Monday, February 11, 2008

It's Going to Be One of Those Semesters: Notes on Students, Part Three

This one I can make short and simple: I hate cell phones. I hate that students bring them to class, think it's okay to use them in class, and don't even try to hide the fact that they're using them in class. Whatever happened to stealth? Why is no one cleverly sneaky anymore? Maybe it's just too much effort to conceal what they're not supposed to be doing, so they figure why not just be open and honest about it? I hate that, too.

Well, after last Thursday's class, I hate cell phones even more.

There were thirty minutes left in my three hour night class, and I was making the most of those minutes. I was giving my usual inspirational advice about writing. I was writing notes on the board--you know, helpful tricks and techniques for my students to use as they finished up the final draft of their first big essay. I had my back to the class and was finishing up my point when I heard a male voice--loud and plain as day.

"Ahem," I said, not bothering to turn and seek out the source of the voice. Usually a well-timed and forceful ahem squashes the chatty students. If it doesn't, I will turn, stop, level an annoyed look in the appropriate direction, and give a second (and more annoyed) ahem.

Well, I didn't even get to do that. When the voice didn't stop and I turned around to see who was talking and interrupting my lesson, I saw one of my students with his back to me. All the other students looked horrified, stunned, or regretful. They knew what was about to happen. They knew it was not going to be good.

They knew this because one of my students was on his cell phone. In class. Having a conversation. An actual honest-to-goodness conversation. Just chatting away, like he would be if he'd gotten a phone call in a grocery store or a coffee shop or his car.

I said the boy's name once, quietly, questioning, because I was sure I must be seeing and hearing things. I thought it was possible I was hallucinating--after all, it had been quite the day, and I figured there was a slight chance I was suffering some sort of schizoid break. But I wasn't. I was as sane as sane could be. And one of my students was having a conversation on his cell phone in class.

One of the girls sitting near him closed her eyes. She didn't want to see what happened next. I didn't either.

I said the boy's name, louder this time. He didn't respond. In fact, he didn't even turn around.

"Are you on the phone, Joel?" I asked.

And of course he heard me, and of course he knew I was talking to him--the whole classroom was silent. The lecture was paused, and everyone was holding their breath. But this student didn't give a shit. He just kept on talking.

So I yelled. And I'm not ashamed of the yelling. I'm really not. I just wanted him to look at me. I wanted him to see how deadly serious I was at that minute. He finally turned on the third time I yelled his name, after I repeated a phrase I am getting really, really sick of.


He didn't get off the phone. He turned back to the corner and continued speaking.

This was no emergency phone call--trust me. There was no edge or panic to his voice. There was lightness, familiarity, casualness. This wasn't a must-take phone call. And even if it was, it would still be highly inappropriate to take the call during class. I wouldn't have a single problem with someone taking an emergency phone call out in the hall, where the whole class wouldn't be forced to hear it.

When this student turned his back to me--ignoring me, showing me that whatever I had to say or present was so not worthy of his time or effort--I lost it.


He didn't protest. He didn't even grumble. He just said goodbye to the person he was talking to and snapped his phone shut. He grabbed his bag and trudged out into the hall, and that was that.

After he was gone, my students picked their jaws back up off the desks, and I took a deep breath before I moved on with the lesson. But I couldn't stop thinking about one small thing, one prickly thorn that lodged itself in my brain--this student, the one who got on the phone in the middle of class, distracting the people around him and me, was the same student who did this. Honest to God. And he says people's ignorance appalls him. If he only knew what it did to me.


Casey Sween said...

I want to see your email to that guy.

Jason said...

This is my most serious issue at the moment as well. Three of my classes are fine, but the fourth insists on testing me (not as egregiously as your situation, though). I made the mistake of not exploding the first time. I'm getting ready to pop, though.

Anskov said...

Man, Jess. I don't even know how I'd handle that situation. Maybe take the phone out of his hands and set it in the hall and tell him to continue his conversation there - tho' there's probably some law against that. I'm really bugged that someone would do that to you. Hang in there - next time we meet we'll make a grand feast, drink wine and let you bitch about these students all you want. :)

Jess said...

I really don't get it. I'm not a soft-spoken scaredy-cat in the classroom. I come in and make it clear I'm serious. We can have fun, but I'm serious. I don't portray myself as some lumpy, schlumpy puss. I know I don't. That's why I'm really startled by what these students are testing me with. It blows my minds. Is this how our students are going to start acting now, like, as a rule?

Let's hope not.

Why don't you all come to Maine. I have three different bottles of vodka in my freezer. I'll buy you whatever you want.

Chrissy Snow said...

Boy needs spanked, and not in a good way.