Why You’re Not My Favorite Student

Yes, I do have favorites, and no, you’re not one of them. This is why:

1) You ask bad questions. You ask questions designed to make you look smart, not to advance your understanding. You ask questions that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, simply to let other students know that you’ve already mastered these petty concepts, and are ready for something more challenging. You use big words that you learned just this morning, because you think it projects intelligence. It doesn’t. It makes you look like a pretentious jack-ass. I’m not smiling because I think you’re smart; I’m smiling because you just used that word wrong.

2) You are lazy. You ask me things that you could find by reading the syllabus. You turn in assignments with spelling errors. You leave out those segments of the project that are designed to make my life easier. You do this because you survey the world with lazy arrogance, and assume that the 3 minutes it would take you to format the project correctly are more valuable than the extra hour it takes me to grade 60 projects that ignore the formatting. You email me to ask for special treatment to accommodate your uniquely difficult circumstances, which look amazingly similar to the difficult circumstances of every other first year student at a University.

3) Your knowledge is bounded by your bigotry. I get it. You’re indie. You hate everything that reeks of formalism and conformity. You like bands with names like “The Decemberists” and “A3”, but you will immediately stop liking them as soon as you hear that I know they exist. Every time I give you an assignment like writing 4 part choral harmony, or programming a funk drum part, you have to protect your indie cred by informing the entire class that this type of music sucks, and that you don’t need to learn how to do this, because your own unique artistic voice will always only consist of poorly played guitar riffs layered 50 times and washed out in reverb. Two things: first, the fact that you think Coltrane sucks does not, in fact, make Coltrane suck. It makes you a narcissist with a myopic range of cultural influences, which is basically the exact opposite of people I like. The second thing is this. Your parents are spending $30,000 a year to send you to this school, where you chose to study music in a formalized setting, from people who make their living in this industry, and where a significant portion of your education will come from imitating the artistic masters who came before you. I don’t know what indie cred is, but I’m pretty sure that you lost all of it when you chose this path. Wanna be indie? Drop out, move to Silverlake, rent a room from a cross-dressing coffee shop owner, work at an organic grocery co-op in NoHo for minimum wage, and practice your instrument 9 hours a day. If you want to be the thing, be the thing, don’t just wear the clothes.

4) You only care about your grade in the last two weeks of the class. Here’s the thing. If you don’t care about grades, and just want to drift in and out of class to absorb the knowledge when it suits your whim, I can respect that. I honestly don’t mind it. But if that’s your mode, don’t come to me two weeks before the final and ask what you can do to raise your grade up from an “F” to a “B”, so that you won’t lose your scholarship. The answer is nothing. There’s nothing you can do. I’m not going to grade 15 projects that you turn in on the last day of the semester for late credit, and there aren’t enough points in the final to move your grade that much. I do sometimes allow students extra-credit assignments, but I reserve it for students who have worked their asses off all semester long, and need 1 or 2 percentage points to bump up to the next grade. I like students like that. I don’t like students like you. If getting an “F” in my class means you lose your scholarship, there’s a damn good chance that you shouldn’t be here on scholarship.

5) You assume that your approval is important to me. It isn’t. I don’t need your approval, or encouragement, I don’t need to be hip in your eyes, I don’t live or die by how you rank me on www.ratemyprofessor.com. I couldn’t care less what you think of me: I have friends for that. When your response to my policies, assignments, teaching method, whatever, is “that’s so uncool”, I silently laugh inside at the idea that you think I might care. I’m 30. I teach at a University. I’m a dad. I listen to Jazz. I’ve played keyboards on songs for Radio Disney. I’m the opposite of cool. And guess what? I’m at peace with it. My job isn’t to make you like me. In fact, sometimes my job goes better when you don’t like me. Sometimes, there are students who get that, and they respect it, and we end up being friends after they graduate. I think that’s cool.

Please, be assured that none of this will affect how I teach you. I’m quite adept at swallowing my own bile and doing unpleasant tasks. I also realize that sometimes, my least favorite students end up maturing nicely, and actually become decent human beings. Here’s to hope.

Until then, please stop IM’ing me at 2:30 in the morning to ask when the next project is due. It’s due tomorrow. And no, you can’t turn it in late.

28 thoughts on “Why You’re Not My Favorite Student

  1. aly hawkins

    Take a stand, Mr. Lee! (But I thought you said you like this teaching gig??)

    It’s amazing to me that I went through the normal psychological phase of realizing that my parents are separate people from me, with their own thoughts, hopes, dreams, hang-ups, etc….and it was so much easier than doing the same with my teachers. It’s so hard to imagine that someone who only talks about one thing every time you see them might have a life.

    How awesome is it that there’s such a thing as ratemyprofessor.com? And how much do I want to smack the self-satisfied grin off the kid who called you a name-dropper? You haven’t been a name-dropper for like 6 years. Dumbass juvenile.

  2. Stick

    Well said. This is why I don’t teach. It would make me far crazier than being an underpaid record producer does.

    Rock on.

  3. Philo

    I take exception to the part where you say you’re the opposite of cool. This clearly could not be more false. The rest I loved.

  4. Chad

    This is one of the most delightfully mean things I’ve ever read that just happens to sound exactly like us when we were in college.

    Although… we did have fear and respect for… well… some of our professors.

  5. michael lee Post author

    Just to clarify, I love teaching. And I love 90% of the students that I get to work with.

    But every semester, there are one or two who are just unpleasant, for a variety of reasons, and one in particular this past semester. Just needed to vent a bit before the semesters starts up again, so that none of my Spring students would think I was talking about them.

  6. Bobby

    You say “your own unique artistic voice will always only consist of poorly played guitar riffs layered 50 times and washed out in reverb” like it’s a bad thing… you been listening to my demos again?

  7. corey

    the decemberists are featured in a full page ad for AKG mics in the newest issue of Guitar Player (Mayer on the cover). Doesn’t hocking microphones in full page color advertisements constitute indie-treason?

  8. Morphea

    I went and read your ratings, my dear. The comment that made me laugh the hardest: “Name-drops like a snitch.” In my experience there are two kinds of people in the world: those who DO name-drop because they CAN (meaning they actually know somebody) and those who DON’T name-drop because they CAN’T, resent those who do, and accuse them of name-dropping like it’s not something they’d do if they could.

    The other comment, “dresses like a rock star”, I’ll leave to the tender mercies of those who know you better to dissect.

    Altogether, though, you seem well admired by those who’ve taken the trouble to rate you. If I could be any more impressed by you professionally than I already was, I would be.


  9. harmonicminer

    I just discovered this post in the round robin historical thing you have going.

    May I just copy it verbatim?

    And everybody says that I’M the troll around here….

  10. michael lee Post author

    My goals is to get my “easy” rating down to a 1 out of 5. The rest is unimportant to me.

    I think it’s at like 2.5 right now. I have a strategic “learning outcomes” plan to change that over the course of the semester.

  11. aly hawkins

    Since studies have shown that the secondary “easy” factor is inversely proportional to the primary “hotness” factor, best practices suggest that the most reliable methods for obtaining a decreased peripheral rating (“easy”) include a tactical focus on strengthening the key valuation (“hotness”). By directing principal resources toward a more robust hotness, educators will generally garner the desired diminution of the derivate factor.

    [Sorry...this may only be funny to Michael.]

  12. aly hawkins

    No. I’m saying you’re not easy.

    BTW, I thought my comment might be funny only to Mike because we were IMing yesterday about having the gift of important-sounding bullsh*t…he’s writing a curriculum proposal for eggheads who will approve the proposal based on how important it sounds. But I just re-read it, and it’s funny even if you weren’t there.

  13. Pingback: 25 Top Professor Ratings at Addison Road

  14. phil

    Aly… you have no idea… or maybe you do. It sounded EXACTLY like faculty meetings I’ve attended. Last week. This week. And next week.

    I’ve written so many of those kinds of proposals that now I’m starting to understand Revelations…. which is really scary.

    Shoot… one of those proposals created the program Mike teaches in now.

    Proving that good things can come from original sin.

  15. aly hawkins

    Believe me, I know. While the corporate brand. is slightly different that the academia brand, I’ve written more than my fair share of apocalyptic B.S of biblical proportion. and sat in meetings in which I thought I might spontaneously combust from suppressed hysterical giggling. One of my favorite things to do (albeit only in smaller meetings, and when no VPs are in attendance) is to act as B.S. translator. It makes the presenter feel like a moron and me feel morally superior. Everyone wins.

  16. Chad

    3 from the archives strikes again!

    “If you want to be the thing, be the thing, don’t just wear the clothes.”


  17. michael lee Post author

    I remember this … and the student who inspired it. Wow.

    Today I’m grading final projects, and tabulating final grades for the semester. I think I’m not a very good teacher, or at least not a very compassionate person, because I’m sometimes disappointed when a bad student pulls out a D in the course at the last minute with an outstanding final project.

    There are some students that I really want to smack with the big fat “F”.

    Does that make me evil? I think that makes me evil.

  18. Chad

    You have to make the math, tell the students about the math, and then abide by the math. If the math says F. Give the F. If the math says D, give the D.

    If the math says F, and you desperately wish to never see the student again, give the D.

  19. JC

    [quote comment="82546"]Today I’m grading final projects, and tabulating final grades for the semester. I think I’m not a very good teacher, or at least not a very compassionate person, because I’m sometimes disappointed when a bad student pulls out a D in the course at the last minute with an outstanding final project.

    There are some students that I really want to smack with the big fat “F”.

    Does that make me evil? I think that makes me evil.[/quote]

    Michael: What a great post..too funny! And to answer your question, NO…it doesn’t make you evil, it makes you human. I was seriously thinking about the very same thing today, due largely to Chad’s Spiderman post. The thought I had was about the motivation in many of us to “be right/be correct”. In our quiet little community I find myself getting really riled up at people who basically run stop signs (usually with their cell phones firmly planted in their ear!). I desperately want to catch up to them, pull them over and read them the riot act.

    And then, after Chad’s post today, I thought about “why” I want to do that. Is it because I really care about the potential danger they cause by running a stop sign? Or is it because I come to full stops at stop signs and…what, they’re too busy/important to stop at stop signs? Even worse (or…even more human) if they’re in a BMW or Porsche or Escalade, I attribute a multitude of highly unflattering personal qualities on each and every one of them which makes me really want to just slap them silly.

    I realized today that I am really more interested in being correct than improving the safey of my community. It irks me that these people drive around with the traffic equivalent of diplomatic immunity. If I don’t sort them out…who is going to?

    I have a hunch, that if your “F” student does, in fact, get a “D” (I used to teach as well, and in the end, I was always a bit of a softy if there was a good effort), that he/she will still have learned the lesson. If not, I don’t think you are the sole owner of the responsibility for their laziness/arrogance etc.

    My “hostility” towards other drivers…is my issue…not theirs.

    The “stories” I create about who they are and their arrogance, is my concoction and makes it easier for me to see them as an object of my scorn. If I really cared about safety, I would find an opporunity to speak with them and politely say “You know, I noticed you ran that stop sign the other day. I have 2 small children that often ride their bikes around here and I would really appreciate it if you would just take a little extra care around this intersection. Thanks”

    I guess my long-winded point is…that the desire/motivation to “be right” is very seductive and it takes an incredible amount of self-control to fight it and to reallly try to understand what the appropriate reaction is. One of the great things about being a Christian is that when I get confused about that, I only have to remind myself about the greatest role model of all time!

    Thanks again for the post Michael…I really enjoyed it.[/quote]

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