Monday, October 25, 2010

Motor City Mitch on Being Young and Female in the Classroom & on the Tenure Track

(Actually, that should be Motor City Michelle. The RYS mods were confused about my gender; they gave me a masculine name but a feminine photo. Hooray for me?)

I'm pretty sure my students think I'm a horrible bitch. I lashed out at them in two different classes last week. Several students are enrolled in both courses, so I'm sure they are especially convinced of my bitchiness, and are probably telling all of their friends just how bitchy I am. (It's a small campus -- we have fewer students than some high schools.)

Well, either the students think I'm an ultra-mega-super-bitch, or they think I was having my period. (I wasn't.) Whatever the students think, I do know that my gender plays a big role in the problems I face in the classroom. Because I am a woman -- one who is barely a decade older than the students -- I am perceived as having no authority whatsoever. They seem to think it's perfectly acceptable to treat me like I am a powerless piece of crap. And they do.

Last week was the seventh week of the term. The students in both of the classes I lashed out at are first semester freshmen, and they all act as if they're still in high school. When I turn my back to write on the blackboard, they whisper to each other. When they don't want to do an assignment, they whine. Loudly. When they're unhappy with their grades, they blame me, both behind my back and to my face. When I won't take late work, they pout openly for the entire class period even though the syllabus says I won't take late work. When I teach them something they find boring (which is pretty much everything), they play games on their phones or do homework for another class or mouth silent messages to one another across the room. They know I'm not deaf, blind, or oblivious, because I call them out when I see them. I even kick them out from time to time if the behavior is particularly awful. They just don't fucking care.

This is my third year on the tenure track, and my fifth year of teaching almost exclusively freshman-level courses. Every year, my students' behavior seems worse than it was the year before. I can't decide if the students actually are worse, or if my tolerance is eroding. I don't suppose there's a reliable measure for that. Either way, last week I'd had enough.

I had scheduled midterm advising appointments with all of my freshman advisees (as required by the college). These freshmen advisees also happen to be the students in my freshman studies class. Of the sixteen, only ten actually showed up for their appointments. That means I wasted 120 minutes sitting around my office waiting for them to walk through the door. This was not a consecutive 120 minutes, of course; it was a case of 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there. Those fuckers wasted two hours of my time because 20-minute conference slots do not offer big enough windows to do anything truly productive, especially since during the first 5+ minutes I have to assume that the student is running late, not that he/she is skipping, and so I am especially hesitant to start in on some heavy-duty work...

So. When I went to my freshman studies class at the end of the week, I was pissed off. I let the students know I was pissed off. I said, "What would happen if you skipped a meeting with your coach and you didn't cancel, didn't send an apology email, didn't even acknowledge that it had happened?" (More than half of the freshmen at our school are athletes.) They said they'd have to run laps. They said the whole team would be punished. They said they'd lose playing time. Then I said, "What would happen if you skipped a meeting with your boss and you didn't send an apology email, didn't cancel, didn't even acknowledge it had happened?" They said they'd get written up, get fired, lose hours. Then I said, "So if it's not OK to skip out on your commitments to sports and your job, why is it OK to skip out on your commitments to school?" Blank stares.

It obviously wasn't sinking in so I said, "Why isn't it OK to waste your coach's time or your boss's time, but it is OK to waste my time?" My freshmen narrowed their eyes. They rolled their eyes. They exchanged glances. I could see it: They were thinking, who does this bitch think she IS, talking to us like that?

I then had a vision of awful end-of-semester teaching evaluations and spent the rest of the afternoon panicking. Teaching evals are god at my school; mediocre evals = no tenure. No joke. We're not talking bad evals...just average -- the result of which is that we all have to bend over backwards to please the kiddos, never mind that it degrades the integrity of our grading and our courses, and never mind that it makes us shitty teachers who are competing against one another in a goddamn popularity contest. Never mind that it's simply not possible for everyone to be #1 even though that's the unwritten expectation.

But I digress. Because of the previous day's outburst and the ensuing evaluation freakout, and because in the meantime another student had skipped his advising appointment, I admit that I was in a shitty mood when I showed up to a different freshman-level class the following morning. The students were squirrely because it was the last day of classes before Fall Break. The topic du jour was common sentence errors (fragments, run-ons, and comma splices). Not exciting stuff -- I know. It's a grammar class, for fuck's sake. It's never exciting.

But that shouldn't mean that when I turn my back to put a sentence on the board, it's a free-for-all in the classroom. Here's what happened today, about half an hour in to the period. I was writing an example on the board so my back was to the students. While I was writing, a student leaned across the table, practically crawling on top, in attempt to swat a fly. I don't make this shit up. Another student started screaming -- really, screaming -- directions to the student chasing the fly.

I turned around. Chaos in the classroom. I stared. I said, "What. Are. YOU. DOING." The student who was sprawled on the tabletop returned to her seat. The screamer looked at the floor. "I mean it," I said. "What. Are. YOU. DOING." Silence. Dead fucking silence. Absolute stillness -- something I have never heard in that room.

"Do you guys behave this way in other classes?" I said. Nothing. The answer, of course, is no. "If you crawled on the table to swat a fly while Dr. Old-As-Dirt-Business-Prof had his back to the class, would there be consequences?" Feeble nodding. "What if you started screaming while Professor Scary-With-A-Bad-Attitude was writing on the board?" Uncomfortable shifting in the seats. "And what if Dr. Untenured-Super-Nice-and-Everyone-Loves-Him caught you behaving that way?" More shifting, more looking at the floor.

"Exactly," I said. "It wouldn't happen."

A brave student -- or a really stupid one, I'm not sure which -- said, "It just means we don't think you're a Tight Ass. It's a good thing."

"No," I said. "It means you don't respect me. That is not a good thing." I am pretty sure I kissed my tenure goodbye this week. My evaluations are going to take a goddamn nosedive this semester because I have finally grown a pair and am asserting my authority in the classroom. Yes, I am the teacher. Yes, I am the one in charge. Yes, you have to listen to me and do what I say. Fuck you.

Here's what makes me so angry. These students wouldn't even think of testing the colleagues mentioned above (all male, of course)...or a good portion of my other colleagues, either. The students act like animals in my class because I've got two strikes: young and female. To them, "young female" means "powerless pushover."

And they're not entirely wrong about that. As I said, the inmates are in charge of the non-tenured at my school, whether they know it or not, because the non-tenured are scared shitless to stand up to them. On an evaluation, students don't write, "The professor uses verbal discipline to enforce and maintain a reasonable learning environment when students are disruptive." They write, "She treats us like we're in kindergarten even though we're not doing anything wrong."

To the people who determine my tenure -- people who aren't even in the room and have no idea what goes on there, mostly old white men who have never been challenged in this way precisely because they're men and don't have to fight to be seen as being in charge -- these types of evaluations are indications that I am a poor teacher. These types of inaccurate, oversimplified, and one-sided evaluations are interpreted as, "She can't control her classroom." They are interpreted as, "She is not an effective teacher." They are interpreted as, "She doesn't know what she's doing." This is a major problem.

In a nutshell, I have to either be branded a bitch and suffer the professional consequences, or I have to bend over and take it from a bunch of 18-year-olds who will, a year from now, realize that they've been assholes and finally figure out that they have to behave like civilized human beings no matter who is at the front of the room. By the time they learn this lesson, I will have a new crop of freshman animals in front of me and it will be, once again, my job to break them in and suffer the consequences for teaching them that it is simply unacceptable to behave as though the teacher is a piece of dirt and they are the kings and queens of the college universe.

It's a never-ending cycle, and I never get to enjoy the fruits of my suffering. Well...I shouldn't say never. I am teaching one junior-level class this year -- the first non-freshman class I've ever taught -- and a few of the students are students who were assholes in my classroom when they were freshmen three years ago. They're like completely different people now, [mostly] respectful and [mostly] likable...and while it's good to know that the asshole phase is just a phase, for the most part, it's also depressing. It means that for as long as I'm stuck teaching 100-level classes (which is pretty much forever, as far as I can tell), I am stuck putting up with jerks who know they have the power to walk all over me because they see me as a vulnerable, powerless, young woman. They treat me as though I have no authority, they learn from all the other non-tenured folks who bend over backwards that the institution is customer service-oriented, and they see that I am in a heap of trouble if I dare call them out on their rude and selfish behavior or their unfounded claims.

In short, there is no end in sight. This is how it is and how it will be forever and ever. With the vast majority of my teaching evaluations coming from the freshman perspective, versus my colleagues who have one or two freshman classes per year instead of seven of eight, I look really, really bad in comparison. On paper, I am not the best in a system that demands we all be the best. It is not a good thing. It is not a good thing at all.


  1. I think you might need to take a step down. Yes, your students are acting like fucking snowflakes. But they clearly don't respond well to being shown how flakey they are.

    Can you rearrange the the dynamic? Ask them what THEY need to succeed? What THEY want? Convince them that you are on their side. You can ignore what they say but asking will dispel the tension.

    Every once in awhile I do try to put myself in my students' shoes. I remember how excited I was to get away from my parents and their strict religion and how much I lost control in that first semester. And I dropped out, and didn't go back to school until I had my shit together.

    I had a prof reach out to me ask me what I needed to stop dicking around. That question is what made me realize that I needed to drop out and get my shit together.

    If you keep chiding them, though, they'll hate you more, the tension will become unbearable, and they will learn nothing.

    If you reach out to them, it could be the turning point every single student needs in their first year of college.

  2. Mrs. Archie taught at your college, or one very much like it. When she had a similar interaction with a class, one of the students came right out and said: "Don't you know that we decide your tenure with our evaluations. Think about that next time you want to piss us off." She resigned her tt job after one year and took her chances with another go at the job market. It worked out for her, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend that course of action to anyone else, at least not in this economy.

    And I think you are 100% correct that most of this has to do with your age and gender. I wish I had some magic solution for you, but I don't. Mrs. Archie likes to say that women can't win in these situations, because if you call them out and you're young, they think you are their bitchy girlfriend. If you call them out and you are older, they think you are their bitchy mother. Either way, you're pretty much screwed. With men, you can call them out and they think you are their hardass soccer coach, or the drill instructor from "Full Metal Jacket." Either way, you win because your behavior fits into a cool archetype they are all familiar with.

    The only real solution is to go back out on the market as hard as you can, starting now. Maybe it's different for other people in here, but Mrs. Archie felt that even if she did make the compromises necessary to get the little bastards to write her the kinds of evals that would have gotten her tenure, she would have hated the job so much by the time tenure rolled around that she wouldn't have been able to stomach staying. I know I'd have felt the same way had I been in her shoes. It sounds like you would too. Get out, as quickly as you can.

  3. Some thoughts:

    Do they REALLY know they have power over you with the evaluations? I haven't head Archie's experience. Student's perceptions of what happens above the level of the classroom are vague at best.

    Amongst the things you could try: Simply lie. "You guys know that I'm the only one that sees your evaluations, right?" (Actually true at my school.. yes, we include them in the tenure packet, but they're "optional". Ok, not really.)

    Alas, this crop is probably lost, but if you do something like this at the beginning of term and then slowly ease off, it often won't show up on evals.

    And of course you can simple start making their lives so miserable that they drop before they evaluate you...

  4. Okay, well, been there, done that. You need a few tricks of the trade.

    First of all, just as an aside, only schedule advising meetings during existing office hours. Seriously. Don't get het up if they don't make their appointments. You're there anyway, and if they bugger off, that's their problem. Why are you investing more energy in their advising than they are? Cut that out.

    Secondly, haranguing them and trying to make them "listen to reason" about their behavior will not make them like or respect you. That. Never. Works. It's counterproductive, because if you have to resort to that it already means you've lost complete control of the situation, and they know it. You have to manage disciplining them while making them think it's for their own good. Because it is.

    What's your stated penalty in your syllabus for texting, facebooking, talking, etc.? Nothing? Then they're going to do all that shit in your class. If there's a penalty and you're not enforcing it, they figured that out week 2.

    I have complete and utter silence and at least attempts at paying attention from all my freshmen. Because if they don't, I silently mark them absent, and don't tell them. If they leave during class, they can't come back. If they're disturbing other students, they must leave. A sober "I'm sorry, but I can't allow you to interfere with the other students' learning" works wonders. They're not offending you. They're offending the class.

    You're seeing things from the wrong perspective, and presenting it from the wrong perspective to them and to yourself. You've couched it as "me vs. them," as if they're supposed to respect you because you're you. Maybe they should, but they won't. You have to come from their side when you appeal to them, or discipline them. You are not asking for respect simply because of your position. It's the classroom environment, and the learning experience of all the students, that must be respected. You are their defenders against all the slackers that would stand between them and their education. And deep down, though many of them may not want to be educated, they'll be damned if they let some other idiot in the class decide that for them.

    All of this has to be couched in terms that they can appreciate. That this is the fairest, best way to establish a viable classroom for everyone, and that it's not in their best interests to fool around, or be around students that do, because their education is important and they're paying for it and you're being paid to do a job.

    They really understand that when you explain it to them. "It's my job to try to teach you, and it's your job to try to learn, so we have to create this positive learning environment together."

    Along with the "teaching environment" stuff it also helps to tell them, over and over, that you want them to succeed and you'd love to see everyone earn an A. But that's the key: they have to earn it. And you're there to help them.

    Other helps: don't turn back any work during the last two weeks before the evals, and during that time announce to everyone that you're setting up "special extra office hours" so they can come talk to you about "any and all concerns."

    When they show, be vague about their grade, but as encouraging as possible. Smile and be helpful. On evaluation day (or before you hand out their computer codes or whatever), give them a overview of what they accomplished in the class, and how great it is that they've seen it through.

    And then fail every one of them that needs to be failed.

  5. Just in the past year I've seen troublesome classroom behaviors go from occasional and nothing to worry about to persistent and scary. For the first time in my long teaching career, I'm right on the cusp of expelling miscreants from class. For example, just today in my one classes I had to reinforce the inappropriateness of walkouts, loud side conversations, and the distracting use of computers (FB etc.). I even pointed out that in the circumstances such behaviors constitute formal misconduct. So what happened? Two clowns kept chatting loudly while animatedly looking at a laptop, as though neither I nor the other students were there.

    What I've been seeing, in a nutshell, is *no fear whatsoever*. Many of them simply don't care who you are, what the rules are, or what consequences might ensue.

    BTW, to address the question of gender, I'm a mature, conventionally masculine-looking man.

  6. I think Stella's advice on pedagogical technique is sound. I would especially second her suggestion about giving them an overview of what they did during the semester, right before you hand out the evals. I've done that for years, and it really works wonders, because they can't check the "I didn't learn anything" box after seeing that unless they are total shitbags.

    And Nathaniel, there absolutely are places that weigh evals that heavily in T&P decisions. They are SLACs, obviously, but I'd go a little further and say that they tend to be the better ones, but the ones that aren't quite in the super-elite, so they have just enough status anxiety while thinking just highly enough of their students to allow that kind of travesty. At the place where Mrs. Archie taught, which was exactly that sort of school, the students expect--and faculty routinely deliver--a form of Maoist self-critique at the end of every semester, where the professor tells them the things she thinks went wrong in the class, and how she plans to improve them next time she teaches the course. No one had warned Mrs. Archie about this, so when she failed to do it at the end of her first semester--she told the kids to suck it when they told her about it would be the precise account--her chair called her on the carpet and explained how things were. I think that was the moment she decided to quit, even if she didn't say anything about that until later.

    So while I think you are getting good counsel on alternatives to approaching this type of flakery, I still think you need to decide if this is the right kind of institution for you in the long term, because the fact that your college gives the flakes that much authority is not going to change, even if you figure out more effective ways of handling these situations.

  7. I totally [heart] Stella.

  8. Dear Mitch,

    I am sorry you are being treated this way. Your higher-ups are jagoffs, for taking the word of petulant children so seriously. I used to wonder, what's wrong with them, that they can't see that this is wrong? They seem to think your students are adults: it shows you how long it's been since some of them have set foot in a classroom. If it's any consolation, remember that you are by no means the first junior faculty to go through this. The only thing I can tell you, which I hope might help, is not to hesitate being a bitch, as badly and for as long as it takes. Children are happier when their elders enforce a structured, disciplined environment, even if they don't react to it well at first.

  9. P.S. Remember: to get tenure, you need their respect, not their love. Don't worry about being a bitch. If you need to be one, then be one.

  10. I am very grateful for the good advice of Stella and Academic Monkey. I am an engineer who teaches philosophy to business students at a middling school (so everyone here can have their own reason to look down on me – get in line). You can imagine that my efforts to get them to read and to think independently are often in vain. Well, I just finished marking their midterms – what a disappointment. Class average D- and a 40% failure rate. I was all prepared to go into next class and lay down some serious smackage (a mix of shaming, anger, ridicule, etc – whatever might motivate their lazy asses). But now, I might instead try their recommended approach – ask them what they need to be successful in my Theory of Basketweaving course. The deadwood might finally be motivated into dropping the class (finally, after all my efforts to scare them in the first couple classes) since they’ll have no response to such a question. And the rest might finally see the truth (that’s what makes the Stella/AM approach so attractive – it really is the truth) that I genuinely do want them to be successful in their careers, and that’s gonna take learning how to Think (despite how unpleasant and unnatural that might feel). What I cautiously hope is that the good students will therefore understand and (one can hope) appreciate why I will hold them to high standards.

    I know, I’m a hopeless dreamer. But this is exactly why I come to CM, and why I felt so dirty lurking in the dying days of RYS –we seem to have a real sense of being a community who can genuinely help each other with some of the shared tribulations of this job, and remind us of why we took this path in the first place (recent flame wars notwithstanding). Thank-you, both.

  11. You mentioned that there would be consequences if students misbehaved in Dr. So-and-So's class. What are they and how do they compare to the consequences in your class? I remember misbehaving in a couple of classes. If the teacher yelled at us, we got a break from taking notes. Yippie!

    You are not their coach or boss. You have little influence over their overall happiness or success. Can you get them drafted or a promotion? No. If you think they care about you like a coach or boss, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

    I'm sorry that you're having a rough time. To protect your professional reputation, videotape the class. Cameras are cheap and small. Students probably won't notice. Include the worst of the videos in your T&P protfolio as evidence to balance out the low evaluation scores. Get some support from other female faculty at your school too.

  12. Ben's got the right idea about recording the class. I did the same thing in a couple of classes prior to being granted tenure, mostly to have evidence against a possibly criminal student (nothing ever came from those, thankfully). If any student complains about privacy issues or the like, pawn it off as making the lecture available for those that want it.

  13. I'd like to say similar mistakes are long in my past, but I get in similar problems myself sometimes. I haven't lost my temper (which is like showing your cards in a poker game) in a few semesters, but I still sometimes drop the reigns in a moment of exhaustion and spend the rest of the semester kicking myself. Sometimes I feel like Thidwick the Good Hearted Moose. When I turn in grades (shed my antlers) and re-write my syllabus, I think it's going to be different. But after putting together another 17 page syllabus to make sure every i has been dotted, knowing they don't read 3 page syllabuses, I scrap most of it, hold onto whatever was the problem the previous semester, and hope for the best. Sometimes I scrap one old policy to make room for a new one, only to find out the old one saved more problems than the new one.

    But I personally find that short and simple "rules" or "expectations" pages work best. The fewer specified rules I give them, the less opportunity they have to manipulate them in their favor. I think how thorough the rules section should be depends on the personality needs of the instructor. In the beginning I really needed every i dotted (as Stella suggests in her really great comment). Now I do better blowing off a little post-semester steam and keeping the list sane and simple.

    With the "she's a woman therefore she's a bitch" problem, an overly specific syllabus also looks like you had PMS when you wrote it and they go to any length to rout out the things you didn't think to mention.

  14. and when I say "similar"... I haven't had behavior problems (in a college class) since I first started. But toward the end of the semester I usually (like Charlie Brown and the football) extend one deadline because everyone is behind in everything. And then the rest of the semester they think they determine their own deadlines.

  15. WotC has the right idea. Be vague. Give yourself leeway. You have the power in this class not they. Losing your temper only makes things worse - believe me, I know. I've found that although they behave like a bunch of alpha male chimps vying for pack dominance, they are still kids. Go with the "I'm not mad, just disappointed" lecture. That's worked for me, although I've never had a class of monkeys like you've got.

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  17. French Profeseur said...

    If the threat of teaching evaluations damaging your chances for tenure is really bad, you could propose your chair to run an experimental alternate feedback device. Call it Research on Assessment. The last day of class another member of your department will come to the classroom and have a feedback dialogue with the students. Deprived of total anonymity, the crazies will shut up. If if they lie off their teeth and make slanderous claims, the friendly students will call bullshit on them. After all this, the other faculty member writes a short report with suggestions for improvement. The report goes to your tenure dossier with an addendum written by you on how did you implement these suggestions. This device satisfies all the reasonable expectations a tenure review committee may have in the assessment of your teaching.

  18. Part of it is that two of my four classes (the worst ones, behavior wise) are remedial writing classes -- not a single person wants to be there, and most of them think it's an insult that they have to sit through these remedial classes, never mind that they very clearly DON'T have the skill set needed to pass the mandatory college comp class. They are in college not to learn but to play a sport; the classes and homework cut into their practice and weight lifting time. 50% of the students in these two classes (or maybe more) will not graduate. Nearly all of them have an inferiority chip on their shoulder for being placed into the remedial class. So that's all part of the equation, too. I am not getting the top 33% or the middle 33%. I am getting the bottom 33%.

    So, OK, it's not fair to say that all of the remedial students are athletes; some are international students and some just have poor writing skills. BUT. It *is* fair to say that 75% of them are athletes, and the vast majority are 18- and 19-year-old males, many of them teammates. There's that factor as well.

    As to scheduling appointments during my office hours -- I do, but to meet with all of my advisees during the one week appointed by the college as midterm advising time, and to accommodate all of the various athletic practices, it's necessary to schedule at other times too. Sucks.

  19. Sorry to hear about your situation, Motor City Michelle. (Is that your preferred form of address?)

    I would be very surprised if any of your students have the foggiest idea how the tenure and promotion process works, except maybe such as have a parent in academia, which is presumably not any of the troublemakers. I wouldn't raise the issue of course evaluations with students at all, except maybe to say that you'll read their comments and take seriously mature and constructive criticisms.

    I don't like French Profeseur's idea of having a senior colleague debrief the class on what may have gone wrong. It seems it might reinforce the students' notion that you're not in charge and are possibly in trouble.

    It might be a good idea to ask a colleague to visit a class meeting and write an evaluation for your tenure file. This alternative form of feedback might put the evaluations of one group of students in some perspective.

    Would it help foster a more serious environment to call on students, by name, and make them answer questions (give an example of a comma splice, tell me what's ungrammatical in this sentence, etc.)? I'm hoping this would show that you know them, you're forcing them to get involved, maybe causing them to learn lest they suffer public humiliation, etc.

    If you're not getting support from your department, that's disgraceful. You might have a look at this article:

    which sets the framework for a legal case against a tenure denial in a situation where the employer (the university) failed to protect the employee (the professor) from a hostile working environment caused by sex-biased harassment from students. If your Chair has so completely lost sight of the mission of a university as to prevent you from exercising the necessary discipline when students are preventing a class from functioning by acting like unruly 8-year-olds, then perhaps you should get the AAUP involved. Depending on various factors, this could be something of a "nuclear option," as AAUP action could have grave repercussions for a university, so I would consider this something close to a last resort.

    If your university has some sort of office of student discipline, you might inform them about the worst offenders among your students, and request that their office intercede. In addition to hopefully having a salubrious effect on your classroom, it would establish a record that could be brought to bear should those students commit repeat offenses. It might also provide some professional protection for you.

    Good luck! Please let us know how things turn out.

  20. By the way, 99% of your student athletes aren't talented enough to earn a living in professional sports, so they'd better learn something in college.

  21. Here's a long shot--have you been in touch with their athletics coach? I had to do just that a few years ago when I taught remedial comp at We-Take-Everybody State U and one group of particularly weak yet obnoxious students insisted on giving me a hard time while failing the class. Athletes usually need a minimum GPA to remain on the team and a little pressure from their coach might at least serve to underline whatever strategies you decide to deploy in the good fight.

  22. Good suggestions here. I second Thin Woman about contacting the coach. Most coaches are very good about this -- though not all; you might want to check whether your Uni is one of those that routinely tolerate outrageous behavior by their athletes. A colleague of mine who taught at a Bobby Knight school said that he would not tolerate this sort of crap from his basketball players.

    Unfortunately, I'm afraid that CDP is sadly out-of-touch.

    Would it help foster a more serious environment to call on students, by name, and make them answer questions (give an example of a comma splice, tell me what's ungrammatical in this sentence, etc.)? I'm hoping this would show that you know them, you're forcing them to get involved, maybe causing them to learn lest they suffer public humiliation, etc.

    As many of us can attest, this sort of thing often/usually has absolutely no effect on students who don't want to be there anyhow. They are completely unembarrassed about "I don't know," even on questions that any 3-year-old ought to be able to handle.

    I do find that students find it embarrassing when you call on them for an answer to a question that they got right and they answer, "I don't know." Especially if you immediately remind them that they got it right.

  23. Read what StellafromSparksburg said. Again and again. This is how to do it.

  24. A tiny suggestion for one small aspect - you mentioned "just a required boring grammar lesson" or something like that -- one thing I do in my 101 class (I know developmental may be more difficult) is I have the students teach each other the grammar. Topics are randomly assigned, and they have to do a presentation for the class (I give each one a "cheat sheet" with useful links, suggestions for exercise types, learning goals, etc.), and they have to have the class do a few exercises about their topic.

    Besides giving a small area of competence (one hopes), they also should gain empathy about being on the other end of the podium, with no energy or distracting classmates or whatever.

  25. Yes to Thin Woman's suggestion. How did I forget about this? When I first started I had the baseball team in one lab. Most of them were manageably mediocre. But the star pitcher had me on the ropes constantly. One day I made an announcement in the middle of lab (the manuals almost always describe ammonia solution as "NH3" but lab techs everywhere almost invariably write the more correct "NH4OH", and it causes a tizzy when I forget to announce that at the start of the lab) and when everyone got quiet, big mouth was left sharing in his outside voice "I hate the sound of her voice". I e-mailed the baseball coach asking actually for advice on how to manage his clique better, but instead of advice he just wrote back "He did WHAT? When is your next lab?". The next week the baseball team had to wear dress shirts in lab, each of them handed me a hand written note of apology, each with a unique sentence or two, and all-star pitcher had to make an oral apology in front of the class. It wasn't what I was expecting, and as discussed earlier, it has a potential to show them you need someone's help, but it happened to work out.

    A few years later at another school I had a large part of the freshmen portion of the football team and I was surprised at how nice they were. Two terms later I had one football player who was a total douchebag (pardon my use of misogynist slang, but it's the best currently understood term to describe this guy). The worst creep I'd ever had. I let that class get derailed. Three weeks went by that were a total waste. I passed two now-sophomore football players in the hall and they asked how I was and I said "Well I can't wait to get rid of _____, I can tell you that." Then I went into my office and bit my nails off, pulled out half a head of hair etc. figuring that was it. That was a big mistake professionally speaking. But it too happened to work out. They went back to mandatory study hall with the team and asked if anyone noticed _______ being disruptive and all of the freshman looked straight at _______ and half of them shouted "yes" followed by "and we're all going to flunk _____" and he was doing it in EVERY class. They self policed him by cutting him out of plays during practice. It stopped his behavior in my class and probably the others, but he went on to beat up a new freshman during orientation and sexually harrass a girl in his class until he was expelled.

    But back to Thin Woman's point... the fact that they are athletes might give you some leverage if you're careful about how you try to apply it. I made a big mistake with how I handled the super creep, but managed to luck out and get away with it. I'm not suggesting you tell other members of the team "I can't wait to get rid of _____". It was unprofessional and could have been a disaster. But think about a way to get the team and/or coach on your side and have them also deliver Stella's original message of "It's not me against you. It's me protecting you from you." With care, that can lead to a solution.

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  27. Yeah, you're probably not much respected because you are a young female. I agree. But you can fix this, although it might have to be next semester.

    It's all about how you FRAME yourself and the situation in the pea brains of your students. You have to FRAME yourself as a strict but rational teacher from the FIRST DAY OF CLASS. Never relent.

    I know you've taught for a while, but in case you've never heard this famous teacher's saying, take it to heart:

    "It's harder to get harder."

    You can't start soft and get strict. They will call your bluff. You have to always be strict, from the beginning, and you can even find a way to be funny about it. That's what I do. I admit to them, "Yes, I'm pretty damn strict, but it's because this class is important to the rest of your education." I teach basic composition, and it IS vital for them.

    So you don't need to quit. That's absurd. Just start over next semester. Be strict, direct, lighthearted, even self-deprecating, but don't waver in your disciplining of the students of they'll disrespect you.

    You have to be consistent in your framing, too. You can be in a lighthearted mood, but they should KNOW that you will come down on them hard if they fuck up. You can even deduct points from them with a smile and a laugh rather than pure scorn. Frame it like a game--but a game with consequences, and they'll get it.

  28. I absolutely think that young, female profs get a harder go-round from certain members of the student population and that their concerns are regularly dismissed by higher-ups.

    However, I don't know how to change that. It makes me mad as hell, but I can't change it.

    What I do know how to change (at least part of the time) is the dynamic in my own classroom, so I try to deal with that. I think that many of the comments above are quite helpful, in particular...

    1. Use the coaches or athletic staff to your advantage.
    2. Use videotapes of class if you need could even SHOW THEM the tape.
    3. Emphasize that what they need to learn in your class is stuff that's going to help them.
    4. Have them teach each other -- this last one is useful right at the start of the term sometimes because it makes them realize how much it sucks to be up there in front of people determined to be dickwads.

  29. I'm also a young female... and I've gotta know.


    If you live where your name suggests you might, are you currently employed by the school that has a TT position open next year that IS NOT in film/new media? Because if so, I'm crossing it off my list.

    I rarely have trouble with in class behavior, but I really need to be earning tenure at least kinda sorta on my research. I suppose I might just get handed tenure because I'm "fun" or whatever, but that's kinda bullshit too. I teach with a lot of new media and annoying students tend to find it fun, so I don't get as much flack, but I don't want to put up with BS unless I absolutely have to.

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  31. You actually wield a lot of power vis-à-vis student athletes. Assuming I remember NCAA rules correctly, if their GPA falls below 2.0 they become ineligible to play their sports and must forfeit their athletic scholarships.

  32. My Little Proffie: Nope. Not my school.

  33. An unfortunate byproduct of the RYS days are the names some posters carry with them, as demonstrated by My Little Proffie's question above. I happen to be the moderator who came up with "Mitch"'s name, and I can assure all that she's not a Mitch, and neither is from, lives, nor teaches anywhere near the Motor City. (I'm a big Mitch Ryder fan, and now you know the secret to that name!)

    The ONLY RYS moniker I can think of that has some real veracity to it? Angry Archie. Not the Archie, but the Angry! That's him. I love AA, and gave him that name. It makes me proud he still uses it, along with the sexiest avatar I ever made.

  34. My condolences. Sounds like my worst teaching nightmare ever.

    In addition to the always sound and sensible advice of Stella and others, here's a small tidbit. I start out incredibly strict, with tons of reading. At midterms I give an anonymous "midterm evaluation" asking them how the class is going. Then I come in with one change to their benefit (usually it's a slight reduction in the reading load, or eliminating something minor that feels like busywork to them). And I explain why I do the rest of things they complain about, in a student-centered way. With behavior stuff, I say that I owe it to every student that they get their tuition's worth of learning (not a grade), which means a minimum of distractions.

    And then they think I am on their side, more or less. It seems to work. I've been doing this since I was a very young, small, high-voiced, brand-new Ph.D.

  35. Marcia--That's brilliant. I'm using that. My syllabus actually cites others in a single line at the bottom...uh...looks like I'll be adding Marcia Brady.

  36. I am disappointed by this shining example of a classroom discipline problem becoming a gender issue in order to assuage the sufferer's suspicions that these incidents are due to actual failings on her part. It's true that it would be much easier to think that the students are all every one of them bigots, but I think Occam would take issue. You're trying to teach grammar, but you're really teaching psychology.

  37. Your point is well taken, Coming from a different field, I don't claim to know how one ought to teach grammar. My assumption was that it's better to try to involve students during class rather than let them passively listen to your lecture (though I probably shouldn't have attempted to suggest how to put this into practice).

    But maybe this digression into pedagogy is moot. Motor City Michelle's problem is apparently not how to be a good professor but how to be a good prison warden or drill sergeant or something. Quite a sorry state of affairs.

  38. Blackdog, I'm honored. Your students probably won't get the reference anyway.


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