Monday, November 29, 2004

I caught another student plagiarizing today. This time, it was two assignments, which were mostly copied verbatim from websites. The student threw in a couple of atrociously-written sentences to join the cutting and pasting of beautifully-written, distinctive text from the Internet.

Remind me again why I like teaching?

Monday, November 22, 2004

What a week.

#1. 12 noon. Plagiarism girl (I'd write "woman" or even "womyn" but she has a lot of learnin' to do to earn the title) cries in my office when I tell her it is not as she perceives – a choice between me failing her or letting her get away with cheating by arranging for a “W” after the deadline for dropping, or extra work and an “I”…it is a question of failing her, or failing her and sending her to Judicial Affairs. I have never seen such tears, not even at a loved one’s funeral. And they were not accompanied by sobs or sniffling – but seemed more on cue…theatrical even? Or am I the meanest person on the planet? That is how I felt, afterwards.

Background for #2: an graduate student (let's call him "M") is teaching one section of the same class I teach. The chair is not 100% comfortable with the idea, because he is not a doctoral student, and he has a rep for being a little difficult. But, there are no other qualified candidates.

So, M is doing it, with supervision. Mostly mine, because the word "No" is not part of my usual vocabulary. (Actually my role is more informal, so I do not have the opportunity to wish I said No.) A few weeks ago M asked me if I have AV material. I do, a pretty extensive library, actually. (All personal copies, as I know better than to ask for departmental reimbursement.) I lend him a set of 3 PBS videos. Tell him I am showing episode 3 on 11/16, so I must have it back in time. Explain that I am doing a class exercise based around the model school in the program, and the video is timed so that the next class activity is built around it. Remind him our paths only cross twice per week. Wait ½ hour with my bags packed to retrieve them after evening class on Tuesday 11/9 because he didn't bring them in the afternoon. So...

#2. 1:30 pm. Moments after sending plagiarism girl on her way, I am in class, I snap in the video...and it isn't rewound. I rewind it (takes 10 minutes on the WW II relic VCR). I push play. It is episode 2 - apparently he mixed up the tapes when he put them back in the boxes. I run upstairs and retrieve the appropriate video. Back downstairs, I am getting a little nervous because I know there now won't be enough time. Class runs out when there is still about 5 minutes left of the model school portion. And of course there is the din as students pack up 5 minutes before that.

#3. 2:35 pm. After class several students wait. A book review is due this week, and the books are on reserve in the library (I bought multiple copies - once again, personal, no reimbursement - and put them on 48 hour reserve so students wouldn't have to buy them). Someone has taken many of the books and not returned them. I contact the library. They can't tell me who has them due to student privacy, but yes, they are missing and the fines are upwards of $50 per book (when you could buy them used for $5 on Amazon?). So now many reports will be late (and I hoped to use Thanksgiving break for evaluation of this assignment...)

#1. 12 Noon. Module 6 (that’s online lingo) group does not have their project ready to e-present to class at their deadline. And, of course, they are non-responsive to email.

Background for #2 and #3: Wednesday and Friday were big debate days in my two big, team taught classes. A few times per semester, two of the discussion groups debate the yes and no sides of an issue, a third group serves as the jury, and a fourth group functions as the debate managers. In the upper division class, Wednesday’s debate is about the merits of adding competition in the public school system, and Friday’s is about physician-assisted suicide. In the lower division class, the debate is about drug legalization.

#2. 2:35 pm. After class is over, a student from the group that is arguing for the “Yes” side in Friday’s debate approaches me to say that only four members of the group are willing to do anything, the others are on life support (and, this was my own private thought, should be calling for Dr. Kervorkian, if their side is correct). This debate was an add-on in the class (meaning I have to come to campus on a day when I never do) since the undergraduate TA for this group (which had lost an earlier debate) convinced me that it would be good for them to have another try. I didn’t really want the outcome to be another humiliating loss for the group in question, so I feel very sorry for the student and her three serious group mates. But I do my best to give her advice on a face-saving strategy.

More Background for #3: A recent problem has surfaced in these two GA-run classes. Each has two GAs; and in each class, one GA, both with excellent performance last semester, are December graduates and both have already accepted full-time jobs. This is causing strain on the other GA in each class. They are classes of about 80 students each, run by elaborate teaching and management collaboratives, they are almost bureaucracies. The strain is starting to create fissures up and down the structures.

#3: 4:45 pm. The jury has left the room to formulate questions for the opposing sides. This lull generally results in quasi-office hours, as I only attend class occasionally, most students don’t bother to email or come to see me otherwise, and who knows what is going on with the GAs.

A student from the “Yes” side receives his midterm back and freaks out over the (B-) grade. He approaches – attacks might be a better description – the GA who is sitting next to me. My attention is diverted, as another student is talking to me about his exam, and the other GA is a no-show. The student who is talking to me is reasonable – but oblivious to the fracas taking place not five feet away. I’m thinking the GA will be able to handle it, but the situation escalates – and the undergraduate TA for that group tries to intervene, unsuccessfully. There is a problem with the undergraduate TAs not being clear about their role – as part of the instructional team, or champion of their peers in group. Meanwhile the offended (and offensive) student has veins popping out of his neck, his face is all red, I am worrying that we may see a 21 year old succumb to a stroke or heart attack. Or perhaps he will lunge across the desk and choke the GA and we will have TV news coverage. Half the lecture center is watching, as this real conflict is much more interesting than the artificial one about smoking weed that I have set up.

Finally, I drag myself away from Mr. Center of the Universe and assume the posture of a middle school teacher. It takes me yelling to go and sit down, this is not the appropriate frame, twice, to put an end to the fight. The jury returns. The GA is shaking. What happened in class after that? I dunno.

#1. 11:45 am. I am meeting with the undergraduate TAs for the two classes described above, putting out the fires. Some papers have been misplaced by the two GAs who now have allegiance to the 9-5 real world. There are scattered reports that the discussion sections are being dismissed (very!) early on a regular basis (to which one TA gives me a very smart mouthed response). Tomorrow, the GA will visit the discussion sections so that the missing paper situation can be sorted out.

#1. 12:30 pm. The GA visits the discussion sections, and all but one group have already been dismissed (1/2 hour early).

Monday, November 15, 2004

I caught a student cheating. It was another of those plagiarism deals, handing in an essay that another student wrote last semester for my class. She is now pleading her case to my mostly unsympathetic ears. She has even suggested I do what another student she knows managed to negotiate, being allowed to withdraw rather than failing the class. As if being among a community of cheaters helps her case! Little does she know what I am debating is not whether to fail her - it is whether to report her to Judicial Affairs and allow the university to sanction her in addition to my penalty.

I wonder how many times I have missed it? How many students are cheating but go undetected? The class from last semester happens to be my least favorite, the one where students whispered and giggled during class, impervious to being told to stop talking, and I suspect lots of students didn't do the reading. I guess it is no surprise that one of them would share their work with a friend this semester.

This semester is going well, or at least I thought it was. I changed every assignment, to make it harder to plagiarize. But they do it anyway. I love teaching - more than any job I've had in the past, way, way, way more. But this is one thing I absolutely hate about it. Hate it so much I could change paths again. Maybe someday I will be a full-time writer...and I can leave this behind.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Yesterday was an irritating day. In my afternoon class, two young women were doing something with a cell phone, while giggling...taking my picture? Text messaging? Taking my picture then text messaging "what a dork?" I'm not sure. It was distracting as hell. I shot them a few glaring looks, which worked for about 30 seconds then they were back at it. Then I picked up my pen and pretended to make a note on my attendance sheet. That worked for about a minute.

On the advisement side, for some reason several students decided to rise up on the same day, and give me a hard time about Spring registration. I did my best to stay calm in the face of obnoxious behavior. It wasn't easy, but I do have a lot of practice in dealing with the sometimes unreasonable public.

Then, I am having some trouble with the GAs. Two are as very conscientious, but the other three have too many irons in the fire and the GA responsibilities wind up getting short shrift. I understand that writing a thesis and classes take priority - but working at other jobs seems to be what is actually driving this. I know I am probably an overly responsible person - as well as being somewhat over committed - but I am remembering that this is the hassle of being a supervisor. Others often don't live up to their obligations, and "the buck stops here." Oh well. Only about four weeks left of the semester. But Spring is usually more difficult. I'm going to need that winter break.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Yesterday we went to North Adams, MA, to vist my nephew who is a student at MCLA. We went to Mass MoCA, something we have wanted to do for a while. Interesting art there, to say the least, but I always wonder what is the utility of art that can only exist in a large museum space? What happens to it in the future? Will it be just a memory, perhaps captured only in photographs?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Something I forgot. After a long break (I think of about a year and a half) I volunteered at Historic Cherry Hill again. Since it was Halloween, they had a special tour about the murder that took place there. I forgot how much I enjoy helping out there. They called today to invite me for another special event, on December 5, and I'm going to go.

Still no word from the publisher about the Mimmie book. I am impatient (though I have little time to work on it until January regardless).

How is it that (according to the media outlets that have not already called it) Ohio is too close to call when Bush leads Kerry by 136,221 votes (100% precincts counted), yet Pennsylvania, a slightly larger state where Kerry leads Bush by 121,818 votes has been called for Kerry (with 99% of precincts reporting)? Another example, although in this case it is a slightly smaller state: Michigan was called for Kerry. With 96% of precincts reporting, he leads by 146,704. Yet another example, though this time a much smaller state, Wisconsin. Kerry leads Bush by only 13,293 votes, with 96% of the vote counted, yet that state also has been called for Kerry already. As my mother would say (inspired by a TV commercial), "something stinks and it's not the litter box."

But leaving Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin alone, and giving Kerry the rosiest scenario possible, from the data that has been thrown around, if there are 175,000 provisional ballots, and 90% of them count, that's 157,500. If they break the way Kerry's strongest county did (67% to 33%) that's 105,525 for Kerry, 57,750 for Bush. Assuming the bleakest scenario for Bush, that there are no absentee ballots at all - which is known to not be true - Bush still wins Ohio by 88,446.

And, why are members of the media who have called Ohio for Bush not calling Nevada for Bush - while those who have not called Ohio for Bush yet, are calling Nevada for Bush? What gives? Is it because if they call those races they would have to declare Bush the winner and they cannot accept that outcome? Or are they just trying to give Kerry time to wake up and smell the coffee?

Can you say "bias," "ratings" and "loser denial?"

Well, they may have an agenda, but I am going to be bold. Bush has won.

The networks are bad, but my thankfulness for not having cable grows.

Oh, did I mention that I hate lawyers even more than I did before?

Monday, November 01, 2004

We had 25 trick-or-treaters tonight. All those kids in costumes taking away candy is very upsetting to the dogs.