From day one, I knew this one male student (let’s call him John) and one female student (let’s call her Jane) would consume my attention. They walked in, clearly grumpy and clearly disinterested in the course – maybe even ready to derail the class and take me down. I had to get ready for battle. I didn’t know anything about them except that their negative attitudes were written on their bored faces and their defensive body language.
The class has met four times, and each class I have been employing – in full force, mind you – my “kill ’em with kindness” strategy. The first couple of classes, I was met with grunts and blank stares, but I did not give up! Finally, the fourth class session, I got a smile and participation from them. Victory!
During small group discussion, Jane seemed to step up and lead her team (even though she was EXTRA GRUMPY at the beginning of that exercise). Then when time came to report out to the class, she surprised me by standing up to report. I had been sure that another student, who had been much more participatory and outgoing, would be the spokesperson. I was wrong. And during her report, Jane showed something that dangerously border-lined “caring.”
With John, I have been using his name a lot. I’d ask him by name how he was doing: “How are you, John?” I’d ask for affirmation for my comments from him. After saying something profound about “The Things They Carried,” I’d ask, “Don’t you think so, John, or do you think I’m over-analyzing?” I also put him in charge of leading his 3-people discussion and purposefully gave them a very open-ended and controversial topic. When I got a smile out of him, I was ecstatic!
(Of course, this “kill ’em with kindness” doesn’t always work and it can negatively affect your own mood. Use this method with caution.)
But all this got me thinking… why am I so obsessed with these two students? There are 22 other students who are more interested (though not by much more) and eager to learn. Why these 2? There are noble answers to this question. It’s about student engagement. It’s a first-year experience philosophy. Many noble, teacher-minded answers.
But really, I think, if I’m really going to be honest… part of it is my ego. How dare you not be interested in the brilliance I’m about to display here? How dare you not learn from the engaging learning activities I’ve prepared for you? How dare you not see what an awesomely effective professor I am?
There. I said it. There’s my honesty.