Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mother, May I?

For a week and a half, a mother-daughter duo has been in my summer Duckling Behavior and Culture course. I've had mother-daughter duos in classes before. This is not new to me. Usually, they get along and seem to enjoy each other's company.

What is new, is that the mother keeps bossing her daughter around. On day one, she told her daughter where to sit. She reminded her not to sprawl in her seat and loudly instructed her to bring her some chips from the vending machine in the hallway during the break. "Don't get any sugary snacks," she remonstrated, "You know you still need to lose a few pounds." We all attempted to ignore the mother and her snide remarks.


Today during the quiz, the mother leaned over and, I kid you not, asked the daughter what the answer to one of the questions was. The daughter refused to respond by simply ignoring the mother, given that she noticed me staring straight at the pair sitting all of three feet away from me. The mother immediately responded with, "I am your mother! You do as I say."

I stepped in to intervene by reminding them that during the quiz, they should focus on their own quizzes. The mother stopped attempting to coerce her daughter into cheating, but for the rest of class, made snide passive-aggressive comments about how if she were getting the support she needed at home, she wouldn't still be in college. It was very awkward and unnecessary and I felt very bad for the daughter. After class, I talked with the mother briefly to remind her that quizzes were her chance to gauge how much information she was retaining, and were not punitive acts to catch her out. I use the quizzes solely to see what needs to be repeated from the day before, since we are moving very quickly in this 3-week session. Later, I heard the mother giving her daughter a royal chewing out for not being "loyal to the family."

Just when I think my day is shitty, I think about this daughter and what she must be enduring on her ride home with her mother...

16 comments:

  1. What a shit-hole environment the poor daughter must be living in. The mom's behavior will, no doubt, last all semester.

    Is there any way to get the mom moved into another section ASAP?

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  2. Perhaps you could use your quizzes (and students' cheating on them) to provide evidence that would justify you throwing a student out of class.

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  3. We had a department member whose daughter went here a few moons ago, and the mother often walked the daughter to class, and then strolled by when it let out.

    Once, after my class was out a few minutes early, my colleague said, "Where's Daria?"

    I said, well class got out a bit earlier.

    My colleague sort of "harumphed," and went off in search.

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  4. YIKES! I've never seen such a thing. Who knew helicopters could get right inside the building.

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    1. Wish we had a "like" button sometimes.

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    2. Drones are smaller than standard helicopters, but at least as dangerous.

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  5. Personally, I would have failed the mother for the quiz for attempting to cheat!

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  6. Seconding Beaker Ben and TK-421 about busting Mom for trying to cheat, I'd start the process of reporting her right away -- not only for cheating but for disrupting class. How I wish we could throw students out of class for cheating, but in my state the Little Bu - no - Dears are entitled to due process.

    Our process starts with "communicating the problem to the student in a timely manner." To me that means taking take Mom aside ASAP and reading her the riot act about disrupting class with side comments. I'd give her copies of the student conduct code and the syllabus with relevant parts highlighted, and provide her with a copy of the paperwork I'd "already submitted" (even if I hadn't yet) to the Dean of Insufficient Consequences.*

    "Your behavior has been making the classroom tense, and people don't learn well in a tense environment.

    "I'm still speaking.

    "Every student in my class deserves courtesy from every other student. You have been impolite and disruptive to the class as a whole and to one student in particular. It has to stop immediately. Starting today, I will assign you to a different seat.

    "I'm still speaking.

    "I'm still speaking.

    [pulling phone out] "Defying an instructor's authority also violates the student conduct code. I have campus security on speed dial.

    "Thank you.

    "I could suspend you today, but I want to give you a chance to clean up your act. Today you will treat all your classmates with respect, from the moment you enter the classroom until the moment you leave. Mutter just once, distract any other student just once, and I will dismiss you from class until after you have spoken with the Dean.

    [walking away] "I'm not interested in excuses."

    I would dress in my most kick-ass yet professional attire for that class, from suit jacket with funky pocket square to high-heeled boots. I would allow a few minutes beforehand (in a bathroom stall if necessary) to stand in a superhero posture, legs planted wide, hands on hips, to prime the pump for confidence-related hormones and neurotransmitters. I would avoid the peace-making phrase "I feel that. . . " and would end sentences definitively, not with "ok?"

    And I would seat the mother in a different row from the daughter, but in the front of the room, so that Mom has to turn around to make eye contact with daughter.

    Kudos to the daughter for the passive resistance she has mustered; that took incredible strength given what probably has been a lifetime of verbal abuse. Her ride home might be hell, but at least your classroom can give her one safe place. Coincidentally, a pamphlet about abusive relationships and campus counseling services might just make it into the middle of one of her assignments after grading.

    *The dean's position is a poorly remembered quotation from Frog and Toad. My scenario is a fantasy based on dealing with previous disruptive students and imagining being able to treat my own domineering, undercutting mother this way.

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    1. But what a beautiful fantasy it is!

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  7. Definitely move the mother, permanently. If she won't move, move the daughter, who I'm sure would be grateful. If the mother asks "why", ask her to see you after class. Tell her, "You attempted to get answers off your daughter during the last quiz, so I am going to separate you for the rest of the semester." If she complains, send her to the chair or the dean.

    What's most important is that you stand your ground on this. Failing someone for trying to cheat may be hard, but even the most student friendly chair or dean won't see much problem with moving them.

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  8. I'm a wimp; I was thinking different quizzes (or at least scrambled questions), printed on different-colored paper. But yes, really, the mother needs to be confronted (though I admit I'd have trouble doing so. Again, I'm a wimp.) It sounds like you made a reasonable start on that with the conversation you had with her about the purpose of quizzes, but it sounds like the kind of situation that may well escalate (for one thing, she may choose a new, more private set of seats, though maybe not; if she'd try to cheat while sitting right in front of you, she's probably oblivious to normal standards of behavior).

    And yes, the daughter almost certainly needs a referral to the counseling service (or perhaps even the local domestic violence shelter, assuming it's one that has figured out that women can be abusers as well as victims of abuse -- and sometimes, admittedly, the same woman can be both). How you manage that with mom hovering so close by, I don't know (email might be an option, but somehow I doubt that daughter's passwords -- at least to the accounts mom knows about -- are private). Maybe salt any nearby bathrooms with appropriate literature and/or stickers?

    Mom is probably pathologically insecure (as well as pathologically a few other things), but knowing that, though it may generate some sympathy for her, doesn't solve the problem. Is any part of your student services bureaucracy functional? If so, maybe a conversation with those folks is in order? For one thing, if the mother keeps bugging her daughter for help, you might be able to offer her a referral for tutoring/study skills services, and then give the folks at that service a heads-up that there may be greater problems.

    The other option, of course, is to invoke whatever academic cheating sanction process is available, but, leaving aside the toothlessness of many such services, I'd worry a bit about mom taking it out on her daughter.

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    1. In answer to your question about whether any part of our student services bureaucracy... No, we have no such function with our student services, and our academic dean is a big wimp who, when confronted about why she didn't do such-and-such, responds, "I hate that part of this job, so I don't do it." And since there is no other section of the course to move her to, she will likely remain in my section unless she attempts more outrageous behavior. I have no problems setting boundaries and being firm (that is what I am known for in my dept., and I have worked hard to maintain that reputation).

      Since it is a 3-week course and we have literally six class periods left (including the final exam), I was reluctant to cause the daughter any further problems by calling out her mother because her behavior, while annoying, didn't seem too 'out there.' Yesterday I mostly did what my syllabus says I would do: to notify the student that her behavior was unacceptable and an F on the quiz. THe second offense earns a boot out of the class. She earned an F on her "quiz" and today, I reminded EVERYONE of the course policy to be civil to one another and of the purpose of the quizzes. The mother was somewhat less 'active,' but there is clearly some serious dysfunction going on in that family. I have a chance to talk with the daughter if she shows up for her one-on-one conferences at the end of the week.

      Thanks, all, for the suggestions.

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  9. Curse that academic dean; she needs to go to the same circle of hell as TK-421's "Department Chair Debra" in another post today.

    The mother's behavior *is* beyond the pale. Since you have that "second offense" clause in your syllabus, and since you have a great reputation for being firm, I withdraw my advice about moving Mom's seat. If she continues to sit near the daughter, you might catch her in the act again and have grounds to boot her out of the class. What fun!

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    1. Yes we can.

      I am SO looking forward to further chapters about this Mom from Hell.

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    2. I, too, would love an update (and am hoping the daughter is only home for the summer, and/or might be able to transfer to a 4-year residential college -- or just move out and get on with life -- soon. It sounds like she really needs to escape).

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