One of my colleagues recently conducted a class exercise where she asked students to write an editorial explaining what they wanted their faculty to know about them. Much of what the students relayed was their desire for faculty to know that they have lives outside of the classroom, and that while they try to make coursework their priorities, there are other things they juggle.
This stuck with me. It is always a good idea to remember that everyone has their own challenges and priorities, and sometimes it might not be my reading assignment. Granted, some students just don’t want to do the work assigned, but there are many that have significant reasons for why they may have put in minimal effort. Students deal with social issues, emotional and mental struggles, financial concerns, career uncertainty and a diverse range of personal upheavals. I have read scholarship and graduate school essay drafts for students I thought I knew well, only to discover the often significant difficulties they have faced in their young lives. As professors in the classroom we should always push our students and set high standards, but perspective is important.
My colleague’s exercise also had me thinking that perspective can go both ways. So, let me flip the script and share 7 things I wish my students knew about me.
1. I have a life, too!
And, it happens to be a pretty full life. Between work and family obligations, I am stretched very thin. I try to be responsive to your emails and to grade assignments in a timely fashion, but I don’t sit next to the computer day and night waiting to hear from you. I have, however, gone out of my way to address your concerns at all hours of the day, and I have graded your papers, reviewed your essays, and provided suggestions for your grad school applications from all sorts of places and situations – on my vacation, in a bar, on a date, rushing to catch a connecting flight, in the middle of the night, from my hospital bed, while my child throws tantrums, during meetings and the like. I try, and I really do care and want to be there for you. But you are not my only responsibility, and sometimes I fall short.
2. I am shy.
Given this, it may seem weird that I would choose a career where I am talking in front of people on a daily basis. I actually feel comfortable in front of the classroom, but it is when I see you out and around that I don’t always know what to say or do. Let me just say that I am always happy to see you, but I want to respect your space and will generally let you initiate the conversation.
3. I have bad days, too.
Most faculty/instructors will tell you that there are days when they are just on – the lecture seems to come naturally and the student audience seems spellbound. Those are the days we skip out of the classrooms on a natural high. There are also days when we know almost immediately that it’s going to be a rough class session, and we are just trying to make it through the hour. The words may not be coming, our minds may be elsewhere, your energy may be bringing us down (think any course period before a holiday). These are the tough days. We prepare for them and hope to limit them, but sometimes they happen.
4. I think grading is a pain in the ass!
It is tedious, and I hate it. But because I take the time to make comments on your papers, I expect you to read them. If I advise you to “stop using contractions,” there are few things more frustrating to me than seeing contractions in your future assignments.
5. I don’t want to know why you missed class.
You are adults. Unless you missed class for a reason that is going affect you for the rest of the semester or missed an exam, I really don’t need to hear why you weren’t there. And there really is no reason to make something up, as I can usually tell and it just hurts my feelings. Additionally, while I appreciate your honesty, I often don’t need that either. If you are missing my class for a meeting, a haircut or something else of the sort, no need to tell me.
6. I take cheating personally.
When you cheat, it feels like a personal affront. While you may not think of it this way, it signals to me that you don’t respect me enough to a) do the work or b) think I will notice the cheating. Beyond that, I am obligated to report you, which is a time-consuming process. The message received is that you don’t respect me or my time.
These are just some of the things I would tell my students if given the chance. But the most important thing I would want them to know is this:
7. You inspire me.
At the end of the day, I teach because of you. Each semester, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to get to spend time with you every week, to discuss and engage with topics relevant to the world. I learn so much from these interactions, and it honestly gives me hope for the future – as cliché as that sounds. You are why I do what I do, and I am so amazed and impressed with you. Graduation day for me is bittersweet. It is a wonderful celebration to pat you on your back and send you on your way to the next big adventure, but it is also depressing. Saying goodbye to you at the end of your college career is so tough! It is my great privilege to be your professor – thank you.
Faculty, staff and/or students – are there things that you would like others in the academy to know about you and/or your job?