I had a discussion with a student about a paper returned to him with comments and a grade (sophomore lit, for those keeping score). He took issue with my coments, oddly enough. The assignment was to compare the themes in an historical document to those in a play (Elizabethan, early colonialism -- you know, that whole "let's put literature in an historical context" idea). In his paper, he discussed one text, then talked about the other. About midpoint, there was a sort of thesis which was not (to my eyes) actually carried out in the discussion.
The student informed me that he "didn't think it necessary" to discuss the two texts together, which I suggested made comparison rather difficult. He also instructed me that in all his classes in high school and two years of college, he had never heard of the idea that a thesis ought to be near the beginning of a paper. Clearly I was being unreasonable. It certainly did not help our discussion that the entire time his eyes were on my chest.
I don't know if that was a deliberate attempt to make me feel uncomfortable or an unconscious one. Well, it did make me feel uncomfortable; it is rude and disgusting. But it was not enough to make me change my mind. I polled the following class, not all of whom are stellar students by any means. Nonetheless, they unanimously declared (without prompting) that the proper place for a thesis was the beginning of the paper -- in fact, some were even more specific, suggesting it ought to be the last sentence of the first paragraph. Good; even though not all their papers followed that rule, it must be said.
It's par for the course, unfortunately. The complaining student is in the "soul sucker" class of this semester, the kind of group that sucks the energy right out of you when you enter the room. There are a couple of terrific students in the class, but by this point they too have been sucked of all energy. I find it hard to maintain my usual level of enthusiasm -- sometimes I even (gasp!) sit down while leading that class. Group dynamics -- it's a tricky thing.
I'm grateful that they're not the class with whom I end the day. After them I go to a class which has a more equitably energy flow. Yesterday I thanked them for it. They're not necessarily better students on the whole, gradewise. But I'd much sooner spend my time with them, as human beings as well as students.