In the Ring (Classroom Confrontation)

Daily Prompt Showdown at Big Sky How do you handle conflict? Boldly and directly? Or, do you prefer a more subtle approach.

“Would it be a sufficient post if I just write, ‘Not well‘?”
“No. I don’t think so. I think you have to write about what ‘Not well’ means and then why and all that stuff.”
“It depends, right? Isn’t that true for everyone? I don’t like to get angry and I avoid it. It’s when I’m pressed or cornered or the situation doesn’t improve after discussion and negotiation that I lose it. I have a lot of confrontation in my job. I had one yesterday. A student didn’t like the grade he earned on his midterm. He was more interested in getting me to listen to him (and he had nothing to say) than he was in learning how he could have done better. He wasn’t interested at all in learning how he could have done better, actually. He wanted to be ‘right’ and could not see how his position was completely illogical. He cursed me, with the “F” word and retreated.”
“Such behavior in the Academy!”
“The Academy has always been a violent kind of place, Socrates. You should know that better than anyone.”
“What did he do after cursing you?”
“He came back. I knew it was hopeless to try to help him. He was even angrier. Very aggressively, he attempted to defend his answers. He didn’t see that I’d already read his responses carefully and commented with care and provided a very detailed rubric to help him further. His work displayed all the problems I’d been trying to help him with since the beginning of the semester. He hadn’t taken that in and applied it to his work, so, when his writing was finally assessed, it was simply ‘OK.’ He hadn’t even failed.”
“What was his grade?”
“Passing.”
“Yeah but don’t people write with their own voice and all that?”
“Of course, sure, but this is business communication and problems have right answers. His answers were not wrong, but they were structured incorrectly, and one of them was very difficult to figure out. His audience wouldn’t have gotten the point. That’s the gold standard for successful business communication. Your reader knows what you mean. I think that’s a pretty good standard, period, actually.”
“You’re wandering. So what happened?”
“Oh, he kept at it taking time and opportunity from students who truly did want help. I asked him what he wanted, if he wanted his grade changed or what. He said, ‘I just want you to see what I meant,’ and I said, ‘I do, that’s why you didn’t fail, but this kind of writing isn’t about what you mean; it’s about what you say.‘ He persisted, getting angrier and angrier, and finally I said — this is where I lost it — ‘The thing is, I don’t care’. It was true. I didn’t care. By cursing me — I saw — he’d abdicated his right to my interest.”
“What was the prompt, exactly?”
“Oh, they had to take the role of a professor and write an email refusing to write a student a letter of recommendation because the student had poor grades, a poor attitude and poor attendance. The ‘No’ had to be based on the student’s performance, something like, ‘Based on your record in my class, I cannot write you a letter recommending you’.”
“What did he write?”
“Something like, ‘I cannot give you the context you wish’. I seriously do not know what that means. I know what it is MEANT to mean, but as for what it actually means? It means nothing. I gave him a passing grade him on what he MEANT to mean.”
“So you cut him slack?”
“I did.”
“And he cursed you?”
“He did.”
“What now?”
“Oh, I emailed him apologizing for getting frustrated and invited him to come talk to me.”
“Do you want him to?”
“No. He doesn’t exist in my world at all any more. That’s what happens when I get pushed against a wall like that by students or friends. The person who pushes — no matter how much they might have meant to me until that moment — no longer exists for me. People — some people — will just do that, keep pushing and pushing until the next step, for me, will be physical. I don’t want to go there. I believe I deserve to be heard when I say, ‘Stop.’ Isn’t that what boundaries are?”
“Does this happen a lot with your students?”
“It is a common problem. Not just my students. Yeah. I have scripts in my mind I use for dealing with most of these situations but I can be knocked off balance. Like in this case, it was a student I like and with whom I felt I have a rapport. That could be why he figured he could do that. I’ve had students LITERALLY pin me against a wall because they were unhappy with their grades. I had a kid physically threaten me because he got an A-. Some guy last night  got an A- actually asked  me why, and then said, ‘Is the minus just because you don’t want to give A’s?’ That floored me. The student-teacher relationship is fraught with peril. The ‘minus’ was because he did not use paragraphs so his work was difficult to read.”
“Has this gotten worse in recent years?”
“Not really. There’s just so much pressure on students for grades. Getting into upper division classes depends on their grades. Some of them don’t have the grades they need so they’re pressed to get grades as high as possible. They’re kids and might not know that they are not in a world where mommy and daddy are going to protect them from consequences. It’s tiring, though. I’m tired for fighting with them. My goal is that they learn. Their goal is a grade. The two do not always mesh. The teacher is caught in the middle.”

One thought on “In the Ring (Classroom Confrontation)

  1. When I was a girl, I wanted to be a teacher. If I had followed through on that dream, I would be retired by now. Either that or in the nuthouse, reading what I read here about a teacher’s lot. Scary crazy.

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