Hostile Student

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I've been teaching for 7 years, and this research writing class is a staple. We just had mid terms, and one student, who has yet to participate at all (participation is worth quite a bit in my class) has been emailing me with questions about her grade. I've responded, clearly noting syllabus policies and ways she can earn more points to improve her mark. This week, she has been participating a lot, and this gave me hope that she was taking the class, as well as my advice, to heart. For a moment, I felt proud.

Then I went home and read my email. She sent a long rant questioning my rules, my professional judgement, and my participation evaluation. She then said she has been active in class all term, (not true), noted how she always attends, takes notes, follows rules, etc. Then she says she has been participating a lot this week, and it is "hard" and she feels it is unfair, etc.

Of course, she has not been doing it, then this week she did it, and now the labor is annoying, so she's clinging to lies, excuses, and gripes. I sent a strongly worded reply about how her mark reflected the base level involvement in the class, which is why she earned a C for participation. Yes, you must have the book, show up, take notes, etc. But I look for folks who speak up, email me comments, visit office hours, etc., as they get B's and A's for this mark. I also offer a ton of extra credit, and out of 2 grade levels worth 80 points, she has completed one assignment, for 10 points.

Okay, all that aside, I also learned tonight that she has been making rude comments about me and my class on Twitter. Not just tonight, but for a few months. When she received her first paper back, she said that she was glad I only cared about the class topic and citation models, and said I didn't give a poop about being a good writer.

WOW. I'm wondering how others deal with these types of students. I plan to stay neutral when talking to her, and we have a meeting to look at one of her papers next week. I made it clear the grade issue was off limits. I'm hoping I can stay objective, because at the moment I am really hurt and offended. I know I should consider the source (transfer freshman), the maturity and lack thereof, and so on, but as an instructor who really cares about all students, this one feels tough.

Is the lesson that we can't please everyone and to move on? Or do others have strategies on how to handle an irate student who flames out over email and social networking, but who appears calm and normal in class?

Spend more time publishing and less time on social media.


Spend more time publishing and less time on social media.

Ditto. Mainly because Facebook and Twitter are the internet equivalent of middle school.

I have dealt with confrontational students and it is frustrating, but sometimes you just have to let it go. It can get to you, but think of it as a temper tantrum (which in some cases it actually is).

Students will always be angry, and I think some come into a class of "me vs. you." You can't make those students like your class.

Definitely shake off anything that hasn't occurred directly between you and the student.  Sadly, they have a right to be obnoxious on their own time, and we shouldn't let it affect our relationship.  Act professionally, and allow the karma to catch up with her.  If she is incorrect about something, point that out.  If she's being obnoxious to you, address that as well.  But all in the most calm, detached manner possible.  Then remember the reasons you are in this, and forget about this unfortunate side effect.

As others have written, focus on what's important to the class and the student's performance in class.

If I'm reading your post correctly, then the main point is students must participate in class to earn participation credit.  Participation worthy of credit is a list of certain observable behaviors.  Keep listing those behaviors for the student.  If the student insists on irrelevancies, then keep mentioning that merely showing up on time with the relevant materials is not participation worthy of substantial credit; that's meeting the bare minimum expected of all students.  Participation is <list of observable behaviors>.

You can't fix the student, but you can turn into the broken record of "These are your options, student.  I look forward to seeing what you choose to do to earn the grade you want."

It's not personal and you can, with effort, decide to let it be not personal and keep on the neutral responses.  I use a weird accounting system for why I get paid $50 an hour to deal with this (by the same accounting system, I do the fun stuff for free).


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