Sunday, January 20, 2008

I Get Questions

Teaching is generally a part of the academic job that I enjoy. More times than not I enjoy engaging with my students. Most of them are serious – or at least serious enough that they are willing to do some work. So, don’t take the rest of this post as a universal complaint about my students. Most of them are fantastic.

Still, I think that we are all dumbfounded by the astounding sense of entitlement that some students bring with them to the classroom. Given how twisted and out of shape parenting has become in this nation, it’s hardly those students’ fault. All of their lives they have been told that they are remarkably special and deserve only the best. The sad truth is, though, that you actually have to do something – anything – before that becomes true.

One of my colleagues also speculates that their parents have created a scenario where students imagine that as long as they are honest about their less honorable elements, then everything will be fine. It probably goes back to some childhood incident where they stole some cookies and then confessed. Their confession was greeted with such enthusiasm and a “thank you for being honest” moment that their theft was dismissed entirely. This, it seems to me, sets up an unreasonable expectation about how their life is going to go – particularly if you enter GayProf’s classroom. Steal my cookies and expect to go to jail. Issuing a confession just makes it easier for me to speed you through the trial.

Alas, some students imagine that their personal schedules and desires supersede their own responsibilities in the classroom. “My family is planning a trip to Paris this Spring,” one student recently informed me, “Is it going to be a problem if I miss two weeks of class in April?” This came on the heels of another student who asked, “This class conflicts with another one on my schedule. Would it be a problem if I show up to lecture half an hour late every day?”

One wonders how these students will make the rocky adjustment to the working world. How would IBM respond to an employee who approached their supervisor, “Gee, I have another job. Would it be okay if I didn’t show up to this one until noon? Also, since I will be arriving late, could you have somebody pick me up something for lunch?” Does Procter and Gamble have a flexible vacation program that allows its employees to blow off work for a vacation when ever the whim hits them?

Then again, those questions were better than, “How hard is your class? This is my last semester and I am not really interested in doing anything too serious.” Yes, a student really sent this to me in an e-mail. Granted, it is an honest statement. My only response could be that the class was a significant amount of work. I wonder, though, if s/he really expected that I would respond, “My class? No, it’s a total joke. We never doing anything important. Most of our class time is spent hanging out in the bar.”

After leaving Texas, I thought that I would also be free from students who stated, “Reading about gays and lesbians offends my religious/political sensibilities. Can I substitute another book instead?” Not so. The bizarre Right-wing exists everywhere. They also bring with them the notion that reading a perspective different than their own is “indoctrination.” To me, this always suggested that they knew their own positions were intellectually weak for they fear that they will not withstand scrutiny.

My response to this has become well rehearsed: The reading selected for this class explores a diversity of experiences and perspectives. It is not necessary for any student to agree with all the reading, but an important part of a college education is learning how to respectful grapple with view points different than one’s own. Questions and concerns about sexuality are currently at the heart of many people’s sense of the nation. If we can’t discuss these issues at universities, places designed for intellectual engagement, where can we?

What I really want to say is that this ain’t a buffet and I don’t assign reading a la carte. My goals are not to force students to agree with me. Grow up. If I avoided anything/anybody who had a different political perspective than myself, I would never read a newspaper, watch mainstream television, or see 99 percent of the movies out there.

Sometimes the questions aren’t all about trying to get out of work or being challenged. This semester I also had a student ask me, “What country are you from?” Unlike the other questions, I don’t think this is bad per se. Every few semesters, though, I am periodically asked this by a student. It’s a question that mostly confuses me. Why would they imagine that I wasn’t from the U.S.? Is this something other profs are asked often? It is even more mysterious given that on the first day I outline my life history and point out my birth and being raised in New Mexico.

Then there was the student who asked, “GayProf, you are clearly the smartest, most interesting, and best looking of the faculty at Big Midwestern U. Do your colleagues ever get jealous?”

Okay, nobody asked me that last one. They are probably thinking it, though.


Frank said...

I sometimes wonder if there weren't just as many entitled, clueless students saying dumb things to their professors "back in the day" as there are today, except the Internet allows professors to vent about them and build up a critical mass of anecdotes, as well as allowing students to send off astoundingly asinine emails before really thinking things through.

As a member of this so-called "entitled" generation, I just get a little annoyed at all the Baby Boomers tsking at how "self-absorbed" and "entitled" WE are. This from the ME Generation (who are the ones who raised us)! And what's worse is I know so many of my generation who are just NOT like that, and it makes me mad that we get no recognition for being hardworking, smart, decent people. Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.

GayProf said...

Frank:Fair enough. Just for the record, I am not from the Baby Boom generation. How old do you think GayProf is?

I am from the Baby Bust generation. Those were the halcyon days when people actually thought it might be environmentally and socially irresponsible to have a passel of children. Those days are gone as we are in a new baby boom.

All that aside. You are right that profs do sometimes go on about "the good ol' days" when apparently students never felt entitled. That is probably a dubious claim. Still, I would say that there seems to be a certain brazenness today for a student to even be able to ask if the class will involve work. Also, it seems like the internet clearing houses of student "evaluations" are all about taking classes that don't involve heavy intellectual lifting.

As I always say, I am not in business for them. There are tons of students in this generation who are serious about their academic development. I take your point that we should spend more time acknowledging them.

olaf said...

I was going to write a snarky comment but then I read Frank's and he's totally right. There are many hardworking, encouraging, and overall wonderful students. It's just seems to be a sad fact that many of the students who don't want to do work are the ones we TAs and profs seem to get saddled with most often.

I don't know what generation I'm from (Gen X/Y, I suppose), but even as an undergrad I can't recall asking if I was expected to do work or if I could reschedule a lecture around my vacation. These questions are ones that I, as a lowly TA, have been asked. Fortunately I get to hit the "forward" button to Dr X and s/he can answer it.

(The only thing that *really* bugs me about students are those who say that philosophy is just a matter of opinion and one is as good as another. But that is a discussion for a different blog.)

vuboq said...

Kids today! The little whippersnappers! When I was in college, I had to walk to class in 6 feet of snow, uphill, both ways! Even in Summer!

Srsly though, there are good kids out there (I know, I've met a few!); however, it's the "entitled" ones who make the interesting stories/blog fodder.

I'm just glad I'm out of the education field for awhile ...


squadratomagico said...


I went to Zenith as an undergraduate, and to Midwestern Funky University (History Department) for my graduate degree. My experience at both these institutions was that most students took their classes very seriously. I was therefore quite astonished, when I began teaching at OPU to discover that the registrar here actually allows students to register for two classes that meet at exactly the same time. It is not at all uncommon for students to blow off half or more of the class meetings of a given course throughout the quarter.

On the other hand, I hear that many profs here basically summarize the assigned textbook reading for their lectures, so I suppose I can't blame students for deciding that most classes aren't worth attending.

Dr. Crazy said...

What you say about honesty and how our students' parents may have responded to it reminds me of being around seven or eight and my parents telling me that my New Year's Resolutions were to stop whining and stop saying "I'm sorry" - that even if I was genuinely sorry or confessed a mistake or misbehavior it didn't mean I got a get out of jail free card. When I explain to my students that sometimes reasons or remorse don't matter - that there are consequences for choices whatever the reasons - I often think that their parents clearly didn't give them the heads up about this fact of adult life. (And I'm a Gen X-er, too, incidentally.)

As for students who want substitute readings, that problem for me is handled in the syllabus, in which I say that all readings on the syllabus are required. And if it comes up I refer them to the syllabus, and I explain that if they don't plan to do the required work of the course then they should drop.

It's not that these kids today (imagine me shaking my fist in the air) are more entitled than students in previous generations, I don't think. I think perhaps it's a matter of being *differently* entitled, in ways that confound their professors sometimes. Because of the consumer model of higher ed, I do think that there is a basic lack of respect for the authority of the professor, which I at least didn't dream of feeling let alone exhibiting when I was a student. If a student thinks she's paying for a service when she enrolls in a class, I suppose it makes sense to expect the service-provider to accommodate her needs - just as she'd expect the person who cuts her hair, say, to schedule her trim for a time that's convenient. The thing is, I think professors would see going to school as more like going to work than like going to the salon for the student.

Sorry to ramble, but I enjoyed the post and it really resonated with me.

Teresa said...

I once thought young people with the attitudes you describe would change in the working world. But over the last several years I've noticed the opposite is true. It's not that companies are flexible, it's just too late to re-train a generation. So there's a bizarre stalemate, or mismatch between today's grads and today's employers.

Doug said...

"What country are you from?" is better than "What planet are you from?"

My feelings of entitlement seem to be late blooming. I have much more bad attitude now than I did when I was in college.

Marlan said...

Earlier in my teaching career, I was left at a loss for words after a student told me she would not be attending the 3rd night of class because it was her birthday. When I asked why that would prevent her from attending class, she said that her mother never made her do anything on that day.

Oh, and she said it like this: birfday. Not sure what that adds.

wiccachicky said...

Yes, the entitlement really gets to me. Some students recently wrote on my fall evaluations that I needed to be more lenient in taking late work. Do they really think that when they are employed that they can turn in projects late?? I'm baffled by this logic.

Frank said...

GayProf: You're AGELESS and eternal, of course. (BTW, I LOVE your new avatar! What kind reader did that for you? I dare say you're even fiercer than WW!)

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of lazy, entitled, twitty assholes in my generation with an astonishing lack of self-awareness and an appalling helping of self-absorption. I just think that describes just about ANY generation.

I do think your point that this generation is much more BRAZEN about their twittiness is valid. A lot of us seem to have major issues with boundaries. I also think a lot of what you deal with has to do with a disregard for education and educators; our culture seems to hardly value either as much as they once did, and "kids today" reflect that by not taking it seriously, which makes them brazen enough to say the dumb shit they say. And as Olaf said, the twits make a much better story or blog posts than the people who just do what they're supposed to.

I do believe, BTW, that eventually life will bitch-slap the twits, or at least most of them, enough to give us all some hearty schadenfreude.

adjunct whore said...

i've thought for a long time that a number of factors actually do shape the entitled generation: the economic forces which require them to work a 40/hour a week job while taking 5-7 courses; email, which has granted the illusion that we are all equal and our relationship (teacher/student) is informal; the gradual denigration of teachers more generally and university professor specifically, who, after all, only use their classroom as a platform to shove their homo-erotic, communist agendas down poor, unsuspecting innocent throats; and perhaps a sense of apathy on the part of some faculty who, for understandable reasons, get tired of responding to the onslaught of grade-grubbing and general poor behavior of too many students and have decided to take the path of least resistance, thus, feeding students convictions that good professors let them slide.

all of this seems to be the case, even while there are many many wonderful, hard-working students. and this is why many of us continue to love teaching despite the growing number of the former category.

i agree: new avatar suits you.

bardelf said...

Two thoughts came to mind as I read your fine blog today, gayprof. One was, what can we expect from a generation whose parents all had, 'My child is an honor roll student at whatever school' plastered across the family mini van?
(I always prefered the bumper sticker that read, 'My child beat up your honor roll student'.

And, secondly, as far as 'stealing cookies' goes, look at the examples we provide in the media. How many right-wing politicians or religious leaders get in trouble or make outrageous comments only to turn around when caught and simply say, "Oops. I'm sorry."?

BTW, gayprof, what country are you from?
; )

Les said...

I was a slacker undergrad, but a hard worker in corporate america. Then, one day I realized that nobody really cared if I worked hard or got ahead or behind of schedule. Their opinion of me was based entirely on how well I dressed. I bought new clothes and started working fewer hours and turning in thins when I felt like it (or never). I got a substantial raise.

This story is, alas, true. Which is probably why I eventually came back to academia. It's not a meritocracy either, but it's more so.

Michael said...

As a student affairs professional and also university instructor, I think the key is the brazenness and over-familiarity of students today. I love many of my students, but even some of my best don't understand proper boundaries and ask for exceptions that aren't really appropriate. Several Millenials (and I see this not just in my students but in the Millenials who have entered the workforce now) have a "fix this for me" attitude as well. It's not snotty or snide, but it does come from a place of entitlement where parents have fixed their mistakes for them: not just forgiving the stolen cookie, but replacing the cookie for the child.

Adjunct lists many valid reasons for this that I agree with and would add that as a Gen X'er, I firmly blame (any blame there is to place) on the Baby Boom parents. Speaking in generalities, Millenials were raised by the same generation that us X'ers were, but at a time where the Boomers had money and status and experience. This, coupled with technology (which I think is a huge reason for students willingness to share the MOST inappropriate aspects of their lives with each other and instructors) and the reasons adjunct state have resulted in some of the characteristics we see today.

I wouldn't pretend to value Millenials as worse or better than previous generations, but it is a VERY new ballgame and student demands, expectations, and priorities are very different from previous generations, so drastically so that even us relatively young X'ers have problems relating and understanding.

Oh, and one final word on this, for anything bad you can say about Millenial students, the parents can be FAR worse. Although there are many lovely parents to dela with, those that are helicopter parents are the most obnoxious, boorish, over entitled jerks I've had to deal with - they have evolved into the Hyper-ME generation, so it's no wonder you see that echoed in those parents' offspring. Speaking as a whole, I find even the better parents tend to be more involved in their students' lives that I think it healthy from a developmental perspective.

Mel said...

I think what I found most frustrating when I was teaching was that most of my undergrad students were so programmed into the "will this be on the test" mentality. Since I was teaching a science class where the entire focus was on critical thinking, it made for some fun times. Seriously (not). Most aggravating was when I got a comment from one student on my evaluation that I didn't help them enough, clearly from a student who either had not asked for help or who had expected, and not received, special treatment. Parents, fortunately, never entered into the picture.

tornwordo said...

You might recommend to the few students that you mentioned that there are classes that can be taken entirely on the internet and at their own leisure. The degrees issued by such institutions more accurately reflect the student's seriousness. (Of course you could say it much more snarkily.)

Alan said...

I wonder if you've ever seen this site:

It's amusing. :)

Paris said...

I got the "where are you from?" question quite a bit because those who have never been to England often interpret my tendency to ennuciate as an English accent.

I am either the youngest of Gen X or the oldest of the Millenials (born at the very bottom of the baby bust). Thanks to my generous teaching load (no, really, you can have it!) I see a health spread of the student population here at Southern State U. Since I haven't taught the last generation, I can't compare 'em with kids these days, but I am suspicious of characterizing generations in particular ways at it obscures the variety of backgrounds that can produce the same result.

I do, however, tend to reward honesty. If they plagiarize, they are out of my class, but if they admit to it, I might not recommend that the university dump their asses too. If they persist in denying it (situation doesn't arise unless I can prove it), I will recommend to admin that they be expelled. Yet to have a student appreciate this distinction, but it is there.

Clio Bluestocking said...

GayProf, you are clearly the smartest, most interesting, and best looking of any faculty EVAH. Do your colleagues ever get jealous?

I wonder if another causes ofthis slacker attitude is that many people see college as something akin to a trade school - a place to aquire a skill or a credential for a job -- and not as a place to become educated. (Indeed, given the anti-intellectual currents in this country, becoming educated is itself something suspect.) Thus, some students might think that, if the class is not directly connected to a future career, then they shouldn't have to spend too much energy and effort on it.

GayProf said...

Olaf: Yes, the notion that everybody's opinion is just as valuable as everybody else's is something that history has to deal with as well. The counter notion that one has to know something before they can have an informed opinion seems to pass by many students.

VUBOQ: The truth is that I probably also said some pretty dippy things as a student (though I never looked to get out of work or expected profs to accommodate me). It might be cosmic to have students ask me odd things.

Squadratomagico: Hail, Amazon Sister. Thanks for delurking.

When I taught at my former Texas institution, I was amazed by the number of profs who only used multiple-choice tests and hadn't changed their lecture notes older than the Dead Sea Scrolls. With that type of instruction, it is hardly surprising that students would not be inclined to take their classes seriously.

Dr. Crazy: I am told that Arizona recently passed a law stating the college students can legally "opt out" of any material that they deem inapproriate. This tells me two things: 1) Never accept a job teaching at a university in Arizona and 2) that students' ignorance has now become a valued quality.

Teresa: With the economy collapsing, I doubt corporations are going to be as enthusiastic about retaining dead weight. As jobs become more scarce, the entitled will be the most expendable.

Doug: I also struggle with issues of entitlement -- Don't I deserve students who never complain and work like slaves?

Marlan: I once had a student ask for an extension on a paper due on a Monday because his 21st birthday was over the weekend and he planned on endless drinking.

WiccaChicky: Not only should you accept late papers, you should really just write them for the students in the first place. What type of prof are you?

Frank2: As mentioned above, I think the tanking economy is going to be a rude awakening for a lot of people in this nation. Perhaps that will be the only good thing that can come from the nation's economic ruin.

Adjunct Whore: Almost none of my students at BMU work for anything other than pocket money. I, on the other hand, did work full time in college. It seems to me that working for your education actually makes one value it more. I could be wrong, though.

BTW, gayprof, what country are you from?

Why, Paradise Island, of course!

Les: I only ever worked as a secretary. That experience, though, did suggest that the academic world was a better place for me.

Micahel: What amazes me about the parenting thing is that students don't seem to want to break free from their parents. When I was in college, it was a mark of shame to have your parents involved in your life choices. Now students call their parents the second class ends to get their advice about what to eat for lunch.

Mel: I avoid this by not giving exams in almost all of my classes. The problem then becomes, though, that they imagine if they aren't going to be tested that it is not important. Learning something because it is interesting or important does not have merit for most of them.

Torn: Oooh -- That is brilliant!

Alan: Yeah -- I wish we could include names like the prof rating system does. Or say things like, "Avoid having this student in your class at all costs!"

Paris: Taking honesty in consideration for the measure of punishment seems reasonable. I have also had some heartbreaking cases of students who plagiarized out of sheer desperation. The ones who plagiarize, though, because they are taking a short cut before heading off to a baseball game probably shouldn't be in a university.

Clio: I think that you are right about the trade school notion. Since a university education is basically required for most middle-class jobs, colleges have simply become High School: The Sequel.

Tenured Radical said...

Oy -- and I thought it was just Zenith.


M-Dub said...

I have to agree with you on the entitlement. I have a 20 year-old sister who feels everything should be handed to her, even though she was raised by the same parents who made me work for everything I ever wanted in life. I went to college after I left the Army (I was 25) back in 1993, and, sadly, the 18 year-olds had the same attitude then. I wonder if the high divorce rate and parents trying to show they are "the better parent" has something to do with it.

I do have to say that I know some wonderful children who are polite, respectful, and seem to want to understand different facets of life. as for you being an educator, I say keep making them kids work!!

CoffeeDog said...

"My class? No, it’s a total joke." I really think you should have responded to lazy student with this quip!

I'll admit I did ask a teacher to be gentle with my grade not too long ago when I was taking a french class. I was only there as a hobby, not seeking a degree or anything. I should have audited the class. I made sure she knew all this and asked her to grade me kindly, but I still worked my butt off and showed her I willing to do the work and completed all the assigments and never missed a class. She took mercy on me, but I don't think she had to stretch it too thin :-)

dykewife said...

i'm ever so pleased that i'm the most wonderful student in the whole world. all professors should worship at my feet, that's how wonderful a student i am.

Steven said...

I see your posts as lessons in life. Sometimes it's like being in a classroom, other times it's like lying in the psych's chair. I so agree with the views on today's entitled generation. However, I think every older generation at the same time says that about the younger one. Somewhat as a "I couldn't get away with it, so how come you're able to?" attitude.

Susan said...

Gayprof, I think you should tell the student with the Paris trip that you need to be brought along as tutor. Does s/he think that would be a problem for the rest of hte class?

adjunct whore said...

yes, gp: i did also and i agree, it makes you value it more. most of my students, however, have to work and struggle with maintaining any balance between work/school. it is as if they expect that most work will and should be done in class only.

i'm generalizing of course but do recognize a shift in time spent working/academic work in the past couple of years.

lurker said...

This has nothing to do with this post... but have you seen the most recent playboy (feb 2008) cover. I know that the answer may be no, but you may want to look at it.

From a long time lurker, I would be interested to hear what you have to say about it.

pacalaga said...

Well, we Arizonans can't have our place at the bottom of the academic scale screwed up by you radicals with your "education" and your "knowledge" and your "free thinking". That's just blasphemy. Next you might suggest that English isn't the only language in the world for real people and that the US isn't the geographical, social, political and economic center of the universe. Folly.
I will admit to being a lazy student. I did the work, I just didn't go to class. It pissed my laser physics teacher off mightily when I DID show up (not often) and still knew the answers.
And also, I know that your age and mine differ by just a few years if that, but I still tend to think of you as older than I. You're a teacher, and therefore in a position of authority, and therefore must be older than I am. Just the way my twisty little brain works.

Roger Green said...

I think there have always been people in college who have felt privileged: think of some of the rich, some football players, scions, George W. Bush.

Laverne said...

"the economic forces which require them to work a 40/hour a week job while taking 5-7 courses"

What I see, back down at the middle school level, is where this entitlement begins. However, those students who come from less financially secure families (and of course, this is a gross generalization) are not often the ones acting as if the world should serve them.

I would gather that the student going on a trip to Paris, or wanting a day off because it's her "birfday" aren't the ones working 40 hour work weeks along with 5-7 classes. And has college changed? A full load of classes back in my day was three. Maybe one would take four or five, but seven? Yeouch. I may just be out of touch.

As usual Gayprof, you said it. At my level, it's the child who thinks no one else in the class matters, it's all about him, him, him (or her, her, her).

Then again, they are 13-years old.

Chox said...

Sorry to wander into the party so late, but I had to add my two cents to this.

Back in 2000, I worked in HR at a magazine here in San Francisco that reported on the tech industry (it's since folded). One of my duties was to screen all job applicants and their resumes. You would not believe the salaries demanded by these kids right out of college! One actually came in and handed me his resume and said - with a straight face - he was looking for a starting salary of $120K. He had a shitty attitude and as soon as he left, I ran his application and resume through a shredder. The ones who demanded ridiculous salaries and benefits, but were sweet about it, got a gentle reality check from me. The arrogant ones got shown the door.

This wasn't too long after I had gotten out of the Air Force, and was stunned at the sense of entitlement these snots had. It's okay...people like that vanished from San Francisco after the dot com bust, and I'm somehow still here. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've been in the classroom for 5 years after a lengthy career in industry. My observation is that students are so busy earning a degree that there is no time to get an education. My heart bleeds for so many who will enter the workforce with the crushing burden of student loans incurred for a product delivered but never received.

Michael said...

Anonymous does point out an aspect of university teaching that seems widely pervasive. Perhaps it has always been there, but it is disheartening. Students seem to want to do the minimum required work to earn their degree. In the course of this event, many of them want to know the least amount of work they can do to earn an "A" and think that "C" quality work should be counted as an "A." The lack of desire to learn and explore a subject seems largely missing with students, with a few exceptions.

Paris - Generational characterization does have its critics, although I find it helpful and often accurate. I definitely think that the common experiences with technology in particular informs a universal mindset. That's not to say that it shouldn't be used only as a tool to think broadly about how to best interface, teach, and serve students, and not as a replacement for seeing students as varied and different and quite capable of conforming to none of their generational characteristics and particularly getting to know students you dirctly work with as individuals.

I think Steven rightly implies that there is little gain in comparing generations favorably or unfavorably against each other. I think it is helpful to understand how generational differences may be impeding communication and relationships and understanding.

Alan - that blog is funny, but too negative and jaded. Students can piss me off too, but damn I wonder why the blog writer(s) is/are still teaching if s/he/they are so cynical.

I just read an article from the College Board this week about how parent involvement has shown to relate to a positive college experience for students. The article questions the notion of "helicopter parents" somewhat although it offers an inventory to see if you are over or under involved with your student. The article doesn't say how parent involvement impacts learning or critical thinking or engagement.

That article also speaks to GayProf's comment on how students do indeed welcome their parents' involvement, while I was determined to lock them out as much as possible from any choices I made about my college education.

Anonymous said...

I doubt it