Thursday, November 03, 2005

Standards

I realized that I tend to complain a lot in this blog, so before I begin my complaint du jour, let me first say that I just finished teaching the Civil Rights Movement in my course and we had an amazing discussion of Anne Moody's book. Many students participated and almost all agreed that this book had done a lot to interest them in the topic and to change how they perceived the CRM. Apparently there tends to be CRM fatigue among recent high school students -- I guess they hear a lot about the big events and the famous people. So I was glad that my approach (combined with a lecture about the big events and the famous people, of course) helped to expand their thinking. Last week most of them seemed to think that African-Americans in Mississippi should just "do something" about their situation, but today they seemed to understand and even sympathize with the justifiable fear that many African-Americans felt, especially of economic or physical retribution. And usually once students understand the fear and the obstacles...then comes the genuine respect for those amazing people who managed to transcend that fear.

One interesting thing happened -- one of the white students expressed his feeling that this book made him hate white people. Other white students nodded, as though they all shared this collective guilt. So I got to give them my spiel on the subject, which is this: unless they are all secretly attending KKK meetings after class, why on earth would they automatically identify with the white racists in Mississippi? Why didn't they identify with the young college students (black and white) in SNCC? Or the white allies of the CRM? They seemed to understand that. And one quiet student even stayed after class to tell me that our discussion and the film we watched made him really think about whether he would have had the courage to sit with the African-American students at a lunch counter during a sit-in and remain non-violent. He liked to think that he would have. I told him I would like to think so, too. So, all in all, an excellent day.

Here begins my complaint:

There are four male students who sit in a row together. Almost every lecture they engage in some small behavior (talking to each other, laughing, writing notes) that distracts me. It isn't loud enough to distract the class and I can usually ride herd on them by walking in their area a lot. I've also had individual discussions with them, but I reached the end of my rope on Tuesday. We were talking about conditions in Mississippi and how people faced being shot. I looked over and one of them was laughing about something. So I halted class and asked them what they were laughing at, since I didn't see anything funny about our discussion. They sheepishly looked down and shook their heads.

I figured that today was Drop the Hammer day if they misbehaved again. Sure enough, during our class discussion when every other student was listening and paying attention, they started chatting to each other. I halted class and called on one of them. Instead of making up some comment that would have related to our discussion (which might have been the strategic thing to do,) he plainly admitted he was "just talking to my buddy." I told him that wasn't cool and returned to class discussion.

I pulled them all aside during the break and laid down the law... how I didn't go to graduate school because I wanted to deal with behavior problems from immature high school students and that their behavior wasn't appropriate for a college classroom. I told them this was their final warning and any misbehavior in the future would result in extra paper assignments. I feel the need to be an Extra Hard Ass in situations like this because I worry that (as a petite, young, woman) I might have let authority slip away from me. (see some of Stewgad's excellent posts about this sort of thing.)

So 3 out of the 4 nodded and had the grace to look ashamed of themselves. But the fourth one said he was "angry." Puzzled, I nicely asked him why he was angry. He said that he felt angry that they had received my warning when, really, they didn't misbehave "all the time." I told him that other students seem to be able to go day-in and day-out without making a peep (except in discussion and when I ask questions) and that I frankly had a higher standard than having good behavior "most of the time."

So am I on crack? I am unreasonable to expect that students sit through class and pay attention without talking and laughing to each other??

9 Comments:

At 7:50 PM, Blogger RageyOne said...

Sounds like you had a really interesting discussion in your class.

Now, as far as your students are concerned, I think you did the right thing. They need to realize taht they are not in high school anymore and need to take the class seriously.

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Dr. Mon said...

Some things you gotta chalk up to Privilege. It is a position of privilege to think that racism is over and that the Civil Rights Movement is irrelevant. At my institution, I have watched a lot of instructors get railroaded (read terrible teaching evals) for even bringing up the subject in class. Students will blatantly say--why are we "still" talking about that--why don't those people just help themselves--etc. I keep hearing about this "here we go again" attitude about cultural history and I don't fully understand where it comes from. I commend you for using Anne Moody's work--I think the role of novels and autobiographies in teaching histories is often underestimated.

It is also a privileged or self-centered or maybe just consumerist attitude towards education to think that you can be mature and behave in a class just "sometimes." That's some straight BS and you are NOT the one smoking crack in this scenario.

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger KJ said...

My favorite thing to mention to disaffected students is that you get out of school/life what you put into it...and if they aren't participating, they're not getting anything out of it and it's a waste of time and money, and of your time and of their classmate's time.

Kudos for sticking to your guns, I don't think it's too much to ask for people to pay attention, participate, and at the very least not talk when you are talking. This is the same attitude I encounter when dealing with student employees...some of the people in my unit seem to think that it's asking too much to expect work-study students to come to work on time and to not miss work except for extraordinary circumstances. There's also this bizarre notion that web-surfing and visiting with friends throughout the entire shift is an unalienable right. You've inspired me to bring the hammer down!

 
At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like the 4 guys need to be separated (i.e., not allowed to sit next to each other)... I do not look forward to the day when I'll be facing these on-going classroom incivilities. Good luck!

 
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