Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The smackdown rolls on. Horrible Meanie Prof with a letter (hopefully) never sent

I do appreciate that the student can at least write coherently, really I do. In red – the smackdown.

Dear Dr. Horrible Meanie Prof:

I, and many other students who, your two best buddies who you let you copy all their work?, feel that the poor planning of the course is wholly unprofessional on your part. And you can say this of course, because you ARE a professional with over 20 years’ experience  – WHOOPS, sorry, I’M the one who has been a professional for over 20 years - sorry, forgot! Perhaps in class you can explain why we had the same amount of work in the first ten weeks of the semester that we now have had in the last 4 weeks (one project, two assignments, and one midterm). I am very confident  I am glad you are confident about SOMETHING that, even in the "real world" a boss would understand when one of his/her employees are working their hardest but are simply overwhelmed by the load. Yes, they would understand enough to say, “don’t let my office door hit you in the ass as you leave – you’re fired.” It is my hope that you can set a better example now and in the future. Oh, please, PLEASE FORGIVE ME!!!! I will do better in the future, I PROMISE!

I know without a doubt that my peers will forgo sleep You mean they won't sleep in class anymore? , drop their other commitments, and do the very best that they can to get everything done, all the while being frightened of admitting what they don't understand. Your asking the whole class, "Who doesn't understand it?" “Who has questions?” or "Who can't do it?" will never get an honest response. Especially now when students literally do not have the time to think about and determine what they don't know.

Thank you for listening, I AM impressed with your writing – that tone of entitled superiority normally takes years to develop.

Self-Appointed Class Leader and Entitled Know-it-all (SACLEK)


As for the "the same amount of work in the first ten weeks of the semester that we now have had in the last 4 weeks (one project, two assignments, and one midterm)." – Perhaps you recall my saying in class: “I am going to trust you to do your work in the first part of the semester, even though you will not turn it in?  I expected that seniors would keep up with reading the text, would complete in-class examples, would attempt working or reworking text examples, and "work" to acquire understanding of the course material, regardless of whether the "work" was graded.  In fact, much of the excess effort students are experiencing now is a result of students having to catch up on concepts and understanding that was missed by failing to keep up earlier in the class.

I am also at a loss for what you (and other students) expect regarding addressing gaps in your understanding.  I hold three scheduled Office Hours per week, and student can make appointment online. SIX students, TOTAL have visited me during office hours this semester. Offers to go over assignments DURING CLASS TIME have been passed on by most of the class. It is unfortunate that students are "frightened" of admitting they do not understand; of all of the habits professionals need to develop, that has to be one of the most critical. If students do not admit lack of knowledge, it is IMPOSSIBLE for them to learn.

I am not the only faculty member who has been going back to instructional materials we have used over several decades of teaching and finding that we are, in fact, demanding CONSIDERABLY LESS of students than we did even 8-10 years ago.  I am not at all sure why the same expectations that I would have for the students of 10 years ago would be so unreasonable in the present.

In short, I have actually required LESS (submitted) work from this semester’s student than ever, offered MORE access to my time, but I am seeing the LEAST effort of any class I’ve ever had to acquire the necessary competence to be a professional in this field. No, I am NOT going to change what I do.

Best wishes,

Horrible Meanie Prof


  1. Classic! Both the complaint (sadly) and the reply Presumably this is the sort of missive one actually replies to very briefly and firmly, probably with reference to the syllabus and/or assignments. Something along the lines of

    "Dear SACLEK,

    I'm sorry to hear that you've been having trouble keeping up with the work of the class in the past few weeks. As noted on the syllabus, work in the class is cumulative, with later assignments building on earlier, un- or lightly-graded assignments. You may want to review those assignments, to see if you have any unanswered questions about them. If so, or if you have questions about current assignments, don't hesitate to drop by my office hours, or to contact me again via email.



    That's probably still too long (not too mention not nearly as much fun as HMP's version, which of course should not be sent not only because it would get the proffie in trouble, but also because, though true, it makes the fatal error of treating SACLEK's arguments as if they are in need of refutation), but it's a start, I think.

    I'd say the keys are not to engage with the "everybody thinks" dimension of the email (while taking any precautions possible against groupthink on end-of-semester evals.), not to be defensive (my main objection against refuting points, however accurately), and to reiterate already-provided, helpful information about the structure of the class and how to get help.

    Another possibility for re-asserting authority might be to add, toward the beginning of the reply, something along the lines of "many students do find this portion of the semester, when we're tying together concepts we've considered separately during the beginning of the semester, difficult, but many find that, as long as they keep up with the work at this point, they soon begin to understand the larger picture" -- or some such phraseology expressing sympathy in response to the student's evident (but badly expressed, and perhaps not even self-acknowledged) anxiety, but/and also alluding to the fact that the instructor has taught the class many times before, and that it does have a well-designed structure which supports student learning as long as the students cooperate by doing the work to the best of their abilities. That's probably another key to responding: realizing that the writer is scared -- scared enough to be lashing out in a way (s)he probably realizes on some level is unwise (unless, of course, the writer is a snowflake whose parents have modeled this response whenever (s)he got into trouble, and has no idea how badly it will serve hir in the real world to which (s)he so confidently alludes (this, of course, is the underlying pleasure of this missive; however you do or don't reply in the moment, you know the student will get hir comeuppance soon enough, without any effort from you).

    And one final thought: yes, students seem increasingly unwilling not only to do the amounts of work that were once normal expectations, but also to express any uncertainty (including asking questions) in class. How, oh how, do we get them to adopt the mindset that uncertainty, and even outright being wrong, is a completely normal part of the learning process, and nothing to be ashamed of? Yes, we're responsible to some extent for helping them get to a point where they know what they don't know, but they really have to take it from there. We're not mind-readers, nor can we deal with every misunderstanding by offering endless rewrites and retakes, which seems to be their preferred solution, no matter how many interim/preparatory steps we offer before what is meant to be the final version of the Big Assessment.

  2. What Professor Chiltepin said. Classic smack down, though. Where do they get their attitudes? Do they really think that they're here to NOT learn? Is that where this comes from? I don't understand the attitude of: "How dare you make us do work in college!"

    1. "How Dare you make us learn stuff we don't know!"

  3. I'm dying to know how you actually responded (if it wasn't just hitting Delete).

    1. Portions of the first three paragraphs were actually sent to SACLEK. (I did use the politer salutation of Dear Mr. SACLEK.) I have two colleagues who were teaching the same set of flakes - we did a lovely job of standing firm together, so the flakes had to deal with all three of us holding the line.

      An unexpected benefit: word got round so that THIS semester's kiddies walked in the door terrified, and so have been doing all the right things: preparing for class, coming on time, reading the friendly syllabus. And so they have been learning. And even, some of them, LIKING it! (Hey Mikey!) THEY think last semester's flakes were crazy. I may have to bribe them to terrify the next bunch.

    2. VERY cool! Yay for you and your colleagues!