Checking Out

One always has to be careful with generalizations about student behavior.  Often times we professors are just flat wrong about our students and why they are the way they are.  For example, I was wrong last week about a student who has never seemed very engaged in class. 

I had tagged a short note to a returned assignment, asking if the student and I might meet to map a strategy for ending the term on a positive note.  The student hung around after class to talk with me, but three seconds into our discussion there were tears.  The poor kid is working too much, worrying too much and freaked out by the idea of failing.  I had no idea.  What I took to be a lack of interest or commitment was actually panic and nervous exhaustion.

So you never know.

There's something else going on this semester that I can't figure out.  And I want to be careful in drawing any conclusions.  For some reason, students have begun getting up in the middle of class and walking out.  They don't say anything.  They just leave.  Sometimes they are gone for up to 15 or 20 minutes and then they walk back in and sit down.  It isn't that students have never done this before; it's the frequency that I have begun to notice.  I've never had it happen so often. At first I thought they were just going to the restroom.  Then I wondered if they had set their phones on vibrate and were taking a call.  Sometimes I wonder, though, if some new kind of attitude about acceptable classroom citizenship is being born.

Here's what I mean: I often see people in grocery store lines talking on their cell phones through an entire transaction. Occasionally I'll ask clerks if it bothers them when this happens.  They always tell me it drives them nuts.  I saw this occur only last weekend while buying a pair of pants.  The clerk told me, "It's like I'm not even a person that they are expected or obliged to interact with." 

Increasingly, I feel like that clerk.  I'm there in the classroom, standing right in front of students and doing my job, but they are scrolling through text messages, walking out to attend to other tasks, filling in planners or maybe even doing homework for other classes.   They seem oblivious to my presence or any expectation that they might want to affect even a minimal pretence of courteous attentiveness.  For them, being in a classroom has become like standing in checkout lines. 

Then again, you never know.  I could be wrong about this.


Frida said…
i had a student that left regularly in the middle of class to go outside and smoke a cigarette. i would have called him on it, but i actually felt better when he was out of the room.

i am with you on the cell phone thing. people on cell phones are expanding their personal space into your space, or so it feels to me. i am embarassed by my proximity to their intimacy with the caller, and back off because it seems rude to listen. i have this backwards, don't i?

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