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24 August 2010

Under My Skin

For the first time as an educator this semester (after being at this for over six years), I am finding myself challenged by a student--and not the good kind of "challenged" in the critical-thinking, liberal-artsy vein. This is "challenged" in the "How do I deal with a student in an adult manner who is behaving as a child?" fashion. There's more backstory to this that I'll leave perhaps for a later post, but the short of it is that this student is clearly intelligent and critical in her approach but is exuding a palpable contempt and animosity for me, the material, and, more troublingly, to the rest of our class. She has two strikes against her now, and I am steeling myself for the inevitable third when I'll be compelled to call her out. I'm debating how to do this. In part, I feel compelled to confront her openly in the classroom as a signal to her classmates that I am there--as my syllabi state--"to provide...an environment conducive to healthy learning." On the other hand, I am concerned that such a public flogging will put her on the defensive and exacerbate the problem. In the end, I imagine I'll need to hedge my bets and do both but in a restrained manner.

All of this makes me wildly uncomfortable. I am not a confrontational person. Part of what I love so much about teaching in higher ed is that situations like this are exceedingly rare. For two seconds in grad school I thought about being a high school teacher until I remembered all the discipline issues that arise there. By the time most students come to college, they've learned to reserve their idiocy to the bars and frat houses. Maybe all of this will force me to mature a little and show a little backbone.

This issue has forced me to wrestle with my privileged position. I am an upper-class white heterosexual Protestant American man. It doesn't get much more advantaged than that. This insular location has meant that while many of my colleagues who are women, persons of color, and/or who have a queer identity have had to diffuse and resolve similar situations repeatedly, I am somehow just now having to deal with it. [Cue the world's smallest violin.]

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