very near to throwing a tantrum.

One of these students, I happen to know, is older than I am. (She mentioned her age one day).

My goal in life now has changed to, "Make it to the end of the semester before my head explodes."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

shouldn't it be worth fighting for?

I think I've figured out some of my distress with some of my students. It is that they get defeated very easily, like they've given up.

I hand back homeworks and instead of students paying attention to my discussion of what folks did wrong, they flip through their dayplanners or talk with their neighbors. And they toss the graded homework in the trash on their way out. And when I hand back the next one, on which they have made all the same mistakes, they say something like, "I just don't understand this" or "I just didn't work very hard on this" or something.

Dammit. Shouldn't your college education be worth more of a fight than that?

I remember when I was in college - in particular, chemistry - and I didn't understand something, I would find the TA or the prof on his office hours, and go in with a list, and say, "I don't understand thus-and-so as well as I'd like to. Could you explain it to me again?" And they would, and most of the time I'd understand it better. But my office hours, they are lonely. No one shows up to ask questions, even though I have people who get all bent out of shape over low grades or not understanding.

If you care about something, you have to fight for it. You have to be willing to put in a little effort. I get the feeling a lot of these folks either don't care, or have swallowed the victimology pill, where they believe if they don't get PRECISELY what they wanted without effort, it's because someone did them wrong along the way.

I have people who "play the victim" in my classes - they skip class, and then act all offended because, apparently, I did not show up on their doorstep to give them the announcements they missed. Or they do poorly and come at the end of the semester blaming me that they "didn't know" something, when they were absent on the day it was discussed.

And it makes me tired. I am just one person. I cannot do all the work for each of the 100+ of them. I cannot keep track of who was and was not paying attention at a given time. I am doing my best but they have to meet me at least halfway.

This is the millennial generation, folks. Ain't none of us Xers ever going to be able to retire, because there will be no one willing to take the reins from us. Or if there is, they will be calling us every 5 minutes to ask us "how do you turn the copier on again?"

I've said before I wasn't in favor of conscripted military or civil service, but I'm beginning to wonder - as 18 year olds continue to seem more helpless and "younger" with each semester, if there isn't going to come a point where we as a society have to do something to, figuratively speaking, force their testicles to descend before unleashing them on the world of the rest of the adults. Because as an adult older than these "kids," I am growing heartily tired of the whining, of the shutting-down, of the refusal to take responsibility for even rather small aspects of their education. As I said: I cannot do it all.

I have come within a hair's breadth of going all snarky and saying, "Oh, and do you want me to wipe your butt for you, too?" this semester. Twice, actually. That's not good.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The feel-better package I ordered for myself? That I was wondering when it would come?

turns out I never actually completed the order. Sigh. Ricki FAIL. (I did now but no idea if any of the items are now out of stock). I guess I got distracted. I hate that.

And I need "feel better" stuff right now, the combination of semester-suckage, news-suckage, and being around snarly snappy people is really getting me down.

I can't do it anymore.

I can't watch the news, or listen to commentary. It makes me despair too much. We are a nation divided. Neither side listens to the other any more, neither side is willing to admit that the other might have useful ideas. And it seems sometimes the side in power is interested mainly in hanging on as tightly as possible to that power and getting even more. Things are changing, fast, and not in a good way. People who want to slow down change, who want to say, "Wait, we need to think this over first" are vilified.

And so, I kind of give up. I leave it to those with more stomach for this than I have. Who have more time. Who do not work in a workplace where admitting their true political leanings will get them shunned. I know it's weak and irresponsible, but I just can't.

And so I'm giving up watching the news. Instead, I will watch the NCIS re-runs that USA so helpfully runs during that time. And the SpongeBob re-runs that Nickelodeon has on offer in the morning. Oh, I'll keep reading the blogs and scanning headlines on-line but I am just done with televised and radio news; it makes me too sick of my fellow humans. Both the sort of random everyday joe who sees nothing wrong with setting dogs on fire, and people in Congress who see nothing wrong with sucking more money out of people's pockets while shaming them for earning that much money in the first place.

I need one of those clocks, like they used to have in the Cold War - the five minutes to midnight sort of thing - only mine would be the "minutes to midnight" where "midnight" is me running off to live in a cabin on 100 acres of woodland, all posted NO TRESPASSING TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT THIS MEANS YOU.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Still sad, still thinking

About the Fort Hood killings.

I have known people who were (formerly) stationed there. I know how bases often become a pretty tight community for people who live there.

I think that's maybe the theme of the 20th-21st centuries: a group of people build a community that is working, that is doing good, and then someone comes in and tries to destroy it. (Actually, maybe this is the theme of civilized life; I seem to remember some instances, not quite the same, from the New Testament.)

I don't know why. If you pressed me, I'd kind of shrug and shake my head and go, "Evil?" Because I don't know. I'm the kind of person, who, if I get really angry with someone (and that is VERY rare, at that), my inclination is to go find that person, sit down with them, and try to explain why I am angry and see if I can fix things. Or, in the few instances where I felt my life was trashed and I had just failed at everything, my plans were to pick up, give away most of my stuff, buy a cheap car and drive as far as I could, find a new town, and get a job waiting tables or something for a while. Just disappear and try to make a new life. I never actually did it - on wiser reflection I figured out an alternate plan that didn't involve running away - but literally, that was my "nuclear option" - running off and resettling somewhere else and trying to make a new life.

I can't understand wanting to kill other people. But I suppose that's why 99.9% of us don't.

Look, I don't know why this happened, if there was something (other than simple evil) that made the guy do it. It's probably irresponsible to even speculate at this point.

My main inclination at this point is to say "there's evil in the world, and sometimes people get tempted to it." May we all be able to recognize evil when it comes to us, and resist its temptation.

My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones. And to the injured. And to all the folks whose sense of community has been destroyed, whose trust has been shattered. I hope they can heal.

I wish we never had to hear these kinds of stories. It made me think of Virginia Tech all over again.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Priorities and "having it all"

I've noticed something recently. It's really come to a head this semester, when I have several students with chronically ill family members, or with major health issues being diagnosed, or with other problems. A lot of the stuff is stuff that I would have dropped out for a semester to attend to (a lot of the stuff, while "big," is "short-lived" - a parent having major abdominal surgery but who will be OK in 2 or 3 months, trying to help a sibling go through the bankruptcy process). But these students don't; they randomly disappear for weeks at a time to attend to what is going on in their lives, and then come back and (a) expect they should be able to catch up and (b) expect that I will be overjoyed to re-teach what they missed and also write make up exams and set up the labs they missed just for them to complete.

I wonder if this generation of college students has been told the bad old feminist idea about "having it all," and have swallowed it wholesale.

Look, I don't care what anyone says: you can't "have it all." If you try, one of three things will happen:

1. You will do EVERYTHING in a half-assed, badly-done sort of way. (One way I can tell I've taken too much on? When the quality of my work starts to suffer).

2. You will do well on one or two things, but seriously short other things. If that's your spouse or your kids, that's a MAJOR problem. If it's schoolwork when you're going to school, you may well wind up flunking out.

3. You will burn out and either get sick or become very angry and bitter and be unpleasant to be around.

I think some of my students have opted for option 2, with the idea that the prof can pick up the slack for them. And then that forces the prof into the unenviable position of doing what they are already handling, plus doing more that they really don't want to do. And which may be an extra-heavy burden on them: I cannot drop everything to write a make up test for someone who shows up wanting to take it NOW. I have told people: I need a minimum of three days' lead time, but no one ever pays attention to that. Either they tell me that they are coming in, I write the exam, and then they never show, or they don't tell me but show up and get all angry that I didn't sit down RIGHT AFTER CLASS when they said, "Oh, I might need to take a make up on that exam" and write one for them.

I've also had more people this semester who missed labs acting as if I should scurry back into the room and set up all the equipment and materials again so they can do the lab on their own schedules. No matter that some require several people working together to do, or have perishable material that I would have to go back out and buy (probably on my own dime) for them.

I suppose it is all part of the larger trend of the "Millennial" attitudes - a colleague and I are giving a paper on the challenges of the "new workplace" and the "new generation" for college teachers and a lot of the references we've looked at have noted the same problems we complain about with students: a sense that the universe revolves around them, the belief that their work is wonderful even when it's not, and an over-blown sense of what they can find as work and what they will do with their lives.

And I think there's also a strong thread of "I'm the only student in the room" - I have had to actually explain to some of my make-up test demanders that, "I am grading exams for one of my other classes right now. I like to hand exams back to students the next class period and this is the only time I have to get them done. I cannot stop and write a make-up exam for you now but I will have one for you in three days' time." Or they don't understand that I have to go some afternoons to do volunteer work I signed up to do, and I can't just shaft the coordinator at the food bank (or whatever) to stay and do their make-up exam for them.

It is as if some of them believe they should be my first priority, even when they are expecting something above and beyond normal class process, and, for that matter, above and beyond the "here is how we will deal with problems" protocol from the syllabus.

And while I know I am perfectly justified in my, "No, I cannot do the make up exam now" or "No, I do not do make up labs," it makes me very tired to have to say that (sometimes on a weekly basis) and then deal with the inevitable pleading, complaining, or "but can't you bend the rules just once, just for meeeeeee?"

And what got me thinking about this was this morning. I was getting dressed to come in, figured I better wear slacks because I can wear my trackshoes with them, rather than having to wear dress shoes that might hurt my feet in the approximately four miles I am going to walk and the approximately four hours I am going to be on my feet today. My church is serving lunch at the "ecumenical" Christian center on church (we have a Baptist center, a Church of Christ center, and an "ecumenical" center.) So after my class this morning I am going to walk over there (it's a little over a mile from where I sit now, but parking on campus is so horrific that I'm not even going to TRY) and serve food. I don't mind doing it, the students who come in are nice and are grateful for a free, home-cooked lunch - and most of them are regular attenders of the center's worship times - but it's just the time involved, especially now. Especially because I had someone go all sad-faced on me yesterday when I said I couldn't have them do a make up exam at that time, as I was going to be over helping serve lunch.

I said to myself this morning, "I will be very glad when I am done with doing stuff for other people for a while, and can attend to my own stuff." Not a very nice thought, perhaps, but in this past week, I've done lots of mop-up after student absences, and I served a stint at the local food bank handing out boxes of food, and I helped with some on-campus stuff, and today I am helping to serve lunch.

Oh, and yesterday afternoon, I arrived home to a message: since a member of my church's mother (who was affiliated with another church) passed away, they were taking food to the member and his family. Could I possibly pick up something and bring it? They were going to bring the food by around 5....

As the message was sent at 9:15 (when I was in my first class of the day) and I didn't get it until 4:30 when I finally arrived home, I called the person who sent it and told her that there was no way I'd have time to do it. She was understanding, but still: I really need to do a better job of educating people, I guess, that I can't generally do stuff with less than a 24 hour turnaround time.

So I just kind of get worn out. And it doesn't help when a lot of the students are overly optimistic about what they can get done, or how well they can cope with life issues. And I understand, in some cases it may be Financial Aid that's forcing them to do what they do - dropping out and restarting is a lot harder and you do run the risk of losing the aid, and sometimes it's actually "better" from a Financial Aid standpoint to take the F than it is to drop and go below "full time student" level. But that's not my fault. I didn't make the broken system. But it does frustrate me when students come to me expecting I can give them 10 hours of uninterrupted time, where they seem to forget that I have over 100 students in all my classes put together, and if they ALL demanded that much time...well, the universe would collapse upon itself.

I wish none of my students had to go through the crap they're going through. Partly out of simple humanitarian feelings - it must really suck to have to work to help your disabled adult kid get the assistance he needs to go through life - but also because it would free their minds up to concentrate on school. And I would have to hear far fewer sad stories of why I should bend the rules, "just this once, just for me."

Monday, November 02, 2009

I love a good "stupid criminal" story

Check it: these guys used permanent marker to "disguise" themselves before committing robbery. PERMANENT marker.

AH hahahahahahahahaahhaha!