Instructor on a power trip

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    Okay all,

    I have an issue with an instructor and I need an outside perspective. It's a long one and I'll probably give to many details, so if you can bear with me, I appreciate it.

    Backstory: I am in my second semester of the RN year at a community college program (so I will have one semester to go after this, graduate in May). The program has had a lot of change and upheaval during my time there, including a new dean and a complete curriculum redesign that we got mixed into halfway through the program. It's been really frustrating for much of the time, but I've done what I can to be patient because I know change is difficult and that there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that students don't see. There have been a few instructors that I didn't care for much, either because they didn't have the knowledge/experience to back up their position, or simply because they didn't respect us at all, but I've just kept my head down, worked hard, and gotten through. I'm a good student, and have not (including now) been at risk of failing out at any time.

    This semester, the lecture portion of my class was supposed to be co-taught by two instructors. One of them left shortly before classes began for another job, so the school hired another instructor, "Ann," whose entire teaching career included a short stint at another community college in another state (she was apparently an old college friend of our new dean). From the start, it went badly: the first class the she taught solo, she was rude and accusatory. She yelled at us like second graders over perceived slights to her authority (e.g. someone rolling their eyes), and threatened to ruin anyone who even thought about trying to cheat on a quiz (something that has never been a problem).

    Good example: even though the syllabus outlines that we should "skim" the reading before lecture and then actually do the reading after, she spent ten minutes one day yelling at us for being "unprepared" for not having done the reading before class and telling us that she has "no sympathy" for us because when she was a student she knew about "proper time management." Oh yeah, by the way, this was a lecture taking place immediately after a big exam.

    Several times, she would use a high-school level vocabulary word and then stop herself and say, "Oh, you probably don't even know what that means, do you?" (Though at the same time she wouldn't concede that she was wrong about "dysphasia" not being a real word.) The classroom was always terribly tense, and several of my classmates, and even a few of our clinical instructors complained to the dean and the other instructor and the dean about how things were going.

    My own personal beef with her was that she didn't really understand the material. Her first degree was not in nursing, and she went back to school, got licensed, and worked for just a short time before going into teaching. The only preparation she would do before class was to read our textbook, but instead of admitting when she didn't know the answer to a question, she would make one up (and was usually wrong). I didn't like driving an hour each way to listen to her essentially read from the book and then let class out early because she had so little to teach. However, I just kept quiet, sat in the back of the room, and rode it out.

    After a few weeks, the other instructor "Laura" told us that they had decided to have only one instructor for each section, and so Ann would no longer be teaching our class (she's only doing the smallest of the three now...hmm). However, a week or so later, Laura became very ill and missed about two and a half weeks' worth of lectures, though she did come back for a day in the middle. Ann filled in for a few of those days, and then we were back to having only Laura.

    Five points of our grade are designated as "professionalism" points, a new fad in the new curriculum. Basically, they are taken away when someone is constantly walking in late, being disruptive in class, leaves their cell phone on, that kind of thing. It's a little insulting, but whatever...if you behave yourself it's 5 easy points. However, near the end of the time Laura was at home, there appeared on my grade report a deduction for a day that I was supposed to have been late for class a few weeks prior.

    I emailed Laura to ask about it, and she said Ann had put in that deduction and she'd check into it when she got back. I KNEW I hadn't been late that day for multiple reasons. First, we took a quiz that day, and the policy throughout the program is quizzes are given as soon as class starts, and you don't get to take it if you're late for class. I was there, I took the quiz, and the gradebook proves that. On top of that, I knew I'd arrived WITH another student that day, and I checked with her, and she was not deducted a point.

    On the last day the Laura ended up being (a Thursday), I began to get very ill. I emailed Ann (knowing she would be teaching that day) to let her know that I would be absent. I ultimately ended up hospitalized for the next three days (Fri, Sat, and Sun) with viral meningitis and then was away from school for several more recovering. Laura was very supportive and helpful during that time. However, a few days later, another deduction appeared for my absence on that Thursday that I became ill, which noted that it was "unexcused."

    The class syllabus SPECIFICALLY notes that attendance is not mandatory and this policy has been reinforced in class many times over. Laura has stated multiple times that she understands that life happens, kids get sick, work obligations can come up, that kind of thing, and so she just appreciates it if we let her know. I sent a message asking Ann about both that deduction and the one for the day I was supposed to have been late. She said that she had recorded I was late and basically that her attendance record is law no matter what, and ignored all of the issues I had with that deduction.

    She also said that "a simple email" would not be enough to excuse an absence in the workplace and so it would not be accepted for class. Not only is that NOT universally true (because that's EXACTLY what I did when I missed a work shift that Saturday and my nurse manager was fine with it), but there is NO POLICY about unexcused absences in the class (or program, for that matter)! I know MANY people who have missed class without losing points even if they didn't notify the instructor before or give a reason after AT ALL. What's more, I had missed a class early in the semester because of a sick child who couldn't go to daycare, and was not deducted for that.

    I pointed all of this out to Ann, as well as reminding her that she hadn't addressed any of problems with the "late" point. She totally ignored the second part, and said that if I had a doctor's note for the absence, I should send it to her. Luckily, my primary physician had given me one at a follow-up because he knew I was a student, even though I hadn't asked for one because I had no reason to think I'd need it. In the meantime, I met with Laura and found out that the attendance sheet DOESN'T EVEN SAY I WAS LATE the day Ann said I was.

    I sent Ann the medical excuse and AGAIN reminded her of the problems with the "late" day, plus the problem with the attendance sheet. She AGAIN ignored the part about the late day, and told me that the note would not be acceptable because it does not SPECIFICALLY list the day I was absent on it. It DOES mention that I was hospitalized the NEXT day...so she wants me to get ANOTHER note because she, as a nurse, can't ascertain that I was probably sick the day before I was hospitalized with meningitis?! Really? (I may do so just to make a point, but I'm not going to make a special trip for it, so it won't be until my next follow-up in a few days.)

    So, here I am.

    On one hand, I know it's only two points. Like I said, it's not like I'm in danger of failing the class, and so part of me thinks I should just let it go. I won't have Ann for an instructor again. And honestly, I'm just tired of wasting time dealing with this.

    On the other hand...in my first semester, if I had gotten two more points, I would have been up a whole letter grade, and I've never forgotten that.

    But furthermore, I feel like this woman is a BULLY and she needs to have someone stand up to her. (I'm not the only one who has had problems, it's just that my situation is unique so I don't have anyone else to back me up.) I'm not sure why she's teaching if she has so much contempt and so little patience for us, but something needs to change. There is a huge difference between what Ann is doing and some instructors I've had who are no-nonsense and have high expectations of us, and she needs to learn that. I have so much to back me up, so I'm reluctant to just quit.

    As for Laura, while I believe she is rooting for me silently, she does not want to "get in the middle" or try to override Ann. I can understand that because they will be colleagues on an ongoing basis, so my only recourse from here is to go to the dean of the program. (Though I do find myself wishing she would just change the grade, since this is supposed to be 'her' class now, anyway.)

    The dean has a very welcoming attitude toward students, so I'm sure he'd have no problem meeting with me. However, a few of my classmates have a bad habit of running to him and complaining about every little thing, and so I'm really reluctant to be associated with that group. My only one-on-one interaction with him was when I was working on an honors project, which he was really excited about. I hate to ruin the goodwill I've earned with him by wasting his time with something like this. On top of that, there's the issue that he and Ann are old friends, and so I'm concerned that he won't be willing to step in and force her to make it right.

    I need input - what do you all think? Should I talk to him, or should I not? Any other ideas? Thoughts?

    Thanks in advance!
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  3. 11 Comments so far...

  4. 0
    Wow, this must be a coincidence, but I just created a thread loosely similar to this one. Honestly I don't know what is up with community college nursing programs recently. If you would read my thread you will hear my story, but I have heard and experienced nothing but negativity towards CC nursing programs. I am actually in the 2nd semester of my CC and the group in 3rd semester has stated that there med/surg II teacher is also "brand new" and is a terrible teacher. The majority of the class is failing, some have only the final to rely on to boost there grade to passing.
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    I'm so sorry that you are having to deal with this. I can feel your frustration in the words you've chosen. I do know, as a RN, I deal with difficult patients, families, and colleagues on a daily basis. So you're getting great experience for your future nursing career. When I was in nursing school, there were things that came up with other students and I just tried to stay out of it. I know it's easier said than done, but try really hard to just take a deep breath. You are almost done, honey. it's important to pick your battles carefully. Ultimately, you have to seek within yourself if this is worth fighting for. Only you can answer that question. It seems to me that the Dean is receptive and could potentially make things right for you. You can't help what happened. If those 2 points could be the difference between a letter grade, hmmmm.... might be important to talk to the Dean. Just know that you're nearing the end!!!!! Hang in there!! Sending you big hugs!
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    I definitely agree with you that this sounds like unfair treatment by "Ann," but I don't know that I would go so far as to say that she is on a "power trip."

    I just don't know if meeting the dean is really worth it for a few points. I realize that it means a letter grade, but I'm not sure it is worth raising a stink.

    Now the part you may not like...the issue of the "professionalism" points. How can you say that it is insulting to be graded on professionalism? I'm sure it's insulting to get fired for being late to work too many times, but they will fire you none the less. It seems there needs to be clearer guidelines for how one loses a professionalism point, but I think they are quite fair...especially considering you are in school to become a professional.

    Also, an email is not always going to be enough to excuse you from an absence at work. (Maybe your current manager does not have an issue, but there are places that require more detailed excuses for missed weekend days).

    Finally, despite what the syllabus says, it is always best (IMHO) to read--not just skim--the text before lecture.

    My advice: don't get caught up in a urinating contest over this. Continue to work hard and don't let this incident get in the way of your education.
    Last edit by psu_213 on Nov 16, '12
    loriangel14 likes this.
  7. 3
    I'd only go to the Dean if it changes your grade for the course. If your grade drops because of those points, I would appeal the grade. If it doesn't effect your grade, let it go. Some battles aren't worth fighting. Save your energy for something more important.

    As for the "professionalism points" ... we have terrible problems with that in the workplace. It is a very real problem that the profession needs to address. At least your school is trying to do something about it.
    VickyRN, Benedina, and Halcyonn like this.
  8. 1
    I can certainly understand why you're frustrated; it's always hard to deal with difficult or demanding people. I think it's a good lesson for the workplace though.

    You mentioned that Ann gets upset at perceived slights to her authority, such as a student rolling her eyes. Sorry, I have to go with Ann on this one. Rolling your eyes at someone (or in view of someone) IS rude, and it IS a slight to her authority. I've answered the same call light 5 times in one night for a patient asking for her meds after I've already given them. It's frustrating, but I would never roll my eyes at her - we often have to display much more patience than we would ever get in return. Try to view that as a lesson that Ann is teaching you, not a power trip. (It may BE a power trip, but you have the power to change your perception.)

    It sounds like there were some struggles from the beginning in terms of respect, from both sides. If Ann walks into a classroom to teach and sees students rolling their eyes, I'm sure that doesn't give her a warm fuzzy feeling.

    My guess is that Laura doesn't want to change your grade because she would be stepping on Ann's toes, and that wouldn't bode well for Laura if Ann is so well-connected to the dean.

    Also, try to look at it this way - Ann has the ability to take 5 points off, and she only took 2. If she really wanted to mess up your academic life, she could have done a lot more. It's possible that in her mind, your absences are valid reasons for deducting points. I'm playing devil's advocate here, since I don't know her and I don't know you. My advice is to let it roll off; it doesn't seem to have a major impact on your grade or your academic performance, and you may never have to deal with this person again. Going to the dean over two points could come across as whiny, especially when you don't need them. Just try to limit your contact with her, kill her with kindness, and do a little dance at the end of the term when you're done with her.

    One of my favorite sayings: Holding onto a grudge is like drinking poison and then waiting for someone else to die.
    psu_213 likes this.
  9. 3
    "Ann" is looking for a fight - looking to make an example out of someone so that she can showcase her authority. Don't fall into that trap.

    I have a feeling that the reason why "Laura" is not going to bat for you directly is less because she's concerned about her relationship with "Ann" and more because she knows "Ann" and her boss are buddies and she doesn't want to risk losing her job. For that reason, I would also advise you not to go to the Dean unless you actually face the possibility of failing due to "Ann's" antics - ESPECIALLY if you are the first student to make a complaint against her. He is likely to side with her because 1) they're old friends and 2) she's doing him a favor by filling a faculty hole that it seems has been difficult to keep filled. Don't forget, he hired her. So if she looks bad, he looks bad.

    My best advice to you would be to document, document, document. Write down exact dates of communications between the two of you and from here on out, be sure to ONLY discuss delicate issues with her through e-mail - so that there is a paper trail and you won't have to play the he said, she said game later if the stuff hits the fan. If she approaches you wanting to discuss a delicate issue, tell her politely and respectfully that you would feel more comfortable discussing the matter through email and would she please email her question or suggestion to you.

    I've dealt with my fair share of power trippers and their #1 goal is to get you to lose your cool, because once they do, they've got you.

    Be wise. Lay low a little longer. Up the stakes for her. Let her know that it's not going to be so easy to nail you. She'll either have to blow her cover, choose another target, or let it go.

    Good Luck.
    Last edit by metal_m0nk on Nov 16, '12
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  10. 1
    psu_213 - The reason I used the word 'insulting' is not because I don't think professionalism is important, it's because adding those points to our grade implies that we need to be taught how to be professional. Not only are most of us 'non-traditional' students who have plenty of workplace experience, but a job and school are not equitable environments. My job depends on me to show up and be professional. On the other hand, students are paying the instructors to do their jobs. The only person who is negatively impacted by my absence is me, but I took responsibility for the information I missed. In fact, I missed every lecture for that unit because of the meningitis, but I still showed up to take the exam on the day it was scheduled and got the highest grade in the class that I am aware of.

    I also do realize that most of the time, email is not how people communicate an absence for work...my point was that I did so because I knew that my nurse manager prefers email because she has communicated that. Not only has Ann not put forth a policy about what is an "excused" absence, the syllabus specifically states that absences don't need to be excused. What would be accepted in any given workplace is completely beside the point.
    Last edit by snapshot on Nov 16, '12
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    llg - Unfortunately, the policy in the program is that I can't wait until my final grade is in to back and try to get something changed. The only reason I'm still able to be even contesting these points is that they weren't even deducted until well after the 'late'/absence occurred. If I wait until I need them at the end of the semester, it will be too late to get them returned.

    logank622 - I can understand where you're coming from, and maybe I didn't explain this well, but the issues with Ann's attitude started immediately, before any interactions with us. That first day that she taught, she was YELLING, demanding SILENCE in the classroom ten before the class was scheduled to start. Then she immediately launched into the speech about how she was getting ready to hand out a quiz and all the things she would do to anyone who tried to cheat - completely unprompted. (Not to mention, the cheating policy is in the syllabus and our handbook, as it has been every semester.) I can't personally speak to any incidences of eye rolling or anything directed toward her, but I can tell you that I certainly have not done so. She is not a victim of any sort of mistreatment from me in any way.

    triquee - I think you're pretty spot on about the dynamics among the three. And I've been doing exactly as you said - all of my interactions with Ann about this have been through email, at first just because I don't see her on a regular basis, but now because I want to have documentation. Someone suggested that I meet with both her and the Dean, and honestly, the reason I don't want to do that is not because I'm afraid I'll lose my cool, but because she is SO CONFRONTATIONAL at all times, and I tend to freeze up in the presence of people like that. I don't think it would do any good.

    Thanks for your input, all!
    Benedina likes this.
  12. 2
    Problem with many instructors is they forget they work for you. You are a consumer. I've dealt with this a few times and went straight to the Dean. So many people are so scared to do anything when this happens...guess what?.. if your a good student it doesn't matter.

    But you can put you head down and take it also. Right now you are the customer...when you become a RN, then your patient is the customer...that's when you have to accept some grief.

    But I also feel strongly about giving people my money and them not showing a certain level of respect in return. It's really up to what your personal beliefs are.
    squidbillies and Red35 like this.


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