Sunday, September 12, 2010

Monday Morning Professoring and Connecting

Bitchy Bear here. For the record, I do own a red blazer and I am, in fact, Bitchy. But I am not a bear, though at times (usually faculty meetings) I wish I were.

I've been thinking about Calico's post about being disconnected. I was going to comment, but then it was such a long comment I decided to skip it.  Calico's no dummy, I thought, and he'll figure out soon enough that listening to people who don't actually DO the job tell you how to do the job is an exercise in self-mind-fuckery.

Then, somebody Monday-morning professor'd me, and it pissed me off enough to write about it.

Monday morning quarterbacking is when somebody tells you what you should have done instead of what you did do. Armchair quarterbacks abound, as do armchair teachers.  Everybody thinks they know how to do it.  Your students get to tell you how they would have done it better at the end of every semester. Their parents are objective experty-experts on their wee pudding-shitting pumpkins.  What could you possibly know about doing your job that they don't?

So Calico got a nice dose from some bitsy-better-than-you hinting about how she would be teacher of the fucking decade by "connecting" to her students, unlike him. Well, cupcake, I teach a 400 person lecture twice a year in addition to my other classes. Try connecting with that.  You know whom I'm connected to? My teaching assistants.  You know how I connect? Usually my boot to their fanny, that's how.  And you know what? They love me and hate me and love me and hate me the way they should any leader who expects them to give 100 percent and master themselves.  We don't have long chats about our feelings. They tell me what they are thinking and feeling and I tell them when they are on the right path and when they aren't, according to the best of my judgment.  My feelings? Those are for my husband and friends.  Those TA's all think they can do my job better than me. They don't think I walk on water because I don't. And that's exactly how they should feel because someday, if they are lucky, they'll get their shot to prove they're better, and they should be preparing themselves for that chance. Then they'll find out how goddamn hard it is.

IOW, I am not sure, at all, that teaching is about connecting. Actually, I think the fact that this person thinks teaching is about "connecting" marks her a bloody fucking amateur who has too ardently suckled on movie teachers.

 My favorite movie about teaching is  Wonder Boys. That's as close to reality as I have ever seen, unfortunate doggie snuff scene and stupid plot ploys notwithstanding.  Grady Tripp is a lot closer to my experience teaching than anything else I've ever seen on film. You do care, but not too much because you know most people in your class don't.  They do not wish to be broadly educated. Throwing your love or passion for the field against their teflon-coated, 100-foot-tall wall of indifference gets tiring. Some semesters you've got the juice to try, other times you don't.

Among the ones that do care, most care for the wrong reasons. Some just want the grade, which I understand and empathize with, but it hardly works to inspire me to care. Or, alternatively, they are interested in the topic because they wish to be famous.  Most of those don't have the commitment to make the sacrifices they will need to make it even into the the lower rungs of the profession. They will be in law school or another master's program soon enough.

Then there is the one who has the bloody minded love for the game that you do--the sort of person who, if sent to a gulag tomorrow, would write/paint/draw/write proofs on the lining of his gulag-issued hairshirt.  This student is the one you connect with. You keep working for and with this student, even though he drives you fucking crazy with his self-destructive behavior, his ego (all but a very few creative types have one, and it's a monster even when you try to put it in a box), and his moods.

 At the same time he's going nuts, you're going nuts, too.  You're flawed and wounded and fucked up and often jealous of the great kids around you. The world is telling you that you are washed up because you are over 30.  If your own work isn't going well, and it often isn't, you're worried about your own creative problems.

But you still have enough love in you to be concerned with this kid, his growth, and his work. Despite yourself, you find a way to help him anyway.  There is still something noble and profoundly decent about you despite all the warts that are all-too-apparent to anybody with eyes.

And,  yeah, for the students who aren't wasting your time and theirs, you can be a friend. But you're not a buddy-friend. You're a real friend, the kind that tells them what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear.


  1. Thanks for this post, Bitchy Bear. In the 12 years that I taught at a college, I used to bust my (figurative) balls to make my subject relevant, interesting, and challenging to students. I gave them "real-world" problems. I gave them the opportunity to re-write papers (though both versions were graded). I set up extra study sessions. What did I get in return? Whining about how my class was too difficult and I should have graded their shit faster, when I was spending more time grading it than they did writing it. In fact, the night that I realized that writing and grading an exam was going to take me quadruple the amount of time that the snowflakes were going to spend studying was the night that I decided to get the hell out of there... those few with whom I could connect no longer compensated for the rest...

  2. I think every issue that ever comes up should just be put to bed once Bitchy writes...I love her so much, her humor, her insight.

    I don't KNOW her, but I feel that after reading her stuff here and at RYS for a couple of years that she can see through all the mist and bullshit to the heart of matters. This sort of goes to a comment I made elsewhere on today's first page, about how the "personality" of the CM correspondents and commenters is really important to my enjoyment of the page.

    When a new Bitchy Bear comment or post appears, I sit back and really get into it...that's nice, I think.

  3. Awww, Calico, that's awfully kind of you to say.


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