April 6, 2012
On Not Poking the Crazy
So there’s crazy, as in “hur, you so crazy” and then there’s the kind where you walk away slowly. I had three salutary examples last semester, which I shall now share with you.
This first one, I admit, I kind of poked it. This is what you don’t do, folks. So, there’s this student, let’s call her Edgy Ellen, and she asks a LOT of questions. You know, like “when you say 750 words, do you mean 750 words, or can I have 753? I can cut those 3 words if it’s a problem.” And I say, “no, that’s fine, word limits are a general guideline”.
Another time, when I had my students evaluating source materials, she sent me an email about the essay on the 123Write My Essay For Me site I had sent them to. “It says you have to pay to see the whole essay. Did you mean to send us to this site? Do I have to pay to complete the assignment? I don’t think I can complete the assignment without paying, but I don’t think you should make us pay. Are you sure you want me to pay?” and so on. The question I had asked was “would you use material from this site in your essay? Why/why not?” Which, I pointed out, was clearly answerable without paying, since she had essentially answered the question in her email. I was punished for this puckish japery by another set of questions in a subsequent email. “What do you mean I answered your question with my question? You still didn’t say whether I should pay or not. What do I need to put in my answer? I can’t see the list of Works Cited for this essay, so how do I decide?”
Following this barrage, I read some of her work, which really was very good; interesting ideas, mostly well-written, that kind of thing, but she continued with the tightly-wound questions. At this point, I made a serious tactical error. I suggested that the student relax. I said “You are doing fine, and I think you just need to relax a little.” OMG. Well, then I got an email saying, “What do you mean relax? Do you think I am anxious? Did you mean to make me self-conscious about my anxiety? What if I need to ask a question? Can I still ask questions?” Then we had to have a MEETING.
At this meeting, the student chided me about “attacking her personally” and “suggesting she had an anxiety disorder” and “being insensitive to her disability” (what disability? Being a psycho? Where’s the paperwork?). I had to spend half an hour explaining to her that I see a lot of students (mostly, but not all, female) who get really worried about the quality of their work, and what I was trying to communicate, from my perspective, was that she was doing fine, and that she didn’t need to be so worried, and YES, she could still ask me questions, but that she could also trust her own judgement, because she seemed to be DOING FINE.
In my other class, I had Martha the Mormon, who managed to work her mormonity into every single thing she wrote, and occasionally into class discussion as well. After a while, I was getting pretty tired of it, but before I could say anything, she had this massive outburst in class, where she said, “IN MY OTHER CLASS MY PROFESSOR SAID A SWEAR AND WHEN I OBJECTED SHE SAID WE ARE AT UNIVERSITY AND WE ARE ALL ADULTS AND IT IS OKAY TO SWEAR AND IF IT IS OKAY TO SWEAR THEN I THINK IT IS OKAY TO TALK ABOUT MY RELIGION AND PEOPLE SHOULDN’T BE OFFENDED BY MY TALKING ABOUT MY RELIGION IF I WANT TO BECAUSE WE ARE ALL ADULTS AND SWEARING IS OKAY.”
Tempted as I was to respond, “well bugger me,” or “no one in this class told you to shut the fuck up about being a Mormon,” I held my tongue, and suffered silently through a presentation about how reading the Bible was more important than reading her textbooks, and 1500 words on how she was keeping herself pure for marriage.
The universe rewarded me for my patience in this wise: Last week I saw Martha sitting on a sofa with a boy (who I know from a previous class is NOT in any way a Mormon), and he had his hand quite firmly on her ass, and she seemed to be quite comfortable with the position of said hand. I made eye contact, at which point she went red as a beet. A laugh not unlike that of Mrs Krabopple’s may have escaped my lips.
The last, and craziest, was Bus Girl. Bus Girl had a generally quite chippy attitude, often interrupting me in class. One time, when she interrupted me mid-sentence, I said “Yes, I will get to your issue in a minute,” and she responded, “Well, you don’t have to be RUDE.” So there was this history of contentiousness. To be fair, I had her tagged as belligerent rather than certifiable.
So, then we were in the lab preparing for an in-class writing assignment, and I offered the students the option to come up with their own topic. “Pick something you can take a firm opinion on,” was my instruction. Various ideas were tossed around, and then someone came up with “Transit,” in other words “Catching the Bus SUCKS,” which was a theme with instant popular appeal. There was a chorus of groans, which I took to mean general assent to the topic.
Bus Girl said “This is not fair. What if you have never taken the bus in this city?” I responded by offering her the opportunity to think of an alternate topic, and gave the room another 5 minutes to brainstorm. At this point, I called for suggestions. Bus Girl had none. I called for a vote on the topics suggested, and the bus topic won with a huge majority, Bus Girl abstaining. She made some more mooing noises about unfairness, and I pointed out that she had had ample time to think of an alternative. I refrained from pointing out that she had used her brainstorming time to complain, rather than think, and thus deserved the consequences.
I gave the class the rest of the instructions for their task, and set them to work. Bus Girl sat at her computer for a few minutes, then abruptly stormed out of the room. O-kay.
Class continued; the peaceful clickity-click of keyboards occasionally interrupted by quiet conversation as students consulted one another on why Mr Spellcheck persisted in putting a squiggly line under “definately” and “relateable”. I sat at the teacher’s desk on the high chair, doing important pop culture research (aka reading Gawker), and occasionally casting my eye across the room to ask “is that hand up to ask a question, or are you just stretching?” Peace reigned; work was getting done.
Some time later, Bus Girl appeared in the glass panel of the door, gesturing to me to come outside. I obliged. She looked agitated, and, on closer inspection, somewhat cried on.
“I feel like I owe you an apology,” she said, and I did not disagree. “The thing is, I have PTSD, and this is one of my triggers.”
SO MANY QUESTIONS, dear reader. I feel you may also be asking them. This, what? The BUS? Or being disagreed with? If it’s the BUS, then what kind of trauma does a person get into on a bus? Was the bus in Afghanistan? I am sure you can think of several more.
Unfortunately, I cannot supply you with further details. Seeing the crazy, I declined to poke it. Instead, I said “It sounds like you need to go to Student Counselling right now. You go do that, and I will excuse the assignment.”