I’ve been debating whether to bother posting about the current drama in my writing class; but I think I see the larger lesson in it which might in the end be valuable.

I may have mentioned previously that the instructor is a bit of a control freak. She’s very precise about how things should be done, & if a student doesn’t follow her guidelines she is quick to point out the mistake.

A bad taste had already been left in my mouth after an incident about a month ago. This is an online class, so the students come from around the world. One student lives in England & is married to an Italian. Apparently, her husband’s family lived in L’Aquila, where the 6.3-magnitude April earthquake was centered. This fellow student traveled with her husband to Italy to help his family salvage what they could from their home and to figure out what they were going to do next. She knew there was an assignment due for our class the week she was going to be in Italy. She took her laptop with her and had planned to email it to our instructor while she was in Italy. Unfortunately, when she got to the region, she discovered she couldn’t get reliable internet access. Not surprising since the town she was in had been devastated by a major earthquake only a few weeks earlier. It took her another couple days to end up in a town that had internet access where she could email her assignment 2 days late. She provided an explanation of why she was late, & sincerely apologized. Instead of saying she understood, & acknowledging that these were of course extraordinary circumstances, the instructor posted a message to the entire class reminding us to have back up plans–like internet cafes, the library, or a friend’s computer–to be able to turn our assignments in on time. I’m sorry, that was a completely insensitive response to the situation. Still, I put it behind me & went on with the class.

So, then last week happened.

I worked on my submission, which as I understood the prompt, was to apply the week’s techniques to a sketch we had previously submitted and that would be expanded into our final projects–a 10-page short story. I understood “sketch” to mean that I could take the story idea I had submitted and work on the story. I didn’t realize I had to work on the exact same scene again. So, when the instructor posted to the message board about my piece she asked how I had failed to understand the prompt & that my piece didn’t satisfy the requirement & she refused to give any feedback. At first I apologized and explained how I had understood the prompt, and I was willing to accept that I wouldn’t receive credit. She then posted again by copying & pasting the prompt and highlighting & bolding the relevant parts of the prompt to ask how I had understood it to mean what I had thought it meant. At this point I was a little taken a back. I think we can all agree that using bold & highlighting format in an online post implies yelling. I definitely felt like I was being yelled at. So, I decided to see how everyone else in the class had handled the assignment. Half the class got a similarly worded/formatted email from her. I wasn’t the only one who failed to understand the prompt that she insisted was perfectly clear. Rather than argue with her, I let it go. She was the one being unprofessional and being unwilling to acknowledge that maybe there was a clarity problem with the prompt.

Then, this weekend, she posted an “apology” for the way she had handled the incident. While the (long) post started out as an apology, it soon devolved into a trainwreck. She accused us of not bothering to read the prompts & then suggested:

…perhaps you might benefit from slowing down and rereading with pen in hand, annotating, making sure you read and understand everything, beginning to end.

I’m sorry, but I don’t appreciate being talked to like I’m a child or an idiot. I read the prompt. I don’t need to sit there with a pen & annotate what on average are 20-word prompts.

From there, the “apology” just got worse. She spent the bulk of the apology telling her students how she’s not paid enough to critique all our work and how it is too much work. She said that she had been warned by other instructors not to commit to reading every student’s work every week. But she did at the beginning of the class. The class started with 13, but over the weeks has dwindled to about 9. I’m more than willing to acknowledge that reading roughly 3-pages a week from about 10 students while working on your own writing and teaching other classes is a big commitment and a lot of work. But, my problem is that, despite being warned, she made this commitment to her students and structured the class in this way. To complain during the last 2 weeks that she’s overworked and that she’s not paid enough to carry out the class as she designed it is pathetic. Be professional. All the students are paying for her to teach this class as she presented it on day 1. If she can’t handle it, then she needs to make note of that and change her format next quarter. Lesson learned. But instead, she had to point out over and over again that she isn’t paid to do these critiques, that it’s too much work for her, & that all this extra work is giving her migraines.

So, where’s the lesson in all this. Well, one is more of a life lesson/reminder; the other I guess is a writing lesson.

The life lesson: Just walk away. I am completely offended by the instructor’s behavior & I do feel it is completely unprofessional. And, a couple years ago, I would have shot back an email pointing out her behavior and her unprofessionalism. Now, I realize it’s not worth it. Life is so much bigger than stupid crap like this, especially someone else’s stupid crap. Rather than engage in a back-and-forth with her over email about how I don’t think I was wrong & how she thinks I am, I’m remaining silent. She likes control & apparently I took it away from her by not following her prompt as she expected me to. I will take it into consideration when I do my evaluation of her and the class in the next week, & I will be professional about my complaints about the class. And I will note the positives. I’m willing to admit there were some. But in life, sometimes it’s better to just be quiet, to walk away. The instructor might have saved my opinion of her if she had just put this incident behind her rather than compounding it with her so-called apology.

The writing lesson: Value those instructors that really are teachers for you. Value those teachers who you connect with. Find instructors whose writing philosophy and life philosophy you admire. Those are the ones who will make a difference in your writing and in your education. I’ve been fortunate to have more good experiences than bad experiences with the instructors I’ve had. There are three I have especially enjoyed & felt my writing energized by. Luckily, I’ll be able to study with one of them again this fall if everything goes as planned. Mentors are important. Writing a novel is an overwhelming, mostly joyous, sometimes torturous journey. I don’t need someone else’s drama & issues to get in the way of what they can teach me. So, if anything, I’ve learned something about what I need in a teacher & what to look for when deciding on a class.

Lesson learned.