Friday, January 30, 2015

The 99, or the 1?

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? - Luke 15:4 (NASB)

I approached the class as usual: books and folder on my arm, hand grasping my dry-erase marker, my “good morning” to my class said as I was unlocking the classroom door. As we waited for the bell tower to chime the hour, I began writing on the board the three prongs of the Process Analysis essay: expertise, significance, and meaning. Immediately I heard a scoff and a groan coming from the first row behind me.

It was *that* student. I didn't even have to turn around. I knew the tutting immediately.

For today’s purposes, let’s call him Matthew.

I sighed.

“Expertise,” he grumbled. “We’re the students. How are we supposed to be experts in anything? Isn’t she the teacher? Isn't she supposed to be the expert? Are we supposed to be doing her job for her? Whatever. This class is such a joke.”

Yes, this is Matthew. Matthew has yet to turn in an assignment. He argues over semantics constantly. We are four weeks into the new semester and already the entire class groans when he speaks. No, he is not learning disabled. He is actually quite smart. He understands all the grammar we’ve discussed, the parts of speech, the diagramming. And then he will take it far beyond the simple sentences we diagram in class and “but what if…” and “but what about…” until no one understands and is thoroughly confused once again. I’ve had to start holding up a hand and asking him to ask me those questions after class. The problem is, he simply won’t do the actual work to pass the class.

And the nit-picking. Oh, sweet mother. The nit-picking.

“Good morning, everyone,” I always say. To me, almost all mornings can be good. I’m a silver-lining kind of girl. I make my offer of a good morning in all sincerity and best wishes.

“You don’t know that.” This invariably comes from Matthew.

I sigh.

“You’re right. I don’t. So until I do, we may as well hope.”

“Hope is for the weak.”

“Weakness is unwarranted negativity,” I rejoin

He looks at me with a small nod, acknowledging the hit. We spar every day. Every single class meeting. Not voluntarily, on my part. I shut it down when I can, holding up a hand for silence, if possible, trying to get other students to answer a question first. It’s exhausting.

Did I mention I teach college?

So today when Matthew began grumbling about expertise, I admit it. I got frustrated.

Class had not even begun, but he had.

“Matthew, it’s simple. You’re going to teach me how to do something that you are already good at doing. Just explain in the introduction why I should learn from you. Why are you good at it?”

“I’m not good at anything. You’re the teacher. We should be learning from you.”

“Yes. That’s the point of this paper. So you learn how to write something in a new way. I want you to figure out what you are good at doing.”

“I don’t think so.”

I don’t even know what “I don’t think so” means in the context of what I just said.

“Just wait until after I explain the assignment. It might make more sense by the end of class.”

He sneered at me. Actually sneered. “I get the ‘assignment’.” (I could hear the air-quotes he used.) “I just don’t think so.”


I began the lecture, talking with the class, getting them to respond to me, letting Matthew sit in his zone of “I don’t think so”. 

Then he began making sounds. Loud ones. Scoffs. Tutts. The occasional “Yeah, right.” It was getting harder and harder for the rest of the class to hear me.

I was done. “Ok, Matthew, you have three choices. Right now, you have to pick one of the three.”

Sprawled in his desk, he looked at me. “What.” Definitely more statement than question.

“One: take your stuff and leave right now. Two: Sit there silently for the rest of the class. Three: I call campus safety and they escort you out of here.”

The whole class went quiet. The kind of quiet where it looks like their eyes are being sucked out of their heads. Matthew leveled his eyes at me. “And if I don’t make a choice?”

“Then I call campus safety and you go out of here, but you don’t get to come back.”

He considered for a moment. “I’ll stay.”

I said, “Silently doesn’t just mean you don’t speak. It also means no sounds.”

He stared at me.

“Fine. I’ll go then.”

He had nothing to pack up as he had not taken out any books or papers. He simply picked up his backpack and walked to the door. When he got there, he stopped, turned around, and said to me, “I don’t like you very much.”

“I don’t remember listing that as one of your choices,” I replied.

With that, he nodded to me, swept the class a bow, and then left, deliberately not quite closing the door all the way behind him as he left.

My train of thought was completely broken. One of the students in the back of the class whispered, “That was absolutely fuckin’ brilliant.” There were giggles.

I still had part of a lecture to give and a classroom full of students to tend to, but all I could think was, “I handled that very badly.”

The class could see I was upset and they tried to assure me I had done the right thing.

“Ms. P, you had to! And it was awesome!”

“No,” I said. “It wasn’t awesome. No, I messed up today. Today I was a bad teacher.”

“Well, but it’s so much quieter in here now! We can all hear you now that he’s gone!” they said, clearly still trying to make me feel better.

“Yeah,” I said, “But he can’t.”

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