Wednesday, April 04, 2012

As promised yesterday: I'm surprised (and pleased) to report, turns out all's well that ends well.

Students rarely come to office hours. Yesterday, right at the end of office hours, I was one second from getting out my debit card and heading over to campus center to grab some lunch, a student in the challenging class came to see me about how poorly her group is performing in class. I've detailed my trials with the class here, here and here.

First thing that bothered me, she shut the door without asking. I don't like the idea of being alone in my office with a student with the door closed. This is probably sexist of me, and it is also (pathetically) being overly influenced by media's constant attention to school, college and workplace shootings, but it would be worse if it was a male. I suppose with a female I am not as concerned that she will do something violent, but there is always the chance she could claim I said something I didn't say. However, I have had students come to my office and share with me that they were pregnant, or had recently had an abortion, or just found out they have cancer, or were having marital troubles, or had a dying family member, or had a spouse who was serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. So I didn't want to immediately call her on it or get up and open the door.

What she shared was nothing like any of the heart-wrenching and tearfully delivered stories I describe above. One issue with some students in this class is that they continuously smart phone. Imagine my shock when, while I am responding to her concerns, she whips out her phone and starts texting! And when I told her to stop it she became huffy and acted like I had a problem.

I stood up, opened the door, and told her to leave. She freaked out, said I was being unreasonable, also "I've never disrespected you." When I said she was being disrespectful by texting during our meeting, she apologized (with an attitude that said she was not sorry at all) and told me several points of criticism, including that I am uptight. (May not have been her exact words but that was what she meant.) At least she didn't call me weird! Something else she said was that throwing her out of my office was uncalled for because she is getting a lot out of class, and expects to get an A. (While very brazen, it may not be an unrealistic goal, because her grades are OK. But 60 percent of the assessment is still to come, including the two most important pieces of work.)

I finally let her stay in my office (door open) but (as you can probably imagine) I wound up lecturing her that coming to my office to ask for help and then texting while I was answering her questions was disrespectful and not socially acceptable, especially since one of the problems with her group is that they constantly text in class! I told her that it's a tough economy. If she acts that way in the professional world, she will be fired. (Truth is, I know lots of folks in the real world who are rude cell phone addicts, so my prediction may not be accurate. Still, it is good advice for a young person just entering the market. Being less of a jerk is advisable.)

The assistant to our chair was hovering around after the student left, and she asked me if I was OK. She was really alarmed when she saw the door closed, and once opened, when she heard the student's tone. I was relieved she was on alert. It is an isolated floor and there wasn't anyone else around, aside from a strange guy who was knocking on every door in the hallway, and said he was on the wrong floor when asked if he needed help (but he continued to briefly knock on every office door). We thought it very odd, but maybe we were overly sensitive because of the disgruntled student shooting up that college in California the day before yesterday.

It was too late to eat lunch as a result, I had to get to class. And I couldn't get something quick between my classes because I had a meeting. Then, in the afternoon class, technology betrayed me, students couldn't figure it out either, we had to get tech support, and the class was over with little accomplished. What a lousy day!

In the evening class, there was perfect attendance, and no one bailed at break. Everyone in her group was there and diligently working, although they had no questions for me. The other three groups had many questions and have made significant progress on the big project - that includes the one that initially had problems. I am expecting one of the stronger performances from that group. In classrooms, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It is the educator's laboratory.

Reflecting on the incident last night, I decided that for this group, my efforts only made things worse. I decided to cut my losses and started the countdown to May 10. I resolved that I would let things alone and hope for the best. I wasn't happy about it, but one of the beauties of college teaching is that there is always the promise of a new semester up ahead (and a nice, long summer to recharge).

Here's the all's well that ends well part. She sent me an email apology late last night. I suspect she talked to her parents and they ripped her a new one. It was thoughtful and reflective and seemed sincere. Time will tell, but what a relief! In a way, it is pleasant to think that maybe I did get through to her and she will overcome the addiction, learn to set boundaries and take responsibility, and become a better, more polite student. I may have had a lasting impact on her. Sometimes the challenges of teaching turn into a positive. It can be very rewarding. I'd almost forgotten that this spring. Glad to have this reminder. Not wishing my life away!

An aside, but not really: whatever happens this semester, I think the smart phones battle is lost, unfortunately.

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