30 January, 2013

Epic Fail

Just a brief note to howl (at moon), moan, groan, or complain but mostly to release a long deep sigh.

A few days ago I chanced to look at my course evaluations from last semester. I tried not to, but I'm always hoping there will be a fresh idea that I ought to try out or add to the course. Like most faculty, I am quick to dismiss all of the positive comments and then let a negative one fester for several days.

The one that is festering was from my sophomore-level course in behavior modification. Toward the end of this course, I try to create a tolerance toward those who are different or challenged, especially those with intellectual disabilities or those on autism spectrum. My lectures, films, guest lecture, discussions. It's a big deal - trying to get them to presume competence when, based on appearance, many folks tend to presume incompetence. It is a challenge to learn that different doesn't mean worse or inferior.

I have some some physical challenges - a damaged heart, diminished lung function, and a left arm (See: Missing Extremities) that hangs flaccidly. Last semester was difficult, over the summer I had developed a need for supplemental oxygen (which I am optimistic about getting off of). So I lecture with a nasal canula giving me little puffs of O2. No big deal. Most students stop noticing that I have differences pretty quickly. Familiarity does that. (See: undifference)

So I was quite surprised to read a student's comments to the effect that I obviously couldn't do the job with my disabilities and that I should be made to retire!

So much for tolerance, for embracing difference, for looking past the obvious. This student clearly didn't learn what I was attempting to teach. It makes me feel like I wasted my time. I may need to revise my Minority Report. I certainly hope I wasn't just tilting at windmills.

That sense will pass, and I'll feast again on the students who wrote that they had to work harder than they wanted but learned a lot, that it was an excellent course, that I was their favorite professor, or that I "rule."