Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Uh Oh Sign

It's the sign you get from a student before classes begin that makes you realize this one's going to be trouble.

I don't know quite what it is about the email. In general, a student who emails ahead to get information about texts is just someone who wants to get the texts on-line. But then sometimes, there's this extra bit. And the extra bit doesn't quite go with what went before. And if that's how this student's class discussion skills work, things will be difficult, non-sequitors, extra commentary that doesn't have anything to do with the class discussion, that sort of thing.

Okay, I realize I sound like a jerk. Maybe you're thinking, eww, B doesn't like people with Asperger or something.

I don't know that I've ever had a student with Asperger syndrome. I've certainly had a few students who wouldn't stop making off-topic comments or who kept interrupting discussion or being rude to other students. It makes class way more work and way less fun.

Maybe I'm totally wrong about the email. Yeah, totally wrong. Watch, this student will turn out to be the delight of the semester!


  1. I've checked my Magic 8 Ball.

    "Signs point to no."

  2. I had a student who likely had Asperger's. It took me a couple of weeks to figure out how to interact with him, but in the end we had a good working relationship -- and he stuck with me for 102.

    Every person with Asperger's is different, but by college level (if they're diagnosed), they know that they have it -- and are able to cope pretty well with some reminders that other students might not.

    For example, my student was a talker -- something of an interrupter. Since he'd come to me with his ADA form at the beginning of the semester, we decided that he should sit in the front left corner of the classroom (front seating was one of his accommodations). I had him sit at the corner so I could remind him to let other people speak in discussion -- and we got to a point where I was able to just sort of wave my hand to remind him of that (and the wave was subtle and didn't disrupt everything -- or call the other students' attention to it).

    It took me a while -- but we had a good year together.

    Plus, so many students have such bad email skills -- they really don't know audience at all. This could be a student who thinks that he/she is being conversational, but is in fact coming across as scattered and confusing.

  3. I have had one student who self-identified to me as having Asperger's (not a surprise), and he was a delightful young man, very receptive to respectful reminders to stay on track. He appreciated structure and was not trying to derail the class. He sat in the front left corner too! :-) Here's my post about "Stephen" from early in our class:

    What I thought of when I read your description, though, was the sort of student who seems to be starring in a movie about his/her own life. Or, since I guess to some extent we all do that, a student who doesn't mask that intense preoccupation very well. This is a student whose sense of classroom decorum is not strong enough to edit what comes out of the student's mouth, and who seems to think that semi-random personal statements are "contributions to discussion"...and yes, it's exactly these students who "announce" themselves in email before the semester starts.

    But maybe not. I hope this student isn't an uh-oh!

  4. My experience has been pretty much the same as Meansomething's -- the only student I've had who self-identified as having Asperger's was a complete delight, and I'm really pleased that she's signed up for another of my classes this semester. (FWIW, if she hadn't self-identified I don't think I would have noticed anything unusual about her; I would have just figured she was an enthusiastic student who liked to talk. But I'm not so good with the social cues myself.)

  5. No, you're probably totally right. People talk about how easy it is to misread emails, but I've noticed that I can tell a lot about how a student will act in class based on his/her emails. Students who don't use proper mail form, such as leaving out a salutation and/or a subject, or using slang and text message lingo, usually don't take the class too seriously.

  6. I have a child with autism, so I understand this from both a personal and a professorial perspective.

    Yes, sometimes you know that a student is going to be trouble. It doesn't always have to do with being on the spectrum: in my experience, some extremely needy/disruptive students aren't at all ASD-typical. They're just disruptively needy and problematic.

    In fact, I'm thanking my lucky stars that I'm not teaching a senior seminar in 2010-11 because this means I'm dodging the bullet of having one particularly annoying student who whines for marks more than my dog whines to go outside (and my dog is a champion whiner when there's snow on the ground, waiting to be licked up)!

  7. Thanks, all. I don't think the student probably is on the spectrum, actually; I was just aware that I was sounding like a bit of a jerk.

    But this student has that weird email thing happening.

  8. If it makes you feel any better, one of my "uh-oh sign" students has already dropped. There is hope for a better tomorrow.

  9. Oh you are so right about those early e-mails. Inevitably they are students who want the class to run on their terms regardless of how that would disrupt everything for the rest of the students. Just reading this reminded me of half a dozen of these that I met during my career and I'm sitting here sweating ust at the memory.