Snark Week

Some weeks I should get an award for self restraint.    If I can keep this up through the next election cycle, I will call it as one of my miracles on my path to sainthood.

…but I so long to sink my fangs into someone or something stupid from time to time.

One of the things that was going well last quarter was I had very few people making excuses.   Somehow, I seem to be making up for lost time this summer.   I didn’t mean my “Student Excuse Bingo” to be predictive.  What the actual fuck?  I shouldn’t score a bingo until at least two weeks go by.

I can deal with student excuses.  That is one reason why I have a syllabus… “Sorry you forgot there was a class, did you check the website to see what was due?   No?   Then I’m afraid you are out of luck.”  I suppose it make sense that I’m feeling put upon this quarter, since last quarter was so exceptionally good.   Honestly, I’ve got good students this quarter… there is just more drama somehow.  One of the few reasons I like teaching is that there people are trying to make themselves smarter and more capable.

What I have been having more trouble with is people outside of school.

People at bus stops.  People on the buses.  People in the store.   People, people, everywhere!  Seriously, who the hell brings a yapping dog on a standing room only bus?   Why is it so hard to drive down the road without texting and running other drivers off the road?   Is it really necessary to block an entire aisle at the store while you browse types of soup?    Or do you expect me to listen to you while you scream at everyone why you think Obama is responsible for SCOTUS (do you understand there are different branches of government)?


Evil geniuses, it is time to unite and take over the world!  Join the ranks of my minions for adventure and benefits!  Loose the battle drones!  Set up the education camps.  (I say education, because frankly we are just undoing the damage of apathy and inane media misinformation).  Let the smarter ones live.  If nothing else, a culling the population will make traffic easier.

Okay, deep breath.  I haven’t hurt anyone, despite my general attitude of stabbiness.  I don’t even push the big, shiny, personal buttons that people show me.


Don’t think you’re safe yet, though.   Stupidity just makes my fangs itch.

Excuse Bingo!

Lets play a game.

Say a student doesn’t show up for class, and you get the email later saying they had a family emergency.   The next class, a student tells you they weren’t able to show up because their childcare cancelled and they weren’t able to get a replacement in time for class.   In your other class, you have a student out for the national guard, and another who is getting surgery.

Congratulations!   You are scoring pieces for Student Excuse Bingo!!!   Scoring a “bingo” means getting an entire line (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal) after receiving those excuses for that term.   Excuses may be either sincere or fake, so long as they are covering for an actual absence or late assignment.   The “Lame Excuses” square can include anything that is almost too bizarre to be real, from “my dog ate my homework,”  “it caught on fire,” or “I got bitten by a radioactive spider”.

I will also say, I have collected some of the more interesting excuses already, but send me more!  Send your excuses to:

So lets play.     Download the following PDFs for you and your colleagues.

Student Excuse Bingo 1

Student Excuse Bingo 2

Student Excuse Bingo 3

 Let the games begin.

Excuses du jour

In life, things happen.   There are things that disrupt the flow of our lives.   I’ve had a few of those the past few weeks (some bad, some amazingly good),  which I’m going to blame now for not posting last week.   (Remember:  good stress is still stress…)

This has been a good term, for the most part.   By the middle of most quarters, I usually have a few people who make me want to be an oyster, and just wrap those irritants up tight.   I find myself over halfway through this term and happy with both of my classes.   They work hard, and I’ve only been getting apologies from students who aren’t as far ahead as they want.    Earlier in the quarter, I asked them to do more work… and they listened.

I like my classes this term!

I don’t know if this is true for other instructors, or if this is just a pattern that occurs in my own classes.   Every term seems to have it’s preferred excuses for absences.  Two quarters ago, it was “Sorry, I had a family emergency” or “my kid/husband/wife got sick.”   After the fourth different person told me this, I took note.

Yep, we needed a headshot after she came back as a zombie.

Last quarter, it was “my mom/dad/grandparent has cancer, and I’ve had to help them with [treatment/life].”   I will note, that this only started happening after I revealed to one of my own students that my mother was undergoing treatment for cancer… and I suspect she told others, which generated the wave of sympathy seeking excuses.   Not particularly nice on behalf of those students if that is what they were doing, but that is also why I require doctor’s notes.

This quarter it is “car troubles, and I can’t make it in.”   This would bother me, if it weren’t my best students telling me this (my not so good students don’t show up, but they don’t bother making excuses either).

There are reasons why I keep the attendance policies that I do:   I give some allowances for life, after that, I want real documentation.    The stories that I get told I get told do move me, but I will also say that I stick with my policy.    You may be a good mom/dad/husband/wife/whatever, and that is good.  But I only judge you on how good a student you are… it isn’t anything personal.

So, I will understand if you decide to judge me for not posting last week.   My excuse is still:  stress.   (Good stress and bad stress)    If you want to judge me as a bad blogger… that’s fair.     Otherwise, I’m still a rockstar teacher.

Smash Passive

I had a student come up to me last week, just as a test was about to start   I was nice enough not to laugh.

“Do I need to take the test?   I don’t know the material.”


“Why can’t I be tested on the stuff I already learned?”

“Because this is a subject test.   This is the material we’ve been going over for the last few weeks.”

“I don’t know this stuff.”

“Okay.   How much time have you been putting in?”

“About 5 hours a week.”   (I recommend 8 to 16 hours for most students)

“So I think you should spend some more time working on the material.”

“Fine, I’ll take the test.”


One thing that constantly perplexes instructors at every level:   students who want to be passive receptacles for knowledge.   Some students don’t realize that they need to work/study/read/listen in order to know things.  I admit, it makes me sad.   Part of me wants to blame our culture which encourages passive entertainment, and a media which spoon feeds people sound bites to support opinions that they already have.     Or by people who reward minimal effort and actual achievement equally.   We protect people from the consequences of their actions.

How does that work again?But I’m a college professor, and soldier on.   I make my lectures entertaining.   I allow people who are willing to put in effort to keep trying.

Ultimately I come around to this:   students are responsible for their own learning.    I can give them the information and showcase the skills, they are the ones who actually need to apply it.

This brings me to one of the things I’m happy I can do as a college professor.   I fail people.    I think of this as the “other kind of educational experience.”

I have a personal philosophy:   There is no such thing as a right without a corresponding responsibility.      (I should also say, there are MANY responsibilities that don’t grant you special rights.)

Students have a right to be taught, but they have a responsibility to learn.

*sigh*   I can fix ignorance.   I can’t fix stupid.


Midterm Misanthropy, Again

I had all sorts of useful things to say at the beginning of this week.   Full of encouragement and good feelings… and then I got done grading.

I like to give folks every opportunity to succeed.   I give them the chance to excel.

I give encouragement.

I give feedback.

I tutor students.

I work insanely long hours.

I am patient.

I even accept (some) late work  with the lamest of excuses.

I have no problem dealing with people who are having difficulty understanding, so long as they try.   Some students are willing!  I have a few very dedicated people in my classes.    Let me say, I appreciate these students!

As for the rest of you… Seriously students?

What I hate is apathy.   If you aren’t willing to try,  then you don’t deserve to pass.   Good intentions don’t matter.   What matters is if you are willing to work at understanding until you actually understand.     If you miss questions because you skipped class,  don’t try to make it my problem.   Quit complaining, it just makes you sound pathetic and I have no sympathy for you.

Why, oh why?   Why the fuck are you wasting my time with so much half-assed work?    I have no problem failing you.   I will fail you.   And you will deserve to fail.

So… Here are my midterm misanthropic  fantasies.

  • I want a burn barrel in class, so I can gleefully torch work that turned in late or incomplete.
  • I want to lock my poor achievers together and have a cage match fight to actually stay in class.    Top 3 can stay, if you can successful factor a trinomial.
  • Instead of giving the thoughtful, reasoned, and encouraging response to the question:   “So what are we going to use for?   I mean really in the real world.”  Just tell the student “You’re right.   You won’t need this. You don’t need to pass a basic math class if you just want to push a broom.”
  • I want to show up at the workplace of a student the next time they tell me after the midterm that they scheduled themselves for work that day, and be the most annoying customer EVER.    Then get them fired from their job.   Then fail them, and laugh maniacally when they beg for change on the street.
  • I want a box of scorpions… for educational purposes.


I will not kill my students and wear their skins.    I will not kill my students and wear their skins.   I will not kill my students and wear their skins…



Facepalm worthy crap students say

Teaching really has its moments.   There are times you strive for, and there are times you have to be patient.   There are also times when students say things that make you question why education is a good idea.   Is everybody worth teaching?

Most of the time, I just take a deep breath and remind myself that I can help students with their ignorance even if I can’t help them with gross stupidity.

It comes down to the fact that teachers are mentors.   Which periodically makes us confessors after a fashion.   Teachers do like to share the things said to them.

Here are some fairly commonplace statements:

Will I ever use this?

No, I’m teaching you stuff for purely whimsical reasons.  Or maybe because it is a precursor to more practical skills.   Although you can avoid needing advanced mathematics if you want to spend your life working in fast food.    Good luck with that.

 Did we do anything important in class last time?

Sorry, I’m afraid we just talked about the latest episode of [sitcom] followed by a brisk discussion of [sportsball].   We delayed relaying important information or having skill related discussions until you returned to class.

Do I need to take the test?

You are a grown up.   You can decide to take the test or get a zero and fail.

You know, this class has made me start smoking again.

Aw shucks.   Students say the sweetest things.  I feel the same way about you sometimes.


Some statements are in an entirely different league:


I’m not really getting this stuff, but I think its because I’m really high right now.

I think I figured out your difficulty in class.  Your education should start with your life choices.   Would “sobriety” work for a homework assignment?

I couldn’t do my homework because my husband is home now and keeps expecting me to perform my ‘wifely’ duties.

I honestly couldn’t tell whether she was complaining or bragging.   She was definitely trying to get me to give her extensions on her homework though.

Note:  bragging about you sex life will not garner you sympathy or get you out of doing work.

I know it’s the last week, but can I turn in all of the homework and makeup all of the tests?

I have to admit, this was my all time favorite.   In large part because I was able to look him straight in the eye and say:   “No, you cannot make up the entire class in the last week.   You skipped all of the tests, and attended less than half of the classes.   There is no way for you to pass the class.  I honestly don’t know why you bothered showing up this week.  If you decide to retake the class, you will need to show up.”


Sometimes, I am laughing with you.   I make no promises though, I may laugh at you.   Be honored that I listened.

Math and cruci*** Message Redacted ***

I don’t like the act of self censorship, but I do want to keep my job.   So, I’m not posting this week comparing math to crucifixion.   Considering that particular post practically wrote itself, it was quite a personal sacrifice.   I’ll leave it to your imagination to what I *might* have posted today instead.   So… today I’m dedicating to stupid things that get said.   Some of these are just students, some are just from life.


Classic Excuses:    “So why haven’t you been to class for the last 6 weeks?”   “My car broke down.”

“So why did you miss the test on Friday?”  (Cheerfully)  “My boyfriend was in a coma.”

Grades:  “Should I worry about these zeros for my hours?”  (Note received two days before the final)

Misunderstanding failure:   “I’m sorry, you have failed the class.”    “So can I go on to the next class?”

AHA! moments:   “So when it says to multiply… I’m supposed to multiply?”

Always stupid:   “So did we do anything important in class yesterday?”

On the deck of a boat:   “What is the elevation here?”

To the credit department of a bank:   “I can’t pay you, I got a credit card because I don’t have any money.”

 On career choices:   “I just want to own a business… Why do I need math?”

On homework:  “Am I allowed to work on this at home?”

Me, now:   “I did put a lot of work into that other post.   I think I can be done with this now.”


Until next week.   For this week, use your imaginations…. and don’t blow anyone up.


2012 Excuses


As teaching goes, 2012 was an interesting year.    Aside from navigating the usual combination of classes, conferences and meetings, one thing that I like to look at is my collection of student excuses.    So here is a few of the better excuses and conversations that I heard in 2012:

“I want to own my own barbering business.   I don’t know why I need math… I know how long an inch is.”

“Can you raise my grade to a 2.0?   I need it so I can continue on with my nursing program.”

“My car broke down.”  (This was her excuse for a 6 week absence)

“Will I be able to make up my homework?   I was in jail…”

“My husband had another heart attack.”    (Yes, I gave her an extension… but AFTER she brought me the ER diagnosis.)

“I can’t put my phone away… I’m expecting a call.”

“Do I have to take the test?   I don’t know this stuff yet.”

… and of course, the usual collection of “I forgot” and “I thought I could turn it in after the test.”

Thank you students, for a memorable year.  I look forward to what 2013 will bring.



Student Success and Failure

“If you feel bored with doing this math, imagine how you’ll feel if you have to take it again.”

Some students pass and some students fail.

One of the hardest lessons that I have had to learn as a teacher is about the necessity of failing students.     I want my students to succeed.      I spend a lot of time encouraging my students.    I start off the class with talk about dream jobs, and I keep extra credit going all quarter long to help them trying to achieve more.  I spell out what it will take to pass each test, and what is necessary to pass the class.

Most of my students go on to succeed… and some start to like math in ways they never knew was possible.   Whether the student is learning math just for the sake of a technical program, or if whether they are filling requirements before moving on to something different:  in either case,  they will have learned some important lessons about how to categorize, how to look at problems, and how to study successfully.

And of course, some students will fail.  Sometimes they fail due to their life circumstances – while this is tough, I also know that they will probably retry and succeed.    Some fail due to fear.   These students are afraid of failure, or don’t want to ask any questions.   These are the students who get caught by their own psychology:   they get caught in a cycle of feeling guilty about not being able to do math, then they feel guilty about not working on their math more.   Of course, the cycle of guilt and self-recrimination tends to remove any emotional advantage to study.  These are the students who need the most help – they can succeed, but you have to be able to catch them, and they will be very quiet about their difficulties.    My experience says that if you give them extra work, they will resent you for about 5 minutes before they’ll be grateful for giving them a little momentum.

Then there are the students who fail due to apathy.   No matter what, some students won’t really engage in the class… they won’t do their work, or they will try to get by with the least possible effort.   Then they will try to bargain or beg themselves into a passing grade.

When students earn a failing grade, it is best to let it stand.   You will not be doing them or their future teacher any favors if you pass them on for reasons of mere sympathy.   Otherwise, they won’t learn that their habits have consequences.   One excuse that scares the hell out of me is – “You can’t fail me, I need a 3.0 so I can be a nurse.”   Realistically, I don’t want anyone who can’t do basic algebra doing dosage calculations.

In any case, it is still difficult after investing so much time in my students to not feel some sense of responsibility for their success or failure.   But by the time they’re through with class, they students will have earned whatever grade they will get.


I have to let them go sometime.


Student Excuses

It made me laugh last quarter when a student with less than a 50% attendance rate complained that he was having trouble remembering things.    He asked if there was anything he could do to help with that. I told him to show up to class, and actually stay til the end.   Somehow, he never got the message.

Students will try to get away with things.   I will tell you a deep, dark secret about most teachers:   we don’t care.

I don’t care if your dog is sick.

I don’t care if your grandmother dies.  Again.

I don’t care if you are going to an interview.   Although why you would schedule an interview during your class time is beyond me.

If a student is gone, I am not going to track them down to give them the lecture notes and latest homework assignment.    This is one of the reasons why I like teaching at a community college rather than a high school… I can expect students to behave like adults.

I’ve gotten all kinds of involved stories to explain why they weren’t there.   My personal favorite excuse was “my boyfriend is in a coma,” delivered so cheerfully that I wasn’t sure if it was an admission of guilt, or just the first thing that popped into their head as a plausible excuse for a two day absence.    Considering this was the third week in a row that she had skipped classes, my bullshit radar was already on overdrive.

I must admit, I had to learn my lesson about student excuses the hard way.    A few quarters back, I had one student who came in during the second week of classes and begged to be allowed to enroll in the class.  He was painfully sincere, and he seemed like he genuinely wanted to take the class.   So I signed off on his enrollment, and started that days lecture.  The next week, he didn’t show up for the exam… or even for any of the classes that week.   When he finally showed up in class again, he asked to be allowed to make up the exam and the homework.   I went ahead and set up a makeup exam for him.  He showed up for two days of classes that week, and skipped out on the makeup exam.   Two more weeks go by before I see him again.   He tells me a sob story about how he ended up needing to take an extra night-shift so he could pay his rent, and that his pregnant wife was coming to term soon.   Again, he begged me to allow him to make up his missed exams.  I told him that he had a week to make up his exams, to which he promised me very earnestly that he would take them the very next day.     He didn’t show up again until the week before finals.   He asked to take all of the exams, quizzes and homework he missed in the previous nine weeks.   He begged.  He pleaded.   He apologized.   And you know what I told him?  “No, you can’t take all of the class in a single week.”     Incredibly, he actually stayed for classes that entire week.  He also took the final exam (incidentally, the ONLY exam he took in the class).   He earned a whopping 12% on the final.

He was mad at me for failing him.

It was after that, that I started asking for doctor’s notes.

I know that my student’s live complicated lives.  It is part of being a student..  Life happens.  So deal with it!