Monday, January 10, 2011

A Change in Subject..

I know I said I would write about objectives in teaching--that collected groan was from teachers who have had it up to here about objectives.  More about objectives in a later blog.

But I need to write about something else today.  Like everyone else, I was aghast at the shooting in Tucson, Arizona.  It is terrible and I cried when I heard that a nine year old girl in the third grade was killed.  Damn, I'm not very good with this type of information.

So like many of you I have been somewhat glued to the television and my computer.  I was interested in that people at the community college knew about the alleged gunman and had finally been able to forbid him to return to the college.  That is a tough go for the college.

Community colleges and universities are a gathering place for people--some want to learn, some want to enjoy the atmosphere, some want a place to put their soapbox, a few live in their own little world of reality.  As far as I can tell, it has always been this way with colleges and universities.  For the most part it is a community of people who want to exchange ideas....   With that attraction also comes the fact that some people have other thoughts that are not necessarily in agreement with society but the university becomes a place to hang out.  Sometimes these people can co-exist and in some rarities dark things happen like in Tucson.

I've already have written about being asked to video tape a university classroom (upper division education course)  with the main focus to video tape a particularly disrupted student.  The tape was eventually used to "ask this student to leave the university."  For all I know, she did.

Most professors have had a "disrupting student" in one of their classes at some time during their careers.  Because university campuses by and large are a public place it is difficult to remove people from the environment....more difficult to enforce that order.  But perhaps more troubling is the fact that once I detect a troubled student I have few recourses to advise me or be able to send the student to get help if indeed they agree to this action.  Case in point.

Toward the latter end of my career I was scheduled to teach a 3 credit evening class in Instructional Technology in education.  Basically designed to teach education majors on how to use and the merits of technology in the classroom, it was offered on Tuesdays from 6 to 10 pm for nine weeks.  It was generally a fun course to teach and was heavy on computers, CDs, DVD, and television.  The assignments included things like to prepare a three-fold folder for students to take home, several examples of spreadsheets (grading and budgets), posters of different sizes, lesson plans that included DVDs or film with assignments for the students in that class, different types of letters to be sent home, and several versions of assignments to be handed out in class.  Lots of hands on. Oops, almost forgot--a power point presentation to be use in a classroom.   

At that time of day it was common for a number of experienced teachers to take the course to gain knowledge and credit for pay raises.  I could count on about twenty to twenty-five students signing up.  The mix of seniors and graduate students was what I enjoyed the most--a lot of helping each other.  The younger students might have a good concept on the use of the computer but the experienced teachers knew what would be useful in a school setting.  Lots of helping each other.

My normal teaching style was to introduce the subject starting at 6 pm in a lab setting and then demonstrating rather quickly at first the assignment for the evening.  Once that was over, I would then go over the same assignment having the students in the class do the work at their computer while I would explain steps, techniques,  and then remind and assist around the lab and help students.  

The last hour of the class (from 9 to 10) was considered lab time and they could work on their project or they could go home--I was there to help those that wanted the assistance.

On the first evening of the class, we were about half way through (around 8:15) when a woman of about forty came into the lab and said in a loud voice, "You could at least put up signs telling me how to get to this classroom."  A most unhappy individual.  The fact that everyone else found the classroom did not escape me.  I had her sit down at a computer and I went back to helping students telling her that I would try to bring her up to speed in a moment.  Not good. She demanded instant attention.  My, she had a loud voice.  I was not happy, she was not happy and the class was upset.  At nine I told most of the class they were free to leave and I intended to help my newcomer.  But she got up to leave too.  If they were leaving, she was leaving.  I gave her the course outline and told her she had an assignment to turn it next week--she would have none of it.  It was my fault that she couldn't find the classroom therefore I would have to excuse her assignment.

Dear reader, things went downhill from there.  While she came mostly on time she could not get a computer to run like the rest of the class.  She was sure I was giving her computers that were broken.  If I stood next to her and told her to push this key or that key she sometimes was able to accomplish that task.  But I had to sit next to her to get her to do any of the assignments and when I said she had to do the work she complained that I had not taught her anything.  

Several members of the class tried to help her but she was abrasive and they gave up.  One of my seniors was rather rude to her saying something like, "if you paid attention you might learn something."  I almost had to separate them physically.  

I remember saying by the second or third class session that she might like to drop this class in favor of one that she might find more interesting.  She totally disrupted the class until I told her to leave.  But she left only to find security to say I had assaulted her.  At one point I was puzzled why she could not hit the right key on the computer even when I would say, "Press the keys labeled shift, command and 3"  Almost impossible for her to do so.  So I asked her if she was ever diagnosed as a dyslexic?  Once again, she came unglued and really yelled at me.  Really yelled!  I had hit some sort of a nerve.

To shorten this story, it was a bad, no, make that a terrible class.  The other students did well but I dreaded working with this one student.  I really came to dislike her.  At the end of the quarter, students turned in their completed assignments in a folder and/or on a disc.  My "favorite" student's work was barely acceptable....mostly done on my telling her what key strokes to do.

I spent the quarter break doing grades for my courses and when I came to this woman's work I ponder whether to give a "B" or a "C".  She was a graduate student in Student Personnel and was working toward being a Mental Health Counselor--a "C" grade was equivalent of an "F" at the graduate level.  I reluctantly gave her a "B-".  Yes, I know, some of you reading this will say I should not have acquiesced to her pressure and in hind sight you are correct.  But as I have said before I find grading a person very difficult.

Didn't make any difference that I gave her a "B-" I could hear her coming down the hall yelling at me.  She wanted an "A" and told me in no uncertain terms that she deserved an "A".   I was astonished.  Still am.  She went to the Dean and complained about me--he asked for my grade sheets.  He said change the grade but I wouldn't.  She filed charges against me through the faculty/student process and I had to sit and explain my side of the story.  Everyone voted to support me--all twelve on the committee.  She then went to the president of the university who told her that she had no more options.  

She then went to the State Attorney General and filed charges that I was teaching medicine without a license.   Are you as surprised as me?  Remember my asking her if she was a dyslexic--yup, that was the complaint.  The university and I had to get the local attorney general's office to write her a letter saying to quit this harassment.  She did with me but she transferred her aggression on to other professors in other classes.  I believe the university should have asked her to leave but the lawyers said there wasn't enough evidence to support that action.

Somewheres near the end of all this, I decided on my own to see what might have started all this.  So I got her file and found out that she had graduated and received a BA degree from a California university.  She had been in a master's program but apparently had left abruptly.  Why?

So I call the university and asked to speak to someone in student services about a previous student.  They, of course, were decidedly reluctant to talk about any of their students even to a professor from another college............UNTIL, I mentioned her name.  I was immediately transferred to the Dean's office AND the Dean.  

It appears she was as disruptive at that school as she had been with me.  So much so that she was given a mental evaluation and finally told that she was forever barred from going to any of the California universities.  Any of them.  I asked the dean of the California college to call my Dean which he did.  Finally my dean and I got on the same page.  But I could have used a little help earlier on in the course.

There is another sad part to this story.  Near the end, I received a letter from the Department of Social Services of my state stating that I was to refrain from giving massages in my classes.  I beg your pardon?  What was this all about.  My favorite student had gone to the DSS and said I was giving medical advice.  It appears that the office printed up the wrong boiler plate message and sent it to me.  They would print up the correct one and get back to me.  When I mentioned I was a professor and had the right to suggest learning problems for students, they backed off.  It was poorly handled at the state level.

Did I think this student could come to the class with a gun?  Yes, in fact several students in the class mentioned this to me.  Could I get the campus police to help me out?  Not until she committed a crime.  Yelling at me wasn't a crime.  Also the office of student services could not assist unless she asked for help.  She didn't.

Somehow I think I needed to video tape the class and use the tape to ask this woman to leave the university.   I don't believe she learned a thing in my course although I had hopes.  But universities bend over to help students and removing them from the campus doesn't fit the mission statement.  I don't know what we should have done.

I do worry that this person might go on and cause problems elsewhere.  We need some sort of mental health policies to assist and to control those that are having problems.  We need to protect the individual but we also have to protect society.

Thanks to all those teachers and instructors in Tucson that tried to get help.  I know your feelings.  My best to you. 

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