Yesterday afternoon in the class I'm auditing, the professor was asked a question about dealing with difficult classmates. She related a story about a classmate she had in grad school who annoyed the heck out of her, because regardless of what the conversation was about, this student always, always managed to twist it around to his particular historical interest. She said that she finally decided that, rather than be annoyed by this habit, she decided instead to love it about him.
I used a similar strategy when I was a secretary in hospital administration--there were some doctors who had some really insulting habits, which I finally decided to use as opportunities to practice some of the Buddhist mind-training slogans I was learning at the time. It did work, to a certain extent--though for a while, my thought of, "I'm so glad to have the opportunity to practice patience" had a decidedly sarcastic tone to it, eventually meant that sentiment more sincerely. I was grateful for the opportunity to practice patience. Other times, I would wave my hands and think to myself (or a couple of times, actually stated out loud), "I am a Bodhisattva Warrior!!!" That one at least would make me laugh, even if I couldn't quite mean it at the time.
My intention today in class was to try to love what's infuriating about the class, and to try to play to their strengths--namely, the fact that they all know each other and enjoy chatting about this weekend's party. Today, I checked that they each had picked an advertisement to use for their papers, collected the paragraphs they wrote about them, and talked briefly with them about their papers. Meanwhile, they had thesis statement worksheets to complete, which only involve a bit of collaboration toward the end. However, three times I had to tell them to be quiet and get to work. At the beginning of class, they didn't respond to my closing the door to signal class starting, or even my standing in the middle of the front of the classroom, waiting for them to realize class was starting. Again, I had to raise my voice to get their attention.
There are only 22 students in this class. And it's a sophomore level class. I'm disappointed at the lack of maturity most of them are displaying. The last time I taught English 2000, it was much better: unlike the 1001 class, I didn't have students who were struggling with first year issues (figuring out how to feed themselves, for example) in that class, and it was nice to have students who had jobs and a decent sense of responsibility. That was the class in which a pretty intense debate broke out over why college students should have to take humanities classes--I had some really engaged students. The engaged students I have in this class are much quieter--or maybe just seem so, in comparison.
Next week they're coming to meet with me about their papers, and my hope is that one on one time with them will be useful. I'm quite annoyed that it's this semester that I finally requested to have my teaching evaluated--as it appears that teaching evaluations here are voluntary and not that common (yet another thing on my list of things I miss about UT), I wish I had realized that evals don't happen automatically here earlier, and had another class evaluated. I did get my teaching evaluated by a faculty member in my WGS class last semester, which went really well, so I do at least have that.
Right now, I'm taking a break. Later this weekend, I'll do my lesson plans for the week and see if I can come up with some new intentions to bring with me to class next week. For at least the next 24 hours, though, to misquote Ross Geller, WE ARE ON A BREAK!!