Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Have you ever really, really really ever hated... a student?

I think I do. Maybe for the first time in a really long time.

Usually I'm great at not caring. They annoy me, yes. But generally, I "nothing" them. I don't let 'em get under my skin. I spend way too much time using lotion to keep it silky smooth. ; )

But I have this one student... I've written about her before. She is "terrified" of me because I'm so intimidating (I'm not. I'm 5'1" and look like a student unless I dress in a business suit. I'm pretty funny and generally easygoing and probably overnurturing in general. What's scary about me to her is that I don't give her good grades). She purposely tries to nettle me. This... dislike... has been building up over the past few semesters. Yes! She keeps taking me! Even though she tells me she dislikes me! And that I'm the only professor ever who's thought she wasn't brilliant and an ace student! (There's just been some sort of mistake on her transcript, which looks as though it's filled with slipshod grading by professors who erroneously see her the same way I do). I don't know why she keeps coming back for more of my terrible teaching. She must be a masochist (and/or a sadist).

I had my students do midsemester evals - anonymous, of course. She could've ripped into me and I'd have guessed (but not known!) which one was hers. But this was not to be her subtle and diabolical plan. Instead, she turned it in a week late, directly into my hand, with a shy little smile. "Here," she said, offering it to me as though it were a rare treat. I took it from her with heavily concealed reticence, much like a loving cat-owner might treat their feline's offering of a dead mouse.

After she left, I looked at it. It was filled with 1's and 2's (on a scale from 1 - 7). She even gave me comments! How nice!

"I don't understand why you put quotes up at the beginning of lectures. They're stupid and pointless."

"It's good that you use PowerPoint slides" (I beamed here at her lavish praise and validation) "but your lecture always covers much more than what's on your slides, and then I have to listen to you talk."

"Your tests are unfair. I study a lot but never do well on them. That means the fault lies with you."

The only thing she didn't do is make fun of my hair or shoes. Which was very wise of her. Those things, I kill for. And the above aren't made-up - they're just better-spelled paraphrasings.

In the meantime, I felt a visceral response to her in class today that I haven't felt about a student maybe ever. It went a little something like this:

"Oh, look! It's super-whiny crybaby Sally! Look at her stupid blubbery lips and vacant eyes! I wish I could flying elbow drop you and watch the dumb look on your face as I make you swallow your teeth!"

And then I realized I was in trouble. I've never wanted to see a student get eaten by a dinosaur so badly. I think I probably overcompensate in the opposite direction when grading her papers, if anything - meaning she gets D-pluses she doesn't really deserve instead of D-minuses - but still. Have you ever experienced actual, genuine, straight-up DISLIKE like this? What do you do? What can you do? I don't like feeling this way. Do you think it would go away if she got eaten by a dinosaur? I do.


PS - it's a good thing I'm cute and tiny, isn't it? Or maybe I would be intimidating.


  1. I had one, yeah. Just once, but once was enough. I ended up googling various strings to see if I could find a bit of camaraderie: I hate my student (which was always modified by by 'loans,' 'job,' 'government,' 'teacher,' 'teaching assignment,' or 'ID picture'), I hate one of my students (which back then produced no results at all), I don't like one of my students (which came up with something useful, but only one hit). It helped, a little, but this will help more.

  2. "I've never wanted to see a student get eaten by a dinosaur so badly. "

    You owe me a new keyboard.

  3. I had one that really got on my nerves. It takes two things - whining AND a sense of entitlement - to irritate me. Your student has all three, though: whining, entitlement, and passive-aggression. That dinosaur image is priceless.

  4. What is a total bummer is when one's hatred for student X becomes a hatred for students P, Q, R, S, T and so forth.

  5. This is the FIRST time you've hated a student? Geezus, who are you? Mother Theresa or something?

  6. "I've never wanted to see a student get eaten by a dinosaur so badly."

    When I read this, the first thing that came to my mind was how terrified my son was of a mechanical dinosaur toy. He wasn't quite yet two and we were visiting friends with a 4 year old that had toy dinosaurs, no more than a foot high, that would walk and after every few steps would roar. When my friend's boy turned on the dinosaur, the look on my son's face was priceless. Sheer, utter, abject, but unbearably cute, terror. When it roared, he tried to crawl under the couch to get away.

    Now, I have this vision of Super-Whiny Crybaby Sally having the same look of terror on her face when the (five-)foot-tall dinosaur (Callie) is coming after her, roaring all the way.
    Crash, crash, crash. Rrrroooowwwwwwwrrrrr! Crash, crash, crash.

  7. I had one once who made my life a living hell. She was an ex-con who sat at the front of the room and shot me up with hate-rays every single day.

    The first sentence of her first Comp I paper was "What can I say? Murderers like me." I'll never forget that.

    I actually wrote it up at the time, and it wound up on the RYS page as a result of a Thirsty about what mistakes we made during the semester.

    Even though that student has moved on to a 4-year college, I still see her (why?!?!?!?) from time to time on our campus, and my emotions when I do border on rage.

    Oh, and the best part? Months after she was out of my class, maybe even a year, I went to dinner at a fine restaurant in my city, and there she was, valeting cars. Somebody gave this person a job in which rich people hand her the keys to their cars.

    I've had others, but this chick really took the cake.

  8. You had me at "flying elbow drop". But yes, eaten by a dinosaur was an unexpected second swell. Don't make me laugh when I'm in my office! Someone might want to know what I'm reading in here. [wombat looks over her shoulder in fear]

  9. Hmm, new nomenclature? There are snowflakes, and then there are DINOSAUR SNACKS.

  10. Sure, I've had students I hated, for reasons similar to yours. Once I had a whole class of education majors like that. But professionalism demands that we do our best to conceal our feelings, no matter how well deserved they are, and that we keep grading fairly.

    And I'm sorry, but there's about an equal chance that your student will be eaten by a non-avian dinosaur as your cat dragging in a bottle of Scotch, and saying (in a voice that sounds like the guy on Fantasy Island), "Hey boss! Look what I got!"

  11. Sounds perfect: students...sic 'em, Dino-breath!

  12. Generally, I like my students, and if I don't like them then I usually don't have an opinion about them either way. Before the CM regulars accuse me of being a snowflake proffie, you need to know that I teach in a small cohort program of mainly nontraditional but highly motivated students who want to become basketweaving teachers. But, last year I got a doozy.

    Jazzy Jenny would come to class late everyday, making a grand entrance each time. Everyone was expected to drop everything the minute she had the merest inanity to utter. She turned in take-home exams days after the due date and expected full credit. She plagiarized. She said socially inappropriate things to the other students. She fractured the cohortiness of the cohort, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. She sprinkled every comment with "and all that JIVE!".

    Finally, at the end of class one day she declared loudly that she didn't need to know anything that I was teaching the class, that she was going to be a *fantastic* basketweaving teacher without knowing any of the theory of basketweaving. I lost it. I snapped. For the first (and only) time in my 20+year in the classroom I lost my temper with a student. In public. I told her that she couldn't possibly be a great basketweaving teacher because she didn't even know what basketweaving was, let alone how to do it. I wasn't screaming at her (and oh, the restraint that took), but I was very far from my usual congenial tone.

    The following week, she pulled me aside and said conspiratorially, "We're OK, right, you and me?" as if we were just having a little domestic disagreement about whether the toilet paper hangs over or under the roll. (Over, damn it, over!)

    I was also extra careful when assessing her work, knowing that I do have a very strong vindictive streak. I was never so happy to assign a well-earned "F" in my life. So, yes, there have been students that I would like to see scarfed up by the biggest T-Rex in history.

  13. Emotions have never risen to hate, usually because the most annoying students, who could eventually push me over the edge, are also stupid. They leave after midterm. It's best for everybody involved.

  14. Raptors - not just any dino, but raptors.

    Having written that, hating requires emotional investment - it's better to not engage them emotionally.

  15. I grew to hate a student once, and he got a C because I didn't trust myself to grade his papers. Had I merely been annoyed by him, he would have gotten a D.

  16. Love is a word that is constantly heard,
    Hate is a word that is not.
    Love, I am told, is more precious than gold.
    Love, I have read, is hot.
    But hate is the verb that to me is superb,
    And Love but a drug on the mart.
    Any kiddie in school can love like a fool,
    But Hating, my boy, is an Art.
    -- Ogden Nash

  17. If you hate a student, you empower them. Nothing scares them more or enforces order as much as their sense that what they think of you doesn't really affect you. Age and tenure help in that regard.

    If I started hating my students, I would somehow also probably start caring if they hated me, and frankly I don't give a fuck.

    I get angry at them, and I rail against them, and I think that they can be awfully stupid, but I don't hate them, even the very most annoying among them.

  18. This summer.... there was one.... (there's one that terrifies me right now, but he just hangs around the tutoring area like a leech, he's not in my class, and I don't hate him so much as fear he's going to snap and beat the crud out of one of us one of these days)...

    Anyway. This woman was in her late forties, very well dressed, and really quite pretty. However, she came into class late every single day (by hours, sometimes). Because she was late in a summer accelerated course she always wanted me or the group she worked with for some assignments to catch her up. But she never asked whole questions, she would just wander to one of them or me, shout out a VERY FAST question, say "oh okay" even though she had no idea what I was talking about, and run back to her seat.

    Her group hated her. One week they decided to hurry up and do two weeks of work after she had left for the day and turn it in early. They were bitchy, and the work was crap. They told me they did it on purpose and that they didn't want her to get credit. I cringed inwardly because I did not yet hate this woman (in fact, I had worked with her in the Writing Center before and we had gotten on).

    All the girls in the group at some point had been absent and taken credit for others' work. I knew this. So I gave her credit. It was five freaking points out of a 1000. Bite me. Each group is run like a small company and they can choose whether to carry one another or not (but ultimately I get to the final call).

    SHE THREW A SHIT FIT. The next week she shoves a passive aggressive packet into my giant pile of grading that I wouldn't get to till days later. It was a printout of her gradebook with highlighted areas she didn't understand and a note saying that I was "clearly incompetent" and didn't know what I was doing because of those five points. Those should have been elsewhere (nope) for an assignment none of them had done yet. She thought she should have an A on another assignment she got a D on. Rinse. Repeat.

    I saw so much fire I couldn't finish the rest of the grading that evening. I wanted to blame her in class when they whined about it.

    But it didn't end there. I took the five points away. FINE, you don't want them? Watch me. This time she took her nasty little antics with the highlighters to the Dean.

    We literally argued about that damn assignment for the rest of the term. OF COURSE she then wanted the points back AND wanted them applied to some other assignment for some godawful reason (no, reporting me to the Dean does not get you 10 free points). Then she missed like three quizzes.

    The last day of class is quiz make up day. After the final was done, she disappears but leaves her crap in the classroom. I finished grading and she shows back up, a full hour and a half later. She wants to take her quizzes. She runs to the Dean when I won't let her. I have to let her.

    Hate hate hate.


    And then.

    She challenged her grade because she wanted 0.5 points more out of 1000.

    This woman had worked in real live corporate America for 20 years. Did I mention she couldn't write a complete sentence?


  19. I have a severe dislike for hotdogs. It is wrong for the tofu version of anything to taste as good as the real version.

    I do not like my mother-in-law. I will hesitantly attend her funeral to make sure she's dead (it better be open casket!)

    It offends me when I catch the plagiarism on the next-to-the-last section. Why the fuck did you make me read 80% of your paper before you showed me you were cheating!

    I can feel the adrenaline surge, the sub-conscious preparation for a fight, when I meet a student to point out that their numbers match their partners, to arbitrary sig figs, or the mistake in their homework matches the mistake in the solutions manual precisely. I'm ready for the fight before they put one up.

    I don't want to be.

    I have never hated a student. I am sure it is only a matter of time.

    I will save the T-Rex image for that time.

  20. I did hate one, once. He had an attitude, and it was my first year of teaching, so I spent a month in terror, walking as if on eggshells around him.
    And then, thank you Zeus, he cheated in an assignment.
    I sent him an email pointing that out to him. I got the perfect tone, sugary yet condescending, to make sure he would go spare. He threatened to sue me, and filed a grievance against my chair for supporting me. And then, gloriously, sent me a threatening email. Just two words: "Be ready." He was walked out of campus by the police, not to be seen anymore.
    I still feel bad about feeling good...

  21. I think that my hate percentage is about 2%. That is, I hate about 2 out of 100. Yep.

    If I teach 3 classes totaling about 50, I hate approximately 1 of my students.

    Of the students on campus who AREN'T mine? I probably hate more like 15%.

    Now, my DISLIKE percentage? It's probably about 15% of my students.

    My NEUTRAL percentage is huge, probably about 50% of my students.

    That leaves LIKE at 33% of my students.

    Yes, I spend time thinking about this stuff at work (and not at work).

    There's NOTHING wrong with hating a student. Most of the ones you hate have it coming. But it's true that it only hurts YOU in the long run, because it can burn you out fast.

    I try to stay as cool-headed as possible, and just remind myself that it all doesn't matter, but it's hard.

    Sometimes, though, you just have to resign yourself to your relative powerlessness and more-or-less accept that you can't EVER have a perfect life.

  22. No Cookie Said this:

    "I think that my hate percentage is about 2%. That is, I hate about 2 out of 100."

    That's the rough percentage of the population -- well, maybe a little low, actually -- that have personality disorders which create a lot of social conflict, like antisocial PD, narcissistic PD, and borderline PD. In the stories above, I see one potential antisocial (French profeseur's threatening nutjob), a borderline (Callie's I hate you/I'm stuck to you like glue problem child) and a narcissist (Worm's center of attention.)

    Look, personality diserders are awful to deal with even one-on-one, but they really, really screw any group dynamic, which makes them utterly toxic in the classroom. But if you read up, see the patterns, and decide *maybe* that's what you're looking at (not that most of us are the right sort of doctors to do that diagnosis -- I am certianly not), it may help ease the flaming hatred. It's a hate I totally get, but I also agree to be unhelpful to ym conduct, sometimes; maybe it's easier to just think, whoa, this person may essentially be coping with a disability, and simply cannot do any better than this. It should not change the boundaries we set, but it may make it lots easier not to take it personally.

    I've got one right now. She's a piece of work who tried to botch my tenure last year just for kicks, and yet is now back in my front row, when she's not in the hospital or attending funerals. I would have lost my shit entirely if I had not stood back, looked at her patterns, and said: well, she's celarly not functioning very well, socially, and it's a pervasive pattern that has nothing to do with me.

  23. I think garrity's got a point. I've never really hated a student, but I don't hate a member of my family who pretty clearly meets the criteria for one of the PDs listed above, either, even though hir behaviors have seriously interfered with our relationship, and with my relationships with other family members. But, perhaps in part because this person tends toward black/white thinking (which is part of the disorder), and I don't want to follow suit, I don't hate hir; I just wish (s)he would get better (preferred) or go away in some way, shape or form. Also, a couple of decades of dealing with this person have set my radar for detecting PD'd behavior (sometimes hidden in initially charming and/or waifish sheeps' clothing) pretty high. I've certainly been mad at particular students (a couple of times more publicly than I like to remember), and I've dreaded seeing or hearing from a few, but my instinct is to set pretty firm boundaries pretty quickly, and that tends to send the genuinely PD'd off in search of people more willing to play their games.

    I suspect I've also been lucky -- my experiences pale in comparison to several of the ones related above -- and that there might be some linguistic differences operating here (I tend to understate emotions, so somebody else's "hate" might be my "annoyed" or "angry" or "dread seeing" -- and I've certainly felt all of those, more than once).

  24. I've had two that I really hated. There are times when I just hate the class as a whole -- like after a particularly shitty assignment (Is it so hard to follow directions/cite/write 200 words, etc), but I can usually calm down and move on. I'm able to forget most students and classes once the term ends.

    But two students stand out:

    One was a recovering addict, which explained a lot of the behavior. This student was convinced I was out to get hir and that I wanted her to fail. Student said I was uncaring and didn't have a heart. Student was found of, "Do you know what it's like to...? Have you ever had to deal with....?" At midterms, I sent everyone a note saying, "Here's your grade, here's what to do to improve, if you have questions, let me know." This student had a B, so I wrote something like, "Student, you are doing really well. To pull your grade up to an A, do XYZ. However, a B is very good. Keep up the good work!" Student replied, "I'm going to succeed no matter what you say! You can't take that away from me!" Um...okay.

    That student stayed in my class to the end and I was very very very happy to see hir go.

    Another student was disruptive in the online seminar. There was a problem with the technology -- it happens. Nothing I could do. It only affected this student. Instead of logging out or something civilized, student complained the whole time, including using inappropriate language. I told the student there would be no participation credit due to the outburst. Student argued over that (10 points!) until the last day of class. Student was just generally rude, in email and in discussion. I was so glad to see that one go, too.

  25. "...and then I have to listen to you talk."

    Oh, I hate it when professors make us listen to them talk...and it happens, like, every. single. semester!

  26. I dunno about you, but from this description, *I* hate her. So I can only imagine how you feel.


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