So, things have been moving along, and there has been quite a lot of Nutcracker, and I did mean to write a post last week, but I got distracted by hilarious events in another corner of the internet. All of which means, I have to get you caught up on the Pineapple Boy business.
When we last heard of him, Pineapple Boy was a food-splattering jerk, kind of sexist, but generally lulzy. Things deteriorated a bit.
First, there was the incident in class when I was talking about my students’ oral presentations for their term projects. These are often on rather personal topics, and sometimes students get emotional, and often because they go that deep, the writing in them ends up being extraordinary. I had some wonderful ones this year, although not, I hasten to add, from Pineapple Boy’s cohort. Anyway, because sometimes these presentations do get emotional (read – people cry), I mention this beforehand, in order to say “Look, sometimes people get emotional. It’s okay, this classroom is a safe place, and crying in your presentation is not going to get you a bad mark.” I don’t court the emotional catharsis, but I do find that the ones who cry tend to be able then to go back to the writing and make it really good, having got the emotional stuff out of their systems, as it were.
In the one class – which I call in my head, the Good Class – there were some tears: from the girl who got up and said “My Dad got married yesterday to the love of his life; the wedding was going to be in June, but they got married yesterday because he isn’t going to live that long”; from the girl who got up and read part of a letter she wrote to her brother who killed himself last August; from a couple of others who basically bared their souls in front of classmates whose response was respectful, thoughtful and admiring. Two standouts (who didn’t cry) were the girl who wrote a delightfully self-deprecating fairy tale about her experiences with drugs, and Silas.
Silas stood up and said “I want to start my piece by telling you about my friend Annie, who is a Jew”. It was one of those moments that stop a teacher’s heart. I mean, I give my students free reign to write about themselves and whatever they truly care about in this project. It’s a risk, but it usually pays off. In this case, though, I had a couple of seconds to worry about whether I was going to have to leap up and cut off some kind of terrifying neo-Nazi rant. But no. Silas went on to use the example of his friend Annie, who was so overtly proud of her religion that it became an overwheming part of her identity that she was practically one-dimensional, to illustrate his own dilemma. “I am a person with diabetes,” he said, “but I don’t want my disease to be my identity.” It was a brilliant piece, well-written, funny and moving. His classmates unanimously gave him 5 out of 5.
I came out of that class feeling terrific, like I had done a good job, and that my students had repaid me by trusting me with themselves, and that they were learning, and incorporating what they learned into what they wrote.
This feeling lasted an hour.
Then, I went to Pineapple Boy’s class. Because of the vagaries of scheduling, they were due to present the following class. So, I chipperly remarked that the presentations I had just heard were awesome, and that I hoped (vainly, forlornly) that this stupid, lumpish class might produce something of similar quality. “Did they bawl?” sneered Pineapple Boy. Ugh. And with that, my buzz was gone.
Two days later, the Lumpen Class were set to present. Pineapple Boy was being his usual cud-chewing self, with his massive tupperware of salad, and the usual lineup of power bars on the desk. Now, I am a professional, and if assholes are eating and farting and sleeping and texting in my class, I can pretty much suck it up and carry on regardless. But these students were nervous about their presentations, and I wanted to keep the annoying distractions to a minimum. So I asked Pineapple Boy to put his food away, just this once. No dice. “I gotta eat,” he said. (Subsequent events have made me aware that he has a class immediately after mine. A class in which, I now deeply suspect, he is forbidden to eat.) I repeated my request. He repeated his refusal. I threatened to throw him out. Finally, he gave in, with bad grace, and grumbled to his fellows.
Their presentations sucked. They sucked so bad, even peer marking couldn’t save them.
There followed a week, during which there was more truculence and backchat, but nothing all that noteworthy. Well, except I read a development in a story that a friend of mine had been telling in the Ivory Tower group over on ravelry, about a student who had touched her on the arm, and made comments about her looking hot. (I know! Ew!) We had encouraged her to report him, and he had been unhappy, and things had escalated, and he ended up breaking in to her house, and long story short, she had to buy all new underwear and the student is now in the loony bin. This would be a digression, except hearing this story put me a little, shall we say, on edge.
So, Friday morning, I am minding my own business, walking down the hallway when someone grabs my upper arm, quite hard. This is not a little tap. And I am not a little startled. And by the time I collect my self so as to say “Who the fuck is grabbing me by the arm,” the grabber is already some feet away, behind me, and it is Pineapple boy. This is not cool.
Before you say “why were his gonads still attached to his body?” I will mention that I had a cup of coffee in one hand and was dragging a trolley with the other. I mention my unhappiness to my Head of Department in an email, to which his response was, “meh”. Sarcastic Bastard told me to write up Pineapple Boy, because we do have a rules about behaviour at our place, and they have a spiral bound publication with schmancy gold illustrations on the front. So you know it’s srs business.
I kind of took the weekend to ruminate, and then had a conversation with the Official Rules Maven on Monday about whether Pineapple Boy was pertinent to their interests – i.e. whether I should follow through on the whole official reprimand thing. Since her response was “Oh my gosh, yes,” I went ahead and filled in the form.
Here’s where the pineapple starts going pear-shaped.
Before I went to class, I confirmed that Sarcastic Bastard was planning on being in the office, equipped with Mean Glare in case Pineapple Boy decided to give me any trouble, and I went down to the classroom. Lumpen Class were supposed to be doing a practice exam, so I set them up in the lab with their task, and asked Pineapple Boy to go upstairs and wait outside my office for me. I spent a couple minutes helping students, and then went to the door. He was standing there. I asked why he hadn’t gone upstairs. He said, in his inimitable fashion, that I wasn’t to treat him like a 5-year-old, and that he wanted to walk upstairs with me.
Now, I fully admit, that some of my reaction to him was being coloured by other experiences, and that I was choosing to err on the side of caution, but his truculence really put me on edge. I mean, come on. Your Prof comes in and says “I need to talk to you; go upstairs and wait,” if you are a reasonable person, do you argue? Or do you run like hell up those stairs, hoping that by appearing meek and biddable you may be able to engender some leniency for your crimes? I have never before had any student choose Option 1.
At that moment, I was absolutely jack of his shit. I didn’t want to argue with him anymore. So I went into the lab, shut the door, and pressed the speed-dial for Security. All I wanted was one guy. One guy to walk me up the stairs and possibly stand outside the door, so that when I had a difficult conversation with a dude whose neck is fatter than his head, and whose upper arms are fatter than his neck, I didn’t have to feel intimidated. What I got was 4 dudes. Who appeared at a fast jog.
It was overkill, and almost could have been embarrassing. Except for two things. 1) If you ever need to call Security, you would like to be confident that they will take you seriously, and provide, well, security. So over-reaction, in this situation, is totally preferable to the opposite. You know, like my Chair, who had essentially said, “meh”. 2) Pineapple Boy started to give them shit. Which kind of got me thinking about the kind of shit he might have given me had they not been there. So, all-in-all, I think I made the right call.
One of the Security guys menacingly put on his leather gloves while we approached Pineapple Boy, who had in the meantime wandered up the stairs on his own. This glove move, I am reliably assured, is a total mall ninja move, but it is nonetheless menacingly effective. We got Pineapple Boy into my office, and I started to explain the situation.
He interrupted me, as is his wont, to argue with me. I have been putting up with this, I now realise. The Security guy who was in my office told Pineapple Boy to shut up and listen to me. Which, naturally, he could not possibly manage to do. So they told him again. And again. All of which, again, was kind of part crazy comedy routine, but at the same time, it made me see that I had been letting this student push me around, and make me uncomfortable, and that part of the reason I had done that was because I was physically intimidated. Eventually, we got through the formalities, and I said what I needed to, and Pineapple Boy gave 4 different explanations of his behaviour, none of which impressed any of the parties present. It was quite uncomfortable, although the part where he said “This is about the pineapple, isn’t it,” was a brief moment of enjoyable levity in the otherwise depressing morass.
The Security guards took his details and menacingly asked him what his movements were going to be for the rest of the afternoon. This, I must admit, I did not expect, and I found it a little scary. Why were they asking? Did they think he might lie in wait to ambush me, while consuming his bucket of salad? His constant eating may be his downfall as a stealthy stalker, though. The tap, tap of chopsticks on tupperware could be a tell-tale clue that alerts me to his presence. Honestly, I don’t think he is that kind. I think he has been overstepping, but I think now, that it was not deliberate. He protested that he defends me when the others complain about me, and that he respects me as a teacher. I responded that in that case, he needs to make sure his behaviour matches his attitude, and if he can learn that lesson, well, maybe I have been an effective teacher for him this semester.
After all of this was over, I went back down to my class, who were being preturnaturally quiet and well-behaved. One of them tentatively raised a hand and said, “Do you mind if I ask a question, even if it might be a stupid question?” Normally, their stupidity doesn’t give them much pause. I responded, “Yeah, you probably don’t want to piss me off today, especially since I hear you all badmouth me behind my back.”
This has been an epic story, and not as funny as usual. Hopefully we can get back to the regular schedule of pointing and laughing at idiots soon.