I came home from my classes this morning feeling an odd combination of elation at having taught and near despondency at the fact that a decent portion of my students are hovering at or below the failure level. When I arrived home, my answering machine was blinking. One of the messages was from my boss. The message was as follows:
Hi, Mrs. Chili. I have an issue and I need you to call me as soon as you can. Thanks.
Now, you need to understand something about me: beneath this cool, confident exterior is a fairly thick layer of insecurity. I hide it well, and I do okay when I know for sure that I’ve covered all my proverbial bases, but I’m still quick to assume the worst when someone asks if I’ve got a few minutes “to talk” – and “the worst” usually involves me doing or saying something out of line. When I heard “I have an issue,” my brain added “with you.” Gulp. Add to that the fact that my boss, though a lovely man in and of himself, is also very difficult to read. He frazzles rather easily and it’s not always clear what his mood is like, so it wasn’t much of a leap to think that his issue was with me. My mind was racing around everything I did or said in the classroom this morning (we talked about swearing in the public speaking class in the context of “social contracts,” and I admitted my tendency to swear like a drill sergeant. I didn’t actually swear like a drill sergeant, though, so I knew I was okay on that front) and continued to inventory my behavior right up until Joe answered the phone.
It turns out that his issue wasn’t with me, but with a student in my p/s class. It’s one of the students taking a second crack at a passing grade. Let’s, for the sake of narrative flow, call him Jesse, shall we? Well, Jesse’s what you might call a “problem child.” He’s got slacker attitude to spare. He sits in the back with another delightful student, we’ll call him Steve, and the two of them just yuk it up back there. Some of the crap they come out with is genuinely funny; I’ll grant them that. Aside from the occasional humor, though, they add nothing of substance to the class and are, more often than not, a rather large disruption. Today was a particularly fun day with my own personal Statler and Waldorf, and I let my bitch out and told them that, next week, they’re going to sit in different parts of the room because I’m not abiding by their behaviour anymore. I think they think I was bluffing. Silly children!
Anyway, Joe’s issue, if I’m interpreting the story correctly, goes something like this: Jesse was in Joe’s p/s class last semester. Jesse failed Joe’s class last semester, because he failed to do the better portion of the work and didn’t hand in his final exam. Because of his failure in the course, Jesse got booted out of something he wanted – either a scholarship or admission to a different college or something – this was the part of Joe’s story that got a little confusing for me. At some point in all of this, Jesse’s father, who works in academia, got involved (I think he’s a dean of admissions somewhere, so he’s up on the whole college thing). I’m betting that it was most unpleasant for Jesse to come home to tell Dad that he’d blown whatever opportunity he’d been offered, and Dad’s been riding him to get his proverbial shit together.
Here’s where I come in. Jesse’s dad called Joe and told him that Jesse had worked out a “deal” with me whereby he didn’t have to actually attend classes; he could just do the online work and I would allow him to pass the class. As Joe’s telling me this, my jaw is dropping lower and lower: first of all, the attendance policy at TCC is INCREDIBLY strict – to the point where they actually hunt absent students down to find out why they’re not in class. As a brand-new instructor, I’d have to be high on crack to even THINK about allowing a student to deviate from this policy. Furthermore, I would never consider making this kind of special arrangement with a student without running it past my boss first. I mean, I can vary my homework policy all I want, I can play with the weighting of grades, but I can’t mess with school rules. Third, it’s not in my nature to let a student “get by.” You come to class, you bring your game, or you don’t bother playing – it’s that simple. What’s really confusing me, though? Jesse’s been to every class so far. He’s not “attending” the online portion of the class – he’s not done any of the work assigned and has, as a consequence, been marked as absent for the online classes, but he’s been to every face-to-face meeting we’ve had so far.
I explained all this to Joe and he confirmed that he suspected that Jesse was playing games with his father. DANGEROUS games, it seems. Joe asked me to write him a report about Jesse’s performance thus far, and what his grade would be if the class were to end today. I sent the following; I think it got my point across:
I’m writing in response to your request for information about Jesse Washington.
I can assure you that he and I have made no “deal” concerning his attendance in class. He hasn’t approached me about making an exception to the attendance policy for him, and I wouldn’t grant his request if he had, particularly not without consulting you first. To this point, Jesse has been in attendance at every physical class we’ve had but has turned in none of the online work that has been assigned; I’ve emailed Lucy in the Registrar’s office to confirm his attendance record, but haven’t received her response yet. He hasn’t been in touch with me about any problems he may be experiencing with Blackboard, so I’m not sure whether his failure to turn in work is due to his not having access to the assignments or his just not doing them. He also failed to turn in the one written homework assignment I issued – an outline of an informational speech to be given next week. Again, he hasn’t contacted me about any problems he may be having keeping up with the pace of the class discussion and rarely asks questions of the material that I present. This being the case, he currently has a ‘zero’ for the course work portion of the grade.
My general impression of his behavior in class is not favorable. He sits in the far back with another student and the two of them pay very little attention and contribute little of value to the class discussions. Several times during classes – today’s in particular – I had to stop conversation to bring the boys back into line; they can be very disruptive and more than a little inappropriate. I mentioned to the two of them this morning that, next week, they will have different seating assignments because I simply cannot allow their behavior to continue.
The class will be delivering their first speech next Monday. As I said, Jesse failed to turn in the outline for this speech, so I’m not certain of his plans or his preparedness for the work. We discussed, as a class, the topics for the students’ speeches, and Jesse volunteered that his talk would be about the medicinal uses of marijuana. I reminded him that his topic must be kept “college-appropriate,” though I question whether he will be able to stay within boundaries.
If the class were ending today, Jesse would receive a failing grade. I’m hoping that the change in seating arrangements will help to focus his attention a bit more and that he is well prepared for his speech on Monday. I am also planning on having short, one-on-one conferences with the students next week to discuss their performance to this point – sort of a ‘progress report’ kind of meeting – and I hope to be able to impress upon Jesse that his current trajectory will land him back in another Public Speaking class next semester.
If there is any more information you need, or you would like more detail about something I’ve stated here, please contact me right away. I’ll respond immediately.
I mean, seriously; did he think this wouldn’t come back to me? Did he think I would cover for his ass? Frankly, I’m shocked by the audacity of the kid, and I’ll be interested to see where this goes, and what Jesse will have to say for himself when -and if – he comes to class next Monday.