oxymoron67: (dino head)
[personal profile] oxymoron67

When I first started at my present job, I spent a lot of time working with our electronic portfolio (e-portfolio) initiative, expanding our students’ e-portfolios so that they included not only written work, but audio and video clips as well.

I worked especially closely with our internship people. Our students were all required to do two internships, and they had to take Fundamentals of Professional Advancement (FPA) before they could do their internships. FPA required that each student build an e-portfolio.

A professor reserved the Speech Center for two hours for her FPA class. Her students were to have a two-minute long “about me” speech prepared. The students would be taken, one by one, into the other lab to record their videos. Meantime, everyone else would be working on some other e-portfolio related project. Finally, the students would upload their videos onto their e-portfolios.

When the class arrived, I immediately noticed that this professor, whom I’ll call Professor Jellyfish, had no control over her students.

No, seriously. This class was rowdy and disrespectful. When Professor Jellyfish tried to settle them down, they either ignored or ridiculed her. They were singing, screaming and generally acting less like college students and more like ten year olds on a sugar high.

I was aghast.

However, they were in MY house now, and I don’t put up with that shit. I slammed my hand on the whiteboard several times and said, in a loud voice, “All right everyone! Sit down and be quiet! I SAID SHUT UP! Let’s get this started. You need to be videotaped. Volunteers?”

No one moved. No one even made eye contact.

Me: Fine. You! (As I pointed to a random student)
Student: But I’m not…
Me: NOW!

The student reluctantly followed me into the other lab. As I started videotaping him, the student pulled out a script and held it DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF HIS FACE. After I told him that was unacceptable -- I mean who wants to watch a video of a sheet of paper for two minutes? – He held the paper at waist level, looking down at it the whole time, giving us a wonderful video of the top of his head while he mumbled. This was not an improvement over the talking sheet of paper. So, I grabbed the paper out of his hands and told him to do his speech without notes. The student protested but he did it.

It was easily the best of the three recordings.

As a result, I made the snap decision that they wouldn’t be allowed to use notes.

I walked the student into the computer lab, and announced this. All Hell broke loose.

At first, the class looked to Professor Jellyfish to overrule me, but she said that I was the expert and they had to listen to me. (Sometimes, working with the spineless has its advantages.) Then, the students reacted like I told them I was going to tear their arms off and mount them as trophies on my office wall or something.

I was in no mood for this. I exploded, yelling:

Just stop! All I’m asking you to do is talk about yourselves without a script for two minutes. You do that all the time. You can manage it here. And, honestly, if being videotaped for two minutes while you talk about yourselves is the worst thing to happen to you this week, you lead lives of amazing privilege, and I do not want to hear about it. Take a deep breath; grow a spine and DEAL WITH IT. Who’s next? No volunteers? Fine… (I pointed at a student) YOU. NOW.

The rest of the class went smoothly. I got major league bitch face from most of them, but that didn’t bother me.

After the class, Professor Jellyfish asked me what I thought about what had happened. Here is a snippet of that conversation.

PJ: I just don’t know what to do with them.
Me: It’s your class. You should be in control.
PJ: But I believe in a community of learning. Where we’re all equals. So no one needs to be in charge.
Me: Really? Your students disrespected you. When you tried to establish control they ignored you. Or they laughed at you. How is that encouraging any learning at all?
PJ: But I don’t think what you did was necessary. I think you should negotiate with them…
Me: Oh, for God’s sake. Look, either learn to deal with your class – you know, the job you’re paid to do— or get out of the profession because this? This is an embarrassment and it needs to stop.

Clearly, I was still a little angry.

Professor Jellyfish was very upset with me as she left my office. I figured that she’d never want to work with me again.

About a month or so later, I ran into Professor Jellyfish in the hall. She had a smile on her face when she said:

I channeled you in class today. They were complaining about an assignment and I had had enough, so I looked at them and said, “What would Professor Sean tell you? He’d tell you to sit down, take a deep breath and DO THE DAMNED WORK! So sit down, take a deep breath and do the damned work!”

We both laughed. I’ve worked with Professor Jellyfish several times since, and, I have to say, she doesn’t have discipline problems in her classes anymore. Makes me proud.
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October 2013

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