Students Teachers Hate

by Tina Blue
May 22, 2002

          Come on--tell the truth.  The title of this essay shocks you, doesn't it?  At least a little?

          No one likes to come right out and say it, but teachers don't necessarily like all their students.  In fact, there are some students we positively hate.

          Oh, most of us try to be fair and not allow our antipathy toward a student to influence our grading, but the truth is, what we dislike about certain students is usually precisely the sort of thing that is likely to hurt their grade anyway, in purely objective terms. 
          One type of student none of us can stand is the type who tries to substitute being in the teacher's face for being in class.

          I had one of those this semester, in fact.  Joseph (not his real name, of course) missed about one-third of the classes, maybe even more.  On those occasions when he did show up, he would often saunter into class anywhere from five to twenty minutes late.

          Now, you'd think the kid would have the sense at least to slip in quietly and sit down, to avoid disturbing the class even more than he already had, but nooooooo.  This little twerp would walk right up to where I stood at the front of the class and begin talking to me!  Every single time, I would tell him, "Joseph, sit down!"  But the next time, he would do the same thing.

          One day I said, "Joseph, you have already disrupted the class.  You have no right to compound the offense by interrupting me as I teach.  This class is not a private tutorial.  It is not about you.  Either sit down or get out."  But of course he tried to pull the same stupid stunt the next time he came in late. 

          Unfortunately, most universities will not back up nontenured adjunct faculty, which is what I am, in any disciplinary matter, so there's a limit to what we can do when one of these spoiled brats is too brazen to respond even to such forceful correction.  If we try to actually throw him out of the class, we might well hear from his parents' lawyer.

          Oh, yes.  That's part of the problem.  A kid that obnoxious has usually had Mommy and Daddy backing up his obnoxiousness all through his school years, so he knows perfectly well that they will stand behind him if he wants to make a stink about being thrown out of class, no matter how bad his behavior.

          And this boy's behavior was pretty bad.  All during class, as I tried to teach the real students, this guy blithely carried on a private conversation with the pretty girl he always sat next to.  One day near the end of the semester that girl missed class for the first time.  So Joseph immediately turned to another girl and began talking nonstop to her.  That girl's face registered annoyance so profound it might more properly be called fury.  But Joseph either didn't notice or didn't care. I had to tell him to change seats and leave the girl alone. 

          Mind you, this is college, not grade school or junior high.  But Joseph obviously figured any girl would be delighted to be the object of his attention.

          He wasn't just flirting, either.  His main goal was to get access to the girls' notes, since he cut class so frequently and never paid attention or took notes when he was there.  Another girl actually complained about him when she came to my office for a conference about one of her essays.  He had tried to get her notes, since she was one of the best students in the class, but this girl refused to play along.  She told me that it disgusted her when someone who didn't bother to do the work tried to freeload off the people who really worked hard in the class.

          Well, it disgusts me, too, and I certainly do take such things into consideration when figuring grades at the end of the term.

          One of the most offensive things about Joseph, and in this he is entirely typical of this type of student, is that although he cut class, came in late when he did attend, disrupted class, carried on private conversations in class, and always turned his work in late--inevitably with a "plausible" though weasely excuse--he always badgered
me about it.

          I stagger due dates for my different classes so all the papers don't land on my desk at one time.  A paper that comes in late bumps up against my need to mark the papers for my other classes.

          But the very next class period after turning in a late paper, he'd demand: "Did you grade my paper yet?"

          I told him every time, "No, Joseph.  Your paper came in late.  It goes to the bottom of the pile, not the top.  This week I am grading papers for one of my other classes."

          But Joseph never backed off.  He really did seem to believe that he should take precedence over every other student in every one of my classes, no matter when he got around to turning his paper in.

          He also pestered me constantly with e-mails, making excuses for absences or for late papers, or asking for special help on his work.  And at the end of the term, when students desperate for conference time are stacked up like planes over O'Hare Airport, Joseph tried to hog up all of my available time, demanding to schedule two, three, or even four conferences per week!

          Of course I turned him down.  No way I would allow him to monopolize my time when so many real students were in line to schedule conferences.  But the fact that he pushed so hard to grab all the conference slots infuriated me.  He would even stop by and try to horn in on another student's conference time, or try to overstay his scheduled conference period so that it extended into another student's slot.  He never left the office without being told he had to leave because it was another student's turn.  And even then he lingered obstinately unless I closed the door!

          That's what I mean about trying to substitute being in my face for being in the class.  It's as if he thought that constantly pestering me for more than his share of attention, even as he failed to fulfill his obligations as a student, was all it would take to ensure a high grade in the course.  We had a word for that when I was a student: brown-nosing.  They have a different term for it now: sucking up.  Both terms have unpleasant implications, of course, but it really is a repulsive behavioral pattern.

          And it really is typical of that sort of student.

          Of course, it is also typical that such a student doesn't learn any of what is being taught in the course, and the student's essays reflect that fact.  Obviously his grade is going to suffer--not because I harbor any ill will toward him, though I can't deny that I do, but because he has failed to learn what he needs to perform at a high enough level to earn a good grade.

          Ironically, Joseph is bright enough and a good enough writer that he could easily have earned an A in the course, if he had made an effort to learn something, instead of devoting all of his energy to attempting to manipulate me.

          But going to class, paying attention, and turning in his work on time never occurred to him as a viable strategy.  No doubt he thinks such methods are just for chumps.

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