Natasha Richardson, RIP
poetry month!

lost my shit

TeacherMoi Wow, what a day. For the first half hour of class there was me . . . and six students (of 25). I cannot get it through people's heads that they need to be on time for class, or within a couple of minutes of on time. Not fifteen. Not twenty. Not a half hour. I have a couple who wander in as much as an hour and a half late in a two-hour class on a regular basis. I'm not sure whether they don't care or if it's that no one has ever taught them how to be a student. In some cases, I realize it's life getting in the way; they have families and many of them also have jobs. Juggling work, school, and kids is not easy. There are parent-teacher conferences, court dates, job schedule changes, overtime, rush hour traffic, parking meters, and picking the kids up from school to contend with. But with a number of them, I suspect it is a lack of knowledge about what being a student means and what its responsibilities entail.

That's particularly true of one student who's been a hijacker of my class since she first arrived. She's habitually late. She missed the first two days of class entirely (we meet once a week), then gave me a song and dance about not being able to download the syllabus from her computer (it's just as easily available from the computer lab here). She shouts over anybody with whom she does not agree (which is almost everyone). Today, she had a hissy fit about the two papers that are due at the end of the semester. One is 5-10 pages, the other is 10-15 pages. She seems to think this is an inordinate and unfair amount of work. Considering the only thing she has turned in is the midterm in 9 weeks of classes where there is an assignment every week, this makes me laugh.

Well, not really. Her response to "discovering" she had two large papers due at the end of the semester (we're now halfway through it) was the aforementioned hissy fit saying this was way too much work (there are two two-page papers due sometime during the semester for the class that requires the 5-10 page final paper. That's it.). The best part was that she threatened to go talk to the administration about the amount of work I was assigning. That in itself was pretty funny, but she was so obnoxious about it that it disrupted the last 20 minutes of the last class.

And I totally lost my shit in front of the class. Briefly, but still, I lost my shit, and lost control of the class. That has NEVER happened to me before. I'm really embarrassed at how unprofessional it was. At the same time, I'm proud that I reined myself in much more quickly than I would have at another time in my life. Apologies will be forthcoming, and so will a statement of rights and responsibilities.

The bright side was that the rest of the class rallied around me. One student pointed out how easy they were getting off (and they are) compared to other colleges. A number of them came up after class and agreed with me, as they had when the disruption was going on. A couple have emailed me to show support. Several stayed after to do the same. The ones who did recognize that there's a "type" of student at JOC (probably not at the main campus of CNR) who have not yet figured out what this education gig is all about. They're still mentally in the high school mentality, and some of them are still in what one student called the "ghetto-fabulous" mindset that she said she herself had been growing out of gradually since coming to school. Most of my students realize that education should and does change you: it changes your thought patterns, your speech, your skills, your style of communication.

It's funny, but we'd been discussing Octavia Butler's story "Speech Sounds," in which most humans lose the ability to communicate with each other, and the few who retain the ability to speak or write are in danger because of the frustrated rage of those who can't. Civilization has fallen apart as a consequence of the lack of communication in this story; and that's just what happened in my classroom too: lots of shouting, no real communication. Hmm, there's a teachable moment.

And here's the draft of Kottner's Classroom Rights and Responsibilities:

Prof. Kottner’s Classroom Rights and Responsibilities


  1. Students in any classroom, but especially in my classroom, have a right to respect from both their classmates and their instructor, me. This means we will give each other respectful attention during discussions; not talk over each other; not mock or be rude about other’s opinions; give everyone an opportunity to express themselves without interruption. A discussion is not a free-for-all.
  2. Students have a right to disagree with my opinions and viewpoints, and a right to express those opinions in a non-disruptive manner; at the same time, I, the instructor, have a right to offer opinions and ideas that students may not agree with or may find distasteful. Everybody gets an equal hearing. Classrooms should be a two-way street, a safe place for the interchange of ideas between students and the instructor. We can all learn from each other, but only if we all listen to each other.
  3. Students have a right to a safe learning environment, free from disruption, disrespect, threats, and violence, whether from other students or the instructor. If a student has a grievance, about the class, with me, or with another student, I, the instructor, will be happy to see you after class, and accompany you to the Dean’s office, if necessary. Please do not make me escort you to the Dean’s office during class; it will make both of us really unhappy and nobody wins. Let’s all be grown-ups.

As a college student, you have greater responsibilities in and out of the classroom. College is not like high school and you as a student are expected to take greater responsibility for your education, with the guidance of the faculty and staff. Here are a couple of ways college is different:

  1. Nobody will nag you about your homework. The instructor is responsible for providing clear guidelines about the course requirements and the class schedule in the syllabus, and answering any questions about the requirements and schedule. Students are then responsible for following the syllabus and keeping up with the schedule of work. It is not the instructor’s responsibility to “keep track of” what each student owes the instructor as far as work.
  2. Nobody but you will get you to school on time. Students are responsible for getting to class on time, and turning in their work on time.  Penalties for turning in late work and consistently arriving late will be enforced by the instructor in the form of lower grades. Be here now. It’s the only now you’ve got.
  3. You earn whatever grade you’re given. This is especially true in my class. I do not give “passes” or pity grades. I don’t give you a better grade if I like you, or a worse one if I don’t. I don’t play favorites. You get out of my class what you put into it. If you do well, you earned it. If you bomb, you earned that, too, and I’ll be happy to explain how I arrived at your grade if you want to know. I’ll also be happy to change it if you can make a plausible argument for that change. I want everyone to pass my class. Everyone. Some of you might not. But if you ask me for help, I will always give it.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


When I taught high school years ago, I always struggled to find the right amount of discipline for a class. I think you are finding that now. The rest of your class is rallying around you, so obviously they don't consider you unreasonable in your class goals. Good luck to you as you continue. Soon it will get much easier I'm sure.

Lee Kottner

The frustrating part about this is that these are not high school students. They're not even freshmen. They're all at least sophomores in this class. I'd understand this kind of behavior in incoming Freshman. College is a big change. But frankly, it's behavior like this that makes me not want to teach high school. I don't expect it in a college setting. The entitlement is just stunning though. This is a student who's done no work in the class, apparently plans to do nothing but talk over everyone else in class and watch the videos and still wants a good grade.

I don't think so.

The comments to this entry are closed.