So THAT’S How You Do It!

True story, you guys.

I’ve got a student. For the sake of her privacy, we’ll call her Charlotte. She’s in one of my public speaking classes and she’s presented a bit of a challenge for me, even in these early weeks.

Charlotte gives off the air of wanting to be anywhere but in class. She stares off into space, she doesn’t turn in homework, she mumbled her way through her first speech and couldn’t get back to her seat quickly enough.

The only thing that Charlotte seems intent upon is not participating in class. She’s working really hard at it, to the point that I think the rest of the class is hoping I won’t call on her because the ensuing silence – and the staring competition Charlotte challenges me to every time I utter her name – makes everyone else in the room uncomfortable.

It should come as no great surprise that Charlotte is failing the class. Because of our teach-out situation, the college is mandating that we report on student progress at close intervals during the semester, and one of the reporting deadlines was last week. I wrote up a progress slip for Charlotte on which I had written as a comment that she “actively refuses to participate in class and her work shows a decided lack of effort.” I brought it to her to sign. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Charlotte, I need you to read this and sign it, please.

Charlotte: What does this mean?

Me: What do you mean, “what does this mean?”

C: This part about participation. I participate.

Me: Really? HOW, exactly, do you participate?

C: I don’t know…

Me: EXACTLY. Charlotte, whenever I call on you, that’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth. You invariably have nothing to say, even when I ask you pointed questions to direct your thinking. That says to me that either you’re not paying attention or you don’t care enough to formulate a response. Either way, you’re not adding anything substantive to our conversations and, as a member of this community, adding to the conversation is part of your responsibility.

C (with a dramatic eye-roll): But I COME to CLASS.

Me: Yes, you do, but you need to understand that coming to class and participating in class are very different things. I even say so in my syllabus – it’s not enough to just be in your seat; you need to be active in the process.

C: Mumbles something incoherent.

Me: I’m sorry?

C: Just because you don’t think I participate doesn’t mean I don’t.

Me: Okay, that’s fair. I fully understand that people’s perceptions of situations can be vastly different. My question to you, then, becomes this: how can you get my perception of your behavior in this class to more closely resemble your perception?

C (I swear to God/dess, Everyone; I’m not making this up – this is exactly what she said): Well, you could just not care.

I think she’s on to something! Not caring would solve pretty much all my teacher-problems! I’d never again have to worry about preparing interesting lectures, making meaningful assessments, or being conscientious and helpful in my grading. I’d not have to concern myself with deadlines or professional responsibilities! Gee, Charlotte, THANKS for that bit of advice!

Seriously, though – I looked at her and said “did you REALLY just say that to me?!” to which she responded, “well YEAH” (read that to sound like “well, DUH!). I managed to regain my composure and told her that she’d have to come up with a better strategy than that, because my not caring was never gonna happen. I then told her that the conversation was over, directed her to sign the paper, and made a beeline to her department head to report on the confrontation.

The DH wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear the story, and she assured me that it would go nowhere – Charlotte is known as a drama queen in the department and she wasn’t likely to come to her DH to complain about me anyway because she’s all bark – she knows she’s got no ground to stand on in this because all of her instructors have the same complaints.

One last little bit to the story: I had hoped that our little tete-a-tete would spark at least a temporary improvement in Charlotte’s behavior in the classroom, but that was a naive wish on my part. When I handed out a three-page article about the Tiger Woods incident that I wrote about yesterday, I looked up about a minute into the reading to see Charlotte picking at her fingernails. She looked up at me and I said “did you read?” She said, with her usual eye-roll and tongue tisk, “yah.” When I called on her to reiterate the main ideas of the article, she parroted back the summary I gave them as I was handing the papers out.

Sorry, Sweetie, but that doesn’t count.



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7 responses to “So THAT’S How You Do It!

  1. Students like Charlotte can really bring down the momentum of the class. Everything is rolling along nicely and then screeches to a halt when the student is asked to participate. It’s so frustrating. I had a Charlotte myself but he ended up dropping the class when his mid-semester grade was not to his liking. Apparently I was not the only one relieved when he left as the mood and dynamic of the class changed considerably for the better with his absence.

  2. I have students just like Charlotte. They do not understand that being a part of a class is like being a member of a team. We all must make a contribution in order to get the most out of what we are doing.

    It is easy to sit and do nothing; I often tell students that learning is an active event; it is not like watching TV or sports. I wonder why some students do not see the joy in sharing. Better yet, seeing that you teach on a college campus, no one is forcing her to go to school.

  3. Have you considered grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her?

    I read your stories, and I go back to my cube and thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to deal with that…

    You’re a better woman than me, Mrs. Chili 😉


  4. “don’t care” – Brilliant! I am sorry, but it made me chuckle.

  5. drtombibey


    Lord knows most folks love you for continuing to care and to try, but my goodness- it must test you at times.

    Dr. B

  6. Are you sure Charlotte lives in the Northeast? Because I think she’s in my class now. Yuck. I always end up having this inner dialogue, where I ‘m thinking “It’s not me, right? It’s them. Right?”
    She’s a mess.

  7. Pingback: Two Things « A Teacher’s Education

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