There’s One Every Term

A post in which there is much and copious swearing. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

I have a grammar class this term. That, in itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing and, in this particular case, is actually pretty darned good. I’ve got a good group of students who regularly show up and at least TRY to engage with the material. I do my best to make the work accessible, and I really feel like this group recognizes and appreciates that effort – in short, they’re playing along and the class is, if not fun, at least palatable.

One student showed up today in a mood. He started the class by trying to hand in last week’s homework and claiming that he had NO IDEA that I don’t accept late homework. “I was absent, and I didn’t read the fucking syllabus, so how the hell was I supposed to know?” was his response to my restating my policy. I ignored the epithet and reminded him that he was here on the first day of classes, when I clearly and painstakingly explained that policy. All that earned me was a cranky boy dropping noisily into his seat and putting his head on his arm.

He stayed that way all through class. About halfway toward the break, I called on him to answer a question we were working on at the board, giving him the benefit of the doubt that, while he may not be LOOKING at me, he may well still be LISTENING to me. He looked up, gave me a dismissive sort of glare, and said nothing. Someone else answered the question in the awkward silence he created, and he took that as permission to put his head back down, but not before muttering more swears under his breath.

Just before break was over, I called him out into the hallway, closed the door, and asked him gently (because this behavior isn’t normal for this boy – he’s apathetic about the class, but he’s never been outwardly rude to me) if something was wrong. “Yeah, something’s wrong,” he said, “this fucking class sucks. I hate this class, I hate this shit.”

“I’m very sorry you feel that way. I understand that this is a tough class, and that the material isn’t exactly thrilling, but you’re here for a reason. I’m doing my best to make it as fun as I can, but you have to participate.”

“It’s fucking stupid; I hate it.”

I reiterated that I felt sympathy for him, but that if he were going to spend the class napping, he’d have to do it somewhere else. At this point, he stomped back into the room, grabbed his crap (swearing the whole way) and stormed out.

Sigh.

I had to write a letter to my boss (and to the boy’s department head) about the scene. I’m not personally bothered by it – hell, I kind of agree with the kid and I’d resent the hell out of a basic grammar class, too – but behavior like that can’t be left alone. The boy doesn’t usually behave like that, either, and I’m concerned that there’s something really wrong with him. Besides, he seriously ruffled the kids who were in the class – they’re a really GOOD group, and they recognize that the class is only going to be as enjoyable as they’re willing to make it. One girl – goddess love her – actually apologized to me for his tirade. “You’re doing a good job,” she said, “you didn’t deserve that.”

Here’s the note I sent to the bosses. I’ll let you know how it all plays out.

Dear Gentlemen:

This is just to let you know that I had an incident with Steven Student this afternoon.

He is in my 1:30 Foundational English class, though his attendance has been spotty. He came to class this afternoon and we had what I consider a mild incident early in the class about his trying to hand in last week’s homework late. He then proceeded to put his head on the desk and essentially ignore the class. When I called on him to answer a question on something we were working on at the board – giving him the benefit of the doubt that he was listening, if not looking – he was unresponsive at first, then openly hostile.

After break, I called him to the hall to ask him what was going on with him. His response to me was verbally abusive, and I told him that, if he were going to nap, he should do it someplace else. He stormed in to the room, collected his things and, amidst a fair bit of cursing, stomped out of the room.

I’m concerned for Steven – this behavior hasn’t been my experience of him to this point. Before today, he’s been pleasant to me, if not a little credulous of the class material – and he’s never been abusive. His behavior this afternoon shocked me.

I recognize that the students come to me at a difficult time of day and that most of them are pretty much wiped out by the time they arrive in my class – and I know that I’m not teaching edge-of-your-seat material – but I think that the dynamic of the class is a surprisingly positive one, given those circumstances. The students who regularly show up are making an effort to learn, and they recognize the effort that I’m making to make this material as accessible as possible. Steven’s reaction today surprised a lot of students, and really disrupted the positive energy that we try to maintain in the room.

I felt that it was important to let you both know that this happened, and to let you know that this is not usual behavior for this student. Please know that I’m available for any questions you might have, and will offer any assistance – to you or to Steven – that I can.

Warmly,

Mrs. Chili

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9 Comments

Filed under concerns, General Griping, Grammar, Teaching, Yikes!

9 responses to “There’s One Every Term

  1. sphyrnatude

    *sigh* Unfortunately, there does seem to be one every term.
    You did the right thing telling him that class was not the place to nap. remember, part of a college education is teaching what is appropriate in different situations.
    Incidents like this always make me lament the idea that education is a right instead of a privilege..

  2. I remember getting kicked out of a class in college for napping (and being unprepared, among other things I shouldn’t mention, being a teacher and all) as well, so I’d have to agree that you did the right thing, given the situation.

    At least you can look to the rest of your students in the class with a more positive view as a result of their thoughts and comments after the incident.

    …. and I can’t wait to deal with “copious” amounts of swearing from my Seniors when they realize what a pain in their ass my class is going to be.

    Best of luck resolving this issue.

  3. Denever

    Hard to believe this is college we’re talking about, huh?

    I have a suggestion for Grammar Wednesday. Here are three examples from the post above:

    Example A: ” . . . asked him gently . . . if something was wrong”

    Example B: “I reiterated that I felt sympathy for him, but that if he were going to spend the class napping”

    Example C: “I told him that, if he were going to nap, he should do it someplace else”

    The verb following “if” is correct in A but incorrect in B and C. Why?

  4. Kick ass Mrs Chili!
    Your class motto should be “Don’t f*ck with Momma!”
    And what is with these kids who use this kind of language with a teacher?
    This is what scares me about going into teaching. Although admittedly you do have a tough subject.
    I’m always amazed at how complex language is – and how many complicated rules governing syntax we just know intuitively. Even when people use bad grammar, it still follows certain rules. To me, language is the one subject that demonstrates the complexity of the human brain which everyone can relate to…

    Give ’em hell, Alexis!

  5. Denever, according to my Essentials of English, the ‘were’ in those clauses is not incorrect, though I see where you are getting that they are. The editors of my reference book tell me that the subjunctive mood “is used to express… matters of urgency, formality, possibility and unreality” (p. 17). It is highly possible that Steven would spend the rest of the class napping – but he may not – so I used the subjunctive.

    I’ve found conflicting information about this, however. Bartleby‘s tells me this:

    When the situation described by the if clause is not presupposed to be false, however, that clause must contain an indicative verb. The form of verb in the main clause will depend on your intended meaning: If Hamlet was really written by Marlowe, as many have argued, then we have underestimated Marlowe’s genius. If Kevin was out all day, then it makes sense that he couldn’t answer the phone.

    So, could it go either way? Is it possible that we’re both right?

  6. Mrs. Massey

    I couldn’t agree with Sphyrnatude more… Perhaps education (at least on the college level) SHOULD be a privilege, as it is in most nations other than this one. Grrrrr. And, am I the only person who got a little nervous regarding the student’s hostility toward you?

  7. Mrs. Massey, I would have been nervous had this been regular behavior for this kid. It wasn’t, and I knew that. He had a burr up his butt about something, and I was an easy target. That doesn’t make what he did okay (in fact, it makes it slightly LESS okay, in my mind), but it does make it a little less scary.

    By the way, I came home this afternoon to this from Steven. I’m somewhat impressed, but not knocked out of my socks:

    Dear Mrs.Chili

    Im sorry about the other day. I was just really haveing a bad day and i didnt mean to take it out on you. Today i woke up feelin like crap so i wont be attending your class. Please send me the home work assignments, cause i didnt get one from you the other day when you kicked me out. Sorry again, have a good day

    sincerely,

    Steve

  8. Steven Student is in that grammar class for a reason: He obviously doesn’t know his grammar–and he’s too “fucking stupid” (to quote himself) to realize it!

  9. I thought some of my students were rowdy. However, to avoid scenes like that, I ask or order students to leave class as soon as they violate one of my rules or become belligerent….

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