Here’s the first letter I wrote to the Powers that Be:
This letter serves to document my experience of having Jon as a student in my Monday/Wednesday, 11:10-1:20 Public Speaking and Communication class at TCC during the spring semester of 2008.
Jon’s attendance in the course was spotty at the beginning of the semester and, as a result, he missed a significant amount of class time and homework assignments. As early as April 21, he and I were in email correspondence concerning his attendance – a copy of our emails, along with an expression of my concern for this student to Sam, his department head, is below.
When Jon is in class, I have found him to be disruptive and uncooperative. For example, we have had several confrontations over his computer being open during class time. He has left the class numerous times for reasons unknown to me, and he consistently returns late from break. He sits in the back of the room and I have to stop the class on occasion to break up conversations from that area. He does occasionally participate in the class’s discussion, but more often than not his contributions consist of his simply agreeing with what someone else has already stated.
His performance in the course has likewise been spotty. His homework is often of a substandard quality, with Jon giving the barest minimum of answers and often these are in sentence fragments. He failed his mid-term in-class exam, earning a 53, and also failed the take-home portion of the exam, a series of essay questions concerning Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The students were exhorted to put in a genuine effort and to give thoughtful, complete, and considered answers. Jon chose to respond with sentence fragments handed in on the assignment sheet. Anticipating a confrontation, I made copies of both of Jon’s exams and brought them to Sam’s attention on Thursday, May 8th.
This morning, I handed back the students’ exams and began to review the test questions with them. Jon had taken his neighbor’s exam and was flipping through the test page by page in a way that was disruptive enough to me that I asked him what he was doing. He responded that he was checking his answers against his neighbor’s because he wanted to be sure that I didn’t “jew” him out of any points.
When I asked him what he had just said to me, he said that he wanted to be sure that I hadn’t “screwed” him out of any points. I told him that that was not what he said, at which point he accused me of putting words in his mouth. It was then that I told him to collect his things and report to his department head.
At the break, several members of the class came to me separately and told me that they heard what I had heard. Further, a student confided in me that Jon has spoken crude things about me when I’m not in the room.
These issues very clearly address Student Code of Conduct provisions:
5, disorderly conduct,
6, disruptive activity
7, failure to cooperate
*I would include provision 10, harassment or discrimination, on the basis of my student’s information, but I cannot personally speak to that, as I have never been in the room when it’s happened.
Following this morning’s incident, Sam and Jon returned to my classroom to have a meeting. I found this discussion to be both disturbing and entirely unproductive. Jon flatly denied using the racial slur. He accused me of being personally biased against him and of failing to live up to my responsibilities as an educator. He seemed, to me, entirely unwilling to seek a compromise that would allow him to be a cooperative and contributing member of my classroom community. Frankly, his temper intimidated me; I am confident that I am upholding my professional commitments, but I am uncertain how far that confidence will take me in the face of this student’s having decided that I am out to get him.
I respectfully request that Jon be removed from my class effective immediately. I feel that he has created an environment where he can no longer succeed in the community we’ve created as a class, and I am concerned that any further confrontations will be met with ever-increasing hostility.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you require any further information; I am available entirely at your convenience.
It turns out, though, that this letter was not adequate to serve the purpose. Joe took me aside the following day and pointed out that the letter could describe more than half the student body at TCC; that I spoke more to Jon’s academic performance in my class than to his behavior in my class. Rereading it now, I can see that, but in my defense a) I’ve never had to do anything like this before and b) I was trying to be as professional and detached as possible. I didn’t want to come off all whiny and accusatory, and I didn’t know exactly how to point out his bad behavior without sounding petulant.
I went home that afternoon and re-worked my letter. Joe liked this one much better:
This letter serves to document my experiences with Jon as a student in my Monday-Wednesday, 11:10-1:20 Public Speaking and Communication class at TCC during the spring term of 2008.
I have found Jon to be a disruptive influence in the classroom. His behavior ranges from boisterous to combative, and he has been inappropriately challenging on numerous occasions.
Jon very often disregards the computer policy as stated in the syllabus for the class and, on several occasions, has argued with me in front of the other students about putting his computer away. He will often get up and leave the room in the middle of a lecture or discussion, and more often returns late from break. Jon conducted a very loud phone conversation, ostensibly with his mother, after receiving a progress report from me on April 28th indicating that he was performing poorly in our class. During this conversation, he told his listener – and the entire class, who was well within earshot – that I was treating him unfairly and that I was biased against him. He also tends to speak out of turn and at inappropriate times, as when the class was engaged in their mid-terms on May 7th.
Jon has consistently challenged my teaching decisions in class. A typical example follows; a fellow student gave a moving performance during his commemorative speech on May 5th. He was speaking of his grandfather and, about a quarter of the way through is delivery, lost his composure completely. It took him a few moments, but he recovered and was able to finish his speech. When the student returned to his seat, I asked him if he would be willing to share what he needed to do to stay at the podium and recollect himself sufficiently to finish his presentation. At that point, Jon told me that I was wrong to ask the student to talk about the experience when it was so obvious that he was upset. He didn’t present his objection in a respectful way – he accused me, essentially, of capitalizing on a student’s grief.
The latest confrontation, and the reason for my formal complaint, happened on Monday, May 12. The class and I were reviewing the answers to the mid-term exam, which I had just finished returning to the students. Jon had taken his neighbor’s paper and was loudly and dramatically flipping through it, creating enough of a distraction that I asked the students what they were doing. Jon answered that he was checking his answers against his neighbor’s because, and I quote, he wanted to be sure that I didn’t “jew” him out of any points. When I asked him what he’d just said, he changed his word to “screwed.” I challenged him about the epithet, and he became combative and accused me of putting words in his mouth. At that point, I told him to collect his things and report to his department head.
During the break in the class, I was approached by another student who informed me that Jon has been verbally abusive to me when I’m out of the room. I cannot speak to this personally, as I was not present when it happened, but the student voiced a willingness to speak to this if asked.
The meeting that I had with Jon and Sam following the May 12th incident has convinced me that Jon is either unwilling or unable to be a productive member of our classroom. He was verbally abusive to me during the meeting and gave no indication of being willing to work with me. He lied about the conduct that precipitated the meeting and accused me of trying to get him into trouble. He demonstrated an escalation of the behavior I’ve seen in class, and the fact that he was unable to control his temper in front both myself and another faculty member concerns me. Based on that experience, I worry that any further confrontations between myself and this student will be met with ever-increasing levels of hostility and, for that reason, I respectfully request that Jon be removed from my class effective immediately.
Joe said that this was a much better letter – it addressed the source of my frustrations and unease. Looking at it again, I see that he’s right.
All this happened on Tuesday. I saw Jon again on Wednesday. That class will be the subject of Part IV.