“I think it demonstrates a real lack of respect for students…How can students trust that someone is going to have their best interests in mind and be trying to help them in that course if they are making fun of them behind their back?”
— Hans Rollman, graduate student at York University
While perhaps not wildly popular in a mainstream sense, I have been coming across an alarming number of online resources in which professors and graduate students openly (and anonymously) mock students. In what I can only describe as immature and petty, these sites denigrate poorly written sentences, typos, and spelling errors from the papers of students. From Shit My Students Write to twitter accounts like Grumpy Historian and Prof Snarky, these anonymous postings are on par with the vicious gossip forums, like Juicy Campus.
I am sure everyone who has ever graded a paper has found sentences (or complete papers) that create the urge to pull one’s hair out and most graders have muttered under their breath or even complained to colleagues. These private utterances, while regrettable, resemble thoughts that are never said out loud because they are hurtful or just merely a product of frustration. However, once these thoughts are “said” on the Internet, they cannot be taken back and may end up hurting someone.
Have academics become so jaded that making fun of the people who we are supposed to be teaching is the only option? Or are we just that insecure about our own intelligence? Regardless of why people find the need to make fun of students, this disrespect for students and mockery of the learning process only hurts the relationship between instructors and students as well as perpetuates the stereotype of professors as pretentious intellectuals.
Furthermore, these sites that the claim to give anonymity to submitters are not, in fact, all that protective. Belittling the written work of a student does not protect the student or the grader because, barring plagiarism, the author could identify the quoted excerpt and connect it to a particular class assignment. Beyond the obvious feelings of shock or hurt a student seeing his or her work being openly mocked may feel, a grader who posts comments online can face real world consequences from the lack of true anonymity. For example, a teaching assistant at York University in Canada experienced the dangers of making fun of students online after her Facebook comments complaining about the writing of students went public.
Instructors should be setting a good example, but instead it seems they have taken the worst parts of anonymous student reviews and expanded upon them. While grading, especially when grading papers that receive copious amounts of red ink, it is important to remember being in the place of the student. I know I have turned in papers containing sentences that could have ended up on Shit My Students Write.That is why proofreading (done by the author as well as an editor in some cases) is a valuable tool. However, instead of getting frustrated or laughing at mistakes, we as instructors must teach the skills that improve writing, like proofreading.