Middle of the Road

Thank you all so much for your incredibly helpful comments and advice about the unruly, unprepared freshmen (UUFs). They totally helped me -- not only to feel like I was not in this for the first time all alone, but also to have some really incredible constructive suggestions for dealing with the the UUFs. I think a really interesting thread has developed around this issue -- and I'd love to continue the conversation -- so keep the ideas coming!

In case you've been dying to know what I did, I decided on a fairly middle-of-the-road speech, with some drop-and-give-me-twenty undertones. It wasn't the harshest I could be, it certainly didn't reveal how truly pissed off I was as them, but it was what I was most comfortable doing. So, that seemed like it would be the best.

I decided that while I was upset that they were coming to class unprepared, and that they don't contribute to discussion, what really pissed me off was how they behaved to the wonderful library staff person who gave his time to help them learn how to do research. While the in-class stuff sucks, I can deal with in subtler ways than the full-frontal attack. Like pop-quizes -- the Passive-Aggressive Professorial Attack.

But, the way they treated the librarian was trully horrific and absolutely had to be addressed. So, at the end of class on Friday, I told them the following:

"I just want to take a minute now to talk to you about your behavior during the library computer session on Wednesday. While most of you were engaged and diligent about the exercises that Amazing Librarian provided for us, some of you were not. Your behavior during that session was immature, disrespectful and inappropriate.

When you are on a sports team, it is absolutely expected that you will respect the coach. You pay attention when the coach is speaking, and you do not talk while the coach is talking. [There are a lot of athletes in the class. Thanks to Cleis for suggesting this approach.]

In a classroom, it is absolutely expected that you respect the professor. You pay attention when the professor is speaking, and you do not talk while they are talking.

In the library, the expectation is the same.

Now, I’m not talking about everyone, but some of you, and you know who you are, did not live up to this expectation of maturity and respect. And it did not go unnoticed. The Librarian commented on your behavior to me afterwards.

Look, college is your first step into the professional world. It is your training for becoming adult professionals. Start acting like it."

So, that's about as hard-ass as Stewgad gets.

I can't yet report what their reaction was, but I can tell you that they were absolutely silent while I was talking. So, that was good. Some of them looked sheepish, and one of the unruly ones made sure to tell me to have a nice weekend.

It was less elaborate than Prof. Bastard's amazing "You don't have chicken shit or car-bomb related jobs" speech, but it was the best I could do given my midwesterness and my inherent aversion to conflict. In fact, when I started talking, I got the shakes big and bad. I had to put my hands in my pockets so that they wouldn't see. And I shook for a good few minutes aftewards.

Anyway, I'm lecturing on Monday, so that will further reinforce the "I'm In Charge" mode. We'll see how discussion goes on Wednesday.

Thanks again for the advice -- I'll chime in on the comment thread to the previous post when there's less grading to do. (I've got 2 sets of papers right now, and another set coming on Wednesday. Sigh.)


At 10:38 PM What Now? said...

Well done. Last fall I had to have a "come to Jesus meeting" with one of my classes. When I got my student evals that term (and they were just fine), one of the students had written, "The class was a lot better after 'the talk'."

At 11:43 PM New Kid on the Hallway said...

It sounds like a great speech to me - plenty hard-ass. But it sounds great especially because it's focused around a really specific issue - inappropriate behavior towards the librarian - not a complaint about their behavior towards you.

I like the sports analogy too - I have a friend who worked in academic assistance, and she used a lot of sports (and music/art) analogies to get across basic ideas about studying, too (e.g., you wouldn't expect to be able to blow off practice for your sport all semester and then practice for 6 hours right before the game and do well - studying is the same; that kind of thing).

But I would have been shaking, too. :-)

At 9:45 AM suz said...

Great approach -- I like the focus on respect. One suggestion for your lecture Monday. Be sure to remember to smile and make good eye contact, like you are not pissed at them [isn't teaching a little bit of acting?] so they know they have a 'fresh start' coming on Wednesday. Good job and good luck.

At 11:56 AM Psycgirl said...

That sounds like the perfect approach - guilt and shame. I would do the same thing. I had to give my students a speech on attendance and I shook all the way through it too. Glad to know someone else does the same thing.

At 10:02 AM HistGrad said...

Oh, I'm totally a shaker and usually have to put my hands in my pocket or lean on the desk. I rarely prepare class materials in a word-for-word manner, but when I'm preparing a Come to Jesus moment, I have to write out the whole speech beforehand. And practice in the car. (even if I don't read it word for word, at lest I know it's there.)

At 11:55 AM Professor Bastard said...

Please believe that my question is entirely serious: given the number of people who have discussed being nervous about this kind of situation with their classes, I wonder if I'm unaware of an element of the confrontation that *ought* to make me nervous. Because I'm not in settings like these. There's a "static" quality to the classroom atmosphere, but it seems to be outside of me, and not something that influences how I feel internally. I feel instead very calm and focused, physically very centered (which I normally *don't*!) which could, given what others are reporting, be a *bad* thing. (Depending on why others are nervous, of course.)

Hmmmm . . .

At 11:56 AM Professor Bastard said...

OK, so there's actually no question. Sue me . . . 8^)


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