19 December, 2010

Why I Love/Hate Teaching

I love teaching. I love spending an hour of my day in a room full of undergrads, talking about sea cucumbers, the difference between satyrs and Seder, what double rainbows might mean, and occasionally English Composition, which is ostensibly the subject I teach. I love having students come into my office and ask me for advice on everything from their writing skills to their ability to talk to the ladies. I love watching their writing improve, comparing their rough drafts to their final copies and seeing my influence lurking there. Mostly, I love walking into a room full of strangers and watching them become "my class."

Which is also why I hate teaching. I hate teaching because at the end of the day (or semester, for precision), I have to evaluate these kids who I have grown fond of, and attach a number to their name that equals either success or failure. I have to not think about Student A as the sweet kid who chose me as the person they wanted to come out to for the first time ever, and start thinking of Student A as the student who didn't submit half of Portfolio Four and therefore cannot get an A. I have to stop thinking about Student B as a personable guy who is facing serious financial issues and doing his best to get fit homework in between two jobs and a family, and start thinking about Student B as the student who, in spite of numerous verbal agreements and extensions, never did get caught up and therefore cannot pass.

Throughout the semester, I am amused by that one kid who shows up every day and never turns in anything. I share stories (with names redacted for privacy) about the student who wrote 120 words for an assignment calling for 1000 and was astonished at the resulting grade, or who emailed me last week to ask if it was too late to hand in a paper that was due in September and by the way what is that paper supposed to be about? But today, as I tally grades, it's a lot harder to laugh. Every semester, the Sunday before grades are due makes me even more stressed than my own finals, because it always comes as a big damn shock that some of "my class" is going to fail. The fact that I know I can't make students write papers, that I gave them every chance to get their work in, that in all honest fact they are the masters of their grade, that doesn't make any difference today. All semester, I got to teach people. And I loved it. Today I have to fail people. And I hate it.


  1. You're thinking about this the wrong way. First, you aren't failing them. They failed themselves. And that's both meanings of the word. Negative experiences in life are just as important as positive ones. Reprogramming the Kobayashi Maru didn't do Jim any real favors because he never learned the lesson he needed to learn. Some students must learn the hard way, via failure, that they're not in high school anymore, and that they're adults. Mom and Dad aren't there to make sure they go to class or do their homework. They're responsible, solely, for their own future.

    You're their Kobayashi Maru not because you designed the course that way, but because they did. It's painful and not fun, but they'll learn a lesson that they'll never forget. Most of them will benefit from that lesson.

  2. Thanks Daniele. I need to hear that often, and most especially during grading weekend. :)