Friday, March 23, 2007

Identifying with my students

My college students are weird. They go out of their way to make excuses as to why they couldn't turn something in on time, when I know it would be so much easier if they would simply plan ahead and turn it in by the deadline. But no. For some reason, they like to play games with me, which usually results in a lower grade for them, and a snotty evaluation for me. Because I cannot medicate my frustrations with red wine, I decided to do some blog-thinking as a substitute.

I have been trying to find ways to identify with my students. Perhaps if I understand them a bit better, I can find ways to feel less angry when they play these same games, over and over. In the shower this morning, I recalled something that I did that totally reminded me of my own students. I have not shared this story all that much, because it's kind of embarrasing, but I think it is time for me to get off my high horse and start identifying!

Over one summer during my undergrad years, I decided to take one of my required classes. I chose a Biology Lab. I had already taken the Biology Class and had done quite well, if I might say so myself (I set the curve for around 150 students on one of the exams, thank you very much!). But now I had to take this Lab. There were around 15 students in the Lab, and our professor was a woman in her 60s who seemed like she needed more than a sabbatical to get her out of her funk. We discussed things like Gregor Mendel's genetic charts, Darwin's theory of evolution, as well as what kinds of animals you could expect to see in various climates and why. Although I remember quite a bit from this lab, we did have to do one really stupid assignment, which consisted of a trip to the University museum with a packet of info that had blanks every so often. Our job was to fill in the blanks while walking around the museum and reading all of the information. Stupid! But, I'm still not telling you about the stupid thing I DID.

I never bought mechanical pencil's until I began work on my Master's degree. I'm not THAT old- they DID exist! I guess I thought it was kind of romantic to carry an old fashioned pencil sharpener in my pencil bag and simply sharpen as needed. One day, while our professor was going on about Mendel's pea plants, I realized that I needed to sharpen my pencil, should she say anything that I might actually need to write down. So, I took my portable sharpener (which did not collect the shavings as they fell, by the way), and began to sharpen. I quickly realized that I was creating a masterpiece with my sharpener! The shaving wasn't breaking and I was managing to create the world's largest coil of pencil shaving! It was beautiful! In fact, it looked like a flower or one of those radishes that Japanese restaurants sometimes carve as a garnish. Well, I couldn't throw it away, now could I?! Our professor had strict rules about EVERYTHING. She yelled at students for sneezing, and we had assigned seats. Assigned seats, for Pete's sake, in college! I get very nervous around people with strict rules; I'm sure that I will break one of them at some point, and usually I do.

I realized that I couldn't let her see my beautiful flower, so, I let it drop to the floor. What else could I do? I didn't want to destroy it, I couldn't throw it away, because the waste basket was all the way up by HER, and I didn't want to put it in my bag, because I knew that would end up crushing it anyway. So, I left it on the floor.

When I arrived to the next class, I looked under my table to see the sad demise of my pencil-shaving flower. At some point, it had been demolished by a foot in the 2 days that had passed. How cruel! "I guess the janitor will sweep it up at some point," I thought. A class or two passed, and the shaving mess was still there. I was asked to stay after class by the professor. Did I do really well or really badly on the last quiz?! She proceeded to angrily tell me that she did not appreciate my littering in her classroom. I was chastised for a full 10 minutes for leaving that mess of pencil shavings under my table. When I was asked why I did it, and when she finally left room for me to answer, I totally lied! I said that I had seen it there, but I had not comitted the crime. She told me it HAD to be me because no one else ever sat there. Now, I KNOW I did not smash the thing. It was intact when I left it that first day. Clearly, someone else had been in that classroom. And just because she was SO uptight, I refused to give in. She eventually let me go. Bewildered and exhausted, I walked out of that classroom wondering why in the world some shattered pencil shavings would bother her that much. Still, I felt kind of guilty for not simply picking it up when I had the chance.

What's the moral? We all do really dumb things. Whether we repeatedly do really dumb things is another story, however, I think I am beginning to see my students' game-playing for what it is. Treat them like kids, and they'll act like kids (in my case, I lied about pencil shavings). Treat them like adults, and usually they'll act like adults. So far, all of my students who have missed a deadline have said that it was their responsibility and are willing to suffer the consequences. I have received very few excuses this semester, and the ones I have received were accompanied by something in writing. They will mess up. I guess they're still allowed at this stage of the game. But I'd like to think that they are learning more about consequences (good or bad) for their actions in my class. While it may not seem like much, to this day, I still pick up every piece of lint or miniscule piece of paper I may accidentally drop, and I buy mechanical pencils as a result of my dealings in Biology Lab. Here's to hoping for similar results from my own students...for MUCH more important things, of course.


Steph said...

My God, someone that anal-retentive deserves to have her students mess with her a bit.

Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

When I was in high school, the AP biology teacher was that anal, uptight, and about 2 chicken-nuggets short of a Happy Meal. So, after she went off on a student for something really stupid one day (even going so far as to throw a chalk-board eraser a

t him), he decided to get revenge. This student was MIT-bound, and loved to mess with electronics. One day, when he knew the teacher was in the library helping with academic team practice, he snuck into her room and rigged the classroom skeleton with a tiny remote control device that would make the jaw open and close. He then called all the students in the class (as you can imagine, AP biology in high school was a small class) and warned them about what he had done.

The next day in class, the student sat in his usual seat near the back of the class. The first time teh teacher got next to the chalk board (the skeleton was right next to it) the student made the skeleton open and close its mouth with a loud "clack!" sound.

None of the students showed any reaction. The teacher turned around and asked "Did you see that?" All the student shook their heads, muttered, looked at her like she was crazy, etc.

She turned back around, and the mouth "clacked!" again.

Still, none of the students reacted. It got to the point where the students were so good at hiding their reactions, and the teacher so flustered, that she finally burst into tears and went to the principal's office to ask for a substitute to come fill in!

Of course, while she was gone, the student quickly removed all evidence of the crime and tucked it away in his backpack.

This story is now the stuff of legends in my old high school!

Tess said...

Wow! That's a great story! I never had the guts to dare dupe a teacher like that. I just make messes.

kat said...

I'm with steph...this anal teacher didn't deserve the truth. It's not HER classroom anyway. It's the taxpayer's classroom! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!