Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Message for a Special Snowflake

You've sat in the very front all term, in my favorite class. I love this group of students, and love teaching this class. It is a bright spot in my week, having prepared, engaged students who also seem to like the class. We have fun, and we cover a lot of material. You've been attentive. You've participated. You have always seemed jovial, and I've enjoyed our repartee.

A couple of weeks ago, right before class, you announced that "everyone" was confused about what to study for an upcoming quiz. Really? "Everyone"? Well, most people, you conceded. I pointed out that your personal experience was all you could speak to with confidence, and "everyone" hadn't come to speak with me. You chuckled and conceded I might have a point, and you said that YOU were concerned about the quiz. We both had a lighthearted, friendly tone during this exchange. At the beginning of class, I reviewed briefly, then asked if there were any questions. One asked about how many questions there would be, but no one--including you--asked any questions about content.

Last week I handed out the description for a writing assignment. A student asked if I wanted citations. Of course, I replied. You asked "what if people don't know how to do that?" I replied that this is a college-level class and I expect college-level writing. You asked if a certain writing class was required. I said no. You said that it wasn't fair that I was expecting college-level writing, and that I couldn't do that. Now mind you, you said this in your usual tone of voice--you know, the laughy happy one in which you've always made jokes. Oh yes I can, I replied, also in a joking tone. Everyone chuckled, and we went on with class.

I got a call this week from my supervisor. You've apparently gone to three other administrators with a written complaint about my bullying you. I yell at you. I humiliate you in front of the entire class. I seek you out to pick on you. And to top it all off, I screamed at you the other day and then kicked you because you asked about citations. For two fucking handwritten pages you go on about how terrified you are, and that you have sought legal council. And that I should be removed from class while this is being investigated. You have also submitted an anonymous written report from an alleged classmate, who is so terrified of me that s/he wants to make sure you have support, but doesn't want to risk having hir name known for fear of becoming the brunt of my malevolence. 

What. The. Fuck.

Are you off your meds?

I am blindsided by this. I thought we had a genial relationship. I have never misjudged a person the way I have apparently misjudged you. Two fucking pages of lies? To three administrators? A lawyer? Who's being the bully? 

Fuck you you fucking fuck.

And even though I have the support of my administrators, I have this bad taste about the class I loved. Because deep down, I fear that I'm never doing a good enough job, that I'm not covering enough, and even though I've done this for years, I care deeply about this. So fuck you for rattling my confidence. Fuck you for being a snake. Fuck you for whatever bullshit attention you're seeking. 

Just--fuck you.

Oh, and please do come back to class. I guaran-fucking-tee you will be treated with the utmost of professionalism. And every. fucking. exchange we have will be documented. If you have questions for me, you will need to make an appointment to talk with me and my supervisor because I will never meet with you or speak to you one-on-one. If you're this big a fucking liar about things with witnesses, I'm taking no chances what you could fabricate if we meet alone.

And now, before I get too drunk to type, one last message:

Fuck. You.


  1. I'm so, so sorry. I had one of these once.


    That complaint, and the ensuing rigamarole of an investigation (after which I was cleared of all charges) revealed to me that according to my administration, student complaints were accurate and valid unless the faculty could prove otherwise. Although I was cleared of all charges, the event was enough for me to buy a audio record and carry it with me wherever I go. I record all of my classes, including any chat time prior or subsequent to the class. I record all meetings with students, informal and formal, and try to have a colleague with me during those meetings if possible. I document the slightest oddity in any encounter with at least an email to myself with date, time, context, and my memories of the encounter.

    I've been doing this for more than two years now. I hate seeing students as the enemy, but I feel as if I have no choice.

    Again, my condolences.

    1. Oh Allison, I'm sorry. But thanks--the audio recorder is a great idea. Yet it completely sucks to have to resort to that.

  2. This sucks absolutely. My condolences also.

  3. @Annie: Why don't you shoot him with your rifle? I hear you're a very good shot.

    More seriously: I'm sorry this happened to you. I've been through the inquisition too. Don't you hate how administration assumes how faculty are guilty proved innocent? What astonishes me most is how administration seems never to have had their own kids, and seems completely to have forgotten their own childhoods, oblivious to how kids just plain make things up, and then lie about it, often with unchildlike malicious intent.

    Now you know why I always keep the door open, always, during office hours, and why I don't meet with students outside of office hours. Indeed, if this student ever shows up for your office hours, I'd refuse to talk to him, and tell him to leave. Tell him it's because he's lied about you, and people who lie cannot be trusted for anything. An incident like this is a killer of any interaction you may have with this student. There really isn't much that you can, or should, possibly say to this student now.

    The real pisser is that this student probably has no clue of how much trouble they've caused you. For his next trick, then, he will ask you for a letter of recommendation. All I could manage was to stammer, "No," and not give a reason why.

    In the real world, there will be mighty damn serious consequences for false accusations like this. At this point, though, we need not try to save our students the trouble of finding this out the hard way. They've set things up so that they'll learn on their own.

    1. If I were you, I'd request that your administration cancel this student's registration in your class. After an incident like this, you just plain cannot trust him enough to be able to work with him, in any way. When patrons of a fine hotel or restaurant become abusive of the staff, they are refused service and are asked to leave the premises, with security called if they won't leave. You should have the same rights: they don't pay us enough to take this crap.

    2. My dean--who is awesome--has set up a meeting with the two of us. The student has asked another staff member to accompany hir so s/he "has someone there who is on h/ir side." I was debating about even attending. But I'm thinking now I might, with tape recorder in hand and a request that s/he drop. And die.

      Great point, Frod, about the loss of trust. I was thinking that if s/he comes back, I'll have to be in robot mode for the remainder of the term. And there's such a cognitive dissonance; last week, another student in the same class asked what major s/he could change to so s/he could take every single class I teach because s/he loves this class so much. So I'm laying awake last night wondering if I'm some kind of Dr Jekyll/Ms Hyde.

    3. Even if your dean is great be aware these things tend to go WAY above the dean to people who will treat the student like a customer and cower at the threat of legal action (even if it is BS). The student should not be allowed back into your class. because I PROMISE you if s/he is, if/wehn this snowflake gets a grade s/he doesn't like there will be a grade appeal. In many cases the student is transferred to another section or in my case a fellow proffie was forced to do an "independent study" to help this student finish. Still resulted in a grade appeal and a nightmare that lasted six months.

    4. So I'm laying awake last night wondering if I'm some kind of Dr Jekyll/Ms Hyde.

      You're not. The student is just a lying, entitled fuckstick.

  4. Un-fucking-believable. But sadly, all too plausible.

  5. My condolences as well, Annie. I know all too well how utterly gobsmacking something like this can be.

    My Hall of Shame winner?

    The student who filed a federal civil rights complaint against me alleging racial, gender, and age discrimination.

    ... from a completely online class.

    Other than seeing a traditionally feminine name appended to postings, how was I supposed to even know (or care) about her race or age?

    The hubris is unfuckinglievable!

    1. A & S, holy shit. I trust this got laughed out of court?

    2. That's impressive. I've found that I regularly mis-guess the gender and/or race/ethnicity of a good 1/4 of my online students (a good many of them eventually show up for face to face conferences; online is mostly a matter of time-shifting at my institution). I often have some idea of age from self-introductions (the more life experience, the older), but we're still talking about a several-decade range. So if I were inclined to discriminate, I might well end up discriminating against people who don't, in fact, fit the demographic against which I was inclined to discriminate. I suppose it's a good thing I'm not inclined to discriminate, since the results could be messy/frustrating all 'round.

    3. Thankfully Annie, it never got that far.

      (Honestly, I'm not sure what happened. It didn't affect me is all I know.)

      Still, the disconnect that utterly sub-standard work being called as such HAD to be discrimination is just seriously smacking of the gob!

  6. Is there any way to insist/arrange that EVERY PERSON PRESENT DURING THE ALLEGED INCIDENT has a private meeting with a supervisor/dean to be interviewed about it? They could even be offered anonymity if they wish, but I'm betting several would be willing to stand up for the truth. Especially the one who want to change majors.

    Is there any way to insist/arrange that you be informed of the contact info of the attorney?

    This person has seriously defamed you and deserves hirself to be sued for libel and defamation.

    These snots think that "I'm talking to an attorney" will cause instant capitulation. If the little fucker has lied about the incident in our class, maybe the attorney is also fabricated.

  7. Something similar happened to me. The student continued to come to class and I always made sure I was up, happy, smiling, and caring after the complaint. I taught the class with even more passion than I ordinarily do. That student sat her huge ass against the wall and refused to look at me EVER again. A few times she even fell asleep. I let the darling sleep. She needed her beauty sleep. The other students were engaged in the process and seemed to enjoy the class. She became a recluse in the class and no one interacted with her.

    Ignore the student. Be your wonderful self and cover your ass. The recording is a wonderful idea and one I may employ.

    Here’s to you!!!! Good luck.

  8. I love, love, LOVE it when they threaten to Lawyer-up.

    Call that bluff. Aloud: "We're done here. There will be no further discussion between you and I without counsel present."
    Internal thought: "Good luck with all that."
    Let's say they use their "Free Consultation" (First one's free!). After politely listening and nodding, the budding Saul Goodman will inform them of their options for proceeding:
    1. I'll take the case on contingent; meaning I get 33% of whatever I recover, which is likely to be diddly-squat because no judge will hear this case, or
    2. My rate is $250 an hour. Sign here, initial here, and show me your sources of income for the last three years and we'll get started.

    Then the fun starts. Saul comes to visit, asks a few generic questions all while watching the clock. You answer honestly, but vaguely, and anything but quickly, also all while watching the clock. At the end of the first hour, you suddenly recall a separate, but tangentially related anecdote about another situation that may have relevance to the incident and student in question that a colleague related to you. Excuse yourself to go find said colleague. Return eleven minutes later and say, "Sorry, they aren't in their office right now, but should be back soon. Would you like to wait just a few minutes? It shouldn't be long." And walk out before receiving a reply. Come back nine minutes later. "Sorry about that. It was a different student and an unrelated interaction, but, if I could, I'd like to review what we've discussed to make sure my notes are accurate." Rinse, repeat, ad infinitum.
    Hate the player, not the game.

  9. Organizational Leadership (w/HR empahsis)!

    S/he obviously thinks s/he's good with people & conflict resolution/management... Duh!

  10. Well, you see, crazy people are allowed to enroll in college too, so of course you WILL get some in your classes. I've also had felons, Herion addicts, reformed meth heads, strippers, complete low lifes of all types. So once in a while, you'll get a sleeper lunatic whose true nature will surprise the crap out of you when you least expect it, ruining most of your semester.

    I've had it happen a number of times. You just have to realize that it's part of the job, and be prepared to quit and find a new one at any time if you just can't stand the astounding BULLSHIT we have to put up with.

    Of course, the student will nearly always get a sympathetic reaction from the administration, because the admin are a bunch of fucking liberal pussies who want to invert the social heirarchy through liberal social engineering. That means that students--especially minorities and the poor/poor-ish--are to be considered to victims of hegemonic white patriarchal oligarchy and you'd better kiss their asses like you've never kissed an ass before. Don't believe me? Try working at a CC. It's a cesspool of Marxism and identity politics masquerading as an "educational institution."

    Anyway, I went through a couple of similar situations, but never as severe as yours. It was very disturbing to me. I lost sleep over it, I ranted to myself for hours, I felt helpless, knowing that the admin was not on my side. My advice to you would be to file a counter-charge against the student. Slander, harrassment, whatever. Fight fire with fire. The student will expect you to CAVE, which is why he/she pursued this action against you. He/she is clearly irrational, but will probably retreat if attacked back--and make it swift and severe. Overall, DO...NOT...BE...WEAK.

    1. Edit: That's HEROIN, though I hear that Herion is good stuff, too.

    2. Gee, NC, I bet -I'D- qualify in your book as a "fucking liberal .... who wants to invert the social heirarchy through liberal social engineering," but at least I'm not a "pussy" I guess, because I don't believe in kissing ANYONE's ass, victim of white patriarchal oligarchy or not.

      I have seen admins of ALL genders, social backgrounds, ethnicities, and politics CAVE, and I've seen admins of ALL genders, social backgrounds, ethnicities, and politics stand up and do the right thing.

      And I have this strange feeling that the duck may be making a appearance soon.

    3. Um, No Cookies? I suggest you learn to work with these liberals, since education is positively infested with them. You see, we're the only people dumb enough to still do this job: all the virtuous conservatives except apparently you are too busy looting and cannibalizing what's left of this once-great land, for their short-term benefit.

    4. Um, No Cookies? I suggest you learn to work with these liberals, since education is positively infested with them. You see, we're the only people dumb enough to still do this job: all the virtuous conservatives except apparently you are too busy looting and cannibalizing what's left of this once-great land, for their short-term benefit.

    5. "I don't know just where I'm going
      But I'm goin' to try for the kingdom if I can
      'Cause it makes me feel like I'm a man
      When I put a spike into my vein
      Then I tell you things aren't quite the same

      When I'm rushing on my run
      And I feel just like Jesus' son
      And I guess I just don't know
      And I guess that I just don't know

      I have made big decision
      I'm goin' to try to nullify my life
      'Cause when the blood begins to flow
      When it shoots up the dropper's neck
      When I'm closing in on death

      You can't help me not you guys
      All you sweet girls with all your sweet talk
      You can all go take a walk
      And I guess I just don't know
      And I guess I just don't know

      I wish that I was born a thousand years ago
      I wish that I'd sailed the darkened seas
      On a great big clipper ship
      Going from this land here to that
      I put on a sailor's suit and cap

      Away from the big city
      Where a man cannot be free
      Of all the evils in this town
      And of himself and those around
      Oh, and I guess I just don't know
      Oh, and I guess I just don't know

      Heroin, be the death of me
      Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life
      Because a mainer to my vein
      Leads to a center in my head
      And then I'm better off than dead

      When the smack begins to flow
      Then I really don't care anymore
      About all the Jim-Jims in this town
      And everybody putting everybody else down
      And all of the politicians makin' crazy sounds
      All the dead bodies piled up in mounds, yeah

      Wow, that heroin is in my blood
      And the blood is in my head
      Yeah, thank God that I'm good as dead
      Ooohhh, thank your God that I'm not aware
      And thank God that I just don't care
      And I guess I just don't know
      And I guess I just don't know"

      - "Heroin" by Lou Reed
      From "The Velvet Underground and Nico", 1967

    6. Wow! I'd never read the lyrics. There's some pretty amazing juxtaposition of themes and images there.

    7. That's because Lou Reed is a demigod.

      One critic pointed out that the Velvet Underground only sold about 500 copies of their first album. But if you look at how influential it's been, it seems that every last one of those purchasers went out and founded a band.

    8. Um, "Like," Strel. I was sorely tempted, but did not share that.

  11. Annie, do NOT let this waste of organic material cause you to doubt yourself. I don't know how long you've been doing this, but you certainly know more about teaching than this entitled prince(ss). I'm sure if the administration investigates they'll find this is all a pack of lies. (I wanted to use other terms, but I'm trying to behave like a mature adult.)

    The mantra for today is: This is college, not the THIRTEENTH GRADE.

    1. Why not use other terms? That's what this blog is for.

  12. AO, we look forward to an update after the meeting with the Dean!

  13. Thank you everyone!! I felt buoyed by your support, Misery at its best! Today I told the dean that I would not meet with the student. I have nothing to defend and will not be placed in a position of having to defend myself. I want her/him out of my class. The dean agreed.

    I also asked the dean to call a random sample of students in the class. The dean did, and here's the best part: the first student spoken to said things are great, fun, blah blah blah. There is one student who is a bit of a jerk, but the prof [me, of course] handles it with good humor and doesn't let it take over. The student being referred to is...wait for it...the one making the complaint! Made my day.

    Will update after I hear about the meeting. Thanks again--you guys rock.

  14. Oh, and thank you to the graphics guru! I had one to insert, but kind of took out my frustrations on the image while altering it and it was a bit demented. Even by Misery standards. This one is perfect. Maybe not blurry enough, and there's no duck, but still perfect.

  15. Ugh. I can't wait for this student to get a complaint against hir.

    I'm so glad that things are being resolved quickly. But what a pain.

  16. Cesspool of Marxism and identity politics. Kiss an ass like you've never kissed an ass before. fucking liberal pussies. Talk dirty, you filthy girl. Come over to my house? Show me your liberal cesspit, and I'll show you mine.

    1. Dr Pablito, who the hell is supposed to be beyond the fourth wall? I enjoys me some crazzy surreal humour sometimes, but that made no sense at all.

  17. Oy! Glad your Dean is being appropriately supportive.

    I was going to guess interpersonal communications, but that may be colored by the fact that I've had a frustrating week with majors in communications (which seems to be the major a great many of our more clueless students choose -- which is, of course, no reflection on communications scholars; a few decades ago, English was that major, and, aside from the loss of butts in seats, I'm not entirely sorry they've moved on). They're surrounded by stuff they can analyze, and, in doing so, make at least a slightly original argument, but are they willing to do so? In many cases, no; they just want to repeat something their favorite professor said.

    Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand. . . .My (very amateur, informed only by some reading I've done to cope with a particularly difficult member-by-marriage of my family) guess is that you might be dealing with someone with a personality disorder, possibly something in the Borderline/Narcissistic range (the thinking on whether what are called the "cluster B" disorders are actually separate, or variations on some larger phenomenon, seems to be in flux, and my terminology may be out of date). People with Borderline Personality Disorder tend to black and white thinking (people are good or bad, completely competent or hopelessly incompetent); they can swing quite wildly and unpredictably between the two poles; and they do a lot of projecting, mostly as a way of protecting their own extremely fragile self-images (somebody here is hopelessly incompetent, it can't be me, because I couldn't deal with that, so it must be you, Annie, and I'm going to move heaven and earth and go on a crusade and engage the assistance of others to prove it -- that last is the part where I think a bit of Narcissism might be showing up).

    1. The other part of the picture (offered in a separate comment because apparently I've gone on longer than blogger allows -- no surprise there) is that for people suffering from these disorders, feelings are facts -- in other words, if the student feels that you've insulted and attacked hir, in hir reality, you really did it; (s)he's *not* lying (though she may be seriously out of touch with reality). (S)he also may well really have believed that you were the best teacher in the world a day (or an hour) before a change in hir inner weather led hir to conclude the exact opposite, and write that screed, and file complaints (and, as Frod points out, (s)he might some day switch back, and come looking for a recommendation, or want to sign up for another class).

      Oh, and the kicker: because they so badly need to feel like "good" people (and to have others perceive them as such, because they need the reassurance), people with BPD are often drawn to the helping professions (and are sometimes even reasonably competent in them -- well, until they tangle with a colleague or supervisor or patient or parent over a perceived slight. Or some of them cope just fine in the public/professional realm, but go home and rage at partners or children).

      Obviously, living with this kind of insecurity, and the internal dialogue that goes with it, would be tremendously difficult, and I have real sympathy for people who live with this disorder. On the other hand (and this I say from personal experience), it can be tremendously difficult, and energy-draining, to cope with the side-effect once somebody has chosen you as hir projection-screen, put you in the "black" category, and, with focused a degree of energy that can only come from desperation on proving that you're the one with the problem. So, yes, take great care to protect yourself, even as things seem to be resolving. You don't have a permanent relationship with this person, so hopefully (s)he will move on, but don't underestimate the depth of hir unhappiness, or just how real hir internal reality is to hir.

      Or maybe I'm wrong, but one side-effect of dealing with someone with this disorder (or family of disorders, or cluster of behaviors, or whatever you want to call it) is that one seems to develop radar for it, and, well, this sounds familiar.