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Tales From Real Life: A Civility Lesson

I’d been teaching for 25 years when I lost my authority. Up until that point, I was a great teacher: high student evaluations, distinguished teaching award recipient, students clamoring to get into my courses. But now here was “Kevin,” dismissing me in front of an entire class.

Flash back to a week earlier when my chairperson asked me to take the class of a colleague who was sick. As it was early in the semester, I was at liberty to teach whatever I chose, and therefore selected my most motivating topic.

The students were attentive, some even enthusiastic, but not Kevin, who groaned at my clever comments. He realized that I was a “substitute” with scant authority to influence his future. Although I was taken aback by his rudeness, I, too, believed ours to be a one-time encounter, so let it slide.

The following week, I learned my colleague would be out for the entire semester, and I was asked to take his course permanently. As I walked into class this second time, my eyes intentionally met Kevin’s as his rolled back in his head, and he gave out an audible sigh that communicated, “What is SHE doing here again?” I announced, “Dr. Brown is out for the semester; I am now your professor for this course.”

Kevin instantly put on his engagement-face, became a model student, and my great-teacher status immediately returned. Had I become a more effective teacher overnight, or was there something occurring within Kevin that accounted for this rapid turn-around? Did my newfound authority, which Kevin perceived could now reward or punish him for his actions, motivate Kevin to be civil?

—Cynthia Desrochers
California State University

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More Issues of the Advocate

  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2010
  • anc_dyn_linksDecember 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksOctober 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksJune 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksSpecial Salary Issue 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksFebruary 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksDecember 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksOctober 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksJune 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksSpecial Salary Issue 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksFebruary 2008

Thriving in Academe

  • anc_dyn_linksClassroom Civility
  • anc_dyn_linksTales From Real Life: A Civility Lesson
  • anc_dyn_linksDesperately Seeking Civility
  • anc_dyn_linksBest Practices: Assumptions We Can Make About One Another
  • anc_dyn_linksIssues To Consider: Thinking On Your Feet
  • anc_dyn_linksReferences & Resources