It’s been a good semester. Now that it’s almost in the rear view mirror, I can spend a little time reflecting on the wins, the challenges, and map out the summer.
I love teaching and taught a one credit seminar this spring. I agreed to teach it approximately 48 hours before the semester began, so it wasn’t something I had a lot of time to plan out beforehand. Never one to back down from a challenge, I said yes and was honest with the students of the short time line. It’s the way the world works sometimes and a good lesson for them.
The seminar went fine and as a one credit seminar, the stakes were pretty low for everyone. Some good things to make note of if I want to turn it into a three credit course, some things to make note of to do again, some to not do again, but the biggest feedback for myself is to prepare the readings more thoughtfully throughout. Seminars are a great way to share ideas, have some great exchanges in a friendly environment, and produce a practical deliverable. I asked the students to take an existing program, critique it, infuse theory, and give policy recommendations for it. As the professor leading, it’s a great time to see if a “proof of concept” will work.
During the final presentations, one student grew very defensive when a colleague and I disagreed with their work, throwing their hands in the air and then saying they felt “attacked bc there were two faculty” in the room. That’s what grad school is. Exchanging ideas that aren’t always agreeing with you. This same student struggled with me all semester, being disrespectful and then noting that there is no faculty survey for the seminar (it’s one credit folks) and that they “had feedback i wanted to give” which reads to me like “i want to be a real jerk in a passive aggressive fashion in an anonymous environment so you won’t know it’s me.”
Here’s where my inner critique came in. I know it wasn’t perfect. Far from it. I do know that I presented good material and that my disagreement with students isn’t to pester them, but to have them “consider the other.” I said that phrase multiple times over the semester, sometimes multiple times during one class and instead of listening, this student would wave their hand in the air and stammer. Having not been disagreed with is perhaps something new or a coping mechanism. Part of graduate school is learning about how a wider gamut of people think, their experiences, and it’s a lot of hard work. If a student wants to come get that easy phd, our program is not the place for it. Like the military, students need to be broken down a bit in order to cognitively process all of the information, their experiences, and where it all goes next.
I’d like to give that student some anonymous, passive aggressive feedback too: to quit being such a condescending, rude, disrespectful human. But I can’t because there is no survey for how a student behaved, their classroom civility, or anything else. The system is designed to put the instructor completely at fault and never put any responsibility on the student for their actions, just the work they produce. I surmise the student wanted to tell me how little they thought I knew instead of answering the questions that are addressed on evaluations, which is often times what a faculty evaluation really is. We know content but does our personality jive with our students? Does our teaching style fit their style? Does our organization fit their preferred mode? With so many students, it’s impossible, thus making faculty evaluations a flawed instrument at best.
Yes, I made mistakes. I’m human. It’s my job to mess it up here and there. I’m in the business of teaching, researching, and doing scholarly things for a living while remaining respectful of my colleagues, mentoring our students, and forcing them cognitively to grow the gray matter in between their ears. I expect my students to be respectful in return but you get one every now and again who will force a new gray hair out of your head.