Monday, August 1, 2011

65. Teaching is less and less rewarding.

Anyone who has been at the back of a college lecture hall recently is familiar with the sight of row upon row of glowing screens. Some students are taking notes, but others are perusing Facebook, touching up their vacation photos, and playing games. From a student’s point of view, this can be distracting. From the teacher’s point of view, it is disheartening. Every day, you speak to a room full of people looking at computer screens without any idea of who is actually listening. Not long ago, it was easy for an instructor to tell if someone in her class was not paying attention, and she was not afraid to say something to students who fell asleep or leafed through newspapers in class. But with the proliferation of laptops and smart phones, the will to enforce attentiveness in the classroom has largely evaporated.

Students are spending a substantial portion of their (or their parents') life earnings to pay for the privilege of sitting in your classroom. As University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds has pointed out, they are, in fact, grossly overpaying for the privilege, which is inflating the higher education bubble (see Reason 27). As tuition rates skyrocket, it is perhaps understandable why students increasingly behave like customers to whom you should cater. They have, after all, purchased your services. Of course, in their minds, the important service that you provide is not imparting knowledge, but awarding credit. And they increasingly behave as if they believe that they should be allowed to spend their very expensive time in your classroom in any way they choose. As a graduate-student instructor or teaching assistant, the challenge of cultivating respect in the classroom is made all the more difficult by your junior status, of which your students are very much aware (see Reason 53). Meanwhile, standing at the front of the classroom, you are daily faced with their indifference.

With teaching comes the extraordinarily time-consuming and miserably thankless task of grading (see Reason 56). In fact, the first inkling you may have that a student cares about what is happening in your class is when you give him a grade with which he is not happy. This is when the behavior of a dissatisfied customer is most likely to present itself, and when you realize the sense of entitlement that now pervades the college campus. It usually begins with an email and escalates from there. In any case, it is unpleasant. That students expect high grades is not surprising when you consider that fully 43% of all grades awarded by colleges are now As. The New York Times has charted the extent of grade inflation over the past few decades in a revealing graph. This trend toward a situation in which everyone earns high grades (while sitting through lectures playing solitaire) makes grading all the more exasperating because it feels so pointless.

And whose work are you grading? You don’t really know. After Professor Panagiotis Ipeirotis of New York University decided to look for plagiarism in the work submitted by his students in an introductory course, 22 of the 108 students ultimately admitted to cheating. For his efforts to ensure integrity (and a subsequent blog post about the experience), the professor felt punished by students and administrators alike. (The episode, after all, did not reflect well upon NYU.) It seems that there are undergraduates willing to pay $19,903 per term for an education, while copying the work of others and submitting it as their own. Given experiences like that of Professor Ipeirotis, you may feel little incentive to concern yourself with student plagiarism, but at least it is detectable. Some students simply pay others to write their papers for them. A popular article appearing in the Chronicle of Higher Education last fall revealed the fact that whole companies exist to provide this service. The author of the piece—a man who writes students’ papers for a living—was quite blunt: “Of course, I know you are aware that cheating occurs. But you have no idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system, much less how to stop it.”

While you spend hours and hours assigning increasingly meaningless grades to work of increasingly dubious origin, your students are also grading you. How would you like a job in which you are subjected to 50 (or 100 or 200) performance evaluations every ten or fifteen weeks? If you teach at an American college or university, that is exactly what you can expect. Student evaluations have turned the tables on college instructors. If you are a graduate-student instructor, an adjunct instructor, or a junior faculty member, your continued employment depends upon favorable student evaluations. As a classroom teacher, how do you satisfy your students in an age of unprecedented distraction? To one degree or another, you have to entertain them. You know that your job depends on it, and you also know that your students will post anonymous evaluations of your performance on the Internet. (In how many jobs does that happen?) The causes of grade inflation are not hard to figure out.

More and more teaching and grading are required of graduate students (see Reason 7). These obligations greatly reduce the time that you have to complete your own academic work (see Reason 41) and thus prolong your time-to-degree (see Reason 4). Of course, teaching at the college level is the career aim of most people in graduate school, even if they had other plans when they began their programs (see Reason 29). Whether you are lucky enough to secure a tenure-track appointment, or if you find yourself working as an adjunct (see Reason 14), this is what you have to look forward to in the modern college classroom. Before you go to graduate school, sit in the back of a lecture hall and think it over.



69 comments:

  1. I have seen the changes you have described in the classroom. We are increasingly seen as service providers, in the same way that waiters and waitresses are--except, of course,that we don't get tips.

    And I know from firsthand experience that if you are an untenured instructor, you can get into more trouble than the student you turn in for plagiarism could. As soon as people see themselves as "consumers" or "customers", they see themselves--however erroneously--as having paid for certain "rights." And because colleges and universities are increasingly evaluated on how happy they keep their "customers" happy. I know of adjuncts who weren't rehired because of unfavorable comments about them on "Rate My Professors," and at least one college I know of actually uses RMP in hiring and promotion decisions for non-tenured full-time faculty members.

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    1. I thought my "rights" as a student extended to the university honoring its own honor code and other rules. They didn't.

      Delete
  2. I was just talking about this with a friend of mine: both of us are dopes who went to grad school because we wanted to "make a difference" through teaching. "If we could help just one student see things differently, it's worth it."

    HAhahahahahahahahahaha!

    If I'm lucky I get one truly talented, engaged student per year. It's definitely not worth it. One Jane Austen or Einstein per year isn't worth weathering the storm of insults and idiocy from the rest of the bratty teenagers. It's humiliating to pretend I believe their lies, knowing they think I'm a chump. The whole thing stinks. Trying to decide if I have the balls to email my adviser and tell him I quit.

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    1. Have you ever seen "bad teacher"? Recently while grading exams, I was very tempted to write, "stupid, stupid, stupid" all over their exams because their answers were so awful.

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  3. @Dona At least one college you know of actually admits to using the site...I'm mostly shocked by their honesty in the admission. It's hard to avoid them completely - curiosity is natural, and even for "famous" professors, RMP almost always shows up on the first page of Google search results, usually just below the department profile. I find it hard to believe that anyone in academia has never looked, even those who try not to take what they've found into consideration. (For the record, I always thought that in cases where at least 15 or so different students say the same thing about a professor, they're usually not far off the mark, but that's pretty rare.)

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    1. And if you are a woman you'll have your appearance thoroughly critiqued on you evaluations.

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  4. @ Dona:

    Your blog is fabulous!! Along with this on, it's giving me the strength to consider gettin' the hell outta dodge.

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  5. From what I've seen, student evaluations are good for two things, and only two things:

    1. Figuring out who undergrads want to hump

    AND

    2. If there are sexual harassment problems (prof/TA--> undergrad student) it's a forum where someone can anonymously go on record about it.

    But I've never seen #2 occur, and I doubt it would come to any good without a named plaintiff. After all, sexual harassment seems pretty routine in academia. Just like in the "real" world we women put up with it because when we report it the offender either skates or is rewarded and it boomerangs back on us. So that just leaves #1.

    If hiring committees really are using Rate My Professor to evaluate student quality then academics are even dumber than I thought they were.

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    1. We men put up with it too. Maybe not as often... but try to imagine being a man and going forward to complain about a woman harrassing you (to the extreme and constantly.) You are not taken seriously at all... and talk about backfiring.

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  6. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/29/seeking-arrangement-college-students_n_913373.html

    What? Teaching these super stars leaves you unfulfilled?

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  7. From the Sugar daddies/babies article link provided by 2:49:

    "According to Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a professor of psychology at Clark University, about 85 percent of the class of 2011 will likely move back in with their parents during some period of their post-college years, compared with 40 percent a decade ago."

    Some of the grad students from my department are moving back in with parents after earning the PhD!!!

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  8. @anon 10:04
    " Trying to decide if I have the balls to email my adviser and tell him I quit."

    DO IT. Do it now! It's the most liberating thing you'll ever do. I did it, and I am 100% positive it was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I have never regretted it for a second.

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  9. Keep it coming, o wise blogger! You speak the truth.

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  10. Teaching is particularly miserable if one doesn't know what one is doing. Unfortunately this is too often the case with many college and graduate school instructors/teaching assistant/tenured professors, who have relatively little training and often learn (much to the chagrin of their students) on the job. If a handful of students are busy checking email, iPhones or whatever during class, that is their problem. They are missing out on your class and what you have to offer. If a large percentage of your students are checking out during class, that is YOUR fault. Period. I've been teaching for well over 20 years (K-12; college), know what I'm doing and enjoy it. I run a tough, but fair classroom and have high expectations for my students and they respond (in the classroom, in student evaluations and 'thank you' messages that I receive at the end of the semester. Oh, it's easy to say how the students have changed over the years and blame them (and the online world) for their short attention spans, lack of dedication to their work etc., but I have news for you: they've always been the same and they always will be the same. If you are good at teaching, the students will respond and you will enjoy it. Grading papers always gets a bit tedious, but classroom time should be rewarding for the teacher as well as the students. If it isn't, get some training. Now.

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  11. "If you are good at teaching, the students will respond and you will enjoy it."

    Sorry, not buyin' it. Students respond to fun, entertainment, and sex appeal. One of the best teachers at my HS (still remember Spanish though I never use it) was universally hated. Why? She looked like an old leather shoe and made us work.


    "Get some training. Now."

    Oh yeah, tried "Lead TA camp" or whatever they're calling it--a joke. Pedagogical support is lip service only at my school.


    "Oh, it's easy to say how the students have changed over the years and blame them...but I have news for you: they've always been the same and they always will be the same."

    I'm sure that the scholars who conduct empirical research on cohort effects, particularly the "millennial generation" will find that enlightening. Why not email them and tell them that their whole line of inquiry is complete BS?


    "If a large percentage of your students are checking out during class, that is YOUR fault. Period."

    I don't care where or how long you've been teaching. If you want to redirect blame from the structural conditions that created this mess and wave your finger at me and others, I think you're on the wrong blog.

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  12. @ Anon 3:59
    "DO IT. Do it now! It's the most liberating thing you'll ever do. I did it, and I am 100% positive it was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I have never regretted it for a second. "

    It's the prospective quitter here. Glad to hear that quitting was liberating--I envy your courage. Just curious--what do you do now? I need a success-in-quitting story to motivate me!

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  13. Good teaching can transcend structural conditions. It always has and it always will. It's also not that difficult. If you don't have the skill set to make it work, then you need find something else to do.

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  14. There is also the issue of respecting the people sitting behind you when you're in a classroom playing computer games. Why do these students bother coming to class? They might be masters of multitasking, but they're mighty inconsiderate. I've noticed a sharp downward curve in classroom behavior over just the last couple of years. It is ridiculous that we should have to talk about "classroom behavior" in the context of higher education, but it is becoming a real issue. I teach at an institution that has a high opinion of itself. I don't know if that makes things better or worse when it comes to this sort of thing.

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  15. @anon 10:04/4:57

    I work for the federal government now. Not a dream job but I've gotten to do some really cool things. Check out the Presidential Management Fellow program or some other entry-level program. Government is actually a great place for over-educated people. Your management will universally suck, but you'll be around other bright, like-minded, interesting young people who really want to make a difference (until you all get bitter at your shitty management, which is where I'm heading after 8 years).

    It can be a little hard to get in but keep trying. Also try something like the Boren Scholar program and do a semester abroad - that international experience, language, and hiring preference for the scholarship can make a world of difference. It's how I got my government job. Of course the world was very different in 2003 and there was an enormous hiring binge going on.

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  16. Prospective quitter. If you're thinking about it, just do it. What swayed me not to go to grad school: screwing my TA. Gorgeous guy, smart as hell, funny. Broke and totally no clue what he will do for the rest of his life. It's chilling to watch it play out. I cannot fathom why anyone would go to grad school unless they're wealthy or 100% in love with what to study. No, actually, artistically in love with the topic. If not, it's such a waste of life.

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  17. Students tune out because they are probably only in the class because it is required. Even if you're someday lucky enough to teach a graduate seminar on your thesis topic, your students will really want to be in a seminar relevant to their own thesis topics.

    Not going to grad school was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not going to law school was an even better decision.

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  18. @prospective quitter - it's me again, the grad school dropout govvie. I know the job market sucks but grad school sucks even more. THink about the people in your program: are they mentally unbalanced, pompous narcissists? Are they sleeping with the professors, chronically depressed/bipolar/whatever? Do they have eating disorders? Are they in terrible, inappropriate relationships? Do your professors seem like happy, well-balanced people? Do YOU want to be like that?

    You'll have a very new, and very healthy perspective once you leave and you'll find yourself laughing at these people. It's not a healthy environment, at all.

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  19. Hi 5:57/3:03, 10:13, and 11:20!

    Thanks for the support! Good to hear from nice and normal folks who are happy.

    I relocated 100 miles to pursue a certain specialization, commuting on weekends so that my marriage didn't totally implode. But it turns out that all the people in my area are total assholes. Really. And if I stay, not only will I not be working in my area, but I will leave the institution without ever TAing/teaching in my area. The whole thing has been pointless and depressing. I wake up dreading everything. Never felt so low in my life.

    If I do manage to quit the first thing I'm gonna do is burn Marx. If I hear the word "bourgeois" one more time (and from rich little pricks with berets who think they're Che Guevara) I'm going to come completely unglued.

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  20. I was a TA for five years, until last year. I taught Composition. My students weren't even my biggest problem; that award goes to the department. The students were right to question how important Comp could really be if it was taught by a bunch of minimum wage, fresh-out-of-undergrad TAs, some of whom weren't exactly great writers themselves. I tried to actually teach writing in class, but the emphasis was on making writing fun and easy, not complex and interesting. I actually liked being in the classroom and I didn't have many discipline problems or nightmare students, but dealing with the administration was so depressing that it was one of the main reasons I chose not to continue on in the program. I'm now out of academia and doing something totally different, but I hope to be able to teach again some day in some capacity. I really did enjoy teaching at the end of the day, and I felt as if the program let my students down.

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    1. but is writing supposed to be fun and easy?? maybe some of the time, but what can you learn and how much do you grow as a person and thinker with no resistance, challenge, or difficulty - if you want the best from students, i am not sure that making everything fun and awarding grades for doing little is the right way to go -- i cannot do that in my job - i have been told to keep my grades low.. there goes the fun..

      Delete
  21. "If I do manage to quit the first thing I'm gonna do is burn Marx. If I hear the word "bourgeois" one more time (and from rich little pricks with berets who think they're Che Guevara) I'm going to come completely unglued.

    August 2, 2011 5:56 AM "

    ---

    You just thought that you were going to escape what marx outlined through academia. Now you now only a lucky few get to escape. Are you really mad at marx, the word “bourgeois”, rich kids or your current position???

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  22. "The emphasis was on making [writing] fun and easy, not complex and interesting."

    Yes. Insert your own discipline in the brackets.

    This is one of the many reasons why student evals are BS. If, as a TA, you actually try to teach, you get bonged because the TAs who play music before and during section, never do the reading themselves, give everyone As, reveal their cleavage, and substitute games and activities for teaching every week are beloved by all.

    The worst part is that I caught on to this game, and am a pretty easy grader (the profs don't want you to really grade anyway, at least not at our BS party school), but give the students detailed feedback. They still complain ceaselessly because I dare to point out any flaws and they don't earn A+s every week. What a tremendous waste of my time.

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  23. Here is how you know that Anon 5:49 is a true blue grad student. S/he is responding to this post:

    "Thanks for the support! Good to hear from nice and normal folks who are happy.

    I relocated 100 miles to pursue a certain specialization, commuting on weekends so that my marriage didn't totally implode. But it turns out that all the people in my area are total assholes. Really. And if I stay, not only will I not be working in my area, but I will leave the institution without ever TAing/teaching in my area. The whole thing has been pointless and depressing. I wake up dreading everything. Never felt so low in my life.

    If I do manage to quit the first thing I'm gonna do is burn Marx. If I hear the word "bourgeois" one more time (and from rich little pricks with berets who think they're Che Guevara) I'm going to come completely unglued."


    RESPONSE OF NORMAL PERSON:"Ugh, academia is awful. I'm so sorry you've endured that. Good luck with the future, whatever you choose."

    RESPONSE OF GRAD STUDENT: I'm zeroing in on a tertiary part of your post and pretending like it's your main argument. Ha, I'll take you down with unintelligible gobbledegook! How are you gonna respond to THAT???

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  24. Slow clap, Anonymous @8:19AM. Well done.

    To the larger point of the post, I unsurprisingly agree. I went into academia because I wanted to teach, to inspire my students like I had been inspired as an undergrad.

    Sure, there were a few great students in every class that kept the classes from being unbearable. But far more common were the masses of students who didn't care about the ideas. And this isn't particularly surprising, I guess. But what was surprising to me was how few of them even *pretended* to care. When I was in college and taking some course I was uninterested in, I'd at least feign some level of interest. But most of the kids I taught would think nothing of texting through class and flat-out telling me that all they were interested in was what would be on the exam and what minimal level of work they could do to get their desired grade.

    And teaching was my favorite part of academia, up until the end. That should tell you how much I hated the rest of it. Sigh.

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  25. Thanks for the props, JC. I'm sorry to hear that your experience with teaching echoes mine. I too went in wanting in inspire--now I just want to expire.

    You hint that your stint with academia is over--do you have a hopeful epilogue story to share?

    8:19

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  26. I'm about halfway to the happy ending - I have a temporary job that pays the bills for the time being while I transition (happily) out of my graduate program, and I'm in the process of trying to figure out what's next in terms of my career, now that I'm done drinking the academic Kool-Aid.

    So my experience has been hopeful in terms of breaking free and finding gainful employment that pays the bills ... but still unfinished in terms of finding the next career. Still, I wouldn't go back for anything. So yes ... at least semi-hopeful. :)

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  27. "I'm about halfway to the happy ending - I have a temporary job that pays the bills for the time being while I transition (happily) out of my graduate program, and I'm in the process of trying to figure out what's next in terms of my career, now that I'm done drinking the academic Kool-Aid.

    So my experience has been hopeful in terms of breaking free and finding gainful employment that pays the bills ... but still unfinished in terms of finding the next career. Still, I wouldn't go back for anything. So y ... at least semi-hopeful. :) "


    There is no next career in this precarious economy. The only thing worse than academia is corporate america and everything outside of academia is corporate america.

    The mind numbing never stops... Its like after school its a life time beat down.

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  28. "There is no next career in this precarious economy. The only thing worse than academia is corporate america and everything outside of academia is corporate america.

    The mind numbing never stops... Its like after school its a life time beat down."

    Wow--that is some bleak shit.

    I have to say though, I'm not sure that corporate America is worse than academia. All the "non-docs" I know are much happier and better adjusted than the academics.

    Good luck, JC. Anybody who extricates themselves from that toxic cesspool is my personal hero. The folks who finish are, for the most part, the dopey, obsequious True Believers who love to lord it over the monkeys and are looking forward to forcing their shoe repairman to call them "doctor."

    Congrats again,
    8:19

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  29. Whatever you do, DON'T go to law school. Don't even toy with idea.

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  30. Anonymous @4:49: I work for a small company, not a corporation. I am paid a fair wage in accordance with my hours worked. I have benefits, vacation and weekends off, and coworkers who are acquaintances and friends rather than competitors.

    Trust me when I say that I wouldn't go back for anything in the world ... and that having experienced both academia and the real world, the notion that either one is ideal while the other is terrible is really misguided and naive.

    If you're the kind of person who truly loves the academic life, then great for you. But the true-believer academics really do a disservice to others with different types of personalities when they try to pretend that there is one type of good or bad job out there, for everyone.

    I'd never dream of telling anyone in academia that they should definitely leave, or that I know what would be best for them. I find it telling that so many academic types like to pretend that they know what's best for those of us who have left.

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  31. This is the primary reason I decided to get out of academia. Indeed, the thought of teaching one more semester was enough to push me to complete my PhD.

    I thought I was going to like teaching, but the students have no interest in the subject, and when I caught a student cheating on a test, the student threatened to report me to the Dean--and I had enough fear of what the Administration may do, that I caved in. Perhaps I shouldn't have feared Administration...but I didn't want to get involved in *that* bureaucracy, either...

    Perhaps the oddest semester was when we moved to an automated math-homework software system. It did most of the grading for me...but it also distanced me from my students. Since I was teaching two classes at the time, I don't think I could have survived without it, though.

    It didn't help that I was thrown to the wolves, so to speak, and my first class was Statistics--a difficult class to teach. Having said that, when it became clear that I wasn't teaching well, my Department stepped in to help me get on my feet.

    I like tutoring students, but tutoring is something undergrads and first year graduate students do. Perhaps, someday, after I pay off all my loans, I'll be able to go into tutoring--maybe I'll even try my hand at training "apprentice" mathematicians, while pursuing some sort of "practical" way of living as well--machining, or carpentry, or engineering, or perhaps even computer programming, or something.

    Now that I've finished my PhD, I've come to decide that my education is still incomplete--I should learn to do something with my hands, like machining. It will be a while, though, before I can get to *that* point!

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  32. Beautifully said, JC. Your beautifully crafted response echoes this excerpt from the "Wanted: Really Smart Suckers" article by Anya Kamenetz:

    "I've been stunned by what people have said at some of the blog sites," Lord says. "They seem to believe that working as an adjunct and earning $19,000 and having no health insurance is preferable to working outside the academy. I think this prejudice is even stronger with people in grad school now than it is among older faculty."

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  33. For the first time I disagree with this blog. Teaching is hands down the best part of my life as a graduate student. I love my students, I love the challenge, and find it incredibly rewarding. I've been in grad school for 8 years (blech) but have never had a group of students like the ones you describe. Do my students text? Sure. Do I sometimes get irritated by laptops? Yes. But overall, students are the best thing about higher ed, IMO. In fact, if you're looking for a way to energize yourself as a grad student, get into teaching. Start learning about the scholarship of teaching and learning in your field, look at ways to use social media in your teaching (rather than always fighting it), google motivating students (it doesn't automatically mean sucking up, giving in, or easy grades). SERIOUSLY PEOPLE. TEACHING IS AWESOME. You're missing out.

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    1. it's great as a teaching assistant but the pressure as a career is way way harsher -- though I would not trade it for another profession..

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  34. Yeah, teaching CAN be pretty awesome. I agree with that. But it's a little less awesome for $17K a year when you're 38, have your Ph.D. in hand, and are trying to build a life for yourself -- which, if you stick it out teaching your way through grad school, is very likely where you will end up.

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    1. Yeah, that's the issue. I also enjoy teaching -- and I'm proud of my teaching skills and my ability to engage students. Teaching paid my bills through grad school and kept me sane. BUT -- I had this idea, that when all was said and done, and the PhD was in hand, I could go somewhere else with these skills. The disappointment is realizing that it didn't lead to anything -- except more post-PhD adjunct teaching jobs with no possibility of advancement. And while teaching one intro class is fun -- teaching 3 of them a semester, semester after a semester gets a little old. Actually, I would have been smarter to limit the teaching, focus on getting the damn diss done faster, made my mark as a researcher etc. -- that was really my only hope of "making it" as an academic.

      Delete
  35. "Yeah, teaching CAN be pretty awesome. I agree with that. But it's a little less awesome for $17K a year when you're 38, have your Ph.D. in hand, and are trying to build a life for yourself -- which, if you stick it out teaching your way through grad school, is very likely where you will end up."

    Great point! The people I know who a) are publishing and b) got decent jobs/look to be on track to get good jobs (based on grants and other nationally competitive funding they have received) don't care one whit about teaching and do as little as possible. The graduates I know who loved their students and adored teaching are scraping as underemployed adjuncts.

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  36. @ anonymous, August 4, 2011 4:49 AM

    Soooo not true that everything outside of academia is corporate america. I work for the federal government, in international relations, and I get to write for and brief senior government officials every day. It's an exhausting job but very cool - and I would never be doing this had I stayed in grad school.

    There are also non-profits.

    Corporate America is not the only option.

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  37. 9:26 wrote, "Great point! The people I know who a) are publishing and b) got decent jobs/look to be on track to get good jobs (based on grants and other nationally competitive funding they have received) don't care one whit about teaching and do as little as possible. The graduates I know who loved their students and adored teaching are scraping as underemployed adjuncts."

    That is simply ridiculous...
    Ability and interest in teaching does no make one an unproductive scholar or vice versa. In fact, the only academics that I truly respect can do it all - teaching included.

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  38. When I started teaching, I had zero experience. I was introduced to the profession via baptism by fire. Still, I made the best out of a bad situation; for myself as well as the students. After a couple semesters, I finally got a handle on everything and improved. Along the way I came to discover that, much like what a lot of folks have already lamented, most students were customers and not interested in "learning." It didn't help either that I initially made the mistake of taking that personally.

    When I decided to take matters into my own hands, teaching the way I wanted to, I gave every class an expletive-laced rant at the beginning of the semester that went something like this:

    "The University has strict guidelines for what you can and cannot do in the classroom. This includes but is not limited to plagiarism, electronic gadgets, and rules no different than grade-school etiquette. While that's all fine and good, while in my class, understand this: if you fuck around and try to test your limits with me, I will throw you out of here. If you talk during class, I will humiliate the hell out of you. If you lie, cheat, and/or steal, I don't give a fuck who your parents are or how important you think you are, I will fail your ass in a heartbeat. If you don't like the way I handle things, the door is right there. ::points::

    I won't take it personally if you transfer out of here either. But do understand this, I'm busy, have lots of shit to juggle, and I don't have the time or the patience to deal with people who lack any consideration for what it means to be in the classroom. If you don't like school, leave. If you don't like my rules, leave. But if you decide to stay in my class for this semester, you will follow the rules."

    While my rant didn't win me many fans at the beginning of the semester, many of the slackers weeded themselves out while those brave enough to deal with me were often rewarded by at least a decent experience. I won't pretend to be awesome or the best at teaching, but I was a realist about what my expectations were. To the extent that students understood that bullshit was not tolerated, neither of us suffered anymore than we had to.

    While I know teaching isn't--and never will be--my calling, I think my attitude was what made the teaching part less unbearable while attracting very positive reviews on ratemyprofessor. It's kind of an irony, but it seems all the politics and political correctness of people afraid to get in trouble, and willing to kiss ass is what has made so many people unwilling to--or afraid of the consequences if they do--maintain any standards.

    For me, I knew I was leaving academia no-matter how this played out, so I figured I would try to finish my degree since I didn't have anywhere else to go and the school needed guys like me willing to work for crumbs to teach courses no sane person would otherwise do. In the end, I didn't teach because I wanted any "rewards." I think if you enter grad school, teaching, etc., without expecting any teaching rewards from it, you won't grow as disillusioned from academics since your expectations are already low or at least familiar with all the bullshit that you will soon be facing.

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  39. @9:01:
    "That is simply ridiculous...
    Ability and interest in teaching does no [sic] make one an unproductive scholar or vice versa. In fact, the only academics that I truly respect can do it all - teaching included."

    "Simply ridiculous."? I made a statement, supporting a previous comment by another poster, about the circle of people I know and their experiences (people who love teaching are the ones who get shafted on the job market and get stuck adjuncting). My comment has nothing to do about being a "productive scholar," as you suggest, but about the realities of the job market. You back up your non sequitur with your own opinion (about who you respect).

    The quality of reasoning and writing in some of these comments says a lot about the state of graduate education today.

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  40. "
    "The University has strict guidelines for what you can and cannot do in the classroom. This includes but is not limited to plagiarism, electronic gadgets, and rules no different than grade-school etiquette. While that's all fine and good, while in my class, understand this: if you fuck around and try to test your limits with me, I will throw you out of here. If you talk during class, I will humiliate the hell out of you. If you lie, cheat, and/or steal, I don't give a fuck who your parents are or how important you think you are, I will fail your ass in a heartbeat. If you don't like the way I handle things, the door is right there. ::points::"

    I LOVE this rant. Probably effective for teaching. But as a TA, at least in my department, it wouldn't fly. The profs for whom we work would undercut every single point:

    --"People have different ways of learning--of course they can use laptops, talk to each other to process the information."
    --"The student didn't know you can't copy directly out of the text."
    --"Actually, I think it's kind of funny that your student left section without excusing herself, got high, and came back all giggly and red eyed once section was almost over."

    Profs encourage the students to undermine TAs' authority because it builds up their own (or so they think). TAs are right to feel like shit because the students treat us that way and the profs condone it.

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  41. Some categories of people who make a point of spending time with others who loathe their company:

    1. Anti-union managers (think captive audience meetings aimed at preventing unionization)
    2. Prison guards
    3. Stalkers
    4. College teachers!

    We're in the company of sadists, folks.

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  42. When I worked as a TA, I always sat in the last row so that I could keep an eye on what was going on in the room. The professors had no idea how bad it really was, and I finally figured out that it wasn't very helpful to tell them. It's better that they don't know.

    Believe me, it doesn't matter how awesome the teaching is. There are always students in every class who just do their own thing. Sometimes I was surprised to see good students checking out facebook.

    Speaking of facebook, I'm always a little uncomfortable with people looking at personal photos in a public place like a classroom. (There's no privacy setting for that.) In one class, there was a girl who got creeped out when she saw a random guy sitting a few rows in front of her checking out her page.

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  43. "The professors had no idea how bad it really was, and I finally figured out that it wasn't very helpful to tell them. It's better that they don't know."

    I think that a big part of being a "good" grad student (aka doormat) is protecting the profs from this kind of info. In my experience any kind of bad news isn't appreciated. They need to believe that what they're doing is meaningful, not just a means of procuring a paycheck. What I don't get is how they can still believe this, having once been TAs themselves.

    The worst is when you're on a team with a grad student from a more recent cohort and they keep complaining to the prof about the students. Clearly they think now it's us (grad students) and profs against undergrads. Think again, idiots. The profs have just as many mean things to say about us as we do about undergrads.

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  44. This blog helped me decide to quit my program. While I was thrown to the wolves on teaching reading & composition in UC Berkeley, I loved it. I tried my best to make it engaging and interactive, and I had hoped to leave with my second semester a smashing success---but then the department got involved in my best and last teaching semester.

    Why did they step in? Because I had a grading rubric that went from A-F and students would actually not pass on their papers. The worst student (a football player who was so certain of himself and smug) didn't even bother to proofread his papers: there were typos, misspellings, and a lack of punctuation. One paper consisted of two jumbled paragraphs rambling over 3 pages.

    So the chair of the department called me into her office and said, "We have only A & B students here." I demanded to see her grading rubric and criteria, and she could never send me one. She even sent me an email asking me to re-grade papers of students who were failing the course, and to regrade them so that they weren't failing anymore. When I responded that it was clearly unethical and discriminatory with the rest of my students, she swore I didn't understand (that was her excuse for whenever she herself didn't understand something.) I was threatened with disciplinary action for being insubordinate--this after she demanded copies of every single assignment I'd given out and graded, even though I'd already told her I was working over the 20 hours a week I was supposed to be doing.

    The only thing that saved me, I think, was my father's poor health had sent him to the hospital. That's how you know graduate school is sick--when you're thankful for the awful things in your life. I jokingly told my father, "Would you be able to play dead?"

    Their desperation to get rid of me was telling. Once they saw I had a legitimate excuse to miss the meeting I'd never agreed to in the first place, they offered to let me walk away. They said they'd find a substitute for the rest of the semester. I could just walk away---and still get paid, and have no more work to do. But I didn't because I didn't believe it was fair to my students. I told my students about the offer, and the majority genuinely was impressed and appreciated that I stayed; they knew how hard I worked to help them (sometimes holding 10 office hours a week to sit down and talk with them about their papers.)

    So the chair stepped in, said she was doing a "regulatory grade check" and told my students, "Your grades can only go up." She had them send her electronic copies of their papers, and she turned on "track changes" and corrected their papers for them. Then she said if they made her changes, their grade would go up even further. So all they had to do was click accept changes.

    My students saw through it. On the last day of class I handed them an evaluation form I created that asked one question: whether or not the department upheld the UC statement of ethical values well. Most answered no. I cried at the couple that defended me and mentioned I hadn't been treated with respect. The only one in complete defense of the department was the football student who didn't answer the question but claimed I had an ego problem and was out of control. The best part? His last comment was his motto: "Accept faillurr and improve on it." His spelling was genuinely so horrible that I don't think he knew his mistake.

    Sadly, though, after that miserable experience, I would teach again. I loved it, and I felt I could have gone on forever teaching, but that last semester sucked the life and passion out of me for it. Similarly, my department sucked the same out of the literature I'd gone to grad school to study. I can't even look at those books anymore. I'm doubtful I'll ever be able to again.

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  45. That department chair should be reported to the provost or dean of academic affairs and removed. I interviewed for a full-time position to teach anatomy and physiology at a small college with a nursing program. Students in said program must receive a minimum grade of C in all coursework. That seems low to me, but fine. I was asked how I would handle a student who received a D in a class and 'needed' the C. I told them a story of a recent student of mine who was accepted to a pharmacy program, needed at least a C in both the lecture and lab courses she was taking with me and ended up receiving an F in the lecture and a D in the lab. The student bugged me for several days and hinted that she might go to my current department and chair. I told her to go ahead, but that it wouldn't help and it wouldn't have - my chair supports his faculty, including adjuncts. After sharing this story, I told the interview committee in no uncertain terms that I do not manufacture grades for students. Ever. During the remainder of the interview, they repeated several times that nursing students need to receive grades of C. In other words, grades of C or better get to stay in the program and we continue collect tuition from them. Higher education is a scam at all levels... I was asked to return to give a demo lesson, but declined.

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    1. The Dean and Provost will support what the Chair is doing. Where have you been?

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  46. Wow 10:09. Your story is heartbreaking. I hope that your father is better now. You have your integrity, which is more than most grad students leave with.
    I may have mentioned this before, but a friend of mine was told by her superior that "I forgot about the test" and "I couldn't study because I went to a party" were legitimate reasons to schedule a makeup exam (of course on the instructor's time). Moreover, she HAD to honor these as legitimate excuses.
    My first time TAing in my department the instructor asked me to bump up a black athlete's course grade a full grade, despite his lack of ability or effort. 3:09, you said it best, "Higher education is a scam at all levels."

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    1. You think regular uninterested students are fun. Wait till you get a "student athlete" who the team at a big D1 school needs to win. Many places they could get by with sexually assaulting you, never mind grades.

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  47. 10:09 here.

    @5:03, if you want to talk about excuses, the chair also told me to "completely forgive any assignments over a two week period" for one student who was failing, gave up on the course, and was absent for over two weeks.

    It didn't matter that, right before she stopped coming to class for two weeks, she'd seen me in office hours, admitted she should have seen me sooner and that she hadn't been doing the reading. She asked if she could pass the class, and I said yes, but that it meant she would need to do the work. But she quit anyway, and then the chair ended up giving her a free pass. She went from an F to a B.

    The end results of the chair's grading were almost 50% As and 50% Bs; it would have been split 50/50 if it weren't for one C+ which I can't figure out. I mean, if everyone's an A or B student, how the hell did someone get less than that? I have a feeling it was because the student was shy, reserved, and didn't scream, "Hallelujah!" at the chair's offer to personally meet with her about "grading problems."

    Sadly, she wrote better than the football player, so I still can't understand how the hell he got a B. I doubt he could have passed a fifth grade level reading test.

    It was really heartbreaking to watch my authority just be shredded in front of me and a good teaching environment be thrown to hell. The football player, seeing an easy way out, just stopped doing the reading. It was obvious. Several students lost motivation; there was no reason to try because everybody's grades were going up and the chair had said so. They also commented on how suspicious it was that she never gave them a new grading rubric; they had no idea what standards she used to grade. Students mentioned the lack of motivation in the evals I gave out.

    @3:09, I wish someone would care. I filed so many whistleblower reports on corruption in my department, only to be blown off by excuses like "you filed this under the wrong category, and the matter is now closed."

    Which story would you like? The one of the chair having her Swedish boyfriend come as a visiting scholar for two years when in the past, no other scholar gets supported for more than one consecutive year? Nice supervising your boyfriend, huh? No conflict of interest there. I'm sure he truly received his visiting scholar status out of merit only.

    At the same time, she was derelict of duty despite having time to micromanage me. She blew off 6 out of 8 meetings with another graduate student doing independent study that she was supposed to be supervising. She failed to schedule mandatory "progress meetings" for grad students that same year. She also admitted to letting non-native speakers keep re-submitting papers for higher grades---I'm sure the native speakers would have loved to have known they had a different standard... but then again, maybe her students only end up with As and Bs.

    Or the one about the Graduate Adviser asking a student to enroll in her course to "boost the numbers" but not requiring him to do work and asking he never tell anyone else? Oh, the many stories I could tell...

    They all are a nice piece of work...

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    1. Welcome to grad school

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  48. "She also admitted to letting non-native speakers keep re-submitting papers for higher grades---I'm sure the native speakers would have loved to have known they had a different standard... but then again, maybe her students only end up with As and Bs."

    This one's a hoot--we have that too. Not just non-native speakers, but students of color in general get bumped up. I had a blatant plagiarism case--page after page of directly stolen text straight off the Internet--and when I went to admin they asked if the person was a non-native speaker. "Well, he had a Latino surname. But he had no accent, and I don't see how that's relevant." Are you suggesting that non-native speakers don't know any better (racist--they're stupid) or that they should just be allowed to plagiarize? Of course because I am white (and a white middle class woman no less--the devil herself) there is no way to talk about any of this without people assuming I am the racist.

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  49. Add the kind of corruption described above to the previous reason (smugness) and you've got a real bellyache. The students who finish act like they are the smartest, hardest workers when really they are just the ones who are most willing to trade their integrity for a pedigree.

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  50. This post from a young student on another forum will make your eyes bleed. The poster is very enthusiastic about students as consumers, and compared the teaching profession to dry cleaning services. His/her last sentence here will chill you to the bone:

    "I actually have a friend--a former professor of mine--who teaches Consumer and Family Sciences. She drilled into our heads that education is a service and that students are consumers. I specifically remember one of the exercises which involved the class catalog, which was still printed on paper in those days. We each had to write a list of alternative classes (alternative to the one we were in), and why we chose not to take them. This was the first day of class, and she was introducing us to the concept of choice at the consumer level and why it's important.

    Granted, this was just one exercise in one class I took, but she teaches it every semester to dozens of students, and the point is to see education as a service we consume on par with other services. I can't imagine she's the only professor with this viewpoint or that we were the only students to be introduced to that idea. The concept of students as consumers is being taught in college these days."

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  51. Got my PhD in applied science, went private sector straight out of grad school, built and sold a company, then felt obliged to the fellow who very kindly got me my start in research tpmpass along my real world skills. Took a tenured position & did it while my children were young for few years &have now left. It is abysmal. Truly abysmal. The money is lousy, the bureaucracy is unusually dense and counterproductive, management are rank amateurs and/or political appointees and students (quite fairly) see on-line delivery as a no brainer. Entire incentive system is to dumb down curricula, while (as some above have done) educationalist "teaching and learning" drones bleat their new term for the day and say it's all about "innovative approaches" and similar shit. My last year I knew I was leaving, did not give a damn, taught from the hip as there were effectively no consequences (MUCH higher paying job waiting anytime I decided to leave) swore, told bawdy jokes, graded xtremely easily, gve them all essentilly all the exams ahead of time, told the students straight up those wanting to go to grad school were fools and why, made them all submit c.v.'s & straightened them out for the real world.......and got the best evaluation scores in my faculty. Even got a damned award my last day here, which was too thick and in a frame to wipe my ass with.
    I did my time for my mentor, and I don't blame him one bit. It was illustrative of a quasi-governmental system that is full of itself while rapidly running itself into irrelevant scroll factories. The majority anyway. If you are going o do grad school, I recommend the real world first, top up with grad school if you must, because then you can bail anytime you want (the VAST majority in academia cannot as they have absolutely no real world experience and wouldn't be hired), so can largely ignore the absolute hailstorm of BS that is academia. Otherwise you become infected and one of the sad drones, spouting titles and obscure terminology no one gives a shit about anyway....in the real world. Those lost in these little insular pathetic fiefdoms, scratching for crap pay and answerable to dimwit managers peddling fluff to students paying increasingly huge fees for junk, just either need to get he gutsto break free, or give in to pedling an increasingly pathetic institutional culture and product.

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  52. Great blog, but, REALLY, nobody needs this many reasons to not go to grad school. Just look at the trail of human tradgedy left by those attempting to become one of the few tenured professors. Then look at the life of those tenured professors... smart people who could had many opportunities in different careers, but ended up in a failing profession, bitter, frequently divorced, depressed and hanging on until retirement all the while facing the derision of students and the contempt of administrators.

    In any case, just give away the grades, you will get better reviews and hired on the next year again assuming that is desirable or even wanted...

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  53. I am currently in my next to last semester of teaching foreign language in my graduate program. I... FUCKING... HATE IT!

    If you think that students don't care about making the effort in a literature or composition class, try a foreign language class. 90% of my students hate being there. Their exams are painful to grade as I watch them mangle language. They don't know what a noun is! They can't even string a fucking sentence together in the foreign language or even English! ARGH!

    When I first taught, I got high ratings, but as my career went on, I got lower and lower ratings because the stakes get higher. The stress mounted and my students did not study and prepare at all. I fucking hate teaching language! I also fucking hate my students (that 90% that hates being there, that is). I am transitioning out of academia and I will never look back after I leave it. Unless attitudes change, teaching is going to remain a thankless field. At least I'm not going for a Ph.D. Thank heavens!

    The students do not care about you. PERIOD!

    Did I mention that I fucking hate teaching language?

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    1. Oh, do I hear and sense your pain! For a variety of reasons, a few years ago I got stuck teaching English as a foreign language. It was boring enough abroad, but back in the States...utterly unbearable. Then in desperation I embarked on grad school and got the full experience of the TA at a large, sprawling, indifferent, mediocre state university. I hated every minute of it. The complete lack of effort put forth by the students, the sheer willful ignorance, the illiterate papers, the utterly non-collegiate atmosphere. It was a sick farce, a travesty of what, once upon a time, a college education meant and aspired to achieve. Today I am an ordinary office weenie; the job is not inspiring or even very interesting, but it is bearable. As silly as some of my colleagues are, at least I am not held responsible for their putative intellectual and emotional "growth", and once I leave, I don't have to think about the job at all until I return the following day.

      What I miss, what I mourn, is not academia or my graduate work or my work as a teachbot, but rather my starry notion, my...Vorstellung, as it were, of these things. Strictly speaking, however, one cannot miss what one has never had and what does not even exist.

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  54. *Note: Because of the character count, my post will be in two parts.

    Teaching used to be the most rewarding part of being in academia for me as well. When I began in my PhD program, I had already amassed four years of adjunct teaching -- which I believed was a stepping stone for a greater future in academia. My first year teaching in my department went well and as always, since I have learned to create pretty entertaining lectures, I received very favorable reviews.

    However, the department could care less about teaching success and instead rewarded me by sending me off to siberia for a two year prison sentence. They decided to contract some of us teaching fellows out to the department of engineering to instruct their students. My job is/was working with engineering instructors to help instruct oral communication and teamwork in conjunction with english PhDs working as writing instructors. My time instructing engineers has been a nightmare. Not only are many engineers students at my institution basically spoiled brats, the engineering faculty we team teach with are just plain jerks to us from the humanities. For instance, at the very end of the fall semester, I was pushing 40 hours a week of work in which I was required to be at 10 different labs per week to observe student speeches, despite being contracted to work no more than 20 hours. This was of course in addition to my own drowning course work. I was swamped, stressed, and at the end of it all. The engineering faculty could care less about my course work since I was merely a humanities PhD student. You know because of how easy our work is...

    I brought up this abuse to the director of the program who instantly blew me off and thus did not want to here nothing of it. After that, I decided to bring up my plight to my department. And of course, they pretended to sympathize with my predicament but in the end wiped there hands clean of it.

    As of this month, the director of the program (who was a graduate from our department) left to another position at a different institution. Nevertheless, the engineering department decided to place one of their own as our director. They decided to have an engineer direct us from the communication and english departments! Talk about being steamrolled. I guess they think they are more capable of running the program than us who are trained in our subjects. Oi vey!

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  55. Another aspect that has dulled my passion for teaching is the evolution of how students address me as I have aged. When I began teaching I was in my late 20s. Students seem to identify with me, and as much as this could be a problem, for the most part it helped to motivate them to learn. However, now in my mid-thirties, many students now treat me as if I am their parent. They act as if they do not have to take any of my suggestions seriously or me as an instructor -- which is exacerbated since some of the engineering faculty dislike the fact we are teaching their students (nepotism at its finest!). At this point, I do not enjoy being treated like a surrogate parent. As much as I make the subject matter applicable to their future, it does not seem to resonate anymore. The students just believe they can sass back and I will do nothing to them or take their poor attitude into account. They have no clue that such behavior will not be successful in any environment, yet we in academia treat it as if it is an everyday occurrence. This change in how students approach me as I have gotten older has become a coup de grace for my desire for a career in academia. If I no longer desire to fall back on teaching if I were not TT, then what's the point of going forward.

    As of now, I am making the transition to another program that will ultimately take me out of a career in academia. I am tired of all the BS and the exploitation we have to endure. As a friend who was ABD recounted to me right before she quit, "I wish someone would have told me the truth before I came here. That is why they don't have me meet with prospective grad students: because I will tell them the truth I never got". I too was told a fantasy that I naively embraced. She luckily now has a very successful business and I am hoping I will be able to follow in such footsteps.

    Sorry for my poorly written post, but since I am in the transition of moving forward with my life, I am still dealing with the emotions of it all. I feel as if I going through a divorce from a partner I still love. And it is those dreams that creep up from time to time in which we imagine that somehow love will overcome all the problems that is sinking the relationship. But like the song stated, sometimes love just ain't enough. And in my case, my passion for learning, teaching, and academia will not be sufficient for the future I desire.

    Cheers!

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  56. The computer thing is a motherfucker, but I've generally found that the anxiety students feel from being cut off from their smartphones is a much more distracting thing than them actually using them. I made a point to be among the students pretty often when I was adjuncting, and it's crazy how compartmentalized socializing is for them. Each one on their own phone, attending multiple conversations while speaking to someone else.

    I kind of agree with this reason, but it's also an age of hyper-attention and constant connectivity. Once you're teaching, it's better to seek ways to leverage this in a useful manner (like use Twitter to field questions about homework/readings and things like that) than to just be salty. Not saying it's a change for the better (because those computers can be a fucking curse) but it is what it is.

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  57. I know this post is old but I needed a place to vent. I agree with this reason 100%. Teaching is less and less rewarding, and it's getting worse.

    It doesn't help that I teach in a department that is "student centered" (read: customer service oriented). The average grades our department gives out are in the A-/B+ range, and no, it's not because our students are all geniuses. It's because the students bully their professors until they change their grades.

    I run a tough but fair classroom. I let my students know on the first day of class that I don't take any bullshit. I expect them to come to class on time prepared to learn. I don't participate in grade inflation. Average work gets a C in my class. Only students who excellently exceed the assignment requirements get A's. I had to explain to my students that merely meeting the requirements is not a guaranteed A.

    Student athletes are the worst. They are entitled and expect you to break the rules for them even more than the average college student does. Every single athlete I've taught has been trouble to the point that I cringe whenever I see an athlete has registered for my course.

    This is what happens when the student as customer business model becomes the new teaching philosophy. Lowered standards. Students erroneously receiving high grades for terrible work. Overworked professors who have little to no administrative support. Administrators who use student evaluations as a measurement for teaching quality. I can name dozens of studies about the ineffectiveness of student evaluations yet administrators continue to blindly use them to determine who they should/shouldn't fire. They apparently never learned what the difference between mean, mode, and median is. Every semester, I get 5s and 4s from most students but there's always 1 or 2 bitter students who give me all 1s and ruin my averages. My average is lower than the department average but my median is 4, which aligns with the department median.

    Don't let me get started on some of the international students who barely speak English yet administrators encourage us to ignore their plagiarism and pass them because they're paying full price to go here. I've taught international students who read/write on a first grade level.

    Overall, this is the primary reason why I don't want to stay in academia. Teaching a bunch of pompous brats is not what I want to do with the rest of my life.

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