So there is a student named X in the MWF 11 AM class who, for lack of a better word, annoys me. She is quite possibly the brightest, most gifted student writer in the class but she is one of those types of students who “knows” that she is a good writer. I’m not sure why she bothers me so much – but I think it has something to do with the fact that she always questions everything that I do, even when she isn’t saying anything. She has never come right out and challenged me – like Y from the evening class – but I can tell that she thinks this class is a waste of her time and there is nothing that I can teach her (and maybe part of me concurs with that on some level because her writing really is that good). But she has asked me for advice on her writing so I am not even sure if this is a fair assessment of her. Am I just getting emotional because I feel threatened by her “apathy” for me, for the course?
This week, the MWF class has been watching the film, Crash. On Monday, I noticed X was reading a book both when I was talking to the class and when the film clips were played. On Wednesday, an opportunity came up for me to talk to her about this when she asked me about the composition scholarship that I oversee on our campus. I told her (rightly) that she is a class leader and that students look to her for “guidance”/ expected behavior. Reading a book sends the wrong message both to me and the others in the class. I knew she had watched the film already about 20 times (she had shared this earlier in the semester) but I needed her to be engaged during our class time. I think she understood where I was coming from as she did put the book away on both Wed and Fri.
So what’s the problem you ask? My concern is a mistake that I have made many times in my teaching career – I start focusing on making one student “happy,” somehow forgetting the other 19 people in the room in the nearly impossible goal of fully persuading an “unhappy” student to “see the light” from my perspective. What made Friday difficult as well as I handed out a reading by Peggy McIntosh, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a reading that asks this mostly white class to question their whiteness. Not surprisingly, without even reading the essay, X has problems with the basic premise of this article (she is, by the way, the one student in the class who identifies herself as bi-racial). Her comments – which I cut off a little since I wanted to wait to have the general conversation about this article on Monday – made me feel defensive. And I think students can “smell” this fear. And I get nervous, talk too fast, and … well … generally feel like I am doing a crappy teaching job.
I am also nervous that I am doing this ethnography all wrong – why haven’t I been taking better notes? I originally meant to write detailed notes about each class session immediately after the class finished. That hasn’t worked out so well – I just get so busy all the time; sometimes, I go back to my office and just zone out by clicking on Ebay, Yahoo, or Facebook as a means, I think, of catching my breath. And then somewhere in there I get pulled in other directions with either my other students or the Honors Program. So here is a promise to myself – unless I want to completely fuck this up, I need to be better at writing up my field notes. End of story. No more excuses. I think I am getting some interesting “data” but those observation notes are going to be important later this year when I am trying to piece the whole experience together in my dissertation.