Professor is “Person of Interest” in Crime Against Civility

My contract starts up again on Monday, and one of the things I’ll be working on before classes start is Xeroxing my yellow and red warning cards–if anyone’s late to class one time, it’s an automatic yellow card, no matter the reason. Late a second time? Red card.

Once you get a red card, you have two options: go talk to our Student Services Director, so he can either kick some serious ass, or do some problem solving. Option #2 means you go to our Roadrunner Café Lunch Ladies and you do


You don’t get to come back to class until you have the signature from one of those folks.

The policy applies to me as much as my students, and it’s kept me on time, as much as it has my students. (Before motherhood, I swear I was NEVER late to class. But the last 7.5 years, I’ve felt so scrambled for time that I’m always thinking I can get just one more thing done before I walk over to class….)

Sure, it’s a little juvenile, which one of my consistently-tardy students complained, immediately, loudly, last fall when I introduced the cards. But, as another student said to him, “So get to class on time.”

What I like about this policy is that #1, it worked. #2, it was silly enough to bring some lightness to the subject. #3, it was so clear-cut that there wasn’t much fussing about it when someone was late. I think the idea began germinating when one of my colleagues said he has a cardboard box at the front of the room and anyone who was late had to bring a donation for the food pantry the next class period. I liked that, but then there’s a box to deal with, and worrying about students stealing ramen when I wasn’t looking. Warning cards seemed easier, and sillier. (And as we always used to say at Lake Benton Baptist Camp, soccer players have the best legs.)

All the best advice about handling classroom incivility involves making expectations clear and enforcing rules consistently.

The red card/yellow card (in addition to now implying that I perhaps watched more than three minutes of the Summer Olympics) allows me to be clear and consistent.

Do I wish, as a college professor, that I didn’t have to do anything like this, ever?

Sure. But if wishes were horses, I’d find them alarming and probably be allergic to them.

Part of what helps me love my job is that I try to teach the students I have, not the students I wish I had. And honestly? If I had the students I wish I had, I’d probably miss the ones I have now.

If I get out of teaching anytime soon, it won’t be because of my students.

We’ve seemed to have waves of tardiness at UW-Richland in the 20 years I’ve been there. Some semesters it’s an issue, most semesters not.

But I try not to blame students for this, not after I’ve made my expectations clear. I teach at a two-year campus, so I’m getting a lot of 18- and 19-year-old hooligan-wannabes, and my thinking is that they are JUST NOW absolutely responsible for themselves.

I’ve explored the issue of civility in the classroom a number of times in workshops that I facilitated, and that workshop is now available online, at the UW Colleges Virtual Teaching and Learning Center. It’s a narrated power point, and you can watch/listen any time you want, should you want to.

I try to emphasize the notion that if things are going badly in the classroom, it is, first and foremost, the professor’s job to figure out why. It behooves us, frankly, to look at ourselves as a “person of interest” in the case of crimes against civility.

These workshops have worked best in groups where faculty, staff, and students were present—otherwise, it’s too easy for one group to complain about the others. In groups with a cross-section, too, it becomes clear that there isn’t one right way to handle any of this. I would never say, for example, that everyone, or even anyone other than me, should use red warning cards as a way to curb tardiness. It works for me; it’s up to us to find what works for us.

I’m genuinely fond of students, and that comes across pretty consistently, but I’m still guilty of what they’d list as “bad professor behavior” sometimes–being too disorganized. It’s a relative thing, of course. I’m way more organized than some of my peers, and I’m not joking at all when I say I think there’s a lot of undiagnosed ADHD in academia.

But I’m more organized all the time, and one of the BIG crimes against civility I’ve been guilty of over the years–taking too long to return student work–is REMARKABLY improved (which is why I keep remarking on it–a fair number of the posts in my blog on procrastination have to do with this issue).

In fact, the fact that you can access a perfectly lovely version of the narrated power point on the VTLC site is proof I’m more organized. I offered to narrate it last spring so Jennifer Heinert, the current director of the VTLC, could make it part of an online workshop. I didn’t know at the time, but if you use a Mac to narrate a power point, the narration is likely to just cut out. Randomly. I didn’t have time to fix it last spring, but since Jennifer was getting good feedback on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Civility and Responsibility in the Classroom,” I wanted to make it right, and I told her I’d fix it over the summer.

It took several tries of narrating test power points on the Mac before I finally Googled the issue and found out it was mostly the Mac. Then I had to line up a mic for my office PC. Then I had to copy/paste each slide into a new document, because the mix of ppt/pptx in the old one was making the whole thing freeze up in places.

So it wasn’t perfect last spring, in terms of content, and it’s still not. I wish it were even more of a scholarly project—hope someone else can move it in a more rigorous SoTL/Scholarship of Teaching and Learning direction. It was absolutely FLAWED last spring in terms of execution. Still, it did some good, and now it’s fired up and ready to go for the fall semester.

Thus, even though I do not technically, typically score high in conscientiousness self-assessments, I am capable of doggedly finishing a project.

In this case, it’s because I have immense respect for Jennifer Heinert, and the original UWC VTLC Director, Nancy Chick, and I’m thrilled to be a part of what is a really valuable resource for us in the UW Colleges (and elsewhere—it’s online! It’s free! It’s pretty-much open access! It might be a MOOC!)

But I was also determined to make it work better because civility in the classroom is so important, and if I can do anything to spark conversations that make civility more common, I’m on it.

[The original title of this blog was “Kids These Days,” but I changed it. Even ironically, I didn’t like adding to that chorus. It’s not that I think my students always behave in lovely ways. They don’t, and I call them on it. But “kids these days” not only makes me sound old and crabby even when I insist I’m trying to make a joke about it, it’s not “these days.” I was very squirrelly as a first-year college student, and that was nearly 35 years ago. I was so squirrelly that my son would probably rate it as “Volume A.”]

4 responses to “Professor is “Person of Interest” in Crime Against Civility

  1. Good luck with your classes tomorrow! The fall semester at the tech school where I help out in the bookstore began on 8/15. Guess I am just weird, but I have always been early for everything and can’t stand to be late. The fact that I was born two months early may have played a role in this. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment that there is a lot of undiagnosed ADHD in academia. I can think of at least four of my former professors who would probably fall into that category, if they were properly tested…

  2. I like this idea! And will check out the workshop, now am very curious

  3. Camtasia would work well for combining video/audio with PowerPoint.

    • I’ll check it out–I kept thinking it was going to be easy to narrate the ppt, but it wasn’t, not with the Mac. With the PC, it was easy breezy, but I’m not the one who put it online (so I think there are easier ways to go about it).

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