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Author Topic: Dealing with a Difficult Instructor  (Read 958 times)

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Offline Aludiana of the DuskTopic starter

Dealing with a Difficult Instructor
« on: September 13, 2011, 08:20:39 AM »
I'm taking my classes online this semester, which I generally like better than taking classes on campus, because it lets me work at my own pace. And it could just be that I'm blowing things out of proportion here, but I feel like I'm repeating one of the first classes I ever took online where the instructor thought they were the end-all be-all authority because the course was on the internet.

To begin with, she seems intent on either "fixing" my Asperger Syndrome by forcing me into situations that I find stressful, or she doesn't believe someone with my disability belongs working in the public service sector of the library and is trying to convince me to quit. I've registered with the college's Disability Support, and I have a list of special accommodations and considerations, one of them being the option to opt out of a group project and complete an alternate assignment at any time if it is something I feel my disability would cause problems with, or if I feel uncomfortable working with the other people in my assigned group.

I decided to go ahead and opt out after some consideration, its an online class, most of the students live in the Indianapolis area and I have no way of meeting with them in person, unless I ask my mother to take me and just sit around for a few hours until I need a ride home (that isn't an option for me) or I insist that everyone else bend over backward for me and come here (again, that's just plain rude). Trying to work with people when you can't meet up in real time is hard enough, and when I try to explain my disorder to most people they either think I'm making it up or its something I've found on the internet and am using it as an excuse to just be difficult and not do my work. I tried explaining this to the instructor, and she declined to let me opt out until there was a problem, but if I did, I would have to complete all the extra credit assignments and pass the final with an A or I would fail the class. That didn't seem right to me so I went over her head to Disability Support, and the issue was resolved. But I seem to have have a target placed on my forehead since then.

Each week, there is an assigned discussion that takes place in a forum setting akin to E, except that it is contained within the online course software. In the week that I went over her head and complained, I only recieved partial points because my responses to other people's discussion contributions weren't "on topic." However, she never defined what "on topic" meant in that situation. So while my posted responses  did veer off the topic of "Qualities that are Useful for Working the Reference Desk," they were made in response to posts that veered off of that topic.  I was able to argue my way up from 0 points to 3 points out of 5. After that, she changed the rubric to reflect what on topic meant.

Now, I have 0 points for last week's discussion as well, because I didn't make my posts before Wednesday. I know I'm not the only one in this boat, but she changed the syllabus sometime between now and last week to reflect that, only I don't know when because she never informed us of the change. Now, normally, I would call up the department head and complain, but my instructor is the department head, so I'm not sure who to call other than the dean of student services. Not to mention that in the past when I've made supposedly anonymous complaints, my grades have been changed, or my discussion participation assignments have disappeared (just mine, nobody else's).

Maybe I am being paranoid, but I feel like this instructor is out to get me. I have to pass this course to graduate, and I'm two semesters away from graduating, so I'm not about to quit. Not to mention its too late for me to drop the class and pick up a new one. I'm a little worried that if I try and transfer into another section of the class, I might face the same problems, since my current instructor is the department head; and I'm leery of making another complaint due to past experience. I feel like I shouldn't have to suffer through this shit just to graduate on time, but at the same time, I just want to get through this class and graduate.

Offline tsc

Re: Dealing with a Difficult Instructor
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2011, 10:26:15 AM »
You definitely shouldn't have to suffer through it.  You have a recognized disability, and the instructor should be professional enough to deal with that, and not to let their own feelings/prejudices/etc. affect your grade.

As you note, though, with the instructor being the department head, you're in a difficult position.  He likely has tenure as well, which means the university would have a tough time firing him, so he's not going to be worried much about potential damage to his career from this.

You say that complaints that were supposed to be anonymous seem to have been acted on before.  Was that in this class, or in previous classes you've taken?  If it's this class, it may be that his "extra swing" as department head is getting someone to toady to him.  If it was in other classes, then it could be a pattern of behavior.

If I were in your shoes, I'd probably try to tough it out -- it's just one class, you're partway through it, and, as you say, if you try to switch to another professor, you may still have problems.  I'd do my best to toe the line 100% and not give him anything to complain about or mark me down on.

You're not me, though, so that may not be in your nature.  If it's not, then you definitely need to tell someone in authority.  I'd suggest reporting what's happened, including your suspicions that what was supposed to be anonymous wasn't kept that way, to both Disability Support and to the Dean, letting both know that you've reported it to both.  That makes it more likely that it will be kept properly anonymous, and that they'll realize you're serious.

If you've had assignments disappear, then I'd recommend too that you make a second copy of *everything*.  Tell the Dean about the "disappearing" assignments, and ask if he has any suggestions for what to do about that.  If no one has any other suggestions, and you're posting them to a discussion forum at the school, try to take screenshots that show adjacent posts as well, so you have some evidence of when you submitted the assignments.

Good luck!

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Re: Dealing with a Difficult Instructor
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2011, 12:13:55 PM »
If no one has any other suggestions, and you're posting them to a discussion forum at the school, try to take screenshots that show adjacent posts as well, so you have some evidence of when you submitted the assignments.

I really like this bit.

Offline Aludiana of the DuskTopic starter

Re: Dealing with a Difficult Instructor
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2011, 12:36:33 PM »
You say that complaints that were supposed to be anonymous seem to have been acted on before.  Was that in this class, or in previous classes you've taken?  If it's this class, it may be that his "extra swing" as department head is getting someone to toady to him.  If it was in other classes, then it could be a pattern of behavior.

That was in other classes; the disappearing assignments were from an english class also taught by a department head who chose to ignore my accommodations, because she thought my disability was made up. When she found out it was real (after the assignments had been made to disappear) she changed her tune and offered to give me until she had to turn in grades to redo the assignments. Since then, I learned to type everything I submit in a Word document, as well as print out my assignments after they have been submitted.

I also make a habit of printing out my grades at the beginning of each week, after a math class with a generally horrible teacher who was using the fact that he was hired to teach a math course to take free courses from the school. I had been printing out my grades from that class and giving them to my dad (he used to be an experimental machinist for GM/Delco when they had contracts with NASA) anyway, so we had proof when they were changed. I got my tuition refunded for that course and he got fired.

So yeah, it does seem to be pattern behavior with the instructors in the online classes, at least. I'll be on campus for appointments next week, so I will probably talk to the Dean of Student Services and my Disability counselor then.

Offline tsc

Re: Dealing with a Difficult Instructor
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2011, 01:33:12 PM »
Good to hear that they actually fired someone when you had proof -- shows that they are taking things seriously.  Definitely talk to the Dean and your counselor.  They're the people who should be advocating for you, if there's a problem.

Again, good luck with it!

Offline Marina

Re: Dealing with a Difficult Instructor
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2011, 09:05:09 PM »
Aludiana,

I completed 1/2 of my bachelor's degree at an online university. I see the value in this type of learning situation versus the traditional classroom setting because as you said it allows one to learn at their own pace. I have an anxiety disorder so it definitely made me more willing and able to participate in discussions.

It is great that you were able to get accommodations squared away with disability services. Do your accommodations allow you to have extra time to turn in assignments/discussion posts? For example, I was allowed an extra two days to turn in an assignment. Have you tried to speak with your contact in the disability office to explain that you feel you are being penalized unfairly? You have legal rights which entitle you to be treated the same as any other individual in your class.

My advice would be to speak with disability services or an academic counselor/adviser. Explain to them the entire scenario beginning to end. Get there take on it. Ask them what steps you as a student can take when you disagree with a grade. You could also explain you feel uncomfortable approaching your instructor due to past disagreements/discussions.

Best of luck on the rest of your semester. You seem like an intelligent and ambitious individual. You got this class in the bag!

- Marina