Saturday, May 23, 2009
Ok, so my choice in the world of academia is that my students are my friends and or I'm a squalid just-for-the-bucks teacher. Way the show the world nuanced thinking, folks! It's either this weird extreme or this other weird extreme! Woo. I've learned from this discussion, haven't you all?
Taking the kiddies out for an ice cream does not a friendship make. Dinner either. My students can and do come to my place (there is a "dinner with the faculty" program at my uni, and in general it's less obnoxious than the "make them pancakes" idea, though both strike me as stupid.) But they are not my friends when they are there. They are my junior colleagues. Call me nuts, but friendship is a thing that you have with people who don't have to pay $10K to $45K in yearly tuition to talk with you. In general, my friends get to talk to me for free. Yah, sure, they had your class and you're now "friends for life." But they still had to pay to meet you. Forgetting that strikes me as a wee bit deluded, like actually believing the stuff you put in your autobiographical Wikipedia entry.
The problem is that I have dual and conflicting obligations towards my students and to my profession. My profession requires that I try to train students and vet them for both aptitude and discipline before entering the profession. I'm a teacher; I try to help students gain insight into their work. I also am a gatekeeper, whether the po-mo pedagogy people like it or no and whether I acknowledge it or choose to pretend that we're all just buddies learning from each other here. A word from me to my professional contacts can get you a job when you are done--or not. If I really care about a student--not just 'liking them, like a pal—I sometimes have to say things that hurt in the short term and help in the long term, and that's something that would be hard for me and the student if our idea of our relationship was that we "hang" like friends.
I care about them--the good students, the ones also care about the profession and devote themselves to it. They break my heart regularly. But that's different, way different, than either 'teaching' the way the uni seems to define it or friendship the way Katie describes it. So don't misunderstand me when I say I don't care about 'teaching.' I actually don't, but there is more to it than mere indifference. Dana notes that for adjuncts there is a critical nexus between teaching/ being employed/eating so that one may not adopt my 'who cares' attitude towards teaching. Dana's a bit too idealistic, I am sorry to say. The critical nexus is between eating and keeping your job, not eating and teaching. From my albeit limited experience, keeping your job in the contemporary university is in no way correlated with actual teaching, and if anything, real teaching may dampen your capacity to keep your job.
Oh sure, you have to show up and pretend you care about their self-esteem (retch, puke, vomit) and their tewwible tewwible problems that require infinite accommodation and flexibility and support while they themselves write dumbass essays on how homeless people need to get off the taxpayers' backs. But real teaching that disciplines their minds and conduct? Um, no. It's pretty clear to me that isn't what we're doing here. My teaching responsibilities in the classroom as defined by my uni, which only wants the checks to keep coming in, is to sell students sugar water in pretty bottles that reflect their own shimmery, shimmery light, resplendent with rainbows and cupcakes and little twirling sparkles. Maybe that's friendship, and maybe that's teaching. Maybe. But it doesn't seem like either one to me.