Tuesday, September 22, 2009


So I've got a studentwho is... well, this student clearly has a lot of things to say. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. We all hope that students have lots of things to say and have a desire to contribute. But from the first day, this student has been trying to shout me down. And to shout the other students down. Clearly the loudest voice wins, right?

Well. Not on my watch. Not in my classroom. Not since my first semester on the tenure track, no way.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned, as a youngish (still the youngest, as far as I can tell, many hires in) professor in my department in that first year on the tenure track, was that I could never afford to let a small group or an individual within the class dominate. Because the moment that I did that my authority was compromised; the moment that I did that , all those students who don't seek to dominate would be silenced. My mistake my first semester in was that I thought if I ignored it that it would go away. It didn't, and the other students hated me for it (or pitied me for it, which may have been worse).

So I'm no longer the naive young lass who tried to ignore the dominator (or dominators). I talk back. I refuse to accept that person's (or group of people's) opinion, if it is wrong-headed. My hope is that I model how to resist, for those students who feel dominated. My hope is also that the person who attempts to shout me down realizes a) that I'm the motherfucking professor and that no matter what their assertions are that mine count more, because, you know, I've got a PhD and I'm the motherfucking instructor of the course and I give them their grade, and b) that other people's voices in the class matter exactly as much - if not more - than theirs does.

But you know what? If I could wish for one thing and one thing only? I would wish that those who think they are going to dominate, or that they have the right to dominate, or who think that I'm not up to the challenge of managing them and indicating that they should fuck right off, would just go take a class that is not mine. I do not relish beating them down - I don't enjoy it, and I don't think it's good for the other students in the class to see it, really. I wish all of the dominators would congregate, would fight to the death, and that would be that. I hate having to show them who's boss. Mainly because it's a waste of my motherfucking time.


Doctor Pion said...

You might think about the discussion rules for parliamentary debates, where each person gets a chance to speak once before anyone gets a second chance to speak.

Roberts Rules were created for a good reason. I think they also say something about alternating sides for and against, which might be useful as well.

Someone can still hoot from the back bench, of course.

Lesboprof said...

I hear ya, Crazy! I have had a similar but somewhat different issue here in my doc classes.

I have taught these doc classes for several years, and I have had a few students who felt that they were smarter, more thoughtful, and better organized than me. But they are also smarter than your undergrad or Masters-level student, so they decided--instead of shouting people down--to just take over running class.

One student would jump in after someone spoke to ask follow up questions, like she didn't trust me to do it. Her behavior was so incredibly annoying, and yet, it wasn't on the level you are noting and felt almost petty to address it. We struggled over running discussion for the entire semester, and I don't know what she really thought of me by the end.


The History Enthusiast said...

What a timely post! I was just thinking about one of my students who does something similar, and it is so tricky finding a way to put them in their place without making the other students think you are an ass. I have yet to find that balance.

PhysioProf said...

Are you explicitly using Socratic dialogue in your class?

Nothing shuts a d00d up quicker than being laughed at, so humor is your ally.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

argh -- I have one of those in EACH big class. One is just a kid who knows a lot, is used to being the bright bulb in the class, and CANNOT keep hir hand down, even though I've said several times that, with a large percentage of the grade based on class participation, I really have to ask other people. Zie's my advisee, so I will have to pull hir aside and really talk to hir about how distracting class participation is not good.

The other? Just wants to turn every conversation to what zie knows. Both are getting lots of eyerolls from the rest of the class, but still.

HA! my word is pestend!

Artistic Soul said...

Ugh. I hear you. I have a student who, in the course of a three hour class, can talk for at least an hour of it...about NOTHING. Arguments about the readings that clearly display he hasn't read them. So I spend a lot of my time fighting back and challenging him to support his opinions from the reading, and meanwhile other students are bored. I think this is working as last night he was a bit better (clocking in at only half an hour of talk time and actually having evidence from the reading to support his points) but it is totally annoying.

A said...

I spent most of my high school and college years deathly afraid of those "participants." I had once made the mistake of thinking that speaking up to debate an idea was welcome, and I tried to play devil's advocate so I could better understand the topic -- only to be shouted down in class. Then shouted at after class. Then harassed in the parking lot ... this went on for two years. I never said anything in a classroom again. Had the teacher voiced some rules of conduct at the time, maybe it wouldn't have been so bad. You're the authority on discussion/debate in your classroom; I'm excited that you're using that power to do something good for your other students.

Historiann said...

Yes--few of us enjoy the student beat-down, and it's a dicey proposition for women faculty. I *wish* we could just give a hearty AHaHaHaHa (a la Comrade PhisioProf's suggestion) whever the dominator/ix starts running at the mouth, but we run the risk of looking like bullies.

Unfair, but true. I know just how you feel: it's a hassle you really don't need to cope with, but the sooner you cut hir off, the better...


Rufus said...

Ideally, their parents would do this. But, I find it's hard to avoid doing all the things that ideally should fall under the heading of "parenting".