Update: Teaching Conundrum

So, remember that talking-to I had to give my first year students last month? It worked for a while -- people were pretty quiet, paid better attention, and were seemingly engaged. We had a great couple of discussions. So that was pretty heartening.

Then, a few days later, I had to pull aside two of the three worst troublemakers after class for talking to each other and horsing around in class instead of paying attention. I was pretty annoyed. But the situation was pretty funny. Here I am, all 5'6 of me, wagging my finger up at these two huge linebackers telling them they had to stop talking to each other in class because it was rude and disruptive. They looked sheepish and said they would stop. Then they stopped coming to class for a couple of sessions. Well, I guess that's one way to make sure you don't talk in class.

The third troublemaker was able to hold it together for a little longer. Then last Friday, while I was lecturing, he started making kissy faces to another guy across the room. I was totally distracted. So, I stopped the lecture, and asked if they needed to get a room. Or if they just needed to go outside to talk to each other. The receiver of the kissy faces had the grace to look abashed. But the kissy face maker pulled this "I'm hurt and offended that you would think I was misbehaving" face. He was all like, "Who? Me?" Yeah, you, punk. I told him to cut it out. Then, as I resumed the lecture, another student joshed the kissy-face maker, saying, "Dude, are you gay?" Sigh. So, I successfully quelled the horseplay by opening the door to homophobia. No exactly what I had intended.

Then, yesterday, Linebacker Troublemaker # 1 asked me after class if I could grade his paper before Friday, since he has until then to drop the class if his grade didn't improve. I told him I'd be glad to. Linebacker Troublemaker #2 was not in class. He stopped by my office hours with the paper to sign to drop the class.

So, with 1 less troublemaker in the class, perhaps things will go a little more smoothly. I'm not exactly happy that the solution to this situation has been that the students who are disruptive (and failing, I might add) have left, instead of working to improve their work and their behavior. But, maybe it is best all around. Now, if only troublemaker #3 will get it together...

A professor can dream, can't she?

(NOTE -- just so you know it isn't all troublemaking and kissy faces here in Stewgad's world, I've had three students in the last week tell me that they had hated history classes, if not all of their previous college courses, before my class. And that they were really enjoying the course -- could they take my classes next semester? Which, of course, was really nice to hear.)

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At 3:56 PM Scrivener said...

Actually, I think finding a way to convince the troublemakers to skeedaddle sounds like a perfectly good solution. Look, you're never, ever going to be able to reach every student. So you do what you can, and move along. If the students recognized, one way or another, that they weren't going to make it in your class and left, then all is good.

And I'd say having a few students tell you that your class is great is worth a whole slew of students who suck. Measure your teaching by the successes not the failure. It's the only way, so far as I can see, that the job makes any sense. I'd say by all evidence you're doing a wonderful job.

At 5:58 PM father figure said...

I think all of us in academia thrive on the successful students, and shudder with discouragement when we happen to get stuck with the disruptive ones. I'll go out of my way to help someone who is not making it, yet trying. Those who really don't care - it's their own problem. I heard a good quote this week, "college students are the only population group who don't want to get what they pay for!" Or should it be "college students is the only population group who don't what to get what they pay for"?? Not an English professor!

Keep up the good work, though, and rejoice that your class should go more smoothly!

At 7:25 PM HistGrad said...

I totally agree with scrivener. Speaking as a jaded community college faculty member, you just can't focus too much of your attention on those who are not engaged in your class, even in the face of all your best efforts. I think of them as bumps on a log in a river... and the class just flows over them. They cause no great disruption and do no great harm. And then I measure my own evaluation of whether the class is going well based on the engaged students and how they're responding.

This is not to say, of course, that troublemakers should be given free reign! You totally did the right thing. Unfortunately, every now and then you just get a bad apple and you have to put up with it (him, in this case)for the rest of the semester.

At 1:35 AM Sfrajett said...

I never had a problem with my football players, but at a different school, I had some moviestar basketball players who regularly waltzed into my class late with sunglasses on and acted like they were all that. I had no idea what to do at the time but later I wished I had stood up to them. It wasn't so much as if I was afraid of them as I was bewildered and caught off guard by their ridiculous macho bravado in my classroom. I say, be the boss. Don't worry about being cool. These people need boundaries and a swift kick in the pants, and most good coaches will support you.

At 9:21 PM Astroprof said...

Getting rid of one troublemaker helps. They tend to play off of each other.

At 11:27 AM Peggy said...

I admire you for standing up to the trouble makers. I also say good it good they removed themselves. I also believe that some students are suffering from late adolescence or just immature.


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