My first full semester as an Adjunct History Instructor has come crashing to an end. I gave my final on Wednesday, stayed up all night grading it on Thursday and submitted the grades this morning. I was so proud of myself for surviving the semester, but most of all, I was proud of myself because I thought I had really made a difference in the lives of my students. When the class started, many of them told me that they truly hated history. They hated the rote memorization and believed that past events had nothing to do with their current or future lives.
I made it my mission to not only teach them the core concepts as established by the University but to teach them how history impacts who we are as a nation and who they are as individuals. I wanted them to see that the past determines who we are and who we become. And, oh my gosh, I thought I had done just that until today.
I was barraged with angry emails today from students upset over their final grades. I expected some complaints…from the students who didn’t do well, not from the students who passed the class with As and Bs . Yes, they are the ones who were complaining (because they didn’t like the grades on their final exams). And quite loudly, I might add. But, honestly, it wasn’t even the complaining that bothered me as much as the tone that was used.
When I was a student, I always treated my professors with the respect due someone who had put time and effort into furthering their education. Even when I thought they were wrong in how they graded me, it never occured to me to challenge them. I’m not sure if that is a result of the way that my parents raised me or if it was carry over from my time in the military. Either way, my professors were treated with the utmost respect.
After talking to a couple of colleagues about the attitudes of some of my students, I ran across this article and was stunned to find out that I’m not the only one shocked by the attitudes of some students. I’m not sure where the attitude comes from, most of them haven’t been here (0n Earth) long enough to feel that they’ve paid their dues or that the world owes them something. Yet that’s the vibe I was picking up from some of them.
I’m in a strange position as an adjunct faculty member because I am also a librarian/archivist at the university where I teach. At our university, the librarians are called by their first names by students, staff and faculty members, whereas faculty are addressed by their title and their last name. In order to try to lend an air of “authority” to my position, I asked the students to call me “Professor Dani.” I thought it balanced the formality of my position as an instructor and the informality of my position in the library. I was wrong.
So I’ve been brainstorming and trying to figure out how to balance my need for respect inside and outside of the classroom as well as maintaining accessibility as a librarian. One thing that the article as well as one of my colleagues and my husband stressed is the maintenance of professional distance between myself and the students. The students, rather than viewing me as an equal, need to view me the same way they would view a potential employer: someone they don’t mind working for but not someone they want to hang out with after work.
- Emails will be formal in nature, consisting of a salutation, reason for contacting me and an ending salutation (there must also be a subject in the subject line) otherwise the email will be disregarded. In the “real world” they will be expected to know to correspond accordingly, we should expect this from them now.
- Any concerns over grades will be discussed in a calm manner. Disrespect will not be tolerated and will immediately end the discussion. I think students should be able to challenge a decision they think is wrong but there is a way to handle it (I once heard an officer say to an enlisted person, “You can tell an officer to go to hell anytime you want, just make sure you tell him in a way that he enjoys the ride”).
- Just because you send an email or leave a voicemail does not automatically excuse an absence. There has to be a legitimate reason for missing class. And always, always assume that you are missing something important.
Those are just a few of the things that have bothered me over the course of the semester. There’s a host of other things but I’m going to keep them to myself. I’ve already stuck my toe into the pool of self pity and I don’t want to linger too long or I might get comfortable.
Anyway, for those of you who teach, how do you handle disgruntled students?