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Stokely

Complain about undergraduates here

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I’ll try to be brief on this, and more info is available upon request.

Why do students try to test you? To know the full story, undergrad freshman surveys at my school are tag-teamed by three grad students. The lecturer is a PhD candidate, and the two TAs are either MA students or PhD students. The lecturer handles class twice a week, while the TAs get students in smaller discussion classes once each week.

An older student (claims he’s 28) in my class recently sent the lecturer several nasty emails about me. Eventually I got the emails and these skewer me, claiming I’m a big jerk in class, I’m incompetent, and that political affiliation factors into the grading criteria.

The student has an attendance problem (and this is something my university takes seriously because of student retention stats and whatnot). Had he attended classes with some consistency, he’d know what he did wrong on his essay, and know that he didn’t follow protocol by approaching me with any problems he has with the class.

I don’t particularly like the way the lecturer handled this. He upped the guy’s grade to placate him, and I agree with that to an extent. But doing so kind of reinforced the student’s ridiculous claims, which the lecturer did not even address in his return email to the student.

Luckily for me he hasn’t been back to class in three weeks now. But what happens when he does return? Should I talk to him? Should I point out how I graded his pathetic essay? Or should I just ignore him?

Three years into it and 90% of my evaluations from previous semesters are amazingly positive. This kind of hurts and I believe the student is trying to place enmity between the lecturer and me…to exploit some kind of weakness in the system. What do you guys think? Why do students test us? I’m beginning to believe that this student’s worldview makes him resistant to any information that conflict with it. His essay was a rant against the government, and get this, the student claims he’s military retired at age 28. C’mon!

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Are you paranoid? There's always going to be that student you hate and who aggravates you. Even the most beloved professors get that student from time to time who thinks they're the worst. You are not going to be loved 100% of the time, whether that's fair or unfair. Handle the situation professionally, in the manner that a professor would. and btw, don't lump all undergraduates together (as in "Let's complain about undergraduates"), it shows you have a little arrogance towards those ranked below you.

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I see your point, but I am not in grad school to win friends and to be loved. So in your view, are you suggesting that students have a right to be disrespectful toward their TAs?

Originally, the student claimed I was being unfair in grading his essay. With the disrespectful nature of his emails (which violated written procedures for challenging a grade), don't I get a say or a chance to explain to the student how and why I graded his essay the way I did? If doing so is "unprofessional," can you explain how this is indeed unprofessional behavior? Are you suggesting that TAs cannot challenge their students?

Several other students in the same class were upset with their essay grades, yet these students followed protocol and came to talk to me about it. After they did, they realized why they earned the grade they earned (and many of them said they'd do much better on the next essay).

Lastly, and based on your comment, I guess complaining about undergrads is some phenomenon specific to only my university. When the 20 or so TAs in my department get together for Friday night bowling, the main topic of discussion is usually how crummy the general undergraduate population is and how they will do anything (usually except studying) to get that C so they can move on, get their degree, and with that they believe comes the $100,000 a year dream job. Yes, we're generalizing, but doing so with the firm belief that only about 10 to 12% of undergraduates are capable of doing college-level work, are receptive to the information presented in their classes, and will probably get something out of their undergraduate education.

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I see your point, but I am not in grad school to win friends and to be loved. So in your view, are you suggesting that students have a right to be disrespectful toward their TAs?

Originally, the student claimed I was being unfair in grading his essay. With the disrespectful nature of his emails (which violated written procedures for challenging a grade), don't I get a say or a chance to explain to the student how and why I graded his essay the way I did? If doing so is "unprofessional," can you explain how this is indeed unprofessional behavior? Are you suggesting that TAs cannot challenge their students?

Several other students in the same class were upset with their essay grades, yet these students followed protocol and came to talk to me about it. After they did, they realized why they earned the grade they earned (and many of them said they'd do much better on the next essay).

Lastly, and based on your comment, I guess complaining about undergrads is some phenomenon specific to only my university. When the 20 or so TAs in my department get together for Friday night bowling, the main topic of discussion is usually how crummy the general undergraduate population is and how they will do anything (usually except studying) to get that C so they can move on, get their degree, and with that they believe comes the $100,000 a year dream job. Yes, we're generalizing, but doing so with the firm belief that only about 10 to 12% of undergraduates are capable of doing college-level work, are receptive to the information presented in their classes, and will probably get something out of their undergraduate education.

With all due respect, Stokely, I think you are misunderstanding me. I did not say that explaining your reasons for grading something is unprofessional. All I said was, handle it professionally, which obviously includes explaining your reasons for grading. If you find that that the disrespectful emails cannot go unnoticed, then by all means you ought to explain that you do not appreciate their disrespectful nature and that in the event it occurs again you will have recourse to the appropriate means of dealing with them, whatever that may be. I'm not saying students have a right to be rude. I'm just saying, it's going to happen and you can't become paranoid about it or lose your cool. I'm not a grad student yet but I work closely with a professor and I am often put in the position of tutoring difficult students and correcting the papers of my peers, which has put me into some sticky situations. I've also seen students be extremely rude to him, a full professor. He doesn't agonize over it because he knows his place in the food chain and he knows that theirs is much lower, so he handles the situations with grace. Just relax. Don't worry about how stupid most people are. It isn't unique to undergraduates or to any population. You just have to roll your eyes when you think of this student and have a good laugh over him.

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I appreciate your clarification. What's got me flustered about this situation is how the lecturer has handled it. In ways, his return emails to the student reinforce the student's position that I indeed graded his essay unfairly. Instead of pointing out how the student did poorly, the lecturer merely stated that we upped his grade without any explanation and without addressing the student's main concerns in his original emails. In other words, it suggest that I was indeed in the wrong when I know I wasn't and the lecturer and I agree that I did nothing wrong. But the student doesn't know this.

More than likely, I will not speak to the student if he ever decides to come back to class. I'll get over it, but it's just so insulting. I hold three degrees. It seems the student should realize that I know my field. The university would not have awarded me a TAship if this were not the case.

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I appreciate your clarification. What's got me flustered about this situation is how the lecturer has handled it. In ways, his return emails to the student reinforce the student's position that I indeed graded his essay unfairly. Instead of pointing out how the student did poorly, the lecturer merely stated that we upped his grade without any explanation and without addressing the student's main concerns in his original emails. In other words, it suggest that I was indeed in the wrong when I know I wasn't and the lecturer and I agree that I did nothing wrong. But the student doesn't know this.

More than likely, I will not speak to the student if he ever decides to come back to class. I'll get over it, but it's just so insulting. I hold three degrees. It seems the student should realize that I know my field. The university would not have awarded me a TAship if this were not the case.

I realize how much it sucks when you don't have backup from the person you answer to, because then you're all alone and the person who wronged you feels justified because they got away with it. I would really just be calm and polite, because sometimes you can disarm someone that way, when you are kind and firm and they're acting like a blustering idiot. In other cases, they just never learn. In my job I've learned that some people just never get it and there's nothing you can do except preserve your own dignity in the situation. The semester will end eventually and you won't have to deal with them again, so as long as you do your job correctly, the lecturer can't complain. I know it irks and you want this student to know you're right, but sometimes it sucks and you can't make them recognize it. Best of luck to you in any case.

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I recently had a problem with a student I was tutoring for a theory class. I am actually a comp pol person, but I am have a soft spot for theory - particularly constitutional theory, which her class is based on. For the past weeks, I have been dealing with bad migraines. This student thought the world revolved around her. She called her advisor and said she needed help with the class, so they found me. I tutor almost every day of the week and have a FULL schedule, but this doesn't mean anything to her. I am writing a thesis, working two jobs, and taking classes, but she doesn't care. One afternoon, our session would not be covered by athletics (budget cuts) and she put me in a very bad position. I didn't want to meet without knowing that meeting "off the books" wouldn't be illegal and cost me a job I really, really love. She was pissed off at me for "procrastinating". Eventually, the session was cleared and we proceeded, but she complained to her advisor and my supervisor about me being unprofessional. I thought that was funny, as she is the one who came into a session once and said, "Being here with you is so boring. I hate this class and looking at you depresses me because you aren't tan." Um... okay. So, I was scared. I have a shining reputation up there and have met most of the coaches because they are so pleased with my performance. I get students with learning disabilities and poor study skills and build their confidence. It is what I love to do. However, this student (who simply refused to read the Constitution) was trash talking me.

I let it roll off. You have to. You know what happened? Nothing. My supervisor and her advisor backed ME up and sat HER down to talk to her about it. Last week, we were waiting for an outline to be posted on the online system for their paper (we were brainstorming ideas) and talking and I think I got through to her. Suddenly, we now see eye to eye. She gets why it was disrespectful and is experiencing some tough times and now gets why what she did was ten times as difficult for me. I wish your lecturer would have had your back, but sometimes your boss is spineless. I have had several. Thankfully, in this job, I work with pretty amazing people and have never been happier. God I love teaching... probably as much as research. It's a toss up.

Just move on. It's all you can do. Don't let it bother you. I got a major kudos from a huge coach a couple of days ago. As a basketball fan, I will tell you I about screamed like a little girl. It's nice to feel needed. I am sure there are people in your department who really, really value who you do. Think of things they have said and look back to those recommendations. Don't look at the bad. It will tear you apart and wear you down. Life hands you the cards, it's what you do with 'em that matters. If you feel like anything can be gained by helping the student, do it. I don't know if anything can be. I have been in classes with people that I feel can't be helped. 99% can be, but that 1% is just permanently always right!

Look to the students that are bright. This is what came from my advisor. He's emeritus and has seen it all. You should see what he gets in his essay books from HONORS students! Wow. He says when he was young it used to bother him until he finally just realized that you can't save them all. If you baby them, the real world won't be so nice and you are doing them a disservice, so he focused his energy on the bright kids. I guess I was one of those kids. What the lecturer did wasn't great because he is babying them, too, but he is still learning! Give him the benefit of the doubt there, too.

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Okay, I agree that you have to handle the situation professionally. If the lecturer agreed with the way you graded, s/he should not have changed the student's grade and you should tell him/her that explicitly. Say that you felt your authority was undermined and are now worried about how it will affect your ability to manage your classroom.

As far as what to do with the student, ask the student if s/he wants to come in for a meeting to discuss his/her grade. Then, explain all of the criteria and the student's shortcomings on the assignment. Don't just criticize but also offer suggestions for how it could be improved in the future. Above all, do not ignore the student if/when s/he returns to class! That makes you look unprofessional. Also, I want to stress this point: it is never acceptable for a student to be rude to an instructor, lecturer, TA, etc. I tell students that when they start to raise their voice with me. I remind them that, though I may look their age, I am in a position of authority and they must treat me with respect if they want me to listen to their complaints about their grades and/or help them with the course material. If they are yelling, tell them to take a deep breath, count to 10, and then start again politely. Or suggest they take a walk around the hall for a minute until they calm down.

And yes, we all complain about our undergrads. We do it all the time in my department, in part because we are an afterthought major for undergrads that don't get into their first choice. While it's great for enrollment and keeping TAs employed, it also means we don't have the brightest students. But they are fun to tell stories about.

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I once petitioned an essay grade that was given to me by a graduate student. He was very friendly in person, and was a very good teacher, but the comments he wrote on my essay were extremely insulting and actually made me cry when I read over them. I had worked for weeks on the essay and, while I recognize that hard work does not guarantee high grades, I would have appreciated if he had acknowledged my hard work in writing his comments (instead of simply writing "you failed to do x, y, and z") in the evaluation form. There was no constructive criticism offered. It was clear from some of his comments (for example, he refused to believe that I had read a non-English text, based solely on the assumption that undergrads must only speak English) that he believed undergraduates to be a bunch of idiots, and that he was God's gift to academia or something.

Anyhow, the essay was regraded, and I received a somewhat higher grade. More importantly, the person who regraded it explained clearly why certain points were deducted. After that awkward experience, the graduate student and I still had the rest of the semester to go, and it was pretty uncomfortable. For example, he never responded to my email to him saying I intended to have the essay re-graded, and never mentioned the incident to me in person. I understand that he probably felt annoyed about me undermining him, but I don't think he handled the situation very professionally. I would have appreciated it if he had offered to speak to me about it in person, and maybe have a look over the essay with me. I suppose that is what I suggest you try doing with your student. Mind you, I have no teaching experience myself (dumbass undergrad here), and I'm not trying to compare you with my jerk of a tutor. But, if you have a little chat with the person, or at least behave in a friendly manner towards him for the rest of the semester, you'll be more likely to win his respect and also to "win" in the unspoken rivalry.

That said, aside from this one particular individual, the best teachers I have had as an undergraduate have been graduate students. I find that they tend to be terrifying, in that they expect work to be done and do not take excuses. Keep in mind that someone who has had to deal with a not-so-understanding TA may automatically assume that you operate with the same cutthroat policy of hating all undergraduates.

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Jerry and Rising,

I appreciate your comments, along with those provided by gsams.

I'm going to do what the lecturer said to do: ignore the student if he ever returns to class. That's his whole problem, not coming to class. Had he attended class with some regularity, he'd have know exactly why I put the comments I did on his essay. For starters, he didn't follow the directions and didn't fully answer the question. He ignored much of the source material he was instructed to use to answer the question, and instead ranted about taxes.

It's been nearly three weeks since the lecturer emailed him. He told him his graded was upped, and that if he really believes that I'm unfair and a jerk in class, then he could move to the other discussion class instead of attending mine. The student responded that he'd be back in class, my class, but has yet to return. He's now at 11 total absences for the semester. If he misses one more day he'll receive a two-letter grade penalty on his final grade (and midterms, which come out next week). He's hanging himself at this point.

The lecturer and I talked about it briefly yesterday and he is now of the opinion that the student is trying to exploit some kind of loophole in the lecturer/TA system. We reached this decision based on how the student has circumvented protocol by appealing directly to the lecturer for a higher grade, and based on several of the things he said in his first email to the lecturer. These statements insinuate that he deserves special treatment based on his military service and his advanced age (he's 28). He also made a statement that says he knew he'd have problems taking a class in the College of Liberal Arts because it's filled with liberals. He went on to explain that liberals won't give "real conservative Americans a fair shake..." and that the only reason he's in the class because it's a requirement. He also said he doesn't think the attendance policy should apply to him, but the lecturer ignored all of this in his email responses to the student.

I really don't like the way the lecturer has handled this, but I don't want to argue with him about it. I told him back in December that when you assign freshmen essays, you need to teach them how to write it first, which we didn't have much time to do so. Otherwise, they're going to screw it up and then get pissed at us for their shortcomings. Back then, the lecturer said "oh well, then they will fail." But, if a student complains about their C, it can easily be upped to a B, regardless of the quality of work (thus cheapening the other Bs in the class). The lecturer is on his way out and routinely professes to hate undergrads with a passion and wishes they'd "commit mass suicide" or otherwise drop out of college en masse.

Lastly, the student's emails imply that it is basically my fault that the student has not attended class because had he done so, he'd have realized exactly what he needed to do to get an A, he would have known about the specific directions for writing it and submitting it, and he would have understood the reading material a little better because we went over it in classes (that he missed).

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Sounds like a real pain in the ass. The good thing about people like that is that there's often no need to retaliate - they'll perform the task of screwing themselves over without any help. There's a student in a class I take who never shows up (should have been failed by now) and when he does show up, not having done the work, has the audacity to disagree with the professor about everything. The professor's not a very confrontational guy, but I can imagine it probably annoys the hell out of him to be disrespected like that. In any case, I think the student has finally crossed the line in terms of absences and not turning in work, and will not be graduating this semester as scheduled. It makes you wonder though, if someone is so incapable of doing basic things like showing up for class, how did he manage to get by in the military?

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Everybody here gave good advice which I won't repeat. The important thing to make sure of in dealing with this kind of situation is that the lecturer has your back. Regardless of how annoying undergraduates can be (and they can!), you are only ever in trouble if the lecturer doesn't back you up and takes the student's side (which I guess is sort of what I understood you were saying, in that they raised the student's grade without consulting with you first?). Maybe you should have a chat with the lecturer and let them know what you didn't like about the way they handled the situation? You know, just say "I wish you had talked to me before you decided to do X" or whatnot. The teaching staff should really appear cohesive to the undergrads and any problems should preferably be resolved after joint consultation and not with the lecturer just overriding the TA's decisions.

Since you consulted with the lecturer it would make sense to follow their suggestions, but I actually think it puts you in a better position if you don't ignore the student when they come back to class. You certainly don't have to give him any special treatment (=don't tutor him to make up for the material he missed), but you could suggest that if he comes by during your office hours then you will explain to him why you gave him the grade and comments that you did. In my experience, students who like to complain rarely follow up on that and are not genuinely interested in suggestions for improvement. So most likely he will never take you up on your offer, but in the off chance that he really does care, you should be the mature one in your relationship and give him a way to retreat and start over. I would generally suggest being very careful about what you say and write to this student, so he can't use anything you said against you and claim that you mislead him in any way.

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Fuzzy, I appreciate your input, but I'm going to do as told. The lecturer sent me an email last last week after we talked in person about this situation. In that conversation and in the email, he said: "If Mr. X ever does decide to return to class, do not initiate a discussion with this student about why you graded his essay the way you did. Just ignore him. If you volunteer any information, he'll likely try to use it against you in some way."

The lecturer (who is a PhD candidate) did not address the possibility if the student asks to talk to me. If he does (but I doubt he returns to class at all), then I'll just send him to the lecturer.

To fully round out this saga, the lecturer has a poor reputation in the department, especially among grad students. He's kind of a bully (he likes to tell many other TAs that they're "stupid") and does things much differently than other PhD candidates and assistant professors who teach these survey classes. Usually the protocol is if a student has a problem with their grade, take it up with the TA who graded their test/paper. It even says this on standard syllabi for these surveys, yet the lecturer in this case is ignoring this in this specific situation (despite his verbal announcement made in class several weeks ago that stipulated students must talk to their TAs about any problems).

I'm sure this will open a can of worms, but when I see the lecturer tomorrow, I'm going to ask him if he'll grade this student's next essay. If I'm unable to explain myself to the student, then I don't want to have to grade anything else he does. It's in the lecturer's hands now, and that's where I prefer to leave it.

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Lastly, and based on your comment, I guess complaining about undergrads is some phenomenon specific to only my university. When the 20 or so TAs in my department get together for Friday night bowling, the main topic of discussion is usually how crummy the general undergraduate population is and how they will do anything (usually except studying) to get that C so they can move on, get their degree, and with that they believe comes the $100,000 a year dream job. Yes, we're generalizing, but doing so with the firm belief that only about 10 to 12% of undergraduates are capable of doing college-level work, are receptive to the information presented in their classes, and will probably get something out of their undergraduate education.

Depending on at which school you're attending, the quality of the undergraduate population will vary quite a bit, as will the quality of the grad student population..

I hope you read what you've written again from an outsider's perspective and realise how elitist and douchey you sound. As an undergraduate in a high performing research laboratory taking graduate level physics and chemistry courses, I experienced this elitism from the first-year graduate students every year and it was quite satisfying to stomp on their faces come exam time. Just because you've gone through an additional selection process doesn't mean you walk on clouds and are a higher authority on a topic than one of your pupils. There will always be undergraduates, college dropouts, and high school dropouts who are more qualified than you are in some subject material.

I understand that your cohort's behaviour serves to solidify your sense of kinship and shared experience, but it's kind of petty and antithetical to the basis of academic intellectualism to criticise a population based on hierarchical orderings of goodness. Perhaps you should all discuss your latest poetry stanzas regarding the flowers of Spring or whatever it is you do instead of practise ego-inflating elitism at the expense of others.

You dig?

I will admit though, that the student you mention is completely out of line, though I don't know what his age has to do with it. It sounds almost as if you have disdain for him for being older than you and for being in an allegedly inferior social position at the same time.

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I agree with the above poster. you're a douche.

and seriously, it's the lecturer you should be complaining about not the student.

If you had a real life job and your boss took a nasty customer's side instead of your, you wouldn't have been oh-my-godding about the customer, but how awful your boss treats you. why the difference ?

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Fuzzy, I appreciate your input, but I'm going to do as told. The lecturer sent me an email last last week after we talked in person about this situation. In that conversation and in the email, he said: "If Mr. X ever does decide to return to class, do not initiate a discussion with this student about why you graded his essay the way you did. Just ignore him. If you volunteer any information, he'll likely try to use it against you in some way."

The lecturer (who is a PhD candidate) did not address the possibility if the student asks to talk to me. If he does (but I doubt he returns to class at all), then I'll just send him to the lecturer.

To fully round out this saga, the lecturer has a poor reputation in the department, especially among grad students. He's kind of a bully (he likes to tell many other TAs that they're "stupid") and does things much differently than other PhD candidates and assistant professors who teach these survey classes. Usually the protocol is if a student has a problem with their grade, take it up with the TA who graded their test/paper. It even says this on standard syllabi for these surveys, yet the lecturer in this case is ignoring this in this specific situation (despite his verbal announcement made in class several weeks ago that stipulated students must talk to their TAs about any problems).

I'm sure this will open a can of worms, but when I see the lecturer tomorrow, I'm going to ask him if he'll grade this student's next essay. If I'm unable to explain myself to the student, then I don't want to have to grade anything else he does. It's in the lecturer's hands now, and that's where I prefer to leave it.

Fair enough. I guess your bottom line is that you can't be sure that the lecturer will back you up, in which case it is indeed best to keep contact with this student to a bare minimum.

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I agree with the above poster. you're a douche.

and seriously, it's the lecturer you should be complaining about not the student.

If you had a real life job and your boss took a nasty customer's side instead of your, you wouldn't have been oh-my-godding about the customer, but how awful your boss treats you. why the difference ?

Having had a "real life job" (um, and working is academia is not?) - I can tell you that in these kinds of situations, when you encounter a student who is out of line and is trying to screw you over to get a better grade, and your superior hangs you out to dry and gives in to them -- you complain about both the student and the lecturer. The two are not mutually exclusive. Same as I would complain both about a jackass customer and my jackass boss. The situation in academia is sometimes much worse than in "real life": you often depend on the instructors you TA for to fund you, advise you (i.e. meet with you on a regular basis, read your work, suggest new directions you should take - generally look out for you and try to advance your research), ultimately approve your dissertation, help you network and write recommendations for future jobs for you. It might not be the case here, but relationships between students and faculty can be very convoluted and they are often very frustrating. People need to vent. That's what anonymous forums are for.

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Thanks Fuzzy. I'll read some Chomsky today in your honor.

It amuses me whenever I hear that academia is not "real life" but some other thing, whatever that might be. Is it death? Purgatory? A simulated universe as in those popular games?

I worked for 12 years in the "real world" and now that I'm back in academia, I can't tell much difference in the two. You work about the same hours, 70-80 hours a week, and in both worlds, people complain, you can't please every one all of the time, and lazy people are always lurking nearby to undermine you in some way or another, you complain about your bosses (and customers), and you don't ever seem to get anywhere. You just do the same things over and over.

I guess the differences lie in personal preferences. When I was out in the "working world" I routinely had to tell lies for a living. That was the nature of a journalist or a public relations associate. But I prefer not to tell lies for a living, so I returned to do something better with my life and my time on this earth.

Oh, the pay is much worse in academia, well as a grad student anyway (the tuition waivers rock, though). I guess that would be another difference. In our society today, telling lies pays and pays well. Telling the truth will get have you sweating each month just to pay your bills.

Ah, isn't the United States the greatest?! We're like the Mohammad Ali of countries.

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I think that by "real jobs" he/she meant stuff like waiting tables, working in retail, stuff where you have do deal with customers who assume you're somehow beneath them. In my experience, you don't get paid too well in those jobs either. And you sure as hell don't work 80 hours a week! Whatever, who cares, it's all work.

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I’ll try to be brief on this, and more info is available upon request.

Why do students try to test you? To know the full story, undergrad freshman surveys at my school are tag-teamed by three grad students. The lecturer is a PhD candidate, and the two TAs are either MA students or PhD students. The lecturer handles class twice a week, while the TAs get students in smaller discussion classes once each week.

An older student (claims he’s 28) in my class recently sent the lecturer several nasty emails about me. Eventually I got the emails and these skewer me, claiming I’m a big jerk in class, I’m incompetent, and that political affiliation factors into the grading criteria.

The student has an attendance problem (and this is something my university takes seriously because of student retention stats and whatnot). Had he attended classes with some consistency, he’d know what he did wrong on his essay, and know that he didn’t follow protocol by approaching me with any problems he has with the class.

I don’t particularly like the way the lecturer handled this. He upped the guy’s grade to placate him, and I agree with that to an extent. But doing so kind of reinforced the student’s ridiculous claims, which the lecturer did not even address in his return email to the student.

Luckily for me he hasn’t been back to class in three weeks now. But what happens when he does return? Should I talk to him? Should I point out how I graded his pathetic essay? Or should I just ignore him?

Three years into it and 90% of my evaluations from previous semesters are amazingly positive. This kind of hurts and I believe the student is trying to place enmity between the lecturer and me…to exploit some kind of weakness in the system. What do you guys think? Why do students test us? I’m beginning to believe that this student’s worldview makes him resistant to any information that conflict with it. His essay was a rant against the government, and get this, the student claims he’s military retired at age 28. C’mon!

I can't believe the lecturer didn't support you in some fashion. But I also can't imagine having to teach with someone who does not treat you like an equal (or as close to equal as you can get) in the classroom. I teach two courses a semester as instructor of record so I am used to complete and total control in the classroom. I have never had an issue like this despite having older students (52 year old retired Navy student for example -- though he did try to convert me to Mormonism). I have heard of other graduate student instructors having students go over their head and complain to the Director of Composition or Director of the English department, but each and every time the student was (rightfully) placed at fault for lack of responsibility, problems with authority, etc.

I have interned with teachers before just to get experience teaching literature courses. When I did, the professor treated me like a colleague. Communication was the key. If such a circumstance like this arose, she would be the ultimate decision maker -- "decider," but she always consulted me, asked for my opinion, and even let me handle situations by myself. Sounds like there are some real issues with TAing in lecture courses.

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