In a Star Trek: Voyager episode (sadly, I cannot remember which one) the EMH physician declares to Seven of Nine, “I like to complain. It makes me feel better.”
For me personally, the EMH hits the nail on the head.
This is especially true in my classroom. When I don’t know what to make of my students’ writing abilities, when the carefully crafted unit plans I’d made go south, when nobody likes the short story I picked for reading, I tend to complain. Just yesterday I wondered aloud to my father whether my students were raised to be thinking people.
So when I stumbled on this post from the Tattooed Prof (via John Fea’s blog) this morning, it caught my attention. The Tattooed Prof, a college-level history instructor, spells out his teaching philosophy in what he calls a manifesto, essentially a series of resolutions he makes regarding his classroom practices.
A few of these resolutions were convicting:
Kids These Days are just like Kids in My Day, or Any Other Day, if we choose to remember honestly.
Our students are not us. If we merely teach to how we prefer to learn, we exclude a majority of our students.
I am not the one to decide if a student is “ready for college.” That’s the student’s decision. If they’re admitted to my university and they’re in my class, I am ethically and morally obligated to give them my best.
Do my students enter my classrooms with room to grow, intellectually and personally? Sure. That’s part of being a college freshman. But while some students have more growing to do than others, and while some students will not finish their program of study, that’s not my responsibility as their English instructor. My responsibility is to teach them, insofar as it is within my power, to write a thoughtful, well-researched college-level paper. The more time I spend wondering if my students are less thoughtful than students were when I started college nearly fifteen years ago, the more time I spend wondering if a particular student is “ready for college”, the more I abdicate my responsibility as a teacher. This is a good reminder for me.
Not everything the Tattooed Prof wrote was convicting. Some of it was encouraging, like this one:
Everyone is fighting their own battles, some on multiple fronts. Compassion and flexibility >>> being a hardass
I tend to be a bit of a pushover on extending deadlines. When my students actually ask for an extension, I have a hard time saying No; this is especially true if they ask to my face, because as long as they have a good excuse, I find I cannot look them in the eye and decline their request. (I hope none of my students read this blog!) I worry sometimes that I’m not being sufficiently strict, but in general I prefer to be a pushover. I’d rather be the teacher who is suckered in by a false story than the one who does not believe a true story, because she’s too skeptical. I worry sometimes this is a flaw of mine in teaching, but the Tattooed Prof’s blog reassures me that I’m on the right track.
So my resolutions: Be kind. Be flexible. Hold students to high standards, but teach them how to meet those standards. Take responsibility for their learning, and ignore the rest.
You can read the full Tattooed Prof post here.