Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Class dynamics, or something else?

I've been mulling this one over for a few weeks and I'm still perplexed, so maybe someone out there in Blogland has some more insight....?

So one of my classes has had this tendency to get angry over, well, over the most bizarre things. At first I thought this was an isolated incident, but it has happened several times. Once, it was over a difficult concept that they weren't quite getting; another time, it was over an off-hand statement I made about a certain characteristic of a particular procedure that for whatever reason they didn't quite buy into. Now, I can understand feelings of frustration, or increased questioning. But my students actually got angry! Visibly angry! And upset. They did ask questions, but the questions were somewhat confrontational. I had never experienced anything like this.

So, my question: is this behavior
(a) normal?
(b) some sort of weird alpha-male thing?
(c) just a very bizarre class dynamic?
(d) none of the above?

7 comments:

Alfred Thompson said...

I'd bet on C. I've seen some wierd classroom dynamics in my time. But I'd keep an eye out to seeif it was the same one or two people getting it started. Possibly there is some leader behind the scenes getting others stirred up because he/she has a problem with a personality clash.

Ianqui said...

A colleague recently told me that there's evidence that a class makes up there mind about the prof in the first few classes. After that, there's nothing you can do to change their mind (in her opinion). Maybe that's what's going on here--there was anger over something early on, and they implicitly decided that this was going to be the standard for the class. So yeah, probably c).

John Brown said...

I think C is closest. You probably have an influential class member who has initiated the animus. I don’t to imply a deliberate trouble maker but rather a respected person who has sub-consciously given credibility to the expressions of disbelief and anger.

mali said...

I'd bet money that it's about gender. You're teaching a complicated concept, and they don't quite get it, so rather than think 'wow, she's so smart, I'm really going to have to work in this class'--as they most likely would if you were male--they think 'i'm so confused, she must not be a very good teacher.' study after study have shown that students expect female teachers to be more nurturing, more caring, and twice as competent before they'll give them the same esteem as male colleagues.

Pragmatically, I'd try to find a counseling/teaching specialist to come watch your class and give you feedback. those folks really know their stuff.

Anonymous said...

D. None of the above.

The class tantrums are a manifestation of a generation who has no patience nor respect for the mentor, among other things. Immediate gratification and less edification are the norm.

L'Envoi

Jane said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I do tend to think it's (C), but generally the class dynamic is fine---it's just weird things that set them over the edge. And I have talked to some of my colleagues about this, and none of them have seen similar reactions in their classes when they've taught the same concepts. So, maybe there is a bit of a gendered component to it, as Mali pointed out (and I've been reading a lot about the same studies lately, and it's maddening!), and/or maybe there is a secret ringleader as John pointed out. I have had a few observers visit the class (as part of the normal review process), and no one's been there on one of these "weird" days (and thus no one's noticed anything out of the ordinary).

I do have to say that I laughed at L'Envoi's visual of a "class tantrum"! Funny, but also a bit accurate...

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