Bang Your Head on Your Desk - the thread of teaching despair!

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luckylady513248:
I am hoping others can enlighten me with words of wisdom, after this review of the situation causing me to repeatedly bang my head!

On week four, students turned in a paper about famous sociologists. There were eight of them and all of the answers were to be in their own words, nothing copied from the textbook or required websites. I explained in class, repeatedly, do not quote things and do not use common phrases, write the way you would talk to a friend.

I read all of them and all of them copied and pasted almost every answer. I went through every textbook page assigned and every website and underlined every word or phrase copied. (Side note, I am an adjunct with over 200 students, so this took me some time, but I did it to show them their errors.)

I handed them back in class and told them everyone could redo the assignments to receive a perfect score. It was their chance to "get out of jail free" and not face plagiarism issues and allow them to learn how to put things in their own words. I told them to come to me and I would walk them through why they received the score and what issues I had with the assignment. I gave them new guidelines to follow and a big chance.

Class wasn't over 10 minutes and I had my first email from a student. She was demanding to know why she had received a low score when she had followed directions exactly and did nothing wrong. She continued with information about being an A+ student and that papers weren't an issue in her other classes.

More emails and side conversations continued, including students asking when reviews came out so they could give me a zero for being so mean. There were emails from students demanding to have more than 2 1/2 weeks to redo the assignment, because they had four weeks to do it the first time and students writing in all capital letters that I should have been more specific about what I wanted the first time.

In a nutshell, I am beyond frustrated with teaching. This semester I have often wondered why I continue to stay in the program. I loved teaching until this assignment issue. This has been the worst semester ever! I haven't slept trying to grade and plan and work for the students, yet none are appreciative. I am terrified my adjunct position will end if I am given bad reviews by students. Does anyone have any suggestions? Are there any other adjuncts who stress every day about whether one bad student can cost them the job? Has anyone ever experienced a semester where they question why they teach? (Side note, I have been confirmed to teach the fall semester and I will be working with my supervisors on ways to improve as an adjunct instructor, but I need other advice to help me through this shaky time.)

sciencegrad:
While probably not the smartest decision as an adjunct, I would have just failed them all. If they can't read instructions, they don't deserve to graduate from college.

barred_owl:
Luckylady (rather an ironic moniker, given your description of the outcome of the assignment), you have my sympathies and admiration.  I admire your perseverance in grading so many papers in so detailed a fashion, even in spite of the backlash that you've described, for one thing!  Sympathies because you're taking the backlash so hard.

I'm guessing that you're relatively new to teaching and, maybe, relatively young (maybe still in grad school)?  I think it might be helpful to others who might respond to know how much experience you've had in the classroom, first of all.

Secondly, rest assured that your situation is not unique.  There are probably dozens of threads here on the Fora that concern similar issues, so you might take a deep breath, back away from the grading for a moment, and see if you can find anything else here that might help you.  The Fora are a wonderful place to gain perspective and indulge in excellent advice offered freely by many excellent teachers.

One thing I'm certain that many folks will say is that you will need to expect backlash, no matter what the circumstances.  Another thing they'll say is that you should seek out a trusted real-life colleague to offer good suggestions and support IF the end-of-semester comments from your students are negative at all.

Don't let students intimidate you, either.  Don't cave in.  If they didn't follow instructions, that's the end of the story.  THEY are the ones who must take responsibility and accept the consequences, not you.  If you have a department/university that supports this philosophy, you need not lose much sleep over the students' comments to you.

One piece of Fora wisdom that I now include on every syllabus:  "I (the instructor) do not 'give' grades in this class; I only record the consequences of your (the students') choices."   Keep that thought in mind, Luckylady.
Best of luck to you!

polly_mer:
Luckylady,  8 complaints out of 200 doesn't sound that bad to me.  That's an annoyance rate of 4%.  Some of my annoyance rates have been 100% (and wasn't that a "fun" semester as I got to talk to my dean and chair multiple times).

Of possible comfort to you, while I've had semesters where I had ratings below 3 on a scale of 5, the multiple discussions with my chair and dean indicated that the students were the ones who were wrong.  I was never in danger of losing my job simply because of the 8 people who filled out the evaluations, four of them rated me as 1's across the board.  If you can show what you are doing is reasonable and document that students are ignoring reasonable directions, then your job should be safe.

For example, I once got called into a meeting with my chair, my dean, and the relevant general education program director as a result of student complaints about a test I administered.  I explained that I had assigned the in-book quiz to be done at home (answers were in the back), the test was thinly disguised questions (different format-T/F, MC, fill-in-the-blank, problem or different numbers) from that quiz with blanks where students had to explain their answers, and the test itself was open-book, open-note. 

To summarize: I gave a test for which students should have had all the answers in front of them during the test (although not exactly in the same form that matched the test), half the class earned below 50%, and I got called to explain myself.  When I explained the situation, the committee told me that I had done something reasonable, even though it was a technique that was unfamiliar to my students.  That was an adjunct position and two weeks later I was asked if I would teach the next semester.

dr_alcott:
Luckylady, I have nothing new to add to the great advice you've gotten so far, especially this:

Quote from: barred_owl on March 20, 2013,  1:38:40 AM

Don't let students intimidate you, either.  Don't cave in.  If they didn't follow instructions, that's the end of the story.  THEY are the ones who must take responsibility and accept the consequences, not you.  If you have a department/university that supports this philosophy, you need not lose much sleep over the students' comments to you.

One piece of Fora wisdom that I now include on every syllabus:  "I (the instructor) do not 'give' grades in this class; I only record the consequences of your (the students') choices."   Keep that thought in mind, Luckylady.
Best of luck to you!


You are doing the right thing by holding your students to basic academic standards. Keep it up.

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