Wednesday, July 23, 2008
What an amazing year it's been, too. No place I wish I could be (existentially speaking), nothing else I'd rather be doing. No other life I wish I was living.
Last year, on this day, I was offered this job.
A year before that, I was offered a book contract for the tourist book.
A year before that, well, nothing special happened.
A year before that, I broke my arm while roller blading, just as the weekly, 11 am, air raid siren went off (that's the mid-west for you).
A year before that, I was depressed...the year before that, too, come to think of it.
The year before that, I visited Walden.
The year before that, I was in New York City.
Since last year, I got this job, moved to a big city where I actually could afford to live, moved into an apartment on the alleged 20th floor with a great view, was appreciated at my new job, had my tourist book come out, impressed the President of the college with my Douglass paper, impressed my chair and dean by just being me, nearly fell off Lookout Mountain, saw a play at the Folger (yeah, to most people: "big deal." To me: something I've wanted to do since I was 20), didn't fly a plane twice (because that would have been illegal), been to New York, Minnesota and Mississippi (and points in between), met former members of SNCC, met just some fabulous people in general including some wonderful bloggers both online and in person, and actually felt sort of alive rather than waiting to be alive.
I use this space to bitch and moan quite a bit. I'm also a rather gloomy and dark sort of person anyway. When I was a kid, my mother used to call me "Eyeore," when she wasn't calling me "Sarah Bernhardt." Which is to say that no one in my life will ever beleive me on this, but I am actually glad to be where I am for the first time in maybe ever.
Today, I have to work; but then, a week of celebrating and cake.
Let's see what happens next!
*Geddit? Forty-one is a prime number. I'm 41 today. I'm prime! I crack me up!
Friday, July 18, 2008
I responded, thanking them for their information, but assuring them that I will never ever fly American Airlines again.
July 17, 2008
Dear Mr. Bluestocking:
We have received a copy of your email and have been asked to respond.
I'm sorry to learn of the problems when you recently traveled with us. I
can understand your disappointment and frustration. Our schedules can't be
guaranteed as we must often make changes in order to resolveproblems caused by
weather, flight conditions, mechanical difficulties, or other operational
challenges. The reality is no airline can provide this guarantee. For this
reason, we cannot assume financial responsibility for our customers' personal
time lost, out-of-pocket expenses, or missed third party commitments incurred as
a result of operational difficulties.
At the risk of disappointing you further, we cannot consider your rental car reimbursement request. Still, we will do our best to maintain on-time schedules, and if it's not possible to operate as scheduled, we will try to minimize your inconvenience. If we are unable to reaccommodate you on an accepted modified itinerary, we will make an adjustment on the unused portion of your ticket. I can understand, though, your decision to rent a car instead of accepting the offered
reaccommodated itinerary. Unfortunately, sometimes we don't have too many
options to help make such situations less trying.
Also, to clarify, the responsibility to determine the provision of
overnight accommodations and related allowances is that of our personnel at our
local station.However, our stations will generally not consider the provision
when travel is disrupted by reasons beyond our control. I, discovered your
flight 1359 for June 15 was delayed because of Air Traffic Control (ATC) and
prompted by Chicago weather. When we receive instructions by ATC, we don't have
any options but to follow their mandated directives. I regret that our
station staff did not clarify our position.
The responsibility to handle adjustments to unused tickets is that of our
accounting office in Tulsa. If you have yet followed up on your request,
in order to proceed, they will need the actual unused ticket or your electronic
ticket information. Please send these documents and/or information along
with a brief explanation regarding your request to the following address via
certified mail, keeping a copy for your records:
Refund Customer Service
PO Box 582880 MD 755
Tulsa, OK 74158-2880
(918) 254-3967 (FAX)
Please allow four to six weeks for the consideration of this matter.
Also, please understand that our accounting office will ONLY address such
requests for UNUSED tickets.
Mr. Bluestocking, we do appreciate your business and look forward to
serving you again soon on American.
This is an "outgoing only" email address. If you 'reply' to this
message by simply selecting the reply button, we will not receive your
additional comments. Please assist us in providing you with a timely response to
any feedback you havef or us by always sending us your email messages via AA.com
I'm sure they will understand.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Once more, I cannot thank everyone who commented enough. Like I keep writing, I felt so isolated in this because everyone is on vacation, so any kind word made me feel much less alone. I'm pretty sure that the shit usually hits the fan in the summer, and this is why: no one with any authority or knowlege is at the office. Not that I'm saying people shouldn't get vacations. We do work our butts off all year long, but with so many people out at the same time, the conditions do exist for a real shitstorm.
Back in graduate school, we had one case that culminated in a modern revenge fantasy, written in verse, turned in as a dissertation on medieval Russian history. That's a really really really long story, spanning over a decade, that became ever more surreal with each episode. The point here being that the inciting incident occurred during a summer when interims for interims were in charge, and higher ups were on vacation. That's one of the multiple reasons that I don't want to be an administrator. You can't take a break from anything because you just know that you will be greeted with raging bonfires of crises when you return.
I don't think I want to teach summer school again, either. I don't know if I have that luxury financially (especially if I want to take those flying lessons), and I may change my mind as time passes. At the moment, I'm still quite jumpy around the office and when I cross campus. I also really don't like that feeling of being at loose ends with no one to turn to.
In trying to find anyone to turn to in this, I did end up meeting one of my union representatives. She -- yes! she! I'm still enough of a wide-eyed feminist to be thrilled when dynamic women are in positions to help me -- who was quite cool and made me feel like someone with some muscle was in my corner. Whether or not this is entirely true, part of me just needed to feel that to calm down. She had, at one time, been director of disabilities at another campus, so she knew the system and rights of the disabled from that side and gave me some great insight.
One thing that she pointed out was that an accommodation is also not a guarantee of a good grade. Apparently they get quite a few cases in which a disabled student with accommodations made less than an A or B, then wanted a portion of their grade discounted because of the disability.
I remember when I did have an administrative sort of position in which I encountered a lot of students who had disabilities -- and, damn, there are some truly tragic stories out there that break your heart. Every now and then, however, we would get someone who came in wanting a medical withdrawal from a prior semester on the basis of depression diagnosis. A medical withdrawal would give them a W for all of their courses that semester on the logic that your medical condition would affect your performance in all of your classes. In these particular cases, the student really wanted a withdrawal from the one class in which they made a bad grade, and depression turned out to be a pretty easy rubber stamp to get because, hey, who isn't depressed? (I speak as a card carrying depressive, myself -- yeah, explains a lot, right?).
Through this all, too, I realized that I have a whole lot to learn about the disabilities rights movement. To be honest, I have a literal "blind prejudice" on this subject. The disabled have been essentially invisible to me except when they are right in front of me, whether it be the man in the wheelchair waiting for the bus for the handicapped in the lobby of my building or a disabilities letter given to me by a student. I'll hold the door, or provide the accommodations, but otherwise, I don't consider the subject. That is the blind prejudice, or at least blind ignorance. That's not right.
As the rep pointed out, "disabled" is a minority-status group that anyone at anytime can join. "Open enrollment," she joked. More than that, the disabled are people who live in the world. On that basis alone, you have to consider the obstacles and discrimination that they face. If you are at all concerned about justice and civil rights, then this should be part of your concern. The rep told me, however, that the disabilities rights movement had a difficult time getting off the ground in the way other civil rights movements have and that there is this massive body of literature out there about it. I would be quite remiss not to explore it, and also to include it in the Civil Rights class next time that I teach it.
It's a shame that I had to be cussed out before I considered this; but, maybe I needed it. Rather, I needed to have some sort of trigger that actively engaged me with the issue. The student's attack made me realize that I did not have enough information about the issue of disabilities to know his or my rights, much in the same way that his attack demonstrated to me that you absolutely have to have limits on your sympathy with students, and that my limits have to come much much much sooner. The lessons that I personally take from this, however, should not in any way excuse his behavior! You just don't verbally attack people like that.
Going back to my jumpiness, another thing that I've decided to do is reconfigure my office. The desks are built-in and force you to have your back to your door. I have never liked that, but like it even less, now. I keep twitching at every noise out in the main office (mine is part of a suite), and that just screws up my concentration and gives me a headache. Some professors have brought in little computer desks so that they can move their monitors and keyboards into another position. My office is very tiny, being essentially triangular in shape, but I do have room to do that. So, I'll be making a stop at the resale shop this afternoon.
Let me tell you: I loooooove the resale shop! You never know what you will find there. Once they had a television console from the late 1950s or early 1960s, with a round screen and a record player. I desperately wanted to buy it, but could find no justification for the purchase other than, "cool!" "Cool" isn't worth $200 to me, or the pain of moving it and having it take up space. Still, "cool!"
Now, I'm writing about the resale shop, which should be my signal that I've worn out the main topic of this post and that maybe I should hop on over there now. In any case, the grade matter is out of my hands, my own lessons have been learned, and I think this signals that I am now moving on.
Now serving crisis number 6! Crisis 6, your table is ready.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I'm also quite isolated since it is the late summer session and no one is around. I was lucky that at least the student assistant was in the office yesterday, as well as another faculty member, to bear witness to the student yelling. No one who can advise me about anything else is around, and the student has gotten a lawyer, and I'm having visions of ultimately losing my job because of the ruckus. I mean, think about it: a new hire, white, southern woman teaching African American history to a 60+% black student population gets accused of racism and discrimination against the disabled. Who needs that kind of publicity? A new hire can easily not have her contract renewed next year.
I was able to talk with a disabilities counselor about the situation today. She was at least able to tell me what sort of actions that the student can take. The Dean of Students will first reprimand the student for his behavior in our meeting, then she will talk him through the grade appeals process. He also has the option of going to -- I forget the official name -- the office that handles discrimination cases. The student says that he already has a lawyer (apparently his dad is a lawyer, and politically connected -- it just gets better, doesn't it?), so he may go to one, then the other. Either way, my life for the next year just became a more unpleasant place to be. All because I don't think it is fair to remove 20% of his grade without doing the same for the other students, or at the very least the other students with disabilities.
I could go on, but I get the suspicion that would veer into unethical territory -- and may still yet. In this post, I'm trying to sort out something about the ethics that I feel that I am defending in what is about to be an administrative case. I'm also trying to sort out just what exactly broke down in the teacher/student relationship here and put me into what has the potential of turning into a serious professional circumstance.
About a year or two ago, I began to think that I wasn't a particularly ethical person. I felt as if ethics were codes to which powerful people held less powerful people, or a smokescreen. I don't think but once or twice I ever actually had to stand up for a principle. In this case, whereas I can see the student's point of view that I should give him extra special consideration because of his disability. If I were him, I'd probably be arguing the same thing that he is. But, I'm not him. I'm not the student. I'm the teacher, and the teacher has a different set of responsibilities and considerations. Part of those involve the other 34 students in the classroom with him; and another part involves the other 149 students who have to live with the same policies in my classroom. I can make the accommodations, but at what point does accommodation become special treatment?
I keep also wondering, at what point does sympathy break? When is it not safe or ethical to be sympathetic, even when your ethics rest on sympathy? How far can you take compassion and still maintain boundaries and standards? I tried to be sympathetic with this student all year, but kept getting the idea that he was scamming me somehow. I thought perhaps I was having some sort of overly cynical and perhaps, yes, racist reaction to the way that he presents himself; and he did have the paperwork necessary to get accommodation.
Then, in this meeting, especially when the racism came up and he started yelling "you just don't care about me", I began to wonder what would make this student happy. I mean more than just handing him the A he demanded. You see, his tone went up, almost whining and accusatory at the same time, like a hurt child's. He didn't seem to mean care as in "concern for your grade, your success in life, and your general humanity." He seemed to mean care as in "the way you care about your family or your friends" or "the way my mother cares about me." I felt like he was demanding an emotional involvement in his plight that, frankly, I don't think is or should be required of me. I even had this odd image of him slicing into me and eating me like that Alice in the Tom Petty "Don't Come Around Here" video.
Sympathy requires a suspension of self. You have to let this invisible membrane between yourself and the other person or people become very thin. You have to listen quietly and use only those parts of yourself that will help make this other person feel less alone and isolated in their pain.
Like a lot of students -- including myself when I was one -- this one seems to have a lot of rage and anger for a variety of reasons that I don't know about, but the general gist of which I get. I understand what it is like to feel so powerless about things that seem so unfair, or systemically biased and based on nothing that has anything to do with you or your behavior. I know what it is like to feel like, at every turn, people seem like they are out to stop you from just getting through your day. I know what it is like to feel like your anger is so wide and high and deep that you can't even imagine an end to it. It's violent, this fury, and nothing will satisfy it.
Maybe I had less to be angry about than someone else does, but I have had that emotion and I have complete sympathy for anyone else who feels that or worse. I try to listen to it and offer compassion, not that my compassion would make any difference, but having someone just hear and understand kept me from imploding or exploding (most of the time). I feel as if I've failed to do that with this student, and perhaps I have had to fail with this student.
In sympathizing, you still have to maintain that membrane between yourself and the other person, and you still have to maintain the integrity of yourself. Because of that, I had to fail in sympathizing with this student because I felt as if this student were insisting that I have no membrane and no self. His rage is all consuming and exists without compassion. He he displayed this same sort of attitude that day that he exploded over the inclusion of gays in the curriculum. Again, I get this insatiable fury, but understanding it doesn't mean that I have to give in to it.
Many years ago, a student had a dispute with a grade on a test. He and I met, and at some point in the conversation -- and it was a conversation, not a confrontation -- I realized that we were at an impasse, and that it was my job as the teacher to step back and figure out a solution. When I took a moment, I realized that the student had seriously misunderstood some basic principles, and I allowed him a second chance. Everything worked out with him from there. That has happened a few times since.
I couldn't get to that point with this student. Maybe because he walked in and engaged in a much more arrogant and confrontational manner than any other students. Maybe -- and this sounds so petty -- because he had, in fact, worked my last nerve to a frayed little thread with his classroom behavior. Maybe -- this is also petty and perhaps, yes, racist, too -- I expected more from him than the nasty sense of entitlement that I usually get from privileged white students. Maybe because he simply showed me disrespect. Maybe because he wouldn't let me finish a word, much less a thought or sentence before interrupting or talking over me. In any case, I felt completely unable to take that step back.
I know that I have the power over his grade, which makes me profoundly uncomfortable. But that grade is also my responsibility, not so much to him or his future, but to my class as a whole. The ability to evaluate and grade fairly, even with accommodations to those who need it, legitimizes my teaching and my class. As the disabilities counselor whom I first spoke with back in May said, "accommodation does not mean excused from the requirements for the course." If I remove a requirement for one person for whatever reason, I feel as if that would make the rest of my grading a joke. That would make the rest of my class, and the grades for the other students a joke.
So, I gave him what accommodations and sympathy I felt that I could while still maintaining that responsibility to my class. That wasn't enough for him. Now, I'm about to go into some deep shit for it. Some things you don't do to be liked. You do them because you believe they are right.
Monday, July 14, 2008
He's appeared in these pages before. He was the one who accused me of using my "white privilege to promote a gay agenda" after he stimulated homophobic hysteria in my classroom.
Today, in disputing his grade, he accused me of the following:
- Giving him a poor grade because he doesn't like gays
- Arbitrarily refusing to drop 20% of his grade
- Racism, again
- Selfishness, again
- Ruining his life
He became so verbally abusive and belligerent, interrupting me, ridiculing me, and, of course, accusing me of having all of the trademarks of the "White Devil" -- all at a very high volume -- that I had to call security.
I take back any complaints I may have had about them. They showed up in force. I even filed a report, as did the other two people in the office. He had stormed out by that time. Now, I get a special consideration from security, in case he shows up again, which he threatened to do. Also, he still has an incomplete from another class that he took with me.
Eventually, I will stop shaking -- he was yelling at me, for crying out loud -- and sort this all out rationally, including the ethics of mentioning it here. I just kind of want a public record, other than my report to security.