Students and bullying

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Today I led a meeting for fellow English 358 instructors at my university regarding our classes, where we should go from here, and so forth. Since I am a person who likes to make plans, and who desperately wishes it was possible to create a solid ten-year plan that would without a doubt become reality, I don’t mind meetings or committee work. I mostly dig it and I always learn a lot from it.

At the end of the meeting today, bullying behavior from students was brought up. As teachers, we deal with bullying students probably more than is reasonable. One individual at our meeting today suggested that she thinks bullying has gotten worse between teachers and students, just as how it has gotten worse between students themselves. In fact, it is hard to find a news day that doesn’t mention bullying.

You may be asking what types of bullying behaviors we, as teachers, have received from students. I think there is a lot of answers to this, but the one that is most prominent centers on students bullying teachers for better grades. Here are some things I have encountered as a teacher from students who want better grades without any actual extra effort, or show other bullying behaviors:

  • Passive Aggressive emails about how they uploaded the assignment correctly, mistyped the email address, or did some other error that isn’t really any fault of theirs, even though it is, and so they should not get a grade decrease for a late assignment. 
  • Students who use whatever authority they can think of against you in efforts for a better grade or to make up for absences.
  • Students who tell you sob stories or other information in order to excuse them from class. If they get away with this once, it usually gets to be unreasonable, I have learned.
  • Students who will come to your office hours continually in hopes you will eventually “give in” and give them a better grade.
  • Students who turn in medical excuses that are not from the recent semester in hopes you will raise their grade on an assignment or in a class.
  • Students who turn in a revision, but don’t do all the required work for it, and expect a higher grade. When the higher grade does not appear, then they do whatever they can to “get back” at you. This can include poor SROI scores (yes, we sometimes can tell, but grades have already been posted), unreasonable complaints online toward the teacher, and passive aggressive behavior inside and outside of class.

I know I used second person in that list, but I am sure other teachers who read this can relate. Plus, I want you, as the reader, to try to understand a bit more where we, as teachers, are coming from. For example, in a simple google search, I could find some  information about “students who bully teachers.” I could, however, find a lot more information regarding “teachers as bullies.” 

This quick and simple google search tells me we, as teachers, need to work on creating a better discourse around dealing with students who bully for better grades, higher performance assessments, and more lenient deadlines in our classes. During the meeting for fellow instructors today, we decided having a “brown bag seminar” may be a good way to discuss strategies for dealing with bullying behaviors from students. Some strategies I already use include the following:

  • Requiring a memo for a revised assignments that details the revisions made, why those revisions were made, along with a previous grade the student received for the assignment. I also ask my students include the original assignment with the rubric and comments I left. 
  • Use policies from my syllabus, such as behavioral policies and other course expectations, as ways to rhetorically approach and combat these behaviors. I’ve noticed students are less likely to argue with syllabus policies that are in print and in front of them. Sometimes it actually helps if you make them read it to you.
  • I do my best to keep written documentation of EVERYTHING. This includes rubrics, attendance sign in sheets, passive aggressive emails I receive from students. The whole works. I keep these records for at least one academic year, just in case a student does come back to complain about a grade the next semester.

Even with this, I have not completely solved the problem. I doubt I ever will. In fact, it seems that parents today are more or less raising a generation of negotiators, according to this article documenting letters to the Tooth Fairy. While that article may seem cute and funny, I think there is a ring of truth to it. In fact, I think teachers like me are already dealing with this kind of negotiating behavior. I won’t argue knowing how to negotiate is bad, but there is a time and place for it. Negotiating over grades, issues of attendance, a lack of engagement in class, and other poor student behavior is not appropriate nor does it look promising for an individual who is soon to enter the professional workplace.

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