Monday, April 28, 2008

I'm Too Young to Be Cynical

I've spent the last hour or so reading the posts over at Rate Your Students, a site set up as a counterpart to Rate My Professors, and it's left me feeling a little hollow.

I'm nearing the end of my first year as an instructor, having taught both sections of Freshman Comp. I don't feel like the angry and embittered folks at that blog. I've been lied to, sure, I've been second-guessed, sure, and I've been disrespected, sure. But I'm young--26 last month--and I believe that I have something to offer, that my class has something to offer, and that education itself has something to offer. And reading that site makes me afraid that I will lose that as the years wear on and that I will start seeing my students as entitled little jerks who want what they want and who will make my life a living hell if they don't get it.

Other than a few exceptions, I haven't gotten that yet. My students for the most part try, and for the most part they seem interested in the class, and when they tell me they've enjoyed it and learned a lot, I believe that they mean it and that they're not just blowing smoke so they'll get a better grade. But then I start to wonder if I'm a pushover--liking students means hating to give them bad grades, and maybe I go too far to help them sometimes. Nearly half of one of my sections is on the "A" track this semester; that's too many. If half of the class gets an "A," I'm too easy, right? I'm giving them out instead of making the students earn them.

Part of me is disgusted by the tenured professors on that site glorying in not taking an interest and assuming that everything out of their students' mouths is a lie, but part of me wonders if I'm just young and naive. I legitimately love my students (how cheesy does that sound?), and I'm interested in them as people, and I want them to do well in my class and in life. But is that some sort of intellectual justification for egotism or self-doubt? Could it be that I'm more interested in their liking me than in their learning the cold, hard facts about life?

Or maybe life's not as full of cold, hard facts as it seems. Maybe there are people we can trust, and maybe some of them are in positions of authority. I would not have made it through college or graduate school without professors who behaved as I behave now--and I know that Rate Your Students exists as a venting mechanism, but I don't ever want to be those people. I want to inspire and to care and to treat the students like they're important because I think they are.

I'm interested in other teachers' opinions on this.


Fabio Sundeen said...

I'm 36, and have been teaching about 8 years longer than you. I was exactly as you describe yourself. The good feeling wears off, I have to say, even though I didn't want it to. Still, teaching is a great career. I'm a frequent reader of Rate Your Students, and it is just a thin slice of the worst part of our jobs. There's a lot of funny stuff there, too. It's a nice place to blow off steam. Hang in there. Do a good job. Hang on to the innocence as long as you can...I remember being 26!!! It was great. LOL.

Nice blog, by the way!

Michial said...

Thanks for the encouragement!

Nathan P. Gilmour said...

I'm finishing up my sixth year of teaching, and you know I'm as old as dirt, and I still think about punching certain of our tenured Park-Hallites in the face when I think about things I've (over)heard them saying about their students, what isn't their "job," and about teaching in general. As you well know, these things are pushing me at crazy rates towards a much smaller college than ours.

Michial said...

You're my hero, Nathan. You know that.

Nathan P. Gilmour said...

You read me wrong, Michial; I didn't actually punch anyone in the face.

stephen said...

"A leader doesn't fire people. He hires people, and inspires people. People, Ryan. And people will never go out of business."

- Michael Scott

I'm not a teacher, but I know a world where there's no hope of trust or the slightest hint of being able to believe in others, is a world not worth inhabiting.