Monday, January 26, 2015

The Continuing Saga of Tyler Text-thumb. From Prof. Chiltepin.

Me: Put away your phone.

Tyler: I wasn't looking at my phone.

Me: Regardless, put it away. Okay, so, the favorite fruit of the marmoset is, by convergent evolution, also the favorite fruit of my nephew George, and does anyone know what that is?

Dan: The muskrat?

Me: Okay, so, let's see. A fruit is what, Dan?

Dan: Has a seed inside.

Me: Does a muskrat have a seed inside?

Dan: [thinking hard] I don't think --

Tyler: [interrupting] Muskrats are wacky!

Dan: [lost train of thought] Yeah?

Me: [long breath] Okay. Tyler. When you interrupt class like that, especially when someone is thinking and trying to come up with an answer, it undermines the whole process of learning. I won't put up with it.

Tyler: What? I was just agreeing with you!

Me: I am not arguing with you. I am telling you. These outbursts stop, and the texting stops.

Tyler: I was just --

Me: I don't care. Just say 'Yes, I understand.' That's all I want to hear from you right now.

Tyler: Why are you such a dick to me?

Me: I am a dick to anyone who interrupts my class, because these people here are all paying quite a lot of money to be here, and I have a responsibility to make sure they get their money's worth. That means they're paying for me, an expert in my field, to help them understand a complicated topic. They're not paying to hear your comedy routines.

Tyler: You're a jerk.

Me: Yes. I am. Moving along, Dan, you were saying that a fruit had a seed in it . . . ?


Probably not best practice, having that conversation in front of the whole class, but I lost my temper. It did have a couple effects. Dan came up, thanked me for stopping the interruption, and asked if he could move further away from Tyler ("Sit where you want, man, you're an adult."). And a girl came to my office visibly trembling and almost crying because she wanted help with a paper and she thought I might yell at her. Man alive. There's no middle ground, is there?


  1. I am prone to these outbursts and I get similar results. Try following up the next class by explaining again why you gave Tyler a hard time, emphasizing your willingness to take on the responsibility of helping them learn. It's not an apology, just a calm statement of your role in their education. That has helped to make me appear less intimidating to the students who want help. Good luck.

  2. I have done this before, too. You might be surprised at how many students appreciate you calling Tyler out.

    I agree with BB's suggestion--I had to put a "classroom behavior" statement on my syllabi after a particularly interesting student took my class. It basically covers disruptive behavior (like texting or interrupting someone who's talking) and indicates what the procedures are for being readmitted to a class once they've been red-carded. Haven't had to use it yet, but I don't doubt that eventually, I will.

  3. The few times that's happened to me, I've explained it offline to the student and I've told the rest of the class my reasoning. Most of the rest of the class should be on board. The idiot might not be. A lot of them have grown up very sheltered. I sometimes roll my eyes at the thought of them trying to exist in the real world. College has become a very comfortable cocoon for many.

    1. Twenty years of hard labor in Siberia would help that, you know.....

    2. I could always lend you my STAPLE GUN! (Twitch! Twitch!) It works GREAT on thumbs! (TWITCH!)

  4. First, I missed the part where you lost your temper. I just see a controlled, appropriate reaction.

    Second, are you teaching high school?Probably not, but this sounds so much like high school. Apparently your students (like so many of mine) don't know the difference.

    For years now I've had a "classroom behavior" paragraph on my syllabi, which includes "no texting, use of cell phones or laptops." Ever. When I've had to enforce it, I'll stop the class and say something directly to the miscreant like "there's no texting in class, it's on the syllabus. If it happens again, you'll have to leave; and you can count on an F in this class." It doesn't make me any friends, but that's not my goal in the classroom. The behavior stops.

    One thing I don't do is engage in this kind of exchange with students. There's a distance, and they need to be made aware of it. Old school.

  5. It's a very masculine form of communication, so I can see how those more comfortable with a feminine style would feel intimidated, although the behavior seemed to merit some form of intervention on the part of the professor...

    My students behave this way, too, which makes me wonder how far removed from high school some college students really are. I wish I should just put a "postpone" sticker on some of them so they can go grow up and return.

    1. I'm not sure what makes the communication "masculine." I do much the same in my classes, and I'm not any softer about it. I dislike the way students get traction with the "Professor X is 'intimidating' and my nervousness in the face of that intimidation must be accommodated." This is usually nonsense. If my being an expert in my field makes you nervous, that's your problem. If you're worried that I'll call you on your bs or laziness when I see it, then you should be worried. I don't mean that I'm rude or cruel to students (in fact I'm very pleasant, positive, and supportive) but that an undergraduate probably should be a little nervous when meeting with a professor. Same with meeting anyone in a position of authority, you want to be on your toes, be your best self, and communicate effectively. Learning how to function in those situations is part of growing up, and I hate when deans or chairs try to tell us to be "nicer", as if that has anything to do with it.

    2. It is not masculine. My Mom used to yell at me all the time. Sometimes, I deserved it.

  6. In Linguistics and Communication Studies, masculine forms of communication are direct and confrontational and feminine forms are relational building, face saving, and non-confrontational. The gender of the person using the communication has nothing to do with the style of communication. Certain careers and situations foster more masculine types of communication than feminine and vice versa.

    Students do need to learn to negotiate multiple styles of communication, but college is often the first place they encounter female professors adopting a traditionally more masculine style and it's disconcerting to some of them who have only had nurturing/mothering teachers. Does that mean we switch to make them more comfortable? Maybe in certain contexts. But in general, we expect them to get used to our style and to being called out or called on.

    1. I have a tendency toward "feminine" forms of communication in general (I-statements, empathy, etc.). So perhaps breaking out the direct slap down shocked some people. He hasn't been to class since, so I'm not sure that was the most helpful way to handle it. But the other students have had a quantum leap in engagement. So maybe it was.

    2. I think it's always good to shock them once so they know the "crazy" can come out (not that you were crazy, but to them, it seems shocking) if provoked. He wasn't behaving as he should have and was being a jerk.

  7. All good teachers are dicks when you have to be. The bad teachers are just dicks all the time for no reason.

  8. If you ever figure out how to scare the right students, without terrifying the wrong ones, Prof C, please let the rest of us know. My warnings about plagiarism always seem to multiply the anxiety of the wrong students (those who have a pretty good idea of how to paraphrase and cite, but/and are inclined to spend far more energy than necessary over minutae of formatting), and go straight over the heads of those who need to hear them (those who routinely cut and paste gobs of text without ever touching the quotation-mark key).