2013 Wisconsin Professor Mindset List

On August 20, Beloit College will do what it’s been doing since 1998 and release the Mindset List for incoming college freshman. These lists are fun, especially if you don’t look every single year. So, for example, last year’s #20 “Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends,” amused me. I think about bras straps now and then. Other deep things I think about include trying to figure out when we’ll all decide shirts need to be shorter than the jackets they are worn under, or at least tucked in. I hope someone tells me when this happens. It took me a while to notice it was o.k. to have a shirt hanging out below a jacket.

This list is written in the spirit of “young folks live in a different world,” and to the extent that professors are old folks who are out of it, and a little more out of it each year, I think the list is helpful.

But honestly, if you’re the sort of professor who hasn’t noticed that students get their music in digital format now, a glance at this list won’t help much. And going overboard with the impression that “they often listen to it on their laptops or replace it with music downloaded onto their MP3s and iPods” (last year’s #15) might make  us miss out on an awesome opportunity to talk about the deep pleasure of listening to music on vinyl, a pretty big trend among youngsters at the moment (maybe that will be on this year’s list).

Dana Falconberry, who looks almost old enough to drink legally, had an awesome show at the Sh*tty Barn last night. She sells her song in CD, MP3 and LP format.

It turns out that spending time with young people is a really good way to learn about their mindset.

I was terribly impressed with Dana Falconberry, for example. Not only was the music awesome, her gratitude was really shiny and sweet to see. She said repeatedly how honored she was to play music in a venue where people were listening. Sitting in their chairs and listening. And totally engaged. She thanked Chris and Martha, the owners of the Sh*tty Barn, repeatedly, and followed up one of her compliments with “especially considering the state of the music industry right now.”

So, yes, I have to have it in my heart to reach out to students this fall who truly, truly, love Justin Bieber. But they don’t all love Justin Bieber (mentioned in last year’s #1).

I will check out the list when it comes out next week, remembering that it is written by guys who are older than me, who seem to be nostalgic about a world that was already gone when I started college in 1983.

Meanwhile, although I am utterly unqualified to write a list about anyone’s mindset but my own, I thought it might be fun to try to list some things that are true of me and at least one other professor (how’s that for a high standard in statistics and the logic of generalization?) I’m not the first professor to have done this–professors doing their own mindset lists may become as much of an August tradition as people passing around the Beloit list, which contains 75 items.

I don’t have the attention span or time for that many. I’m sure the fact that Sesame Street came on the air when I was four (and I thought for a while it was JUST FOR ME and was upset when I found out other kids had it in their houses, too) has something to do with my relatively recently diagnosed ADHD, the existence of which I’m sure was bemoaned in an earlier list.

1. If you’re a traditional age student, I have been teaching since before you were born.

2. If you’re a non-traditional student, first of all, you are my favorite kind of student. Seriously. Second, I am assuming you’ve been doing a lot of interesting things other than getting a college degree, and I’m looking forward to hearing about them.

3. Even though I did less of what I call “work-work” this summer than I usually do, I didn’t “have the summer off.” I did some work I got paid for (evaluating student writing samples for composition class placement) and some writing and research and class prep (which I consider “pro bono,” since I didn’t get paid for those).

4. You should know I am open to questions and complaints. This will become clear as the semester proceeds. (Or you’ll find out that I like to see myself as open but am really a bitch–I don’t think that’s true, but it’s within the realm of what’s possible. I ask for student feedback A LOT, in a variety of ways, including anonymous surveys, so I feel certain someone would have told me by now if I were pretending to be open but not really open.)

5. Even though I’m open to questions and complaints, I don’t get all happy hearing the “I paid for this class so I should be able to do what I want” argument, also known as the “student as consumer” model.

Let me assure all students and parents contributing to my students’ education (tuition now covers almost half of what it costs to run my institution–it used to be a third), and the good taxpayers of Wisconsin (state support for higher education is dwindling, but it’s still there), and taxpayers all over the country (federal financial aid, etc.) that I am determined to give good bang for the buck in and out of my classroom.

I am a well-published, award-winning, full professor in my 26th year of teaching at the college level. Moreover, I am working to improve. All the time. Every year. Every semester, actually.

But students aren’t really consumers. Even if a student of mine is paying 100% of her or his own tuition (which is rare), that isn’t half of what it costs to educate that one student. (And in a classroom of 24, it’s 1/2 of 1/24th.)

So if we stick with the consumer model, then the consumers are the ones who pay the most, and in that case, the student is a product.

Fortunately for all of us, I don’t like the consumer model much at all.

I’m getting paid a good salary to do an important job, and I’m on it. I got this.

6. However, you should also know that I don’t respond well to the “You should be available to me 24 hours a day since you make $80,000 a year” argument. Like a lot of professors my age (I’m 48), I am in the sandwich generation.  I have a son who’s eight and a half, and parents whose doctor appointments I track on Google calendar–not because I have to take them to the doctor every time, but because that’s just what they do a lot of during the week, and I’m close to my parents. I’m also married to a pretty terrific guy.

Thus, because of all my important and socially acceptable obligations, I simply cannot be available 24/7.  But honestly?  I’m not even trying.

I spend a fair bit of time on things that are only important in the sense that it’s important to enjoy life.

I just don’t think my (relatively) good salary means I should be available to students 24/7.  This applies to my colleagues as well, btw.

I don’t know how much you’d have to pay me to be that available, but it’s way more than I will ever make as a professor.

But I’m VERY available. Students praise me for it year after year in the end of term ANONYMOUS surveys the UW Colleges distribute. I’m in my office a lot and on email a lot and even available for online chats.

Also, I don’t make $80,000 a year, which leads us to the next point:

7. It’s kind of an icky time to work in the public sector in Wisconsin. It’s probably better if we don’t talk about it much.

8. I am a lifelong underachiever. My talents and my potential have almost never led to the kind of success other people anticipate for me. So I totally get skipping class, procrastinating, doing sub-par work, and generally all manner of slacking. Keep in mind, since I was born in 1965, I’m not a Baby Boomer. I’m Generation X, known across the universe for slacking.

Here’s what I don’t get:  the student who doesn’t do the work and somehow expects a grade other than what is indicated by the work that was done.

I get it if you don’t want to bring your A Game to my class. I won’t take it personally. Or I’ll try not to. But if you don’t bring your A Game, don’t be all fussy at me when your grade isn’t an A.

(And you probably ought to bring your B Game to class if you want a C, because it turns out college is often more challenging than high school. Not always. But often.)

9. If I can figure out where to get a bunch of them for free, I’m going to have a big bowl of condoms and dental dams in my office. Come by and grab a handful. (I’d buy them for y’all, but can’t really afford that, cf. #7.)  I heard on the radio last spring the rate of AIDS infection is going down except for traditional-age college students. Geez, people. Watch Philadelphia, would you? Seriously. Most of you aren’t going to get jobs with good benefits, so you won’t be able to afford all the awesome AIDS drugs we have now. And hello–what you do or do not do now can give you or keep you from getting things like cervical, anal, or mouth or throat cancer. So really, could you just try to not get any STDs? And wait just A LITTLE LONGER to get pregnant? Sheesh.

10. When I first started teaching, my group of graduate assistants was  told that part of our job was to help “thin the herd,” that SIU had admitted more freshmen than it could accommodate in sophomore classes. I can’t remember the exact percentage, but we were supposed to make sure there were at least a few Fs on our final grades, and if there weren’t, we were in danger of not being re-hired.

A snootier way to talk about this would be to say that first-year courses and instructors are “gatekeepers,” and in charge of getting rid of students who aren’t really “college material.”

It’s ridiculously easy to teach in such a way that a certain number of students are guaranteed to fail.

It’s much, much harder to try and teach in such a way that students are sufficiently supported on their way to  meeting appropriately high standards.

But that’s what I’m trying to do. If you’re in my classroom, I want you to succeed.


So there you go. My 2013 Mindset List. What was on my mind when I started college? Eye shadow, apparently:

I don't know yet as much as I thought I knew then.

I don’t know yet as much as I thought I knew then.

2 responses to “2013 Wisconsin Professor Mindset List

  1. Love this one! May I please borrow your quote and post it on Facebook? I promise to attribute it to you. I say all the time I wish I had known at 17 what I know now at 51.

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