Saturday, April 9, 2005

I never tire of shockingly-rude-student stories

Mine's nothing compared to ABDmom's recent experience. But we've reached the point of no return in our semester, which occurs simultaenous to an influx of new "shoppers" (aka prospective students). Many of my campus colleagues, upon achieving tenure, heave a sigh of relief, upgrade their automobile, and enforce a unilateral ban on the "prosbies" in their courses. I, as a young, eager, and eager-to-please first year type, welcome any and all to my doors, and try to give them a good show. And for my pollyanna pedagogue friends, let me be sure to point out that many, if not most of the visitors are delightful. A significant number approach me before I can get to them (or wait eagerly outside the room), shake my hand, ask questions about the course. A smaller but cherished number of them participate in whatever we are discussing that day, thank me when the class is over, and generally make me beam contentedly at the thought of the day when their generation assumes the reins of power in the world.


There are the others. Some bring their parents, which is perfectly acceptable, and, in these days of "helicopter parenting," inescapable. These same parents are about to shell out big bucks to a relatively unknown (to them and in terms of national profile) college; they are to be commended, for the most part, for their engagement with their child's choice. As I recall, my own mother's contribution to my college decision consisted of a single conversation in which she suggested an excellent small women's college a few hours from our home. I responded, "No, I don't want to go to a college that's all girls." Sum total. I don't remember any guidance whatsoever, in fact, from anyone. Nearly everyone from my high school attended college, and it was a foregone, if frequently erroneous assumption that we would all excel there. So the guidance counselors expended most of their energy on the aspiring Ivy leaguers, and on the stoners and "chew"-brothers who threatened to skew the statistics on achievement by our h.s. grads.

I remember a particularly egregious example of parental rudeness: a father who accompanied his daughter to a small seminar in my (admittedly somewhat esoteric and less than wildly popular) area of specialization. He proceeded to text message various people on his phone during the first half of the class. Halfway through, he initiated a not-very-quiet conversation with his daughter as to how the class was "boring" and they "should head to lunch." With my best teacher-from-the-frosty-reaches-of-outer-hell demeanor, I paused the class, and we then proceeded to sit in silence while he conducted his consultation with her until he a) realized everyone could hear him, and b) apologized, lied, and said they had to be going to another appointment. I then thanked his daughter for attending the class and offered lengthy and florid expressions of my deep desire to see her join us on campus in the fall.

Last week, we were blessed with a visitor from a pricey and prestigious private school in an exclusive coastal California area. I've taught several of their grads, and they have been among my best students—not so much for their "skills" as for their enthusiasm for new ideas, and their willingness to try on those new ideas, even in front of other students. (Timidity: the curse of the student-centered classroom). This kid was obviously the exception--perhaps he's the class fuck-up, whose parents' willingness to cough up full tuition enables some other talented student to attend this school. Harsh? Hell, yes.

He was slouched at the back of the class, between the two prettiest female students, when I entered. He made no move to sit up, wave, or even acknowledge me. I approached him to shake his hand, which he did reluctantly, limply, from an odd slouching position. As I started the lesson, I made my usual humorous disclaimer about how I hoped he'd feel free to ask questions or join in the discussion. He allowed as how he wasn't sure how long he'd be staying, because he "just wasn't sure [he could] take [i.e., endure] another [subject area] class. [He] might get bored." Yes, I'm quoting. I replied, frostily, "Well, I certainly hope we meet your standards of interest." While students were writing a brief response to prepare for our discussion, I returned to my office for some extra copies of a class handout. When I returned, he was gone. I was tempted to contact admissions and see if it was too late to rescind his acceptance:

Dear Student X,
We regret to inform you that a grievous clerical error mistakenly suggested that you had been accepted to Puny U. Instead, we find that nothing short of the character-building discipline of the armed forces* will prepare you for life as a fully functioning human being. We hereby refund your application money. Your application has been burned and its ashes doused in holy water. For good measure, we have also sent a representative to spit on your grandmother's grave.
Sincerely yours,

Puny U admissions officer

*Despite my deep horror at the military shenanigans of the current administration, I have great respect for most members of the armed forces, and realize that their mission is not to provide a reform program for delinquent, recalcitrant, or otherwise snotty little punks. The reference is meant merely as a humorous f'rinstance, with all due respect to the rigorous training and discipline of our men and women in service. Except for that stupid c*&t, Lynndie England.


At 7:42 AM , Blogger ABDmom said...

I love the letter to the student--excellent!

And didn't mean to pressure you into posting! As I said, the mother hen in me just got a little worried, especially since I know there are health issues in the family. Just was hoping everything was OK. Glad (but also sorry!) that it's "just" a case of being super-busy.

At 3:06 AM , Blogger Terminaldegree said...

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At 3:12 AM , Blogger Terminaldegree said...

Don't you wish you could send that letter?

I get calls from pissed off mamas who are enraged that their wunderkid didn't get a full ride to our music program. (I don't have power over the scholarship office, really, but even if I did, very few of these so-called prodigies are All That And A Bag Of Chips.) The rudest student of all time arranged for a special audition date, but then refused all of our offers to meet with the Dean, take a private lesson, sit in on a class, play with one of our ensembles, etc. She explained that she would prefer to spend her time shopping in Urban Metropolis. Then, when she returned home, she lied and told Mama that our faculty had ignored her and left her all alone during her campus visit. Mama was furious and royally bitched me out. (She was also upset that we weren't excited by her daughter's 3.3 GPA and 1020 SAT scores.)

I wish I could respond with, "I'm so sorry that we weren't able to kiss your daughter's mediocre @$$ appropriately enough while she was here. I hope she gets the respect that is due her at another school...preferably one far, far away from ours."

But alas, I can't say that. (At least I can think it...)

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