Friday, April 17, 2009

The Vampires in the Hall

There is one class of people on this campus that I fear the most. If I see them in the hallway, I flee quickly to my office and shut the door. If they knock on my door, I pretend I'm not there. I once had one of them wait outside my closed office door for almost a half-hour (I know this because I texted General Disarray to let me know when it was safe to emerge. He offered to come down and scare the person off, but I was actually getting a lot done trapped in my office). If one of these people manages to find me in my office with the door open, it is invariably at the most inconvenient time. And they never, ever, ever take no for an answer. "Oh, I understand, BUT...". Who are these people terrorizing my academic existence? It's book representatives (you thought I was going to say students, didn't you). Yes, those people who work for the big textbook publishers who roam the halls to talk to you about their latest, greatest textbook for your class.

I think most people probably don't understand why this is the bane of my existence. For example, I don't think General Disarray has ever had a publishing rep ambush him in his office. But then most of his classes are less than 20 students. I on the other hand teach a 160 person course, which is one of five sections of the course taught yearly- collectively fluxing close to 1000 students a year (the other sections are much bigger than mine, a fortunate side-effect of demanding a teaching time when none of the truly huge lecture halls are available). A course that fluxes this many students yearly is like waving red meat in front of a pack of pit bulls. And the outcome is just as unpleasant. In vampire lore (and Buffy the Vampire-Slayer and spin off Angel - don't ask I won't admit anything anyway), vampires cannot come into someone's home without an invite. I have learned that there is a corollary for book reps. Except with them, the trick is to make sure they DON'T come over the office threshold. If you can keep them in the hall, they move along quickly. But woe befalls you if they put both feet across the threshold. The results are pretty much the same as if you invited in the vampire: it is a battle to get them out again and the encounter will probably not end until they have sucked you dry.

I don't mean to imply that I think these are truly evil people in the employ of the devil. It's just that I know their sales tactic is to ambush me and hold me captive until either I agree to use their book or a half hour has passed, whichever comes first. This is why they never set up appointments before showing up on campus and why when I tell them I'm too busy to talk right now, they try to cross the threshold to extend the conversation. I once showed one of them my schedule and told her that if she really wanted to meet with me she needed to make an appointment two weeks in advance. I never heard from her until she stopped by unannounced again in a couple of months.

The crux of my problem, of course, is that I am incapable of being rude to these people. Salesperson and telemarketer pretty much top my nightmares of "what might I have to do if I get fired", so I am pretty much crippled in my interactions with them the "God, what if that was me" reflex - much to General Disarray's dismay.  General Disarray has fewer problems with face-to-face confrontation than I do. But, in a moment of irrationality, trapped in my locked office wondering if I can wedge my pregnant belly through the tiny window that doesn't open very far (I will neither confirm nor deny that I have installed a webcam over my door to see who is coming down the hall), I may have hit upon a brilliant plan. I am going to post the following sign on my door:

If you are here to convince Professor Chaos to use your book for her class, you are in the wrong place. Professor Chaos does not have that authority. All book decisions for Professor Chao's class must have the approval of Dr. General Disarray. General Disarray hates book reps.

Oh yes, I think this is the perfect solution.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Lost Generation

I hadn't realized how irritated I was with my various pregnancy-related interactions until I sat down to write my previous post. The combination of the writing of the post and the awesome feedback acted as a much-needed aggravation purge (thank you everyone!). But I particularly enjoyed the comments by PhysioProf and Toaster Sunshine:

Toaster Sunshine "My own mother recently admitted that I was raised on Benadryl and whiskey to keep her sane. And formula. And I turned out all right! She then told me when and how I was conceived. I didn't need that."

PhysioProf:"My thinking on all this child-rearing "advice" is that mammals that can't even fucking talk--and thus cannot possibly give each other advice--manage to raise their offspring just fine."

These comments struck a cord with me because I have slowly been formulating my rhetorical defense against aggressive mother-to-be bullying around the concept that there can't be one "true" way to raise a child. Each generation seems to have a new "right way" and if one of them was actually right  there should be evidence that the other generations aren't doing so well, you know a "lost" generation. For example, I feel like the push for breast feeding has primarily been a recent phenomena (you know aside from the millions of years where that was really the only choice) and since many people of my generation (including me) were probably raised on formula I take this as evidence that formula does not=brain death. I was feeling very smug about my lost generation argument until the following interactions occurred with students from the large lecture class I'm currently teaching:


Interaction 1: I have two students with the same last name, let's say Smith. Interestingly, they get almost the exact same grade on every exam. One of them has the initials AB and the other BA. On the last exam, only one of them turned in an exam. Weirdly, the exam contained the name of one of them (Smith, BA) and the student identification number of the other (Smith AB). Smith BA emailed me very unhappy (because I went with the student ID number in assigning the grade), implying that they had received an email from the scantron people with their grade and I must have lost it. Since I pretty much went straight from the exam to the scantron place, there is no place I could have lost the thing and if they received an email with their grade so should I. I explained the situation in my reply and asked that they forward me their email from the scantron people so I could sort this out. They never got back to me. Either the exam score was not actually all that important to Smith BA or there's something going on here I don't understand. Oh, and the kicker? Smith BA sent the complaining email during the middle of class. I HATE that!

Interaction 2: Student begs and pleads to get into my class. After two weeks enough people drop that I can add her, so I sign her add form. She fails miserably (like, statistically would have done better on the exams if she had randomly guessed), has something come up the requires me to give her an Incomplete and it turns out she never actually turned in the registration form so is not actually signed up for my class. Now wants me to fix this because she'll lose her scholarship if she falls below a certain  number of credits so she has to be registered for my class.

Interaction 3: For the past month, during every class period I have been announcing an assignment that is due. The assignment, due date, and instructions are also up on the class website; have been for a month (which was also announced every day in class). A couple of weeks ago I received the following email:

Dear Professor Chaos,
Im in your class and i missed the lecture that you 
assigned the writing assignment in and I was wondering if there was  any way I could make up those 50 points either by doing the assignment and getting some points docked due to the assignment being late or if I could do a different assignment for extra credit. Thank you for considering my request.
Clueless Student

Interesting thing was that this was sent 4 days before the deadline. Apparently they had missed more than a couple of lectures. (Oh, and even the point total was wrong).

Interaction 4: After the last exam, each of my students received notification of their current grade in the class. The notice included their scores on each of the exams, their total exam points, their current percent going into the final exam, and whether or not I had received their assignment (see interaction 3). Each entry had an explanatory heading. In class, I then went over the notice they received and what everything meant just in case it was not clear. I received the following email after class:

Thank you for sending me this.
Can you please explain it for me because I don't quite get it!
Thank you
Aggravating Student

Pasted in her email were the scores I sent her. I explained that I had covered that in class but was happy to explain again, and reiterated what the various scores meant and that the "n" meant that I did not have an assignment from her. Then I received this email:

Hey Professor Chaos,
I understand that but,Does that mean Im ganna be able to pass this class or not? And also you have N for my writing assignment but I handed it in Some time last week.Does that mean you dont have it or you haven't graded it yet?
Aggravating Student

No Aggravating Student. You apparently did not understand at all. Since all that info was literally in the email I sent her before, I wasn't sure what to write - so I admit I ignored it.  She then proceeded to send the exact same email several hours later. I finally emailed her back, explaining that if she failed the final exam she would fail the class but if she didn't fail the final she wouldn't fail the class and then offered to let her "resubmit" her writing assignment (I have been distracted this semester afterall. Maybe her's is the only one I lost for some reason). That was two weeks ago and I still haven't received that assignment.


I'm not so proud of my lost generation argument anymore. I'm beginning to suspect that the lost generation is actually sitting in my class. All that's left of my once mighty argument now is the following burning and important question: Is it really gauche to contact the mothers of these people and ask  "Did you feed your child breast milk or formula?"