Friday, February 29, 2008

Resistance is Futile! Part 2--the aftermath

Monday came and with it the 621 tutors. I anticipated a few questions from students, but there were none. One student sent his tutor to ask me what the function of the body was within an essay. Clearly, the exercise had had a short term negative effect on him. I wondered, was he afraid to ask me questions now? I asked the student to stay after class and told him what I was trying to do on Friday. He seemed relieved and even laughed a little, then he told me he hadn’t taken it personally and insisted that he just still wasn’t sure. I suspect he was lying.

On Wednesday I began my class normally. Smile, “How is everyone? Let’s get started with the reading quiz.” After the quiz I closed the door and sat down in a student desk. I was silent for a few seconds. The room was heavy with an emotion I can’t quite grasp.

“So,” I asked, “what did you think of last Friday?” A few students said they hadn’t liked the assignment or made other minor complaints, but there was no mention of my attitude. In fact, I think there were great pains taken to avoid talking about it. “Ok, good. What did you think about my attitude, the way I was acting and, yes, I was acting?” I asked. The class exploded, “I thought you were having a REALLY, REALLY bad day!” and other similar comments were offered.

“How did my attitude and the way I was acting affect the classroom? Did you like the way the room felt on Friday?” There was a resounding “No!” Then I asked, “Why do you think I did this?” Silence ensued, but I knew that the point had been made. I then told my students, “I’m on your side! I want to see you succeed. I want to come to graduation with an air horn and shout, ‘That’s my student, I taught him/her,’ because I am just that damn proud of you. Don’t tempt me, ‘cause I will do that. I want you to go on to 110 and blow them away with your mad MLA skills and I want you know that you have, right now, everything you need to be successful. I want you to pass. I want to brag to the other 100 teachers that all my students passed. I want you to make it easier for you. I can’t do that if you won’t let me. I don’t care where you came from, but I do care where you go and I want that to be successful.” I had practiced this speech all weekend.

I then made the students take out a piece of paper and allowed them to do an in-class journal about how the exercise had affected them. Did they understand where I was coming from? Why was their attitude just as important as mine? How could we better connect in the classroom? And most importantly, how might it feel to be me and get that kind of treatment times fifteen during each class? My students wrote furiously. I haven’t looked at the journals yet, but I am hoping for the best.

I also apologized to individuals at whom I had snapped, but made it a point not to apologize to the class as a whole. After I allowed the students to write for a while I moved on to a lecture. I stopped about two minutes in, as usual, and asked a question. Something amazing happened. Students who normally sit at the back of the class with folded arms, straight or disinterested faces, and obvious irreverence for me and the class looked completely different. Arms were uncrossed, faces were softer, and the “wall o’ irreverence” was gone. One of the biggest resisters looked pensive and said, “Slang, would that be one?” “His suggestion was correct. I smiled, acknowledged his answer and thanked him. Others began to chime in. EVERYONE in the class either asked a question or participated in discussion in some way.

Class ended on a higher, but still resonate note. A student raised her hand and asked, “What can we do?” I told her it was up to her, but whatever it was I supported it.

I think it is important in a class such as 100 for the students to know that the teacher truly supports them and that the teacher is not there to simply dash dreams to bits or hold them back for some crazy, sadistic pleasure. More importantly, I think it was necessary, in this case, for my students to see me as human. Before that day, I think I was either an emotionless teacher-drone or a force to be seen as hostile in my student’s eyes.

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