Saturday, September 20, 2014

Don't Call Me

In an article from Slate titled Don't Email Me, Salem College communications professor, Spring-Serenity Duvall, discusses her frequent struggles with incessant student emails. This led to a lengthy description in her syllabi specifically outlining when it was and when it was not appropriate to email her. Eventually this resulted in Duvall banning student email almost entirely with few exceptions. The results, she said, have been wonderful resulting in not just fewer trivial emails, but more quality interactions with students. Plenty of other professors I have heard express similar annoyance over email and would rather have students call.

I don't get it. I can certainly understand encouraging face-to-face interaction over email communication. What I don't understand is the preference for phone calls. I usually have well over one hundred students and in a given semester and yet I have never felt anywhere close to being overwhelmed with email. Perhaps it is because I am not as popular, approachable or important as others. The only annoyances I have with email are when there is no subject line or an uninformative one like "from the desk of xxx" (yes, I know it's from you) or "about class" (I kind of figured it was about class). Then of course there are the inquiries about grades. But these are just pet peeves. No big deal. I still answer those emails.

Although I don't get many phone calls, I find them far more disruptive than emails. When the phone rings, I feel the obligation to answer immediately. If I don't, then I have to deal with voicemail, which is the worst invention of all time. First I have to dial the number, because I never remember it and I still haven't bothered to figure out speed dial. Then I go through this charade:

"Welcome to the voice messaging system. Please enter your pin number. Then press pound."
"You have...........one............new voice message..........."
"To send a message press 1. To get messages, press 2."
"First unheard message.........from...........five....five......five......five......five......five......five......five......five.....five....received today at eight.........thirty..........five..........am"
"To listen to this message, press 1"

With email, the message just shows up. I can respond right way or get back to it later. I don't have to scramble for a pen or repeat the message over and over to get the call back number. There's no game of phone tag in trying to get back to the person. There is zero chance I end up with a parent answering my call. (This has happened).

For my first class every semester I mention that I prefer email and every student has complied as far as I can recall. Despite the dearth of student phone calls I receive, I felt inspired by the aforementioned Slate article and just flat out announced in my classes: DON'T CALL ME. If you want to talk, come see me in person. Otherwise, send an email.

I am sure it can be very confusing for students to keep track of every policy, detail and pet peeve from professors that often contradict each other, but it is something you just got to do. As instructors perhaps we don't need to make a big deal of every little thing we find annoying with detailed descriptions in the syllabus or a ten minute speech on the matter on the first day of class. I find that it is not worth obsessing over.

It is actually ok for students to call and leave voice mail messages even though they are annoying to retrieve. I will survive.

Monday, February 3, 2014

High School Records Mean Nothing

In an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation entitled "Yesterday's Enterprise," a time rift causes the Enterprise to shift into an alternative universe in which the Federation is at war with the Klingons instead of being in an alliance. The war is going badly and the situation is bleak. The ship's bartender Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg, is the only one the ship who recognizes that the timeline is off. People are missing. Others don't belong there. Something is just wrong.

I had one of these "we're in the wrong timeline" feelings recently when I was reading this older espn article about "Lost Heroes of the Super Bowl", which featured Mike Jones who famously made a game-saving tackle at the one-yard line at the end of the 2000 Super Bowl for the St. Louis Rams. Jones is now the head football coach at the Division II Lincoln University as tries to turn around a struggling program. In the article a guy named Tony Van Zant, an assistant coach under Jones, talks about using Jones' experience in the Super Bowl as a recruiting tool.

"I use that a lot," said Lincoln running backs coach Tony Van Zant, who played with Jones at Missouri. "I tell them about his Super Bowl. Those kids, they like that they get a chance to be coached by someone who's played in the Super Bowl." "Anywhere we go, people want his autograph."

This was the first time in almost thirty years that I saw, heard, or thought Tony Van Zant's name. Back in the Fall of 1985, I was a high school student in St. Louis and a big fan of the area teams. At that time there were two big stories all of us sports fans were talking about. One was Don Denkinger's missed call in the World Series. The other was the awesome performances of Hazelwood Central's star tailback Tony Van Zant, who was just destroying the area high school competition. Even though our school was in a conference for smaller schools and would never play Van Zant, my classmates talked about him constantly. He was like the big man on campus although none of us actually knew him personally.

To this day I have never seen anyone dominate his competition as much as Van Zant. Defensive players looked like little kids churning their legs at 100 miles an hour, yet unable to keep up with the effortless long loping strides of Van Zant. He was going to be a mega-superstar and the savior for University of Missouri football, which at the time was a perennial loser.

Then before his college career even started Van Zant tore an ACL in a high school all-star game. He went on to play out his career at Mizzou, but clearly Tony Van Zant never the same. While the 1985 World Series and Don Denkinger's name live in infamy among St. Louisans in particular, the memory of Van Zant has all but disappeared from the minds of even the most passionate sports fans.

I was stunned to see Van Zant in that espn article introduced as "some random dude who played with Mike Jones at Missouri." This guy was the Parade Magazine #1 high school player in the nation in 1985 and many say still the best high school player in the history of St. Louis. In an article about "Lost Heroes", ironically it is Van Zant who is truly the forgotten one. Van Zant was supposed to win the Heisman, go the NFL, win MVP and become a celebrated Super Bowl hero. Instead he's now talking about his former teammate's credentials to help recruiting. It just feels wrong. The proper timeline has somehow been altered. Van Zant is just a normal guy: no fame, no fortune and no Wikipedia page. It's like everything he did was erased from existence and only a few of us remember.

Even though Van Zant ran the ball little in college and never played any pro ball, I still figured he would be an icon based solely in high school accomplishments. When I googled his name, however, there wasn't all that much, and it only took a few pages before I started running into articles about Iyanla Vanzant and Tony Robbins on Oprah. I was wrong. Athletic high school achievements, no matter how amazing, are mostly forgotten.

The same can be said for the rest of us non-football superstars. A strong high school record can get you into a good college and some scholarships, but once you step on a college campus, those credentials can be pretty much thrown out the window. Except in rare cases, medical schools, graduate schools and employers aren't going to care about your high school GPA, your SAT scores, or the fact that you scored four touchdowns in a game at Polk high.


Everyone starts back at square one with a clean slate. I've seen been plenty of mediocre high school students rock in their college courses and have outstanding careers. Likewise I've seen plenty of high school superstars struggle mightily. Some couldn't handle having to study for the first time and having tougher competition in their classes. Others had trouble adjusting to living on their own. In some cases, students just faced unfortunate circumstances as was the case in Van Zant's football career.

Whatever the reasons for not living up to expectations after high school, those past accomplishments don't mean anything. In this universe and in this timeline, they're effectively erased from existence. Nobody cares.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bonus Question: Green

Your instructor most commonly wears what color shirt?

I wore a green shirt 90% of the time. I see these people 4-5 times a week and only 53% of the class got this right. That percentage was worse than the average for the rest of test!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

He Showed Up

Also important is ending class on time. This blog post link also addresses a major pet peeve of mine: people gathering their stuff before the class is over.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fashion Choices and Random News

The guy who "went blind" is Nobel laureate Barry Sharpless, who lost one eye in a lab accident, but retained use of the other. The man who went into a coma was from this pool party. I haven't heard any news about this person since the incident back in June. I hope he's doing ok.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Green Jeans

This is a twitter post from someone who is not my student. However, I now have an idea of what to wear once I'm due for clothes shopping in a few years.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Being Green

My daughter loves Cinderella and insists on wearing blue dresses every day. I decided to go along with it and wear green shirts every day because of the hulk.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Allow Students to Work Together


I agree on the value of having students work together. I also believe in the value of developing skills without relying on a lab partner. That's why we sometimes work with partners and sometimes not.