Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Day 15: The Part That's Aweful

Generally speaking, I love being a college professor.  It's the most rewarding job I've ever had.  I get freedom, I'm (relatively) well-paid, I can leverage against my own time and seek out my own understandings, and I get to work with a class of young people who are motivated to make the future a better place for themselves and for society in general.  I have seen success stories and I have seen the fires of ambition, knowledge, and understanding lit in the faces of many of my students.  It keeps me coming back for more, quite honestly.

But... but.  There are things to hate about being a college professor as well.  When I was first interviewed over the phone for this position my now boss, following a script we use for phone interviews, asked what I thought the worst part of the job was going to be.  I answered that probably grading was going to be the worst part of the job.  Oh naievite.  I still don't relish grading, but experience is ready to answer that question anew

First, I'm undervalued.  This is a thing I can handle.  I've had a baptist upbringing and it may just be that baptist guilt (often well-deserved, mind you) is second only to guilt of a catholic nature.  I can handle (mostly) being undervalued by society at large, and I get how that undervaluing of expertise is fomented in a society that prides itself as egalitarian to a fault (nevermind that that whole thing is a myth so that the scrupulous class can maintain it's power in the face of its own hypocrisy); I know that I may be blamed by politicians and mandated into ineffectiveness; and I know that as long as the academy is seen as a business then administrators will make decisions that don't make sense to me and that equally as long as the academy is supposed to be the driver of the economy (in lieu of a regulatory environment that actually supports innovation, rather than quashing it) I'll always fall short of societies expectations.

I can't impart knowledge, I'm not responsible for people's educations, I've never been able to MAKE anyone learn or do anything they didn't want to do.  I can't even make people respect the reason they came to college in the first place.  As long as I'm going to be solely responsible for ensuring these things I will be a failure.  Mind you, I don't think myself a failure, because I know the proper metrics to use for measuring success.

But it's that last part, not being able to make people respect why they came to college in the first place that is the most galling.


I know several of my students are cheating in one of my classes.  (I'll be no more specific than that, mind you.)  These students started turning in good work, rather suddenly.  At first I thought, great job!  Maybe this is one of those instances I work and live for where I'm making a difference.  But, as the trend continued, I began to notice something troubling.  The answers weren't just right, they were pristine; they were shockingly like the answers given to the professor by the book's publisher.  I know this because I'm not an idiot.  I know this because I check my own answers against the book's resources and will even sometimes show the book's answer in class if I think they've done a particularly clear job (not always the case) of solving the problem.  But, what's hung my students is not just that, but that the book will sometimes give extra information; do extra work, not asked for in the question... just an added bonus.  These parts have been showing up in the student work as well, fully formed, verbatim. 

What a waste!  To be afforded such an opportunity and then to throw it back in the faces of people who work hard for your benefit?  To treat me like I'm an idiot?  To say it makes my blood boil is an understatement. 

And what's more, you're not only hurting yourself (a self-inflicted wound is bad enough) but your dragging down everyone around you who knows the importance of academic honor, who knows how fragile the degree your receiving is, who knows that the earner of the degree is just as responsible for its value as its bestower.  You're hurting everyone, least of all yourself, and your patting yourself on the back, laughing internally about how smart you are because you can go online and look at one of the literally hundreds of resources where lying cheater scumbags just like yourself can go to defile yourself and all of academia.  Aren't you smart; look how you've played the system.

The bitterest pill is this.  I'm meant to encourage my students to do the hard work its going to take, to exercise the discipline it requires to learn some of the hardest material on campus, and so I do that by offering a lot of homework, sacrificing of my time in answering questions and directing inquiry into that homework, and I make the homework worth a significant portion of the final grade.  But, the way to stop cheaters is to not do any of that and to make homework worth very little if anything.

So, congratulations, you've put me in a pickle.  I can either stop you cheating bottom feeders, parasites that you are, and adopt a sink or swim attitude that hurts my ability to encourage students to perform at their highest; or I can continue on, watching all our hard work be defiled and rendered meaningless by the actions of a few.

It's decisions like these that are the worst part of my job.   

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