Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pete from Pepeekeo Is About to Pack It In.

I've taught in community colleges for over 20 years, and I've loved it. I'd wake up in the morning and couldn't wait to go to work. In my everyday life, I'd notice something I could use to make my classes more interesting and I'd incorporate it. I learned how to use all kinds of technology long after graduate school, in order to keep my classes up-to-date and fun. Faculty and students alike have complimented my teaching, and many refer to me as "a natural teacher!"

Faculty and most students still compliment my teaching, but there is now a consistent minority of students that drains my energy and enthusiasm. They are rude, thinking nothing of walking to the middle of the room to staple their (late) paper while I am trying to explain a concept. Thus, these "transparent" students block the view of about 10 students without thought. They believe that attending class and completing an assignment give them the right to pass the class, never mind that they write at about the junior high level! They do not even give me the chance to be interesting because from the very first day of class, they file in and flip off their minds.

Today, one of these students made me remember a promise I made to myself long ago. Since tomorrow is the deadline to drop classes and earn a "W," rather than the obvious "F," I emailed all the students who are not likely to pass my class. In addition, I instructed them to talk to me in my office or reply by email because federal law protects their right to privacy. I don't know what I was thinking! Surely, I should've foreseen the reaction of Me-Man.

Me-Man decided that the time and place to discuss his failing grade was during class! Now, some background. Throughout the semester, Me-Man has been giving me disgusted expressions from the back of the class. How weird has it been for me to teach a class and have the rest of the class laughing while Me-Man flashed his usual disgusted look at me? Disconnect much? Today was special for him though, for today, he learned he was flunking and he sought his revenge.

He raised his hand (very courteous of him) and then launched into an all-out verbal siege about how he had "learned nothing" in the class and didn't know what a controversial idea we had been studying had to do with English. (Uhm, good writing requires good thinking. Did you miss that lesson, too?) He also threw in his current academic status thus binding me with FERPA. His words were so not constructively critical that the student next to him said, "Shut up!" I simply reminded him that he should email me or come to my office and then I dismissed the class.

A few students lagged behind to tell me that they disagreed with Me-Man and thought he had been "harsh!" I have since posted an anonymous survey on their class website, so they can vote on whether I should continue to teach as I have been or change and teach in a more traditional way. Me-Man would not like the results thus far, for it seems none of his classmates agree with him.

There were so many things I wanted to say to Me-Man (and other students like him), but I was bound by FERPA and manners. And so, here are the things I wish I had been able to say:
  • Hey, Me-Man, guess what? You're not the fucking center of the world! What makes you think you're so important that you can use up class time to discuss your grade or "critically" review my class or my teaching? Read the fucking email! What does it say? Email me back or come to my office?!

  • I'm very sorry, Me-Man, that you are so smart that you have not learned a God-damn thing. It must be really hard to be you. What's your IQ anyway? Mine is 153.

  • If you'd pay closer attention to the way this class is organized (as explained by me since the first week of the semester and as stated in the Course Outline), Asshole, you probably wouldn't be flunking!

  • If you're so damned smart, why are other students off and running in their learning and you're not? The class website is organized so that students who are really interested in learning can easily do so with or without my help. In every class, including yours, there are 2-5 students living in an intellectual world that clearly show they are going to excel through college. Oh right, you think you already live there!
And so it goes. Long ago, at the beginning of my career, I promised myself that when I stopped loving teaching, I'd retire. I honestly thought I'd teach until the day I died; I loved it that much! But thanks to Me-Man and a minority of students like him, I have spent a great deal of time lately creating a 5-year exit plan--doing everything I've always wanted to do, including telling Assholes like Me-Man off, but haven't.

Consider this post a beginning to the end and the official death of "a natural teacher...."