Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday Evening Coming Down; Or, Things I Wish My Students Knew

The blogosphere is full of hilarious/not so hilarious misunderstandings between professors and undergraduates. There is also a lot of grumping and complaining on the part of exasperated faculty, who are forever tossing up their hands and saying "Why can't they just...!" Or, "Don't they understand that....!" or "Do they really think that....?!" It's no wonder they get back at us whenever they can. When I was anonymous (for a hot five minutes, as it turns out), I used to put stories about my students up in blog posts too, usually ones that conveyed my wit and erudition, until I found out that I wasn't actually anonymous, and that I had crushed various spirits around campus (at least so it was reported), which of course I had never intended. Then I had to look inward to plumb the depths of my rage, blah, blah, blah. Thank Goddess for the bottomless psychotherapy benefit.

However, the end of my pseudonymity and the illumination of my soul has resulted in the loss of one source of entertainment for my blog readers. What I am left with for witty scenarios is posting the jokes of a sixth grader I am related to and his little brother; to wit:

Boy: "Why did the blonde have square breasts?"
Me: " I dunno. Why did the blonde have square breasts?"
Boy: "Because she forgot to take the Kleenex out of the box!"
Me: (laughing, because this is so lame and sexist it really is funny.)
Boy: "I made that up!" (grins)
Me: (acting surprised) "No shit?"

[a moment later]

Little Bro (having overheard previous joke): "Why did the girl have Kleenex on her breasts?"
Me: "I dunno. Why did the girl have Kleenex on her breasts?"
Little Bro: "Ummmmmmm......."

Sigh. The antics of students are so much better, however they are now Forbidden because of my Blogging Ethic. But I had two especially nice student interactions today, one straightforward and one mysterious. The straightforward one was that a student, on the pretext of asking how she could make a good paper better, hung around to chat about herself, what she hopes to get from school, and generally how psyched she is to be at Zenith. Second, someone -- I do not know who -- left flowers for me, with a simple note that says "Thank you." I have no idea what this is for or who it is, but I was very touched, all the same. So, knowing that Zenith students lurk on my blog, and that I rarely write directly about my teaching anymore, I was inspired by these events to write the list of seven things that I wish my students knew about the pedagogical relationship.

1. Saying "thank you" means a lot. Half my colleagues don't say thank you. Half the world doesn't say thank you. When you do it, it makes me feel good about knowing you. Even, as in this case, when I don't know who you are.

2. It is good to drop in just to say hi. I really am interested in you, even if you can't imagine why.

3. I have really good friends who are former students. OK, a lot of them are academics, it's true. But in most ways, they are still the same people they were when I first knew them as undergraduates.

4. When you get a bad grade, I don't think you are stupid. Wanna know what I really think? Either: you are a really good student who misjudged how much you had to do to get a good grade from me; or that you are a smart person who needs to learn some things, and therefore, I should teach you; or that you ran out of time; or that you were a little bored; or that you were a little too stoned to write this time.

5. I can't see you on demand, not bcause I don't care about you but because I schedule life way ahead and I am mega-busy. Therefore, when you write me an email to say, "I absolutely must see you tomorrow," and I write back, "Actually, it will be next Wednesday," it isn't because I don't like you, am negligent, inflexible or an asshole. Think of me like your dentist: you wouldn't call and say, "I have a date tonight, and I must get my teeth cleaned this afternoon." Also, I would never come in on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Why? Well, I would hope the Saturday-Sunday thing is obvious, although it isn't always (I suspect these pleas to meet on the weekend come from former boarding school students), but in order to remain a relevant person as a historian and get thoughts out of my brain and onto paper (where they belong), that's when I write. Which Zenith, in part, pays me to do.

6. Just because I am queer does not mean I like queer students best. Although I do like them. But I do this for a living in part because I like the collective you. It is actually quite rare that I don't like a student -- at least, enough for it to really make a difference. In fact, I would say there have been fewer than five students that I disliked so much that I....well, never mind.

7. When I discover what you do with your spare time, I am continually astounded, and sometimes impressed. I won't even elaborate on this. For my blogosphere friends, if you want to know what Zenith students do with their spare time go here. Half the time it cracks me up completely, and half the time I am just, like, whoa.


Bardiac said...

What a nice post.

Every so often, the local newspaper does an article on the volunteer hours our students put into our community, and it's astounding, totally astounding.

Lesboprof said...

We must be having the same kind of week. I am feeling quite appreciative of my students today.

And I am still laughing about the lame kleenex joke.

Neophyte said...

Okay, yes, sure, it's morning (a very difficult time for me), and I was bleary to begin with (thank you, Francis Bacon), and a glance at the calendar tells me there's probably something about hormones, but still:

This post made me cry.

I am constantly reminded of how blessed I was to be at Zenith, and while I'm glad I'm not there anymore, I feel so warmly about the place that I wish it was possible to hug entire institutions. And your attitude in this post (and the activities, antic or otherwise, of your amazing students) is exactly the kind of thing that made that place so nurturing, so warm. There are a lot of us who were saved, in one way or another, by that atmosphere. (Some people get Jesus, I got rigorous, radical exercises in hard thinking and the occasional bout of intellectual debauchery in the welcoming company of hilarious, kind, generous, blindingly smart people.)

In brief: rock on, Radical.

squadratomagico said...

So true! This is a wonderful encapsulation of the things I wish my students knew, too. The only one I would add is this (perhaps more relevant to my context, where discussion classes are rare and students often feel vulnerable in them):

Class discussion is for brainstorming. You don't have to have a perfectly-formulated, blazingly-articulate comment in order to contribute. The whole point is to work it out in a process of multilateral debate and refinement.

GayProf said...

Good list.

I am explicit in my syllabus that students can't expect a reply from e-mail until after 24 hours. This helped end the notion that I was constantly "on-call" to answer all of their questions. It also helped cut down (but never eliminated) e-mails at 8:00 pm that asked for help on the paper that was due at 10:00 am the next morning.

Carine said...

TR - in the unlikely event that you will ever get bored, do write a self-help book for beginning academics/professors. You will be rich and famous and on talkshows before you know it.

Yes, this was another vintage-TR post!

Belle said...

One of the things I love most about my SLAC is that the thank yous come more often than they did before. I treasure the personal notes, the huge grins on happy faces, the light bulb moments.

I'm going to link this to my class blog, and pass along the good vibes and basic truths.

Anonymous said...

Great advice! I just sent it to my son at Carleton. Wish I had known this long ago . . . before the ice retreated . . . and left all those lakes in Minnesota.

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