December 2, 2009

I have a theory

that all teachers, whether they know it or not, use teaching to work out their own issues.

Some teachers try hard to present themselves as brilliant, funny, hot (working out their self-image issues). Some use their jobs to work out their class resentment, constantly reminding students of their privilege or imposing strict policies to crush their (real or imagined) sense of entitlement. Others appear to be working out authority issues that have been festering since childhood.

My problem is that I identify with the students too much. In grad school, I've felt that I have been abused by the suffocating workload, professors who don't listen and don't care, unreasonable expectations, overwhelming anxiety, constant stress and exhaustion... it's too hard and too much and nobody cares.

I don't feel this way anymore. Now, I'm in a good place with a supportive dissertation committee. But since the unpleasant memories are fresh in my mind, my instinct is to be kind and nurturing toward my students because I believe that they (I) deserve a break. I like them and I relate to them, and I want to spare them from harsh comments and bad grades.

I try to fight these instincts and do my job. I am endlessly understanding about absences and requests for help. I coddle them with study guides and review sessions. But, I still give them low grades when low grades are deserved.

Unfortunately that means that on a night like tonight, when I have an enormous stack of projects to grade, I sit here feeling terrible every time I write a low grade on a sloppy paper. I know it's ridiculous. They deserve honest feedback. I shouldn't feel bad about it... but I still do.


  • I think that's a pretty astute observation - and it definitely relates to individual interactions with students too. One of my colleagues drank and drugged her way to dropping out of college at 19, worked for a few years, then did a degree via evening studies and became an excellent researcher and eventually faculty member. She is (in my view) FAR too tolerant of student excuses involving partying, hangovers, lost weekends, sexual confusion/shananigans, and terribly sympathetic to them. i reckon (from my own straight-laced college-at-18-PhD-at-24-adore-studying academic career) that they can do whatever they like outside of class, but I'd rather not know the details, and none of these things is a legitimate reason for an extension on their coursework... She on the other hand gets mad with me for always encouraging shy students or ones who are bright but lack confidence, for spending time with them and telling them they CAN do stuff (she says you have to be hard on them so that they toughen up because otherwise they'll never survive outside of college).

    By Blogger JaneB, at 12/3/09, 2:20 PM  

  • True everywhere in every job, I think. We work out our stuff in whatever relationships we have, especially the ones where we have power! As a rule I recall finding grad student teachers much more in tune with my needs as a student, and often more in tune with the work I was being asked to do, too! Sorry it's haunting you in your work though. I suppose in time you'll find your balance.

    On toughening up outside of college... wow! I worked my way through school and was painfully aware of what it took to survive in the world. Any prof who thought she was doing me a favor by being a hard ass instead of being a human being would not have been very helpful. I guess the best we can do is to be who we are and follow our hearts.

    By Blogger Mamabeek, at 12/5/09, 9:17 PM  

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