Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kids say the darndest things...

And by "kids" I mean college students. Ever since I started teaching I've had heard some of the lamest/funniest excuses in my life. I've also just read/heard the funniest statements ever. Here are some of the highlights (so far...I'm sure I'll have a ton more):

1. I got an email from a girl who said she had to rush her roommate to the hospital because she either had H1N1 or internal bleeding. To the best of my knowledge this student is neither a medical person nor does she have a MRI installed in her dorm room so how she thought internal bleeding is beyond me.

2. I had a student tell me that it was my fault that he didn't turn in his weekly journal because I usually remind them at the end of class on Thursday and I didn't the week before. Apparently the due date on the syllabus and on Oncourse did not cue him to action regarding the journal. Nor did the fact that they have to turn in a journal EVERY Tuesday and this was the FOURTH week of class. Clearly, still my fault.

3. I had a student who was angry about a paper grade I gave her last semester. When did she let me know? Not immediately after it posted. Not a week after it posted. Not when I emailed to say I was turning in final grades 48 hours later. She waits til 3 days after I turned in final grades. She did not like my explanation and demanded I meet her in person to discuss the grade. When I told her it would be impossible to meet in person as I was LEAVING FOR AFRICA in 5 days and I didn't have time to drive back to Bloomington to give her the same explanation I had given her via email (because apparently in person she would be soooo much more convincing that her paper wasn't crap and deserved better than a C), she told me that she was going to "report me to my superiors" because obviously I wasn't going to "give her the time of day." When I replied and cc'ed my "superior" and again explained that I had provided a detailed response for why she received a C on her paper and that I was going to Africa and I couldn't not meet with her face to face, but that if she continued to be unhappy she could speak to my superior who was conveniently copied on the email. My superior responded that the girl did not need to be rude to me and if she would like to have an explanation for her paper in person she would have to wait til I came back. A grade grievance wouldn't matter if it were then or a month later. We didn't hear from her again. Guess her idle threat plan did not pay off in the way she hoped.

4. "I would give this class 3.5 out of 4 stars because it was definitely more interesting than I thought it would be. Way to exceed my expectations!" Wow...didn't know that I was teaching Siskel or Ebert. But glad I could meet your needs and exceed your expectations. That was my goal.

5. "I think that for future classes I would suggest that a midterm test is given 4 weeks into the class. I know that sounds crazy coming from a student, but a midterm test has many advantages for students. First of all, it gives us an opportunity to get more points, which I feel like I did not have enough of those opportunities this semester, especially after missing two quizzes." Two words: point whore. Oh and a few more words: why is it my fault you missed two quizzes? Idiot.

These are some of my favs...I was going to add the 3some issue although I think that I adequately covered that in the last post.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Um, wanna have a 3some?

Just kidding. I'm not really offering...BUT the past week of my life has been consumed by this question.

I feel like I have a good grip on this teaching thing and think I am doing well by my students and well, frankly, I did run into some ridiculousness that I didn't quite expect.

One of the common assignments we assign in our human sexuality class is loosely called "Push Your Boundaries/Explore Sex." Basically students are supposed to come up with an idea to explore some aspect of sexuality that pushes their personal boundaries of comfort. Since everyone is different this means lots of different things. For some people, looking at Playboy is pushing their boundaries. For some people it is something a little racier.

Before they can write their paper they have to turn in their topic selection to me so I can make sure they are on the right track (undergrads often get off track easily). So apparently 2 days before the topic selection was due one of my students decided it was a great idea to send an email out to the class (via our internal messaging system for the class) that said:

hello ladies of [our class],

i was wondering if any 2 or more ladies would like to participate in a 3some for our project. im too young to goto strip club and ive done everything else sexually that i am willing to do besides this. i thought it would be fun :). so if any ladies are intrested just shoot me an email or a text before class tomorrow. my number is [Phone Number]. AGAIN, NO GUYS. SORRY.

[Male in Class]

ps. feel free to look me up onm facebook. my screenname is [Male in Class].

Now, I did not receive this message first hand. I received word of it because another student in the class forwarded it to me with this note:

Mrs. Briggs,

I am completely insulted and disgusted by this students inappropriate message. I wanted you to be aware of what this individual has sent out, and I am asking you to please talk to him. Not only is this an insult to women, but I feel its also an insult to the class itself. Considering he is asking us to expand his sex history in the name of "education". This class is supposed to expand our minds on sex, not to expand our list of people we have had intercourse with. I apologize, Im ranting. But Im a little upset at this individuals complete immaturity and lack of sensitivity in such a class. Please, talk to him.

Thank you,
[Female in Class]

Okkkkk. What to do? On the one hand, I definitely know why she was upset. I can understand her email and why she wanted action taken. On the other hand, I think that his email was as respectful as possible for propositioning your entire class for a threesome. And his project is NOT wrong; it completely falls within the guidelines of the course.

So I decided to email my fellow PhD students to get their opinions. We have a very diverse group of students so I knew it would be a range of opinions. I got some suggestions to email our supervisor & I did. She replied that it was highly inappropriate and I needed to address it, but she also said
"You may want to consider that engaging in sexual activity is not an accepted activity for this project. There are too many issues that can result that you don't want to be responsible for. I know it's a new generation, but there has to be some boundaries set so students feel safe."

Now this is where I have a major disagreement. I think that this is a class that:

A. Explores all aspects of human sexuality; not just those that are more comfortable to discuss.
B. I feel like I have created a safe classroom which is why this student felt it was ok to do this and why one student felt it was ok to let me know it was NOT ok with her.
C. I think it is hypocritical to say "sexual activity" includes only explicit sexual acts between two (or more) actual individuals. I think going to a strip club or watching pornography are also "engaging in sexual activity" and that this is the wrong message to send.
D. Even more hypocritical is that one of the ideas on the list (they get a brainstormed list to help stimulate their thinking) is to get a STD test. SO we can tell them to get tested, but we better not discuss what might have actually gotten them a STD in the first place? Bollocks.

But besides my philosophical reservations I knew I had to take some kind of action (and actually was instructed by my supervisor that I had to as well) so I decided that I would email the student to explain the scenario and let him see what the student he offended said (though not her name) and to let him know what my supervisor said. But I also let him know that I was NOT mad at him and that he wasn't being punished and that he could continue on with his topic, but that he'd need to find another way to solicit partners. I told him it had to be addressed so he decided to send a follow up email to the class:



Whew. I hoped that the crisis was avoided. And turns out, I haven't (yet) heard anything else directly about it. I was a little apprehensive for the next class meeting, but it didn't come up as a class issue, although prior to the start of class I overheard a group of students discussing it and one student added him as a friend on Facebook, another students sent it to all her friends because she thought it was so funny, and another student printed out the message and used it as a conversation starter all day.

All in all, I'm glad it happened even though it was a little sticky for a few days. I think it was a good learning experience for many people (student, me, other PhD students, possibly my class) and it started an interesting conversation around our office.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Teaching & Learning

Second year PhD students in my department are require to teach 3 classes during the year. Either two classes in the fall & one in the spring OR one class in the fall & two in the spring. I was supposed to teach Human Sexuality last fall; our coordinator had already told me I was teaching it and that of course made me happy. I went away to Africa for 3 weeks only to come back and see that it had been RIPPED away from me and given to someone else. To add insult to injury, I had an email that said I was assigned 2 sections of Personal Health. I threw a tiny hissy fit and bought myself some more time. I made it through dumb Personal Health & now I am teaching two sections of Human Sexuality this semester.

I'm actually having a good time teaching this semester. It's a class I enjoy and I feel like I've improved from last year. I've also lined up some new and different guest speakers & tried some new activities. One of the things I decided to do this year was to have a panel of transgendered individuals come and talk about their experiences.

I have to say it was one of the best things I've done! I conceptually understand transgenderism and I'm totally supportive of transgender individuals but I have to say, I've never really "gotten" it. I can't really explain what I didn't "get" but I just feel like I really couldn't wrap my mind around the whole thing. I can't sum up the whole hour plus panel discussion but hearing the individuals speak was very inspiring and informative.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the evening(s):

In response to "how did you know you were transgender?"
  • "You know when you go to the grocery store and get a cart that has one wheel that is wonky? You push your cart around and you know something isn't right, but you just keep trying to make it go? That's what being transgender is like."
In response to a discussion about sex reassignment surgery and dating:
  • "Even if your body feels wrong (having a penis) touching it still feels good!"
So I think it was really informative and exciting for my students but it was also a fascinating learning experience for me. I'll definitely keep this in mind for the future.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In my continuing transformation to African...

Dear Cold Dreary Winter,

I hate your guts. Please leave my life forever. I never want to see you again. I'm tired of always being the one who's freezing to death; I don't think I've felt my feet in 3 months. I won't miss you. You are like a bad case of herpes that always comes back no matter how much you wish it would just be over forever.