Friday, October 05, 2007

Teaching Woes #1

Don't worry, I'm not second guessing my career choice... for now.

But Lord, the students! And other professors have the same experiences (which I'll cover in a post or three).

Professing Mama talks about laying the smackdown
Anyway, I was discussing the problems with their papers, which I FINALLY returned today, and they were tuning me out. I can handle a little multi-tasking in the classroom, but today was ridiculous. They were IMing each other, whispering, and doing God knows what else. Not cool.

So, as I began the Powerpoint, I laid the smackdown: "If you can't pay attention, then get up and leave RIGHT NOW."

Stunned faces look at me.
I had similar experiences over the last week in one of my classes. First, one student (in her defense I think her voice just sounds confrontational)* came in having a bad day. She was frowning and rubbing her head before class. After class started, she rolled her eyes as I lectured and snapped her cell phone closed--loudly--after sending a text message (something I usually kick students out for; I can't stand that). Rather than confront her right then, I decided to talk to her after class. This was her first time acting like that, and I had some sympathy for her headache or whatever.

And then, she turned her frustration on me. Near the end of class, while I was talking, she says--again, loudly--"Is that all we're going to do?"

To say I was shocked was an understatement. Oh, I've been challenged a couple of times before by know-it-all students. And there had been a constant buzz in my classrooms earlier in the semester about the fact that I seemed "so young." One of my students asked me if I was really the "teacher's helper." But, I'd nipped that in the bud.

So, when, Ms. I-Have-An-Attitude came at me like that, I initially said, "What?"

And she repeated her question defiantly. To be honest, my first response was a snap back: "No, that's not all we're going to do," I told her, "Apparently, we're going to send text messages and act bored as well."

At which point, she sat back and looked embarrassed. And of course, I felt guilty and launched into a spiel about how the syllabus outlines what we'll do in this class, what is expected academically and in terms of classroom conduct, and that the reason we examine source documents is not to bore or overburden them, etc.

But that's still on my mind. Despite the fact that she's come to my office twice since then to talk about her exam and to clarify something from the lecture (she'd never been before). I don't want her feeling like I dislike her/she has to kiss up to me to pass.

Then yesterday, in that same class, three students came in (not all together) rather late. That's not a problem I've had with this class-in one of my other classes, I did tell them if it was more than five minutes after class began, by my time, don't come in. Once I actually stopped a couple of students on their way in and said "See, you next time," I haven't had that problem anymore :-). But anyway, I requested these students see me after class. I asked why they were late. Two of them were like, "I overslept" and "Honestly, I don't have a reason." And I gave a don't-do-it-again-it's-rude-and-disruptive speech and they agreed.

But Mr. Student #3 had much attitude, "You must have me mixed up," he said, "I'm never late." "Well, you are today. And I would appreciate it if you aren't again." Oh, he kept mumbling all the way out of the classroom.

The thing is, I don't know if I'm magically expecting them--mostly fresh out of high school--to have transformed in a few months. I mean, I taught high school and your classroom management has to be superb. But, I put guidelines in the syllabus and discussed behavior the first few days of class. Is it really hard not to whisper loudly in a college classroom? Or to put your phone on silent (rather than on vibrate so that you can a) respond to text messages or b) tiptoe out of the classroom if a call comes that you want to take?). Or to read the textbook or preview the slides/handouts made available to you so you don't spend an hour and 20 minutes looking lost, bored, or asking "How do you spell that?" or "Will you say that name again? Or to participate in class discussions? I'm not a "No you're WRONG!!!!" cut 'em down sort of teacher.

I've had to deal with all that at some point as a TA, an instructor, and a professor.

Why are some of our kids so discourteous? So damn uninterested?

And am I expecting too much?
Ouch! Upon re-reading I realized how unfair that sounded, especially without acknowledging that, my "hearing" is probably influenced by past experience and knowledge of the experiences of other women in the academy.


KC said...

I wonder if it's because education, including college, is now considered by a lot of these students to be a chore or a minor part of "the college experience" rather than a privilege?

I think education is taken for granted a lot nowadays, since it's mandatory through high school and a lot of people go to college now. And because public school curriculum requires public school to be mostly boring, unless you have a really good teacher, I think a lot of kids are trained that school is a waste of time, too.

I don't know what you could do to get students to pay attention in class and be respectful, though. I think your response to the one girl might have been a little harsh but it was completely correct, in my opinion. It seems to have been a wake-up call to her, that her behavior was unacceptable and that you expect a lot better from your students. If I acted like that in class, I'd expect the professor to call me on it.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

No you're not expecting too much. If they don't know then they need to learn. And for the record, I love the response you gave about 'text messages and looking bored.' LOVE it! I don't think it was harsh at all. It was on point. I swear these students will try the patience of a saint... You can tell what kind of semester I'm having...


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Given the way high schools work these days, perhaps it is expecting too much to expect that they come to school as fully-formed college students.

It isn't too much to ask that they respect your wishes for classroom behavior, especially given that you explained this to them early in the semester. The thing is, they do have a way of not recalling or not thinking the rude behaviors you describe are applicable to themselves... and thus they do need to be reminded.

Maybe you should write a pop syllabus quiz about behavior and make it open notes, so that those with the syllabus handy (as it should be) will have the answers, while those that aren't will be notified....

The History Enthusiast said...

I've had trouble with this every semester that I've taught, but this semester I've had a lot of students coming in late (even more than usual). I think its because the class is at 9am, which is only sort-of early, but not really that early. Anyway, I know how you feel!

Anonymous said...

no, it is not expecting too much. education *is* a privilege.

k8 said...

Definitely not expecting too much! They need to learn how to act like adults. If they tried this stuff at their future jobs, they would be in serious trouble. Insubordination-type of trouble.

I'm pretty easy going in class, but I don't tolerate that sort of behavior. I've even made it a habit to tell my students on the first day of class that as long as they abide by class rules and expectations, I'm easy going, but if they don't, I can play the militaristic drill instructor. I also make the point that it isn't just about respect for me, it is also about respect for each other.

elle said...

the best thing about posting about motherhood and academia, is that i always find out i'm not alone!

sometimes it really does feel like you're foundering out there by yourself :-p

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