Saturday, October 29, 2016

Superior Susie Has It All Figured Out Already

I have a class in freshman introduction to Hamster Studies.  The class has one student who has Seen Some Shit, Brave Brenda, and she's got a list of accommodations that center mostly on her anxiety as a result of her trauma. She sits near the door, leaves the room if she needs to, and usually contributes great stuff to class.  Sometimes, due to some physical effects from the Shit She Has Seen, she doesn't quite track the conversation, but she has no problems with me getting her back on track.  The class also has another student, who is on the spectrum, Spectral Sally.  This student is engaged, active, friendly, and never needs to work out her shoulders because she's always got her hand up.  She's also extremely intelligent and often makes connections the whole class is still working on, and then races ahead, but she has no problem with me saying "no, slow down, hold up a second" or "I can't call on you right now because I need to get through this bit first."  In other words, two "difficult" students whom I like and who contribute more to the class than any other student.

And then there's Superior Susie, who's got it all figured out.  She's intelligent too, but not nearly as smart as she thinks she is.  Whenever either of the two above students talk, she rolls her eyes, bangs her forehead on the desk, heaves loud and audible sighs, shares notes and whispers with those around her, and so on.  I've already talked to her about it, but she informed me that she's just frustrated because she's smarter than everyone else in the class (yes, really, she said that -- and no, she's not.  Moderately above average, probably).  

Normally, I'd tell her to go stuff herself.  But the issue here is that I can't ethically share the fact that these two other students require accommodations.  If she listened to Sally or Brenda, she'd know why, but of course, she's too busy being frustrated with their really quite minor differences.  God forbid that someone be just a bit different, right?  I mean, we're all white suburban girls here, yeah?  So what are these people, who not only *suffer* but sometimes have to do it in public, doing with us normals?  Eeew.  

I don't normally dislike students, really, I don't.  But once in a while, one displays such odious, disgusting behavior that I can't help it.  Obviously, I'm going to have to have another talk with her, and maybe threaten her with sanctions, but she'll just see that as more of the persecution her blonde perfection must endure in this society of the unfortunately diverse.  If I were a wizard, I'd give her one day in Brenda's life, just one goddamned day, and I imagine she'd crumble like a wet tissue.  Or just one hour with Sally's brain.  

I don't want her to think that her behavior is even remotely acceptable.  I want to convey to her exactly how repulsive of a human being she is painting herself as, but I'm not sure how to do that so that it sticks, without violating the requirements of confidentiality.  Any suggestions?

--Prof. Chiltepin

13 comments:

  1. Chiltepin, that's awful. You clearly can't count on compassion, but what about self-interest? If part of your course grade is attendance or participation, could you make it clear that Superior Susie's eye-rolling, headdesking, and other discourtesies will result in her losing points? I also wonder whether your disability services office has dealt with this before. Someone there might have some ideas.

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  2. She slams her head on the desk?

    What a drama llama.

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  3. Pennsylvania PennyOctober 30, 2016 at 6:42 AM

    Chiltepin, Susie's behavior is unacceptably rude no matter what accommodations her classmates might or might not have. Most of us were taught in elementary school to listen politely when other people are speaking, and to express disagreement in a reasoned way. Perhaps she needs to be reminded of this once more, along with Frankie's excellent idea about the effect on her participation grade if she continues to behave like this. She's being rude to you and to the whole class, not just to Sally and Brenda. The disability-accommodations angle doesn't need to come into it at all.

    I myself would be sorely tempted to come right out and tell her (in private, of course) that no, she isn't smarter than everyone else in the class, but it's understandable if you consider such a remark impolitic.

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  4. As I read this, I was thinking I'd tell her she had to leave. Every time she does it. She sounds like she is making a spectacle of herself, and that is not only rude---it's disruptive.

    Can you talk with her, telling her that she is distracting and rude and if she has even one more instance of this, she'll have to leave? I do realize that makes an even bigger production out of it, but you can also tell her that if it comes to that, she will not be allowed back into class until she offers a written explanation for her behavior and a plan for how she will avoid it from now on (a behavior contract...of sorts). Having her write down her explanation might make her see how odious her thought process is, too. Might.

    We have a counseling center where making behavior contracts and agreements is a "thing" that happens often.

    Does that seem like it might work where you are?

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  5. I read this one yesterday and decided to sleep on it. I now see that others have encompssed much of what I thought and felt in the interim.

    One thing that occured to me is, what if you hadn't led with the backstory about Brave Brenda and Spectral Sally? What if you'd told us only that Superior Susie exhibits her loathsome behaviors randomly throughout class? Or when other students have the floor (and you have not observed carefully enough to see if she singles out particular students)? We'd likely attribute the causes to things other than what we're doing now; e.g., some students hate on others because they see them as competition, so it's a power thing.

    The fact is that her demonstrations are generally unacceptible whatever their cause, and it seems that's the path you could go down. In your next "come to Jesus" meeting, you could tell her that she's bringing the mood of the class down, and she has to reel it in. Such drama might play well on TV, but in real life, people (such as employers) don't like it. You could offer her the "incentive" of being able to earn full participation points when she is not disruptive. Further down the path, at the same time you ask her to explain her behavior, you could ask her for ideas of how she might channel her energy into more positive ways of engaging with the class. The latter explanation and ideas could take place in conversation, writing, or both.

    So, given that you've determined that Susie picks on students with accommodations, I second the suggestion to check with Disability Services for their perspective. It's probable that issues like this have come up before, and they may have some techniques that preserve confidentiality (again, Susie's behavior is unacceptable even towards neurotypicals). I also like the idea of turfing it to the counseling center if they're set up to deal with it, as you've got enough on your plate.

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  6. No Longer A StudentOctober 30, 2016 at 11:05 AM

    Could it be that Susie also has a disability? Not that her rudeness should be tolerated, but you might suggest that she check with Disability Committee in getting a plan to deal with hers? Either she really has an attention disability or it might get the point across.

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    1. "Could it be that Susie also has a disability?"

      I was wondering that myself and how I might bring it up. It's important to be aware that, by US law (ADA), treating the student as if she has a disability is sufficient grounds for her to gain an accommodation. Plus, a professor using a behavior as an example of what a person with a disability would do could be taken for bias. Long story short: perhaps best to discuss the Disability office only if the student first brings up the issue.

      If the student absolutely cannot correct her behavior, then it could be time to discuss privately what resources she might feel would help her make positive changes, and put it in her hands.

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  7. Thanks for the comments. They were helpful. I think I was a victim of extraneous information and emotional reasoning. It's clear that if I just take *which* students she's trying to bully out of the picture, I can focus on her actions alone, rather than their targets. I'll give her a talk next week and see what changes.

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    1. Pennsylvania PennyOctober 31, 2016 at 4:05 AM

      I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd be interested in your follow-up report. Please let us know how things turn out.

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  8. When I've had occasion to speak with a student about their behavior, they often try to shift the conversation to someone else (and like you, I've had students with disabilities and accommodations). I explain that I will discuss ONLY their own behavior and do not discuss other students. Just as I would not discuss their behavior with others. They usually seem to understand that.

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    1. That's an important point about the deflection. It's good to have the response pre-formulated, so that discussion can stay where it needs to be: the general applicability of the advice you'll give.

      Susie will encounter people and behaviors that frustrate her for the rest of her life. She has most control over her own reactions internal and external. This is a good skill for her to develop.

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  9. I thought about your post for a while--Susie's behavior is unacceptable and I started to wonder if she has some issues herself given her rudeness, immaturity, and lack of self-control. But I hope you let her know her behavior is unacceptable and disruptive. It might also be helpful (for Susie) for you to let her know gently she's not the smartest student in the class or in other classes you've taught.

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    1. I don't think it's a FERPA violation to tell her where she stands with respect to the class average.

      As a freshie, she may be laboring under the misconception that being near the top in high school has secured her a similar rank in every subsequent endeavor. Perhaps best she be disabused of that arrogant thinking. Gently. It will help her step up her game.

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