I have a weird situation in one of my classes. Well, I suppose it's not that weird. It's something that I remember from the student-perspective from grad school, but it's the first time that I've ever seen it in a class of mine from the other side of the desk (perhaps because I don't teach grad students?).
Let's say there's this student. This student thinks s/he is very, very bright. When this student speaks in class, there is a sort of adversarial, know-it-all quality to the comments. And the student is bright enough, I guess, but there are lots of bright students in the class, and the tenor of the other students' comments is typically much more productive and exploratory, which is what I aim for in generating discussion in my classes - not the whole adversarial thing. I'm not terribly bothered by the student - nothing so far has been inappropriate or uncool to other students in the course but rather just totally irritating - but over the past week it has come to my attention that many of the other students in the course loathe this student. Enough that they have begun to make comments to me indicating the loathing.
Now, I'm not sure there is anything that I need to do about this. I don't let the student dominate discussion (though I get the impression that if I did allow that then the student would, and so perhaps some of the loathing of the other students comes from the fact that they have other classes with this student where that is happening), but it's so weird because I remember feeling that kind of loathing, and I think a lot of it came from feeling like I couldn't believe that the professor didn't see through the blowhard student, see that the student wasn't so great but rather that the student was a bully. The thing is, I see that the student is a bully, and I don't think the student is so great. But at the same time, I think that students like that sometimes need to learn the hard way that they're not so great, and that involves giving them enough rope so that the other students will hang them.
But here's the thing: when I was a student, I always quietly seethed about this kind of student, and I never would have dreamed of expressing my feelings openly. And so it's weird that I'm getting the feedback from a variety of other students in the class. They're not complaining.... it's more like they'll just make a comment that's sort of joky but that indicates deep dislike, almost like they want me to know that they feel sorry for me that I have to deal with the student, and also to know that they aren't like that student. I've been very diplomatic in not really responding to these comments, doing a sort of nod-then-change-the-subject thing, but I'm finding it interesting, and it will be interesting to see how things play out through the second half of the semester, particularly with the material in this particular course, which may well give the other students the ammunition and fortitude to slam the know-it-all one.
So have you ever experienced this with your students? Is there something I should be doing that I'm not already doing so that the just-beneath-the-surface loathing doesn't become out-and-out warfare? (Note: I don't really think that it will become warfare - this class is filled with really smart, thoughtful students who aren't types who'd typically lose it with this sort of student. But then that is why it's weird that they're indicating this hostility to me, too - normally, they'd not do that.)
2 years ago