The Crying Game December 14, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, science, societal commentary.
Tags: emotions, students, teaching
You know that stereotype about girls always being the ones to cry in the professor’s office?
I’ve had two criers this semester, and both of them were men. I’m getting more comfortable with this. If a woman cries, you offer her a tissue, empathize a bit, and then set down what needs to be done. Most of the female students were relieved that I didn’t blow up at them for something or another, although I think I had one who despised me for noticing. However, with the male students, I’ve learned that they don’t want you looking at them when they’re about to have an emotional breakdown. They remind me of ostriches, looking for a way to hide themselves, but lacking one, can only refuse to make eye contact with you. Worse yet is acknowledging that this is happening in any way, shape, or form. Best to just pretend things are fine and talk about how to deal with the problem at hand. And did I mention not to look at them?
I wish these things were confined to crying, but they’re not. In general, I seem to get more emotional behavior from male students than female, although the most extreme behavior seems to be representative of the gender distribution of the class. In one particularly bad year, I had a student who gouged out her hand during class and another (male) who had a series of offensive behavior, including showing up drunk to a make-up lab. The chair of the department asked me why I get all of the difficult students.
The student who was the hardest to deal with, however, was one who I caught cheating more than once. One day he came to my office, and the way he started yelling at me made me wonder if he was going to get violent. I was particularly happy my officemate and the prof next door were both in. This student kept it up for an hour, going from trying to intimidate me to giving me a sob story.
The worst thing about dealing with this student is that it became apparent that his really obnoxious behavior was confined to me. I was a TA for the class, but there was one other TA and the instructor, both of whom were male. When these problems got to the point where they were impossible, he was switched to the other TA’s section and had to deal with the instructor. He was immediately caught cheating again, but when confronted by the other TA and, later, the instructor, his attitude was completely different. There was no hint of belligerence in his interactions with them.
It’s made me realize that a lot of students are apparently more comfortable around me than my male counterparts, and thus feel it is alright to be more emotional in my presence. I think it doesn’t matter if the emotion is frustration, sadness/depression, or anger: whatever filter they put in place for other people, particularly if those people are male, seem to disappear when dealing with me. Not that I’m saying they know this; I suspect most of them don’t realize there is a difference in their behavior.
This semester has been one of my better semesters as far as dealing with emotional students. I can handle a couple of students who are obviously having a tough time, especially when there are medical issues involved or other situations where the students are dealing with stressors that are out of their control. I do sort of wonder, however, if I’ll manage to get through one semester without some sort of emotional outburst.