02 October 2007

Mean Grrlz

Returning to the drama of the gifted child classroom setting has been, well, refreshing, to say the least. My experience at Doctoral U. over the summer teaching this same course to more traditional students prepped me a bit for the Nestea plunge of the return of the repressed: Pater, Mentor, Symbol, Structure. It is a role that I once relished, back at Sadistic College, but then grew out of at Cold City U. Having mature, self-assured adult students revealed the true dimensions of the problematic of traditional teaching. But, with a gift for gab and an easygoing nature, I thought little of the actual dynamics of returning to the traditional classroom.

It’s not that I have been thrown for a loop. Franchement, I have been teaching too long for that sort of dramatic gesture. Rather, I am rediscovering the internal dynamics of the traditional student and their worlds, especially how they bring the instructive differences from their social spaces into the classroom. Again, I had a preview of this when, over the summer, I had a smart, sexy, articulate student activist in class. I failed to realise, enamoured as I was myself with hir prowess, how this person dominated and effectively silenced the other students in class. My epiphany came at our final social class dinner, when we discussed a recent campus controversy. The student activist pronounced a certain reading of the situation, which caused some cautionary noises from myself, and then, surprisingly, other students.

These were little cautions, not big ones, but nonetheless the student activist seemed upset and left early. After hir departure, the group exploded in alternative readings, contradictions, and political accusations. It was at that moment that I surveyed, in my mind, the strange silent dynamic in class, so powerful I had written off the class mid-way through as being disinterested. I finally saw not disinterest but fear, fear of this student and the implications of discussion. It was an instructive reintroduction to the hypersensitive overlapping of the classroom with the dining hall, the dorm room, and the meeting space.

There is more than just a little of that at Prestigious Lil’ College. Unlike Doctoral U., PLC is small, √©lite, and self-conscious in a panopticonic way. These students bring intimate histories into the classroom setting. As I have been negotiating the different streams of thought occurring in the classroom, racial and sexual and gendered and intellectual, I began to think of the student catalogue, the system of identification that many of us maintain, even if it is not coherent, to understand the social world of the student within the classroom, a sort of primer in high school cafeteria politics, glossed within the college classroom— the paradigmatic tribes we inhabit. It allows us to teach more easily, and perhaps more problematically, also tends to determine our initial impressions of students, although I don’t know of any professor (or at least those who I respect) who isn’t willing to be surprised out of their system.

My "system" was developed as a younger teacher-apprentice and perfected at Sadistic College, with all its mind trips. I allowed it to get dusty at Cold City U., but now find that a review may prove helpful. Obviously, most of these archetypes are specific to my own training and experience, but modification is the art of classification, so adjust to your own expectational categories. Expand the boundaries of knowledge!

Borrowing a page from Linnaeus, let’s begin the work of classification—

The Spy

The internal plant, a pair of student eyes and ears that record and report what occurs when you are not around.
Habitat: Your office hours
Beneficial Effects: Anticipating crises, averting disaster
Cautions: Not revealing your hand; deploying their own agenda

The Smart White Girl

Dedicated, interested, involved
Habitat: The front row, with reading marked
Beneficial Effects: Smart, smart, smart! Relieves the burden of deadly course conversation slowdowns with compelling questions
Cautions: Easily disappointed; secretively critical on course evaluations

The Student Activist

Relentlessly hypercritical of society and culture; if skilled, typically smart; if unskilled, relies too much on polemic
Habitat: First or second row
Beneficial Effects: Can point out the obvious political connotations without implicating you
Cautions: Can easily turn on you as an "Enemy of the People"; can be excessive in requests for extensions due to arrests at demonstrations as well as invocations of bell hooks

The Politicised Woman of Color

Beautiful, brainy, opinionated
Habitat: Second or third row, off-centre
Beneficial Effects: The voice of articulate racial-gendered dissent
Cautions: Can become frustrated with level of understanding of peers; can overplay role of representational voice of dissent; occasionally exasperated by Smart White Girls (see above), Showstoppers (see below), and Cautious Women of Color (see below)

The Cautious Woman of Color

Ambitious, critical, calm, collected.
Habitat: The corner
Beneficial Effects: When she decides to intervene, it is always remarkable
Cautions: Easily bored; preoccupied with the LSAT/MCAT/GRE

The Showstopper

Gab-ilicious! Liza Minnelli gestures, eyes popping like Diana Ross, they want to be the Star, hands splayed out under the faces like Judy Garland
Habitat: Under the key light
Beneficial Effects: Will intervene in any silence, even if s/he hasn’t done the reading
Cautions: Boredom of the other students, yourself, as they drone on; hard to shut up

The Shy Girl

Quiet, observant
Habitat: Fourth row, off-centre, head down, eyes averted
Beneficial Effects: Generally good work, their writing is typically highly skilled; their presence boosts your enrollments, pleasing the Dean
Cautions: Opaque, hard to read, potentially critical on course evaluations

The Skepticon

Regards the class and you as bollocks; doesn’t like the reading, nor the discussion, nor you; Exaggerated self-esteem issues
Habitat: Second row, ostentatiously doodling
Beneficial Effects: A souvenir of the folly of youth
Cautions: Can foment dissension in class and outside of class (see The Spy, above)

The Dude

Taking the course for Gen Ed requirement; disinterested
Habitat: back row, texting under the desk
Beneficial Effects: Can sometimes surprise you; comic relief
Cautions: Can challenge your authority if irritated; can distract others

The Grade Grubber

Always interested in the grading percentages, sometimes excessive questions on assignments.
Habitat: Any seat, your office hours, the Dean’s Office
Beneficial Effects: Clarity in grading
Cautions: Typically have to grade up to alleviate the threat of a long process of grade challenge

The Dullard

Didn’t get it, doesn’t get it, will never get it
Habitat: Front row, looking bewildered; your office hours, before and after class, the writing center
Beneficial Effects: If you like a challenge…; points at the pearly gates
Cautions: Tends to pull at the heartstrings and be awarded a barely passing grade for effort

This is just scratching the surface of a rich vein of professional knowledge. What are your archetypes? Let a thousand flowers bloom!


Paris said...

The Foreign Correspondent:

Description: Regular emails without actual class presence
Habitat: Depends on if you believe them or not.
Beneficial Effects: Raises enrollment level without requisite increase in work for you.
Cautions: Often a Grade Grubber or Dullard in disguise

Hilaire said...

I would add:

*The Education Student*

Description: The very picture of "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed". Armed with highlighters, uses them liberally. Also liberally uses exclamation marks in emails to you, and smiley faces on notes.

Habitat: Front Row, or right near you if in a circle

Beneficial Effects: Adds cheeriness to the proceedings, even when treating the most horrific material. Always completes readings and assignments.

Cautions: Adds cheeriness to proceedings even when treating the most horrific material. Brings out the claws of the Student Activist.

Professor Zero said...

OMG what a marvelous post. I am too tired right now to figure out a new type but this is lovely.

Anonymous said...

Academic Honesty Case

Description: Chameleon-like can appear in any shape or form.

Habitat: Large classes of one hundred or more students, but preferably not the classroom.

Beneficial Effects: Provider of long e-mails fill with stories of personal tragedy or completely invisible.

Cautions: Will feel betrayed if the breach of academic honesty is revealed. Will be critical on course evaluations. It is preferable to bring forward the case after the evaluations are completed, so that you can be attacked on hatemyprofessors.com

GayProf said...

Great entry! I wish that I had thought of it...

Anonymous said...

Too Cool for School:

Description: emboldened in black, goth, or expensive boho chic clothing. Bored with everything. To them, you are representative of everything bad/repressed/ or needless in the world (i.e., not fashionable). Tend to prefer cold professors who seem not to care. Would never be members of a club that would take them.

Habitat: back row, usually talking or rolling eyes

Beneficial effects: they can goad you into more passionate lectures by their sheer aloofness

Cautions: from first day will give bad recommendations, probably spending more time on them than any of their work. Will badmouth you to other students. Will never answer your question and sink to your level of social decrepitude. Ostentatiously uninterested.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, and a wonderful start to a full taxonomy.

As a sub-species of the Grade Grubber, I would humbly submit:

Asian Overachiever

Description: Either an international student or the scion of recent immigrants, this student will exhibit many of the characteristics of the Grade Grubber with an intensity and politeness that borders on disturbing.

Habitat: front row, usually in your field of view.

Beneficial effects: You know that at least one person is paying attention to every single word you say. Forces you to be clear in your lectures.

Cautions: May cause you frustration if you like to see your students use definite articles in their writing.

mom said...

Hilarious. I love this.

The Baseball Cap

Description: White male frat boy and/or student athlete. Drinks heavily on weekends and at least one week night. Almost always hails from Long Island, New Jersey, or Philadelphia

Habitat: Back row, with two others.

Beneficial effects: Friendly. Fills seat. Never grade grubs, because he feels perfectly happy with his B- or C+

Cautions: Rolls eyes EXCESSIVELY when topics such as feminism, affirmative action, or immigration emerge.

adjunct whore said...

love this.

chatty, average, woman of color:

description: partier, but thinks she's a smartie pants; talks a lot in class though never impressively.

habitat: sits front, left of center, but is always turned around talking way too loudly to guys. she often checks to see if you hear her and to be reassured of her cleverness.

beneficial effects: rarely allows full-blown silence, generally cheerful, dimness provides loads of teacherly moments.

cautions: might slip you her card in case you need a dog walker; says things often that make you cringe.

Dr. Curmudgeon said...

I keep rereading this.

Here's my offering to the taxonomy: the Expulsive.

Description: pathological inability to think before speaking
Habitat: the middle rows or the periphery
Benefits: no such thing as an awkward silence; may make unique connections
Cautions: unique connections may not be appropriate; condition may be highly contagious and is possibly viral

Kaiako said...

The Cs get degrees pack

Description: Average but intractable; vocally promotes the 'Cs get degrees' mantra to justify a complete lack of skill, flair or application. Requires peers to bolster confidence that Cs do actually get degrees, so travels in packs of 3 equally indistinguishable peers, whose names you can never remember and whose faces you will forget as soon as the academic year ends.

Habitat: In pack of 3, comes in late, leaves early, sits near entry/exit points.

Beneficial: Easy to grade. Always in the C range. Can improve the performance of other average students who want approval. Ignored as waste of time and space by high achievers or anyone actually interested in the course material.

Caution: Secretly, they'd love to get better than a C, therefore happier when blaming others, which usually means rating you as average on course evaluations. Can bring down the performance of others who adopt the mantra.

Az said...

The 'Obvious' Homophobe

Description: Male, white, middle class. Turns up to every seminar holding hands with blonde girl; exchanges giggly notes with her in class. Asks with some degree of hostility if "we have to agree with you to get good marks." Spreads rumours that you are gay.

Habitat: Back row of the lecture theatre; out the door if anyone mentions the word 'racism' or 'queer'.

Beneficial Effects: Galvanises one into better teaching through anger. Can galvanise other students into improving their rhetorical speaking skills.

Caution: Likely to submit 'reflective' essay detailing extensive history of homophbic abuse in high school, written in purple prose and unlikely to be true. Impossible to tell if this is actually the student clumsily revealing his location in the closet -- or whether (if false) such a smart-ass test of your 'political bias' indicates latent desires for homosex. Therefore, if you give the essay a D, will you be destroying a queer kid's heart?

Katie said...

Hey there, Anonymous:

Your "Asian Overachiever" type crosses the line for me from good-natured satire to nasty stereotyping. "An intensity and politeness that borders on disturbing?" Sounds like you're a little too ready to be unsettled by Asian students in general. And your caution about the lack of definite articles in their writing? Please. Asians and Asian Americans have no monopoly on imperfect English. Don't ruin someone else's funny post with your bias.