Do I make you completely uncomfortable with my words?


Should I feel jealous or not? My students never write letters like this. And if they did, I’m at such a small school I’d never be able to post them.

(via Bitch Ph.D.)

Comments

  1. says

    My friend and a professor of [blank] Studies at [blank] (self-censored because I’m not even sure how this situation was handled in the end) once had a student show up drunk to his office and try to “seduce” him into passing her after she didn’t show up for half the semester. This was after she emailed him some very interesting pictures of herself and her boyfriend engaging in BDSM activities.

    So at least you don’t get letters like that.

  2. Hairy Doctor Professor says

    I had a student submit as an extra-credit term paper, essentially verbatim, an article from a major encyclopedia — one that I had just finished editing for the next edition of the encyclopedia — and then attempt to enroll in the same class the next semester because his grade was “lower than expected”. He disappeared (slunk away) when I explained just why the grade was lower…..

    Aside from the usual minor disgruntlements about final grades, the only time I’ve had parents yelling at me was when a kid took my class as a second-semester senior, got a solid “C”, but ended up with a cumulative GPA 0.01 points shy of graduating. Because mine was the last course he took, it was obviously all my fault.

  3. says

    This is so great. I kept on waiting for the next “uncomfortable”, and sometimes it took almost a paragraph, but then THERE IT WAS AGAIN! Hurray!
    But the last few words are the best.

  4. says

    The usual things I get from students are short notes on blank exam pages that say “I completely forgot this!” or “I didn’t have time to study!” But my favorite so far is the student who asked me when she would have enough D’s on her exams and quizzes to add up to a C. I guess it’s supposed to accumulate or something.

  5. Ginger Yellow says

    Sweet Jesus. I can’t get my head around how many things are wrong with that letter. Which is the most egregious one? The fact that he claims to feel uncomfortable with the guy’s teaching and grading but never, ever says anything about it? The way he complains about being taught critical reading? The way he complains about not being told precisely what to write? The way he complains about “how you talk about television? The fact that he complains about being held to high standards? The fact that he complains about the teacher’s objectivity and fairness? The fact that he complains about the teacher leading discussions? The fact that it rambles on and on and on and on? The barely literate prose style? The random insistence that he is a very religious person? Or just the fact that taken as a whole he seems to have absolutely no concept of what learning is about?

  6. says

    More than anything, the mentions of how he’s religious got me giggling. I love when people imply (or even state outright) that you’re automatically a good person if you have an imaginary friend who tells you what to do.

  7. says

    He’s a college student? How old does that make him? 17? 18?

    Phew.. I would fail him for being a whiner. (Luckily for him, I don’t have the means to do so.)

  8. says

    But my favorite so far is the student who asked me when she would have enough D’s on her exams and quizzes to add up to a C.

    That’s excellent. My best one so far is the student last quarter who did quite poorly on most of the exams and quizzes, and then came to me immediately after the final. He was sure he had bombed that, too, but asked that I take into account the fact that he worked really hard in my class when I assign grades.

  9. DamnYankees says

    Well, that was pathetic. Don’t look down on all college students – some of us are pretty good at cranking out words now and then. But this guy resembles a quivering bowl of Jello that’s been slightly under-boiled.

    Get a spine, and perhaps a thesaurus.

  10. Unstable Isotope says

    That was really bizarre. Is English this student’s first language? I once graded a organic chemistry final where the student didn’t answer one question, but wrote a very long letter on one page about how this was her 3rd time taking the class and it’s the only she needed to graduate and could we please, please pass her anyway? This student had not taken any other tests and had never been to see the professor. We had no idea who she was. I’ll bet she didn’t attend class either. It was really a work of art, I wish I still had it. It was much more coherent then that letter.

  11. xebecs says

    You guys are way harsh. The writer now holds a prestigious position at the Discovery Institute.

    And by the way, he’s very religious, so he has that going for him.

  12. says

    This student has a lot of perfectly legitimate complaints. College demands certain skills … such as sustained yet modulated babbling peppered (peppered bing a carefully chosen word here) with malice (to make you seem smart). I stopped grading students on class participation many years ago when I realized that 8 out of 10 smart kids were smart enough to keep their mouths shut.

    This is my favorite part of the letter, and I think explains the overall tenor (if it is indeed true that this is a native eng. speaker):

    …so if I learned anything it is how to read things in too much detail. I could have read books in too much detail on my own but that is not what I came to college to do because I already know how to read …

    This student is mildly to moderately stoned.

  13. Science Goddess says

    I just started teaching college biology part time after my retirement. I was amazed to find that some students expected to be able to re-take tests if they did badly. Then I found out that the high schools allow them to re-take tests! WTF? What kind of preparation is this for the real world?

    They were REALLY upset that tests weren’t negotiable, complained that the course was too hard, and slept through class. Then they complained about poor grading. [And the fact that I didn’t teach intelligent design].

    SG

  14. says

    “I am always offended. [Always, always offended, always!]”

    Adaptation to MAD TV’s Depressed Persian Tow Truck Man.

  15. David Livesay says

    Someone should set that thing to music. It’s rather hypnotic, and it’s about as repetitive as most contemporary lyrics.

  16. Steve LaBonne says

    Ah, thanks for reminding me why I never, ever have a moment of regret about leaving academia…

  17. Occam's Electric Razor says

    Unfortunately, my experiences as a major university GA convinced me that the future of writing is Stream of Consciousness…or Stream of Unconsciousness, depending on your point of view.

  18. MAJeff says

    Wow, I’m kind of jealous. I’ve never received anything resembling that before. But, there are two comments from student evaluations I’ve received that still make me giggle, even years later:

    “One cup of coffee, not two.”

    “He was more intereseted in showing off how much he knows then [sic] in teaching.”

  19. says

    A good friend of mine is teaching English classes at the university where he is completing his Ph.D. in that subject. His writing students are struggling with the concept of making an argument. A couple of them think bald assertion is a good way to establish your point. “I’m going to write about abortion.” “Okay. What will you argue.” “I’m going to say it’s wrong.” “Fine. What will be the basis of your argument.” “Well, it’s wrong because it’s immoral.” “Um. Okay. And how are you planning to establish that?” “I’m going to quote from the Bible.” “You might want to do more than that.” “Well, I said I was going to point out it’s immoral.”

    He’s a rather frustrated English teacher.

  20. djlactin says

    What I really liked was that he was going to complain about the mark that he was going to get !

    And btw, was the teacher female? Deeply religious student… Maybe the ‘uncomfortable’ feeling he got was in his jeans….

    (crass, but…)

  21. Moggie says

    The one thing which prevents this letter being a total joy is that Scott admits that “I redacted it in the style of the student, so only about two sentences made it in without some alteration in placement, grammar, or style”. So we’re really laughing at an “artist’s impression” of the original.

  22. NJ says

    Reading the comments gave me an idea for you PZ. You could start a thread/contest on the most entertaining student course commentary. I’ll even offer up one of my favorites:

    “An attendance policy for this class would have helped my grade.”

  23. Jeff Chamberlain says

    “This student is mildly to moderately stoned.” (#19) A parsimonious and plausible hypothesis, if perhaps incomplete.

  24. Ric says

    No student has ever shown up in my office to try to seduce me, at least not to attempt it overtly. Yet some of the funniest things are the inadvertent comments they make. FOr example, here’s one of my favorites: “Please don’t take my work for granite.”

    DOn’t worry; I won’t. :)

  25. Frank Schmidt says

    It’s a hoax. Anyone who writes this poorly would be too lazy to go beyond two paragraphs.

  26. darius says

    It’s a hoax. Anyone who writes this poorly would be too lazy to go beyond two paragraphs.

    Frank,

    You haven’t been reading the creationist comments here much, have you?

  27. barkdog says

    To Ric: I once had a professor in a graduate linguistics course talk about taking things for “granite” and noting that two constructions were equivalent for all “intensive purposes.”

  28. Bryn says

    I’m seriously hoping s/he wasn’t this guy’s English teacher. And the nerve of that teacher! Instead of spending each day in class properly instructing their students exactly what they should regurgitate on a paper, they actually asked them to think??!? (/sarcasm)

    I especially appreciated the line, “….if I learned anything it is how to read things in too much detail.” Bummer–how can you get a job at DI after college if you get into the wicked habit of reading things in detail.

  29. Pumkinhead says

    Well, if this student is a Christian he has probably “misunderestimated” the nature of university education. In the old days, evolutionists threw Christians to lions. While this resulted in death the pleasure from the spectacle was short-lived. In today’s world, they make Christians ingest the rotten goat meat of Darwinism and vomit it up on exam days for four years as a condition for employment in most decent occupations–and they pay through the nose for the privelege. (Can you imagine Christians paying Diocletian tuition for their place in the arena?) While this form of torture does not result in death it results in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome among Christians. Many of them come to believe their Darwinian oppressors might have a point after all.

  30. Steve LaBonne says

    How about that, a pumpkinhead who’s not even smart enogh to spell his self-descriotion correctly.

  31. Steve LaBonne says

    Of course that snark would have worked better if I had spelled “enough” and “description” correctly. Oh well, better luck next time.

  32. says

    A letter like this wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    I worked in the Writing Center at my college while getting my MA. It was horrifying how poorly so many of the students write. Of course, they are often ill prepared by high school, which they weren’t prepared for in middle school.

    Personally, I think the kids should be learning critical thinking and writing skills in middle school. Otherwise they spend the rest of their academic career trying to play catch-up.

    This all strikes home with me today because last night one of my kid’s teachers sent home an article she took off the web as the source of information for a final project. The website she copied as the information source for the kids? WIKIPEDIA! (ugh!)

  33. Steve LaBonne says

    Didn’t you get the memo? They’re not supposed to teach them much of anything in middle school these days. The theory is that the poor little dears’ hormones are acting up so badly that they’re just in too delicate a condition to do any real academic work.

  34. Pumpkinhead says

    How about that, a pumpkinhead who’s not even smart enogh to spell his self-descriotion correctly.

    Well, we all have our faults. Even St. Paul had his thorn in the flesh

  35. Flex says

    Zeno wrote, “The usual things I get from students are short notes on blank exam pages that say “I completely forgot this!” or “I didn’t have time to study!””

    Heh.

    As a student who does occasionally write notes like that on blank exam pages, I’m not expecting a better grade because I wrote the note. It’s just that I felt I had to write something to indicate that I didn’t just miss the problem. I expect to get a zero on a problem I don’t answer. Leaving a note should make it clear to the grader that I expect to get a zero. [Of course, I’ve occasionally been missunderstood for doing so.]

    It’s an equivalent to the phrase, “This page intentionally left blank” occasionally found in the middle of a text. You know that the printer didn’t make a mistake.

    Of course, I usually don’t use exclaimation points.

  36. Steve_C says

    Is there any chance this student was foreign?

    Who the hell talks like that? Or writes like that unless english is their second language?

    The line about reading passages in detail cracked me up.

    “You like to lead discussions and that is bad because it is the entire means by which we learn but we do not know what you want from us on our papers. I have honestly no idea what I learned from you in this class because so much time was spent discussing the tiny details in the passages in the book and so if I learned anything it is how to read things in too much detail. I could have read books in too much detail on my own but that is not what I came to college to do because I already know how to read and I would have told you this but you make me completely uncomfortable with your words so I never said a word.”

    That’s just… just… COMEDIC GENIUS!

  37. Matt M says

    Still, this reads a bit like poetry. I can picture this letter being read out loud to a crowd of wine drinking intellectuals, who would become one with the feeling.

    Of course, one of the key reasons to go to college should be to be made uncomfortable by words.

  38. Sylvanite says

    This reminds me of the worst evaluation I got as a TA in Mineralogy class. The student (an older, non-traditional student, unfortunately) complained that I was the worst TA she ever had. On the mineralogy lab final, one of the specimens was a huge piece of quartz, which the students had to identify. This particular student identified the HUGE quartz crystal as – wait for it – diamond. There are so many things wrong with that misidentification that I simply don’t think any amount of TAing would have been able to help her. Did she really think a public university would have the money to put a 2000 carat diamond out for handling by grubby undergraduate hands?

  39. TAW says

    As a student who does occasionally write notes like that on blank exam pages, I’m not expecting a better grade because I wrote the note.

    I always feel bad not answering a question, but whenever I don’t know something I’ll just write some random word… like fish.

    One time I wrote a random word that turned out to be the right answer LOL

  40. MikeM says

    When I took my Cellular Biology class in high school, in about 1975, I was a terrible student. Amongst the worst, without a doubt.

    One day, we got a pop quiz that had a very simple question on it: What are autotrophs and heterotrophs? A very simple question, meant to be answered in Freshman terms.

    And I had no idea. After all, it WAS the chapter we were reading (Well… Some of us, anyway).

    So I made up a story about how Autotroph and Heterotroph were two countries at war, and for how long Autotrophian and Heterotrophian people hated each other, and on and on and on. The answer I gave was FAR longer than the real answer, of course.

    Not long after, I got a warning letter sent home, saying I was at a D. It scared the socks off me, and I studied like a madman for the rest of the semester, getting something around a 96% average the rest of the way. I got a B in the class. It turned my high school and university careers around.

    This letter really reminded me of that situation, for some reason.

    This may sound cruel, but I almost think if I were this teacher, I’d gather everyone and have them settle in, because he was about to read a letter (with no attribution) in front of the class. I remember having college instructors read what they thought was good stuff (including some from me) in front of the class. This guy needs to hear just how much he sounds like a lunatic.

    “I am a Christian man.”

    Oh, well, let me reconsider the D you’re earning.

    Good grief.

  41. Don't Dare Say says

    I edit drafts written by new lawyers.
    They’re slightly better.
    But they still don’t know what the meaning of it’s is.

  42. says

    Flex:

    As a student who does occasionally write notes like that on blank exam pages, I’m not expecting a better grade because I wrote the note. It’s just that I felt I had to write something to indicate that I didn’t just miss the problem. I expect to get a zero on a problem I don’t answer. Leaving a note should make it clear to the grader that I expect to get a zero.

    On the occasions when I was forced to leave a problem blank (and fortunately they’ve been relatively few), I left a remark along the lines of the following:

    “The remainder of this problem is trivial, and left as an exercise for the interested grader.”

  43. The unprofessional prof. says

    The `best’ evaluation I’ve ever received was a work of art. Names have been remove to protect the not so innocent.

    I love it when the simply writing `answers’ should guarantee a good grade.

    I am questioning whether my final exam grade posted on
    blackboard is correct, or if there has been an error?
    Despite not having enough time to answer 3 questions, the 17
    questions that I was able to answer should have sufficed a
    grade above what has been posted. Especially, since all of
    the questions must have been worth the same amount of points,
    because there was no specification of which questions had
    precidence (in points). I am wondering how you graded it, if
    there has been an error, and if you are curving the final
    (since the class average was so low)?

    The class average, excluding 5 students who didn’t take the final was an 82%, which was considerably higher than was expecting.

    All in all your 340 class managed, although being a little
    unorganized. I felt that you have enthusausem for the
    subject matter, but need to work on your patience. The
    material was not over anyone’s head, it just needs to spoken
    without PhD-student preconceptions. To be honest, I felt
    that your leave of absence for two weeks was handled poorly
    and unprofessional. Things come up, true. But all it would
    have taken was five minutes to post a message on Blackboard
    saying to read-up on certain sections, and also the 3rd test
    would be given as scheduled. You shouldn’t have expected
    another teacher to cover any topics, because he didn’t. I
    wrote these things on my teacher evaluation form — but I
    just wanted to own-up to what I said.

    I felt really bad about the second paragraph. I guess I should’ve asked my Mother-in-law to die at a time more convenient for my students. Mind you I had warned my students every lecture for a month that I would probably have to leave with no notice for about a week.

    Have a good break
    and Happy Holidays,

    Nothing says Happy Holidays quite like a student evaluation that gave me the lowest score on every category.

  44. Philonous says

    Davis wrote: That’s excellent. My best one so far is the student last quarter who did quite poorly on most of the exams and quizzes, and then came to me immediately after the final. He was sure he had bombed that, too, but asked that I take into account the fact that he worked really hard in my class when I assign grades.

    Almost as good as the student I had, who told me I should give him a better grade because he really felt that he understood the material, even though it might not seem that way from his answers on the exam!

  45. Thony C. says

    A friend of mine is professor for philosophy at a large German university. He refused to even grade a student’s term paper because it was only a print out of an article on the subject from the Internet. At this the student made a formal legal complaint to the university because in his opinion the article fulfilled the requirements of the term paper and the fact that he had not written it himself was irrelevant!

  46. J-Dog says

    I am not believing this, because it makes me too uncompfortable, and I didn’t really understand it, either.

    Once as an undergrad, I stayed up all night studying for finals, and had an early morning test in another classs. By the time of the test I was useless, and could not write down one coherant thought. Since it was a philosphy couse, this was bad. I turned in a blank blue-book, but talked to the Prof, and he let me make it up. WHEW!

    But I am STILL not believing this student’s writing, even if they are uncomfortable.

  47. says

    The closest things I get to complaints from my students are blank deer-in-the-headlights stares when I tell them that their midterm exam is to be a creatively-done piece of graphic art.

    It’s abundantly clear that most of them would much rather have a 500-question test.

  48. says

    Oh, man, this has prompted me to blog about my own days as a rather…idiotic…student. I wrote a letter similar to this, except without the poor wording and horrid syntax, in which I basically insulted my professor line after line. So, so embarrassing.

    Here’s a bit from it:

    “I am a student in your Modern British Fiction class, and I’m not pleased with my grade. I didn’t want to discuss this after class because I was rather pissed (forgive my usage of slang, but I feel it conveys my anger more effectively than a more conventional word) and would have been incoherent with rage, no doubt, if I had tried to discuss this in person.”
    […]
    “Sorry for writing such a long email. Or for sounding like an angry toddler demanding a cookie, because that’s pretty much what I feel like.

    Give me my cookie.”

    Why that man did not attempt to murder me after that, I’ll never know.

  49. says

    “Sorry for writing such a long email. Or for sounding like an angry toddler demanding a cookie, because that’s pretty much what I feel like.
    Give me my cookie.”
    Why that man did not attempt to murder me after that, I’ll never know.
    Posted by: Saint Gasoline

    LOL, I’ll tell you why he didn’t attempt to murder you: because he loved that. Unless the middle is significantly different from the end and beginning that you’ve posted, it sounds like a great e-mail. More to the point, it sounds — whether or not this is true, I don’t know — like it was mostly tongue in cheek, like you were parodying genuine “fix my grade now please” e-mails. Half his department probably has a printout of it taped to the sides of their filing cabinets.

  50. Sheldon says

    Grammatically the writing wasn’t that bad. He just needed to be introduced to the comma.

  51. Steve_C says

    And that he repeated himself over and over again, unnecessarily.

    He also sounded a bit like a computer. HAL is that you?

  52. Troublesome Frog says

    I would fail him for being a whiner.

    If a few of my professors in college had been willing to do that (or, at least, ignore the whiners), the whole class would have been better off. I went to a small school where one whiner can really derail a curriculum if the professor starts taking whiners seriously. The worst thing a professor can do is rework the syllabus to keep the lowest common denominator happy, especially when that lowest common denominator would rather be given the degree without learning anything.

  53. Spike says

    This is similar to a story told in Edinburgh of a student taking a mathematical physics exam. Having written an entire script for an episode of _Quantum Leap_, the closest he came to answering a question was to draw a set of axis, and a squiggly line, with the caption “I like graphs”. This resulted in him getting a grade of 2%, with the examiner having circled the caption, and added his own comment: “I like graphs too”.

  54. SEF says

    The worst thing a professor can do is rework the syllabus to keep the lowest common denominator happy, especially when that lowest common denominator would rather be given the degree without learning anything.

    That’s what the UK government has been doing, relatively systematically, from the primary school level all the way through to the universities (many of which are only pretending to be universities through a cunning renaming scheme). Now they “teach” homeopathy and other such junk:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6476289.stm

    Materials are much cheaper than for any real science or medicine and the testable content of the course is negligible too, so it’s easy to pass. Which all adds up to many happy, vacuous, paying students and happy, vapid, greedy managers.

    I haven’t seen reports of astrology replacing astronomy yet, but Physics has been very much on the downturn overall.

  55. Chinchillazilla says

    The closest things I get to complaints from my students are blank deer-in-the-headlights stares when I tell them that their midterm exam is to be a creatively-done piece of graphic art.

    It’s abundantly clear that most of them would much rather have a 500-question test.

    Wow. If more high school tests were creatively-done art, I’d have a much better shot at a scholarship, I swear. I would do a lot better in AP US History for sure.

  56. David Marjanović says

    Comment 20:

    I just started teaching college biology part time after my retirement. I was amazed to find that some students expected to be able to re-take tests if they did badly. Then I found out that the high schools allow them to re-take tests! WTF? What kind of preparation is this for the real world?

    That depends on which real world you mean. Consequently, in Austria we have the right to retake tests twice at the university (not at school, however!), and then a third time orally in front of a commission. There are tests that I had to retake twice. Take Introduction into Ecology which was taught by an incredible misanthrope the first two times. The professor who taught it the third time was a normal human being, so I passed.

  57. David Marjanović says

    Comment 20:

    I just started teaching college biology part time after my retirement. I was amazed to find that some students expected to be able to re-take tests if they did badly. Then I found out that the high schools allow them to re-take tests! WTF? What kind of preparation is this for the real world?

    That depends on which real world you mean. Consequently, in Austria we have the right to retake tests twice at the university (not at school, however!), and then a third time orally in front of a commission. There are tests that I had to retake twice. Take Introduction into Ecology which was taught by an incredible misanthrope the first two times. The professor who taught it the third time was a normal human being, so I passed.

  58. David Marjanović says

    How about that, a pumpkinhead who’s not even smart enogh to spell his self-descriotion correctly.

    That’s a parody…

    The website she copied as the information source for the kids? WIKIPEDIA! (ugh!)

    That depends. There are plenty of Wikipedia articles that are far too close to primary scientific literature to be an information source for kids.

  59. David Marjanović says

    How about that, a pumpkinhead who’s not even smart enogh to spell his self-descriotion correctly.

    That’s a parody…

    The website she copied as the information source for the kids? WIKIPEDIA! (ugh!)

    That depends. There are plenty of Wikipedia articles that are far too close to primary scientific literature to be an information source for kids.

  60. Steve LaBonne says

    That’s a parody…

    And getting taken in serves me right for violating PZ’s troll-response rule and jumping on him after his first comment…

  61. celdd says

    I had an entry-level civil engineer, straight of of college, working for me on a simple project of excavating some contaminated dirt. After the field work was completed, I gave him a copy of a previous report as a guideline to prepare a report for the job. After about three days, he came to me and asked “Which words do you want me to change?”

  62. says

    Warren: Students are not prepared for strange evaluation mechanisms. I had a linear algebra instructor tell me he used to assign an essay in some of his (rather elementary by most standards) math classes. He said (if I recall correctly) that it worked well gradewise, but students got so worked up about it that he didn’t want to handle the stress, even second hand, or something like that.

    As for art, well, I’ve always thought that in certain contexts it would be useful to let students explore any medium they chose to depict certain ideas. I dunno when, though, which is why I have never written up guidelines or anything for such.

  63. Lynn says

    After nearly 30 years teaching, I’ve seen a few hopeless cases.

    Like the student in my Intro to Botany class who tearfully (literally) objected to the failing grade I gave him. So what if he’d averaged 20% on exams, turned in less than half the required lab work, and submitted a paper which should have embarassed a 15-year-old. He was sure the fact that he’d been in class every day should have earned him a passing grade!

    Or the student in my Internet Bio class who refused to show his work for any genetics problems because he knew very well I knew how to solve them, and he should be allowed to assume I’d fill in the blanks.

    Of course, that latter student was an unparalleled experience in all sorts of ways ;^) He was a self-declared Visionary who attempted to file a class action suit against the college’s faculty because they shouldn’t have the right to imposed deadlines for students’ work.

    He and I had all sorts of “fun” together. I recall a rather extensive exchange about bacteria. He was really annoyed when I used something about them as evidence in some argument or other, because the world has so obviously left them behind. They can’t really be significant in *anything* anymore. *His* metaphysics didn’t need to consider stupid old bacteria at all ;^)

    Lynn