Tag Archives: composition students teacher graduate

I’ll have to write a thank-you note to the makers of Tums.

15 Oct

I never thought I’d be yelled at by a student. I mean, I’m young, I’m hip (we still say “hip,” yes? Barista boy says I’m “hip” and I think he’s adorable), and quite honestly, I think I have the charm of Betty White meets Zooey Deschanel, (only I look slightly more like the illegitimate offspring of Ron Perlman and Sandra Bernhard), so I’ve been operating under the assumption that being verbally accosted in the classroom just wouldn’t happen to me, you know, because I’m special.

(In my head, I sound like one of those people narrating an episode of True Crime TV — It was always such a lovely neighborhood. We never thought anything like this could happen to us, until one night…..)

I’ve been yelled at by not one, not two, but THREE students this semester. All three from the same composition 1 class at the community college I teach at two days a week. The first instance shook me to my very core. I’m a rhetorician (or I try to be), so my pedagogy is highly rhetorical. I talk about the canons, the rhetorical appeals, kairos, how to construct an argument, logical fallacies, etc. I was ridiculously excited about the #Muslimrage trend on Twitter because it was a real demonstration of rhetoric in the hands of people, and the people who were being pigeon-holed reclaiming the negative stigmas against them with humor. Delightful! (The day before this, I did the exact same activity at the university and my students loved it. We then rhetorically analyzed the Twitter pages of Obama and Romney.) So I showed my students at the community college a news clip contextualizing the greater conversation that’s going on to incite the “Muslim Rage” cover on Newsweek, which I showed the class, then I pulled up Twitter to talk about the rhetoric. Before I could even go into the whole “look how neat!” spiel I had prepared, an older Texan woman (she is hard of hearing so wears a microphone around her neck to amplify the sounds of the classroom discussion) — who in this conversation I learned is a staunch Republican — launched into a diatribe about how she didn’t understand what this has to do with English and how the academy is trying to indoctrinate the students with its liberal agendas and those goddamn Muslims are all terrorists! They’re evil, evil people! As she spoke, the microphone around her neck got closer to her, so along with her pissed tone, the feedback from the mic amplified her words, turning the sound into a barrage of remnant, offensive, old-school megaphones spewing hate from her gritty Texas accent. (I thought of the Cybermen in Doctor Who, and felt in my pocket for my sonic screwdriver, but realized I don’t have a sonic screwdriver.)

The lights were dim since I was showing them video on the screen, so thank the g/God(s) she couldn’t see how red my face was growing and how my hands shook like I had Parkinson’s. I calmly explained to her that this has everything to do with English, because this is the power of words and look how cool when the power of words gets out of the hands of the media (Newsweek) and into the hands of the people (the explosion on the Twittersphere). Other students jumped in to my defense (which I kind of hated) and we ended up veering completely off track, legitimizing the war, defending the Muslims who aren’t all terrorists. Pandemonium! I closed the conversation off quickly, because it seriously was going nowhere and all I could think to say was “you’re a fucking idiot,” and I thought that didn’t sound too professional. She left before class was over.

The second and third times I was yelled at by students happened in the same day, so I can knock out two angry birds with one pig. Or is it the other way around? I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around. You get what I’m saying.

I hate tardiness. I’m German. I’m always either three minutes early or exactly on time. I explained on the first day of class that starting week three, I will lock the classroom door once class has begun, and if you’re not in the room, you’re absent. One young-ish woman consistently came in 15-20 minutes late, so when I started locking the door, her attendance dropped dramatically. Well on this particular day, she came in right on time (because she was locked out the last class) and before she even sat down launched into her own pissing fit about how I’m not allowed to do that and she gets here fifteen minutes early and it takes forever to park and she has to walk to the building and engage in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and it’sjustnotfair she’s trying to fight for Gondor to protect the city of Minas Tirith! I told her to leave earlier; I manage to get here on time and so does everyone else. She rebutts, and I interrupt, telling her to save it until the end of class; I’m not going to waste everyone’s time on her issues of tardiness.

Meanwhile, I’m passing back their first papers: an explanation essay in which they are to identify something, explain its processes, explain who it is important to, and what it contributes to the global community. Before their final papers were due, I conferenced individually with each student, making sure they were on the right track and offering suggestions for revisions. One student, a 30-something year old man, wrote about the joys of growing up as an Army brat and getting to live overseas and travel and be diverse and shit. Okay, cool, so did I. Here’s your fucking gold star. I told him during conferences that he has a really great start, a terrific narrative voice, blah blah blah… but now I want him to focus on explaining how living overseas is useful to other people in order to fulfill the assignment requirements. For his final draft, one sentence was added to the end of the conslusion: “Living overseas is good for other people, it was helpful for me, too.”

Na bro.

Feeling charitable, I gave him a 75%. (C = average. I wonder if that translates to bra sizes.) He was livid. Left class ten minutes in, then suddenly reappeared towards the end, asking if he could speak to me about his paper. I said sure, let me finish what I’m doing here.

“Let’s go in the hall,” he says. Motherfucker. “Perfect,” I say. So we sit down, and I’m hyper-aware of body language, so I sit up straighter, positioning myself as “in charge” of this conversation — because despite my limited “actual” power as a graduate student teaching first-year composition, they don’t know that, so they think I have some power. He shakes his head at me, disapprovingly, telling me he’s considering transferring out of my class. “If that’s what you feel you need to do, then that’s probably your best option,” I reply. I’ll be damned if someone bullies me into changing their grade. He gets an “A” on every one of his papers he’s ever written, and this is just unacceptable. “Well, you didn’t this time,” I told him. His tone escalated and be began to get belligerent. As I tried to explain to him the comments and rationale to my grading decision, he interrupted, so I put on my best angry professor face and said in a calm, low voice “Do you want to hear what I have to say?” He tossed the packet of papers in my lap, swung his right leg over his left, crossed his arms, sitting back and said “Yeah. Let’s hear what you have to say.” I spelled out in exhaustive detail each piece of the assignment and how what he wrote did not fit the assignment criteria, again, in a calm, low voice so he’d have to listen very carefully (a trick I learned from “The Office.” Oh, bless Michael Scott). I refused to change his grade, and explained to him that it was actually a generous “C.”

He’s since apologized for being a “gigantic jackass” — his words, not mine; mine would’ve been much more colorful — but the issue still remains in regards to the dynamics of gender and age in the classroom, and how I’m supposed to account for being young and woman. My mother was terrified for my safety (“He could’ve killed you!” “Na, ma, I got street cred. I know people” — because my actual ability to fight is limited, considering that I have the upper body strength of a kitten). I’m more irritated that he questioned my grading method.

I teach them tomorrow, and every Monday and Wednesday evening, my heart fills with small pieces of dread, not knowing what’s in store for me the next day. On a positive note, the stocks in Tums is going up because I am single-handedly investing every cent I own into the relief from acid indigestion from these students. Maybe they should write me the thank-you note.


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