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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


I need help

I posted this over at Phantom's. I'm so fricking glad this is wednesday.

If any of you have any ideas for how to deal with extremely disrespectful students, please help me!

I am too depressed and sad to write a good whine - so here is a sketch:
In december I was kicked out of grad school - at the ABD stage. It totally sucks, particularly because I am slowly losing hope I will ever be able to be a shrink without a PhD, and I have lost all confidence in my abilities. For emotional and other reasons, my only goal is to find a job (and friends who ask about trying another PhD program need to bite me and just support my decision to try to earn money and get some semblance of confidence back). I have been looking for work since January, and like Beckala, and having a heck of a time. I went through a huge involved process with a dream job (during which time I met tons of people, fell in love with them all, and got so attached to them and the organization, and the idea of the job), only to have them change the job decription at the last minute, thus making me not a good match.

little antiwhine: a friend helped me get an adjuncting gig.

back to the whine: The problem is, I don't want to teach *at all* as I just feel too badly now, and teaching lately causes me to feel even worse due to student behaviors. I started it today (one class). It is a university I've not taught at before, I just got the gig last week, and I've not taught this class before (but I have taught a lot before, and at a variety of caliber schools). The first day was horrible. I have never ever had such disrespectful students in my life. There are 3 male students who seem to want to make me feel completely incompetent and who were constantly launching assaults at my authority. They started this right at the get go, and I think it started to cause others to doubt my competence (not helpful for me personally right now). I got not only overt challenges (like informing me that I was requiring too much of them), there was also eye rolling, throwing of hands into the air, leaving early, refusal to do group exercise, and I think the 3 male students (who sit together) made some derogatory comments about me and about women, that I couldn't hear.

I want to quit this job, but I need the money. I just think this is really not helpful for me personally right now at all. I worry it will make me feel even worse than I do already.

Plus, my shrink is on vacation this week. She has been misbehaving anyway, but I'd still like to be able to have someone to talk to.


At 5:25 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Been lurking for a week or 2. But I find your blog very interesting. Although, I do have one question, If your definition of "shrink" also can be called a "therapist" (I am not fond of the term "shrink" to begin with---never have been) What about trying to get licensed as an LPC, of MFT, depending on the type of licensing and requirements available in your area. So what that you didn't do a dissertation. A lot of people skip that part. Since when are you "less" that you don't have one. I admire the fact that you want to help people, and there is always a need for good therapists. Why not try that route? I read a few "academic only" blogs, and a lot of those people behind them sound so full of themselves. One in paricular (who also reads here--apparently--I flat out quit reading they drove me so nuts with their "know-it-all-ness". Psychology needs genuine and relational people furthering the discipline, IMO.

At 5:31 PM, Blogger dr four eyes said...

First, *hugs*!!!

What an awful way to start the semester. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I once had a last minute teaching gig when I was in a really fragile place, and it was no fun at all.

I wonder if there's anyone in the dept who you can talk to about the students and potential coping/ discipline strategies? This is a new institution for you, so it's impossible to know if this is par for the course or if you just got a particularly bad group. If it's the former, then colleagues might have developed ways of dealing with the students.

When I was in my awful adjunct situation, I just kept to myself and didn't seek any help because I thought I needed to maintain a stiff upper lip and that asking for help/input would put me in a bad light. I also thought I couldn't reveal any weakness or I'd never get rehired. In retrospect, none of that was really true. Also, in your case, you may never want to teach there again, so even if they do judge b/c you ask for input, who cares?

Maybe you could start w/ the dept chair or whoever interviewed/hired you and either talk to that person or ask for references? May not even need to be anybody in the dept you're teaching in. I know it's hard to seek out this kind of f2f input when you're in a bad emotional place, but I'd just hate to to see you suffer alone.

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Anastasia said...

I think dr. four eyes has a good initial idea. It would be helpful for you to know if you've got a typical group for this university or a room full of trolls. especially if the former is the case, someone around the halls there may have some ideas. the comment that you're requiring too much makes me think maybe the students there are used to particular thing and maybe a little whiny and demanding when they don't get what they want. That would be the sort of thing other profs might have experienced with them.

one thing I will say, if they really do think you're requiring too much, maybe some of them will drop. In that case, maybe be tough as you can on the requirements until the end of add/drop? That's something that has worked for my advisor. She ends up with fewer students but the ones who are there are really invested and that's better in the long term.

then again, that works because at our uni, students do a lot of shopping at the beginning of the semester and are likely to drop. I don't know it is where you are, so that may not work for you.

I'm not sure how to approach things if they stay in the course, so I'll let someone else comment on that.

At 7:36 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

Sarah: I like the term shrink, and particularly or this venue for a few reasons. First, it's a little bit more "distant" than "therapist" - so if I am talking about my own issues, it feels too personal to talk about "my therapist." Shrink feels nicely objective. Shrink is also a funny word - and I like the play of it in "shrinky dink." I am a big proponent of reclaiming words (like Bitch magazine has done or like the queer community has done), and I think that using words like "nuts" or "crazy" in non-derogatory ways can help lessen the negative connotations. Second, licensing is a goal but for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is $$), I need to put it off till I am employed. I'm not certain that I have the coursework to get licensed at that level as clinical programs don't really have a lot of therapy coursework (crazy, non?), and I think it would devastate me at this point to find out I can't get licensed. Once I have a shrink-type job that doesn't require licensure (at least right away), I will look into it. Can you email me about the blog you are referring to? It is making me a little anxious.

Dr. 4iiiis: The department chair is hugely assoc with my old department, so I'm not keen on seeking him out (am trying to avoid him - although I think he may have almost run me over the other day! :) ). I will ask my friend who helped me get the job - but I think what I need people to get it that I feel super duper incompetent and like a huge failure *in general* - so letting people in on how else it is that I am a failure (but being unable to project a competent image and/or handle my classroom, or at least roll with the punches) is really abhorrent to me right now.

Anastasia: I think a problem is that this is a required course. I forgot to mention that one of the troublemakers came up to me after class to inform me that he would not be in classes on fridays as he has physical therapy, and "just" found out. I noted that meant he would miss 1/3 of the course in a course in which attendance is mandatory and comprises a chunk of his grade. He wants me to accommodate him because he *needs* this class. If he had behaved better, I might be slightly more accommodating (though not totally, I think it is fair to require attendance/participation and to note that by missing 1/3 of a class, it would affect his grade- his choice).

At 8:37 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

I think thats when you tell him to talk to Disability Services (or such as it's called on your campus)that if he has "needs" to miss class because of a challenge beyond his control, that department handles that and coordinates with you. They investigate if this student truly has special needs or not.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger Anastasia said...

oh, the required course thing makes it difficult. ick.

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Grad007 said...

There's nothing worse than an egoist class clown to spoil the atmosphere. Hopefully those disrespectful students will drop out when they find that they can't keep up with the work. Good luck!

I don't know if this is a good strategy, but before my self-appointed clown left the class, I used to put him down after each of his performances. I pointed out the obvious, that we're here to learn, and how he wouldn't learn anything by his behaviour / latest unreasonable request.

Would it help ask previous teachers of the problem students about their experiences with them?

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Clio Bluestocking said...

Ick! What a horrible day and what horrible students.

I once had a disruptive class jerk in maybe the third or fourth class I taught. What I did was talk to my chair first, to ask for advice on how to handle him, and second, to let her know what was going on right up front and from my point of view in case he decided to be a real jerk and complain that I was "too hard" or whatever. She told me to kick him out if he was being disruptive. Fortunately, he ended up with "more important" things to do, began to leave class early, and finally dropped. Mercifully, I haven't had any like that since.

So, like other people have recommended here, get advice from other teachers there, which will also alert them to the situation. If he is disrupting you, then he is disrupting the class, and interfering with people who actually don't mind being there.

Mr. Physical Therapy should absolutely go through the disabilites office for accomodations (especially since he is being a jerk and might use any little bit of leniency to grab for more).

I am so so sorry that you have to go through this. What a pain!

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Jenny F. Scientist said...

Here by way of PS- I'm so sorry to hear about all your woes. I am similarly afflicted with a terrible program, though not quite as bad as yours, so believe me when I say I sympathize.

On wretched students: What I've found the most successful is to always speak in a calm but definitive voice: "This is the work that is required. You are welcome to not do it, and you will get a zero." And yes, kicking out awful students is definitely legit. You might want to check with the Uni's policy if they have one to make sure you're on the side of truth and justice before you call Campus security.

Unannounced and difficult pop quizzes will sometimes quiet down awful students. Five minutes at the beginning of class, no make-ups: also encourages prompt attendance.

I think personal assertiveness is something women often have a lot of trouble with- I just wrote a series about it actually, in the hopes that someone will learn from my very, very bad experiences! Definitely one needs to project more authority than men, which is completely unfair.

At 7:43 PM, Blogger StyleyGeek said...

I wrestled with myself a little before deciding to say this, because I don't want anyone to feel like I am attacking them. So Shrinky, feel free to delete this if you think it's mean or off-topic.

Sarah, I would like to point out that your comment up above has no doubt made many of Shrinky's other commentators feel very uncomfortable. You've basically said, "Someone reading this is a full-of-themselves know-it-all, but I'm not going to tell you who it is." I bet you that most of the academic readers who saw that comment are now wondering if you mean them. I know I am!

I just can't see any good reason why you would have said that, except to make us all feel bad and insecure.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger dr four eyes said...

I made my suggestion with a bit of apprehension, knowing that it might not be an option you'd want to take up at all. I do understand that you feel generally incompetent right now, as much as I hate it, for your sake, that you feel that way. And I certainly understand that you wouldn't want to approach the dept chair in this context, given his connection w/ your old dept.

But I'll say one more thing, which you are free to take or leave at your will: by talking to others locally about how to handle this group, I don't think you need to start w/ the presumption that you're incompetent in this situation. I know that's how you feel, generally, and that this situation is compounding it. But you've got, through no fault of your own, a difficult group of students. Seeking input doesn't have to mean that you're at fault.

Again, I understand that you may not feel comfortable with that. I hope you can/will seek out some advice from your friend, but I also hope some other readers can help brainstorm other strategies for dealing with a particularly aggressive group of students. The fact that it is a required class does muddy the waters a bit.

As always, sending positive thoughts your way!

At 10:51 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

dr. 4iiis: I'm sorry if I made you feel badly. I think I just wanted to nip that type of advice in the bud a bit, as I did really want classroom management techniques. Clearly it is good advice, but I think it also just reinforced how badly I was feeling. I did end up talking to someone, which was helpful and not. She urged me to "be nice" to them, which kind of makes me want to vomit. I am so not in a nice and generous place - which is why it is hard to teach when one feels badly. She also asked a lot of questions about my training and experience, and then I felt badly again (I didn' admit that I'd been kicked out). Argh. She also told me to reinforce that the things I was teaching were going to appear on an exam - but I don't give exams, and admitting that made me feel less-than again.

Thank you grad001, Clio, and Jenny for the support. I know that no male prof would have gotten treated this way - but in some ways, that just isn't reassuring.

And Styley, your comment is fair. I think I took her comment to mean an academic psychologist is reading this - and none of my commenters, that I know of, fit that category. Plus, none of you are know-it-alls! :)

At 11:16 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Okay, let me clarify my original comment that has created a spark. I only made mention of the particular blogger that I am no longer subscribed to as a way of saying "this is how I found you." so, we can close that chapter.

Secondly... would have it been "less mean" to out their handle/username? Somehow I doubt that!

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Anastasia said...

sarah, I think it would have been more appropriate to keep all of that information to yourself in a forum like this. A private email to shrinky would do if you really felt compelled to explain how you came here.

Shrinky, okay ick ick ick on the be nice to them advice. I'm also not really a fan of holding the exam over their heads. If they really think the class is pointless, and it's required...I'm thinking you have two options. One is to try to make a case for why it is important. The other is to say "Look...you may think this is pointless but it is required, so let's make the best of it."

"Be nice" is some seriously squicky advice but it also seems like it wouldn't hurt to try to get as many of them on your side as possible. Actually, calling attention to bad behavior in a way that is visible to the more engaged students in the crowd can have that same effect, to get at least some of them on your side.

anyway, this is a really tough situation given circumstances and what kind of place you're in and I'm sorry you're dealing with it.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Clio Bluestocking said...

Actually, your "not in a generous place" might help. Sometimes, when you are on that very last nerve, and someone hops on it, a really well placed snap back at them does the trick.

Is there some kind of professional development office on your campus? Some schools, especially if they emphasize teaching, have offices that offer workshops and other sorts of programs to help their teachers in classroom techniques. They are not affiliated with academic programs, so you don't run into political problems. If you take a workshop, then you can meet teachers in other disciplines, which allows you to form other types of alliances and support groups without (again) any of the politics that crop up in your own department. You can also pick up some good tricks, which certainly aid in your confidence; and turning to them looks positive, demonstrating that you have an active interest in improving your (already good) professional skills. You can even add it to your c.v.

At 5:46 PM, Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Cleo has a great point! Some schools actually have programs that allow you to have a classroom observer for a class or two and then a completely confidential discussion of the problem... that would be my first move.

For your own confidence, you should be able to poke around on the internet to see what the typical workload is for this class. That will give you information to support your position. The other thing you can do is to identify a school these jerk students think is inferior to their own and tell them that this class at that school does this much work, can't you handle it??

I'm not at all in favor of being nice to them. I'd take the approach that you are all adults and those who want to act like they are in junior high can go elsewhere to do so.

One more suggestion... do an impromptu class evaluation. Ask them two write responses to two or three open-ended questions about the class... maybe, 'how is this class different than you expected' or 'how would you improve the class' etc... The point is that the questions should be designed to get at the differences between the 3 jerks and the rest of the class. When you find that difference, tell the whole class the most common answers (or, claim that the answers you like are the most common -- they'll buy it)...

At 2:51 AM, Blogger Breena Ronan said...

This may sound weird, but my experience during many years of dealing with elementary students is that students have a psychic sense about when you are feeling particularly crappy or vulnerable. Often it seems to be unconscious, they just sense something is wrong and naturally try to take advantage.

(The rest of this is probably completely obvious, since it's pretty basic discipline.)

My thought is to identify the ring leader and do something slightly harsh to put that person in their place. The classic thing when someone is questioning your authority is to invite them up to the front to teach the class. It's not the sort of thing I like to do with college students because they should be beyond that, but that sort of thing can be really effective in quelling classroom rebellions.

My other thought is just to tell them straight out that if they are going to make your life miserable, you will make their lives miserable in return, but that you would prefer a more positive class environment. (I would only do that if that whole class is giving you attitude, otherwise just take the troublemakers aside.)

Whatever you do, don't give in to their complaining!


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