Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not that nice

I had a sense that posting a non-complaining post would result in a turn of events. Usually, when I see a hawk, I take that as a good sign, that today will be a great day, maybe even something great will happen. Yesterday though, the hawk I saw was being tailed by 5 ravens. Ravens trump hawks in the high altitude desert. They gang up, harass the hawk away from his meat.
Somewhat like students.
The day started off bad with a student complaining of meanness in workshop. The day is already unsalvagable. I bounce between being mad at the student for complaining and not developing a thick, workshop resistant skin to being frustrated at the student(s) in the class who are making me have to deal with this. I didn't see anything disrespectful go down but if I don't nip it in the bud, I'll get low evals on "created a respectful learning environment." And yet, if I do say something to the students (one of whom, I guess, rolled his eyes at something someone else said), this student will dig in harder, thinking the class is full of over-sensitives. If I don't say something, I run the risk of being cited for not looking out for all students. When you raise students behavior as an issue in class, the class seems to begin to break apart. Sides are taken. In this case, it will be the sensitives against the insensitives. The insensitives, upon my instruction, will try to be more sensitive. The sensitives will start being insensitive. The insensitives, better at insensitivity, will return to their insensitive ways and shut the sensitives down. Now, instead of class being a fruitful exchange of ideas, it will be a class where I say, "that's enough, student" and "if you can't say anything constructive, don't say anything at all." This isn't how a grad class should go.
So, as I spent two hours trying to decide if I should intervene, knowing that this might make the rest of the semester a long and painful one, I held my advising hours in the advising center. I advised: one grad student who had her own student problems, one student who I asked if she was feeling in anyway disrespected (since the sensitive student had claimed it was this student who had someone's eyes rolled in her general direction), one student who wanted to further explain his anti-abortion poem, and one I-would-graduate-if-I-take-six-classes-next-semester undergraduate. In between, a campus tour arrived and said they were told I'd give them a tour of the English Department. Never having given one and not sure what they were expecting, I listed the program requirements and made a long list of career options for the English Major off the top of my head. Advertising, publishing, nonprofit administration and computer management--all jobs I'd had. One of the parents asked, so you teach graphic design? I argued, it wasn't so much the graphic design that I learned as an English major but how to think critically and learn on my own. I knew that's what I was supposed to say. I've been trained will in the promotion of the liberal arts. I did not mention that it wasnt' so much the 14 persuasive papers I wrote on Jany Eyre that taught me how to think critically but the way I could convince people that my ability to read Jane Eyre allowed me to think critically. The advertising and self-promotion aspect of the English BA is what I learned to sell. And was selling it here.
Afterward, I decided to talk to the students in their office about the eye rolling. They of course apologized but then didn't talk much during class. The senstive did not show up to class. Having become, over time, an insensitve in workshop, I'm trying very hard to manage the senstivies but classroom management is an exhausting and not particularly rewarding task. Everyone's on edge and now have to sell the class on how this is a "respectful learning environment" even if it feels more like Kindergarten. I'd rather sell them on the many-job opportunities that await them with their English BA.
Egg made delicious soup for dinner. That was the highpoint. The day ended, or rather wouldn't end, on a low point because I couldn't sleep. I think I carry all my stress in my back and with a baby in my front, I couldn't get comfortable. I felt stretchy and broken and chagrined for ever writing anything nice about October.


Dr. Write said...

I told you it was the cruelest month. And I'm sorry for all the sensitives/insensitives. Don't they know you're pregnant? I think you should just start crying for no reason in the middle of class. Then I think they might leave you alone. What do you think?
Good for egg, the cooking man. Nice. Also, hello? tours? Graphic design? It makes me want to run out and eat a hamburger.
Please take care. Maybe I should get you a "no complaining" t-shirt. Or, one I love, "Empathy not working? Try sarcasm." Would they get the hint then?

Lisa B. said...

I just read on Michael Berube's blog that October is the most crushing month for academics. Did you know this? Neither did I, but it totally makes sense.

I loved your tour of English and its monumental critical thinking capacities. Well-played indeed. I say cry in class, and between sobs, say, "It's just so [sob] HARD [sob sob] to manage the sen [sob] siTIVity [soooooobbb] quotient of this class!" Maybe it's worth a try. Or you could start the class with my theme song, which I believe would help.

(It is time for you to stop all of your sobbing!)

Middlebrow said...

Here's how we handle this.

"Okay, sensitive people! You know who you are. Buck up! Grow a pair!"

"Okay, insensitive people! What the fuck! Who rolls their eyes in a workshop? I mean Jesus, really. I'm watchin' you, and I see that shit again there will be consequences."

"Now all of you, I want five laps around campus. No complaining! This is for your art dammit!"

Nik said...

I do believe it is time to employ some cross-fit/army training into the classroom although I'm more prone to follow Lisa B's advice and just sob. Or cancel the rest of classes. 7 weeks to go.

Valerie said...

I don't know how it is in a classroom - but it's pretty much the same managing any kind of group. The sensitives/insensitives criers/starers bullies/bullied. Currently we are separating the "hunters" from the "gatherers". Equally frustrating. But I do have to disagree about October. It is the best of months.

Valerie said...

I don't know how it is in a classroom - but it's pretty much the same managing any kind of group. The sensitives/insensitives criers/starers bullies/bullied. Currently we are separating the "hunters" from the "gatherers". Equally frustrating. But I do have to disagree about October. It is the best of months.

Margot said...

It's weird, my students complain because everyone is "too nice." Must be a side effect of living in a small college fishbowl. (But I did see some eye rolling going on one day. Paranoid me, I imagined it was over something I said.)