So, a couple of things made me happy yesterday and I couldn’t wait to talk about them with you. Here goes.
First, I attended a virtual workshop on how to ‘Humanize the Online Experience’ in your college classes. The speaker was wonderful and talked about how students need connection, rapport, feelings that the instructor is genuine and real, etc. I totally agreed with this but after a while, I realized that the necessity for this workshop made me sad. You see, this to me is a no-brainer. Really.
I guess I was a ‘humanized’ professor before the ‘humanization of professors’ was ‘cool’…suddenly, what set me apart is now ‘vogue’ in academia. I have always believed that unless you see your prof as someone you can connect with, you won’t learn a freaking thing from them. I’ve had bosses who I had no connection for…no respect for…no investment in because they stifled any hope of that happening. “We must remain objective and somewhat cold in order to maintain order” seems to be a common mantra amongst some college personnel. But why?
I’ve been hugging students longer than most of you have been alive (shutty the mouthy, please 🙄) and I’ve gotten looks from it over the years. I also share with my students. I share my experience of being sexually abused. My experiences regarding my divorces (another shutty, peeps🤨 ). What it’s like to have a mental illness. What it’s like to self-harm and attempt suicide. What it was like having a batterer married to ma for so many years. And what it’s like to get yourself out of a very very dark place in order to see the light again. I answer any questions honestly, and there are times when I cry with my students. When we’re tackling the hard stuff in my psychology and sociology classes, I might stop the lecture, walk over to someone who is tearing up, hug them around the shoulders (I ask…I don’t want to invade space), and tell them we are all supporting them. I had a dean once tell me I was ‘being too nice’ to my students and my job wasn’t ‘comforting them or being their friend.’ Well, my retired dean, it was. And still is.
When you take a gander at the definition of ‘teacher’ you get this (courtesy of Merriam-Webster): ‘to impart knowledge’ and ‘to instruct by precept, example, or experience.’ How in the world are you going to be an effective professor if you show nothing of yourself? Don’t help students learn from your own experiences? Don’t show students how their own bad experiences don’t have to shape them forever? How do you expect students to learn when they are needing ‘more’ from you? A smile. A hug. An empathic ear that listens and validates and doesn’t just spout platitudes. Why in the hell would a student want to open themselves up in anything less than this type of environment?
You see, something I was reminded of yesterday was how thinking and emotion go hand in hand. They both originate from the mind and both need each other to survive. If a students feels lonely or like an outcast…has depression or is anxious…is fighting a battle that’s not readily apparent, how can they learn? Seriously. How effective are YOU when you are emotional? How well do you do your job? Remember what you read? Retain what you heard? I don’t know about you, but when I’m in an ’emotional state’ it pretty much supersedes anything else. Period. And, if you don’t address these issues by not inquiring how students are doing or noticing a student who is suddenly quiet and down without asking if they’d like to talk…they aren’t going to learn from you. And, if they see that you can’t be real in the class…how the hell do you expect them too?
I think teaching is more than imparting knowledge. I think it’s building connections with people where they learn the academics but also more about themselves. Where they come out of a class feelings stronger. Better. More supported and supporting. More understood and understanding. And this is a NEW concept? Well spank me hard. I was ahead of my freaking time.
Then yesterday, a student shared a video with me of a woman doing a talk about how a professor helped her deal with her rape by speaking up about her own sexual assault. My student wrote “You are this professor to me”.
I’ve had students say a lot of things to me over the years (some not so hot 😐) but these words hit me the hardest. It showed me that opening myself up…providing students with the atmosphere to do the same…means something. Can do something. Something more than memorizing who the Father of Sociology is (Auguste Comte…my sweetie students better have known this 😉).
Look, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Teaching isn’t fucking Rocket Science (sorry, ma 🙄) . And for those who think it is, you’re doing it wrong. Just like when Michael Keaton is “Mr. Mom” and he’s dropping off his kid incorrectly at their school and a room mom tells him: “You’re doing it wrong.” It should never be ‘hard’ for a prof to connect. Build. Encourage. Motivate. Validate. And if it is…you just might want to go into something else.
Professoring is a people ‘job’. It’s bringing a room full of strangers together for 16 weeks and creating a bit of a family out of them. A family where they feel comfortable sharing and voicing opinions and asking questions and opening themselves up to what you say. It’s creating a place where students can be expressive…vulnerable…willing to learn from everyone around them. It’s not the brain that’s hard to use when professoring…it’s the heart.
But, I’m here to tell you this: when you can use the heart as much as the head in a classroom then you have come to the point when real learning takes place.
So, I was chatting with someone the other day and they said this: “Those who can’t do, teach.” OK. I’m going to wait until you educators pull your jaws up off the floor and are able to blink again. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Ready? I’m going to sum up what my first reaction was to this: What the fuck (sorry, ma…but you helped put me through college…aren’t you a bit pissed too?)?! Are you kidding me? Really?
First of all, how totally ridiculous is that phrase? I can’t even. I’m mean seriously…I refuse to type it again since it pisses me off so much. Let me get this straight: if I CAN’T do something, I CAN teach it. Hmmmmm…so…if I CAN’T speak German (which I’d like to be able to since it was the native language of my great-grandparents 😳), I CAN still jolly well teach it? Okey dokey! Well…let’s see…I can’t look at the periodic table and not think it should be re-arranged differently because it’s just not aesthetically pleasing, understand an electrical circuit (just ask my brother in law 😵), comprehend anything at all about astronomy, see algebraic equations and not want to poke myself in the eye with a hot stick since they simply look like gobbedly-gook to me and it stresses me out even more than I ususally am just peering at them, peruse biological concepts and wonder how I have kept myself alive this long since I understand nothing about bodily functions, read about a physics law and marvel at the fact I can ride a freaking bike when I have absolutely no clue in God’s world how I’m doing it, and the list goes on. BUT, I can certainly TEACH about biology and electricity and algebra. Right? Good to know. Blech.
OK. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes (don’t do that, grasshoppers…according to ma they’ll stick that way and you’ll be looking at ceilings for the rest of your lives 🙄) and saying to yourself: “The quote doesn’t mean that! It means that if you CAN’T be successful in the field, THEN you teach.”
OH! Much better! 🙄 Heh?? Why can’t people understand that the great majority of educators WANTED to teach? That it was our primary objective? That teaching is a discipline? That we studied the particular field we teach AND learned how to teach it?
Actually, this begs even more questions: When did people lose so much respect for educators (I mean, hello?!! Who the hell taught them how to read?)? When did we start to demand so much more from teachers while losing appreciation for them at the same time? When did teachers become the scapegoats for so many of society’s ills? And, when we talk about educational issues in general, why is it that faculty are judged first, when in fact they are following the dictates of an administration who may never have taught themselves? Does that really make sense, peeps? Me don’t think so. 🤨
Anyhoot, besides providing fodder for a rambling intro, when that quote was said to me, it started me thinking of other ‘myths’ regarding teachers. And believe you me, there’s a lot of ’em. (Side note: I’ve never really gotten the phrase ‘believe you me’. It doesn’t make sense but I like using it anyway…it just sounds catchy to me).
So y’all know that us educators have it made; I mean look…we get our summers off! Right? If you believe that, I have some great ocean side property in Iowa to sell you for a buck an acre (put your checkbook away ma…I was just making a point 🙄). Unlike for all the other people in the world that actually ‘work’ and not teach, this has been a very relaxing summer for me. I taught 3 summer classes because I need the income and because I want students to have every opportunity possible to get their needed credit hours. I shoved 16 weeks of work into 8 for each class and that made for hours and hours of grading every week; and since I taught them online (which is not my first choice but necessary this summer and also because summer students traditionally like online 😎), I was making tons of videos and helping students with not only their academic work but with some technology issues as well.
Then, I always use the summer to get ready for fall (us educators never live in the ‘semester’ we’re teaching…instead, we are always teaching one semester while preparing for the next). That means I’m prepping 8 classes (so many because we have an open faculty position we can’t fill because of Covid and interviewing issues, etc.) to be online and for every single one of these develop 16 weeks of fresh, engaging, interactive material. That’s 128 weeks of work to get ready with me researching every topic/issue/concept I teach in 2 different disciplines and then going through loads and loads of info so my students learn as much as they possibly can. Being in front of the computer with scads of books, articles, sites, videos, etc. to wade through for 6-7 hours a day made for a relaxing summer ‘off’. Huh?
“But Kristi, you get paid the big bucks as a professor!” No, my sweetie peeps, I don’t. Yes, I make good money and am truly blessed by what I do. And I mean that…I get paid for doing what I love and for being with my sweetie students who I absolutely adore. But, I’m not going to get ‘rich’ (which doesn’t matter to me one iota since so many wealthy men are lining up to marry me anyway 🤓 ) and struggle with money at times. I know so so so many people live paycheck to paycheck and that I’m very lucky I always have enough to pay what I need too with some left over. However, I think people hear the word professor (or even teacher) and think RICH. Nuh uh. (So, if you’re a nice rich, single guy and you like teachers…just sayin’). 🤨 In fact, according to Visual Capitalist, out of 50 college degrees, education is ranked #49 in terms of salary. 49!
Another gem? A good teacher can teach anyone. Bullshit. Any questions?
C’mon now. Students have to want to learn…be motivated to learn…put their own work into the process…and the list goes on. Teachers aren’t the only part of the equation in the educational process. Trust me. And it’s getting harder. Students have a repository of knowledge in the palm of their hand. They don’t need to know how to look through indexes, read dozens of articles and books, take notes, type out papers multiple times on a typewriter until it’s just right, etc. Now, they can just say: “Hey Google…what are the 3 theoretical perspectives of Sociology?” (VERY important to know, peeps…you might be on Jeopardy someday 🙄). So, we are now trying to teach students how to learn…how to think for themselves outside of what ‘wikipedia’ says…how to analyze information…how to be media literate…how to show that the info we present is applicable in real life…and how to find a love of reading and learning simply for the sake of it. That’s tough to do. Trust me.
“Well, you might say…at least teaching is ‘easy’. I mean, you’re pretty much just talking to students and all.” Hubby 3 (sigh…shutty the mouthy…), a maintenance technician, thought this for a time…bless his motorcycle lovin’ heart. But then he was asked to teach a 6 hour class about crane inspection (I can’t think of anything I’d least like to sit through…except maybe ma telling one more story about a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend who might have something but doesn’t know for sure 🙄). I tried to give him some teaching tips (of course, what did I know…I’d only been doing it for a couple of decades 😳), but he said it would be a cinch…he knew his stuff. Oooookkkkkaaaaayyyyy!
After his class, he plodded up the driveway and looked exhausted. The first thing he did upon walking in the door was to grab me, hug me, and say “How the hell do you do this everyday? It was a nightmare!” (Actually his language was much more graphic then this…but it might shock the knickers off of ma). I asked what happened and he said: “People weren’t listening and were talking and were asking stupid questions I had already answered and whining for a break and mumbling about why was I the one teaching this crap and I’d say something 3 times and they still wouldn’t get it and my PowerPoints were illegible because I made them too wordy and then they’d want a bathroom break and then their phone would go off and I’d have to start my sentence over and then one fell asleep and started snoring and then a couple of the guys started laughing while a couple others were arguing about unions and I just wanted to get in a factory and be out of that God forsaken room.” I didn’t use punctuation in that sentence because Hubby didn’t when he said it. It was just one long complaint. And after this little adventure in academia? He never ever ever said I didn’t work hard. Ever.
Out of all of these gems, this is my favorite quote about teachers: “Most damaging to student achievement: teachers are interchangeable widgets.” ~ Joni Johnson
OK. I don’t know who the hell this person is, and to be honest, I don’t want to know. But to make a blanket statement about a group of people that you apply to every individual means you weren’t listening in sociology class when stereotyping and prejudice were being discussed. Just sayin’.
Yes. There are good professors and bad professors. Good teachers and bad teachers. But by the same token, there are good chefs and bad chefs…good docs and bad docs…good accountants and bad accountants…and the list goes on. Why is it that educators are singled out as a group and if one is bad, the whole lot of them are? I don’t get that at all.
Finally, us educators are told that we need to be flexible, accommodating, understanding, work to develop a one on one relationship with each student, not provide so much homework, lessen demands and expectations, challenge our students, apply every concept to real life, know everything there is to know about our subject matter, allow for more individuation in learning, have passion, be inspirational, keep things lighthearted so learning is fun, bring our own personal stories into the class, etc. Whew.
Now, take a look-see at those expectations again. And then tell me…honestly…how many people in ANY profession can do any of those things every single day? Not only is it impossible, but so many are counter to one another! It’s sorta tricky to challenge our students while lessening our demands on them. In other words, profs…all educators…are held to a higher standard in terms of their ‘job’ and everything is supposed to be ‘wonderful’ in the classroom regardless of day, topic, etc. I’m here to tell you, peeps…lecturing about domestic violence does not make for a lighthearted class. Trust me.
When O was a medium sized guy, I was asked to be a guest speaker at the schools career day, and the PTA President (cough cough…shrew…cough cough) said I would only get a few minutes since kids know what teachers do anyway. So…I made the following list to talk about that I called: “What Does Professor K do all Day?” (I love rhymes…):
Prepare lectures, PowerPoints/videos/handouts
Prepare both master and working syllabi each semester
Prepare records/data for program reviews and course reviews
Develop online classes
Grade Grade Grade
Prepare exams ensuring they are reliable and valid
Calculate midterm and final semester grades
Meet with students often for extra help and guidance
Grade Grade Grade
Integrate new learning and technology into classes every semester
Be evaluated by dean and then prepare a self-evaluation every year
Advise students on majors and courses
Counsel students on careers and job opportunities in the field
Grade Grade Grade
Write letters of recommendation for students seeking jobs
Write letters of recommendation for students seeking scholarships
Write letters of recommendation for students seeking entrance into a university
Present community workshops as part of the colleges Speaker’s Bureau
Participate in college and departmental meetings
Grade Grade Grade
Serve on college committees
Serve on search committees for new faculty members
Serve on tenure committees
Earn continuing education hours to maintain my professional designation
Grade Grade Grade
I think that pretty much covers it. And, since my time on campus is spent being with my sweetiepie students, I spend hours and hours working at home as well.
Look, I’m not saying that teaching is the hardest job in the world. It’s not. Really. However, teaching is a field that is losing respect and teachers are being scrutinized more and more as students’ work and test scores decline. Educators have ‘bosses’ too and there is only so much ‘freedom’ we have to do what we think is right. Professors have to do what our admin tells us to do. Elementary – High School teachers have to follow the dictates of the district…teach so kids can pass the standardized tests…operate under whatever funding is available. And we all have to keep our mouths shutty when we, as EDUCATORS, realize that what NON-EDUCATORS (who are often on school boards, etc.) direct is often wrong. How frustrating that is.
Anyhoot, I love what I do. And I’m good at what I do. As are millions of educators out there. Give us a break, guys. Cut us some slack. We are not at fault for the world’s ills and the ‘buck’ does not stop at the teacher in terms of education. Parents, communities, and the students themselves have to be added to the equation (which is hard for me to do…remember, I suck balls at math 😳) for what makes successful education in any society. And, if you see one of your old teachers out and about, say ‘howdy’ and give them a little hug (masked, of course 😷) and tell them how much you learned from them. It will make their day. Truly.