Blog Post

Student Perception of an Uncaring Instructor

This has been an exceptionally frustrating semester for me.  If possible, I try not to make a major issue out of student behavior during class.  However, this semester there has been so much rude behavior in many of my classes that I have felt no choice but to step in and try to put a new calm to the environment for the good of the class as a whole.

There is one student in particular who has been on my mind lately for constant illogical, irrelevant, and irreverent comments before, during, after, and outside of class.  This student has about a 33% attendance record.  I would say the student shows up to class maybe 1 out of 3 days a week, and when in class often times argues that the pace of the class is too fast, sleeps during about 80% of the class, and then afterwards tries to set up an appointment with me for tutoring on the missed material.

I have another class immediately after this class, and so I never have time to talk to this student for the length of time it would take to get through all of the circular arguments that always arise.  So, I ask the student to e-mail me with a time to set up an appointment to discuss what to do.  However, from this particular student's perspective, I come off as an uncaring instructor because I never stay after class to address student concerns.

Usually I wouldn't let this bother me, especially coming from an argumentative student with a poor attendance record who sleeps through class.  However, the other day before class, my students were sitting out in the hallway.  This student was actually early for once.  The scene was the way it has been before almost every class this semester.  The instructor who teaches in the room before me always holds the students over by at least 2 minutes.  I never say anything because I understand that it is a calculus class and sometimes the extra time is needed to explain the more complex problems.
But then my student pipes up with, "Well, the only reason this instructor holds her students over is because she cares about them!"  Wow.  I knew it was a direct attack on me and the fact that this student actually believes that I am an uncaring instructor because I never hold the class after.  I want to reiterate, I have another class immediately after this class, and so I must walk to another building within an 8 minute period.  With 2 minutes to pack up, 4 minutes to walk to the other building, and 2 minutes to unpack, that leaves me no time to chat.  Does this really make me uncaring?

In fact, this is the only student who gives me any trouble about this issue at all.  When needed, some of the other students who don't have another class immediately after have even offered to erase the board for me so that I would have more time to walk to my next class.  Those students make me feel good.  So, to these students, I applaud you for your respect, understanding, and compassion toward me.  I really appreciate it.  But this student, the one with the awful complaints, makes me feel heart-broken.

Here's an example of why:  The day that this student made the comment, we were reviewing material for the final exam.  A week beforehand, I had given the students a review sheet and asked them complete it at home.  One student came back and asked me to do a problem for the entire class.  I did.  So, on the day of the actual review, I didn't want to do the same problem again because I had already done it once the the week before.  This student went off the handle and said, 'If you actually cared about your students, you would take the time to review the problem whether you have done it in class already or not!'  By the way, within 5 minutes of this disruption, the student was sound asleep in the back of the class.

Now here's the kicker — the student not only fell asleep during class, but also left about two minutes early.  And ironically, after all of the complaints about not holding students over, right when it was time to leave, one student said, 'Well, I really was hoping we would have gotten to #29 today."  So, since I knew it was a short problem, I actually took kept the class over and did the problem anyway.  But this student didn't see that because the student slept through the class and left early.  Although I'm not sure that seeing this would have improved this student's perception of me anyway.  But all I know is that I have tried my best.
However, the problem is that this one student could potentially ruin my career (or at least make my life miserable) by complaining to the right person at the right time.  And I know exactly what will happen, someone will be called in to investigate the complaint against me, I will have to sit it hours upon hours of meetings and possibly fill out lots of statements and reports.  It has happened to me in the past and it took 3 months to clear the complaints against me.  And then all of this extra work to try to defend myself against one student's unwarranted complaints takes a toll on me and I become a miserable, uncaring wretch.  Personally, I find this a little ironic.

So, my question is, 'What can we as educators do to reach out to these students?'  The students with a high truancy rate who sleep during class, and then complain that the instructor was the reason that they couldn't and didn't learn the material.  What can we do?
By Jon Oaks

College Math Instructor. Tech Enthusiast. Visionary. Creative Genius. But above all, I enjoy what I do. That is why I am a teacher. Because I like to teach.

Related Posts