Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm getting near to putting Spring '11 to bed - moving on to reading, article writing, research / consulting, gardening, blackboard upgrade, and eventually the pool...

I wanted to write a favorite anecdote from this semester first. This needs a little background. Early last semester, a friend of mine who was new to facebook emailed me that an ex from long ago had sent him a friend request. What should he do? I advised him to ignore it. That blast from the past sparked him to do a little googling on her name. He emailed me again to ask, could she now be a professor? So I searched too, and told him to check out "Rate My Professor."

After he did this (to hilarious results, I might add), naturally he couldn't resist looking up my name. He emailed again. "Are you a weird lady?"

Now, my policy is to avoid RMP. I can imagine that students find it useful, but I have a tendency to agonize over the littlest comment. Considering the site is anonymous and public - well, it just doesn't seem good for the psyche to explore it routinely.

I always found the evaluations the university collected every semester valuable, until they converted them to an online tool. That's surprising for me, the advocate for early adoption. But the response rate plummeted once it was no longer administered via paper in class, which means only motivated students (those who LOVED or HATED the class and me) bother to complete it. Even at that, it is better than RMP, since the university one has to be submitted before final grades are in, where RMP is sensitive to grades.

After he sent me that note, I had to see what he meant. So I visited. A student had written that I was a weird lady, but nice. I wasn't upset by that remark, and responded to my friend "I am kind of weird I guess. I have some hippyish jewelry and sometimes I say outside the box things in an effort to shake them up. But the truth is the student probably wrote that because since May '09 when I screwed up my ankle I sometimes walk with a cane and canes are weird. Or maybe it is because I occasionally make them draw pictures during class, which is unexpected in a social science class." His answer came back: "you are so past weird you would have to look in the rear view mirror to see it."

So this semester, when the subject of RMP came up during class discussion, I told them that story. The uncomfortable glances when I brought up RMP and the weird lady part - it was so obvious almost all of them had looked my name up and read that. Then the laughter at my cane reference and my friend's response! I thought some of them would pee their pants.

We were focused on the "weird" part of the comment, not on the "lady" part. I've noticed students still use "girl" to describe their female peers, when my generation has been socialized to say "women" for anyone past adolescence. "Lady" sounds like something out of the antebellum south! Admittedly, I've been called (much) worse.

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