Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It Can Be___________ At Times

The life and times of an adjunct professor can be interesting. Sometimes, it's downright scary. Some days, I get a chuckle or two out of student antics. After three years of teaching college level students, I have a small collection of incidents that are memorable. And folks, I couldn't make these up if I tried!

The first semester I taught statistics to undergrads, I was learning a new way of teaching while my students were trying out their--well let's just call them--their persuasive skills. One student used to call me right before a major exam. He hadn't turned in any work in the three weeks before the exam and he would respond to my emails. Finally. This is a sample of our phone calls that continued throughout the semester.

Student: Hi CM--It's me again. Listen, I know I haven't turned in any work but I've been swamped at work. The company is going through a rough time and the boss is making us work 12-hour days. So can I get a bit of a break and just take the exam without doing all that homework first?

ME: You know my policy. You can't take the exam without turning in the work first. Now we have a week before the exam, so you have time to get your assignments into be---

Student: CM--I know this stuff! I know statistics like I know the back of my hand. Doing the work is like taking backward steps for me. I want to fly forward!

ME: Really? Then the assignments should take you no more than an hour a piece to do them.  You're only down by four so....Can you get them to me by Saturday, noon? That way I'll have time to grade them and get them back to you to study from by Monday's exam.

Student:  Saturday isn't good for me. Because of my long hours at work, it's the only day I get to spend with my precious baby girl. I MISS her so much during the week--but CM--I really know this stuff! I really do. And homework--CM--that's so archaic!

ME: I can give you oral homework--right now. Turn to the first assignment. You will have to read the articles but can you pick out the population, the sample, the---

Student: I don't have time to do this right now, CM. Listen--if I don't do the homework and but do well on the exam, will I still get an "A" in the class? 

ME: Nope--not possible. You're good at statistics--so if you checked the syllabus, then you would realize the assignments count for 60% of your overall grade--the exams are just 40%. Get your work into me.

Then there was this email from one student: "Hi CM--This is Laura. Of course you know that because you opened up my email. *Smiley Face* Listen, I'm feeling a lot of pressure from all my classes right now because for some dumb reason, all my professors scheduled homework right before finals week! *Frowny Face* To make matters worse, every one of them scheduled final exams during finals week! So I was wondering if I don't do the last two assignments and don't take the final exam, will I still get my "A" in your course? *Smiley Face*"

Picture me blinking here or having the complete "deer in the headlights look."

And there was this email: "Hi Professor. It really bothers me when you take off late points on my assignments. Do you realize that by taking off pointages for an assignment being late really, seriously hurts my grade. It lowers my grade from an "A" to a "C." Please stop taking off late points. Sincerely, Your Student.

I really tried to resist responding.  Ok--I resisted for about 30 seconds. "Dear Student. Please quit turning in your assignments late and I'll quit taking off late points. Sincerely, Your Professor

This one was my favorite because it told me that students weren't looking at the rest of the notes I put up for them in their weekly folder. They were just downloading the assignment sheets, but not the PowerPoint presentations or the handouts. 

"Hi. I would really appreciate if you would give us a clear picture of what you want for the assignments. It would make our lives, as YOUR students, a lot easier if we understood what you wanted from us. Please include an example of what you want for answers in the assignment."

My response? "Hello. The examples you are seeking are in the PowerPoint presentations. If you use them, you will understand the assignment." 

The student sent this email back to me: "Oh."  

Since I also teach an undergraduate introductory social welfare class,  my students are required to visit agencies that employ social workers or to interview a social worker to get an idea of what social workers do and write about their experiences. One of the areas we cover in that class is the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW) Code of Ethics. For this particular assignment, the students are to compare the values of the agency and/or the social worker to the NASW Code of Ethics. One student was impressed with this particular agency's take on the NASW core value of self-determination. In her excitement, she wrote:

"This agency fully supports the clients' right to self termination. The agency endorses the right to self termination as freedom of choice."  

I know this particular agency and I can assure you that in no way did this agency ever support suicide, nor does it support the right to "self-terminate." 

Another student wanted to impress me with her vocabulary.

"Mr. Smith* works very hard to make the best precision for his clients. He spends a lot of time wandering over each precision before intercepting a course of action. Once he intercepts a plan, he presence this to the client  and if the client agrees, then they begin to plantation the plan." 

It took me about 15 minutes to realize that Mr. Smith* doesn't make precisions but decisions; doesn't wander over each decision, but ponders over them. He doesn't intercept a course of action or maybe he does. I'm still not sure what was intended. I realized he "presents" the plan to his client and that if it's agreed upon, they begin to implement the plan. 

(*Mr. Smith's and Dr. Jones names  have been changed to protect his/her privacy.) 

One student wanted to know why I asked him to rewrite his paper. Something about how he wrote "Dr. Jones* and I conversated about THE CODE. According to Doc, ThE cOdE was very excellent GuIdELiNeS and is meant to be used in times of TrOuBlEs," just really upsets my sense of academic integrity. 

But I'm not biased or anything like that. 

This student has me going for awhile over the article she read. "I believe that the client was effected by the exceptance of her peers. Due to the exceptance of her peers, the client felt warmly and safe. I believe that affect will last and help the client threw her mane issues." 

And this student was clearly impassioned and simply forgot to proofread her paper. "She has also feeling the bath tub. Luckily nothing was broke just severe bruising which enabled her from carrying groceries up the stairs to her apartment." The student went on to explain how this client had started several small fires in her apartment. "Not only could she have injured herself, but she could have injured her neighbors, innocent by standards living in the apartment complex." 

Each semester is like giving birth. There's the excitement at first because it's new and the pain isn't overwhelming. Then there's the excruciating labor pains that steal your breath away. But as soon as your child is placed in your arms, all that pain fades into a fuzzy memory. At the end of the semester, I usually receive a few emails like this one that helps the long hours fade away:

"Hi CM. I just wanted to tell you that I really had to work hard in your class. Your class was the hardest and most challenging one I had this semester. I feel like I really learned a lot in your class and look forward to you teaching another course in the future because I would take it just for the challenge. Thank you for pushing me into really using my brain. Your Student"   


  1. Too funny Cathryn! You made my day!

  2. This stuff cracks me up ;-) There must never be a dull moment with them.

    Oh, thanks for telling me that was a Shetland Pony. I had no idea.

  3. As an innocent by standard, I found this really funny.

  4. This is really nice. I can imagine it must be hard sometimes, but also rewarding. Too funny. I am not so familiar with the American school system. How old are your students? From your stories it is really hard to tell.
    Thanks also for the comment on my blog. The secret project is probably not as special as it sounds, but I really felt challenged by the "challenge" and thought I could never make something like that, so it was preset to be really ugly. And now I am surprised, how much I like it. That is probably why I am so excited about it.

  5. Too funny....but also a bit scary in a way! I am sure you are one kick butt professor!

  6. So happy to see your blog again !
    I recommend your school offer a new course
    "understanding the relationships between course assignments,tests and your grades "
    for the more advanced students
    could you include
    "Understanding how adhering to your work schedule affects your paycheck and your job " :) m.e.

  7. All I can say is I am amazed at what I just read. Has high school changed so much that those entering college today don't seem prepared for the challenge?

  8. This post presented laughs by the bushel, however this thought haunts me; these are the future of our country, the ones that we will entrust the fate of our nation to?
    How frightening, how terribly frightening. =:O