Terminal Degree

life at a rural university in the South, accompanied by the sweet sounds of the kazoo

Secret thank you to a stranger

This evening after work, I took Little Man (4) to the dollar store. He was enthralled by the hundreds of helium Valentines decorating the store and wanted to race through the store with all of them (who wouldn’t?). As he excitedly bounced around the aisle, clutching dozens of balloon strings in his fists, I calmly explained that if he got all the strings knotted up and wrecked the balloons, we’d be paying for them out of his birthday money. He immediately released all but one balloon and politely walked to the cash register with his Mylar treasure.

As we were getting in the car, an older couple walked up to us. The man said, “You’re a good mom. The way you helped your boy understand his actions was really neat. Keep up the good work.” Then the couple walked away.

So, to that gentleman, whoever you are: thank you for taking a moment to encourage a tired mom. I needed that. Parenting is hard work, especially with a spirited and impulsive little fella who needs to understand the “why” of every situation. You made my day.

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testing, testing

1, 2, 3…


A response to end-of-semester grade grubbing

Dr. Degree, I know my grade is a 69.3 but is there any possible way that this could be a C. I went to every single class but 2 and once was due to athletics and the other an illness. Thank you, Stu Dent

Dear Stu: I’m so sorry that you earned a D and want a C. Obviously your failure to submit 20% of the weekly work and 50% of the major writing assignments had no bearing on your final grade whatsoever. Nor did your incessant chatter effect your ability to score higher than a D on every unit exam. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

Rather, I suppose that you were simply distracted by having to suffer through a boring class like Musical Basketweaving with a professor who, as you tweeted so eloquently, “looks silly.” I’m saddened to hear that my very existence caused you such suffering.

While it is true that you attended every class, it is also true that your absence would have been preferable, since you spent a great deal of the semester distracting your classmates with your chatter, giggles, and instagrams. Therefore, your attendance could only be a negative factor in determining your grade. With all due respect,
Dr. Degree

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Grading hell

Reader, share my pain:

Have you ever heard of a group called the Beetles? All I knew was that they had 4 male members.


Santa is important in today’s society, and other horrid bits of student writing

I’m reading students’ research paper topic proposals. The assignment was to submit a thesis sentence, along with a one-paragraph description of the topic/paper, accompanied by an annotated bibliography. I provided a sample proposal and student paper, along with resources about formatting, Chicago style, citing Grove, and more.

Some of them are very strong. Some, unfortunately, haven’t quite gotten the grasp of the assignment; the proposals are vague, with a series of loosely-strung-together, sorta-on-the-same-topic, sentences. The topics are about music, but almost as bad as the following:

Santa Claus lived long ago and is still important in today’s society. His image has changed over time. There are reindeer at the North Pole. Elves are small creatures who help make toys. Without Santa there would be no Christmas.

I’m not critical, or making fun, of my students, unless they just didn’t bother to do any research at all. Rather, I’m perplexed and wondering how to help them better.

Also, it’s driving me crazy that some of them feel the need to write, um, creatively: “Imagine that you are a small child awaiting Christmas morning, presents, and opening your stocking. Christmas as we know it would not have happened without Santa.” I don’t need that kind of filler. I want facts. This is a research paper, not a middle school creative writing assignment.

Is it time to have them start with a more basic template? For example:
“My topic is_____. My thesis sentence is______. I plan to discuss the following:______.

Feedback, anyone?


Oh, those freshmen…

I always do a survey at the beginning of the semester and ask students to tell me a little about themselves.

When I ask about favorite books, the results are always quite interesting. (Sometimes I wonder if students are just trying to impress me.) Finally, I had a student who answered: “Playboy.”

Not a book, but points for honesty.

I s’pose.

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New students. New chuckles.

Dear Students:
If you are asked your year in school, the answer is NOT “2013-2014.”

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The worst part of the job

Grading is the worst part of my job. It’s not that it’s time consuming (it is), or that it involves paperwork (it does). Rather, it’s because I really like my students, and I hate it when they earn grades that are going to disappoint them (and me). Then I start looking at their grades and thinking, “is there ANY way to round up?” But a row of zeros for incomplete assignments tells me (and them, I’m sure) otherwise.

The flip side is rejoicing when a student does well. For some students, “doing well” might be earning 104% in a class. For others who struggle with the material, “doing well” might mean that they worked like crazy and earned a C. (I have a great deal of respect for both types of student.)

The process might be easier in a huge lecture class of 100+ students. But we have small classes. I know my students’ names. I’ve taught them in several classes. I cheer when they perform well at recitals. I know them as people, not as numbers. That’s what makes this process so tough.

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Performing with Little Man

I played the kazoo at a church brunch today. Since I had Little Man solo, I brought along a lot of stickers for him and asked a friend to help watch him while I played. The stickers lasted for the first piece. By the second, he was yelling, “Mommy, Mommy!” while I played. For the third piece, he sat quietly next to me…until I started playing, when he decided he should dance around all over the stage.

So, not exactly my best performance, but I doubt anyone remembers. :)


Wisdom from Little Man

I generally don’t give to panhandlers, preferring to give donations to charitable organizations. My response to requests for money has been, ever since my college days, to look the person in the eye, say “sorry,” and move on. I’ve found that there’s usually a polite response of something like, “OK, you have a nice day.” And that’s that.

But now I have a two year old.

Today when we left Walgreens, a man was asking for money outside. I see him there often; it’s one of his regular spots, along with the grocery store, and it shares a lot of traffic with the fast food joint next door. Today he asked if I could spare a “li’l bit.” That got Little Man’s attention, because sometimes his daddy calls him that. And then Little Man realized that the man was missing most of his teeth. He stared in fascination.

The man continued: “I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday, and I’m so hungry. Would you buy me a hamburger?”

I did my customary “sorry” and loaded the car. Little Man and I got in. Little Man was oddly quiet. Then I heard a little voice say, “Mama. That man. Hungry?”

So I got back out of the car and handed the man some cash. And felt humbled by the simple wisdom of a two year old.

As we left, I saw the man going from car to car asking the same question. Was he hungry, or is he a professional panhandler? I can’t know, although I suspect the latter. But that’s not the point. My kid showed concern for a hungry man. Surely I can respond to that, and leave the the details to God.

I just hope that I have the wisdom to keep up with Little Man and the strength to help him develop his growing sense of empathy. I want him to grow to be a good person, whatever that means in his future. On days like today, my sense of responsibility is staggering.

And yet I wouldn’t trade this gig for anything. Because sometimes it takes a two year old to remind me of what’s important.



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