Wednesday, May 04, 2011

People frustrate me.

I've had the experience, fairly recently, of listening to the sour grapes ranting of someone whose contract is not being renewed. Apparently this person has decided not just to burn their bridges, but to throw gasoline on them, and then urinate on the burned remains when they're done.

The problem is, my office is near this person's office. Near enough that I can HEAR everything they say. Yes, even with Internet radio turned on and the volume as high as I can make it and still be able to work. (Another person with an office on my floor has actually decamped to another section of the building for his office hours of late).

This person is doing something I consider pretty dishonorable, telling people that they got fired because they were "too tough" and that the rest of us are just
"pandering" to the students.

This makes me ANGRY. Very, very irritated. I regularly get complaints that I am a 'tough' teacher, but then again, I have kids come back from grad school - or from careers in the field - and thank me for the preparation I gave them. There are several people in the department that I would describe as "known hardasses" - one of them gives take home essay exams that can take up to six hours to complete. That's not being easy on the students.

We also have an excellent record, as I've said before, of placing people in agency jobs, in graduate school, in professional school. People who have worked for their degree (oh, we have our share of slackers who then wonder why so many people who were in class with them have jobs and they don't) wind up doing well - getting and keeping jobs, or getting a basic job then quickly moving up to more responsibility.

I don't think that means we're too easy on the students.

The thing is, something I've learned: you need to develop the skill of meeting the students where they are, and then pulling them up to the level where they need to be. We get a lot of people coming in with poor backgrounds in math or in writing. Several of us work HARD with these people - the two "known hardasses" I referred to earlier, in particular - forcing them to do multiple re-writes of papers, or giving them more and more applied math stuff to do in the labs - until they learn.

Sure, some people don't. Some people wind up switching majors. That's not a problem. I'd rather have lower retention but better standards for the people who do stay.

And I admit, early on, I had to work hard at the "meet them where they are" thing. And also the how you "pull them up to a higher level" thing. Some people are eager students and it doesn't take much work; other people have a lot of pride and don't like to admit to themselves or to a faculty member that they are lacking in background, so you have to be tactful. But you learn it, and when it works, it can be really rewarding to see someone who struggled the first semester you had them in one of your classes do well by the time they're taking the last class in the sequence that you teach.

But the thing is: you don't give up on people. Or, if you do, you don't let on. (I admit, there are one or two people I sort of give up on every semester. Though then again - if they come in and say, "I really, really need help. I know if I can pass the final I can just squeak by with a pass in the class and that's all I can hope for now" I will sit down and do what it takes to help them - because once in a while, there is someone who pulls it off, and that's also a great feeling.

This person, from what I heard, openly gave up on people. Belittled people who didn't do well on the exams. Claimed that people weren't smart enough or whatever to have the aspirations that they had. But the worst part? They apparently did it in front of the entire class.

It's one thing to take someone aside and say something like, "You know, unless you can get your chem grades or understanding of chemistry to a higher level, you might want to rethink Pharmacy school" or "You realize PA school is very competitive; earning a C in physiology might present a problem for admission." (Though I rarely even make those kinds of predictions unless someone specifically asks). It's another to call people out in front of a classroom - and it probably violates FERPA on some level.

We tried to mentor this person, I guess it didn't "take." Whatever.

I tell myself a few more weeks and I will have quiet on my floor.

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