Monday, December 24, 2007

The Turning Point

I have a few ideas for blogs in the pipeline so those of you still reading have that to look forward to.

But how about a traumatizing story from my childhood in light of the holiday season?

The other day I realized just when I lost my chance to be cool as a child. In sixth grade I sat in the back of the bus. There were three of us who sat back there, Dean, Robbie, and myself. And those of you who rode buses to school understand the importance of the back seat. For those of you who don't, the back seat was reserved for the coolest kids on your bus route. Nobody messed with them, nobody bullied them. It was the top of the pecking order and those below you had to move up if they tried to take your place. All this despite transferring to my grade school from Catholic school and being a relative nerd (I was in my schools enrichment program for example). I had managed to work my way to the back. I can't recall even particularly liking Robbie and Dean.

Our next door neighbors at that time had two children, Jeff and Michelle. Jeff was three years younger than me. Michelle was about two years older. Jeff and I had been friends but the age difference was becoming pronounced. One day while walking home from the bus, Jeff started making fun of my younger sister who was the same age as Jeff. Now to be honest, I often participated in this activity. I'm her older brother, not a saint.

But today it was really hurting her feelings and something familial stirred in me. I told him to stop. He didn't. So I hit him in the arm. Yet he kept it up. So I punched him in the stomach. Not surprisingly he stopped. And I realized what I had done, basically beat up a little kid. So I did the only thing a big brother does when he has heroically stood up for his little sister. I ran home and started crying to my mother.

Guess who she was sitting around having coffee with. Yep, Jeff's mom. I have no idea what affect this had on their relationship but at least I was crying about it, not bragging. I don't recall being punished by adults over this. My sister was quick to confirm that Jeff had been rather mean to her and all. But the real impact on me was yet to come. Remember what I said about Jeff having an older sister? Well, by this point she was a burner in training. And Robbie and Dean were burner hopefuls. It wasn't long before word was out among the burner grapevine that I was to be shunned by them. And if the burners reject you and you aren't sporty or rich enough, it isn't long before the "cool" kids reject you as well. And that was it, my fate was sealed. No more back of the bus. No more in crowd. Heck, younger kids started realizing my new status in the pecking order and even some of them started hassling me. Especially the ones bigger than me.

Jeff, Michelle, and their family moved away not too long after the punching incident. But the damage would follow me for years. Eventually I managed to get ignored most of the time. I found social circles of similar damaged goods. And the bus became a place to nap if I wasn't stuck sitting in front of someone who might try to hassle or bully me. My senior year I had a car, though I drove to school alone. And by that time I found punk rock and freaked out the cliques by not caring that I wasn't in a clique. And escaping to college. Ahh, college. Maybe that's part of the reason I became a professor. My life was reborn there.

Not surprisingly I haven't made it to any of my high school reunions. Class of 1988 Moon Senior High. Let's see if they somehow track me down through this.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dear student:

Sometimes I want to respond to an email and not be diplomatic:

"Dear complaining student,

I realize you were not paying attention when I explained this assignment. Or when I re-explained it. Or when I suggested to the class for the 20th time that if they didn't understand to come to my office hours and I would try to help. With that in mind, the last week of class is probably too late to ask me what you can do to improve your grade. Or if I give extra credit. When you get your first job ask your boss if she gives extra credit. Or your loan officer.

I'm also already aware that you have 7 other finals all due on the same day. And that you work three jobs. Find me a student who doesn't. What you fail to realize is that pretty much every one of your teachers went through the same thing. I worked and put myself through school at the same time. And I'm not so impressed when you complain about having five days to do a take home exam with 4 questions on it. During my PhD I once wrote 36 pages in 72 hours. I also wrote a six chapter dissertation of over 200 pages in six months while starting a new full time tenure track job. (Yes, I'm bragging there a little).

Any professor who decides things are too tough for you because you can't do the same work every other student has to do isn't doing you any favors.

And another thing, I don't grade anybody harsher because I hate them. I don't know any of my students well enough to hate them. Sure, there are a lot that don't make a good impression on me. Perhaps I even dislike them. But I grade on performance, not personality."

Man, did that feel good to write. Sometimes I really wonder why a student thinks their rhetorical approach of insulting or whining is going to work. Did it work on a different professor? I can't believe it did but then again I've also heard some bizarre stories over the years.

I have had times where I didn't perform to my full ability or turned something in late or had a teacher that really sucked. But you know what? I still took responsibility for my actions. Sure, that graduate student had no business teaching Comp Sci 101 but I shouldn't have blown off so many classes or slept so much when I did go. So it was my fault I failed. Actually, I never should have taken the class in the first place but again, my fault for not doing the research about the class or not dropping when I could have. Not crazy graduate student instructor who got mad when I asked for help.

How about you? You ever get a bad grade that wasn't your fault? Not even a little?

Just don't try to tell me you have a 4.0 except that now you're getting a D in my class. We can look that sort of thing up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Guitar Hero

That is why I'm not posting more. Guitar Hero. If you play it, you know the joy it brings.

If you don't, well, what are you waiting for? It is awesome and terrible in its power to addict and enslave. Don't say I didn't warn you. I taught my department head how to play last week. I'll be taking my system in for the last day of lecture in my class on video gaming and she's asked to "observe" the class that day. I'm pretty sure I could talk her into getting it so we can have it around our offices. For research purposes of course.

At this point I'm starting to almost get comfortable with medium difficulty. But I'm still not ready to attempt to tackle hard. Soon hopefully, but not yet. I also really wish Wife would play but she's a little intimidated by it. She's from the Genesis/ Super Nintendo era of controllers. Anything more than three buttons starts to overwhelm her a little. I wish it wasn't so because I'd like to share this with her, but such is life. She is willing to hang out with me and read while I play, something she doesn't do with a lot of other games.

By the way, if you didn't pick up on it in the second paragraph, yes I get paid to talk about and play video games. My job is cool.