Stress levels are high. In our classes we’re winding down the teaching part (the fun part!) and focusing on the assessment part (the miserable boring side). I guess sometimes people — students and/or professors — snap. Professor Irwin Horwitz just gave up, failed an entire course, and stopped teaching. He explains why:
“Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to ‘chill out,’ ‘get out of my space,’ ‘go back and teach,’ [been] called a ‘fucking moron’ to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and others, been caught between fights between students…. None of you, in my opinion, given the behavior in this class, deserve to pass, or graduate to become an Aggie, as you do not in any way embody the honor that the university holds graduates should have within their personal character. It is thus for these reasons why I am officially walking away from this course. I am frankly and completely disgusted. You all lack the honor and maturity to live up to the standards that Texas A&M holds, and the competence and/or desire to do the quality work necessary to pass the course just on a grade level…. I will no longer be teaching the course, and all are being awarded a failing grade.”
Hang on, something is wrong here. I’ve taught at the Great Big Urban State School, and I’ve taught at the Tiny Rural Liberal Arts College, and I’ve never seen that kind of behavior. I’ve encountered a few snotty individuals, and I’ve had a few classes that were remarkably apathetic about the subject matter. Those are challenges, though, and that’s what teaching is about — trying to get through to them and instill a little glimmering of enthusiasm. I’ve had students reveal that they don’t like me at all on my class evaluations, but they’ve also been mature enough to handle the classwork with a little dignity. (I also like all of my students, so those are the evaluations that sting a bit — but I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, I know that there will always be personality clashes.)
But I’ve never experienced that kind of outrageous mob behavior. There’s a kind of classroom culture that prevents it: I think it requires a bit of mutual respect, some satisfaction at accomplishment (you can put up with an obnoxious professor if you feel like you’re learning something), responsiveness and willingness to change on both sides, and a sense that you’re working towards an achievable goal. Put all that together, and self-interest keeps the learning environment functional.
So I’m wondering where both the professor and students failed in that classroom, because they both did. No one is off the hook. I’d really like to see an independent evaluation of that class, because catastrophic failure can be extremely informative. And that’s a class that blew up shortly after launch, and somebody better be gathering the data to prevent it happening again.