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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The professor's wrath

I haven't talked about this much, if at all, as I've had other issues that seemed more pressing, but tonight, a struggle that I've been engaged in with a student finally lit my fury fuse, and I have instituted draconian measures that I've never used before.

The student has only been to class three times all semester--and all three of those times, he's been late. He has not turned in a single assignment. I told him that he needed to withdraw from the class, and then the wrestling match began. Repeatedly, I explained to him that he has done zero work and that he cannot pass; repeatedly he replies that he wants to stay in the class--but each time he does, what he includes as part of his "plea" becomes more outrageous. Today, he said that he was only missing two assignments (he's missing 11, including his first essay), that he'd e-mailed assignments to me, so he'd e-mail them to the Bursar to prove he'd sent them to me (I don't know what the bursar has to do with anything, but even if he did try to e-mail assignments to me, my syllabus very clearly states that I do not accept e-mailed work), and that anyway, he couldn't do some of the assignments because he didn't have the reader--which was sitting in a box outside my office door for three weeks, then a copy specifically for him was on my office door for another week, without him ever picking it up.

Now he's saying he'll study English three hours a day, he'll turn in all the work (what work, since according to him, he already submitted all but two assignments?) because he doesn't "want" to withdraw; he "wants" to pass the class.

To quote the movie Sweet Dreams, people in hell want ice water, but that don't mean they get it.

His last e-mails just sent me ballistic. I pointed out that not having the reader didn't mean that he didn't have to do the work. I detailed every assignment he'd missed and when it was due. I detailed his attendance record. And then I brought in the big guns:

"What you want is not the issue here. I am telling you what the reality is. You have two choices: you can withdraw, or you will fail.

"If you continue to press the matter, I will bar you from the class: if you show up, I will require you to leave. If you refuse to leave, I will call Public Safety to escort you from the classroom.

"If you wish, you may take a complaint to ... the chair of my department, but I will no longer debate this with you, via e-mail or in any other way."
I cc'd Cathy and Bruce on that response--and I have to say, I have never gotten to the point where I barred a student from the class, but in this case, I will. I will not talk with him; I hope I never see him again.

In a painful coincidence, I have another student in the same class who is in almost as bad a predicament--though at least he has submitted some work. He wants to get a good grade in the class, but I really don't think he can, no matter what he does, not only because he's already missed so much, but because the work he has submitted is of very poor quality. I will work with him, however. He at least has a reason for falling down on part of the work (his family in Pakistan had an emergency and the whole American branch had to fly over to help)--unlike the other student who simply says that it's important for personal reasons that he pass the class (with no explanation for why, in that case, he has been so cavalier about the work and his attendance). The student from Pakistan is at least trying (albeit not as hard as he should be, given how important he says his success in the class is), so I'll meet with him and see what we can work out, if anything. This is his last semester, and he's running out of financial aid--but if he can't do the work, I can't give him a good grade, possibly can't even give him a passing grade.

It's strange: it seems as if, this semester, I have far more students than I've ever encountered who think that they can submit work whenever the hell they want--days late, weeks late, all in one clump more than a month into the semester--and who are shocked when I either apply a whopping late penalty or simply refuse to accept the work. Paul says he likes to teach 102 because the students have some sense of what's required of them, but I swear, I'm having more problems with the 102s than I've had the last few semester with 101s.

A slight shift of gears, but on the thread of maddening students who don't seem to realize that they have to do the work, the Truculent Plagiarist showed up to class today and grabbed the wastebasket; he told me he might throw up. For god's sake, go home then! "But I can't miss more class." We'll worry about that later; if you're that sick take care of yourself and everyone in this room and go home! The cynic in me says, "Nice ploy to get out of having to hand you the homework that he conveniently left in his mother's car on Thursday..." I know he's BS-ing me right and left--but I'm just going to let him hang himself. I do wish he'd fucking leave, and I can't explain why I don't simply toss him. However, on Thursday, if he doesn't have all his missing homework with him, I'm going to drop the boom.

I find it ... ironic? interesting? that this semester, when I'm feeling sort of fragile about the job anyway, I'm encountering all these problems. I'm starting to feel bitter about it, which I don't want to fall into, but I do feel like the students are taking advantage of my willingness to be kind and compassionate and helpful.

Oh, and I didn't mention, but the student who can't seem to understand instructions showed up for his conference yesterday--and almost the entire session was spent on his long, complicated explanation of all his health problems. When I finally got him focused on his essay, he said he had uploaded it to Turnitin, and it took me three tries (each time, having to hear the whole story of how he did the upload) to get him to understand that just because he tried to upload it doesn't mean it's there, and that it was his responsibility to check for the confirmation e-mail that the upload was successful. In actually talking about revision, he started out by saying he didn't understand any of my comments because he'd already done whatever it was I said he needed to do. When I pressed him to understand that whatever he'd done wasn't accomplishing what he needs to do, he'd veer off into the litany about his terrible health. He said again that I'm a "nice lady," and I said, "Maybe, but I'm a very strict professor." Did not compute.

Apparently, he went straight from me to the Writing Center and worked with one of the tutors I particularly like and whose abilities as a tutor I admire. She sent me an e-mail saying that she'd had the same experience: the litany about the health issues, the "but I did that" deflection of any critique or attempt to help. She took the next step, which was to point out that he seemed resistant to her feedback--at which point he first became angry then resorted to his usual "this will get me out of trouble" litany of health issues.

He is older, and I do believe that he legitimately has the health problems he complains of. But that does not mean he doesn't have to do the work, or understand instructions, or follow through on what he's told is required.

Reframe. Reframe. Reframe.

In a number of the conferences so far, it's been a delight to watch the students have "A-hah!" moments, or at least to see the dawning of comprehension on their faces, as they start to see how they can make their work better. Today I had one particularly lovely encounter: the student came to her conference and actually was prepared with specific questions for me which she'd written down. She started taking notes the minute we started talking, and she asked intelligent follow-up questions, ensuring that she understood what she needed to do. It was simply delightful to work with a student who is acting like a real student: doing her part of the equation, soaking in what's being offered by the professor, wanting to improve.

In fact, the majority of the students I met with clearly want to do better. Some have the fatalistic "I'm not good at English" attitude--at least at first--but as we talk they start to see that there actually is a process that will help. Most of them need some Socratic method, so they have to think for themselves what they actually need to do to revise--but they're starting to get it. And a few have a clear sense of what their habitual problems are, so they're excited when I help them see there's a way to deal with those problems.

God. It's all hard as hell, but, well, this is the job I signed up for, and as long as I'm in the trenches, I'll keep fighting the good fight, albeit with a fair amount of venting, whining, bitching--and the occasional reminder to myself that there are things I am truly grateful for in this unceasing battle.

I'm tired, and I have a shitload of stuff to get done tomorrow, so I'd better head on home. Since I will be working all day tomorrow, I probably will post to the blog tomorrow evening at some point. If not, definitely on Thursday.

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