my boss won’t manage a terrible employee, my coworker scream-yawns, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss won’t do anything about a colleague’s terrible work, which I rely on

I am the head of a subsection of my department and am responsible for supervising and delegating work to one other employee. Although I am responsible for whether or not he completes his tasks correctly and efficiently, I have no agency to do anything if he doesn’t, which is frequently the case. He’s always been easily distractable and difficult to keep on task (he has a habit of falling down YouTube rabbit holes), but I always chalked it up to his age (he’s in his early 20s) and figured that if I checked in with him more frequently, eventually it’d click. He’s been with us for around 18 months and I realized a few months ago that we’re having serious issues.

One of his tasks is to make sure dates match across two different programs; they can’t communicate and the only way to keep up on it is to do so manually. Having done this task myself, I know that if it’s done weekly, it’s a 10-minute job. And it’s important to do since these dates are used for billing purposes. I stressed this to him multiple times and would ask every month or so if he was keeping up on it and how it was going. Every time he’d tell me yes, he was keeping up on it and it was going just fine. A few months ago, though, I was going through and making notes for billing and I realized that the dates were really off. A quick search told me that the last time they’d been matched was at least a year ago.

Because I don’t have the agency to handle it myself, I went to the manager of our department. She agreed that this was serious and brought him in to talk with him, but no other action was taken. She said that he’d be given a month to fix the dates, and if it wasn’t done in that time, she’d take further action. After several emails from him that the task was done and me verifying each time that it was not done in full, she “stressed the importance of the job to him” and finally the dates matched.

More recently, he’ll get work back to me that is incomplete and poorly done; he just sent one document to me that he said was finished, but nothing had been changed since he sent me a draft weeks ago and I’d given him notes on what needed work. Also, we discovered yesterday that important emails in a shared inbox have been opened but not addressed (it wasn’t my manager or myself, so it must have been him).

I’m at my wit’s end. I’m having to do all of my work plus some aspect of his, whether it’s going behind him to be sure he’s doing a task correctly or redoing work he should have done. I’ve tried working with him to find a solution that works for him. I’ve given him suggestions on how to remind himself to do recurring tasks, written detailed, step-by-step instructions, and even filmed videos in case he couldn’t focus on written instructions. I don’t know what else to do to make the tasks easy for him and I don’t know what else to do to get my manager to take this more seriously.

Stop all the extra work you’re doing to try to get him to do his job. You can’t be more invested in his work than he is. Instead, go back to your manager and say the problems haven’t been resolved and in fact are growing more serious. I’d say it this way: “I’ve tried everything I can think of — I’ve talked with him multiple times, written step-by-step instructions, and even filmed training videos. But I’m at the point where I can’t rely on him to do the work accurately or at all, and I’m spending an inordinate amount of time checking and redoing it. At this point, I need someone else to do this work. Is there a way to get someone else into this role to handle it?” (Don’t water down those last three sentences in particular.) If she just says she’ll talk to him again, then say, “I know you’ve been speaking with him, but I’m at the point where I need a different solution for getting this work done.”

If she refuses to take any real action, then the conversation to have is one explaining you can’t be responsible for him completing his work correctly without any tools to hold him accountable for that. But at that point the problem would be far more with your manager than with your coworker, and there’s not a lot you can do if she’s just a terrible manager.

2. My coworker scream-yawns

I’ve started going back into the office. In fact, I just got to move across the hall to the biggest cubicle in the department. I’m a permanent federal employee, and one of the contractors who works here screams when she yawns. It is so loud and so jarring that I jump every time it happens. I’m jumpy for a bunch of reasons, not the least because I can see the US Capitol building out the window and I had to walk through several lines of heavily armed National Guard to get to my office. I didn’t know that she had this habit until I moved into this new (to me) cube. Headphones help a little but it still induces panic every time I hear it.

I feel like I can’t say anything. I don’t know if she does this because of a medical reason, I don’t know her well, and there are are financial disparities (she’s likely not paid as well as I am, and her contract will be ending soon, though I don’t know how soon). I’m not a supervisor, and I feel like saying something to her supervisor would be weird, like I got this big new space and I want to change everything else in this side of the office too. Can you please help me navigate this? Is it as simple as walking over to her and saying something like, “So what’s the deal with the screaming?” I don’t know her very well and I’m not sure how that would go over. It’s not the only noisy thing she does but it’s the worst.

I feel inspired to write to you today because she must be very tired today — the scream-yawn has startled me out of my chair at least ten times, and it’s only 2 pm.

It might be something medical she can’t control, but it also might not be. I’d start with asking, “I’m sorry to ask, but is there any way you can keep the noise down? You make what sounds like a scream when you yawn, and I jump every time it happens.”

If that doesn’t work and headphones don’t sufficiently block it out, any chance you can give up the biggest cubicle in exchange for a space further away from her?

This sounds potentially worse than a scream-sneeze.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My boss demanded to know if I’m job-searching

My boss has apparently heard rumors that I’m looking elsewhere and that I called in sick for in interview (I didn’t; I was actually sick and have not had an interview anywhere). She demanded I tell her if I’m looking elsewhere and that if I am I will not be given the position I was promised when hired because “there’s no point in investing in me.”

She has asked me what my thoughts are and I told her I would like to see a pay raise/promotion once I receive my degree next year and she has already told me that will not happen and that my degree will mean absolutely nothing to the company. I really don’t think me applying elsewhere is any of her business. How do I handle this confrontation without biting the hand that feeds me? This isn’t a bad job by any means, but I definitely feel once I have my degree I should be compensated for the experience and education I will have at that time.

In many/most fields, degrees don’t mean automatic pay raises or promotions. In some they do! But in many they don’t. So your boss isn’t necessary wrong to tell you the degree won’t affect your role or pay at work. (Although if she literally told you that your degree will mean nothing to the company, there’s something very wrong with how she interacts with people.)

But regardless of that, her idea that she has any right to know if you’re looking at other jobs is way off-base; you’re under no obligation to share that with her. She’s being ridiculous there.  It’s by no means common practice for people to give their manager a heads-up about that. Sometimes people will if their manager has a track record of handling it well; yours clearly does not.

It does sound like if you want to parlay your degree into a higher level role and/or higher pay, you’ll need to job search.

4. Requiring social interaction in the classroom or at work

I’m a faculty member at a large public university, and I’ve never worked in a “normal” workplace, only labs and academia, but your blog has been great in helping me navigate running my own lab. My question, though, pertains to teaching and what amount of social interaction is “expected” in a typical workplace.

In normal times, I teach large (200-400) person STEM courses. I also use “active learning,” where I pose questions during lecture and the students discuss them with the people around them. Compared to traditional lecturing methods, this style of teaching has been shown to on average improve learning and to be more equitable, in that it lowers the gap in learning between groups historically over-represented in science and groups historically under-represented in science (women, first-generation college-going students, black and Latinx people). I also get lots of student testimonials on their course Final Reflections (yeah, it’s anecdotal, but it’s what I have) that active learning helps them stay engaged and increases their learning compared to other courses they’ve taken that use just lecturing.

The problem is that students with anxiety sometimes get overwhelmed by the “talking to your neighbor” activities. I’ve had lots of testimonials by students who were initially wary of talking to the person sitting next to them but by the end of the term, they learned that people aren’t so scary, and some even make a friend. But for some students, this amount of social interaction makes them shut down or skip lecture, which hurts their grade because attendance counts.

I try to be accommodating. Students are not forced to talk, only strongly encouraged, and they are free to sit near someone they know. But, isn’t that degree of anxiety going to hurt them in the workplace? Isn’t this the equivalent of starting a new job and needing to talk to the person in the next cubicle? A lot of these students want healthcare careers! Thanks for any illumination you can provide.

It depends on the field they go into, as well as the specific jobs they want in that field. There are plenty of jobs that require very little interaction with others. But on the whole, yes, being unable or unwilling to talk to colleagues will generally hold people back professionally.

I’m not sure that’s yours to solve though. Definitely use the teaching methods that you’ve found get the best results! But I’d be very cautious about trying to tailor it to what you think will help people in their post-college work lives because (a) it’s really hard, if not impossible, to replicate those conditions in the classroom (and often rightly so — it’s a very different set-up with different goals and different constraints) and professors often get it wrong when they try, and (b) your students won’t all have the same sorts of work lives. I’d just focus on the learning outcomes you want from your classroom.

5. Doing a student placement as an older student

I returned to school as a mature student to pursue a master’s degree while continuing my full-time well-established career. In my field, a master’s degree is necessary to move into upper management, this was not undertaken to change fields. Due to the pandemic, I was laid off from my job of 6+ years where I had intended to complete the “practicum” component of the master’s. The program is designed for working professionals, and most individuals take on a small side project in their current job to fulfill this component.

Because I needed to complete my master’s in a certain timeframe (as well as find an income!) I accepted a short “student” placement in a highly visible government organization. It is being done remotely and I have video meetings with the team daily. This has gone well and my supervisors are well aware I am operating at a non-student level. I am being given senior tasks, collaborating on projects as a peer, and have been praised for the quality of my work. The issue is, I keep getting referred to as a “student” in team meetings and communications. I am worried this is preventing me from being taken seriously and hampering my chances of having this placement extend to a full-time job offer (which is standard for this particular arrangement). In 1:1 meetings, I have tried to casually mention my 15+ years of experience, my professional designations, that my BA was completed a very long time ago, etc. … but nothing seems to stick! How can I navigate this so that I can be taken seriously as a colleague instead of as “the student”?

It’s a student placement, so it’s not weird that they’re referring to you as a student! I get that it feels like it’s downplaying all the experience you bring … but it is a student placement and it’s not wrong for them to refer to you that way. Pushing back on that too hard risks coming across strangely (either as insecure or like you think you’re too good for the slot). Plus, it sounds like they really do recognize the additional experience you bring; that’s why you’re getting higher-level assignments.

If it’s common for this particular student placement to end in a full-time offer, having them think of you as a student shouldn’t harm you, as surely they have been aware that past placements have been students too! I would just make sure to cultivate a good relationship with the person or people who will have the most input into that decision, make sure they know you’re interested in a full-time offer (a step that people often skip!), and make sure they see the level of work you’re doing.

{ 565 comments… read them below }

  1. Dragon_Dreamer*

    Scream-sneezing is involuntary, I myself tend to sneeze in the soprano range, very loud. I’ve had people accuse me of faking, but it’s real. Scream-yawning, though… that to me seems more to be someone trying to make it very clear they’re yawning. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!

    1. Crivens!*

      Yeah, I don’t scream-sneeze but I do sneeze fairly loudly. I had a coworker who kept insisting I change it and didn’t believe I physically couldn’t. I of course covered my mouth and nose the correct way, walked somewhere private before sneezing if I could, and tried to muffle, but the actual WAY I sneeze? Not adjustable.

      What was worse is it was a very dry building so I always sneezed several times every morning.

      1. TiffIf*

        My roommate has very loud explosive sneezes like yours (she once startled a security guard in a museum…from three rooms away).

        I used to have fairly regular volume sneezes, until I was healing from abdominal surgery; I figured out awfully quickly how to make my sneezes much smaller and quieter.

        1. Casper Lives*

          Yeah I think people could learn to change an ingrained habit like that. But it might not be worth the effort for most, unless it’s something like your surgery.

          I bite my fingernails. It’s not a conscious thing and I make sure my hands are occupied with something in meetings etc. The methods my therapist suggested to fix the habit were extreme enough that I won’t do them…

        2. Casper Lives*

          Yeah I think unconscious habits like these are hard to break and the reward isn’t that great. Unless like you there’s physical pain! I bite my nails. The methods suggested to fix it are just. Not worth it.

          1. Chas*

            I know you’re not looking for advice, but I spent about 25 years biting my nails and found a lot of the suggestions for how to stop biting my nails either didn’t appeal to me or didn’t work when I did try them (like that bad tasting stuff that I’d get used to or forget to reapply) But the one thing that actually did help me was something no one ever suggested for nail biting: buying a silicon chewable necklace and wearing it all the time, so when I feel like biting my nails I pick that up and bite it instead.

            But of course, as you say it’s not that big of a deal and there’s no real reason to worry about fixing it unless it’s getting to the point where you end up hurting yourself.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              I may give this a shot. I’m a life long nail biter and, yeah, none of the usual stuff works. I did recently get myself a spinning fidget ring and that has helped a LOT with the “need to do something with my hands” part of the habit, but yeah, maybe just getting something else to chew on will help with the ‘need to do something with my jaw’ part.

          2. Librarian1*

            Yeah, I’m a loud sneezer and it feels involuntary to me and I have no desire to try to change it. Especially because sneezes come on so suddenly, it seems impossible to change the way I sneeze.

        3. AngryAngryAlice*

          Yeah it’s not a “habit” for many people. I had bronchitis all winter a few years back and every sneeze was excruciating, but I couldn’t lower the volume or intensity because that’s just how I sneezed. I tried, and occasionally it was a bit quieter, but that physically hurt me to do. I don’t understand why people are so unwilling to believe that this is legitimately just how some people sneeze. Bodies are weird and wild and different.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        I think it’s because frequently, some loud sneezers can change it. I sneeze hard enough to occasionally feel like my lungs are trying to turn themselves inside out. If alone at home, I sneeze loudly, but at work I would stifle it down to a (snerk) sound by covering with a tissue, pinching my nose, constricting my throat, clenching my jaw, and a bunch of other actions.

        Working from home has been a joy because at the workplace I had three loud sneezers around me (and I would never be known to be a loud sneezer) who never covered their sneeze if they were in their cubicle, one of whom would whoop loudly while doing it, and another who would always say “It’s just allergies!” Meanwhile we work in a hospital and I’d be thinking, ‘maybe, but I don’t know what you DO have and I don’t!’

        And now with the pandemic, keeping down the chance of you shooting droplets out of your mask means either scream-yawning or loud sneezing isn’t good around others.

        1. pbnj*

          I’ve noticed that since folks nowadays are more aware of proper sneeze hygiene and are sneezing into their arms, it helps a lot. Their sneezes are still above-average loud, but it’s better.

        2. Grapey*

          +1. I sneezed during a week with a particularly painful sore throat and I learned pretty quick how to temper that.

        3. Hemingway*

          I sneeze super loudly at home – that’s the natural way I sneeze, but I seriously make sure I dont do that at work or in pubic. Just takes some practice. You don’t want to use your vocal chords.

        4. Dahlia*

          I hurt my back and got LESS able to control my sneezing because my core muscles are so weak :( Sucks, sneezing hurts.

        5. Sparrow*

          Yeah, I’m naturally a pretty loud sneezer, but when I was young I trained myself to basically hold my breath when sneezing, which brought it more to the level of hiccup. People don’t always realize it’s a sneeze, actually. I got into this habit partly because my mom’s sneezes were/are VERY loud and as a 12 year old I found this embarrassing in public and didn’t want to be like her, ha. Occasionally I’ll still let out a loud one if I’m caught off guard, but for the most part suppressing the sneeze became my instinctive response many years ago.

          I actually can’t imagine what a real sneeze-scream would sound like, and definitely not a yawn-scream. That sounds very unnerving. If it were me, I’m sure I would’ve done everything possible to break that instinct, but I know some people actually can’t and others can’t be bothered to try. I think it doesn’t hurt for OP to ask that she keep it down, though.

        6. PeanutButter*

          I *can* keep my sneezes quiet, but it is physically painful, involves a lot of writhing, and I have given myself bloody noses/blown blood vessels in my eyes/popped my ears when I do it. So like the above commenter, I only bothered after an abdominal surgery because the feeling of the strain of my stitches was way more painful than the above.

      3. CupcakeCounter*

        My mom’s entire family have terrible sneezes and so does my husband’s family. My sister and I are adopted and have VERY different sneezes from the rest of the family. I nearly drove off the road one day when my husband went from dead asleep to loudest sneeze ever and my MIL had the misfortune of sneezing during a funeral and seriously everyone turned and looked. I know its not something that can be controlled.

    2. 10Isee*

      I don’t scream while yawning, but I definitely make some vocalization. For whatever reason, when I try to yawn silently, I’m unable to relax enough to complete the yawn.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I don’t know if I am a scream yawner, I do usually make audible noise when I yawn. If I focus/think about it I can try and make it not as loud but like you it extends the yawning instead of getting it out right away. It makes it worse for myself and increases the chances of several loud yawns escaping.

      2. SunriseRuby*

        I yawned silently when I worked in an office setting, but I’ve really let loose with my own yawn-related vocalizations since I started working from home almost a year ago. They’re much more satisfying that way, and I’ve enjoyed the freedom to make some noise, but I don’t think mine have risen to “scream” level, either.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Before you return to an office, verify that the level of noise isn’t different than you think it is.

      3. Phony Genius*

        Unfortunately, if you try to hold in or suppress a yawn, you can actually hurt yourself, so it’s not recommended. You can muffle the vocalization by completely covering the mouth, but that’s about it.

        1. JB*

          I just yawn through my nose instead of my mouth when I want it to be silent and unnoticeable to others. It just sounds like a deep sigh if you yawn through your nose, no vocal chords engaged. Muffling by yawning with an open mouth but then covering the mouth seems…silly.

      4. It's me, 2020's yawn disaster*

        I wrote in last year asking for advice about my loud yawns and was summarily ripped apart by the comment section. Today’s post is giving me flashbacks lol.

        I tried very, very hard to start bringing my yawns under control following AAM’s advice. Can’t do it.

        For the record (and as I posted over there) I may have been a bit too dramatic in my description of yawns as “back-stretching”. But they are real yawns, and like 10Isee, if I try to stifle the sound, I can’t complete the yawn. Rinse, repeat, yawn all day.

        As you may have guessed, shortly after that post this no longer became a problem. I’m very happy to be yawning from the comfort of my own home…

        OP#2 , my apologies from all of us in the “loud involuntary bodily functions” community. I hope your neighbor gets her screaming under control.

        1. Anonapots*

          I think sometimes people forget they can decide what to react to and what to not. Nobody is yawning AT a person and some things in life are annoying and we just have to get. TF. over it.

          1. Ann Nonymous*

            Nearly all bodily functions can be muted to a good degree. Imagine you are hiding from an enemy seeking you out; you bet you can muffle your sneeze, yawn, etc. Would you scream-whatever if you were at a state dinner? At a wedding ceremony? Being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor? No. So do whatever you would do in the circumstances to be polite in the company of others.

            1. Sorryformyyawn*

              I don’t have loud yawns but my sneezes and hiccups are extremely loud. Quieting them is painful. Would I do it to protect my life? Obviously. Would I do it to keep from annoying people? No. The pain isn’t worth it

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                I have SUCH loud hiccups. I’ve tried to hiccup more quietly and it really hurts. So yeah, I’d do it if I was in an action movie scenario hiding from an axe murderer. But I’m not interested in causing myself that much pain in a normal setting if I don’t have to.

                1. Red 5*

                  I know this is stretching into off topic but how do you try to quiet hiccups? Because I randomly get very loud, very painful hiccups and only one hiccup cure I’ve ever tried has had even a 50% chance of working and I’ve had to leave meetings and events to stop being distracting. I don’t know if it would be worth making them hurt more, but I’ve never figured out a way to control any of it in the 30 years this has been happening. I asked a doctor about it once and he was like “huh, that’s weird, but hiccups are unpredictable and there’s not a lot to do about it.”

        2. Tired of Covid-and People*

          I read the linked thread from last year, and don’t think you were summarily ripped apart in the comments, not at all. I read all the comments, and kept looking for where you got ripped. Never came to it, most commenters were sympathetic folks sharing your problem and offering suggestions. There were just a few hostile, unsympathetic commenters. Just sayin’.

          Glad it’s a non-issue for you now.

        3. Wenike*

          Same! And sadly, the more I yawn, I can actually start gagging as well. Unfortunately, I also have chronic hiccups (thankfully, usually just a single hic but several times a day) and those can also be loud and startling. Sometimes, they’re quite high-pitched and sound like a mouse, other times my coworkers will start looking for what pterodactyl or raptor is about to hit the building windows.

          OP#2, I also add my apologies for loud involuntary bodily functions. If it makes you feel any better, everyone who’s worked around me has generally gotten over jumping at my hiccups within a month or so.

          1. TardyTardis*

            I hear you on Fun Bodily Functions and how well they can be held in (not always). Let’s just say that Gas-X does not always work and leave it at that.

    3. a sound engineer*

      My dad is what I would call a yell-yawner, and it’s definitely not him looking for attention or to let everyone in the house know he’s yawning. He’s been like this for as long as his family can remember.

    4. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

      Hello, scream-yawner here! I scream -yawn when I’m very tired. After my boyfriend at the time pointed it out when I was 17/18, I realised it was a bit earsplitting. (My mum also scream-yawns so I thought it was not that bad!)

      If I think about it I can mute it, which I always do if I’m around other people. It’s worth asking if co-worker can do it.

      1. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

        Oh as ms it’s definitely not a deliberate exaggeration to get attention.

    5. Bagpuss*

      I think it’s habit as much as anything – so it’s not (normally) someone ‘making it clear’ that they are yawning, but it is to a degree something that can be controlled, so it would need them to start making a conscious effort *not* to vocalise, rather than them currently deliberately vocalising.

      I think in the majority of cases, if the yawner wants to, they can make a lot less noise, but they need to be willing to try, and then to actually remember in the moment.

      So I think Alison’s suggestion to raise it and ask them to try to keep the noise down is a reasonable one, but OP should probably expect that even if their co-worker is willing to try, it will probably take time and may be something the coworker only remembers to do some of the time.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I agree it is a habit, and we can learn not to use our vocal chords when we yawn. I have been yawning like mad reading this thread, and have been switching between vocal and silent yawns. It’s definitely two different techniques.

    6. Hawkes*

      I know someone who yawns loudly around people she wants sympathy from and silently around people she wants to impress. It’s not a good look.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          “You poor thing, so tired, always working so hard, can I get you a pillow/cup of tea/biscuit?”

          That’s definitely what my spouse is angling for when he scream-yawns. He is perfectly capable of silent yawns when he’s just, you know, yawning. Within a relationship it’s acceptable to ask for your partner’s attention, obviously, and I think he thinks it’s cute (it’s not cute but neither is it a problem).

          However, I would be very annoyed by scream yawns at work. I don’t do well with certain types of noises (which is definitely a me problem) so I tend to work with headphones on and music playing if I want to maintain focus.

          Which is to say, it might be natural or it might be attention-seeking, but it’s unlikely LW can make it stop if the first “OMG are you ok? It sounded like you screamed” doesn’t work.

      1. OP2 ScreamYawn*

        This is so weird. Usually I try not to yawn around people I’m trying to impress, or they might think I’m sluggish or bored.

        1. PoppySeeds*

          I had a student once for whom it was an anxiety issue. He would yawn when he felt anxious or stressed.

          1. PoppySeeds*

            I should add from Medical News Today:
            Anxiety is a common trigger for yawning. Anxiety affects the heart, respiratory system, and energy levels. These can all cause breathlessness, yawning, and feelings of stress.
            If a person experiences a lot of anxiety, they may find themselves yawning more often than other people, or more often than when they are not feeling as anxious.
            Anxiety-related yawning often gets worse when a person feels more anxious, but it can also arise with no obvious trigger.

            So your yawner might have other things going on – I guess. Meaning it could be a medical issue.

          2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            My brother has this. He yawns repeatedly when he gets in anxious social situations. It’s not great because then it can appear that he’s bored, and make the social anxiety worse.

          3. JB*

            My sister does this.

            It’s also a common signal we know in some other social animals – dogs, for example, will often yawn when nervous. It’s basically a signal for ‘everyone stay calm, I’m not aggressive’ and if it inspires sympathetic yawning in the other party, it can actually have a calming effect.

          4. Simonthegreywarden*

            I yawn so much more on Zoom because there’s something about being on a screen as opposed to F2F that triggers my anxiety.

            Not fun when you’re the teacher leading the Zoom lecture, yawning every 5 minutes.

        2. Anonapots*

          I wouldn’t yawn in an interview, but I have yawned frequently around people I work with because it’s a normal thing that happens sometimes. I do try to suppress it, but if I can’t, I at least cover my mouth. It’s a natural, normal part of being an animal in the world and hopefully you’re not trying to still impress people you’ve worked with for a bit of time.

    7. Forrest*

      I am still indignant for getting told off for “making silly noises” when I was six when I was just SNEEZING!

      1. SunriseRuby*

        Bright sunlight frequently triggers sneezes for me, and it used to irritate my mother. We’d walk out of church after a service on a Sunday morning, and if it was a bright day I’d sneeze twice. She’d give me a mildly annoyed look at least half the time. Like I could control it?!

        1. Coffee or Tea*

          It’s genetic! My dad, brother and I all have it. We’d walk out of church or a movie theater and all three of us would sneeze three times and my mom would laugh or roll her eyes.

        2. TiffIf*

          I do the same! Bright lights make me sneeze.

          It’s called a “photic sneeze reflex” or (and someone had way too much naming these) “Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst” (ACHOO) syndrome or “photosneezia”.

          My mother seemed amused more than annoyed with me when I would do it.

          Its also great when you can feel a sneeze coming on but it just isn’t coming out and so you can look at the sun/bright light to force it.


          1. Simonthegreywarden*

            My FIL has it — always 3 sneezes. My son has it intermittently; direct sunlight he’ll sneeze, bright but sun behind clouds, sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t. My husband does not have this trait but somehow it passed down.

    8. Shark Whisperer*

      I have accidentally scream-yawned. In my case, my dog scream yawns. It’s super cute. We used to praise her when her when she did it, so her yawns got increasingly louder and more elaborate. Eventually my partner and I started imitating her when we would yawn to make the other person laugh. We started doing it too much and it became a habit. Exactly once, I scream yawned at work when I meant to just regularly yawn. I apologized to those around me and stopped imitating my dog so much. (It is still fun to scream yawn with her occasionally, but just occasionally)

        1. Kathryn*

          Lol! I was going to say the same thing, my dog does this too. I’m pretty sure it’s attention-seeking but it’s pretty adorable. AKA, effective.

      1. Lil*

        Same with my dog! Sometimes it’s a high pitched squeal, sometimes it’s a low vocal “arrooo” sound. Always adorable.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        My dog occasionally yawn snorts/oinks. Something about him closing his mouth, but the air coming out of his nose vibrating the back of his throat making a delightful sound. I call him “My little piggy!” whenever he does it. It’s not a noise I’ve been able to figure out how to imitate.

      3. Lizzo*

        Our dog does this too, usually while stretching her neck out and up like a block-headed 40 pound giraffe. It is definitely startling if you are trying to sleep.

      4. Joielle*

        My dog does this too! It drives me nuts, tbh, but I can’t think of any way to get him to stop, so we just live with it. If he was a person, I’d definitely ask him to keep it down, lol

    9. Third or Nothing!*

      My husband has sinus problems and coughs so loud it sounds like a car backfiring. Startles me every time. During his allergy season I frequently get headaches from the constant barrage of earsplitting noise.

      I have no suggestions to help, only commiseration.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        I have lung issues and when my coughing gets bad, it gets BAD. Full on huddled in a ball, full chest, barking spasms that sound like I’m trying to expel my lungs. It’s hard to explain to folks that I’m generally “not contagious, just miserable.” I can never work in food service, because who wants to hear that coming from the kitchen?

        1. ShinyPenny*

          Omg, the horrible barking-cough fits that go on and on…
          This is the type of asthma I get, and it generally never happens unless I have caught a chest cold or the flu.
          If only I had known about Albuteral sooner! It is The Thing for stopping the coughing spasms.

    10. Lucy P*

      As I was reading this, my coworker down the hall scream-yawned. Sounds more like Chewbacca than someone in trouble. They also scream-sneeze.
      If my sneezing becomes particularly violent, I do sound like I’m in distress. It took my husband several years to get used to it and not come running to see if I were in trouble.
      To OP, I am sorry that your coworker’s yawning has this affect on you. Chewy doesn’t really bother me, now that I’ve gotten used to them, but there is another employee who talks very loud so that they can hear themselves (or maybe they think other people can’t hear them). Either way, when they start talking I have to close my door because I can’t concentrate. Ten other people talking in the hallway doesn’t bother me, just something about this one person, their tone and their volume. I’ve actually tried to talk to them about their volume. They immediately apologize, but it’s usually not long before the volume picks up again. This person is old enough that I can chalk it up to old dog-no new tricks. Maybe you might have better results with your coworker.

    11. I edit everything*

      My husband amplifies his sneezes–very loud, very clear “AH CHOO!” and it’s gotten worse over the years. I swear he does it on purpose, but that’s probably my fault because I try to make my “BLESS YOU!” equally loud (he has to be able to hear it three rooms and a floor away, after all). More annoying are his roar-yawns. While I’m trying to sleep.

    12. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I’m … fascinated. Like, I’ve been trying all morning and I apparently cannot make any noise when I yawn without it being entirely intentional. The idea that one could somehow not only scream while yawning by accident, and also not be able to control it, is … I can’t figure out how that even physically works. (Obviously it DOES, this is hardly the only thing that other people do regularly that I can’t wrap my head around, I’m not disbelieving any of you who do this, but I just totally can’t fathom it.)

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        (Scream sneezing, I totally get – I don’t do it myself, but I’ve known a ton of people who have weird sneezes, and my dad somehow developed a habit when I was wee of yelling “ACHUUGAH” when he sneezes, so he’s done that all my life. :P It’s specifically scream-yawning that baffles me.)

      2. Myrin*

        Same. But also, what fascinates me even more is the apparent frequency with which this person must be yawning, if it’s such a strong problem for the OP. Or maybe I’m just an unusually rare yawner?

        1. Budgie Buddy*

          10 instances by 2 pm doesn’t sound that extreme to me. I’ve clocked 10 in one hour with other people before. I guess it’s normal? When someone looks that tired i wonder if they’re okay, but maybe it’s within a normal variation.

          (I’m a rare yawner like you, and if people are around I usually keep my mouth closed when yawning because I’m self conscious about it.)

          1. CFrance*

            Just reading all these comments is making me yawn. I’ve been stifling yawns and sneezes all my life. I just can’t see the need to make so much noise, especially in a public situation. I have a friend whose husband makes his sneezes as loud as possible, especially if I’m on the phone with her. I think it’s arrogant and/or wanting to get attention.

          2. Managing In*

            10 yawns by 2pm isn’t extreme but 10 yawns that are so loud they scare the ever-loving sh*** out of me by 2pm would be QUITE ENOUGH

    13. Volunteer Enforcer*

      Can vouch for scream-sneezing, sometimes I sound like a very young girl screaming in a sneeze even though I’m a young adult.

    14. asgard*

      I knew someone that taught themselves to scream sneeze. And I mean scream – not just a loud sneeze. It sounded nothing like a sneeze and like someone was severely startled or hurt themselves badly. She said she used to sneeze “normal” but at some point met someone that scream sneezed and wanted to see if she could, too. She said it took a long time to do, 1) because like many people she just doesn’t sneeze often or on command, and 2) it was harder to do than she thought. However, she said once she became a scream-sneezer she couldn’t revert back. It “stuck”. But she also admitted she hadn’t tried very hard or for very long to unlearn/revert back. Apparently (general) you can teach yourself to sneeze differently.

      1. Green*

        What did your face look like while she told you this story?

        Mine is stuck in a dazzled “whyyyyy??” face that’s part impressed and deeply dubious and just very bewildered.

    15. Veruca*

      I’m a scream sneezer! It’s really involuntary. I remember as teen my mom issued a useless ban against me sneezing in the car while she was driving. My sneezes startled her so much she was afraid she’d wreck.
      Now the generations have moved on, and it’s my daughter telling me to sneeze more quietly!

    16. Momma Bear*

      I would ask the person if they were aware of it and if they could try not to do it so loudly. Some people are unaware of their volume, especially if they are used to not having an audience. Even if 10 yawns a day isn’t excessive, think about if someone did something that startled you all day long. Wouldn’t that start to seep into your brain?

      OP mentions that they are a federal employee and the yawner is a contractor. IMO unless there is a business reason not to do so, the fed should keep the cube and the contractor should be moved if anyone moves.

  2. Clydesdales and Coconuts*

    Lw#3, what do you mean when you say your boss wont put you into the position you were hired for? Are you not doing the job you were supposed to be doing? How long have you been there? Your boss is way out of line to threaten you and demean you by saying your degree will mean nothing yo them. I hope you are looking for a new job with a company that appreciates you !

    1. MassMatt*

      If I weren’t looking for another position already, I certainly would start the very day my boss talked to me like that. She seems to have all the charm of an irate scorpion.

      Why do so many bosses feel like rampant paranoia and threats will produce loyalty?

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        Right?? If I were OP3, I would have had a really hard time not answering that question with “well, I WASN’T looking for another job, but now I am.”

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Just the insistence on knowing whether OP was interviewing would do it for me. The boss is suspicious of OP for no good reason, and it’s not going to get any better, because the trust issues are very likely more about the boss than the OP. I would GTFO ASAP.

      2. OP3*

        Hello, let me start by saying after this interaction I went home and applied elsewhere and had a job offer the next day that I accepted, I start my new job Monday. BUT; I was hired to my old position with the understanding that I would be managing my own store after a month in “training” and then I would be receiving monthly bonuses based on my stores overall sales/reviews. I was there 3 months and the store that I was told I would be managing was given to a different person. Honestly I had no issues With the role I was in other than I wasn’t going to be stuck on PM shift as that was one of the conditions of my hiring paperwork; that I could choose my shift and I get every other weekend off. I had no problems acting as an assistant manager if need be while I waited for a store to open up. The ONLY reason I brought up a potential pay raise/promotion once I got my degree was because SHE ASKED me what my thoughts were. Personally I feel she was way out of line as her boss is who hired me. She had nothing to do with my pay. She told me on more than one occasion that she didn’t think I was hired as a manger, asked to see my job offer letter, etc. I don’t think she believed that her boss hired me on to do so. When she asked I told her I understood that my degree didn’t mean a automatic pay raise but she asked my thoughts and I told her that’s what I’d like to see happen as it is a business admin degree, so it definitely pertains to the job plus by the time I graduate I will have 1.5 years of management experience hands on. I honestly had not applied anywhere else; I had my resume on Indeed and linked in publicly, however I was not actively job hunting until that conversation. I felt belittled and I felt she treated me as if I were useless to the company.

    2. kittymommy*

      I read it as more of a promotion she was told she would get after a certain time with the company.

      1. Paulina*

        Given the question and context, I also wonder if the pending degree was involved in this promise. It’s not unknown for a position level to be cut down a bit on hiring if the person being hired hasn’t finished their qualifications, which would account for the LW’s expectation that things would be adjusted when they complete their degree. Outside of such a situation they may indeed not find the degree relevant, and even if those with degrees normally have higher positions, that doesn’t mean they convert a lower position to a higher one on degree completion (unless this was promised at hiring). The boss sounds pretty hostile either way.

        1. Cj*

          The OP says: “She demanded I tell her if I’m looking elsewhere and that if I am I will not be given the position I was promised when hired because ‘there’s no point in investing in me.'”

          By stating this, the boss is admitting that the OP was promised a higher position. It’s hard to tell if it has anything to do with the degree. The boss is now saying the company doesn’t care about the degree, but the OP mentioned a raise and promotion upon completing their degree when confronted by the boss.

          1. Cj*

            This part also confuses me:

            “She has asked me what my thoughts are and I told her I would like to see a pay raise/promotion once I receive my degree next year and she has already told me that will not happen and that my degree will mean absolutely nothing to the company. ”

            Is the last part a quote of what he told her when asked? as in “I would like to see…. nothing to the company”. Like, did the boss tell him previously he wouldn’t get a raise/promotion when he gets his degree?

            It sounds like the boss still intends to put him in the the position he was hired for (if not looking elsewhere), but doesn’t intend to give him a raise/promotion when he gets his degree, which he had been told before this confrontation.

            Did OP actually respond to that what his thoughts are on that, or just reiterate his already known desire for he raise/promotion? Or am I misunderstanding the whole thing?

            1. OP3*

              Hello! I had been told upon starting that I would not be given management salary because I didn’t have enough hands on management experience; my promised position was that of a manager after my training(1month). This rumor surfaced that I was looking elsewhere and she confronted me telling me I needed to tell her if I was looking elsewhere and if I was they wouldn’t give me my store; as promised, because it wasn’t worth investing in me. She then asked what my thoughts for the future were and I told her that once I get my degree I planned to go to the person whom hired me(her boss) and ask for a pay raise based on the fact that I will the. Have the business admin degree, as well as the management experience. She told me that there was no way I’d get a raise and that the degree would be useless. Then once again demanded to know if I was looking elsewhere. At the end of the conversation she told me she wanted my word that I wouldn’t be applying elsewhere, even after my degree because it would leave them hanging and then stormed out when I told her I would not enter into a verbal agreement/contract like that as it could be legally binding. She never did show back up the day she told me she would be back expecting my answer.

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      I would also question whether she really “heard a rumor” that you were interviewing, or whether you’re going to be interrogated every time you call out sick. Either way this was a bizarre interaction, it sounds like.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Yeah. I’d go back to the boss and reiterate that 1) I was not interviewing but actually out sick. I wouldn’t even get into a discussion on the whole “you need to let me know if you are looking” situation I’d just keep repeating. “I was not interviewing. I was actually out sick” Moot point. and 2) Where did this rumor come from and how does boss intend to address rumors in the work place? and since I am there talking to boss anyway 3) timeline/requirements of the promised position. I’d be pretty firm on these. “As I have stated before I have not interviewed anywhere. I want to know why you think I have. Where is this coming from? And I was promised X when I was hired. When can I expect X? I am doing Z & Y (finishing a degree) to qualify. What else do you need?”

      2. OP3*

        The real kicker is I had a dr note even. She then came in on a weekend and came in very smug and asked “so how did your interview go?” I was obviously confused and asked what she was talking about, that I was out sick the day before and she then told me someone else within the company told her I called in for an interview. Then when I showed her the not she came back with “well then why would someone say you had an interview?!”

        1. Self Employed*

          Is there anyone who would be in line for promotion to manager if you were disqualified? They’d have a motive to start rumors about you interviewing…

  3. Dandy it is*

    I worked with a woman who would sneeze and yell out “oh boy” at basically the same time. Every. Single. Time. She had no idea she was doing it.

    1. Beacon of Nope*

      I worked with a guy whose scream-sneezes sounded like he was yelling “Bullshit!” Of course, whenever he opened his mouth, bullshit usually came out…

      1. Yellow Warbler*

        I work with a guy whose sneeze sounds like that same word, but he’s a total dear, so I don’t think we work together… *eyes you suspiciously*

        1. Beacon of Nope*

          Unless your guy calls off work with tall tales about flying down to Mexico to fight the cartel, probably not.

    2. Sleepless*

      There was a girl in band with me in high school who would laugh, and at the end she would make a loud snort. It was kind of cute and funny. So anytime something really funny happened in band, there were two waves of laughter. The first for whatever happened, and then another for Sally’s snort at the end.

    3. Shark Whisperer*

      I had a coworker who would yell “choo” after she sneezed. She definitely didn’t know that she was doing it, but it drove me nuts.

      1. someday*

        I had a terrible co-worker that did that, in a weird baby-voice yell. It also bugged the crap out of me but so much of what she did bugged me that it’s hard to separate, lol. I may have been bitch-crackers at that point.

    4. Gray Lady*

      I have a weird syndrome where every few days, my sinuses will clear themselves out by a series of powerful sneezes. In the worst cases, I will emit very loud, very high pitched sneezes at first, with the volume and pitch descending as the force of the reflex decreases with each sneeze. This usually happens in the even when I’m home, so it’s no big deal, but if it comes on when I’m around other than family, I quickly excuse myself until the fit passes (just a minute or so). I could suppress these sneezes but not indefinitely.

      On the upside, I was plagued by sinus headaches when I was younger and now rarely have any trouble with my sinuses at all. It’s like at some point my body decided this was the solution.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Mine do that as well – I’ve noticed it’s got a lot worse since working from home as the amount of dry dusty cat-hair-filled air has gone up. I sneeze incredibly loudly, and unfortunately due to age there’s a bit of ‘I hope I went to the loo recently’ as well when a sneezing fit starts up.

        There was one guy back at an older place who moaned, err, rather graphically after yawning. It sounded dodgy and could carry clear across the office. I think the team lead of his department asked him if he’d mind muffling his noises a wee bit – because a couple of clients on the phone had reported hearing the noise and wondering just what the blazes was going on!

  4. Bridget the Elephant*

    OP4 I’d recommend talking with High School teachers and your Education Faculty if you have one. There are lots of ways to help shy/anxious students get involved that don’t involve speaking with the people around them. Asking a question and getting them to jot down an answer without speaking can work (and if you have access to mini whiteboards, they can hold them up for you to see their responses too). Make sure you’re giving enough time for them to process their thoughts too – if you’re only giving them a couple of minutes, some people may only just be ready to start speaking with their neighbours as the time is running out.

    1. Decidedly Me*

      Maybe it’s just me, but the whole white board thing or jotting down my answers while others spoke theirs would be highly triggering of anxiety, rather than helpful.

      1. Bridget the Elephant*

        It’s about giving options. So long as nothing is forced, it’s a good way to check understanding/thinking in large group settings and gives people the chance to participate in different ways. Some people want to share without speaking, others prefer to jot down ideas privately, some are happy to chat with neighbours.

        1. Teacher*

          Yes, this is a central principle of universal design for learning, which aims to increase accessibility for all students. Giving options like “let’s take time to process this. We’ll discuss in groups or respond individually in writing. Who wants to work in groups?” And then sort them into groups (that way they work with a variety of people). Have the independent ones post their responses to a forum, or email them to you.

          1. Catwoman*

            Yes +1 to giving options. You could even designate a “quiet corner” of your classroom for students who prefer to write their answers. This would give them a quieter place to think/work. You could even post a TA to that area to answer questions and collect the written responses.

      2. Jessica*

        I’m not Bridget the Elephant, but I’m guessing she meant that sometimes instead of saying “turn to your partner and talk about it” the OP could mix in some times where she says “write down your answers to this question for 3 minutes, then turn to your neighbor and talk about your answers” or skip the talking to the neighbor part altogether and have the whole class respond via whiteboard.

      3. Eukomos*

        Generally everyone sits silently and jots their answers down first, and then they pair up and tell their partner what they wrote down. It means everyone has a chance to come up with something to say. You still have to talk to a partner, though in small classes it can often be beneficial for the teacher to form pairs for a number of reasons. In my experience it’s easier for students to form pairs than small groups for some reason though. I also like to have a written feedback assignment due before class starts so they’ve already done a bit of the thinking.

    2. Snow Globe*

      Speaking as someone with mild social anxiety, the suggestion to speak to “people around you” would be anxiety-inducing. Should I speak to the person on my left or right? What if the person on the right is speaking to the person on their right, and the left is speaking to the person on their left? What if neither wants to talk? I would actually find it much easier if the instructor designated small groups of 2-4 and asked everyone to talk with the people in those groups.

      1. rnr*

        This is key, I think! I always hated having to break out into groups, and others would join up with friends, while I was often left looking around awkwardly. I will say, as a person with some social anxiety, I don’t like this style of teaching, but I also can’t deny that it is more effective. I always seemed to drift off in thought whenever I was in a lecture-only class. It’s still a problem in meetings where I have to just sit and listen, too.

      2. Paulina*

        Yes, and this is an artificial part of the situation that isn’t going to show up in workplace interactions. Usually in workplace interactions you don’t have to start by navigating the self-organizing “find someone to talk to” part. You’re also usually having a small-group conversation in an actual small group, not embedded in a very large group that can make everything you do feel more public. The large size of the classes also suggest that these are mostly courses early in their degree programs (at least I hope they’re not having 200-400 students in an advanced class!) so students may have significant additional anxiety from that, as well as not know classmates yet or be comfortable around the others.

        Designating 2-4 person groups in a large class is onerous and can also shift as students get to know each other, however. I wonder if doing that initially, or the first few times as suggested by others, would be enough to help overcome anxiety for future discussions?

        1. East Coast Girl*

          You just hit a nail on the head for me. I was reflecting on the letter trying to sort out why, in university, I had massive anxiety around these types of scenarios. However, in work situations (even as a student) my social anxiety was not nearly as pronounced. Reserved or shy, maybe, but not anxious.

          I think you’re right – the differene is that in workplace situations these things come about naturally. In a university environment, it’s a forced construct.

        2. Paris Geller*

          Yes, I agree with this. I have some social anxiety and I HATED exercises like this in college. (I probably would have been one of those students who was skipping lectures). And yet, I don’t have any trouble with social interactions at work, and I’m a public librarian. I’m speaking to people constantly! But there’s such a difference–it’s not a forced interaction, I don’t have to pick who to talk to (patrons come to me), it’s not a large lecture hall. . . there’s a world of difference.

        3. Orange You Glad*

          This is what my thoughts were while reading this letter. I have pretty awful social anxiety so any class where they would say “Now to talk to the people around you” would be terrifying if I didn’t already know someone. I would still try but if everyone else already paired up, it would be anxiety-inducing. I always preferred when a teacher would designate groups ahead of time or make sure everyone has a partner/group. It took the uncertainty out of the situation for me.
          Also, I think the LW needs to keep in mind just because someone doesn’t want to participate in discussion in their class, doesn’t mean they don’t want to in every situation. Often if I have to socialize a lot, I might be drained later in the day. I could see a student working in the morning, meeting with a group for a project over lunch, then showing up to a lecture in the afternoon hoping to recharge and listen.
          And LW’s example of speaking to a coworker is not comparable to her lecture discussion. While I might struggle in a situation like LW’s class, I would be fine one-on-one with a coworker, who presumably I already know and work with every day.

        4. Hemingway*

          Right! I hated group projects in business classes. It has nothing to do with how an actual workplace functions. It always ended up being hard to track everyone down and the one super motivated person doing all the work. At work, you literally do the work…during work, not meeting in the library…and “group” projects don’t really work the same.

          Ours were often just 5 people writing different parts of a paper and putting it together. Thats not even working together, just dumb.

        5. JM60*

          I have social anxiety, and I don’t think any of the forced group interactions when getting a degree helped me in my career. I think it’s usually best for professors to stick to the teaching methods that gets the best academic results for their students.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Frankly, in some ways those forced interactions made things harder for me when it came to getting my degree. I got a reputation for not being particularly interactive, so no one wanted to group up with me, so the professor would assign me to groups, so no one wanted to group up with me x2, so I became even more withdrawn, so no one wanted to group up with me x3…

          2. Paulina*

            I wish I could collect some of these testimonials to show to the people who run the student engagement survey (or those who determine how our results are used). We went through a phase of being told to do more group work etc. specifically in reaction to the survey saying we didn’t do enough.

      3. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes, absolutely, you need to be giving clear instructions as to what the groupings of students are. If you have an odd number at someone is left out, go to them and as the teacher put them with a specific group, so it’s not up to them to figure out which group to try to break into. Otherwise you’re going to find people having to stress every single time about who they are going to pair with and talk to, and feeling rejection if they get left out, which is going to be incredibly distracting to whatever learning or processing your thinking they will be able to accomplish.

        1. BHB*

          That works in smaller groups, but OP is teaching to 2-400 students. It’s not really practical for them to go around designating 100 individual groups of 4. I don’t think it’s wildly out of line to expect college-age students to be able to organise themselves into small groups, even if they don’t know each other that well.

          1. JB*

            Are you sure about that? I don’t think a group of 100+ fully grown, professional, well-meaning adults would be able to divide themselves into groups in a timely manner either, at least not without a great deal of awkardness. They’re sitting in a lecture hall in rows. There’s either going to be a really long pause while the students figure out on their own starting from one end of each row what the groups are, or there are going to be odd people in the middle left out by accident who then have to either work on their own or squeeze past everyone else to find others who were left out of a group.

            No lecture class of this size that I attended as a student ever had a ‘talk to the people around you’ or ‘group up’ component, I assume for this exact reason.

            1. misspiggy*

              An experienced lecturer/facilitator will use strategies make this type of situation work. Someone who doesn’t know how to manage the details will often end up with a disorganised, anxiety-inducing situation.

              OP might want to look into training in active/participatory adult learning methods. In many cases university lecturers get no pedagogical training, which has always struck me as odd.

      4. Sandman*

        Same here. I don’t mind talking in groups so much, it’s having to self-select for those groups that even well into adulthood has me feeling like an awkward 7th-grader again.

      5. QC*

        I don’t have any significant social anxiety and would hate this set up. I might even drop the course to get away from it if I were a student. I’m perfectly social at work: I will strike up conversations with strangers, speak in meetings, make formal presentations, take feedback. But any kind of small-group, forced discussion or work, especially in college, and my brain shuts off. I tend to be kind of a people pleaser and will defer to stronger personalities in those settings, even if my thinking is going in a different direction or another angle stood out to me. Small group discussions become something to endure, before I can get back to learning the way I like.

        The worst part of so many professional training courses is that that’s the model everyone has decided to use, and there doesn’t seem to be much room for alternate learning types. I very much prefer to listen, think, and reflect. Large group discussions (like the whole class or a larger, moderated group) are better for me, because I get to hear a range of thoughts and can contribute my organic thoughts as they fit into the flow of conversation. College isn’t practice for “real life” in any case.

    3. BethDH*

      I’m in academia in a teaching-heavy non faculty role, but used to adjunct full time. I find that it helped students with anxiety to make the talking to a neighbor the complete task the first few times.
      That is, I told them exactly who to talk to (no forming their own groups and then figuring out who was left out). I told them exactly what to say and angled for things that were less anxiety inducing in themselves. So instead of having them say something like their favorite band (I hated questions like that because I worried about judgments!) they might have to tell the person what their earliest class start time was.
      Then when I shifted to having them discuss class content, I’d still keep the assignments really concrete. No “discuss x topic.” I also avoid presenting to the class after group chats, instead I might have all the groups put notes in a shared class doc. I can check version control if I’m worried a group hasn’t been contributing, but that’s rarely been an issue.

      1. Kate*

        Another prof here–great tip, thank you!

        OP, it’s my understanding that making attendance a required component of grades works against the excellent egalitarian goals you have in using this technique in your teaching. Would dropping it be an option?

        1. Allypopx*

          This is my thought too. Attendance as a grade can be really damaging – if “you have to be here to get the content” is your goal, that will come out in other ways than grading attendance.

          1. Paulina*

            IME the purpose of having attendance count is to make “you have to be here to get full benefit” clear, so they don’t find out too late to do something about it. A lot of students have a hard time adjusting from high school where skipping was kept track of and penalized, to a full “take responsibility yourself” situation in university. Especially with large classes where you feel pretty anonymous unless you speak up. Having attendance count towards the grade, especially in introductory classes, can be part of a more gradual development of responsibility. Even in higher-level classes, especially now with remote teaching, an attendance component can be essentially “don’t kid yourself, you really need to come regularly.”

            1. JM60*

              Part of the problem I have with making attendance required for your grade in college is that college is meant for adults. Even 18-19 year old freshmen students already have, or currently are, working jobs where attendance is important. If they are responsible enough to hold a job, they’re probably responsible enough to attend class as often as needed to sufficiently understand the material.

              Also, there are cases in which people have a hard time making it to class through no fault of their own because they’re taking full responsibility in all other aspects in their lives. If you need to squeeze in as many working hours as you can, you might only have so much time between the end of your shift and the start of class, and might not make it if you get stuck in traffic.

              1. JM60*

                If they are responsible enough to hold a job, they’re probably responsible enough to attend class as often as needed to sufficiently understand the material.

                I want to add that if they aren’t, it’s their loss. Since the students are (usually) adults, and they’re essentially your customers, I think it’s appropriate to let them face the natural consequences of their actions (e.g., failing tests and assignments) rather than add artificial punishments.

                1. JM60*

                  Just wanted to add that I’m saying this as a student who rarely missed class. I’ve probably missed about 12 classes when earning my bachelor’s, and I don’t think I missed a single class then earning my master’s degree. However, the fact that I usually didn’t need to work during the school year made this very easy for me.

        2. Momma Bear*

          I realize that OP has hundreds of students, but if attendance counts and you are seeing a cause and effect between the group chats and people leaving the class, then I’d change the attendance policy and/or reach out to those students. The campus should have an office for students with disabilities – that could be a good place to reach out for advice about how to handle students with anxiety. I hope that OP and others are not being overly dismissive about how debilitating anxiety can be.

      2. Anon100*

        I really like your approach – that way no student is “that leftover kid with no friends in the class.” And giving them the script is good; I’ve found that through my own experience and through my friend’s experiences, being told what to say for the first 5-10 times in person or on phone calls (once we started our first post-college jobs, there was a lot of cold calling) helped us work through the anxiety of talking to a complete stranger.

      3. Paulina*

        Excellent ideas, thank you! Having a short thing to say initially also hopefully prevents a more chatty person from running out the clock accidentally and leaving no time for their neighbour, or for subsequent pairings (in a situation where you don’t designate pairs but ask students to talk to their neighbour on one side and then the other, which can help ensure nobody gets left out entirely — leave time for 3 such conversations, each person has 2).

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP, please make sure it’s in the course description so your students have had time to prepare. And self-select out if their issues are critical.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Hopefully not self-selecting out of a required course, obviously. Also consider contacting your schools student counseling center to learn what services might be available to help. And straight on address the issue in your first lecture , that yes this is hard for some people, and if it’s an impediment here are some resources available for you to overcome this challenge.

      2. WellRed*

        I can’t imagine there’s any degree out there without some sort of interaction or public speaking along the way. You can’t simply opt out for four years.

        1. Ashley*

          No but you can pick professors who better match your style or modify your class schedule so you don’t (or do) have all your group interaction classes on the same day or even same semester better. Being aware upfront in the description can be super helpful especially if you have anxiety or know your learning style is or isn’t this.

        2. JM60*

          I’m sure there are lots of degree programs out there with little social interaction and no public speaking required. I think it depends on the field of study, the particular class, and the particular professor. I got my bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts college, and I can think of only 4 times I had to give presentations when earning that degree, 3 of which were in elective courses. I got my master’s degree in a STEM field, and the only time I had to give a presentation when earning that degree was also during an elective course that was somewhat of a humanities class.

        3. JB*

          I don’t think the students opting out are unable to interact with others or speak in public. Having a lecture hall of 100+ students form their own groups and talk amongst themselves sounds like a chaotic nightmare.

          1. Lexie*

            It sounds like they aren’t forming groups. The LW says they are directed to talk to the people around them. So basically you turn to your neighbor and talk for a couple of minutes and then turn back to the instructor. No moving seats required.

      3. Artemesia*

        The idea that you have to ‘warn students’ that they will be expected to speak in class and discuss ideas strikes me as absurd. This is pretty fundamental to any sort of educational process. Yes some things need to be accommodated. The deaf student may need an interpreter; the blind student should not be expected to draw pictures. But expecting class participation is not one of those things. Suggesting the student jot down their ideas first might be helpful but suggesting they opt out of any experience that requires them to articulate their thoughts, is not so much.

        1. Anomalous*

          Could not DISAGREE more. The OP is forcing students to talk to each other during a large lecture class. This is very much out of the ordinary.

          Expecting class participation of this sort, from someone with severe social anxiety, is EXACTLY like expecting a blind student to draw pictures. It might literally be impossible for the student to do this.

          1. Heather*

            Then the student needs to go to the health center or mental health clinic on campus, get diagnosed, and either formalize accommodations or develop a treatment plan.

            1. Anomalous*

              Many students with severe anxiety do have formal accommodation plans. It is then up to the professors to actually follow them.

              But getting diagnosed costs money. Testing for this can cost thousands of dollars. (I know, I have paid these bills.) Not everyone with this problem can afford the luxury of a diagnosis.

            2. KoiFeeder*

              “Don’t make me speak publicly or I will interrupt my presentation with uncontrollable vomiting” is not actually an accommodation I was able to request- it was considered “undue hardship” on the college.

              Funny enough, being known as the student who hurled on-stage at their mandatory presentation caused a huge setback in my mental health treatments and made the problem worse. Sure would’ve been nice to be allowed to opt out.

              1. Tali*

                I’m sure you’re telling the absolute truth here, but I find it hard to believe the course prof didn’t work out a solution to this with you after you explained the issue to them.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  The course professor is the same one that thought I should go to an institution if I had an autoimmune disease that caused me to miss class days.

                  I did not like that man very much.

          2. A*

            I hear you on the anxiety piece, but I don’t think it’s ‘very much out of the ordinary’. I can’t speak to how often this approach is taken, but this was common at both universities I attended – so at the very least I don’t think it’s uncommon.

            1. Anomalous*

              Perhaps. But I also spent 10 years as an STEM professor in an earlier part of my career, and in my 25 years in academia (as student, post-doc, and professor), at four different universities in the US, I had never heard of this practice before OP 4’s letter.

            2. Annie Moose*

              Agreed! Pretty much evrey class I took in college had some form of collaborative, discussion-based learning. I think it’d be quite rare for a student to go through a full 4+ years of university and never once have a class where they’re expected to break into discussion groups or speak to a neighbor!

          3. Eukomos*

            You may have somewhat dated knowledge of college classes. There’s been a big push for active learning since passive lecture observation doesn’t work for most people. This class format is very common and a student who was completely unable to do it would likely need to have formal accommodations around it that they could inform instructors of at the beginning of the semester.

          4. Lexie*

            The OP specifically states that students are not forced to talk to each other. It’s encouraged but not mandated.

          5. GothicBee*

            I don’t know about the social anxiety aspect, but I do agree that having a group or classroom participation component in a course this large is out of the norm. Maybe it depends on the program, but in my experience, a class with hundreds of students was understood to be more of a lecture class. You went, you listened to the lecture, you did the work. These were prereq classes, not major upper-level courses.

            If this is an upper-level course with hundreds of students, I could see a point to having group work. It would depend on the material being taught though, and type of discussion questions.

            I’m also gonna say, I think the idea that these students need to learn that talking to other people isn’t scary and you can learn to make a friend is kind of condescending. These are college students. They have lives outside of the classroom. They probably have roommates. Maybe have jobs. They most certainly have made friends before. So to be honest I think the benefit of doing a “talk to your neighbor” assignment is negligible unless there’s some benefit specific to the material that is being studied.

        2. SummerBreeze*

          Yep. My goodness, I suffer from anxiety myself, and the idea that students with anxiety should be given this level of workaround for being asked to verbally communicate with their peers occasionally is…startling.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yes. While social interaction may be severely limited in some jobs, there’s always a point at which you have to speak to someone. I can go for days without talking to anyone except via email, but every so often I’ll get a phone call.
            Now, I have been known to have panic attacks and I’m pretty introverted, so having to talk to the person next to me is pretty anxiety-inducing, however I do know that I can’t get through life without ever talking to other people, so I force myself to talk. I’ll never be an extrovert socialite, but I have managed to talk my way into getting new clients and negotiating my rate successfully.
            Once you’ve forced yourself to do it, you feel so great, it’s definitely worth it!

    5. Binderry*

      Not sure if this is the same thing that you are suggesting, but there is a common practice called “think-pair-share”. Basically, you have a short time for students to write out their thoughts individually before starting the discussion part. That way, anxious students (or anyone really) has time to put some thoughts together that they can share and contribute rather than trying to come up with something on the spot. This works great to get more active and productive discussions from all students.

      1. Paulina*

        This approach also encourages students to examine their own ideas before listening to their classmates. Many shy and unconfident students have good ideas that they might not explore otherwise.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes, and it also avoids having the extroverts loudly process their thoughts – some people need to say what they’re thinking out loud and it can be so annoying listening when you’ve already had those thoughts and moved on to something more complex.

          But then I suppose it’s not fair to those who can’t think without voicing all their thoughts, so we could be going round in circles for a long time.

          Thing is, no boss in a company is going to cater to the new guy’s anxiety by doing all that, so you do have to learn to speak up at some point.

      2. Kaiko*

        I like this. One of the podcasts I listen to occasionally did live shows in the Before Times, and they always said “Do you have a question? Great! Turn to someone around you, make eye contact with them, and share your questions!” which I really liked as an approach.

      3. Noelle*

        Socially anxious person here. Personally I found this approach helpful in school. I hate being put on the spot because I find it hard to form fully articulate thoughts while someone’s actively talking to me, and asking them to give me a moment doesn’t really help because then they’re just awkwardly staring at me making everything worse! Being able to write down what I’m thinking gives me the time and privacy to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it. Heck, I do that at work all the time now when I need to ask people questions. Also, I feel like if you have something written down, the more gregarious people in the group are more likely to slow down and give you a chance to talk since they can physically see you have something to share that you haven’t yet. (Number one anxiety inducer in group conversations for me is getting stuck with extroverts who can very quickly respond to each other, and not being able to get in a word before they switch topics.)
        Also I would agree about assigning the groups, even if it’s as informal as going by the seating or counting off, vs making students form their own groups. I always got into these “nobody likes me, I’m a loser” feedback loops since I didn’t have the confidence to ask to join a group and as a result ended up in undesirable ones.
        Obviously, your mileage may vary because people experience anxiety differently. But I really appreciate teachers who understand that social interaction isn’t easy for everyone while gently encouraging students to grow their social skills. If it hadn’t been for my profs encouraging me to express my own ideas, my avoidant behind wouldn’t be able to have the fulfilling, very communication based job I have now, 5 years out from college graduation.

    6. Artemesia*

      People need to live in the world and asking a student to brainstorm with a partner (one of the few days to get real participation in a huge lecture class) is a reasonable expectation. I would not worry about this. If the student is truly too anxious to have a conversation with the student next to them, they just won’t, which is of no consequence to the class.

    7. PT*

      My husband said he’s gotten so much positive interaction having the chat function of Microsoft Teams up during remote teaching this year, he is thinking of enabling it during in-person teaching going forward. He gets way more class participation via chat than he does via voice, even in the classroom.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        In the first lockdown, so many of my students had a shitty connection we had to do everything via chat, because even audio would cut out too much. Studying translation techniques, so at least they’re all comfortable with reading and writing. It was great, because if I missed a question here and there I was able to go back and answer the questions I missed, or clarify points that I hadn’t explained well. And using Discord, it all stayed right there and we could go back and check what had been said before. It obviously took far more time – preparing the lesson meant I typed up everything I wanted to say in advance, then just pasted it into the chat, and then checking back the next day could take as much time as the lesson. But I felt that students were being cheated of so much in the way of social life and interacting with others, I had to go above and beyond to make it worthwhile for them. They all did really well on the exam so I think it helped.

    8. LizM*

      Along with this, I’d urge you to do some reading about how introverts operate. Personally, I liked “Quiet” by Susan Cain, but there are lots of books and articles that cover this. Giving introverts a few min to collect and organize their thoughts before asking them to discuss is going to help a lot. Personally, I would prefer to get some of the discussion questions in advance, to think about when doing the reading, I’m an extremely introverted person and hate feeling put on the spot.

      It won’t address all social anxiety by any means, but will help your students who have a more internal thought process.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        How is the inability to respond rapidly to questions related to introversion. As I understand it, introversion means losing energy or feeling uncomfortable when with many people, and needing time alone or in very very small groups to re-energize. It doesn’t mean being slow in thinking or needing extra time to speak. In fact, it doesn’t have much to do with the ability to speak/think at all.

        Yes, I can see not wanting feel put on the spot, but that’s not specific to introversion.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It is something that helps a lot of introverts. Introversion is not limited to being shy with other people and needing to recharge. I know I can provide much better answers in writing than orally. I think it is much harder for an introvert to be put on the spot.

          I’m not an extreme introvert though, so I imagine if I knew the teacher was going to implement active learning sessions I’d mentally prepare for that, and be collecting my thoughts ready for whatever question she might throw at us as I listened to the lecture.

      2. Annie Moose*

        Introversion and social anxiety are not the same thing. Being introverted doesn’t mean I can’t make small talk or hold a conversation; it means it exhausts me to socialize for lengthy periods of time/with people I don’t know well/in large groups. I have absolutely no problem exchanging a few words with someone, even a stranger, in a classroom setting.

    9. Batgirl*

      One thing I’d do if I were OP is I’d make the questions available to answer digitally on kahoot, quizziz or nearpod. This 1) allows students to see and prepare for questions in advance, 2) they can opt out of discussion and just answer you individually on their phone; you could then say “hey nickname has a great idea” and bring them into discussion that way, scaffolding and modelling this skill for them 3) they can collaborate digitally using collaboration boards or polls and 4) you get a nifty digital report of their understanding that you can use for assessment and planning. God bless you for trying to use some pedagogy in lecture halls!

    10. Not So NewReader*

      It seems to me that if OP is trying to treat anxiety that maybe best left up to the professionals. Throwing an anxious person into the fire is not going to make them less anxious.
      OP, it’s really not up to teachers/professors to write treatment plans for folks.

      If you wish to encourage development of general life or workplace skills including, approaching strangers in a structured setting, then I can kind of get behind that idea.

      That said, I have never been a fan of group work in the class room. I don’t think it does what some people think it should. I do know that there are unintended outcomes/covert learnings that are distressing to say the least.

      OP, I’d avoid a class with group stuff not because of anxiety but because of the incredible amounts of wasted time. When I had returned to school, students had calculated out what they were paying by the minute to sit in a class. 20 minutes equaled X dollars and so on. Upon exiting a class after yet another group activity, the students would mumble to each other, “that cost Y dollars to do that..” and shake their heads in hopelessness.

      When I returned to school, I was dismayed to see how very little time is actually spent listening to a prof teach. I can honestly say that I learned more here on AAM in a few months than I ever did in 4 years in college.
      In the past teachers have written in to say they had students read AAM and discuss some of the topics here. So that is my suggestion for class work- have them read a particular column here and then discuss it in class.

      1. Saradactyl*

        Right. As an Autistic person who has some degree of social skills deficits, face blindness, and anxiety, I’d be quitting that class so fast you’d not see me for dust. If it was a required course, I’d be skipping the socially-fraught lectures despite the impact attendance (?!? What is this, Grade 2?) has on grades. The OP speaks about making learning more accessible to those who are under-represented in STEM, but surely people with anxiety and neurological differences or disabilities are among those groups too.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          A lot of US colleges mandate attendance.

          But also, as another Autistic person in the same boat as you, I’d be right on your heels if at all possible.

      2. Anomalous*

        I absolutely agree with. There have rarely been letters that have made me angrier at the OP. OP4, please just stick to teaching chemistry (or physics or biology or calculus or whatever), and leave the treatments for social anxiety to someone who knows what they are doing.

        OP4, you are not being accommodating. You are actively discriminating against students with social anxiety.

        You are making them afraid to attend class. How is making students afraid to attend class helping them learn? And then, after making them afraid to attend, you are grading them on attendance.

        These students may not have a choice other than taking your class, not if they want to get a degree in a timely fashion. You may be actively costing them time and money.

        You are running a large class, probably with mostly freshmen or sophomores, and letting them “sit next to someone they know”, when they possibly don’t know anyone at all. Do you realize how hard it can be to meet new people as a freshman, particularly for students with social anxiety, particularly in covid times?

        There will be plenty of other opportunities for these students to learn to work with others in their careers, even at university — in lab courses, for example, or in smaller advanced-level courses. Not every class needs to do every thing. Let “working with others” go where it is a more natural fit than a 400 person lecture.

        You say that “on average” your method improves learning. Maybe that is true, maybe not. But you are actively harming at least one group your students.

        Like medicine, teaching should have the cardinal rule of “do no harm”. You are doing harm.

        1. Starbuck*

          This seems way over the top. OP says the talking is encouraged, but not required. They aren’t graded on the discussion. Students who aren’t up for socializing can choose not to – even sit at the back of the room or away from others if they’re really worried about it. I attended many lectures in college where professors used this technique; it was easy not to participate if I didn’t want to. Plus, it’s not like I was always the one having to do the approaching – just as often, other students would turn to me!

          Saying they’re “actively harming” students with this commonly accepted and understood to be effective teaching practice that students are able to opt out of is ridiculous.

          1. Anomalous*

            “For some students, this amount of social interaction makes them shut down or skip lecture, which hurts their grade because attendance counts.” This sure sounds like active harm to me.

            1. Starbuck*

              The social interaction is not required, though. Like I said, from what the OP describes it sounds like sitting in the back of the room or off to the side would be a solution if they don’t want anyone to try to talk to them, since they’re not graded on whether they talk or not. Calling it “active harm” is a HUGE stretch. What I would call that situation is a student who is in dire need of diagnosis, treatment, and/or accommodation. The OP would be actively harming if students asked for an accommodation or adjustment and were denied. The same way a teacher who does primarily spoken lectures is not “actively harming” a Deaf student unless they fail to provide written notes or an interpreter.

              But I agree that making attendance a part of the grade isn’t necessary, and if the professor can change that (or give it less weight so it’s not the difference between passing and failing) that would be helpful.

        2. Shan*

          I fail to see how OP4 is “actively harming” their students. For one thing, they aren’t forced to discuss amongst themselves, they’re just encouraged to do so. And even if they were, I’m sorry, but that’s not an unreasonable request. If someone is truly incapable of interacting with other students due to anxiety, they probably qualify for some form of official accommodation.

          Also, “just stick to…” really gets my shoulders up around my ears. Teaching isn’t just about the subject matter, and personally I’m always happy to see a uni professor who actually puts thought and effort into their teaching methods.

          1. Anomalous*

            Yes, those students probably qualify for some form of official accommodation. Some fraction of them will even be lucky and have the accommodation, and some fraction of the professors will even follow it. I really doubt if all of those fractions are 100%.

            If students are skipping class to avoid these discussions, they must seem to students like they are required.

          2. Batgirl*

            Same on the “just stick to” making shoulders go up around this teacher’s ears! Of course OP has to take their social anxiety into account! Assessing your students needs is like day 1 of teaching school. Helping students overcome barriers to learning IS teaching. Saying ‘not my problem’ *shrug emoji* is not an option for a trained teacher; not with the kind of learning outcomes you can get by making collaboration and peer feedback equally accessible to all. Yes, group work is often done badly; that does not mean it can’t be done well. She does have to find a way that they can access their hive mind quickly and comfortably (hence why she is writing the letter!), but teaching multiple individuals with varying needs is never a ‘just do…’ kind of task.

        3. Anonapots*

          The thing about social anxiety is that constantly allowing someone who has it to opt out of the activities that make them anxious doesn’t actually help them, either. It’s generally accepted that with guidance and with the help of a counselor, working through the things that cause anxiety helps people realize there’s nothing to fear. Giving people a broad pass on anything that challenges their comfort is not a good plan.

          PS They aren’t graded on attendance and are allowed to opt out, so your take isn’t actually what’s happening in the first place.

          1. Librarian1*

            Yep, this. I had very severe social anxiety and what helped was finding a therapist and practicing speaking with other people so I would become more comfortable around it. I could process my anxieties in a safe space afterwards.

        4. Lizzo*

          1) Where is your rage coming from?

          2) Would you prefer that a student encounter this uncomfortable situation in a college environment where they have access to supportive resources–and, encounter it sooner rather than later so that there is a better change of successful intervention and management…
          …would you prefer that they encounter it when they find themselves out of school, in a job where they *do* need to have these kinds of interactions with others, but they have significantly less support available to them to deal with the physical and mental health impacts of the anxiety?

          1. Nanani*

            What makes you think they’ll take a job where they need to have this kind of interaction?
            Taking orders or reading a help desk script has structure that “share your throughts while trying to learn a thing” doesn’t. You can prepare for meetings, you can’t prepare for “instead of the lecture you were expecting you have to think of things to say”.

            1. Lizzo*

              But even in jobs with structure–and very prescriptive structure–you still need to be able to interact with your customers effectively, and that frequently includes skills like thinking critically and asking good questions to adapt to the needs of that specific customer…

              …not to mention that you have to interview to get the job in the first place, which usually involves talking to strangers and responding to interview questions that you may not have been prepared to answer.

              Colleges that allow students to hide from their discomfort are not doing the future selves of those students any favors. In fact, I’d argue that the greatest harm comes from *not* challenging students to expand their comfort zones.

              And yes, some of those students may need accommodations or additional mental/social support as they go through that growth process, but most universities are equipped to provide those things to all students who need them. After graduation, access to those same resources becomes limited to those with privilege. Thus, if given the choice, it would seem to me to be preferable to fail in the highly supportive environment.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I think that these students should go and read the book and not bother to ever talk to anyone about anything.
        If you don’t get anything out of classroom group work, you’re not going to be much of a team player in the workplace either. The lesson for you in that class may be that you’ll need to find a job where you don’t ever have to interact with other people (good luck with that).

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          This is really unkind and unnecessary- different people learn differently and have different abilities and challenges. Getting all “good luck finding a job” regarding a disability is uncalled for, and no better than saying “good luck finding a job where you don’t have to talk!” to a mute person. And yes, there exist ways to work around that for both my example of a physical disability and for people with learning/mental/emotional disabilities. The lack of understanding and imagination in the comment is my entire point.

      4. GothicBee*

        I agree with all of this. Group work = tons of wasted time unless there’s a specific reason to work within a group that pertains to the material. Like I could see an group work being more involved in upper level psychology/counseling or business courses (though again, it depends on the topics being covered).

        Not to mention, the “work with a neighbor” type of work specifically always seemed pointless. When have you ever had to brainstorm/discuss something with a random person?? And I say this as someone who worked in customer service for years where I’d encounter random people all day. But interacting with a customer is not the same thing as discussing something with a random classmate.

  5. MassMatt*

    #1 I would say stop doing the incompetent/lazy/distracted employee’s work for them, nor try to help them figure out how to be motivated to do it. Honestly, you’ve made them videos? I’m exhausted just hearing about it. This loser has been there a year and a half watching YouTube videos while millions of people are out of work?

    The problem is that right now this is YOUR a problem, your boss is terrible and will continue to be terrible because she doesn’t care, it’s not causing her any problems. If you have no authority over your coworker than it’s not your responsibility to do his work when he slacks off or screws it up. Why do you care more about the team’s work than the manager of the team does?

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      I agree. And OP, stop framing it as these things being too hard for him and you needing to “make it easier“ – the guy is lying to you! Straight-up, repeatedly lying to your face. You ask him if he has done X, he says “yes” when the answer is no, over and over again over the course of a year. Even if the tasks are somehow too difficult for him then he should be working with you to find solutions – there is no excuse for actively lying to cover up the fact that he just isn’t doing them. You can’t make tasks easier for someone who has no intention of doing them. He is dishonest.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Yes, I feel that the fact he’s been repeatedly lying about it for over a year is by far the most egregious aspect and it doesn’t seem to have been addressed at any point.
        I mean, even if he hadn’t been dishonest about it, he would obviously not be the right fit for this job since that’s A LOT of hand-holding for someone who’s been working there for a year and a half. But based on the letter, “forgetfulness” or “needing more explanations and reminders” is very much NOT the issue here.

        1. WellRed*

          Right?! It’s like, OP, have you noticed he’s lying? To your face? You may not feel you have “agency” to do anything but no need to be a doormat. Speak up! Also, maybe internet access shouldn’t include YouTube. That seems an easy fix.

          1. Artemesia*

            time to march him into your boss’s office when you discover a year’s worth of not having done a critical job. ‘I just discovered that Fergus has not done the date matching, which takes about 10 minutes a week, for a year, our data is compromised and useless and he has lied to me about it consistently during this time. We cannot get the job done with Fergus in this role.’

            And start looking for a placement in this organization or elsewhere that doesn’t require you to do the work of an incompetent subordinate.

            Be a lot firmer with ‘I cannot do my job with Fergus who refuses to do his and then lies about it, in charge of the data I need to work with.’

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          Yes, why isn’t he being asked point blank why he said yes when the answer turned out to be no? You and your boss should be asking him that and not letting him off the hook until he’s given some kind of answer to that question. Right now what your boss is teaching him is that he can absolutely get away with lying and goofing off during the workday for long, long periods of time and still maintain a paycheck. So why would he change?

          1. Dave*

            My experience calling lying co-workers on the carpet point blank usually results in further shut downs. As in — you said you did X but I just checked the database and it isn’t done still. I get some excuse, and follow-up with we just had this conversation last week, why isn’t this getting done? After doing that (and there are almost always more then one issue / problem happening and it isn’t just one task that didn’t happen) the co-worker generally avoids responding to anything I ask. Now I have been told I am very direct in my personality which I admit, but calling our people for lying has rarely had the desired result. I typically find it better to soft pedal to dig deeper about why the didn’t think they were lying basically. And I most definitely tell my boss that this person can’t do their job and are lying about it.

            1. Batgirl*

              I think it depends what the desired result is. If you want a die hard liar to admit the truth, you’re not going to get that very often. But if you use the direct approach you can get two goals met pretty consistently. 1) Making sure there isn’t a genuine reason you might have overlooked; if they shut down and can’t explain themselves you can tell the boss: “they have no explanation for this” and 2) you can let the person experience the awkwardness of being confronted and then they know you’re a person who will confront them again if they drop the ball a second time. This doesn’t mean they’ll do it, but they’ll have gotten due warning.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, frankly that’s my major sticking point too. A member of staff who repeatedly lies cannot be trusted at all. There was one rather bizarre coworker in my first job in the labs who would literally tell you to your face that she’d stayed till 8pm to get all the samples in the incubator – despite her not setting foot in the lab for a week AND the incubator being totally empty.

        (It was over 20 years ago so memory a bit hazy but I think she tried to claim some sort of mental disroder that made her unable to concentrate on any work AND made her unable to tell the truth when asked a direct question)

      3. Observer*

        the guy is lying to you! Straight-up, repeatedly lying to your face. You ask him if he has done X, he says “yes” when the answer is no, over and over again over the course of a year.

        Yes, OP, bring this up as well. EXPLICITLY lay this out for your boss. You need someone whose word you can trust. You should not have to double check if your employee actually did what they said they did.

    2. Knope knope knope*

      Agreed. Stop doing the work. I would bring it to your manager every single time though. “Hi Manager, Coworker has not completed said task going back for the past year. I have advised X,Y,Z but the accounts can’t believe billed until it’s completed. Can you please get him to move this forward.” Every single tome. State the problem and what was not get done as a result but make it your manager’s problem to handle. They’re the one responsible for running a functional team at the end of the day and it sounds like you’ve already gone above and beyond to handle this on your own. At this point you’re really just protecting him by trying to train someone who is untrainable.

      1. KHB*

        What do you think the manager is going to do to “get him to move this forward”? Managers don’t have magic telekinetic powers to get people to do things. And the majority of the tools they do have at their disposal, OP also has.

        OP was put into a leadership role, presumably with the understanding that she’d be the one responsible for overseeing the day-to-day tasks and manage the day-to-day followups, so the manager herself doesn’t have to do it. If I were the manager, and one of my team leads was running to me every single time an employee did something wrong, I’d see it as a failure of the team lead’s responsibilities.

        I mean, I get that it’s really tough. I’m in one of these responsibility-but-no-authority roles myself. Nobody teaches you how to do this stuff. But “no authority” does not mean “no agency.” It took me a long time to figure it out, but I think a key part of performing well in these roles is being willing to do the repeated follow-ups with the employees yourself – to say “Hey, this is wrong, and you need to do it right.” It’s not always comfortable to say things like that – but it’s not any more comfortable for the manager to do it than for you.

          1. KHB*

            Yes, I get that – and I think a certain amount of pressure on the boss is appropriate, but the approach needs to be different: Not “You need to make Fergus do his day-to-day work, because there’s nothing I can do,” but rather “I’ve done everything that I can do here, and Fergus is just not working out in this position.” But you also need to make sure you have done everything you can do, and I think OP has a lot more tools at her disposal than she realizes.

            (Also, be careful what you wish for. If you successfully pressure management to fire Fergus, are you sure they’re going to hire a replacement right away? Maybe Fergus is so bad that it would be better to have an empty chair, but be sure you think this through.)

            1. I should really pick a name*

              What kind of tools do think are available? They HAVE been following up.

              When an employee is at the point where they lie about work being done, I think it’s better to have an empty chair.

              1. KHB*

                She’s been focused on “working with him” and “making tasks easy for him.” She can also try taking a harder edge in communicating clearly that what he’s doing is unacceptable and he needs to be doing things differently. Maybe she thinks she’s already been clear, or that it should be obvious to him by now what he needs to do. But it’s almost always possible to be more direct, and it’s often necessary.

                1. Louise*

                  So I am often put in the LW position of I need the other person to do certain tasks to do my job, but I am not actually their manager. I have definitely had age and gender work against me. (Amazing how you can do your job for over a decade and your new co-worker is surprised as your competency in doing your job.)
                  What have you found that works when you are direct about I need X to finish Y and this is cause Z impact and they repeatedly don’t do it or miss deadlines. I get missing one or two marks but I am talking 95% of the time not hitting time sensitive deadlines by weeks or doing it half way so there are more questions then answers half the time. They often create such a clog that I actively work to avoid them and get the work through other avenues which isn’t fair to my other co-workers not to mention they are being rewarded essentially for bad work. (And your boss sucks and isn’t going to change completely applies … it take about a year for the boss to intervene.)

                2. I edit everything*

                  I got the impression that LW had been plenty clear. This needs to be done. Do this. This hasn’t been done even though you said it has. Get it done. Do it right. Etc. But she has no power to threaten consequences. When the employee is lying about what they’ve done, it’s not about unclear communication. It’s about slacking off and dishonesty. The other employee clearly understands what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re just not doing it, and even frequent follow-ups aren’t helping.

                  LW can’t implement a PIP. They can’t say, “I need you to do this on time every week or…” because they can’t finish that sentence.

                3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  I have to agree at this point what are needed are actual consequences for failure to do the job, and OP does not have the authority to impose consequences on their team member. At this point it really does sound like OP’s manager needs to actually manage the underperforming team member.

                4. KHB*

                  @I edit everything: The implicit conclusion to that sentence is “…or else you’ll be having an uncomfortable conversation with me.” This might not always be perfectly effective, but it’s more effective than you might think.

                  @Louise: So when I started in this role, I had a problem for years of people constantly missing their deadlines. (They were missing by hours, not weeks, but our timelines are tight enough that being four hours late is still a problem, and they were being late 95% of the time.) It felt to me like I was being clear that the deadline was 12:00 noon, but they, for whatever reason, weren’t hearing it that way – and each time they got away with turning in assignments at 4:00 PM, that just reinforced to them even further that 12:00 noon doesn’t mean 12:00 noon.

                  It took me several attempts to turn the ship around before I finally got it to stick – because on my first few tries, I kept erring on the side of “dropping subtle hints” and “hoping people will figure it out for themselves.” I found it really uncomfortable to say, in so many words, “You folks are not meeting your deadlines, that’s unacceptable, and it needs to stop. I know I’ve been lax about it before now, but that needs to change.” But once I stopped beating around the bush and said it – and kept saying it – it worked.

                  What also helped me was to follow up immediately when people are late. If something’s due at 12:00 noon, and I haven’t gotten it by 12:01, I used to just sit there and hope that they were almost done and I’d get it soon. But now I’ll be much bolder about saying, “Hey, where’s your assignment? It’s late.” (This is also a great thing about having deadlines in the middle of the day, as opposed to at close of business – if someone misses their COB deadline, then by definition you don’t find out about it until after they’ve already left for the day.) Sometimes it took several iterations of this to have an effect. But it did have an effect.

                  Maybe it feels like you’re saying all these things already. I felt like I was saying them already too – but I wasn’t. And it’s always possible to say them more.

            2. Natalie*

              I think it’s way more inappropriate for someone to tell their boss a coworker isn’t working out in their position. That’s not really a colleague’s decision to make, whatever they may think privately.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                This happens when there is a vacuum where leadership should be. Not saying it’s right, but is another symptom of absentee boss.

              2. KHB*

                You’re right – upon reflection, that’s not the best thing to say. I guess if I were seeing serious underperformance problems in one of the team members I oversee, I’d say something like, “Hey Boss, I just noticed that Fergus hasn’t been updating the date records over the past year like he says he has. I plan to chat with him about it this afternoon – would you like me to handle this in any particular way?”

                This accomplishes three things: (1) It loops the boss in about a serious issue, (2) it communicates that you understand that Fergus’s mistakes in his work for you are generally your problem to solve, and (3) it leaves an opening for the boss to take charge of things if she wants to.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  If this were early stages, yes, absolutely! But it sounds like they’re past that point. The OP’s message to her boss needs to be that things are much more urgent and serious than that.

        1. Snailing*

          Alison has put this tactic into many answers where the OP only has partial authority (like is expected to do something about it but doesn’t actually have the power to do anything about it), and it’s just so that the boss/manager is forced to become aware of the problem. Right now, the manager is just ignoring that it’s a problem, but if OP starts putting part of the solution on her, it forces her to actin some way, and also protects the OP from catching as much flack for work not being done well if she is clearly communicating “I am doing my part, and I’m even going the extra mile to try to remind this guy what his very clear job tasks are.”

        2. panicking at the disco*

          The OP can’t make the employee do the work. The manager can’t make the employee do the work. The manager, however, can put consequences on the employee not doing the work. All the OP can do is do the work herself. The manager can fire the employee and hire one who will do the job.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Or, she said cynically, give the task entirely to OP so Golden Boy can watch Youtube all day without having to worry about those pesky dates matching.

            1. Dave*

              There is a point where is does become faster to do two jobs then keep fixing someone elses mistakes and all the followup that comes with it. I have actually gone to my boss and have said I would rather do both jobs then let the situation continue. Sure I was busier, had way more work, made more mistakes on my end, but my stress level was actually lower.

        3. EPLawyer*

          Because the Manager is the Manager is is paid to manage people and handle these things. OP is NOT the manager. It is not her job to make sure he does the job he was hired to do instead of lying and saying he is doing it.

          If the company wants OP to be in charge of this guy, then the company has to empower her to do BE IN CHARGE, which includes disciplinary action up to and including firing.

          1. KHB*

            Sorry, but that’s wrong. There are lots and lots of situations where the details of day-to-day work are overseen by one person, and the hiring/firing authority is held by another. This is a really, really common arrangement. I don’t understand why it always sparks such confusion and outrage here.

            1. EPLawyer*

              Because it is a terrible way to do things. Just because its common doesn’t make it right. It’s common to ask people’s salary history so you can peg your offer to their current salary instead of market rate for the job — doesn’t make it right or a good practice.

              If you are going to make someone responsible for someone else’s work — you have to give them the authority to be solve problems with that person’s work. Which might include firing. If you aren’t going to give them that authority, then they should not be really responsible for that person’s work.

              1. KHB*

                It’s only a terrible practice if it isn’t implemented effectively. (Which, to be fair, it very often isn’t.) As I say downthread, the vast majority of what managers do does not directly involve hiring and firing, or even the threat of firing. They have many other tools at their disposal to solve problems with people’s work. There’s no reason a team lead who lacks firing authority can’t use those tools too.

                At my job, several of us who oversee departments often contribute occasional work to other departments. Once, I was overseeing my colleague’s work for my department at the same time as he was overseeing my work for his. I’m curious if you think we should have had the authority to mutually fire each other.

                1. Forrest*

                  On that situation, what would you have done if the other person had been slacking off and not doing the work, or doing it to such a poor standard that it was impacting on your work? Would you have been able to address it effectively?

                  I’ve been on lots of situations where someone at the same level had taken the lead on a project (and similarly, led on projects which my peers were also working on), and it works absolutely fine when everyone is competent and acting in good faith. But it’s a giant mess when someone isn’t competent or acting in good faith, or even if two people are both competent and in good faith but just have very irreconcilable differences about how the project should proceed, unless you have a manager willing to step in and manage: what do you think someone should do in that situation?

              2. doreen*

                I have never had a job where the first -line supervisor who oversaw day to day work had firing authority , and in fact , in most of my jobs the first level manager didn’t have that authority either.( possibly because of the different union contracts in play) But what they did have was the ability to recommend disciplinary action or firing to those who do have the authority as well as other methods. Although my direct reports can’t fire those who report to them , they are not , strictly speaking, held responsible for their subordinates’ work. What they are held responsible for is how how and whether they choose to deal with problems.

                1. Observer*

                  So this is different than what the OP is describing. It sounds to me like your first level managers are being the appropriate level of authority to match what they are being held responsible.

              3. A*

                I don’t think it’s fair to throw out the blanket statement that it’s a ‘terrible way to do things’. I’ll use project management as an example, they manage the day to day outputs of the cross collab teams – but it would make no sense to give them authority over hiring/firing of all depts. involved.

                In my case, I have half a dozen dotted line reports – work output-wise they report to me, and I have the authority to delegate, push back, etc. but I absolutely do not have the authority to fire/discipline formally – if that ever came up I’d go to their manager and we’d talk through it, but it would be on them to address.

                There are so many jobs and industries out there, and they aren’t all the same. I think it’s silly to assume any one of us can speak to the norms across the entirety of the working world.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              There’s a difference between working on details of a task together vs reminding the cohort to do it each time and to do it correctly each time.
              One is collaborative and the other is remedial.
              OP is not being paid to be a job coach.

            3. Observer*

              There are lots and lots of situations where the details of day-to-day work are overseen by one person, and the hiring/firing authority is held by another. This is a really, really common arrangement.

              Actually not all that common in well functioning teams. At least not the point where the person actually responsible for the work has zero authority to actually MANAGE the employee in question.

              I don’t understand why it always sparks such confusion and outrage here.

              Because it’s worse than requiring and employee to pay for their tools – at least then the employee has a chance at getting tools that work. What is happening in a case like this is akin to telling a carpenter that they MUST use only tools in the official tool box and all the tool box is stuff that’s broken.

              You simply cannot put responsibility on someone and then prevent them from actually doing their job correctly.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                You simply cannot put responsibility on someone and then prevent them from actually doing their job correctly.

                Well, you can, but the comments understand what the results will be, and those who don’t will email Alison confused and disappointed.

        4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          If I were the manager, and one of my team leads was running to me every single time an employee did something wrong, I’d see it as a failure of the team lead’s responsibilities.

          Every time you update the boss that Speed Bump hasn’t done the job again, inquire “when is Speed Bump’s last day so I can be prepared to train the competent replacement we’ll be hiring afterwards?”

        5. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Ok, so what do you expect your team lead to do to “get him to move this forward?” Team leads don’t have magic telekinetic powers to get people to do things. And the majority of the tools they do have at their disposal, managers also have…except managers can fire people.

        6. MassMatt*

          You seem to have read a completely different letter. In The letter I read, the OP clearly states they have no authority over the colleague yet they depend on his work to do their own, and the OP describes the many, MANY times they were willing to do the “repeated follow-ups” with the employee. The terrible colleague is ignoring all this follow up because the person’s manager is refusing to manage him. You are blaming the OP for a manager’s failure.

        7. MassMatt*

          To answer your question–Tell him that if he doesn’t do the work, and consistently improve, he will be fired. PIP’s and firings are not “magic wands”, they exist in the real world, and are tools at the manager’s disposal and not the OP’s.

        8. PT*

          For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with KHB here, but the last situation I saw at work like this turned out the same way.

          We had an employee who would. not. do. his. job. He was like a 10 year old who would not do his homework. To get him to do his work, you had to sit with him and talk him through it step by step. Open this email. OK, what are they asking for? Where can you find this answer? OK, let’s answer it. Go into the share drive, open this form, go into the database, open this file, transcribe it into that form, click print, put it into the binder.

          He was written up. He was put on 2 PIPs that I knew of. He was ultimately fired…and then our grandboss demoted his boss, for “not making him do his job.”

          Literally no one could make him do his job within the bounds of professional workplace behavior. Supernanny would have been more appropriate, and I think even she would have struggled.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Agreed. Also if the data processing fails because of this, and clients complain or something else down the line affects the company’s cash flow it’s very useful to have those facts to give to a boss.

        No longer ‘X isn’t doing part of his job’, it’s then ‘we’ve had 20 1 star reviews and 3 complaints from clients because X has repeatedly failed to do their job’. It hits a lot harder.

    3. Mockingjay*

      “At this point, I need someone else to do this work. Is there a way to get someone else into this role to handle it?””

      OP 1, please use Alison’s statement here. You might want to add the impact of Slacker’s inactivity. Use stats: the dates didn’t match x months in a row. Review comments provided on the 18th were not incorporated; these are necessary for accuracy. And when something is late, either respond to Slacker with a reminder/correction and copy the Boss EVERY SINGLE TIME, or send Boss frequent emails: “Boss, still haven’t received the widget report from Slacker. It was due last Friday.” DON’T offer a solution. Make Boss do her job.

      I’m so sorry. I also work in an environment in which my work depends heavily on others and I too experience this frustration.

      1. Twisted Lion*

        I agree with all of this. I would also use his affirmations that he did the work (hopefully via email so its written down) and then show proof that it wasn’t done. Bring the receipts!

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I once has a co-worker who made me a huge fan of the FYI updates to our mutual boss. Example:
        FYI: I am still waiting on X from Lucinda in order to finish project ABC. X was due yesterday in order to get ABC finished by it’s due date.

        Or: Hi Lucinda, I still haven’t received X from you that I needed yesterday in order to finish up ABC for Big Client that is due in five days. When do you anticipate getting it to me? I’m looping in manager so that she is aware that some timelines may have to change. (With this one I’m copying the manager with coworker being aware of that fact – if they read the email.)

        If coworker wants to slack off, well, they are welcome to do so but it sounds like you have done everything possible over the course of a year to make this work – now it’s your managers turn to expend some effort on the project.

    4. JelloStapler*

      I saw that SHE is responsible for the work HE does, so I would be very invested if my butt was on the line for someone else’s work.

    5. TardyTardis*

      Tell your manager that you need the budget to hire someone else, because this guy isn’t doing the work but you’re unable to get him removed. Explain how having to do his work as well as your own is impacting delivery dates.

  6. Turtlewings*

    Oh goodness, that “active learning” thing would make me nope out of a class at the speed of light. In fact, one reason I literally DID drop a class I was auditing a year or two ago was because it required a lot of discuss-with-your-neighbors stuff and it stressed me the heck out.

    Re: preparing your students for the working world, I have a job with very little direct interaction with other people, and I love that beyond words. But when the occasion calls I can absolutely do the required work-oriented conversations. Talking to a coworker or customer about my field of expertise is a whole different thing than being told to turn to the total stranger next to me and have a discussion about something I’m only just learning about. Like Allison said, use whatever teaching methods you feel work best for you (though please have mercy on the socially anxious), but don’t assume “active learning” teaches a necessary job skill.

    1. Ailwhin*

      As an introvert with ADHD thank you for explaining this. I *loathe* this sort of class style. It interrupts my thinking and routine in unexpected ways when I’m trying to absorb new information. And trying to discuss something with random fellow students while 30 other small groups are also talking about the same subject but using slightly different words is a sensory nightmare.

      I fully understand that for many people it’s helpful, and not every class is going to cater entirely to my ideal learning style. (All lecture all the time followed with lots of tests please and thank you!) But phrasing it as though you are “helping” shy quiet people to not be scared of new people is kinda patronizing.

      1. LDF*

        They’re saying they literally had students say that in evals, not pulling it out of thin air. How can it be patronizing to state was students have told them? I understand that’s not your experience but it doesn’t mean it’s not real. As a shy person, I do actually find it valuable to have an in” like this to start conversations sometimes. Sometimes learning (and effective work collaboration, and making friends, and small talk…) requires stepping out of my comfort zone

        1. a sound engineer*

          Yeah, I wasn’t excited about classes that used this format but did find it nice to have an in to start conversations with the people around me and find people to study with, etc. if I was feeling too lazy to start those conversations myself.

        2. AutolycusinExile*

          I see both sides, to be honest. It absolutely opens doors to help students make friends, and it can also absolutely be a valuable teaching tool! However, the same class format can also be a big obstacle to other students at the same time. Portraying it as the universally ‘best’ teaching methodology or a mandatory skill to any employment is a dramatic oversimplification, which perhaps is what Ailwhin might have been responding to. It feels a little dismissive to assume that a student who struggles with one skill will never be successful; finding ways around your weaknesses is part of being an adult.

          It’s also a *popular* oversimplification these days – collaborative learning and the like have been in vogue lately – and for those of us to whom it’s actually a detriment it can be grating to hear after a while. It’s like when people go on and on about yoga helping depression – you might not necessarily be wrong, but there’s no guarantee and it’s not a panacea and there are other ways to handle things and it’d be nice to add some nuance to the discussion, you know? So, although I might not have used the word patronizing myself, I think I’m not alone in feeling self-conscious and a little tender about the subject – especially since addressing the reasons for their students’ difficulties might be a little outside the scope of OP’s job as a teacher.

          @Ailwhin: A class of pure lecture and tests? Sign me up ASAP! It’s ironic, since I think a lot of people assume everyone with ADHD would struggle in a lecture class, but I think I could have actually finished my degree in that a system like that. Especially if the lectures were recorded, as is popular these days with COVID… If only. :/

          1. Casper Lives*

            Just to add another perspective of someone with ADD. I would’ve preferred the collaborative style. Almost all of my classes were lectures. My attention would wander. Small groups could break it up. In fact, I got punished for chatting with the people next to me in a few lectures. I get why, but I couldn’t focus. I started skipping that class and almost failed. It would’ve been nice to have that option of classes with breakout time in the big lecture halls.

            1. AutolycusinExile*

              Oh, yes, absolutely! The variety of human experience is massive, and the only way to increase accessibility is to increase the variety of options available. I’d never want to force people into lectures they can’t benefit from. What works for me definitely isn’t going to work for everyone else, I just thought it was funny that I found another person with ADHD who felt the same way. All my ADHD friends IRL are like you and couldn’t stand it, so I always thought I was an anomaly :P

              (And to be honest, that’s part of the reason I love prerecorded lectures – my attention totally wanders too, but I can just rewind back to the last part I remember and walk away entirely if I still can’t focus. Mid-lecture Zoom breakout sessions are hell, but the COVID-induced asynchronous lectures this year have been a blessing.)

            2. Knope knope knope*

              Yup! This is me! In high school I was either sleeping through lectures or getting detention for talking. I did excellent on standardized tests but my grades always suffered regardless. I’m a very successful high performer now though. I would have loved more classes like this and I think they could have reframed how teachers saw me (smart but lazy and disruptive) and how I saw myself (bad student who hated school). Don’t give up OP.

            3. Autumnheart*

              When I went back to school a few years ago to finish my degree, they were 4-hour long evening classes once a week, with breaks every hour. Part of each class period would be lecture, part would be a group activity, part would be a lab or us presenting our group work to the class.

              Also ADHD and introvert here, but honestly, I appreciated the variety and the activity to keep me engaged. Coming from the working world (as opposed to preparing to enter it), I was already used to having to go talk to people I don’t know and to present in front of groups, so that part wasn’t a stretch. I had a couple classes that were lecture-only and UGGGGH. Like sitting through an all-day meeting.

        3. Viette*

          Agree. They’re teaching 200-400 person STEM classes and using validated techniques to try to equalize the learning outcomes for their effectively ten zillion students. I know that AAM leans very anti-socialization sometimes (a lot of the time), but to be honest I don’t feel like this is a wildly out of place thing to see in college generally. And I think it’s probably the greatest good for the many, numbers-wise, when it comes to these massive STEM classes.

          I think the final paragraph of the letter veers off course in the, “isn’t what I’m doing actually the right thing for even the people who hate it?” but it’s hardly deluded to use these techniques. I hope the letter-writer can look for similarly validated techniques to engage students with social anxiety to try out.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            I’m in the autism spectrum and have a lot of anxiety about talking to people I don’t know, and also about making a fool of myself in front of people I can’t escape (such as people with whom I’ll be taking a class for at least the next semester, and probably the next four years if we’re in the same major) and . . . I just don’t think this is an unreasonable thing to ask of students. I think it would be good to start slowly and not throw them in the deep end, but if it’s already been made clear they can sit with people they already know, then at least some allowance has been made for that. Maybe the class can start with a lower percentage of interaction time and build up slowly?

            I have a fairly low-contact job but I still have to “turn it on” for people sometimes. Most of us aren’t going to skate through our working lives without having our comfort zones tested, and kids this age can have pretty untested comfort zones. But nearly all of us are going to need to learn to adjust to this to even apply for jobs, never mind do them.

            1. Manon*

              Completely agree. I have pretty bad social anxiety and really struggle with meeting new people and speaking in classes/meetings.

              But I acknowledge that it’s my responsibility to deal with these things and that it’s not reasonable to expect that I’ll never have to speak in front of others. College classes were actually very helpful in overcoming some of this anxiety because discussion was so structured.

          2. Lady Meyneth*

            It’s not necessarily out of place, but it’s certainly not for everyone. OP seems to want all her sudents to like and be comfortable with her method, and it’s just not going to happen, wether it’s due to social anxiety or just different learning methods.

            And the fact is, justifying her methods as something that’ll definitely help in the workplace is, at best, naive. It’s her method, it seems to please a reasonable amount of students, and she can stick to it. But it’s not even close to what one would find at work, even for people whose professions will demand a lot of interaction; the dynamics are just too different.

            1. kt*

              I tend to agree that the OP needn’t justify it in terms of professional success, although I happen to think it is true (people whose anxiety prevents them from talking to strangers in subject-matter conversations in a professional context simply have a much smaller range of jobs available; the college version of talking to your neighbor is of course a sort of artificial version, as many things in college are). I also tend to agree that the OP seems to want students to like and be comfortable with it, and as a former college prof I’d encourage the OP to let go of that desire. I ask my students to evaluate me based on how they do in their *next* class, not the class I’m teaching then in — which of course takes a long time to see!

          3. Ace in the Hole*

            Yes, generally speaking I don’t think LW’s methods are bad. Not only do they have statistical support for being effective, they’re common enough that it should not be a surprise to students. This is a very normal type of lecture class set up – someone who has anxiety so severe they are unable to participate should be expecting to have at least a couple classes like this every term, and needs to work with their school accommodations office and/or mental health team to find appropriate ways to handle it. In practical terms, I think the best thing to do would be to work in information in early lectures about the mental health and disability accommodation resources/offices available to students.

            That said, I did find the last two paragraphs pretty grating.

            Mandatory attendance is a big problem, LW. Especially in a 200-400 person lecture class! When I was in university I literally failed several classes because of the teachers attendance policies even though I scored well on all assignments/exams. In my case it wasn’t anything to do with anxiety – I was working 2 jobs to pay my rent, had a full time course load, and had some unforeseeable events come up… altogether making attending lecture just too much to manage. Since none of those things individually rose to the level my professors considered an emergency worthy of an exception, they docked my grades for it. Mandatory attendance is going to cause problems for your students with jobs, family obligations, unreliable transportation, disabilities, or other life circumstances. If there’s ANY way you can drop this requirement, please do.

            More generally, I get the sense that you think being able to handle this sort of “talk to your neighbor” activity is a necessary part of being a functional, independent adult and that your students who aren’t able to manage it need to learn how before they can succeed. As Allison says, that’s simply not true because of the diversity of working environments. Also because the structure of work interactions is very different! I routinely talk to all kinds of people at work, from peers to supervisors to the general public, and NONE of it is anything like classroom lecture interactions.

            The key thing here isn’t what amount of social interaction is expected in the workplace (highly variable), it’s what type is expected. In your scenario, students are put on the spot to find a discussion partner on their own, and feel pressure to articulate ideas about brand new material they’re not yet comfortable with in a short time frame to a peer they don’t know well in a crowded noisy room full of other people. In most work environments, none of those things are true in any social interaction. You will probably be much more experienced with the topics you’re discussing. You’ll likely have had plenty of time to mull it over and develop your thoughts. In most jobs, you’ll either know people better or they won’t be peers (they might be customers, for example). You won’t have to find a random discussion partner in a sea of other people, because you’ll be talking to a specific person for a specific reason. Etc.

            This method won’t work for everyone. In fact, it won’t even work for all of your non-anxious students! I hated this style of class and got less than nothing out of this discussion type, even though I wasn’t shy or anxious at all. But you will never find a single method that’s ideal for everyone…. this isn’t a bad choice, just don’t approach it as if every student must learn to benefit from it.

            1. PersephoneUnderground*


              Group discussion is not a bad thing, but it’s just not the same as real life and not going to work for everyone. Mix things up in your style and relax attendance policies if you want more inclusion! I had professors who offered bonus points for good attendance, but didn’t ding you on it since you’re responsible for your own learning – maybe that would accomplish what the OP is going for there.

          4. Not So NewReader*

            Eh, when I went back to school every single prof was doing this. So it was the In Thing, I guess. Sounds like it still is.
            It wasn’t novel because it was done in every class.
            Each prof seemed not to understand that everyone was doing this and they thought that they were the only ones and they were “going to teach us something””.

            It was a nightmare. One prof even used her class to write her papers- she used her own class room as subjects for a study about students working in groups/teaching each other and so on. In order to do this she had to back out of any participation so that she did not bias her own study. By the end of the semester everyone was fighting and arguing with each other. And this is what the absence of leadership looks like: the group bickers to the point of out and out fighting with each other.

            I hope OP is not looking at one of her studies because I could write a book.

        4. Grapey*

          I agree. And honestly, starting with something like “I’m not too knowledgeable about the subject matter yet…” either is met with a lot of nods and agreement, or actual help from someone that IS knowledgeable about it.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        I wonder if it’s possible for OP to relax the attendance part of the grade. I too would hate this teaching style so much and it would hamper my learning even though I’m neurotypical. I need some structure to learn, discussion is for when I already grasp the basics. I would nope out of such a class, even if it hurt my grade, or if possible just drop the course entirely.

        OP, if the class has exams on top of the participation thing, it could be feasible for students to opt out of this deal and choose to have their grades solely on their finals/homework. Or, since you say talking isn’t mandatory, maybe the discussion part isn’t being graded anyway, in which case an attendance grade is pretty awful. I get it’s maybe an university policy, but it’s a terrible one. Not meant as a dig but, back in my college days, I swear only the worst professors graded attendance; the good ones didn’t need to, because people *wanted* to be there.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Mine didn’t grade attendance, but missing too many classes meant you missed too much lecture/discussion time and they expected you to incorporate lecture notes into homework and exams. If the person from whom you got your notes missed information or got it wrong, so did you.

        2. 'nother prof*

          That’s a popular opinion among but students, but it’s wrong. There’s a contingent of students who simply *won’t* show up on the regular regardless of the professor’s quality. You see it when you’re getting trained – I assisted professors who were great in class and professors who… knew their course content. One of the best teachers I’ve ever come across had a laissez-faire attendance policy, so about half the class never came. I haven’t had to fail so many people in any other class.
          Students who don’t show up consistently will consistently do badly. Plus, their behavior affects the better students who see them (but don’t connect the behavior to their grades).

          1. Lady Meyneth*

            I mean, if they don’t want to ever show up that’s still their choice; they’re adults and should learn to make smart choices for themselves. Grading attendance feels to me like reducing the students to kindergarten expectations.

            But IME, only a very small part of a class won’t show up no matter what. Most will come if the professor or the material are interesting enough.

            1. judyjudyjudy*

              I was a TA for 6 years while I worked on my PhD. It has been my experience that you will get a shocking number of skipped lectures (especially on Fridays) if you don’t offer the carrot and/or the stick, especially for first year students.

              1. Nanani*

                They skip, they can get notes or study the textbook on their own. If they fail, its on them.
                They shouldn’t fail -because they skipped- but because skipping means they didn’t learn the thing the class is about.

                1. judyjudyjudy*

                  I don’t think their should be an attendance requirement either, I’m just saying that I disagree that you won’t get many absences as long as the lecture is interesting enough.

                2. 'nother prof*

                  That’s actually how it usually works – we do know the assignment grades of our students, you know? We think more about our grading policies than it sounds like you might think we do. For example, my policy gives students about two weeks’ worth of absences with no questions asked or excuses required. There’s a few days of leeway beyond that where a couple points come off their final grade per missed day. Students only fail based on (lack of) attendance if they miss something like a quarter of the course. Now, the assignment scores of auto-failed students generally average in the 25-47% range… which would fail them anyway.

                  So, why build attendance into my grading policy? It’s actually really helpful for students. It provides a nudge for folks who haven’t developed great time-management skills yet while also offering leeway for the realities of life. At the same time, a student getting 35% on my assignments is also going to be struggling in their other classes (I’m not an unusually tough teacher). So, if a student knows in, say, mid-November that they will fail my class, they can skip *all* of our remaining classes and assignments in favor of focusing on a class that they *can* pass. It would be great if every student could pass all of my classes, but if that isn’t going to happen, I want them to pass *something.*

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            I’ve failed a couple of classes in spite of getting A’s on every assignment and exam, because those teachers had strict attendance policies and my circumstances made going to class very difficult. It’s asinine to mark a student down for not coming to class when they’re getting 100% on exams and papers… clearly that student doesn’t need to come to class to learn the material. It’s also unjust to penalize students who have stressful or difficult circumstances that make regular attendance difficult; students who might have been able to eek out a passing grade in spite of poor attendance, but who will instead fail because they were docked participation points. While I’ve had many professors claim they made exceptions for specific circumstances, the circumstances described are narrow and extreme: car crashes, severe illness, and other emergencies, as opposed to schedule conflicts with the job you rely on to pay the bills, difficulty obtaining reliable childcare, juggling deadlines from other classes, depression, etc.

            I also disagree with categorizing those who attend lectures regularly as “better students.” I don’t get anything out of lectures. They’re literally a waste of time for me in most classes – I do far better if I skip the lecture and spend the time reading course materials, discussing the topic with a friend, doing extra practice problems, or other independent study. Since switching to online classes two years ago I rarely watch lectures, never take notes…. and have a 4.0 GPA. Different people learn differently – that doesn’t make those of us with a non-standard method of learning “worse students.”

            Students are adults who can make choices for themselves. I am strongly against professors penalizing those of us with circumstances or learning styles that make attending lectures difficult or pointless, simply on the basis that most students need to attend to succeed. Encourage attendance, offer extra credit points for attendance, but don’t punish students who don’t attend and otherwise do well.

            1. Anomalous*

              “Different people learn differently” YES!!! OP4, don’t actively discriminate against people who don’t learn in your preferred style.

            2. 'nother prof*

              I’ve never had a single student get 100% on every assignment despite missing a bunch of classes. If you expand the pool to include students who have been absent up to three or four times, I don’t think I’ve even had one that got 100% on a single assignment. I don’t know what field you’re studying, but it sounds like it (or just your institution) is not a good model for how most degree programs work.

              1. DarnTheMan*

                Same; I always had attendance/participation marks in all my classes but not once did any of them amount to more than 10-15% of the final grade. The only one who weighted it any higher was my honors seminar where there was only 15 of us and the professor did it to ensure that people who did their project presentations early in the semester wouldn’t start skipping out so the final presentations were only presenting to him and no one else.

          3. Paris Geller*

            I dunno, I kind of always felt in college that if I didn’t show up to class and I still got an A. . . maybe there was an issue with the teaching (which happened at least twice that I remember–there was nothing the professor was saying that I couldn’t learn from my own reading. He was known for tangents).

        3. Cascadia*

          I went to college with a lot of big lecture classes (200-700 people) and most professors did not do any sort of attendance in lecture. However, I had a few that did, and I found them all to be wonderful professors. I definitely don’t think this is a universal thing.

        4. Ashley*

          The attendance policy is actually probably one of the more real world experiences lessons they can teach. The best to me where you go some many absences before it counted. It translates to use your sick time / PTO wisely and all it well, waste it and come down with the flu and you have problems just like at work.

        5. judyjudyjudy*

          Keeping track of who opted in or out might not be so feasible for a lecture that large. The easiest thing is to drop mandatory attendance all together or make it worth a nominal number of points (i.e. 10 out of 1000) if this university has an attendance policy.

      3. Batgirl*

        The sensory thing is a great issue to flag for OP. At least 10 per cent of the room will hate the noise of the chat sessions (ADHD, autism..etc) (a significant portion will love the opportunity to speak but the needs of the noise haters trump this). Whenever I do something interactive with students I get them to do it silently; digitally, whiteboard answers, hold up some fingers for a multiple choice. Yes it can’t be denied that we learn through discussion, but people never have to be talking all at once.

    2. A.N. O'Nyme*

      For me the issue with this kind of class discussions is that I’m bad at small talk, so once the necessary goal is achieved I just sort of…stop talking? And invariably the time for these discussions is far too long so everywhere around me people begin talking about whatever is hot at the time (Game if Thrones, Bridgerton,…) and I’m sitting there in awkward silence waiting for the learning stuff bit to continue.

    3. English, not American*

      Same here. I have severe social anxiety, this kind of class would be impossible for me. But I have zero problem working with coworkers (aside from excessive sweating during phone/video calls while WFH, but they don’t know that!)
      At work I only need to talk to the same 3-4 people and only about things I’m already confident about. And when it’s about new technologies or new projects I don’t know about, the expectation is that I will learn about it independently so “I’ll have to come back to you on that once I’ve looked into it” is a reasonable answer. It’s a completely different situation to trying to talk about something I don’t fully understand (as may well be the case mid-learning) or worse, have to defend my shaky understanding against the person sitting next me.

      1. English, not American*

        Wow, I used the word “about” a lot, that was jarring to read. Excuse me while I go read a thesaurus.

        1. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

          Signing in to say what you said – although my comment would’ve been a million times less eloquent.

          The point you made is so true (for me) in that work is truly not about the whole self but very particular situations whereas study is so much more tied into a very personal sense of judgement of capability – so performance feels a lot more fraught.

    4. AutolycusinExile*

      Thank you so much for saying this! I’ve always struggled excessively with this kind of class ‘participation’, and I could never explain why. I’m great in other social contexts – like, ‘I get compliments on it’-good. But I literally flunked out of college purely because of attendance issues caused by this exact type of anxiety. When I was working while attending university I would literally spend eight hours at work on phone calls or in meetings, every single day required skilled interpersonal communication with angry or scared people, and I was very good at my job. And yet, the next day I’d skip classes because the dread I felt at those classmate interactions made me so physically ill. I could never explain it, even to myself, but you just hit the nail on the head – it’s the pressure (whether real or imagined) to correctly answer questions or intelligently analyze a topic I hadn’t learned about before! (…which probably wasn’t helped by the RSD from my undiagnosed but severe ADHD, either, fml)

      When I talk to a coworker at a new job I still have some sort of relevant experience or skill set I’m bringing – I mean, they did hire me! Much like group projects are in no way the same as a work project, the social interactions at work and in class discussions are made up of very different dynamics. I feel much less at risk of humiliating myself in an employment setting than in class discussion, especially if it’s a subject I am new to, and while I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t entirely rational to respond this way it nevertheless feels real and affects my behavior accordingly.

      OP: if anecdata helps you at all, I was put on academic suspension because I struggled so much with the social aspect of class, but I have no problem whatsoever in the workplace. Despite the university fiasco, I still work in one of the most social fields that exist and I have been very successful the whole time. I’ve finally been able to treat my ADHD and my quality of life has increased tenfold as a result. AND STILL. I tried taking another class this semester and the damned group discussions triggered my maladaptive coping strategies almost immediately. School just isn’t at all the same as work.

      I agree that you should use the teaching methods you feel most confident in, and that you should continue to center compassion in how you interact with your students, but at the end of the day this kind of problem isn’t yours to fix. It’s outside the scope of your ability. Paralyzing anxiety isn’t something that you can learn to get over in class. The students that tell you they are benefiting from it probably weren’t dealing with debilitating issues to begin with, though it’s still awesome that they found value in it! Unfortunately, their experiences aren’t universal, and you’ll always have students who are struggling. A single curriculum or teaching style can never work for everyone, and learning this kind of social skill is a personal journey that needs to start with the student, not the teacher. Some people need medical help, some people need time (really, most people – you aren’t going to change a lifelong behavioral instinct in a four month semester), and some people just have different priorities that they need to focus on.

      If students leave your class having learned about the subject you teach, you have done enough. If they learn life skills alongside that, awesome! If they feel comfortable coming to you for help improving their social skills, great! But sometimes there are things that a student is dealing with that are out of their control, much less yours. They’ll still find a path in life. Maybe they’ll have to drop out of school, maybe they’ll have to find non-traditional jobs, maybe they’ll end up surviving on disability and mutual aid – but even if it’s not what you wanted to give them they can still find happiness. It’s okay for you to let it go. You’ll still be a great teacher, and they’ll still remember the ways you were able to help them.

      1. river*

        You’re absolutely right. This is not a skill you learn in a classroom, or by force. People develop their social skills in their own life. It’s a personal journey. I go to a classroom to learn a topic or specific skill, not for life coaching.

        1. Double A*

          I am hoping you’re applying this comment only to college classes. In K-12, social skills are absolutely something students are expected to work on and develop in the classroom. I actually don’t think this should stop at college, but a lot of AAM commenters seem to disagree.

          Research also shows that simply lecturing for an hour is an ineffective way of teaching.

          1. Anomalous*

            One size doesn’t fit all. As a commenter above said, “different people learn differently”. Some types of classes will naturally have more social interaction than others.

          2. AutolycusinExile*

            …I mean, OP clearly teaches higher ed and I think everyone here is talking about their personal experiences with university programs, so I’d assume it’s safe to say we understand that a 22 year old has different needs than a 6 year old.

            That being said, teachers are rarely trained in psychology. Generally speaking, university lecturers are lucky if they’re trained in pedagogy at all. If you wish colleges could offer more in terms of non-academic training and resources, great! So do I! But that should NOT be coming from educational professionals, much less untrained TAs and research professors. It sure as hell shouldn’t be forced on students without obtaining prior and explicit consent to treatment. You’re welcome to argue for social skills to be added to the list of required gen eds or made a more intentional part of degree curriculums in an ideal world, but the fact remains that the academic structure that we currently have in the US is not set up for that to be a safe or viable option. We don’t have the time, we don’t have the professionals, and what does currently exist is already underfunded and less-than-useful. Even ‘trained’ medical professionals can easily do more harm than good when they aren’t familiar with recent research and contemporary treatment practices; putting people whose total training amounts to Psych 101 during their undergrad twenty five years ago into a place where they’re ‘treating’ fifty students for four months and then never seeing them again is… misguided. The only students who could possibly benefit from that long-term are people who didn’t have a debilitating issue in the first place.

            Look, I get it. Expanding the reach of educational and mental health resources is a nice pipe dream, but I guess I’ve been burnt too many times by an already-failing system. I can’t realistically picture my geography TA doing any tangible good for my neurological disorder, and I have no interest in being a guinea pig for the test-drive to prove it. What we actually need is a cultural change in how we prioritize social and psychological resources. We, as a society, can’t just keep piling these things on the backs of teachers and calling it a day. They’re already overloaded and underfunded, and it’s ineffective anyway. But I think that philosophical discussion might be a tad big for this forum :)

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              “What we actually need is a cultural change in how we prioritize social and psychological resources.”

              This….is a profound statement! Like you said, this is a philosophical discussion and a tad big for this forum. But I just wanted to acknowledge the truth of this. 8-D

      2. Anon for this*

        I’m not neurotypical, and classes with this sort of “active learning” style took me from some manageable anxiety when dealing with people to full blown, sometimes paralyzing social anxiety. For a lot of my life school/university classes were the safe and comfortable space for me, but these “active learning” things made me get sick to my stomach with just the thought of going to class, and made it so I had to drop class, retake things later, and generally interfeared with my education.

        It didn’t help. It made things worse, so much worse. When you aren’t someone’s psychologist/psychiatrist, etc please do NOT try to fix their psychological problems because in so many cases you are going to do so much harm and so little good.

        Remember also that people need to make it to the end the semester to fill out end of semester evaluations. Also if they aren’t anonymous they really can’t be trusted.

        I get it, active learning works for some people, but it just does not work for everyone, and grading people based on their social skills really isn’t what a STEM class is for.

        1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

          Same for me. When school was lectures and individual students answering and the teacher/professor responding tobthat answer, I loved it. When it became all active learning my anxiety spiked, panic attacks ensued, and I searched for classes with more traditional profs who still just lectured.

        2. kt*

          I’m glad people are contributing their experiences, and I also want to remind the OP that compassion is important and she *can’t* teach perfectly for every student. There is no way to reach every student and the OP should not tear herself apart over that. I am saying this as a teacher who experienced paralyzing anxiety, initially, when a student dropped out, when a student wasn’t getting it, when a student had problems I couldn’t fix. And that kind of paralyzing anxiety doesn’t serve anyone well either.

        3. Batgirl*

          That sounds really concerning.
          You didn’t have access to an educational psychologist at your institution?

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            Even if a student has access to one, there’s a significant chance the school’s psychologist will be a bad fit if not a total quack. At my previous university, I only went to the counseling center once. Without going into the personal details, when I went for drop-in crisis counseling the psychologist ignored the problems I brought up, said some pretty damaging things about my sexuality (queer erasure – hooray!), and totally dismissed my emotions without doing anything to help me cope.

            I’m sure there are good university counselors… but it only takes one bad experience to put someone off from seeking future help.

          2. AutolycusinExile*

            Nope. I never even heard the phrase until today, when you used it! In primary education we did have school counselors, who could offer some support, but I don’t think any of them had any psychology training and of course they’re massively understaffed anyway, so they were really only useful if you had a quick one-off problem or you needed an excuse to skip class for the day. They were not equipped to handle severe issues beyond telling you that you probably needed to see a doctor.

            At the secondary institutions I’ve attended I don’t even think we had that. We had academic advisors, who could tell you what the best way to handle your enrollment or withdrawal would be, and there was a university health system which could tell you that you had a psychological problem that needed professional help, but all they could do was offer a support group (…counterproductive in these circumstances, I think) or refer you out to a local psychologist unaffiliated with the school. At that point it’s no different than you finding and paying for a therapist privately out of pocket. If it wasn’t a pretty minor issue or a life-or-death crisis, most institutions just don’t have the infrastructure to handle much, at least not in the United States.

            1. Batgirl*

              That’s really interesting. I must be luckier than I thought with the schools I’m working with. They’re invaluable.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Thing is nothing works for everyone. Some people can’t concentrate when it’s just a guy droning on and on, and they feel more engaged when they can discuss stuff with other students. OP says this is a thing that can help minorities, that’s not a bad thing!
          OP also said the students are not graded on this activity so if you sit it out it doesn’t matter. OP is trying hard to be inclusive, telling them not to “act the psychiatrist” actually boils down to telling them not to bother to try to include people with anxiety.

      3. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*


        I hated group work as a student with a passion – it’s not my learning style but also it doesn’t have a huge relationship to how a discussion in a group takes place in a workplace.

        In a workplace discussions are highly structured, informed by roles (often hierarchical), preparation time, existing organisational and subject knowledge. They are not the free-for-all group work worst nightmares of my student days where the loudest, most talkative or most extravert dominates, and the rest play second fiddle because workplaces incentivise group consensus whereas academia rewards individual brilliance. Im sure group work is great for some but focus on study outcomes not workplace prep as group work really is not the same dynamics as occur in a workplace.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Also, class discussions are forced discussions with people you don’t know very well or at all, which is why it’s awkward AF. That’s why a lot of people hate them, and god knows my stomach sank every time “Talk to your neighbor!” happens in every class.

          1. Archaeopteryx*

            I agree, I’d manage ok with this much “talk to your neighbor”-ing but would be really annoyed. Being able to listen to a full lecture first (if well-delivered) enabled my deep focus and ability to actually learn the information, not to awkwardly and falteringly reiterate it to or debate it with another student who might be fine or might be some kind of jerky Bro where I’m counting down the seconds before we’re done talking.

            Even if it’s something like film or philosophy class, where different interpretations leave you more to discuss than e.g. math, discussions with the whole class (including the professor to guide the direction of the conversation) are usually much more worthwhile.

            Not saying this is a 100% bad approach in every situation, but you can’t just attribute people disliking it to only shyness. It can feel like a waste of one’s time.

        2. Anomalous*


          [SNARK] Not every job is cold-calling a prospect list, which seems to be what this sort of classroom interaction prepares you for. [END SNARK]

        3. Batgirl*

          I think you’ve summed up what’s wrong with badly planned group work in one phrase: “free for all”.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I dunno, just about every work meeting I’ve attended, it’s been the loudest most talkative extroverts who have dominated the meeting.
          If nobody ever did group work at uni, professors would be accused of not preparing students for real life.

    5. Misha*

      Talking to a coworker or customer about my field of expertise is a whole different thing than being told to turn to the total stranger next to me and have a discussion about something I’m only just learning about.

      Yeah, they’re totally different. I would hate this type of class, but I have no problem talking to coworkers, or even strangers who rotate through our site. It’s a totally different environment from a classroom, with different expectations.

      OP, using this learning style if you think it helps your students get the material, but don’t dress it up as doing them a favor for later in life in the workplace. I do fine in the workplace, but still have anxiety whenever I have to take some professional development class and the trainer utilizes a lot of group work (or worse, specifically makes people get up and participate in front of the class). Basically, classes like yours I would also nope out of. Because I would be dreading the ‘small talk with your neighbors’ parts so much. But my preferred learning style is: go sit and listen to an expert talk. I realize that others hate the lecture format.

      1. JenC*

        My advice is to keep doing this, but don’t do it all the time. In my classes, I try to give lots of different ways for people to do well, which means we don’t always do the same thing. One idea I was taught in a ped development workshop was to ask a question and let everyone think about it and jot down the answer. Then let small groups compare answers. They should come to a consensus of their final answer. Then you give the actual answer and they can discuss again. Maybe you already do this technique. I think group discussions work best if they are highly scaffolded and structured, have an actual task and follow a predictable format. This helps anxious people who don’t know where to start. Also please, please, please lose the attendance grade. I beg you as someone who is now retraining and has classes with massive participation/attendance grades with zero criteria other than “talk in class”. I have a teacher obsessed with Teams breakout rooms and we are constantly teleported into these with nothing to say to each other. 200 students+ is a massive challenge though and you should be applauded for caring enough about your students to do something other than read your PowerPoint slides to them.

        1. 'nother prof*

          Agreed. My biggest class was still in the 100s, and I’m impressed that you’re trying to get them involved. JenC’s ideas should be helpful. I’d add emphasizing your standard comment about accommodations at the beginning of the semester. Maybe you could explicitly state that accommodations are available, “for things like ADHD, anxiety, and other medical issues that affect learning.”

    6. Smithy*

      Maybe it’s just my perspective….but in its own way things like social interaction, public speaking, group projects I think can teach “job skills” in as much that it can support students in how they enjoy working, how they don’t, and the reality that sometimes your job will demand doing things regardless of whether or not it is the most logical.

      I have a job that includes a lot of social interaction, speaking with people where I’m not the expert but almost a bridge between experts, working on teams where I have to force participation, etc. And these were all things that in college I really struggled with, but would get feedback on where I was doing well and stuck with it long enough until it made sense for me professionally because it was something I enjoyed. Not in the sense that I loved group projects because of nagging or finding a workarounds for a noncontributor – but that they became puzzles I found engaging.

      This style won’t work or be appealing for everyone, but for some it won’t just be a helpful job skill but really help them refine what they want to do and what they won’t want to do.

    7. azvlr*

      Active learning does not have to always be discussing with your neighbor, and a well-designed lesson should have a variety of interactions for all the reasons people have already mentioned. It’s supposed to make learning easier, not more stressfull. Sorry you had to experience that.

    8. Lyudie*

      Seconding this. As an adult with anxiety, classroom interactions like this *would* be anxiety causing, yet I have managed to work with coworkers for 20 years. It’s not necessarily an indication that the students won’t be able to do well in a job and interact with coworkers.

    9. Annabeth Nass*

      What type of job do you have that has very little direct interaction with other people? I am looking for options like that. Thank you.

      1. Turtlewings*

        I’m the interlibrary loan coordinator at an academic library. It’s a bit of a unicorn job, unfortunately; I think it’s more common for the reference department to handle ILL in between other things, instead of having one person 100% dedicated to ILL. Most of what I do is dealing with physical objects and computer programs, and when library patrons do need to contact me I steer them toward email as much as possible. I had to suffer through a lot of years of public-facing customer-service type work to get here, and there were times I considered leaving the field entirely just to get away from that! On the whole academic libraries are much kinder to introverts than public libraries, for what that’s worth. Good luck!

    10. Saradactyl*

      Yup. As an Autistic, face blind, asocial, anxious type, I have always LOATHED this type of class with a passion!

    11. Lizzo*

      I asked this question further up, but here’s the tl;dr version:

      If being able to have a conversation with a stranger (hello, interview process!) is a useful skill, and some people struggle with that skill, wouldn’t it be better to attempt and fail at it in a supportive environment, and subsequently get the support you need to learn how to handle these situations?

      Would you prefer that these struggling students avoid the problem altogether, only to have to deal with it on their own as adults where they may not have the capacity/resources to develop effective coping strategies?

      1. Turtlewings*

        Thing is, LW is not a therapist. She is there to teach a class, not be a life coach. She does not have the qualifications to help people conquer anxiety, and there is literally no method she can adopt that will be helpful for all her hundreds of students. And the ability to have a freeform conversation with a stranger on an unfamiliar topic is really not much of a job skill. Job interviews, to use your own example, are much more structured and hierarchical than what’s happening in this class. I can prepare for a job interview and do well, despite being anxious about it. These classroom discussions, not so much. And as far as it being a supportive environment, while the stakes are low in the sense that one’s classmates’ opinions are not that important in the long run, I don’t think it’s possible for OP to listen in on all these conversations and give every student feedback on their performance, even if that was the point of the exercise, which I don’t think it is. So it doesn’t sound to me like there’s really much support being given. Just let people go to class and learn without having to put on a social performance!

    12. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “Talking to a coworker or customer about my field of expertise is a whole different thing than being told to turn to the total stranger next to me and have a discussion about something I’m only just learning about.”
      It’s not a total stranger, it’s another student who is interested in the same field as you, who is also only just learning about this subject. You have to start talking about your field somewhere, it’s much better to do so in the classroom where the stakes are low, than in the job interview where you are dependent on getting a job, and with customers where you need to get their commission to be able to make ends meet.
      It’s really not possible to completely replicate real-life work situations, teachers are doing their best.
      OP said the students wouldn’t be graded, and it’s a method that has been shown to help minorities, I can’t understand all the criticism OP is getting just because they are trying to help those who benefit less from the type of activity they are implementing. Looks like they’re damned if they don’t and damned if they do.

  7. LoraGamora*

    OP #4 please don’t refer to Latino people as ‘Latinx’. It is disrespectful to us and to the Spanish language. It is a form of linguistic imperialism. I know it is relatively new but I just wanted to give the heads up why it should not be used.

    1. allathian*

      With respect, I’d like to hear the opinion of a Spanish-speaking gender non-binary person on this. Just because you’re offended by Latinx, please don’t assume that all Spanish-speaking people are. I’m not Latina, but I used to be fluent enough that I worked as an intern at a Spanish Chamber of Commerce and my job was to give basic tax advice to Spanish small businesses.

      1. Ro*

        I am always willing to refer to people how they want to be referred (because its polite) but Latino/Latina vs Latinx this seems to be an issue of debate. I think people with strong preferences on any terminology argument who know it is an issue of debate need to be aware of this and that it isn’t necessarily people attempting to be disrespectful if they don’t use their preferred term (of course they are entitled to say what they prefer and that term should be used for them) but people need to be aware.

        I was confused over this because I was taught “Hispanic” was the correct term growing up (I am not in the US and was never really exposed to people from central or south america until I went to university). However a Mexican classmate informed me this was considered disrespectful (I did not know this if I had I wouldn’t have said it) so I apologised and asked what she preferred and she said “latinx” so I switched to using that. But I know that offends some people too.

        The problem with language is because it is always evolving some things which were not initially considered problematic can become so. This is not a bad thing in itself as it is the result of constant reexamination of the past and considerations about inclusion. However, it does need to be taken into account there are disagreements within groups themselves and someone who uses a word someone else might not like isn’t necessarily trying to be disrespectful (generally I think you can tell by whether or not they will call people by their preferred term when informed of it someone who means well will apologise and stop using that word, someone who is a jerk will double down).

        I’m white so I don’t really have an opinion on latinx vs latino/latina but I’m disabled the version of this I’m used to is “disabled people” vs “person with disabilities” I actually prefer the first one but I’m aware a lot of people prefer the second. I think if you feel you need to use such phrasing to remind yourself I’m a person you are the one with issues. This isn’t something I feel strongly enough to argue with people about though but I know people who prefer one strongly over the other and get upset if the “wrong” one is used.

    2. PspspspspspsKitty*

      Latinx was used by non-binary Spanish speakers. There a few people who prefer it over Latino. I don’t think it’s safe to say that it’s offensive when others are just trying to include themselves more. People are free to define themselves any way they want.

    3. Raldeme*

      I am indigenous and Latina and the idea that Spanish is itself not an imperialistic language is absurd. @everyone- many Latinx people use that terminology because it’s more inclusive and we recognize that languages evolve over time and aren’t somehow sacrosanct

      1. Jean*

        Thank you. Any effort to make a language, especially a gendered language, more inclusive is a good thing.

      2. br_612*

        Yeah that was my thought too. Like Spanish was the language of the colonizers, not the native peoples of Central/South America. Spanish is itself the imperialist language much like English is in the US.

        Now if some Latino/a people prefer that and not Latinx cool fine I can absolutely do that. But I also think it’s valuable that language groups work to find gender and NB inclusive terms. That seems more difficult in languages with gendered nouns and articles, except maybe German which actually already has neutral nouns and articles.

        I also recognize there may never be a consensus.

      3. Liz T*

        Yeah the word “Latin” being in there should tip us off that there are maybe some colonial layers to this.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      Nope! There is clearly not a Latinx consensus on this. Many Latinx people very specifically refer to themselves as Latinx because they prefer this gender neutral version. You preferring “Latino”* does not override their preference. And it makes you sound like one of those people who are unable to use they/them a NB’s pronouns because it’s grammatically wrong to to refer to a single person by they/them pronouns.

      Latino = a person of Latin American origin or descent, especially a man or boy.

    5. Lalala*

      Why do some latin people insist that “latinx” is somehow offensive when the word is in fact used by nonbinary latin people? I’m not latinx but I was specifically told by a latina activist to use the term.

      1. Peeped EA*

        I am Latinx, and I find this “discussion” to be exhausting because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, either. What I think it all really boils down to is resistance to change. My family members are split on it, too, and I find it is mostly a generational split with the older generations supporting Latino/a and the younger supporting Latinx with a few exceptions on both sides. I can’t speak for all cultures this covers, but my Mexican heritage family is very much focused on tradition and an attitude of “this is how it’s always been, so this is the way it should always be.” It’s an attitude that helps create a richness in culture, but it also stifles progressive reform of things like language.

        That’s my personal experience and theory on it, of course. I’m sure there are others that see just the opposite.

  8. WoodswomanWrites*

    #4, having been an educator myself, I know about the research you mention that documents increased learning outcomes if learners speak about what they’re learning to someone else, in my own context in the K-8 age range. That’s a different context than the adults you’re working with.

    If you have a class of up to 400, there are bound to be those for whom this isn’t comfortable. I have participated in somewhat similar contexts as an adult, and the presenter gave us the option to either chat with someone else or to instead write down my thoughts in response. Solo reflection can be powerful for many people, including myself.

    Being in a power position controlling students’ grades, if they sense that they are “strongly encouraged” to chat with another student, they may fear it’s a requirement to do well in the course. I’m wondering if you can frame your introduction for the activity as an option for both/and–they can chat with another student or can do silent written reflection. My guess is that students will then self-select for whichever works best for them.

    1. Unfettered scientist*

      Sometimes a good compromise for this type of thing is a minute thinking to yourself and then a few minutes talking in a group. Even if you opt out of speaking in the small group you still get the benefit of solo reflection. It’s tricky because I think few students *want* to do small group talk, many actually do benefit from it and learn by explaining concepts to others. As long as no ones forced to speak or share in front of the group, I’ve seen and experienced this as a powerful teaching method.

      1. OP4*

        I actually usually use both reflection and talking. My usual method is silent thinking/reflection, poll using clicker (which, for those who aren’t teaching, are these remotes that allow you to answer multiple choice questions), then group discussion if the class isn’t like 90% correct. Sometimes I switch it up- if they’ve thought about the question for homework or are doing a second round of discussions on the same question, I skip the silent thinking; sometimes I just have them do the reflection and hand in their writing on index cards.
        Also, I would definitely second what you say about talking to another person being helpful. What students tell me is that something will feel like it makes sense in their head, but when they try to explain it to something else, it doesn’t actually. (That used to happen to me as a student… during exams. I want students to have those realizations WAY BEFORE the actual exam.) Or, one answer will be “obvious” to them, but another answer will be equally obvious to someone else, and then they realize the answer is not so obvious. These are experiences are valuable for learning but are really hard to replicate when simply reflecting alone.

        1. Onyx*

          OP4, this isn’t a “solution” to your question, but are you familiar with the concept of “rubber-duck debugging”? It’s basically the idea that explaining a problem or concept to someone else does often help you uncover flaws…but that it doesn’t always require an interactive discussion at all, much less that your listener be knowledgeable about the topic, so that, e.g., a programmer might figure out why their code isn’t working by explaining the code to a rubber duck. ;-)

          If you want your students to get some of the benefits of explaining things even if they aren’t comfortable with the on-the-spot, in-class discussions, that’s an option you could mention–explain the concept to your sibling/friend/grandparent, narrate how you’re going to solve this homework problem to your pet/stuffed animal/pen with googly eyes, etc.

        2. Batgirl*

          I think you’re really well covered in providing interactivity and a variety of options for your learners. If you want to make sure they can explain something ask them to *either* verbalize or write down a one sentence explanation. I wouldn’t get hung up on thinking that you absolutely need everyone to be verbal with neighbours; sometimes people have to walk before they can run. Sometimes people just aren’t runners. Also, think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The first priority is to make people feel confident and safe. If that’s taken care of, and there are options, they will try whatever option you’ve provided which helps them the best.

    2. Rock Prof*

      OP 4, are you me because this is a similar question I’ve myself?
      There is a lot of research on it in college classrooms, too (I do some discipline based education research, in fact). This type of active learning has been shown to addrress some equity issues, like OP 4 said, particularly with regard to first gen college status, race, and socio-economic status. It’s not a panacea, as a lot of people rightly point out, as it can miss lots of people for a variety of reasons.
      Part of the problem, way beyond the OPs control, is that large classes on the order of 100s of students are, known from research, to be one of the worst settings for learning (and also awful for grading). I’m a class of 20 or less, I can really adapt things to work for each student best. But over 100, and I know tend to rely on what has been shown to work best in that class for them greatest number of students (though I do let people work individually if they want for collaborative stuff). And the one method that tends to work worst, in the research and my personal experience, is straight up lecture-quiz-tests format.
      I think there are still lots of good questions to ask about this. Like is education research missing neurodivergent voices? I think the answer to that is definitely yes, so there’s lots of room for improvement.

    3. Binderry*

      I think it’s also important to recognize that it can sometimes be good for people to do things that are out of their comfort zone. I was that introverted student with lots of anxiety and absolutely hated class discussions and never wanted to participate. In high school I was frequently referred to as “that girl who never talks.” So, I get that there are students that will hate any type of group or class discussion. But, having to do those small group discussions in college taught me to be more confident and actually reduced my anxiety in speaking up. They were low stakes opportunities to get out of my comfort zone a little and speak to people when I otherwise wouldn’t have. I learned that sometimes I can actually have a meaningful contribution to something. This has definitely helped me in my job as I now feel more confident bringing up ideas in department meetings, etc.

      Just because people hate doing something doesn’t mean it’s not good for them to try it. If a student has a diagnosed anxiety disorder severe enough that they cannot talk with their classmate’s for 5-10 minutes, then that sounds like something that would need disability accommodations for, which is completely fine and available to them. But that’s a different issue than your typical introverted student just not wanting to talk during class.

      1. jp in the heartland*

        Getting out of your comfort zone, in the short-term, is terrifying. Even though it has been over 30 years since I was in college, I still vividly remember freaking out trying to give a speech in my required speech class and running out of the room in tears. But by the end of the semester, I was able to do it, felt great that I could. Am I a fantastic public speaker? No, but I have been able to do it when necessary. Thank you Professor English.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah at some point everyone has to talk to strangers so better to do it in a setting where the stakes are low and you can repeat till you feel more comfortable.
          So many people here saying “I have anxiety I’d nope right out of that” – as if they gonna be able to find a job without interviewing once they have their degree.
          If you stay inside your comfort zone you can’t grow and learn.
          I say this as a person who can have panic attacks when there are too many people about, and an introvert who hates small talk and talking to strangers.
          I stayed as a salaried worker for a long time even though my boss was a bully and a tyrant, because freelancing meant I’d have to pitch myself and negotiate with clients and that scared the hell out of me. But then I got made redundant and I went out and pitched myself and negotiated with clients and didn’t let them get the better of me and I feel absolutely elated that I managed to strike out and do this rather than stay in my comfort zone.

      2. DarnTheMan*

        I agree with this so much; I had a late in life diagnosis of a general anxiety disorder but looking back, it really did inform a lot of my social and school interactions growing up, including being petrified of public speaking. In a curious way though, being made to do things that made me uncomfortable actually helped me to deal with my anxiety because otherwise I would have opted out every time and just never learned from it. My worst and best class I ever took was one on public speaking for my public relations degree – I loathed getting up in front of the room (even if some our speech topics were as benign as ‘what I ate for breakfast’ or ‘my favorite book’) but I ended up learning a lot about my nervous tics and how to adapt them so even if I’m quivering on the inside, I’m at least presenting a collected image on the outside.

      3. Alianora*

        Great point. I had severe anxiety through college. So I understand, it really is hard, and struggling isn’t something I judge people for.

        But some of the attitudes I see around anxiety concern me. Anxiety doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever venture out of your comfort zone. What the LW is asking their students to do is not unreasonable.

      4. SummerBreeze*

        Excellent point.

        Folks, part of going to college is about expanding your boundaries and testing your limits and becoming a better version of yourself. And that discomfort often leads to growth!*

        Obviously there are awful exceptions to this, so don’t come at me with extreme examples, I’m speaking broadly

        1. Anomalous*

          In a class of 400 students, there will be extreme examples. If a condition affects 1% of the population, there will be, on average, 4 in the class with this condition.

          Accommodations for diagnosed conditions are fabulous, and we need more of them, but not everyone with a condition will be diagnosed.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            And in a class of 400 students the professor can’t possibly cater to all sorts. OP is already doing a lot to include minorities, as well as the kind of person who needs to be able to think out loud, and isn’t even grading students on this inclusive activity, so those with anxiety can just sit it out if necessary.

  9. Beth*

    OP4: I’m a grad student right now, and at a stage in my program where I’m ending up on both the student and teacher ends of the classroom. I’ve also been in the non-academic working world for a few years before returning to grad school. Based on all that, I think you’re approaching this from the wrong angle.

    Whether or not their anxiety will hurt them in the workplace isn’t your problem–and more importantly, it isn’t something you can solve. You can’t offer a ‘practice’ environment to let them work through workplace anxiety, because you’re not their workplace; as Alison points out, the classroom and the office are very different spaces with very different goals and constraints, which means their experiences in your classroom are very unlikely to be the same as whatever workplace they end up in. And even if you could magic up an exact replica of each student’s prospective future workspace, that wouldn’t somehow give them space to work through social anxiety so they won’t experience it later; that’s a therapist’s job to help with, not a teacher’s. If anxiety is going to be a problem for a given student in the workplace, they and possibly their doctor or therapist have to find a way to figure that out.

    If you’re using the teaching method that you’ve found to be the most successful overall for teaching the material you’re trying to teach, and you’re doing your best to accommodate those who with that method, then you’re doing everything you can do. I do empathize with those who struggle with this style of teaching, especially lately; I’m fine in an environment like your ‘normal times’ classroom, but our status quo of randomized breakout rooms 2-3x per zoom class has me stressed and wanting to skip too! But there are going to be a handful that struggle with any method you might choose. It doesn’t say much about how they’ll do in the very different environment of the non-academic workplace.

    1. Sylvan*

      And even if you could magic up an exact replica of each student’s prospective future workspace, that wouldn’t somehow give them space to work through social anxiety so they won’t experience it later; that’s a therapist’s job to help with, not a teacher’s. If anxiety is going to be a problem for a given student in the workplace, they and possibly their doctor or therapist have to find a way to figure that out.

      +1 from the perspective of having clinical anxiety. It’s kind of you to be considerate of students’ anxiety, though!

    2. Roci*

      I agree–the reasoning is all wrong.
      I think this is an incredibly reasonable level of participation and social interaction to expect from college students. Most people will be able to handle it, and in my experience there is nothing stopping you from just…not talking to anyone and sitting quietly or going on your phone for a few minutes.

      People who have levels of anxiety that cause them to struggle with this level of social interaction are not going to get the practice and skills to overcome it in your classroom; they need a therapist or a doctor. The work they seek out will probably be adapted to their social anxiety, so there is no reason for your class to prepare them for that. Just as it can’t prepare them with other skills that would prepare them for most workplaces–time management, how to use mail merge, how to pronounce Chinese names, how to know if you’re reaching your potential in your current role…

    3. AutolycusinExile*

      Yes, this! You put what I tried to express above into a much more concise explanation.

      As a teacher, it’s easy to get over-invested and take on issues that really aren’t in your purview, especially once you’re working with adults (it sounds like OP is in higher ed). The best thing you can do is offer options, be kind, and let the chips fall where they may. If there is a problem with a student’s social abilities then they’ll learn to deal with it themselves, one way or another, and that’s theirs to navigate privately. They are inevitably more familiar with their own circumstances and priorities than you are, and unless they ask for help you’ll only make them more uncomfortable if you try to insert yourself too much. It’s a well-intentioned instinct that I think comes from a compassionate place, but it’s still an overstep that will, at best, be ineffective.

    4. Mynona*

      I agree. In a class that large, any teaching approach will challenge a percentage of your students.

      I attended a large state university, and I took several 100+ student lectures (I can’t imagine 200+!) that were 50 minutes of the professor talking. And fully 30% of the seats were empty because there was no attendance taken and they were bored out of their skull. Being encouraged to talk through concepts would have been a gift. Keep doing what you’re doing. It doesn’t sound like participation is part of their grade, so students can just choose not to participate, right?

    5. Smithy*

      This is a really wonderful way to re-focus the question and perspective.

      I think that undergraduate education gets a lot of heat right now for “getting graduates jobs” – when the reality for many degrees and classes not tied to professions or certifications, is that’s just not what they’re designed to do.

    6. MentalEngineer*

      Also a grad student (post-coursework) and I can’t put it better than this. Being sensitive to student needs is important, but accounting for the individualized needs of every student in a class of 400 is impossible, and trying too hard is likely to do more harm than good. All you can do (in the classroom) is apply the techniques that are most likely to work on aggregate. Yeah, participating in systemic injustice is crap, but the exact reason the modern American university has all those systemic problems is that it’s an intersection of a bunch of local maxima and a lot of stuff beyond your in-classroom approach has to change before your in-classroom approach can change.

      1. MentalEngineer*

        *Or at least, before your approach can change outside of a few narrow parameters. Obviously “the system sucks” isn’t an excuse for not improving what you can, but I think OP4 recognizes that.

  10. Formerly Ella Vader*

    #5: At a government organization, using a specific category of “placement student” (or co-op student, or intern, or summer student) probably comes with a set of rules/procedures that aren’t quite like other employment categories. It’s probably much easier for them to get permission to engage a student, and to choose you without doing an internal search and an open posting, than it would be to hire you for a short term contract. If you aren’t getting paid – that’s probably only allowed because you are getting credit for it as part of your degree program; they couldn’t just let you volunteer and give you real work to do. Some of the rules for student employees or interns might be frustrating – I remember arguing with a government-department librarian who insisted that students couldn’t sign out materials and my supervisor would need to walk across the street and take responsibility for each book I wanted to borrow. They refer to you as a student on placement because some people need to know why you are there and what authority you have, and other people need to know that you’re legitimately included in an existing program, not as evidence that your boss breaks rules and might break them for the contractor at the next desk or another co-worker’s family member next.

    If you want to be taken seriously as a colleague, stop the gratuitous bragging about your resume. Do the work, ask the intelligent questions, seek out feedback. The ones who need to know about your background already know.

    And I agree with Alison that if you’re interested in a full-time/permanent position with the organization, be direct and explicit with your manager that you’re interested in that. Ask them how you can apply. If they don’t know, ask how to find out (your manager’s manager might know, or your human resources).

    1. MK*

      The fact of the matter is that to this organization the OP5 is a student; the hired her as a student for a student role. They are adapting the work they give her to suit her skills, but that’s something they could have done for a 20-something intern who had unexpected skills. But still, the OP is a student placement and her work experience does not magically transform her into an employee there.

      I am wondering if the OP is looking not only to get a permanent role in this organization, but at a much higher level than students usually do? If so, I would examine carefully whether this is even possible. Many organizations have paths for their student interns to get entry level jobs after they graduate, but that doesn’t mean an internship is a key to whichever position in the organization you think suits your skill level. Especially in government where hiring tends to be very regimented.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I read the letter and arrived at the point where she says “the issues is” and… well, I fail to see the issue. Or rather, it seems that the issue is with OP’s ego and that she feels that being called “student” is demeaning somehow when it’s actually just a factual description of what she is in terms of the organisational structure.

        1. doreen*

          I think that perhaps part of the issue is that she wouldn’t have been referred to as a “student” at her previous job. I had two social work type jobs – but the job title was not “social worker” , we didn’t provide therapy or anything else requiring a license and the agencies had special programs to assist us in getting an MSW, including assigning a field placement supervisor so that we could get credit for doing our regular job. At those jobs, an MSW student who was getting credit for the same job she had been dong for 5-10 years absolutely would not have been called a student. But someone placed there by the university absolutely would have been.

    2. Smithy*

      In addition to all these really critical points – by continuing to call you a student, it also does serve to remind everyone there that if they like working with you and want to continue doing so, effort needs me to be made. Whether that’s making sure you’re aware of application processes, what jobs are open or will become open, serving as a mentor, etc.

      1. OP5*

        Thanks everyone for the comments. I think the point about the organization factually explaining why I’m there to everyone is a key perspective I was lacking. In terms of being hired on “at level”, this would only be possible with the backing of several key staff members beyond the ones I work directly with. Pandemic unemployment has added an additional layer of pressure to the placement that wouldn’t be there normally for me, so I’ve been keen to showcase my full skillset.

        I do want to clarify that anytime I have brought up my past experience it has been in the appropriate context- when prompted by discussion or when relevant to a task (i.e. when asked if I have ever worked with X tool, do I know what the Y process is, etc.). I think it is possible to talk about the skills you bring to the table without gratuitous bragging or overblown ego, and I hope we give people the benefit of the doubt on this.

        1. Formerly Ella Vader*

          Thanks for elaborating. I’m sorry I pictured you as working your background into the discussion in order to be treated differently, rather than as letting people know what you can do.

          I’ve had experience of joining an organization with skills/experience far beyond what would be typical of someone with that job title, and I really struggled with knowing when and how to mention that without looking like I didn’t fit or wasn’t happy in the current role. I’m glad you are mindful about it.

          Best of luck with your path forward!

  11. Lauren*

    #4 If this is the way you want to teach (and as you say, there’s lots of data to back up the benefits of this style of classroom learning), then there’s only so much you can do to accommodate for students who would prefer to learn in a different way. If this is a class where students have a choice in instructors teaching the same class, it would probably be useful to be very clear about how your class operates, both in the description (“This course will involve small group discussions as a component of every lecture”) and in the first class. Students can self-select from there.

    I certainly had classes in college that, when I found out what the class would entail on being handed a syllabus, dropped or switched sections as soon as I left the classroom. I struggled with participation all through college, and in some classes simply accepted the hit to my grade that came with not speaking up as much as the instructor wanted. But it was my choice how I responded and adapted to what my instructors asked of me. I don’t think you’re wrong to wonder if that degree of social anxiety might result in difficulty in the workplace, but your students will have to work that out on their own.

  12. Cant remember my old name*

    Some people hear “student” or “intern” with connotations other don’t. I wouldn’t worry about it!

    1. Nanani*

      Anyone else get the vibe this LW is one of them?
      “How dare they call me a student! I’m not like THOSE students”

  13. a sound engineer*

    #4 – While not a huge fan of the whole ‘turn and discuss with your neighbor’ thing, I did find it useful in the large classes like you describe (100+ people) for finding people who wanted to study together.

  14. Language Lover*

    LW #4

    Work discussions rarely operate the way class discussions operate.

    Work discussion: If I’m a newbie and have a meeting with people I don’t know, I’m usually not expected to participate right away. And colleagues usually welcome me as the unknown newbie.

    Class discussion: If I’m in the middle of the room, I have to look to my right, my left, in front of me or behind me to see which group I’d like to join if I don’t know anyone. I know none will reject me but there will be groups who are clearly more open to having someone else join than others. I have to suss out which group that will be.

    Work discussion: People in a meeting might be friendly with one another but ultimately, in a functional office, their primary role is as colleagues. I too am a colleague. I’m supposed to be there, I belong and I have a purpose in the meeting. In theory, I’m needed there.

    Class discussion: People might be sitting with their friends. What if I don’t know anyone in the class? If I try to join a group of friends, they’ll probably say okay but I might feel like an outsider with strangers. I might belong in the class but I don’t belong in the group. Even when people are friendly (and they often there) I still feel odd.

    Basically, I am very uncomfortable participating in these small pods out of bigger groups in a class in ways I am not when I am in a work meeting. I might have nervous butterflies the new day of a job but all seem to understand I can take some time to get my feet wet.

    One way to recreate a work environment is to assign students to groups. I know some teachers will do that and make sure the stronger students aren’t all glumped in one group together. They’re spread out. And when you assign groups in a class that big, you might get two people in a group who know each other most won’t. It’s an equalizer. Instead of one awkward stranger, we’re all awkward strangers. And it takes the pressure out of having to find a group to join.

    1. a sound engineer*

      This only works in smaller classes, though – OP writes that they’re dealing with classes of 200-400 students, which would be big lecture hall seating where it’s hard to assign groups and seating. I have had smaller class sizes (maybe 40 or 60? I don’t remember exactly anymore) where we were assigned to groups of 4, two groups to a table, and that worked quite well.

      1. Language Lover*

        The professor I know who does it does it in a class of close to 200. It can be done. I’m not saying it’ll be easy or that students will like that they can’t just plop down anywhere but it’s feasible with larger lecture halls. The groups they get last for the whole semester. It’s not something that’s switched every class period.

        1. No Tribble At All*

          Agree that students won’t like it, lol. I’ve taken a class that had ~ 150 students, and we were assigned seating in the lecture hall to sit with our discussion groups. The prof also took attendance. I skipped it so many times I went from an A to an A-. There’s already discussion section outside of lecture! I don’t need to interact with these people 3 other times a week!

    2. Lucy Day*

      This perfectly sums up why I always felt uncomfortable with class discussions. For the professor, class IS work, so it doesn’t feel personal or social. To a student, the other people in your lecture hall also live in your building, eat in your dining hall, attend the same parties and are in the same clubs. For someone who is shy or has social anxiety, inserting yourself into a group for a break out discussion can feel (especially the first few times) more like sitting down at a random table in the dining hall rather than participating in a small academic group discussion. My brain also doesn’t process that quickly so I often felt stupid and put on the spot (and I’m a good student!), especially when it was a general ed course where I wasn’t as strong on the subject matter. Despite this, I have been an excellent and successful employee. My inclusion in a meeting is because I have a role to play in the project being discussed and when someone wanders over to my desk to ask me a question it’s because I have some expertise with the subject. At work you’re also allowed to say “I don’t know, let me get back to you,” without feeling dumb. Plus when I go home at the end of the day, I know I’m not going to run into my work colleagues in my house!

      I would’ve just powered through the class discussions despite my discomfort, and I’m not suggesting that OP#4 change the structure of the class. There just is a huge difference between class discussions and work, and being uncomfortable with one doesn’t mean you’ll be uncomfortable with the other.

      1. Lucy Day*

        Clarifying that I was a student who lived on campus right after high school so those factors contributed to my personal reasons for feeling uncomfortable and are probably part of the thought process for many residential students who are in their late teens and early 20s. I understand that social anxiety happens across all demographics and not everyone has the same college experience that I did.

    3. Des*

      >I know some teachers will do that and make sure the stronger students aren’t all glumped in one group together. They’re spread out.

      FWIW, this is actually of the most frustrating things about academic learning. Stronger students also prefer to work with stronger students, but are often “punished” by the prof assigning A and D students together for some sort of “balance”. (Spoiler: A student does the work of two people).

      1. BHB*

        Yes! this was so frustrating at school too. I was closer to the A-grade student, and it felt like I was being deputised to teach the D-grade students in a smaller group. Which.. I might have been good at learning and understanding the subject, but I wasn’t in any way a good teacher of that material. I was at a loss trying to explain the concepts and techniques, because they were fairly obvious and straightforward to me, and I just didn’t understand why someone else couldn’t see what (I thought) was glaringly self-evident.

        All that happened in the end was that I just got on with the work and the D-grade students let me. My own learning was slightly stunted – if I’d been with others who grasped the basic concepts easily, we could have discussed and stretched our understanding even further, and the D-grade students didn’t learn anything or engage with the material much at all, but benefitted from a higher grade for the exercise due to my own work.

      2. MassMatt*

        Ugh, I remember in elementary school we started off in reading groups by ability and I was in the “A” group (they didn’t call the groups anything, from what I recall, it was just “your group).
        I learned well, and discussions were interesting. The teacher spent little time with us (she didn’t need to) and that was fine.

        Then there must have been some shift in pedagogy and in later grades the reading groups were mixed. I don’t know what was worse, getting scolded by the teacher for not teaching Jack to read in 20 minutes or getting pounded on by Jack during recess for trying to teach him to read for 20 minutes when all he wanted to do was flip baseball cards.

        IMO the mixed group thing is incredibly misguided, don’t expect kids to be teachers.

        1. Scarlet2*

          “don’t expect kids to be teachers”

          It’s been my experience of “group work” as well: punishment for the A student and easy extra grades for the D student, who knows they won’t have to lift a finger.

      3. Language Lover*

        It can be frustrating. But for low stakes discussions that aren’t graded, there can be benefits for everyone–for the student who doesn’t understand and for the smart student who is being asked to explain.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Sometimes, but often the A student has to explain that concept to a D / uninterested/ dudebro student who either doesn’t care or just wants to let the A student do all the work. The “you learn better by teaching” thing only applies to teaching someone who will play along.

          1. Nanani*

            And to someone who actually does learn by teaching. Not everyone does, not even every strong student.

        2. Adultiest Adult*

          This is actually harmful to the stronger students in most cases, both educationally and socially, as several people are trying to explain. Please don’t do this. Teachers should be the ones teaching. And ideally they should be able to engage both groups of students.

    4. PT*

      I agree with this, also, large lectures tend to be majority freshmen and sophomores, 18 and 19 year olds. So if you get a block of people who know each other socially, you also run the risk of getting a block of people who know each other socially and are also not mature. They may still be in high school mode and act cliquish and rude to a classmate who’s following the professor’s instruction to talk to their neighbor, “Ew why are you talking to me *turns to friend, rolls eyes, bursts out giggling, whispers among group*”

      Whereas if you do this with upperclassmen, they might have outgrown that particular phase and will just follow the instructions of the professor literally and talk to the person sitting next to them.

    5. Nope*

      Oh hell no.

      How that plays out in practice for people like me who were A students with boobs was we did all the freaking work while dude bro made gross comments & leered at us.

  15. Jen*

    LW#5 they’re being accurate and trying to correct then or getting upset about this is what could torpedo you, not them calling you a student. You’re in a Masters program and it’s really not uncommon for people in a mStrts program to have work experience. Let this go and the best way to get hired is to be pleasant and do good work.

  16. Barbara Eyiuche*

    #2 For people who scream yawn and scream sneeze, when you talk to them about it, definitely tell them what they are doing. Many people who do this are not aware they do it, or are not aware that other people don’t do it. It seems to be at least partly something that is learned from your family of origin. My parents and siblings all scream sneeze, but I am sure they would not even know what I meant if I mentioned it. I assume I used to as well, but deliberately worked on being quieter when I noticed other people didn’t scream like that.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This is reminding me of a post awhile back that involved belching, wherein it turned out that a surprising number of people don’t know that you can mute a belch if you don’t tighten your stomach muscles and force it out.

      I had a college classmate who was a scream-sneezer until somebody asked her if she really had to make that much noise. It turns out she didn’t–she just came from a family that had made it a habit.

    2. OP2 ScreamYawn*

      This is fascinating. It is so loud, how could she not know? When I’m trying to get that kind of volume when singing, it takes my whole diaphragm. But I will keep this in mind, thanks!

    3. pinyata*

      I wouldn’t call myself a “scream” yawner but I definitely do some sort of AWWWWWW type sound when I yawn, and I had NO IDEA I did this until I stayed in a hotel room with both my husband and mom, and my mom made those sounds in the shower in the morning, and my husband informed me that I do the same thing. However, even though I had no idea I did this, I also realized I never do it in public. It seems to be mostly a shower thing or morning stretchy-yawns for me. How could I not know I did it and yet also know enough subconsciously to know when not to do it? So weird!

    4. Deborah*

      I sneeze very loudly sometimes, but I don’t think it’s a scream. It’s a really hard sneeze that feels like it’s rattling my brains! It often takes around 5 seconds before I can shake it off and start thinking again. I have noticed that it basically stopped when I stopped working at the place with the mild and dust so maybe it doesn’t matter.

      I also cough loudly sometimes when I’m having an asthma attack – sometimes so hard that I see stars. That’s gotten better too…

  17. Airy*

    My sister sometimes makes a noise like Chewbacca the Wookiee when she yawns.
    I mention this only because is is awesome.

  18. Scarlet2*

    LW1, when you speak to your manager about this, make sure you mention he’s been actively lying to you by saying his tasks were done when they weren’t. This is the kind of detail that pushes it way beyond “he’s just distracted”. Being forgetful is obviously not the problem, since you kept checking in for a whole year before finding out that he hadn’t done any of the tasks he was supposed to, despite claiming he had.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m aghast by this guy’s behaviour. If it was just that his work was “incomplete and poorly done”, OP might get somewhere with her reminders, step-by-step instructions, and videos. But I don’t believe for one second that this is a problem of “mak[ing] the taks easy for him” – he is deliberately and intentionally ignoring instructions and doing even less than the bare minimum.

      He said he’d been keeping up to date with the dates. That was a lie! A lie that he’d apparently upheld for more than a year!
      Then, when the manager came down harder on him, he claimed the task was done now. And again, a lie! A lie that he told several times even after OP told him that she could see that it hadn’t been done completely. Several times! The audacity!
      And then he sends her a document he allegedly worked on without ever actually changing anything from when he last had it weeks ago. Again! A LIE!

      Seriously, I can’t get over this. I’m seeing a problem with time(frames) in particular here – he doubles down on lies and continues to spout them even when already caught, drawing things out needlessly, which does not bode well for his work in several different directions. I really hope the manager will behave more effectively in the future. Good luck, OP!

      1. Urt*

        He might change if he faced some consequences he doesn’t like, but so far they have paid him more than a year for watching YouTube videos and he only had to listen to someone occasionally blathering something about some documents. He has zero incentive to do anything differently from his current modus operandi.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed, the problem is that so far the only person attempting to hold him accountable has no ability to impose any sort of consequence for failure to be accountable. Time to make manager aware of the problem and make coworker her problem as all your attempts to make this work have failed.

  19. Another prof*

    The small-group discussion/social interaction should definitely be suspended for the duration of the pandemic unless you’ve already switche d to doing it virtually. It’s not possible to do safely now. In fact,many institution is (rightly) being sued right now because a student who was forced into the sort of small-group work was infected.

    1. PM*

      It depends on how you’re doing it and what type of resources you have. If you’re doing the lecture digitally, and have the ability to set up break out rooms for the discussions, it could be a great engagement strategy.

    2. Natalie*

      I’m not sure why you would assume this is somehow being handled differently than the rest of the instruction. If the university is in person, speaking directly to a person you’re already sitting next to for an entire lecture isn’t changing much, risk-wise. And if the university is virtual, were you imagining the professor asking people to leave their homes mid-lecture and meet up with random classmates?

      1. Another prof*

        …which is why I wrote “unless you’ve already switched to doing it virtually.”

        But in person classes should be socially distanced. If they have ~200 (or even ~100) people in them, all trying to yell to other people six feet away, I’ll posit that the interaction is no longer productive. And if, like happened at my institution, you’re instead requiring students to get close enough to one another to have small-group conversations in a physical classroom, they will, as happened at my institution, infect one another if anyone is contagious.

        1. grogu*

          i think a classroom that could fit 400 students all social distancing/6ft apart would have to be as large as a football stadium

  20. cncx*

    In undergrad, 20 years ago, i had a biology lab with a girl who had a yawning tick, she didn’t scream yawn but when i tell you she yawned literally every 30 seconds…the problem is i catch yawns and after each lab my diaphragm and abs hurt from yawning, i would cut class as much as i could and i think i got a D+. I couldn’t work with a scream yawner, there comes a point where you need to get your oxygen checked or something if you’re yawning that much

    1. Liz case*

      Reading this thread, I’ve yawned about 20 times (and again when typing yawn). Scream yawning would drive me up the walls, regardless of how involuntary it was.

  21. Honoria, Dowager Duchess of Denver*

    LW5 – last year, I got a fixed term 3 month contract job, and it drove me mad that my boss would keep referring to it when introducing me to people ie “This is Honoria, our Teapot painting subject matter expert, she’s with us for 3 months”. Turns out, what she was doing was cultivating support from other high level stakeholders to be able to offer me a permanent role, which she was able to! This was her opener to go to that person later and go “isn’t she great, I sure wish we could keep her on – will you back me up with the CEO?”. So it could be something of this sort.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      If a supervisor introduced a coworker to me that way, my first thought would be along the lines of “are we going out of business in 3 months?”

      1. Honoria, Dowager Duchess of Denver*

        It was to do with the way they were funded and jobs were brought on, if your job wasn’t in the budget from last year, you could only be on a FTC. Very weird, but my colleagues at least understood what the cause was!

  22. phira*

    LW 4: Instructor for large STEM courses here!

    Active learning is fantastic, but the whole point of active learning is to improve learning across the board, and not to prepare people for any particular job or workplace. I think you know that and you’re just frustrated that you have some students pushing back. I really do get it! But the solution is not to 1) entirely alter your teaching style or 2) stress students out by telling them that they’ll struggle in the working world without these activities. The solution is to provide other ways to participate that still foster active engagement.

    Because honestly, that’s the crux of it: the goal of active learning isn’t to get people talking to each other, but to engage students with the material beyond passive listening and note-taking, thus improving their learning and understanding.

    I see in the comments that you do some other methods, including polling, and I do agree with you that when something makes sense “in your head,” sometimes trying to explain it out loud can make you realize that you’ve got it wrong. But in your actual letter to Alison, the flexibility you mention–having it just be strongly encouraged and letting them sit next to people they know–isn’t really flexibility with regards to “talk to your neighbor” activities.

    Here are my suggestions:
    – Offer more ways to participate in lecture that don’t involve talking to other people in class. Minute papers, activity sheets, and poll questions where you don’t require 90% to avoid “talk to your neighbors” are all good options. Give a small amount of credit for students doing these things (our courses are able to track who answers poll questions) and emphasize repeatedly that the things themselves are not graded (e.g. they’re getting credit for answering the poll questions regardless of their answers).
    – Offer more ways to engage in active learning outside of lecture. It’s just not possible to make a 400 person lecture engaging for everyone, every day, every minute. The active learning that we’ve found works effectively outside of lecture is that we offer lots and lots of practice problems for students to do. We also have weekly small sections where we do (ungraded) practice problems in small groups to help students learn how to approach problems. In weekly section, participation can mean talking with your small groups (usually the same groups every week), or answering questions asked when we go over problems.
    – Teach students how to study! So many of my students study by reading the textbook and their notes, and it’s just more passive learning without engagement. Since even anxious students still need to study, helping everyone develop active study techniques will benefit them even if they’re not participating much in class.
    – Accept that some students do not like it, and move on. You cannot tailor a 400 person class to each individual student; you’re doing your best to provide the best learning experience to as many students as possible.

    Ways we’ve been fostering active learning during the pandemic:
    – student discussion boards on the LMS where students can participate by asking or answering questions about the material and concepts
    – polls during lecture without small group discussion (we don’t do breakout rooms in lecture this semester for a variety of reasons, but obviously you could)
    – in weekly section, students can participate by raising their hand or by working with their group members in breakout rooms, but also by answering questions through typing answers in the chat or responding with the yes or no buttons for certain questions
    – encouraging students to form small study groups where they review the material by teaching it to each other

    1. Harper the Other One*

      This is a great breakdown, and I particularly want to re-emphasize two of the things you said.

      Teaching students how to study is HUGE. So many students get through high school without good study skills.

      But most importantly, you just can’t create something everyone will like. If you were running seminars with 10-20 students you MIGHT manage but with a class of 400, it’s much more challenging. It’s really important to accept that.

      The one thing I would encourage you to consider is to change the “attendance counts” part of your classes. I understand the motivation because of course students have to be present for active learning, but attendance-related grades can be really challenging for students with disabilities (including chronic illnesses, anxiety, depression, etc.) as well as for students facing challenges with work or child care. If you can figure out a way to make sure that an inability to attend doesn’t make or break a student’s ability to succeed in the class, you’ll do a lot for equity for students who face disadvantages.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        I was going to say the same – attendance is an equity issue. In addition to the challenges you mention, there’s also transportation and logistics – if your car breaks down, or if you work at the other end of the city from your school and there’s a traffic jam, or your public transit system is unreliable – there are all sorts of reasons why people might not be able to make it to class on a given day. Also as Qwerty says below, it encourages students to come in when they’re sick – which we don’t want to encourage under normal circumstances, and we *definitely* don’t want to encourage during a pandemic.

        OP, I don’t know how much control you have over that part of the grading structure, but I’m with the others who are suggesting that you drop the attendance mark if you can.

    2. Bookworm*

      As someone who didn’t like the “talk to your neighbors” activity (but didn’t feel anxiety the way some do and has been long out of school): Thank you.

      I really wish instructors would learn that people learn in different ways and there are many many ways to “participate” that doesn’t necessarily fit the “traditional” mold.

    3. Snark No More*

      Adult student here! I hate, hate, hate the discussion boards the way my college does them. You are asked to answer a question, sometimes quite detailed, by a certain date and then “respectfully and substantively respond to two other students’ posts.” The problem is that all of the responses are of the “great post” variety. There is no exchange of ideas – much of the time I can’t even read the same thing over and over, and frankly some writing is awful.

      I would rather do a paper every week than read someone else’s answer to the same question.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        I’ve found the discussion board works better when the professor has prompts available: when would we use X method instead of Y, show me an example of Z in real life, etc. I agree they’re painful when all the comments are “great question, Snark!”

        1. No Tribble At All*

          Whoops, I see you have prompts. We’re only required to answer in a few sentences. I wonder if the more detailed responses means you don’t have any questions, or the questions aren’t open-ended enough. When there’s only one right answer, there’s not going to be discussion!

          1. Snark No More*

            Open ended questions most of the time. This semester, it’s like ” why did Scalia rule the way he did? What would you do? Explain.”

      2. Lyudie*

        I’m also a adult student in an online program, and my professors have always specifically said you can’t just say “great post”. Otherwise, yeah, that’s what they would all be lol. It is definitely my least favorite part of most of my classes though. You do get a lot of “I like how you pointed out blah blah blah” and I’m guilty of it myself at times.

      3. Honoria, Dowager Duchess of Denver*

        Did we go to the same university? I hated this, just because you never got a discussion going, just random replies because people needed a grade.

      4. Esmeralda*

        The best version of this I had in college (back when computers were room-sized), was a philosophy seminar where we had a reading, wrote a five page paper on the reading due Tuesday, discussed the reading in class (a good idea was to say stuff from your five page paper), swapped five-papers, wrote a two-page paper responding to the other student’s five-page paper. Every week for fifteen weeks.

        Two benefits: 1. You had to really think about the other student’s ideas and respond to them clearly and intelligently; 2. You really learned how to write.

        Mean remarks as well as “great point” were explicitly forbidden by the prof. Mean remarks = “F” on your two-pager. You were expected to talk about problems and errors but to do so respectfully.

        One of the best classes I took ever.

      5. MentalEngineer*

        I teach philosophy and have seen discussion boards that look a lot like the ones you describe fail and succeed. Your instructor(s) need to have a rubric for the responses and enforce it. I find explicitly saying “‘Great post!’ comments will not receive credit” goes a long way. From your post below this sounds like law school, so responding to others’ analysis is (duh!) a skill that’s absolutely worth practicing. At the same time, offering feedback that’s not wholly positive is extremely difficult for a lot of students. So there have to be points attached and clear instructions to help them get over the “disagreement equals conflict” heuristic that lots of us have.

  23. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

    LW2– Ask this rude person to keep it down! You can absolutely train yourself to sneeze and yawn quietly, you just have to try. I trained myself to do both and as a result I don’t screech like an animal every time I yawn or sneeze while among my coworkers!

  24. Liz case*

    Reading this thread, I’ve yawned about 20 times (and again when typing yawn). Scream yawning would drive me up the walls, regardless of how involuntary it was.

  25. KHB*

    Q1: So you have an employee who won’t do his job and a manager who won’t do hers. I feel for you. But I think you have more tools available to you than you think you do. You lack the authority to fire Useless Lying Youtube-watching Fergus (or to force the manager to do it), but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. The vast majority of what managers do doesn’t involve firing people (or the immediate threat of firing people). You can do all the rest.

    You’ve been focused on being helpful and making Fergus’s life easier for him. Stop that. That is the wrong approach. You need to make his life harder. Be a thorn in his side. Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. If he tells you he’s done something he clearly hasn’t done, don’t hesitate to call what he’s said a “lie.”

    One thing I’ve had some success with is following up on things right away. So if he sends you a document that he says is finished but isn’t, say “You said this was finished, but you didn’t address X, Y, and Z. You need to fix those now.” Keep replying as necessary until the task is done. You may need to keep following up with the boss in a similar way.

    It isn’t easy to keep the pressure on like this. It’s a lot easier in the moment to silently stew about how you have no agency, or to just do the work yourself. And maybe Useless Fergus is too far gone for this to have much of an effect. But it sounds like the date-matching task did eventually get done, so maybe he’s not completely hopeless?

    1. serenity*

      You haven’t identified any “tools” OP has that she hasn’t used already. She’s already said she does not have disciplinary/firing authority. Being confrontational with Fergus is unlikely to change his behavior longterm or motivate him to actually do his job. This is OP’s manager’s issue to solve, and as Alison said, that manager may or may not be able/willing/motivated to do that effectively.

      1. serenity*

        And for what it’s worth, when an employee has shown consistently over time that they are unwilling or unmotivated to do aspects of their work, there really are not effective “tools” that someone without firing authority can use to compel, cajole, or threaten them with to do differently. That’s one of the key things we’ve seen in letter after letter here for years and telling people otherwise doesn’t seem particularly helpful.

        1. KHB*

          Another key thing we’ve seen in letter after letter here for years is that many managers – even people with actual hiring/firing authority – feel like they’re at the end of their rope with some employee’s problematic behavior, when they’ve never actually said to the employee, “This is not OK and needs to change.” Those are the kinds of tools I’m referring to: Clear and direct communication of expectations, over and over again as necessary. This seems like it should be easy and obvious, but it’s actually a lot harder (and rarer) than you might expect.

          1. serenity*

            I’m taking the OP at their word that they’ve spend an inordinate amount of time trying to solve this issue.

            This situation is baked into “team lead” types of supervisor roles or managers who have been given no disciplinary/firing authority and we’ve seen this on AAM many, many times over the years. My point is, this doesn’t seem to be a case of OP doing anything wrong and it doesn’t seem productive to suggest that she hasn’t done enough.

            1. KHB*

              I don’t dispute that she’s spent an enormous amount of time on this. I’m sure she has, and I’m sure it’s been extremely frustrating.

              But the approach she describes – trying to be helpful and make the employee’s life easier for him – is clearly not the right approach for this situation. There are other approaches she could try. Maybe they won’t be effective either, but I don’t think we have enough information to say that for sure.

              Yes, we’ve seen a lot of questions from people in these team-lead type roles. And I think the commenters here are often too quick to conclude that there’s nothing the OPs can do and it’s all the boss’s fault. I don’t think it’s helpful or productive to suggest that the OPs are powerless to improve their situation when it’s clearly not the case.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                What approaches are you thinking of, specifically? Because if she doesn’t have any authority over him, the only real tool left is for her to push his manager/her manager to take action.

                I saw above that you recommended the straightforward “this is not OK and needs to change” but the OP doesn’t have the authority for that conversation — and if she does it anyway and the manager won’t back her up, she’s really screwed.

                Really, the guy needs to be fired. That’s what will solve this. The OP’s tools here are to ensure her manager fully sees what’s happening and how few options are left.

                1. KHB*

                  Stating clearly and directly that what he’s doing is unacceptable and needs to change. Repeating herself as necessary (a.k.a. nagging). Asking the boss for advice on what to do without making it the boss’s problem to solve. (If the employee seemed like someone who gave a whit about other people, I’d also suggest explaining that when he does/doesn’t do X, it means Y extra work for someone else, but that might not be appropriate here.)

                  I’m hardly the world’s expert on how to be a team lead, so there may be other options I haven’t discovered yet.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  My sense is she’s told him it’s unacceptable and needs to change. She can’t keep repeating that because right now there are no teeth behind it and he probably realizes that — that’s why the manager needs to get involved.

                  Nagging is appropriate for a very short-term period (like 1-2 weeks, maybe), not as an ongoing strategy.

                  Ultimately, this IS the boss’s problem to solve, and so it makes sense to focus her efforts there now that she’s tried everything within her authority.

                3. KHB*

                  My sense differs from yours. Everything that the OP describes doing in the letter sounds to me like a very gentle, softly-softly approach. But I’ve said everything I have to say on this, so I’ll leave it here.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  You could be right! I just went back and read the letter and yeah, it’s not clear — and it’s certainly true that most people are WAY less clear/direct about this kind of thing than they need to be. So maybe she hasn’t been.

                  That said, I think at this point the problems are so severe that she really does need the manager to be involved. It’s at the point where someone with authority needs to be talking to him … and also, if she does it herself and then the manager won’t back her up later when it comes time to enforce those expectations, she’s actually in a weaker position than she was previously.

                  Anyway, happy to leave it here and appreciate the interesting exchange!

  26. DiscoCat*

    Guilty Scream-Sneezer here, I only do that at home though to get it all out first time round. In the office I have to do 3 sets of 3 polite, yet ineffective, achoos.

    1. Phony Genius*

      Yes! If you suffer from allergies, if you sneeze as hard as possible (as far away from other people as possible), you can force out most of the pollen/dust or whatever is triggering you, and you might not have to do it again for a few hours.

  27. agnes*

    I see the “talk to your neighbor” thing a little differently than others on this thread. When you use a variety of teaching styles, any one style is going to work really well for some and not so well for others. That doesn’t mean you should stop using one or more because some people find it uncomfortable or difficult, because what happens then to the student who thrives with that kind of learning activity? Just make sure your grading system doesn’t overvalue one type of learning activity over another. No one should get heavily penalized because they don’t do well in a specific type of learning activity.

    And I do think that the purpose of higher education goes beyond learning subject matter. “Life learning” is part of a school’s mission too, and providing safe spaces/places/opportunities to learn and practice those skills is important.

    1. LGC*

      Yeah – not going to lie, the comments section has gone a bit Sandwich Theory here. (Partly because…while LW4 has good intentions, they did generalize a bit in the letter!)

      It seems like a small minority – at least from LW4’s account – just isn’t doing that well with the class requirements. LW4 doesn’t need to wholesale rip up their course design, but they should look into ways where they can serve 99% of their students instead of 90%. (I don’t say 100% because I’ll be honest, there’s no way to serve literally EVERYONE, especially in a large lecture.)

      That said, I’d probably have been one of the students who didn’t like the class at first but grew to be comfortable in it. That’s definitely worth a lot, and LW4 should continue to (gently!) encourage students to participate. But if they’re paralyzed by the class requirements and need the class? Then something needs to be worked out.

      1. Anononon*

        With this comment section, I think it was inevitable. Think about all of the hate that holiday parties get. People here tend to skew towards to the “no work/school social interactions” end of the spectrum.

        1. LGC*

          I mean, I’m not surprised at all myself! (And I think LW4 knew what they were wading into when they provided evidence that a large majority of their students did appreciate their teaching style.)

      2. Willis*

        Definitely. And it actually sounds from the OP’s update like they have a wide variety of classroom techniques, including ones that would allow people who don’t want to talk to participate (or abstain from participating without anyone noticing).

        In an anonymous review of professors, there will probably always be students mentioning some approach that they didn’t like. But assuming the thing they didn’t like wasn’t a disproportionate share of your teaching methodology and was beneficial to other students, I don’t know that it necessitates change. Maybe make it less “strongly encouraged,” but I wouldn’t give up on it if it’s something other students are really valuing. (And in my experience, albeit from 15-20 years ago, there were a lot of classes that were solely lecture and much fewer with any of the techniques OP talked about…so probably more options for people who are truly averse to speaking compared to options for students that really thrive in a more engaging environment.)

    2. CheeryO*

      I agree. I’ve had lifelong social anxiety, but it’s improved quite a bit over the years from being put in uncomfortable situations, whether it was getting a food service job or participating in a college class or doing public speaking. I’m grateful that I had those opportunities, even if they made me sweat at the time. Of course this is not to say that anyone should be forced into a panic attack or anything like that – the LW could offer accommodations for students with serious anxiety – but I think that the classroom is a good place to practice those skills.

    3. londonedit*

      I agree. I don’t know, maybe it’s all very different now (and I’m talking about 20 years ago and in a UK university setting, and it seems like US college courses are taught very differently) but when I was at uni (English degree) we had lectures for the entire year group, during which there was no student participation, it was all about listening to a lecture from one of the professors on a particular topic. Then, in addition to a weekly lecture for each of your courses, you had a small-group seminar each week for each course too. There, you’d meet in groups of 8-10 with the course professor to discuss the material in more detail, talk about any questions that may arise, and you’d be assigned reading or essays for the next seminar. You also then had a personal tutor who would be a sort of mentor for your whole degree, and you could go and speak to them about your work at any time. But the focus was very much on independent learning – there were no ‘grades for attendance’, the classification you got for your degree was based on your final essays/exams for each of the three years. You went to the lecture and absorbed the information, you went to the seminar and discussed the information in a small group, and you wrote your essays. If you didn’t want to go to the seminars and discuss, fine, but you’d be on your own when it came to the final essay.

    4. Third or Nothing!*

      One of my freshman classes in college weighted 10% of your grade on class participation (as in, answering questions asked to the entire class or asking questions during lecture time). There were about 40 students in the class and half of them dominated every lecture. By the time I got up the nerve to say something, the professor had moved on to the next topic. Got my first B in that class because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

      In my senior year I had another class that weighted 10% of your grade on class participation, but this professor counted being attentive, fully present, and actively taking notes as participation. I really appreciated that because at that point I had more confidence to speak up, but I still didn’t have it in me to interrupt the dozen or so people who loved to soliloquy.

      Groups of 2-3 sounds so much less intimidating! I personally would appreciate some time to gather my thoughts before a discussion with my neighbor, so OP4 if you don’t do that already, consider adding just a minute or two to let people process privately before they discuss publicly.

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      Yes, as someone who has real difficulty with the “sit quietly and listen to someone talk for 50 minutes” type of lectures then I would have loved OP’s classes. There are so many different learning styles out there and from their comments it sounds like OP is doing putting a lot of thought into this and using a variety of different techniques, but you can’t always please everybody all of the time. It starts to get into “well not everybody can have sandwiches!” territory very quickly.

    6. SomebodyElse*

      I think this is the best and most balanced response I’ve read yet.

      “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” fits very well here. Aim for pleasing (or in this case, using the preferred learning method) all of the people some of the time.

      For context, I wouldn’t love the small discussion type format that the OP is using, mostly because I’m a lecture/test kind of person. I have no problems speaking with anyone, small group, one on one, or standing up in front of large crowds.

    7. BHB*

      I totally agree.

      Naturally, I can be quite a shy, anxious person. The idea that I’d have to go up to someone and ask “hey, can I join your discussion group?” would have been terrifying for me at 18. But.. I still did it when required. 9 times out of 10 it was fine; even if I didn’t become best friends with those people, it’d at least be a serviceable discussion/conversation. Occasionally I’d absolutely feel like the outsider and not be able to get a work in edgeways, but it was still an opportunity to at least listen to others thoughts & opinions. Only rarely did I get rejected outright, or made to feel very unwelcome in the group, but you just have to chalk it up to experience and move on.

      I think so long as the OP is on the look out for potential bullying situations, or notices a pattern where a particular student is repeatedly having a hard time finding a group, asking students to break into small discussion groups really isn’t a problem.

    8. meyer lemon*

      This approach seems pretty logical, particularly when you’re dealing with hundreds of students at a time. Personally, I never found small group discussion very helpful for actual learning, particularly in those entry-level classes in the massive lecture halls. Most of the other students just didn’t want to engage very much and either made a very cursory effort or zero effort to actually talk about the class material. So it felt more like a break than part of the class.

  28. Sawbonz, MD*

    Ugh, my husband does the scream yawn. In fact, it’s a polysyllablic scream yawn and it alternately scares the crap out of me and makes me want to poke him in the eye. I know that he does it out of habit, and not because of an underlying condition. In fact, I can’t think of any condition that would predicate a scream yawn (but don’t quote me on that).

    I feel your pain, OP.

  29. I should really pick a name*

    Your supervisor is asking you to lie to her. Do it, and don’t feel guilty about it. Continue to tell her you’re not looking for work and keep doing it until you have a signed offer letter.

    And if you finally get into the position you were promised and get an offer the next day, take the offer.

  30. Chilipepper*

    So many of y’all are privileging your anxiety over others need to learn and you are not really answering the OP’s question. Talking about what you just heard about, even if it is to say “I don’t know what that meant,” is an important way to learn and the vast majority of lecture classes do not offer this, they already privilege sitting quietly.

    Alison is on the right track when she says that school is mostly accomplishing something different from work and the professor should focus on learning.

    Remember, the students can always go talk to the professor and ask where they can sit so that they can avoid the chatting that makes them anxious. In fact, teaching students to actually contact the prof to ask questions about the content and format is the skill most similar to work skills – what do I say and how do I say it is the whole reason for this blog!

    I would offer the advice to the OP to keep offering what they are offering and to remind students to come to office hours. Most still won’t even when they should, but that is their responsibility.

    1. grogu*

      100%. i’ve had anxiety my whole life and am now medicated for it. sometimes at school and at work i’ve had to do things that i didn’t want to do. sometimes it helped me, sometimes it sucked. whatever. life is a rich tapestry of experiences. avoiding discomfort at all costs is a terrible way to manage your life.

      1. Lizzo*

        “Avoiding discomfort at all costs is a terrible way to manage your life.”

        Agree, and college is probably one of the safest places to lean into your discomfort where the stakes are (relatively) lower.

    2. Nanani*

      So many people privlege their broken legs. You are not really answering this question about stairs. You need to walk! In the real world you need to go out of your way to track down the one employee with a key to the elevator that fits your crutches or wheelchair.
      Just ask the teacher how to walk!

      1. twocents*

        OP literally points out how this *occasional* style is shown to benefit people who have been historically disadvantaged by the system, and people here are prioritizing their (treatable) medical condition over addressing systemic oppression. It is privilege.

  31. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    LW#4 – do these students have a freshman seminar course? That’s the right place for students to be told “you need to discuss things with each other in class, and you’ll need to collaborate with your colleagues in the workplace”. Can you sit down with the people who run those seminars and pass on your observations?

    1. Lizzo*

      Freshman seminars are great for this, but I think the most successful university curricula continue to incorporate these skills across all courses and all years of learning. STEM students should have just as much emphasis on collaboration, critical thinking, writing, etc. as the humanities do.

  32. Team Tom*

    Assuming talking to your neighbor during the active learning period isn’t required, have you thought about setting up a designated area in the classroom as the “Quiet corner” – specifically for people who aren’t keen on group participation/prefer to work through things on their own? For starters it may give the people with high anxiety an out that doesn’t require them to skip class, but secondly if you put all the anti-social people together, that might actually lower some of the anxiety they have and they might start talking to each other. You could encourage this as a ‘Rather than discuss the problem as a group, this corner is for people who want to work through it themselves and maybe share an answer or two at the end’.

    As someone with pretty high social anxiety, I can say that a teacher trying to force me into anxious situations as a way to acclimate wouldn’t have worked on me. At all. And probably would’ve done some damage. My ease with social situations only increased with successful interactions – and that’s less likely to occur with something that’s truly forced (I would’ve been at the top of that skipping class list). You can do all you can to *set up* a successful interaction, hence my suggestion of a designated area for those students to go, but forcing is counter productive. I frequently tried to force myself into situations in order to acclimate/get over my anxiety and they set me back far more often than they helped. Like I said, the only thing that *genuinely* helps is success – like your students who were able to stretch themselves and found that people weren’t scary.

    1. Nanani*

      That’s a great idea!
      And it more accurately reflects the working world, since someone who wants high independence/low mandatory fun is going to look for those things when they apply for jobs, you know?

    2. MentalEngineer*

      While well-intentioned, the “quiet corner” will become the “don’t-ever-want-to-participate half of the lecture hall” and/or Fraternity Row unless OP4 is able to detail at least one TA for the sole purpose of preventing that outcome.

      Source: Had to be that TA one semester. Sucked hard. Sucked hardest for the people who actually did need the “quiet corner” but were constantly disrupted.

  33. Lacey*

    My husband scream-yawns. I don’t think it’s medical, it’s just something he doesn’t realize he’s doing unless I have a big reaction to it. I’ve gotten used to it, but I’m also not very jumpy and don’t have a particular reason to be like the OP. I think the first move probably is to say, “You might not realize this, but you scream-yawn and it scares the crap out of me multiple times a day. Can you try to reign it in?”

    Some people will be able to notice what they’re doing and stop. Other people won’t, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

  34. Dee*

    LW1, I don’t think you should have had to do the extra work, you really have been more invested in the job than he’s been and you shouldn’t have had to be. In this case it might not have been a good thing, but in a more general sense, I love the fact that you did the videos. More supervisors/bosses giving a thought to different learning styles strikes me as something that, where appropriate, could potentially make workplaces better.

  35. EPLawyer*

    #5 — you are a student. That is literally what you are. You are attending school to get your degree. This work placement is part of the requirements for the degree. You are not doing this work placement because of your 15+ years of experience. You are doing it because you are a student.

    I say this as someone who went back to school TWICE as an adult (MA and JD). I was a student then regardless of what I had done in between degrees.

    1. WellRed*

      “You are not doing this work placement because if your 15 years of experience”
      This is brilliant and OP needs to make it their mantra, or at least post it somewhere they can refer to it when they get frustrated.

  36. Jules the 3rd*

    OP5: I hope you send an update about long-term placement! (And I hope it is an update you prefer). Don’t get hung upon the ‘student’ term. The group you’re working with knows that you’re a graduate student, and that it means very different things than undergrad. I ran into similar during my MBA, and with student interns since. The experience level is clear, usually within a few minutes of working with someone.

    1. Person of Interest*

      Agree – I was a 40-year-old intern when I decided to get a masters degree, and it was very similar to what you are describing, where they would give me more complex projects, but I was also there to learn a new area of work so i did studenty activities too. If they are already recognizing your experience with projects you can feel fairly confident that they will be willing to talk with you about a permanent hire if you bring it up and they have a spot open.

  37. Cat Tree*

    LW1, I can commiserate. (Side note: I don’t blame it on young age because we get many entry-level people in our department and only one is like this. He’s probably hoping you’ll excuse him based on age so he can get away with it.)

    We have one guy who is just careless. I really hate to use the term “lazy”, but I can’t figure out any other explanation. I trained him at the same time as two others, and the others were both conscientious, which made this guy even more frustrating in comparison. He made constant mistakes, but also didn’t learn from them. So he would make the same careless mistake over and over. When I pointed out his errors, he claimed he just forgot, but as an excuse more than a reason. From his tone of voice and body language, I felt like I was scolding a naughty child rather than coaching an actual adult. It was clear he cared more about not getting in trouble then improving his work. I literally gave him multiple suggestions to help him remember things, but he just didn’t care enough to use them. This is an adult who did well on college and had lived on his own for a while. Somehow he remembered to turn in his assignments on time and correctly, and he remembers to pay his bills on time. But those things are important to him so worth remembering.

    The worst part is that he never seemed to understand how problematic his performance is even though multiple people, including his boss, told him so. This position is a great starting point for many people, and the others who started at the same time have long since moved on to other departments at higher positions because they did a good job and made others want to hire them. Careless Guy is finally now moving onto something else, in a department that’s farther away from ours so they presumably are less familiar with his track record. I’m so glad he’s leaving but during the transition he’s making even less effort. Fortunately I’ve been promoted twice within my department so I only get tangentially involved in his work.

    Anyway, no advice to offer except to look for a different position if this is bad enough.

  38. Khatul Madame*

    I hate scream-yawns with the force of a thousand suns.
    My husband is a scream-yawner. Our first child was a light sleeper as a baby; the sounds he made were loud enough to wake her up, and it was a lot of work to get her to go to sleep again. I developed a visceral reaction to them that stayed with me up until now – this child is now an adult (but TBH I had never been a big fan of scream-yawns to begin with).
    Husband still does it, despite many reminders and conversations about my reasons for feeling this way. I ask him every time not to do it. It may be impossible to control.
    Except he never scream-yawns in the presence of other people.

  39. Nightengale*

    I work in health care. With people. I get high ratings on “communication” from patient families. I have collegial and positive interactions with colleagues. And I hate those “pair share” activities that have cropped up at conferences. They don’t help me learn. They have made me want to avoid attending workshops on topics that I am otherwise passionate about.

    The skill set is completely different.

    In health care, there is structure and a role. Patients come to me to tell me about their kid and then for me to provide information and help for their kid.

    Conversations are function based (“please call these patients”) or teaching based (“here’s what I think is going on with this patient”) and some small talk. Short of true emergency situations (rare in my field) I have a lot more control over what and how and when I talk to co-workers. Actually a lot of communication in my office these days is in e-mails or in messages placed on the patient electronic chart.

    In pair share, there is just anxiety and uncertainty and pressure. I have face blindness. Am I supposed to recognize the person next to me? We have to come up with something to say on the spot, what if neither of us can think of something. Do we have to write something down to hand in? (I can’t) I tend to have strong opinions that are not always common in my field. I’m disabled and know a lot about the disability community perspective that is not always known or popular with my fellow disability professionals. Do I bring that up? Do I have to carefully curate every word I say to avoid bringing it up? Plus, I am often sitting on the floor or off to the side for disability reasons, and now have to get up and try to join another person or group just for a minute or so. I end up so focused on the structure of the interaction that I’m not doing any learning or thinking.

    I know my experiences may be a little “not everyone can eat sandwiches” but, at least from my perspective, working well with people and in groups at work, with clearly defined roles where the interaction is the work, and working in groups or pairs during a class/workshop have very little in common, and if we use lack of affinity for one as the gatekeeper for the other, we are going to select out a lot of people, particularly neurodivergent ones, who have a lot to offer to the health care field.

  40. JohannaCabal*

    #4 I’m going to be honest, as someone who is shy and has anxiety, speaking in class and doing presentations was pure torture for me. A big dose of peer abuse in middle school did not help either (I refuse to use the term “bullying” to describe daily torture from 5th to 8th grade).

    I still remember in 7th grade history class, my teacher thought I mumbled and spoke too fast during my presentation. She made me do it again, so I just spoke faster and quieter. I think she would have made me do it again but the lunch bell rang and I high-tailed it out of there even though I hated lunch (see above-mentioned peer abuse).

    Yet I’ve had no issues doing presentations and speaking up at work. I guess it’s because at work I’ve never had paper balls thrown at me, whisper-giggling and pointing at me when I speak, colleagues trying to pretend-date me so they can reject me to my face, and so on.

    Your students are probably (I hope) going in to careers that interest them and draw like-minded colleagues. I suspect once in the workplace they’ll be opening up a lot more (I know I did). School, even college, is nothing like the workforce. After all, if a co-worker threw a paper ball at me, in theory, I could have them arrested…

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      …did you have that experience in college? Because I’ve been a student at three universities, and a professor at about a dozen, and I have NEVER seen a prof who would tolerate that type of disrespect between classmates. Not saying it doesn’t happen ever, but in 12 years in academia I can say categorically that it’s MUCH less a factor in presentations than you’re implying.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        Fortunately, I did not. However, I do know of people who have been bullied in higher education (a poster below even talks about her experience). Bullying does happen in higher education more than people realize. This really should be studied more.

  41. my name is she-devil*

    I’m exactly the kind of anxious student who hated “active learning”, but as a graduate TA later I made use of the small group discussion technique when leading recitation sections. I’m glad this method works for you in big classes, but honestly as a girl in usually male-dominated classes it really sucked (though occasionally the mansplaining would annoy me so much that I forgot to be anxious? ymmv)

    As a TA I only ever did this in smaller classes where I could pace around the room and answer questions, plus I could end discussion when it felt like it had moved on from the actual topic and slipped into socialization (which was also a big part of what made me anxious as a student).

  42. Office Rat*

    OP 4 Sometimes active learning techniques go really wrong in a college setting.

    I was in several classes where this was how teaching was conducted as a returning student in my 40s. The problem was I was also early in my transition because I am transgender. While I was a 4.0 student with no social anxiety, having to run across other students bigotry because I was trans was not fun.

    In a work environment, I can depend on professionalism to tamp down on unsavory views my coworkers may have about me, but students? Not so much.

    My worst class was where this was heavily relied upon for teaching and then students picked groups for a project at the end. Watching people scramble to void having you in a group sucks. My group consisted of myself and every non-white student in the class. We were all very strong academically, and I’d group with them again in a heartbeat because it was the best run, most flawless group project I’d ever had in college, but it doesn’t take away from how minority groups have to navigate that teaching style.

    1. Weekend Please*

      It’s not just minority groups either. It really sucks to be the person whose neighbors both turn the other direction. There are definite advantages to this teaching style, but it is important to acknowledge that there are drawbacks and it is nothing like interacting with coworkers at work.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      Ugh, your comment is bringing back memories of when teachers had to put me in groups because when students were allowed to select no one wanted me. The worst was P.E. when we put into groups to create a dance that we would showcase. The gym teacher acted like it was such an imposition to put me in a group when no one picked me.

      I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you in college. People can be really terrible and cruel at times.

  43. SGK*

    LW 4, just sharing my own experience with anxiety and education: I have an anxiety disorder and other mental health issues that can be very severe, but manageable with medication and lifestyle changes. I wasn’t diagnosed until my mid-20s, so I spent grade school and undergrad fighting my anxiety every time I had to work with others (although weirdly I have no anxiety at all about speaking during class, meetings, or in public; I actually *love* public speaking). It was very frustrating–especially since I didn’t realize there was something else at the root of it–but I still managed to get my class participation points and am now almost 20 years into a successful career as, ironically, a communications professional.

    My point is that while students with anxiety have a significant challenge to manage, it is manageable… but it’s not something you personally need to be concerned with. They may be working on ways to manage their anxiety because they want to get better at working with others, as they have to in your class and in the workplace. You may not know they’re working on their anxiety (I never told a soul about mine), but you’re giving them a positive reason to address their condition. You just need to keep doing what you’re doing as a supportive, boundary-respecting educator. Your students’ futures are their responsibility, so it’s up to them to decide the role anxiety plays in their lives going forward.

    1. Smithy*

      In many ways this describes me. I grew up as what I’d describe as a socially anxious extrovert – so a lot of desire to be social and amongst others. And then also a lot of anxiety around messing it up.

      As I was working through this, a lot of my decision making as a teen/college student often took me away from things that made me anxious despite also wanting to do them. So the classes that forced public speaking, small group work, etc. were really critical in forcing me to work on those skills but also tease out what I wanted, and where I needed mental health care.

      My job now has a lot of networking, small talk, and pre-COVID attending events where I might know almost no one but was tasked with meeting/talking to certain people. And those are tasks I’m really good at, despite also having areas of social anxiety I can still work on.

  44. Hemingway*

    I hated talking in class, but I’m super confident and have no issues at work. The classroom, especially at that age, is very intimidating. I also have attention problems, but went to a small university where you go to class, so I never knew what was going on. I’m a reader and would just learn everything on my own. I’m still like that at 40! I’m very smart and successful, but classes just weren’t my thing (except language classes of course)

  45. Shannon*

    OP5, I don’t know what field you’re in, but in social work, students are required to be identified as students, even those who, like you, bring lots of experience with them. It’s connected to our Code of Ethics and our responsibilities to be transparent with clients, communities, and collaborators about the roles we are filling. I agree with Alison, and I think most people will recognize that you can be in a student role and high performing at the same time.

  46. karou*

    LW #5 – My company once had an intern who was a woman in her 40s making a career change. She went on to be hired.

  47. Sciencer*

    OP4 – I’m a professor at a STEM university and teach an honors course that emphasizes discussion and project-based learning. Students are expected to interact with each other basically every day, and we also have a few assignments that require things like interviewing people from the community. We always have some students who really struggle with this, understandably. For some, speaking up in class even once is a huge challenge because of social anxieties.

    Things that have helped:

    I’m honest about my own anxieties in this area and how they’ve improved over the years through practice. I acknowledge that everyone starts out at a different level of comfort with these types of interactions.

    I tell them I will never force them to speak out in class, but that I expect to hear from every student every day and if they’re struggling to meet this expectation I’ll want to chat with them in office hours to find strategies they can try.

    In the early weeks, I avoid teasing students who say something ridiculous even when I know they could take a ribbing or even benefit from it. Students who can’t take that kind of public criticism will learn that they’re at risk for it and clam up even more. After I’ve established a good rapport with the class, I can loosen up more. But the early weeks are all about creating a supportive space that encourages making mistakes “out loud.”

    Speaking of which, I acknowledge my own mistakes immediately and don’t try to gloss over them. I think it’s important to model a relaxed and positive attitude around mistakes because many students’ anxiety stems from perfectionism.

    I have had one student who absolutely could not meet these expectations around participation. His social anxiety was severe and he was already in therapy for it. We helped him get a disability services accommodation so that I could essentially remove the participation expectation for him (or in the case of presentations, modify it to a private setting, which he agreed to and did pretty well with). This gave him time to continue working with his therapist while remaining in a course he needed and in other ways enjoyed/benefited from (and his attendance significantly improved, which was part of the deal). So I keep this in my back pocket as a strategy for students with severe anxieties, but the vast majority of students will never need that level of intervention or accommodation.

  48. Anon for this one*

    Oh boy. LW1 is high octane nightmare-fuel – this is exactly what I’m envisioning my colleagues thinking when I’m having an executive function dry spell with paralyzing shame-spiral on top. Granted, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to put off something for a whole year, at least in a professional context, but honestly? Occam’s razor says the colleague is lazy and/or incompetent, but I wouldn’t rule out a severe case of untreated ADD (which doesn’t really affect the advise to the LW, who can’t just leave a bottle of Ritalin on his desk, but still).

  49. Qwerty*

    OP4 – It sounds like your classes need a specific discussion day rather than trying to roll that into the lecture. The way large classes handled this at my university was that there would be a large lecture twice a week, plus a small group component that met once a week. The small group was either a discussion or a lab and each class size was usually 20-25 people and led by a TA. The student discussions would happen in the smaller setting which made it more comfortable, as you slowly grew to know the people in your discussion.

    Bold of you to assume I have friends in a 200-400 person lecture hall! If I am sitting next to someone who I’m comfortable having a discussion with, that means we were already friends and were already going to be discussing this topic. If your goal was to get discussion going across different demographic groups, than your execution isn’t going to achieve that. How this would have played out in my classes is the four women who already study together would sit together to be discussion partners because the guys were super condescending whenever we got partnered with them in lecture. HOWEVER – those dynamics did not usually play out in the smaller discussion classes, because everyone was in collaboration mode rather than lecture mode and the TAs were good about switching up how we did things (sometimes break into groups, sometimes discuss as class, etc)

    You say that you need to do this to teach them about the working world, but a giant lecture is more like an All Hands meeting at a company. If you want smaller groups to interact, then you need to have smaller classes.

    Finally, put in your course description that you grade people on in-class discussion!!! Students are probably not expecting that and need to be able to plan their schedules according. And consider dropping attendance as a grade requirement for a lecture – if a student can learn everything they need to without attending all the lectures, then more power to them. Plus it encourages students to come to class when sick and I think we’ve all learned why that is a bad idea.

    1. Nanani*


      Break out into groups = your grade depends on somehow singlehandedly countering the JAQoffs and the Bloviators? No.

      Plus grading grown adults on attendance is not a thing I experienced. Even in high school we could excuse ourselves at 18+ and I graduated this century. Grade people on their work, not on how well they perform (your fantasy of) a workplace interaction.

    2. MentalEngineer*

      Whether large courses are pure lecture or lecture plus discussion/recitation is normally beyond the control of any individual instructor. If OP4 is lucky enough to be actual faculty, she can try and get on the relevant departmental committee. This may or may not happen. If it does, she could then advocate for a move to a recitation model in that committee. The committee may or may not converge around the idea, for any number of reasons which start at semi-arbitrary and extend up to multi-decadal academic/pedagogical warfare, the originators of which may be dead. Then the chair of the department and/or the full department may or may not agree for any number of those same reasons. Then the university may or may not agree, for any number of reasons plus a bunch of others that don’t apply at the department level. Many universities will then have to clear changes with the state, their accreditation agency, or both, and that also may or may not go through.

      Two examples from my university.
      1) My department universally recognizes that small courses > lecture+discussion > pure lecture, both for the undergrad learning experience and so the PhD students can get real teaching experience. But despite the university having a multi-billion dollar endowment, an annual capital budget of hundreds of millions, and owning most of the land around the campus, there weren’t enough classrooms to change course models. Before social distancing.
      2) Our Intro to Ethics course doesn’t satisfy the state’s Ethics component of the required university curriculum, because the last time the syllabus was rewritten some arcane procedural step wasn’t completed and nobody wants to put in the dozens of hours it would take to get it recertified.

      All this to say that most faculty are going to find themselves working within whatever system already exists at their workplace, just like any other workplace, and that changes that look simple are often far more systemic than they seem, just like at any other workplace.

  50. Autumnheart*

    I agree with Alison’s comment to LW3 that simply getting a degree isn’t an automatic raise trigger for lots of companies (it wasn’t for mine either), but a manager who goes out of their way to tell me that “I won’t get the position I was promised when hired” (what? so you’re not even doing the job you were hired for?) and that there’s no point in investing in me and my personal development is meaningless to the company, I would damn well take that on its face and assume that this manager has no interest in giving me the position I was hired for and that the company won’t invest in me! With a side order of having to “prove” you’re sick so you can take a sick day.

    Sounds like a manager who has really high turnover and is getting flak from upstairs about it. Gee, whatever could be causing that problem? If you weren’t job-searching before, you definitely should look into it now. Who wants to come to work every day to a paranoid boss who threatens you every time you want to advance?

    1. OP3*

      Thanks for the reply! I never expected the degree was an automatic promotion; she asked me what I’d like to see happen and I told her. I mean what college graduate wants to stay at 30k a year give 5k if they actually give bonuses they promise. So I really don’t feel that after a year and a half there and upon completion of the degree asking for a raise would be out of line. I’m not sure why this person felt the need to even be asking though as her boss is the one whom hired me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m young and still learning how the business world works, however I’m not stupid and this person made a point to tell me I’m wasting my time to get the degree, that I would likely not be placed into my own store as I was promised, and that she was in disbelief her boss hired me as a manager and not an assistant. I guess I don’t feel 25 is too young to be a manager, especially being that I have supervisory experience as well as 5 years of bookkeeping. Not sure how she thought this would make me want to stay!

  51. MB*

    OP #4- I run larger meetings with diverse audiences frequently and have to create meeting formats that meet all kinds of needs. Have you considered a virtual platform where students could choose to engage by typing in answers and collaborating with others’ answers in writing, or choose to speak? Mural is a great option/example, as is Mentimeter. I’ve found that giving people a choice about how they’d like to engage improves the content/collaboration and makes everyone feel more welcomed.

  52. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Today I was invited to apply to be a “facilitator” in breakout rooms in a 200-person lecture series. I had already read most of the comments here, so although normally I might be interested, today it was a LOL NOPE.

    My chief memory of this kind of small group within a larger group is that one or two people will do all the heavy lifting while others just take notes. I’m sure that adds to the educational experience and can clarify topics for people, but it also sounds more like the world of work than LW might intend.

  53. Ali*

    My dad often does kind of a Tarzan-like yell when he yawns, and I do occasionally find myself doing it at home, but never (to my knowledge) at work.
    I remember being an intern and my boss telling me that I was too quiet and needed to make more noise which perplexed me – I spoke to coworkers regularly, asked him questions, etc. – did he really just want me to make random noises? And a few days later he did a scream-yawn thing at his desk and I figured that yes, he must just think I need to make more noise in my cube lol.

  54. Intern Supervisor*

    I supervise master degree student practicums. These practicums are not busy work. We provide them to give the students success and a basis for evaluations. We want these students to succeed in our specialty. The work that we assign require a high level of competency and engagement. We are also all virtual at this time.
    I suspect the staff is referring to the OP as “student” to remind each other that this is a temp position. They appreciate the work but not to depend on future work by the student.
    It is not a sign of disrespect to say “student” or “intern”
    It is rare that we would have a position open to hire after the completion of the practicum . Sometimes we extend per project and pay accordingly.

  55. Allypopx*

    #4 you’re focusing a lot on anxiety but there are also a significant amount of other reasons this activity can be extremely hard for people (ADHD and autism have been mentioned in the comments). If you want this to be truly equitable I would drop the attendance grade – that can be unfairly punitive to a lot of people with medical conditions or personal circumstances that interfere with class attendance anyway.

    1. Richard*

      I’d argue that an all-lecture-no-interaction class structure might be just as inaccessible for some students with ADHD as one that encourages a small amount of interaction. As to the attendance grade, it isn’t necessarily inequitable to grade attendance or participation as long as there are clear alternatives for those for students who need them.

      1. Allypopx*

        I don’t think no-interaction and think pair share are the only two options. Full group discussions can be much easier for people, even individual answers can be. Technology integration can make these things much easier for big classes. I also don’t think grading participation and grading attendance are inherently the same thing, participation alternatives are much easier to integrate.

        1. Richard*

          Full group discussions lead as often as not to a fisheye teacher view where all a small minority of students are actively engaged and everyone else tuned out or confused and getting no attention, and, if think-pair-share is bad for people with anxiety, I’m not sure what will be better about individual answers. Either way you want to talk about participation or attendance there are going to be equity issues, so I’m not really sure what you’re getting at there.

        2. judyjudyjudy*

          Full group discussions in a 400 person lecture? Even with the aid of technology, I’m not sure it will be feasible or support learning. Also, sometimes the use of classroom technology requires students to buy special devices just for the sake of a class or two.

  56. DarnTheMan*

    Op #5 – not to say that you’re doing this but I would caution against projecting any kind of attitude that you’re somehow better than the student role or that you feel entitled to a higher level position once completing your placement than would normally be given to people on that track. I only say this because when I made my career change and went back to school, our program ended in an internship and one of my fellow interns had some very similar opinions and feelings that I’m seeing in your letter (she was also a later in life career switch who’d run her own company for several years). Ultimately she ended up quitting the internship early because the company we all worked for had a set program/experience for the interns they took on and she made it very clear (not just to her fellow interns but several of the staff as well) that she felt the work was beneath her and that she should be allowed to be handling more large projects on her own, because of her prior work experience.

    I get that things are very tough right now for a lot of people in the job market and that people may be taking on jobs that are more entry-level than their past work experience would ordinarily lead them to take, but I would just caution against repeatedly bringing up your resume/past work experience (unless relevant to the situation) or anything else that makes you seem like you think you’re better than the role you’re currently in. You’ve clearly already demonstrated your skillset through your work output so focus more on that and best of luck.

    1. Allypopx*

      Agreed. I did a nontraditional college route and ended up with a lot of relevant work experience before I finished my bachelor’s and certainly going into my master’s program. While that experience I think enriched my school experience (and I have a lot of feelings about whether or not straight-to-college with no work experience is actually a good default the way we press it), I was still a student. It’s not an insult. Use your experience by showing your competence and professionalism, not by flaunting it or seeing yourself as above the work you’re doing.

    2. OP5*

      Thanks very much for your comments! I probably could have articulated better in my letter that I truly don’t think I’m better than the work, just that I have some additional skills and experience that I was hoping would be highlighted. You are correct that there is no need to be bringing up past work at this point (this was done in context- when I was asked directly about it or whether I knew a specific skill, for example). It’s been a matter of switching gears from seeing myself as a professional first and student second to recognizing they are not at odds with one another.

      1. DarnTheMan*

        When it comes to later in life return to school, I’ve been there, done that – it’s tough at first but it does get easier, and kudos to you for being willing to come in the comments and take people’s feedback.

  57. Jaria*

    Dear professor —- no one wants to think pair share with their neighbor. And the people who want to talk are going to talk about other topics. None of that crap in a classroom prepares me the actual student to pass the assessment on the material. So just teach and let kids learn thanks.

    1. Allypopx*

      Most importantly neither this practice nor group projects have ever “prepared me for the working environment”

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      Okay. Step up, participate in class, demonstrate your learning in the assignments, and encourage your fellow students to do the same, and we’ll drop the group work. Deal? Didn’t think so…

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          No, not manage my classroom–be an *active* student. There’s a *reason* we don’t teach by allowing students to decide what they “want” to do, because no one “wants” to do anything at all. You step into the professor’s spot and try teaching to thirty blank faces that never talk, *then* come back and gripe about group work…

          1. Allypopx*

            I have taught seminars before so yes I know the blank faces. I also know I’m paying thousands of dollars a semester and am happy to participate in discussions or answer questions, and my education is getting interrupted by spending half a class organizing small groups and waiting for idle chatter to stop when answering questions that should only take five seconds to jot down. Integrate technology, facilitate individual participation or full-class discussion, find a method that actually works, but don’t waste my time. Especially on the graduate level where most people also have jobs and homes to manage, coming to class and having half of it be nothing because a Professor doesn’t feel comfortable lecturing is a huge imposition – especially if you’re going to grade for attendance on top of that.

            1. Dr. Rebecca*

              Gee, thanks for telling me how to do the job I’ve been doing for eight years, I’ve *never* thought of doing it that way, not even after all the time I’ve spent in active pedagogy and inclusive learning training. *massive eyeroll*

              1. Allypopx*

                We absolutely know a lot of those trainings are outdated and eight years is not very long in terms of education and academia. Listen to what people are sharing here instead of assuming you know best, you might learn something.

                1. anonymous 5*

                  The people who are actual educators with actual training and actual knowledge of pedagogy are saying that the technique of small-group discussion as a means of encouraging active learning is valid and supported by research.

            2. Richard*

              I can confidently say in my undergraduate and graduate school that I learned as much from talking to my fellow students as I did from any lecture (let alone full-class discussion?!? has anyone ever learned anything from those at all??!?!). Maybe you should cool it on declaring that the things you liked from class were obviously useful and productive and everything else was a waste and try imagine a world where different people are different.

              1. katertot*

                Same to this- especially in graduate school!! I studied with my classmates and talking through topics to make sure we understood them was super common and helpful. And often for me- I was more inclined to admit I didnt understand something one on one with a classmate/friend than to a professor in office hours.

              2. Casper Lives*

                Yeah, I enjoyed the small groups and being droned to by a professor felt like I was a faceless drone myself. I would zone out. Encouraging participation was better for me to be active. Even if I rolled my eyes at the lame-o professors at the time, it helped me a lot!

                1. Richard*

                  I did the same thing with the eye-rolling when pushed into group work, but looking back, I can’t really remember much of anything from any lecture from school. Everything I remember was from work that I did, either alone or with groups.

        2. Autumnheart*

          It’s reading comments like this that make me think that maybe AAM commenters are not the go-to for classroom suggestions any more than they’re the go-to for how to make small talk in the office.

          I have ADHD and I’m also an introvert, but I don’t curl up and die every time I have to talk to someone. It’s a vital life skill. People need to develop it. Even if it isn’t how they would prefer to go through life.

          1. Casper Lives*

            ADD introvert – yep. I didn’t always enjoy groups at the time but it helped a lot. I also didn’t enjoy reading textbooks or writing papers. That’s part of college.

          2. Richard*

            +1 on this too. I’m happy that there’s a lot more talk and visibility for us introverts these days, but the pushback against any encouraged human interaction gets excessive at times.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        My fellow students don’t want to talk with or listen to me when you’re forcing them to interact with me, how the hell am I supposed to encourage them to participate?

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          By building actual collaborative, cooperative, relationships with them, sharing ideas, asking for their contributions, and encouraging their potential/allowing them to encourage yours. As can be done in group work.

  58. Charly Bee*

    There is a big difference between collaborating with your small group of colleagues and putting yourself forward to interact with the complete stranger (in a class of 200!) sitting next to you – who may have turned to the person on the other side of them, blocking you out. And in a class that large, you could be sitting next to a completely different person each time! It’s hard enough for some people even in a small class. Maybe assigning small discussion groups that they will sit with and maintain for the entire semester?

    1. Batgirl*

      This is usually the way good group work is done, and you’re right that it’s more similar to the workplace. It’s a crapshoot hoping that random people will be helpful to each other. In a large lecture hall it will be difficult to set groups or pairings well though. The only time I’ve ever seen this done at all competently was an exercise where people were told to sit on the left if they believed w, the right if they believed x. At the back if they believed y at the front if they thought z. You end up sitting with people who agree with you and you swap (paper) notes on reasons why you do. It has to be more structured than just random chance.

  59. Orange You Glad*

    LW1 – I often find myself in similar situations. I have “Manager” in my title, but I don’t actually manage any direct reports except interns. Instead, I manage the workflow of my department and we all report to my boss. I can assign work but I can’t force anyone to do anything.
    When I’ve done everything I feel I can do to help and encourage the other employee and my boss hasn’t stepped in to help when asked, I make it my boss’s problem. If I am sending a follow-up request for a report that should have been completed last week, I CC him. I repeatedly update him on where things have failed due to the slacker employee’s inaction. I won’t cover for or complete work for the slacker, I’ll just let the process fail so my boss is forced to deal with the problem. Obviously, this doesn’t work in every situation and I would never do anything that would put my standing in the company in jeopardy.

    1. SMH*

      Yes and if needed I would add make sure when you respond to outside departments that x is not done because this work has not been completed. Copy your boss on that as well. Maybe with a well placed ‘John/Sarah can you assist in getting this moving?’

  60. Sporty Yoda*

    Okay I’m also a lab researcher hoping to continue doing academia, and it’s SUPER great to see someone in as similar career path finding AskAManager helpful even if all the situations don’t apply exactly! I also find it helpful in learning how to manage a team as well as knowing my rights as an employee; I’m not quite running anything at the same scale as an entire lab, but, y’know, hopefully someday.

  61. Esmeralda*

    OP 4: Thank you, thank you, thank you, for the way you run your classes. The active learning activities you’ve incorporated do make a difference in student learning overall and for students in underrepresented and underresourced populations. There’s plenty of evidence for it.

    It’s true that some students will find these activities especially anxiety-producing. I suggest that if a student asks you directly about it, you refer them to the college disability services office, which is set up to help students with disabilities get the accommodations they are entitled to AND which is almost always very good at helping students figure out what accommodations they need.

    I’d also spend a little time in the first or second week of your class letting students know about these resources. Even better, if you can get someone from the disability svcs office to come in and do a short (10 – 20 minutes) presentation. My experience is that when someone from dis svcs comes in and students see that they’re friendly and helpful, they’re more likely to use that service.

    You can also talk with dis svcs to see if they have ideas about how to help students with anxiety who are not disclosing it to you or to dis svcs. Are there ways you can change the activities to make them work better for those students?

    And finally, remember that we quite reasonably ask students to do all sorts of things that are hard and uncomfortable and unfamiliar, or that they just aren’t good at (or good at yet): writing, speaking, research, team projects, independent projects, taking timed tests (OK, those aren’t so reasonable, but I’ll spare you my screed on that!), managing their time, being organized, advocating for themselves… talking with other students is another one of those things.

    Again, props to you for your thoughtfulness. I wish more teachers would do half of what you’re doing!

  62. Observer*

    #1 – I want to make something explicit that Alison alludes to.

    If the problem is you boss – which it might be, you are going to have to make some decisions.

    Lay out for her what exactly is going to slip because this is not being resolved. If she’s the type to throw you under the bus, or things slipping could create other problems for you, I would suggest doing it in email to make sure there is a record of this. Also, if you can, think about going above her head or HR if that’s possible in your organization.

    One thing to seriously consider is looking for a new job. Don’t leave till you find something, but DO start looking.

  63. boop the first*

    1. Dang, I am curious about the work in this one because the letter makes it sound like pointless busywork. Centering a whole human life on spotting pre-existing numbers between two machines that won’t connect to each other, and now other humans are stressing about it. I can’t help but feel a little sympathetic to distracted coworker. If the company doesn’t even care if the numbers match, welp…

    Scream-yawns/scream-sneezes are entirely voluntary, c’mon. I don’t even EXHALE-yawn anymore because I didn’t want to throw my breath at anyone on public transportation. If you can change the *entire direction* of a yawn, you can easily be quiet doing it!

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      If the two systems generate reports, this sounds like something that can be automated… if there’s a will to find the way.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        It only takes 10 minutes a week to do it the slow way. Sure, it’d be a time savings to automate it, but there probably better ways to increase efficiency before this comes to the top of the lists.

        For instance, firing Useless and hiring somebody who actually works would probably save OP a lot of hours every week.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Regardless, it’s this person’s job and, OP points out, if he did it regularly, it could be done in a short amount of time. It’s not like this is the only thing he does all day every day. Many jobs have some sort of dull, tedious, repetitive task. (Teachers grading homework, for instance. Today I spent about 30 minutes pulling paper from student files and pulling apart stapled-together paper that had to stay in the file so that they can be scanned. Another dull task coming up is to check a list of courses to see if they’re actually being offered next year. Etc)

      The issue is not that it’s a boring horrible task. The issue is that he doesn’t even start on it. And he doesn’t do his other work, or does a half-assed job on his other work.

      I don’t feel sorry for this person at all. I feel sorry for the OP, who hasn’t been able to get the manager to follow through.

  64. Malodile*

    //But, isn’t that degree of anxiety going to hurt them in the workplace?

    If it’s anxiety to the degree of a medical condition (which is what an anxiety disorder is), then the necessary accommodations are between them and their future employer. You are not their therapist, you are not their doctor. People with mental illness are just as entitled to an education as anyone else.
    No teaching method is going to be 100% perfect. You’re perfectly entitled to keep lecturing this way (especially since it works well and is beneficial for most students), but the students who struggle with this method are also entitled to voice their desire for an alternative. In a class with hundreds of students there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all method that’s going to work equally well for everyone. Please don’t take it personally.

  65. Nanani*

    LW4 – As the response says, any assumption about “this is how this will be at work” is wrong.
    Critically, people with anxiety, or any other reason to dislike chatting with strangers they happen to share a class with, will go on to *self select* into fields, jobs, and specific workplaces that minimize the think they don’t want to do.
    There are offices doing the same job with a very different atmosphere, where one might have tons of water cooler chat and socializing, while the other is quiet, does most communication in text, and individual contributors have a high level of independence.

    More immediately, they will self-select out of your classes and you may well end up pushing people you want to help away from your subject entirely, if your class is a bottleneck of any kind.

    Chatting with others isn’t actually how you learn the thing you’re teaching, even if interaction helps -some people-. Others just want to hear the lecture on Topic They Paid To Attend A Class On. Let them.

    1. judyjudyjudy*

      It’s not chatting, it’s working on short chemistry/math/whatever problems together. Sometimes these active learning modules require you to pull together several concepts to find an answer — for example, what would the periodic table look like for the first 10 elements if there was no spin quantum number? If you abhor this type of activity, fine, but there is research that suggests that these types of activities help (some) students learn the subject matter, which is What They Paid For.

  66. Liz*

    But LW4 didn’t say she doesn’t lecture in the topic at all, just that “I pose questions during lecture and the students discuss them with the people”. That’s been a fairly standard part of most lectures I’ve seen for the past 20 years, and continues to be a part of our numerous required training programs in my job, too.

    There’s evidence to suggest that varying teaching techniques helps to accommodate all learning styles. I for one cannot pay attention for a straight hour of Somebody Talking About a Thing. I also paid to attend a class, and I expect a lecturer to be able to make that class engaging and accessible for as many students as possible. If all they do is stand at the front and talk, I’m not going to learn and I’m not going to feel I’m getting my money’s worth. Once the lecturer has introduced the knowledge, chatting with others is how I clarify, consolidate and confirm.

    Accommodations for severe anxiety absolutely need to be a thing, but I don’t think tossing out entire teaching techniques that work effectively for other portions of the class is the way to do it. You find those solutions by figuring out what works for that student and offering practical alternatives.

    I’ve had anxiety for most of my life, to the point of running out of classrooms in sheer panic. But with the appropriate support I’ve learned to cope with situations I once never thought I could handle. University was HARD – for years my parents didn’t believe I would go – but I gradually learned what challenges I could rise to and what I couldn’t. Turning up to lectures? Way easier than I anticipated. Presentations and public speaking? I was shaking and nauseous, but I did it, and would you believe it, presentations and public speaking are now a significant portion of my job. Exams? Couldn’t handle them. I had to have alternative assignments and was given essays to complete over the holidays. But all these needs were discussed with an academic counselor and solutions were reached where they were required, and I honestly surprised myself with the progress I made.

    People with anxiety are capable of growth when given adequate support and flexibility. We do not all self select out of roles that we might find challenging, because sometimes those roles might be well suited to us in other ways. Yes, life throws some challenging circumstances at us, sometimes insurmountable ones, sadly, but I don’t feel the solution is to rob other students of valuable learning experiences. We need MORE options for varied learning experiences, not less.

  67. Courageous cat*

    I am trying to think of a single even remotely reasonable medical explanation for scream-yawning, and I cannot. Ask her if she can do it a little more quietly. I’m easily startled too and that would drive me insane.

  68. Argh!*

    Late to the party, but FWIW, I have been the manager of a person like the one described by LW1. I micromanaged, wrote the person up, discussed issues in evaluations, and sent the person to training sessions on helpful topics (like time management), and followed my supervisor’s instructions to prepare a PIP. I informed the worker it was on the way (it was no surprise at that point)…

    … and then my supervisor didn’t follow through on the PIP, and told me it was held up in HR. I checked with the person in HR in charge of reviewing PIPs and discovered it had never gotten to her.

    So… the supervisor may suck, but it’s also possible that the supervisor’s supervisor sucks.

    Either way, someone at a higher level has decided that they don’t want to do their job, and if they are good at sucking up to the person above, LW1 will just have to live with it. Any efforts by this person’s supervisor would be confidential, so there’s no way to know what the real story is, but at some point it’s an organizational decision of having LW1 do extra work in order to save someone higher up from doing extra work. Not doing that work and letting the incompetent (or ADHD) coworker make billing mistakes will come down on LW1 if my experience is any guide. :-(

  69. Vanny Hall*

    OMG, “Active Learning”: Is that what it’s called? I recently completed a 2-year master’s degree and it must have been a rule that instructors in the program incorporate this technique in all their classes, because there it was, without exception, in every class: break into small groups and have a discussion. I LOATHED it. Students in the program had extremely varying levels of experience, understanding, and, I guess, social intelligence. Many would just sit in silence and refuse to make eye contact. Other would make make up obvious BS about articles they plainly hadn’t read. It was excruciating. Add to this the fact that I am a bit hard of hearing, and when a class of 24 is broken into six groups, all in the same room and trying to hold separate discussions at the same time, I miss a good 50% of what’s being said. I don’t know how these “learning outcomes” are measured, but I think it will be a happy day when this particular educational fad comes to an end.

  70. Parker*

    LW4, I am curious how much of this active learning you are doing. I am shy, introverted and have anxiety, but I have never left a unit because of discussion time. Are you doing this multiple times during every lecture? If so you may want to dial back a little bit. It might also help to make clear how many discussion times will happen during the lecture and at what point they will happen (maybe mark them out in handouts). If I feel like the social happening can spring on me anytime I would be thinking about nothing else but “oh goodness is it coming now? Do I have to social now? No? When is the social!? Oh my god is it now? How about now?” for the whole lecture.

    Also I think the way you are looking at this is that you are putting people in a situation where discussions are required, so the more organic the experience is the more comfortable it would be for people. Hence not being required to talk, only encouraged, and being allowed to sit next to friends. These are good things when social is not a problem for you. For me an organic social experience happens so rarely it almost certainly will not happen in a lecture. So I end up watching others forming friendships and discovering commonalities in the first few lecturers, and then they start sit next to one another and really make friends for the rest of the semester, while I awkwardly struggle to get through the discussion for the first few lectures and then begin to have more and more trouble finding someone willing to have a forced awkward conversation with me as the semester goes on. Having to talk to people is hard work enough, please don’t make me also work at finding a person to talk to in the first place.

    And in case you are interested, I am actually a female minority in the STEM field. I have now graduated and found a job in my field. I have a little trouble at work because every conversation require some pre-game psyching up “you can do it! You can talk to this person and this will work out! Gogogo!”. But overall I am actually working pretty well. Work conversations and discussions feel much more organic than back in school. Occasionally I go to training classes for work and active learning still happens. It’s just as anxiety inducing as I remember in school, but these training usually don’t last long so it’s not as bad. I think your students with anxiety will work something out for themselves too when they start working so no need to be too anxious on their behalf. But it’s so good to see someone who actually want to cater for those of us with anxiety.

  71. Amy*

    Scream- Yawn. I know we all read the media and expect war if we say 1 thing to 1 person but that is not usually the case. Most people will be fine if you are polite. If I was disturbing someone I would want to know and resolve it. I wouldn’t think badly of anyone, in fact I would be glad.

  72. Engineer*

    OP1 if you can export the billing dates from the two programs into excel, you can most definitely write an excel macro or MATLAB script that will compare those dates for you and highlight the discrepancies. It might take you a few hours to figure it out, but then you’ll never have to do it again. Spend 6 hours sharpening that axe!

  73. Nom*

    LW1 – this is not normal behavior for anyone, even people in their early 20s. Fresh-to-the-workforce people should not be spending all day on YouTube either, and most know better. People regardless of age should be held to the same performance standard.

    I know this isn’t the point of the letter, but I wanted to mention that young people should not be given a pass for poor performance – don’t let that hold you back from nipping performance problems in the bud.

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