Teaching is generally a part of the academic job that I enjoy. More times than not I enjoy engaging with my students. Most of them are serious – or at least serious enough that they are willing to do some work. So, don’t take the rest of this post as a universal complaint about my students. Most of them are fantastic.
Still, I think that we are all dumbfounded by the astounding sense of entitlement that some students bring with them to the classroom. Given how twisted and out of shape parenting has become in this nation, it’s hardly those students’ fault. All of their lives they have been told that they are remarkably special and deserve only the best. The sad truth is, though, that you actually have to do something – anything – before that becomes true.
One of my colleagues also speculates that their parents have created a scenario where students imagine that as long as they are honest about their less honorable elements, then everything will be fine. It probably goes back to some childhood incident where they stole some cookies and then confessed. Their confession was greeted with such enthusiasm and a “thank you for being honest” moment that their theft was dismissed entirely. This, it seems to me, sets up an unreasonable expectation about how their life is going to go – particularly if you enter GayProf’s classroom. Steal my cookies and expect to go to jail. Issuing a confession just makes it easier for me to speed you through the trial.
Alas, some students imagine that their personal schedules and desires supersede their own responsibilities in the classroom. “My family is planning a trip to Paris this Spring,” one student recently informed me, “Is it going to be a problem if I miss two weeks of class in April?” This came on the heels of another student who asked, “This class conflicts with another one on my schedule. Would it be a problem if I show up to lecture half an hour late every day?”
One wonders how these students will make the rocky adjustment to the working world. How would IBM respond to an employee who approached their supervisor, “Gee, I have another job. Would it be okay if I didn’t show up to this one until noon? Also, since I will be arriving late, could you have somebody pick me up something for lunch?” Does Procter and Gamble have a flexible vacation program that allows its employees to blow off work for a vacation when ever the whim hits them?
Then again, those questions were better than, “How hard is your class? This is my last semester and I am not really interested in doing anything too serious.” Yes, a student really sent this to me in an e-mail. Granted, it is an honest statement. My only response could be that the class was a significant amount of work. I wonder, though, if s/he really expected that I would respond, “My class? No, it’s a total joke. We never doing anything important. Most of our class time is spent hanging out in the bar.”
After leaving Texas, I thought that I would also be free from students who stated, “Reading about gays and lesbians offends my religious/political sensibilities. Can I substitute another book instead?” Not so. The bizarre Right-wing exists everywhere. They also bring with them the notion that reading a perspective different than their own is “indoctrination.” To me, this always suggested that they knew their own positions were intellectually weak for they fear that they will not withstand scrutiny.
My response to this has become well rehearsed: The reading selected for this class explores a diversity of experiences and perspectives. It is not necessary for any student to agree with all the reading, but an important part of a college education is learning how to respectful grapple with view points different than one’s own. Questions and concerns about sexuality are currently at the heart of many people’s sense of the nation. If we can’t discuss these issues at universities, places designed for intellectual engagement, where can we?
What I really want to say is that this ain’t a buffet and I don’t assign reading a la carte. My goals are not to force students to agree with me. Grow up. If I avoided anything/anybody who had a different political perspective than myself, I would never read a newspaper, watch mainstream television, or see 99 percent of the movies out there.
Sometimes the questions aren’t all about trying to get out of work or being challenged. This semester I also had a student ask me, “What country are you from?” Unlike the other questions, I don’t think this is bad per se. Every few semesters, though, I am periodically asked this by a student. It’s a question that mostly confuses me. Why would they imagine that I wasn’t from the U.S.? Is this something other profs are asked often? It is even more mysterious given that on the first day I outline my life history and point out my birth and being raised in New Mexico.
Then there was the student who asked, “GayProf, you are clearly the smartest, most interesting, and best looking of the faculty at Big Midwestern U. Do your colleagues ever get jealous?”
Okay, nobody asked me that last one. They are probably thinking it, though.