Saturday, October 18, 2014

Programming Patty Has a Question on Etiquette.

I am not really a professor; I’m actually a staff member but I just started teaching 1-credit pass/fail “intro to college life” course that is required for freshmen. Though it sounds lame, the class has some useful information, such as how to use the university systems to register online or check your GPA, how to complete the core and required courses for majors, library research, applying for campus jobs, etc. Of course there is also the required touchy-feely stuff that doesn’t seem particularly relevant, though I have to present it anyway. But enough of it is useful that I can understand why the course is required.

Recently we were combined with another class for a presentation from Counseling Services. Perhaps it was because the presenter was an actual therapist, but she didn’t have a particularly commanding voice nor any sort of authoritative presence (I always start class with a loud declaration that “Class is starting NOW,” and I close the door and make it clear that everyone has to shut up at that point, and I rein them in if they start talking out of turn) My students happen to be well-behaved and mostly decent (not because of me - I just lucked out), so they sat quietly and paid attention to the presentation, but the other professor’s students, with whom we were combined, were somewhat rowdy and not very respectful of the speaker. They settled down once the counselor handed out an extremely long anonymous survey about drug and alcohol usage. But of course, those who finished this survey first started getting all rowdy again, talking with their friends, shouting across the room, laughing and joking loudly. And other students were still filling out the survey so it was clearly disrupting them. Since my students were talking quietly and not disturbing others, I didn’t say anything – it wasn’t my class that was the problem. I kept hoping the other professor would rein in his students, or the counselor herself would keep them in line. But no one said anything. Finally my teaching assistant (an upperclassmen assigned to each “intro to college life” class) told them to pipe down. That didn’t have much effect. Eventually the other professor told them to keep their voices low until the others had finished, and they got a little bit quieter, and then everyone was done with the survey and we continued on with the presentation.

My question is: would it have been appropriate if I had immediately told the other professor’s students to pipe down? Or would the students have thought that, if their professor didn’t say anything, why should they listen to me, a random stranger? Would the other professor (a stranger to me – we just happened to combine our classes for the presentation) have thought I’m out of line in reining in his students? I assumed he had no problem with their rowdiness, otherwise he’d have said something, but he eventually did say something, it just took him a long time to get around to it.

It’s not that the situation is likely to occur again, just curious as to what you veterans would have done (obviously, if my own students disrupting others, I’d have been all over them about it immediately, but mine are surprisingly well-behaved).

13 comments:

  1. This thing also occurs with other people's children. I have been fortunate that my friends haven't been a problem, but I have seen parents get extremely butthurt when other adults address their children to correct a behavior. Myself, I figure, if it's in my car, my house, my property, or even my personal space, I'm within my rights to address whoever is putting themselves, me, or my stuff at risk, respectfully and professionally. But out in neutral territory, or space that is arguably not mine, the rules change.

    Now onto your colleague. It's possible that he was oblivious, but also possible he was initially as unsure of how to handle 'disciplining' the combined class as you were. If he spoke up, he risked your thinking that he was also calling your students out for unruly behavior, which he might have thought would offend you. And there's the whole diffusion of responsibility thing.

    My solution in these situations is to sidebar with the colleague: "Hey, it looks like the class is getting kind of noisy, and it's bothering the students who are still trying to finish their work. Do you think we should do something about this?"

    The colleague will generally either off the bat propose we issue a joint statement of 'settle the fuck down and shut the fuck up', or they'll say it's not a problem. If the latter, then I'll propose we issue a joint request of 'please keep it down out of respect for your classmates who are working' anyway; this is always agreed to.

    The key here is that by communicating with the colleague, I was able to see where they stood on the issue, and we could both feel the discipline was appropriate to the situation.

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    1. Good point, perhaps he was considering the same thing and that's why he didn't speak up. Too bad he wasn't sitting nearby, but I should have walked to the other side of the room to ask him. I was surprised that the guest speaker didn't say anything. She didn't even introduce herself, just started speaking quietly. Students generally need some sort of clear division between "we're waiting for class to start" and "class has now begun."

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  2. I like OPH's suggestions (and also like how the TA handled the situation). I also think one has to factor in the possibility that students will ignore anyone *but* their own instructor/TA (and perhaps, but only perhaps, the speaker).

    I also suspect that, while classes do vary, you didn't just luck out. You've set some expectations about classroom behavior with your students, and they've stuck. Congratulations.

    And yes, although in an ideal world students wouldn't need such classes (because they'd take the initiative to figure things out themselves), they can definitely play a useful role given the realities of the current situation (and probably also help to level the playing field for students without college-educated parents, helicopter or not).

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    1. Agree that OHP's is a good suggestion. My students were evidently more, well, studious and attentive than the other section, and not sure that is directly related to me or just the luck of the draw. Perhaps a bit of both. I've polled the others who teach this course. Some of them have very quiet classes who sit there stonily, others have highly engaged students who have to be reined in with class discussions. Mine are surprisingly decent students; no one had to be referred to tutoring for the first written assignment; all but one turned it in on time (the one was a week late), and all but one did an excellent job. And three of them submitted the second assignment although it is not due for another two weeks. Not sure this is directly related to anything I've done; they were probably all good high school students as well.

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  3. I would have at least said to the other professor: "I'm going to ask them to pipe down so those who aren't finished can concentrate." That would at least make it obvious why you were stepping in and that you had acknowledged her presence.

    When I've team taught, we discussed issues like this, but rarely had to worry since the fact that two of us were teaching seemed enough of a deterrent to students who wanted to carouse.

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    1. Yes, that is what I should have done! Well, thanks for the suggestion, if it happens again, I'll certain do that.

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  4. The way I would do it would be to look the derelict proffie in the eye and bellow, "WHAT THE BLUE BLAZES IS *WRONG* WITH YOU? CAN'T YOU CONTROL A CLASS?"

    But of course, I have tenure...

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    1. I'd definitely want to do that, but some of the profflakes around here get incredibly butthurt at the least implication that they might be doing something wrong that it is no longer cost-effective for me to approach it that way. I can't take one more fucking meeting wherein we must share our feelings to resolve our differences.

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    2. Exactly. I didn't want to suggest that the other proffie was remiss, although I think both he and the guest speaker ought to have said something. But I should have talked to him directly instead of sitting there waiting for him to say something until it became apparently he wasn't going to.

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  5. I once taught a summer college class to "advanced" high school students, and I brought in a really good guest speaker. The kids still did their usual crap--headphones in, texting, sleeping during the lecture. Finally the guest speaker interrupted herself to tell the kids to knock it off.

    Technically, I guess she was exercising authority despite being on another prof's turf. But you know what? She was right, and I was wrong. I was wrong not to have told the kids to stop it before it got to the breaking point.

    I was too meek and didn't trust my own (adjunct) authority. When she told them to shut up, I learned a lesson as well. So if you had talked to the other prof--or even if you had asked the other prof's students to settle down yourself--you may have been teaching the other prof an important lesson.

    It sure worked for me. If I ever have students disrespecting a guest lecturer again, I have my speech and my mad face all prepared.

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    1. Yes, I should have talked with him instead of waiting for him to say something (which he finally did, but it took a pretty long time for him to get around to it - I mean a good ten minutes after I would have said something to my own students had they been the rowdy ones.) Well, lesson learned for next time.

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  7. At the school where I teach, we often have library staff visit our classes and sometimes experience the same sort of issues. Sometimes non-teachers don't have some of the basic survival strategies we take for granted (signalling that they are going to begin, speaking loudly, etc.) and immature young people don't always shine in that sort of situation. I generally try to prevent the situation (as much as possible) by introducing the guest speaker, thanking her for generously offering her time, and outlining my expectations of the students before he or she begins. This kind of intro could be sorted out through a brief discussion with one's fellow proffie before the lecture (ie. should I introduce the speaker or should you? I'm going to ask them to listen attentively, take notes, and participate. Perhaps one of us should be on point during the class to say something should they get rowdy? Me or you?)

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