Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How razor-sharp is your wit? Test your skills against the RYS experts

How did I stumble upon "Rate your students?" Well... I've been pummeled and left for dead countless times on, rejoindered on "Professors Strike Back!" and even debated the two sites with college journalism students at my uni. So it was natural for me to start hanging out round the campus water cooler.

RYS is the site where I finally accepted that "extreme" is the new edgy, something it took me a while to understand.

Offensive, ridiculous, over-the-top, pin-your-ears-back -- its gotta be extreme to capture eyeballs on today's web. I first heard this (but didn't "get" it)' when my blogging mentor emailed me that I should not have been caterwauling over Sarah Faith Alterman's self-confessed "Americaphile asshole" attitude towards my precious China. Just back from my sabbatical in Beijing, I was mortified at her attitude and sent a big F-U to her and the Phoenix, a much-admired weekly here in Boston (my comment is at the end of her article). My mentor emailed me to pipe down, Alterman's sarcasm was pretty typical for today's humorous, edgy journalism.

My second example was hearing (uh... reading) a lit blogger referred to as "James Wood's fluffer" over in the comments section of Contra James Wood. Now, I myself probably barely know what "fluffer" means, but I know it is, like, really, really insulting -- What if the lit blogger read that??? But if extreme is the new edgy, then the lit blogger maybe grinned, what the hell, more eye balls (and search engines) are grazing on my name, thanks CJW.

But how does one learn how to write edgy? I tell my students you learn by doing -- AND getting feedback.

So here's the game (or the training regimen). You regularly read RYS. You imagine how you would respond to the current "Big thirsty." Maybe even write something. Maybe even send it in. It doesn't make it on the site. And then your eyeballs blow out when you read what did get published.

Now, I don't mean to claim that RYS only posts the nasty, Tabasco-on-the-lip screeching screeds (although I will blog about that in my next post). Frequently, it just prints the funniest stuff, with that ring of truth. First it makes you laugh, then it makes you think about the times when that really happened to you.

Such as: The professoriat's response to "The ideal campus visit." H laughed out loud as I read him gems like.... Nope, can't read just one. Run, do not walk to RYS and read'em all.


Dan said...

Thanks for pointing to your reviews (indirectly). They're hilarious!!! What do you do to make them all think you're crazy? Sounds like fun, wish I could be your TA!! :-)

HumanProject said...

Hi Dan,

You're nice to put a positive spin on those evaluations by writing "sounds like fun" etc. In that spirit, I could keep this comment (and blog) light and amusing by writing about zany things I did to keep students from falling asleep. If that's in fact what it was all about, I'd write some zany things, we'd laugh and be done with the topic.

But I don't think my zany classroom actions are the real story. While some students did like and/or appreciate me, there was a good bit of hostility and negativity personally, towards me, in the classroom, and it showed up in spades in the evaluations. Those evals on RMP are pretty mean (at least the ones going back into the late 90s are). I remember around 2000 a former grad student and I were chatting, and for some reason RMP came up, which I had avoided visiting in some years. I made what was probably a pained, questioning quick glance at him, and reading my look, he said, "Don't bother going to the site. They're still the same."

My "crazy antics" were my coping strategy. They were my response (not thought out-- more an emotional response) to the stress of standing in front of 80-100 students, day after day, year after freaking year, and they're disgruntled, hostile, and unhappy. A lot of it seems to be about "me" and how I am not a good enough teacher, not (they claim) sufficiently well-organized, lectures not clear, tests not fair, discussion sections a waste of time, etc. Part of my crazy antics were just me feeling the hopelessness of the task in front of me: that joke didn't work, so I'll try this one, etc. Or: They hate me so much, I guess it doesn't matter what I do, I'll just be crazy.