I Shouldn’t Have to Say It

In a developmental English class, a student said something very rude to me. I run a pretty laid-back classroom, so there are some occasions when students say things and I’m not sure if they’re rude. But I know this was meant to be rude. In her defense, I was picking on her a little. I kept asking her and her friend to answer the questions because they were the only ones chatting about the weekend and not participating in our activity. The student responded by saying, only slightly under her breath, “You better get up outta my f—ing face.” It was muffled, but I caught most of it.

I was befuddled and angry. I still am. Here’s the thing, though. What can I do about it? Sure, I can command more respect or something arbitrary like that. I can talk to the student outside class, blah, blah. Our school has a policy of conduct, but it seems to speak only in vague terms, like “civility” and such; it doesn’t address “students cussing under their breath after being singled out for chit-chatting instead of paying attention.”

I’ve heard of some professors including a “respect” or “conduct” section in their syllabus. My syllabus and grading contract don’t have a section like that. The contract says something about coming to class, paying attention, and participating, but nothing about being respectful while you do so. I always thought it was a little silly to have a “respect” section; of course everyone should be respectful. But maybe it needs to be in there, even if for no other reason than to save my butt while I’m working on the more arbitrary and harder task of “commanding more respect.”

Do you have “respect” sections in your syllabi? Do you think they’re necessary or helpful?

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