Monday, September 20, 2010

Crybaby Sally.

I had this student last semester in a class that was based largely on attendance and participation in discussion. She frequently missed class or came in late, and when she was present, she sat silently without participating. Towards the middle-end of the semester, she stopped me after class, and told me she was worried about her grade.

Haha! I was, too. But I spoke to her in a kindly manner and explained to her that she was indeed in a difficult position. She began to cry. Ah-LOT. She said she felt that I didn't like her very much, and that she bet that I thought she wasn't a very good student, but that she WAS a very good student.

I was a bit stymied. I actually felt badly. I told her that of course I didn't dislike her, and that I had no idea what kind of a student she was outside of this class. I pointed out, very gently, that the only information I had to work with was the fact the she missed class, was late, and never spoke and all. But, you know, that might indicate good student-ness in a Bizarro Universe. I told her that if she didn't miss any class for the rest of the semester and increased her participation, she could raise her grade. She came to class a little more. She didn't participate much more. She got a "C." End of story.

Or... not. She's in my class again this semester (yay!). She missed the first class entirely. She showed up late to the second class. By then, I'd assigned some reading. She came to my office hours and the cry-cries began anew. This time, it was "I have a lot of trouble getting motivated to read all this. It's really hard. I might take the semester off" (oh please oh please oh please). This class had a huge waitlist, and she told me that she'd let me know her decision by next class.

"Next class" happened. She didn't come. The kids met in groups to discuss the readings they had done. They turned in their papers. I added all the students I planned to add, figuring Crybaby Sally was out like trout. But no! She was waiting for me at my office after class. "Can I turn in my papers tomorrow?" she asks. Now I'm really honestly getting irked at her.

"Why on Earth would I want to let you do that?" I ask. "Why didn't you come to class again today?"

"I told you yesterday!" As if it were obvious and I were a moron. "Because it's hard for me to do all that reading!"

I told her that I figured she had dropped, since she hadn't attended after our last talk. And this is where it gets good: she sobbed at me that she had always known I didn't like her and that she's really intimidated by me, I'm really, really scary, and she was terrified to come to class without her papers because she knew I'd embarrass her in front of the class. My head nearly exploded (not from anger, actually, from total shock).

1) Hate her? I don't ever think about her existence, in fact. Like Jordan said to JD on Scrubs, "Oh, Crybaby Sally. I don't hate you. I nothing you!" Where is this "I don't like her" crap coming from? Oh, yeah, I'm a psychologist. I'm supposed to know this stuff.

2) Wait, seriously? She's intimidated by ME??!?! Hahahahahaha, that's awesome. I'm 5-foot nada, I'm less than a decade older than her, and I'm a total goofball. All my examples come from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and Japanese anime and video games. It kinda made me feel weird/good that Crazytown here was actually scared of me. Weird, because I think of myself as a total dork and my students generally have problems seeing me as an authority figure, if anything. Good because, well, yeah! Be afraid! Be very afraid.

3) She thought I'd embarrass her in front of the class? It's her stupid education. I wouldn't've said a thing. I never do, when students don't bring their papers. They just don't get any points for discussion. But I never point it out to anyone. Maybe I should get a spotlight and a megaphone so I can live up to my tyrannical reputation.

If you love me at all, you're all hoping that she couldn't handle the strain and dropped the course. But no. She stayed. She'll stay forever. To torture me. And cry about it.

Maybe I'll wear my Darth Vader mask to school tomorrow. Scary. Because I have one.


  1. C'mon, psycho...diagnose her for us!

    Paranoid delusions? Drug abuse? Inferiority complex? The Batshitcrazies?

    You must have some clue.

    I swear, I get one of these a semester. Although mine usually don't cry. They do like making up all these fallacious stories in their twisted little heads about the evil I do to them though.

  2. If there weren't two wars in progress, I'd recommend this student do a stint in the military. They have ways of making kids like this grow up, fast. She thinks -you're- intimidating? It's called a confidence course because, the first time you fall off one of those things, you become confident you won't break any bones, next time. And yes, the first time a student told me to my face that I was "intimidating," I was shocked and dismayed. Now I revel in it, and wouldn't you know, I'm a much more effective teacher. Don't you HATE it when you get repeat customers for no conceivable reason?

  3. Whoa, not only do I personally know this student--I am you (except for the field of study)! I had the same experience, except mine had a little more passive-aggression, threatening emails, and a formal grievance thrown into the mix. None of this was a problem because I have extensive training in handling this (as a writing prof) and hours of free time to devote to students like this.

  4. "Oh, Crybaby Sally. I don't hate you. I nothing you!"

    This is exactly it! They can't fathom that you (I, we, the guy down the hall) DON'T EVEN THINK about them once we're out of the classroom and away from email. The sense of self-importance is ridiculous. And I'd be willing to bet that a prof being indifferent is harder to swallow than the prof "not liking them."

    I don't recommend pointing that out to this or any other snowflake, because that's exactly the kind of shit that they take to the boss.

  5. The first time I heard the hallway gossip that I was a really intimidating booger of a professor, I nearly cried with laughter. In my last appointment the chair thought that I was far too *easy* (not really, but I don't have a confrontational style; it was New Jersey versus the South). Like Froderick, though, I have embraced the rep, and I am a better teacher for it (and the good students point out when they don't think I can hear that I'm not a booger, I just make people work.)

    I'm sorry that Sally finds things hard to read. THat's what college is for, learning to read the hard stuff. Have you asked her why the text is hard to read? She may be a weaker reader, or may genuinely have never learned to read argumentative texts before. Often students have no idea that academic reading needs to be active reading, or what active reading even is.

  6. I don't believe her.

    This is High Class Manipulative Bull Shit (HCMBS). If she claims she cannot perform because YOU SCARE HER, she is able to escape responsibility. Whether she believes it or not, it is simply NOT TRUE. It is a way to frame her failure by blaming other people. HCMBS. Well done, I'd say.

    Confession time. When I was 16, I once skipped work (I slept in and didn't really care until I woke up properly and realized I needed that paycheck). So I called an underling boss and explained that I didn't come in because I thought "Big Boss didn't like me."

    Instead of getting into trouble, I got about 3 weeks of Big Boss falling over backwards to prove she liked me and thought I had a lot of promise. HCMBS.

    I've never done that again, but believe me. It's 100% HCMBS. This student needs to know short and quick: a) you like her as well as you like any other student AND b) regardless of feelings, she has work to do and if she cannot do the work, she needs to drop but you will be pleased if she begins to do the work and successfully completes the course.

    End of story. Done. Don't let her manipulation work.

  7. Thanks, guys! I feel better about being "intimidating." I'm going to embrace it. I'm going to let out my inner Sauron ("I see you...!"). I guess I ought to start thinking about myself as an authority figure whether I like it or not, because to these little twerps, I AM one.

    Thanks, Academic Monkey. I guess it never occurred to me that she was trying to manipulate me. I just figured she was crazysauce. I suppose those two things aren't really mutually exclusive, though, huh?

    Picky, that's what I said! "I'm sorry reading is hard, but gee - that's what we do in college. If you can't handle the workload, you might as well go out and get a job flipping burgers. You blubbering hooker!" Ok. I didn't really say that, and neither did you. But I did tell her that that was college life, dot dot dot...

    Cranky, I do laugh at how many students think I think about them and I always have a moment of struggle trying to get myself back on track ("Remember last week when I e-mailed to tell you I wasn't coming to class? You probably noticed I was absent, and..." and I have to compose my face and nod, when I'm really thinking... "you were absent? Didn't notice at all!")

    Gladys, tis good to know you understand where I'm coming from on this... what does your "extensive training" entail? Can I have some?

    XOXOXO all -


  8. I have a Darth Vader mask, too! And also a box of Kleenex for criers. I get lots of them.

  9. I second Academic Monkey. Get over the feeling bad, too, because she doesn't.

  10. I'm sorry you got stuck with her, but consider yourself fortunate that at least Crybaby didn't go to the administration. That's what happened to one of my friends. He ended up in a conference with his chairperson and a counselor, during which he was forced to sit and listen to Crybaby Cathy berate him (tears flowing the whole time) for intimidating her and making her too scared/embarrassed to come to class. He was not allowed to do anything but help create an "action plan" to assist her with her "fear issues."

  11. > He ended up in a conference with his
    > chairperson and a counselor, during which he
    > was forced to sit and listen to Crybaby Cathy
    > berate him (tears flowing the whole time) for
    > intimidating her and making her too
    > scared/embarrassed to come to class.

    "The No Asshole Rule," by management professor Robert I. Sutton, gives some good advice what to do in a situation like this. At this point, I would have stood up, said, "For the record, every one of you people are GROSSLY incompetent," and walked out. But then, I have tenure. I feel sorry for anyone who has to put up with nonsense like this: I certainly did, before I had tenure. Once you have the power, you really ought to use it: the result will be a better education for your students.

  12. Most psychologists are not psychotherapists and don't do any diagnosin'.

  13. At the place my friend works, his tenure is irrelevant. If the admins want to get rid of someone on the faculty, tenured or not, they will find a way to do it even if it means fabricating evidence. It's a nasty environment, and he will be jumping ship if he can get something as soon as the job market improves.

  14. > At the place my friend works, his tenure is
    > irrelevant. If the admins want to get rid of
    > someone on the faculty, tenured or not, they
    > will find a way to do it even if it means
    > fabricating evidence.

    I see, one of those places like I was at, when I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, Likely-for-Perpetuity. It was the sort of place where "the beatings will continue until morale improves" was sincere. Here's what I'd do in a case like that: for the day before the dreaded meeting, feast on baked beans, cabbage, asparagus, and Limburger cheese. During the meeting, let them HAVE IT. If anyone whines, tell them you can't help it: attribute it to the stress of the hostile work environment that in reality in no way warrants tears, at least not from anyone acting like an adult. Make sure all of this goes onto the record, too: any lawyer or judge will notice it.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.