Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A professor's whine

Disrespect in the classroom is rampant. Many students don't even know their professor's name or how to pronounce it by mid-term, much less recall the names of faculty members from the previous semester. During a timed lab exercise recently, I had a student call out to me across the room, "Hey, dude!"

Once, while discussing the nature of classroom manners and decorum, I had a woman pipe up from the back row: "Listen, man, I paid $300 for this class, and if I want to sit here and trim my toenails, that's what I am going to do."

From this rant by a pseudonymous professor in the Chronicle. The serious, relentless rant ends on a positive note, though:

just as you feel the bitterness becoming more than you can stand, you get a reminder of what keeps you in the business.

Just today, I got not one, but two such reminders -- e-mail messages from former students thanking me for my rigorous approach to education. Looking back, they said, it not only has helped them in their careers, but in their lives.

I suppose teaching is, like golf, a maddening endeavor. In golf, even after 50 bad shots, if you accidentally hit a beauty, life is good and you love the game and you don't throw the clubs in the lake after all. In teaching, even if you get 50 students who don't care, it's those one or two each term who keep you coming back.

Reminded me of one of the reasons why parents feel that their kids make them happy!


  1. Anonymous said...

    Reminded me of my university days. There were a lot of absurd courses and I tried sitting in the back and reading more interesting stuff. I was thrown out for showing disrespect to the teacher. I thought that I would study at home and just attend exams. I was thrown out of the college for lack of attendence.
    Finally, when I became a teacher, off and on, I had to teach rubbish because one could not go too far from the syllabus. This may vary from institution to institution, but my experince is that lot of course are irrelevant. Many teachers are more interested in research or other things like administration which further their careers. It is surprising to me that students survive this system and still have some enthusiasm for learning.

  2. Anonymous said...

    I don't know when, if ever, I'll get accustomed to the sight of students (a) eating noisily in class, and (b) sitting with their feet on the desk. Sigh!

  3. Abi said...

    Swarup: Most of what you say is true; but equally true is that there is a whole lot of truly dedicated, sincere professors who do a great job of conveying and imparting the joy of learning. I'm sure many students 'get it', and they appreciate them for it. For these professors (the author of the Chronicle article seems to be one), arrogance and lack of interest on the part of students could be painful.

    TR: You don't have to; come to India, where the students treat their professors with too much of respect and reverence (some of which, I'm sure, is feigned ;-).

  4. Anonymous said...

    I had my share of bad and rude students and I do not think that I was a particularly good teacher ( some seem to be natuarals). Then one year, I suddenly started feeling sorry for the students; that they see so much lying on TV and in politics and teachers were going off on their trips to improve their careers etc, courses were not up-to-date or interesting. Anyway, with this change of attitude, things improved. If a student put his feet on the opposite seat, I would tell them why it was unhygenic and at the same time wondering whether I was really worried about respect. Then I saw a comment in one of the university student papers that the system could not be too bad if it could accomodate people like Swarup.
    Another story from a trip to India. I met a graduate student who seemed to get high on mathematics but was frustrated because the advisor wanted him to work on a routine and safe problem. I started advising him that he should follow his instincts and should not respect anybody too much in research matters and so on. When the time came to say goodbye, he touched my feet.