Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Five: Student Types that Grate on My Nerves

After a pretty taxing week with America's Dismal Future, complete with heartburn and an eye twitch, I thought about this quarter's population and realized I have a rather disproportionate number of students I don't like. Sure, there's always one or two, but this quarter, it seems I have a representative from each type of the absolutely most irritating student types. And there are many things I wish I could say to them without getting fired. Or arrested.

1. The I-Don't-Have-an-A-Because-You-Don't-Like-Me: There is this misconception among students that if you try really, really hard, that means you automatically will be awarded an A. What they fail to realize is that earning an A (operative word being earning) requires mastering the material. But rather than recognize that not everyone is an A-earning genius, and that sometimes we're not as good at some things than others, it's definitely my fault. I just don't like them. I decided to take it personally that they don't like Oedipus Rex or they think the explanation to all of Sylvia Plath's poetry is that she was "crazy." And therefore I will unleash my wrath on their GPA.

Here's the thing, Cupcake. No one is good at everything. And very few students call pull off straight As. That's why it's a really, really big honor at most major colleges and universities to graduate with a flawless GPA. The sooner you're willing to recognize that you might have to work a bit harder at this kind of material and you still may not earn that A, but still walk out with a good grade, the sooner you'll actually LEARN something. The first thing to learn though, is, I don't really care that much about you on a personal level. I may hate your guts, but if you produce A-worthy work, then you'll get an A. I've had students who I absolutely adored, but they didn't earn As. Sometimes they didn't even pass. You're extra special, though. I don't like you and you're failing.

2. The Contrarian: I love a good debate, and I am always open to hearing another point of view. But there's a key here: both of us have to know what we're talking about. To be completely fair (as is the core of a worthy argument), I've had students who make an excellent case for their points. This is not The Contrarian. The Contrarian likes to argue just for the sake of arguing. The Contrarian has one main goal: to wear me down. The Contrarian will also try to use this method to negotiate for a better grade (more on that in a minute). The Contrarian's only goal is to weaken me to a state where I am malleable.

Bring it, kid. I've been stubborn for longer than you've been alive. And I'm the expert in this room. Argue all you want, but sticking to your guns as a refusal to say, make an effort to analyze a character, or write a better-organized paper, is only going to bite you in your argumentative ass. It doesn't make you resilient, it makes you a student who is unwilling to learn. And therefore useless to me. Go be stubborn somewhere else.

3. The Negotiator: These students literally make me laugh... and then I want to smash my face into a computer monitor. They often begin the quarter by trying to plant the seed. I've received several emails stating something to the likes of: "Professor- This is my final quarter at [our school], and if I get an A in your class, I will qualify for x,y,z. Please let me know what I can do to make sure I get an A." Or they "make a joke" of it in the beginning, "I really need an A in here! LOL." Well, it's pretty straightforward. Show up, participate, work hard, SHOW MASTERY OF THE CONCEPTS. Because again, it's not just effort. Effort is great, but it's not the only thing that goes into an A. Despite this explanation, and after spotty attendance, mediocre and/or inconsistent assignments, and not a whole hell of a lot of effort, this student will come to me requesting extra credit, do-overs, another chance, "What do I have to do get my grade up to an A?"

Womp womp. So sorry. You didn't earn that A. But you got some lovely consolation prizes: The grade you actually earned, and several lessons in responsibility, motivation, and the reality of the world... Or not. Because you'll do this again with another class, another professor. And you'll succeed.

4. The Leech: I am not completely souless or heartless (no, really, I swear). I will normally, especially at the beginning of the quarter, give a student who has fallen behind a chance to catch up. However, it's a one-shot deal with me. Most of the time, students take the opportunity and they do get on track. Others decide that once I've given them one chance, they can continue to negotiate, make excuses, ask for more chances, and so on. They always have some sort of sob-story to go with it. First it's their kids. Then it's their car. Then they are sick. Then it's other classes. Then it's they forgot. Then it's their computer.

Look, I know it's hard to be a college student sometimes, especially when you have a full life aside from being a student. But you chose this. You chose to add school to your already full plate, and that's great. But it's not my problem if you can't hack it. It's not my problem that you suck at time management. I earned a Master's Degree while working full time. Know what that meant? I didn't sleep much. I ate dinner while writing papers. I put in 18-hour days. Suck it up. If you want it bad enough, you'll make it happen. If you don't, it's not my responsiblity to make you care, nor is it responsible of me to make it easy for you. If you can't hack it, go home. Because it sure as shit ain't easy out here in the real world, Pumpkin, and babying you will do more harm than good.

5. "She's a pushover... Nope, she's a bitch": I'm not much older than many of my students. Conversely, there are many occasions, particularly in evening classes, where some of them are older than me. My age and appearance can damage my credibility (in their eyes) off the bat. The younger ones will look at me and assume I'm a pushover, because I'm young, attractive, and a woman. The boys will try to flirt their way out of trouble. They'll send me emails addressing me by my first name, or using language such as "hey," "lol" and "omg." Conversely, the older ones can't fathom how I could possibly know anything about anything because I'm "a baby" and "haven't lived." So, I'm forced to be pretty firm in my policies, to make them understand what no means, and to hold them all to the same standards. Which then transforms me from pushover to bitch.

Yep, that's right. I am a bitch. I'm a bitch when you expect special treatment, Snowflake. I'm a bitch when you don't pull your weight. I'm a bitch when you think you can blur the lines of hierarchy and respect because you assume I'm a certain way. No matter who my professors were, what they looked like, young or old, I respected them. Why? Because they provided me with the opportunity to learn. You don't provide me the opportunity to teach. I'm not obligated to do anything but hand you the tools and show you how to use them. I'm not a babysitter, and I'm not your mother. Grow up or shut up and get the fuck out of my classroom.

I really do love it, though. I have to. Otherwise I'd be in jail by now.


  1. (Clapping enthusiastically).

    Yes. To all this. I can't imagine what teaching must be like these days, but I do applaud you for taking such a firm stance in your classroom and adhering to your goals as teacher. There are no freebies in this world. We all worked hard to get to where we are and the fact that some of your students have such lofty notions and believe that negotiation, argumentation, and flirtation are going to win you over is just beyond my comprehension.

    I could never do what you do. I keep thinking that perhaps teaching is a career path I would love to go down... but I just am not sure I could ever hack it. But so much respect to you for all that you do. I'm sure there are some students who understand how lucky they are to have you as their teacher, and I hope they are the ones who keep you going.


  2. AHAHA. Thank you for the applause and the support. And it really is the students who appreciate, who show up, who make and effort, who strive that absolutely make it all worth it. Sadly, they aren't as amusing. :-p

    A thick skin and a love of the subject is all you need, really. Anyone who goes into teaching for any other peripheral benefit will find it extremely difficult to withstand. Those who go into it for the benefits or summers off aren't going in with the right intention to begin with, and would likely not be able to weather these situations. It's grain of salt for me, because why I teach is more resilient than anything these guys can do to me. :-)