The people at the Lilly conference had such an amazing sense of perspective. They seemed to understand, without ego, their potential to positively influence the lives of students, and were so enthusiastic and devoted to this principle. One of the most inspiring talks I saw was given by Dr. Kelly Flores, of the City University of Seattle, entitled "Beware of the Dark Side in the Classroom." Rife with Star Wars references (which I profoundly enjoyed), Dr. Flores' presentation couched the idea of "problem students" in the idea that they are people who, until very recently, were raised in an environment in which they were imperfectly raised. Because students were not told certain things as children, they did not have certain needs met, which results in problematic behavior.
For example, students who were never told things like "you can express emotions around me," "your emotions aren't too intense for me to respond to and help you express safely," were not provided with 'emotional containment'. Because the student wasn't provided with emotional containment, they may react to perceived failures in unhealthy ways - either through unbounded emotional volatility ("I can't @#$%ing believe you gave me a B-, you @#$%ing @#$&"), or emotional repression (e.g. completely disengaging from the class). In the past, I have responded to the former with nonresponse, and to the latter with a quick e-mail ("Hi Levi, I noticed that you struggled a little on the last paper - I would love to meet with you to debrief about this assignment, and to create a game plan for the next paper"). The more I think about it, though, I owe both subsets of students responses, albeit different ones. I can't just refuse to engage with a student because I didn't like what they said. This just reinforces the problem with emotional containment.
Dr. Flores recommended responding to unbounded emotional containment in some of the following ways: remain calm, validate their emotions and experiences, and not to get offended by their emotions. I think that the next time I get an emotionally volatile e-mail from a student, I'll definitely give them an appropriate response which reacts to the need that needs to be met.