Thursday, October 09, 2003
In my Theology 1120 course, Intro to Biblical Studies, I feel I’m facing something of a dilemma and/or problem. I often make jokes when I’m lecturing, and I feel humor is one of my biggest assets in teaching. This is always remarked upon and praised in my student evaluations. A group of what I estimate to be three or four students, led by one student in particular, voiced their opinion that I must not make jokes about New Orleans. In the past I’ve referenced the poor health people in the region have, due to largely to obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption, as well as poor public education in the area, and lousy driving. How on earth does this relate to biblical studies? Great question. I might have been lecturing on Eli or Eglon being fat, as the Bible says, and said something like “The Bible claims Eli was fat--not New Orleans fat mind you, but maybe Green Bay or Chicago fat.” Such a joke would come up about once a week or so, and to be honest I’ve never really paid attention to it in the past. I certainly make way more jokes about Nebraska, my home state, and California, where I lived for years. But one day in class I felt verbally attacked by a student, the leader I mentioned earlier, who claimed that people in the class demanded I end the New Orleans references. I explained that I care very very much about improving New Orleans, and many of the problems faced in this community terrify me, and that I am dedicated to improving them, but often I make jokes about very serious matters as a means to deal with these matters. This group congregates in the back of the class, and often during lecture they look at me with very angry expressions. Early this week, when we were going over the study guide for yesterday’s exam, a few of these students stated the study guide for the exam was “totally ridiculous” and that I was expecting way too much from them. I tried to explain that I know my classes are challenging and require a great deal of work, but that I feel that students perform to expectations and that I’ve made a commitment to set the bar high. They said this was not their hardest class, but that the exam would be. Unfortunately this argument lasted about 10 minutes of the review session, and I felt attacked and that I was losing control of the class. After the class several students came up to me and said I wasn’t expecting too much, just that the students in question always complained. I felt terrible in that the students took pity on me and said these things, and felt I wasn’t being a good teacher if I was dividing the class as such. In the end, I thought long and hard about it, and decided not to lower or compromise my standards. During the exam, several of these students made a half-hearted effort on the exam, and for much of it put their heads on their arms and pretended to be napping. This group also had a problem with wandering eyes, and a couple of times I had to remind them to keep their eyes on their own papers. After the exam, when I was leaving the classroom, I noticed them congregating and giving me dirty looks. When I was grading I noticed this group left much of the exam, such as a map section and the summary of an article, completely blank. I have never experienced a group of students turning on me as such, and feel the need to talk to them to resolve this issue before it gets out of hand. I think I will set up an appointment with one or more of these students when the time is right, after a few days for them to reflect on the exam.