Thursday, January 10, 2013


I've been warned that I will have a "difficult" student this semester. (Someone with multiple disability accommodations, who has demanded every accommodation that they can demand, whether or not it applies to their disability, and also this is someone who has threatened lawsuits left and right).

So much so, that I had to meet last semester with my chair and the person who most recently had this person in class as a way of warning. I don't know if it was a meeting to reassure me ("No matter what this person says, don't let it rattle you, we've got your back") or if it was to warn me ("Don't get rattled and say something we'll all regret" though I will say I tend to be pretty circumspect)

I suspect the person in question is slightly paranoid as they have placed something called a "demographic hold" on their files, which means I am not to reveal their data to anyone else. (The other, more charitable explanation: this person fled an abusive relationship in the past and doesn't want their abuser to find them, though none of the information I was provided suggests that). The thing is, I wouldn't reveal student data to anyone unless the student specifically told me to - it's not a practice I follow, and I thought that doing so (not revealing details about students) was just part of the ethics of being a prof.

But anyway. Sitting in church over the break, I got to thinking. The sermon was focusing on the idea that sometimes we may be the only Bible some people "read," that we may be the only contact some people have with any idea of the Divine. And it occurred to me: maybe I'm looking at this whole situation wrong. Maybe, instead of thinking about how I am going to be beaten down and dragged through the briarpatch by a difficult person's difficulties, maybe I can do what I've usually done with (less) difficult people in the past. A strategy that was usually successful (I was kind of broken of it last spring when I had a student who turned it on its head and actually used it against me): to kill the person with kindness. To walk in the door not assuming anything bad is going to happen. In fact, to assume the best: That I can be such a good teacher and such a nice person, while not letting the person in question get to me, that I give the person a very positive experience. (If they have the eyes to see it).

And I'm going to remind myself, maybe even make a little sign that I can see while sitting at my desk (but that no one else in my office could easily see) that says something like, "They can't get at the REAL you." Meaning, you don't have to be infected by the negativity that I've been warned this person gives off. That I have a life outside of that class, that when I walk out the door of my office to go do fieldwork or go home or go to the library, I can leave the problems the person in question is laying at my doorstep there - at the doorstep of my office.

So: part one is "kill 'em with kindness." Part two is "illegitimi non carborundum." And part three is going to be promising myself little treats for each week I succeed at both things - a fancy chocolate bar from the Walgreen's (Yes, Walgreen's, but they're the only place in town that sells Lindt chocolate). Or a quarter-yard of quilt fabric. Or a new paperback mystery novel. And I will remind myself when I start to get annoyed that if I just make it to Friday, I can have that thing.

But what's more, I'm really trying not to anticipate anything bad. I've had students before that other faculty loved and I couldn't stand; likewise, there have been people I worked well with that others disliked.

I'm just hoping I can keep that stiff upper lip and at least a facade of good cheer.

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