How can I hack this teaching while disabled situation?
October 24, 2013 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Community college. Some students are sitting so I can't see them from my wheelchair. They're getting away with stuff in significant part because I can't see them. What are some strategies here?

As per the administration, I can't assign seats. My being in a wheelchair makes it arguably harder to catch things. There are some students who sit in areas where I can't see them at all when I'm behind the (standing height) computer. The wheelchair also makes it impossible to walk around the room -- there's enough space for me to go back and forth in front, that's it. I have two students who were in a fist fight two or three weeks ago, and they sit strategically so I can't see them. If these guys are in another fight, I'm strong enough to intervene but I would need a jetpack to get to them.

So, options? I know about the ADA but don't want to speculate about how that applies here.
posted by angrycat to Education (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Large mirror at the back of the room that is slightly angled down should give you a view of what's going on in the back of the room.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:14 AM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh and to note: I don't like to bust people if they are say drawing pictures of fishes. I don't even make texting an issue. But this is more of an ongoing disruption of the class/ possible violence issue.
posted by angrycat at 4:18 AM on October 24, 2013

If people are fighting in your class it seems to me that the next step is kicking them out of your class. Is the administration amenable to holding it's students to any standard of decorum?

Actually intervening in a situation like this really shouldn't have to be your job. You're teaching folks who are technically adults, right? I'd trot out something at the start of class like, "if you do not wish to be an active participant in this class, you are free to leave."

It's not fair to you or the students to have to try to learn in an environment with a bunch of brawling nincompoops.
posted by phunniemee at 4:42 AM on October 24, 2013 [26 favorites]

How much leeway with the room do you have? Could you get a work order placed for minor alterations like mirrors or a new teachers desk? Switching classrooms would likely be the easiest option, even if it meant simply switching rooms with another class.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:43 AM on October 24, 2013

Can you not threaten to flunk them? What are your college's security policies? If you know who they are, you have the power to kick them out, don't you?

The only other thing I can think of is changing the desks to a semicircle setup.
posted by emjaybee at 4:49 AM on October 24, 2013

If you have disruptive, potentially violent students that you can't trust, throw them out of your class.
posted by empath at 4:50 AM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Can you modify the computer setup somehow so you're not stuck behind the podium/whatever? I'm not sure if the computer is built-in or if it's your laptop. If it's built-in, you could talk to classroom services (or whatever they're called--whoever's responsible for that computer) about finding a way to project from your laptop instead. If it's your laptop, this is probably a matter of finding a longer VGA cable (or a M/F VGA cable to extend what's there) and something of appropriate height to set your laptop on.
posted by hoyland at 4:52 AM on October 24, 2013

I would be absolutely shocked if the community college refused to install a new desk that you could see over.

That said, if students became violent in my class, I would 1- call the campus/city police if they or other students were in danger 3- Cancel the remainder of the class 3- Talk to my department chair about the incident with the assumption that they would be disciplined at the college level, presumably by suspension/expulsion. I would make it very clear that I expected never to see them again.
posted by deadweightloss at 4:55 AM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: The latest decree from administration is that I can write somebody up and kick them out of the classroom, but I need to catch them in disruptive behavior. What I have is information from a student, which I can't use (student must file their own report) and a lot of noises indicating reluctance/ dismay/ boredom coming from one or two or a few students I can't see -- all of them deny making noise.

I should note it's never been suggested that I'm responsible for breaking up a fight. But I am concerned that another fight will happen. The earlier fight was immediately prior to my class in a common area, so I wasn't involved. The complaining student may file a report, but I wouldn't count on it, as there is a strong anti-snitch culture here.

I should note that at our feeder high school, violence is pretty common. A teacher was put in the hospital last week.

Changing the desk set up may be the way to go. Changing the room set up, in terms of chairs, would be physically impossible; changing rooms as well as asking for the installation of a mirror would cause upset. Not that I'm unwilling to make some noise, I just want to do so as strategically as possible.

Whether I can flunk somebody on the basis of their bad behavior -- I can easily dock their grade, but going to F stage is going to require some testimony on my part. Which is going to be limited as long as I can't see what's going on.
posted by angrycat at 5:08 AM on October 24, 2013

I think you might have to be tough before it gets to fistfighting. Don't allow texting, surfing facebook, or holding side conversations. Put it on your syllabus: that if non-class use of technology occurs, there will be no cell phones, Ipads or laptops allowed in the room. Then stick to it. And then what does it mean to crack down on it with college students? You have to make it part of the grade -- "class participation." First infraction means an F in class participation that day. But don't forget, put it *on the syllabus.* Then it's not up for discussion. Sorry it is policy.
But the way you present it, is you say on the first day (or now, when you are implementing the policy): I believe you should get credit for showing up, participating and paying attention. So you will automatically get an A for each day you do that, because I want to give you credit for your efforts when I know you have a lot going on. But then, other people who don't try don't get that A for participation and in fact they get an F when they fail at trying to succeed and to have us all succeed. Students will actually be grateful to have their efforts acknowledged and to have an orderly classroom really.

And basically, if you are in the kind of social world where fist fighting occurs, you should get credit for showing up and paying attention and trying -- why not add the equivalent of a quiz grade to their grade for that.

Seriously, I teach at a place where there would never be actual fist fights, and most of my classes are filled with students trying to impress me. But when I have the occasional class of bored freshmen taking my class as a requirement and sneaking facebook under their notebook, the ONLY thing that works is being really strict from the get-go. It is a lot easier to loosen up than to tighten up later.
And, I am not in a wheelchair, but if grown up big people started to fistfight in my class I would call campus security. Just like I called 911 when someone fainted in my class -- it is beyond my capacities to help with that, I needed a professional. Fist fighting would fall into that category for me.
posted by third rail at 5:09 AM on October 24, 2013

Response by poster: (the players are also big man/ little woman, which makes me more nervous in terms of people getting hurt)
posted by angrycat at 5:13 AM on October 24, 2013

Just to clarify my answer above: I mean all that about overall control and strictness as a way to solidify your authority, not as a derail.
posted by third rail at 5:18 AM on October 24, 2013

Just as a side note, please don't try and break up any fights. That's how a lot of teachers have been killed. Taking a punch is bad enough but you also don't know who has a knife or worse.

Anyway, even if you can't assign seats permanently, after the students come into class can you ask the first couple rows to switch with the last couple rows or something like that, to mix it up? There are probably students who you can trust to sit in the back, but they're apparently not the students who choose to sit there.

Also, isn't not being able to see sections of the class a problem for answering questions and for those students to be able to interact with the class? I can see why the students are acting bored and huffy, if they can't even see you.
posted by rue72 at 5:21 AM on October 24, 2013

The proper policy for the school to have would be to have campus security available by phone, a.k.a. the people trained to handle violence. Could you ask that a security officer check in on the class midway through? Is there one, and do you have the number in case you hear anything from that area that sounds violent?

Also, if the room isn't full to the gills, could you ask the administration if roping off the seats you cannot see is a good compromise? That's not assigning seats; the students are free to choose any of the free seats next to whoever they want, as long as they sit where they can be seen. I would think this doesn't just apply to this issue but just academic honesty in general.
posted by itsonreserve at 5:28 AM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think you might have to be tough before it gets to fistfighting. Don't allow texting, surfing facebook, or holding side conversations.

If they're on the verge of fighting, a "no texting" policy isn't going to do anything.

I would talk to security and ask if they can have someone stand in the back of the room for a class or two. It might be a temporary solution, but you might be able to formulate a plan for a mirror or accommodations by then.

On preview: roping off the out-of-view seats is a good idea.
posted by starman at 5:31 AM on October 24, 2013

If they're on the verge of fighting, a "no texting" policy isn't going to do anything.

I am sorry I wasn't clear. Students have to think this is a no-nonsense class from the beginning or they won't respect you. They are taking advantage of the teacher. There are classes where they act out more than others, and you have to set a tone and connect it to grades.
posted by third rail at 5:33 AM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Could you use a webcam pointed at the trouble spots?
posted by royalsong at 5:42 AM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Does your school have a disability services office or someone else who is responsible for knowing and enforcing your rights under the ADA? Because I actually think the bigger issue is that you're not allowed to forbid students from sitting where you can't see them. That's a problem not just because these kids are fighting, but because it's darned near impossible to teach a classroom where you can't see the students. I would escalate to whomever is in charge of this issue, and insist that you be allowed to enforce a rule that students must sit where you can see them. If that doesn't work, go back to that person, and ask what other accommodations are available to you to put you in the same position that a teacher who teaches standing up would be.
posted by decathecting at 5:51 AM on October 24, 2013 [15 favorites]

Web cam on top of the monitor pointing outward toward class. You don't have to record anything depending on your schools policies but you could have a small window open on the computer monitor in question so you can clearly see all students. Heck most people would not even register it is there as it's a common sight on a monitor.
posted by wwax at 5:59 AM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

a lot of noises indicating reluctance/ dismay/ boredom coming from one or two or a few students I can't see -- all of them deny making noise

That would be my cue to stop teaching and just sit there in stony silence looking around the room until there was quiet again.

This strategy would of course fail if the majority of students were not there to learn. But in that case I wouldn't be accepting the class in the first place; I'm not their babysitter.
posted by flabdablet at 6:10 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could you get a TA or intern to be an extra set of eyes for you?
posted by jquinby at 6:13 AM on October 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'd see if you can get a proctor for your class. Perhaps work with a student on an "independent study" for credit and have them sit in the back with the troublemakers. That person can text you, and you can bust them at that time.

Webcams are good as well.

But for sure your administration needs to accomodate you in this, so take it to your ADA inclusion folks/HR as an issue where you need a resolution.

I'd also discuss the issue with each person separately. Explain that this is college, not the high school cafeteria and that if they can't behave like law abiding adults that you'll be asking them to leave the class. Additionally, since this is 100% voluntary that you won't abide disruption.

One trick I had, when I wasn't sure who was disrupting, was to stop, be silent for a moment and then in my most authoritative voice say. "That's Enough. You may leave now." And just wait until the culprit gathered his or her things and left. I wouldn't say another word until the person left. The other students would get fidgity and say, "Dude, go!" Just wait. Soon enough that person will suck his or her teeth, say something disrespectful, and then bounce. As the door was closing I'd fix the class with a stare and ask, "Anyone else like to leave? There's the door."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 AM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

A teeny tiny hack: make a habit of randomly calling on students to participate in the classroom dialogue (or, better, to do things like passing out handouts and stuff). If your spidey sense goes off, "randomly" call on one of those students and pull them out of the escalating situation. Worth a shot. Used this in a classroom situation where I had a dating couple in 3-hour evening class who would inevitable end up fighting before the night was over. Your situation is way more serious, but. . .

Another microhack: your students don't have to remain where they sat when they come in. Say you have mini group project at the beginning of the class. Pedagogy would recommend that you randomly number off the students and then have them reconnoiter together. To save time, of course, you'd just have them remain seated in these new groups until the end of the session. You won't get away with this every class period but it'll catch them off guard from time to time.
posted by Kalatraz at 6:25 AM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

I assume this is a classroom that many people other than you use, so it doesn't make sense to request permanent changes; then the challenge is that you'd need a jetpack to make those temporary changes every day/week. If you had a TA, or even a cheap minion who didn't have to know anything about the material, that person's job could include arriving 10 minutes before class to rope off the areas you can't see (or stack those chairs to the side of the room to prevent anyone sitting in them), and then to sit where he/she can see what's going on during class. When there's a disturbance, you accuse in the general direction, and your minion points out the perpetrators and would be the one to sign the paperwork as a witness.

If you can't hire anybody, I like the idea of placing webcams to give you an enhanced viewing angle.
posted by aimedwander at 6:28 AM on October 24, 2013

Oof. I work as a paramedic affiliated with the hospital right next to your feeder high school. I'm really impressed with the patience and understanding anyone who teaches in the township has. I have met some really excellent teens/young adults there, but I understand exactly the social factors that give rise to problem students. So, well done for caring enough to ask the question, because there are definitely educators I have seen who wouldn't.

You can't ask your students to snitch for you. Is your classroom full? Can you get one of your more enthusiastic students to rope off the sections you can't see before these other kids show up? Or they have those fisheye mirrors for looking at blind spots with cars, at least as a very temporary measure until you get your desk situation sorted. Webcams kind of skeeve me because of the whole surveillance aspect, but I understand if they work for your situation.
posted by skyl1n3 at 6:58 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can't assign seats, can you make some seats simply unavailable?

Can you call the suspected troublemaker(s) up front to "help" you with something, or to "help" another student?
posted by windykites at 7:17 AM on October 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas, folks.

One issue is that I'm a part-time adjunct. Having a TA is a beautiful idea but no way is that going to happen.

I'm reluctant to make my disability an issue at my job, like, I'm phobic about it, but this is one situation where folks' education and safety depends on my having a clear view, so I will press it. Having students just not sit in that one area might do the trick. We'll see what admin says.
posted by angrycat at 7:52 AM on October 24, 2013

Assuming there are more seats than students, and room for everyone to be in places where you can see them, can you not just say, at the beginning of lecture, "Can I have everybody sitting in the back corner to move to [better place]? I can't see you guys back there, which makes it hard to teach you anything, right?" Keep it light and not focused on particular troublemakers. Anyone who refuses is welcome to leave and/or drop the class.

I don't really get why the people getting into fistfights are even still at the school? Your goal there needs to not be "how would i break up a fistfight" but "how can I get these people out of my class, and possibly out of the school".
posted by Sara C. at 10:22 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a community college student and though I am not shocked by the behavior of some of your students I am surprised that no one you work with is giving you tips on how to manage your classroom effectively. This would not be happening at the college I attend. The first day of class we are given a written description of expectations. Classroom behavior is clearly spelled out; no texting, no private conversations, no smelling like pot (Humboldt County)(not in every class), etc. I have seen students kicked out of class for much less than you are describing. I attend with many kids that are either still in high school or that have just graduated and they sometimes seem to need to push the instructors at the beginning of the term but that ends very quickly after they see the teachers step up and demand compliance.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:11 PM on October 24, 2013

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