Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Would you talk to your boss that way?

"I deserve an A" was something I heard a lot this semester.  And every semester but this one, in particular, was pretty awful.

Entitlement.  It's a problem I deal with on a daily basis and it's everywhere.  It's not just something common in undergrads.  It's common with people of all ages and Americans, I have found in my travels, are pretty bad offenders.  We have EVERYTHING it would seem and we have a desire to have even more stuff on the spot.  And, for the most part, we can get most things either at the drop of a hat or at the click of a mouse.

I think that's part of the entitlement problem among undergraduates.  As we all know, higher education is more available to students from upper-middle-class  and wealthy families than anyone else.  It's natural that these kids have had more and feel entitled to more.  I hate to say it but I was once one of these kids.  While my parents made me have a job, didn't buy me a car and forced me to ride my bike places, and demanded that I make good grades, I still had relatively well-off parents who were able to pay for the 100 grand that my education must have cost me.  They paid a large part of my costs while I was abroad.  And, to their credit, I graduated with very little debt.  I was lucky.  And before living abroad, I was probably a bit of an entitled snot.  However, despite this, I never backtalked to a TA the way that these undergrads often talk to myself and others.

Just last week, I found a student treating me like I was completely at his beck and call.  He had a paper due on Friday.  He'd known about the due date for WEEKS.  I'd sent 3 emails reminding my classes about this due date - in my box by Friday on class time with .do and .log files attached.  He'd even come to my office hours to clarify a couple of things and said, "I think you'll like the improvements I made when you read it tomorrow."  Yep. Well, he emails me a 10 PM to let me know he can't hand it in because he is going on a leadership retreat and won't be on campus after 7 AM.  I shoot him an email back because it's urgent and say, "Look, I wish you would have told me sooner.  The mailroom doesn't open until 8 and you need to have me a copy."  He then sends me an email saying, "Can you meet me at 6:30 AM?"

Now, this is not a student that has ever been disrespectful.  He's a good kid.  He tries at least.  And I don't think it was intentionally disrespectful but it was just that - disrespectful of my time.  He didn't plan well and suddenly it was MY job to go out of my way?  I don't think so.

On the first draft of this paper, another student sent me a terrible message via email at 10 PM stating that my lack of replying to his email an hour earlier was "unfair" and that he was "disappointed in me".  Excuse me?  I deserve admonishment because you waited until the night before the paper to start it and expected me to respond at 9 PM.  Unbelievable!

In these instances, I often ask and have said in class, "Would you talk to your boss like this?"  I'm in charge of their grade. I'm the leader here, ostensibly. And to talk to me in such a patronizing manner is NOT okay.  I made this clear to dead-eyed stares.

Why do they not "get" it?

Well, I have a couple of theories.  The first is of entitlement which is related to the second theory.  The way they have always gotten a trophy is translating to a situation where they don't "get it".  They were told they could get the job they want right out of school.  They were given whatever they wanted as children.  I was part of this generation in some ways, too.  I'm about 3-5 years older than them - not that much older.  But that A is "deserved". It's not earned.  They are owed it.

The second is that, much like my younger sister, many of them didn't have the opportunities to get part time jobs.  They didn't have an economy that was allowing them to get hired.  And so, many of them didn't get the wonderful experience of working a crappy job for a likely awful boss.  They don't "get" hourly terrible work. A lot of them are journalism students or intern at the statehouse and these jobs are what some would consider "dream jobs" for an undergrad.  The journalism school and our department are GREAT at placing students and getting them real-world experience - much better than my undergrad.  This is super important and admirable.

However, they get jobs that are "fun" this way.  And a lot of them work about 10 hours a week in a situation they elect to be in. I have no doubt that they do not backtalk to supervisors but, in general, their jobs are "fun".  I think they just have trouble "getting it".

I fear for those going on the job market this way.  Have we prepared them for the "real world"?  I don't think so.  Work is a four-letter word.  Sometimes it sucks.  Sometimes you want to scream at your boss or get all passive-aggressive but you can't because you need to pay the bills.  And, sometimes your boss is riding you because they are right and they know you have the goods to deliver but you need a "push".  I am not sure we are teaching them that.

Not all students act like this.  Some are amazing, motivated, inspiring, and the nicest kids to work with.  It's the few that make me want to beat my head against a wall on a regular basis that I am talking about.  Most of my kids are awesome.


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