Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Colleague Misery

Oh my fucking god. I hate to drag this old meme back out from RYS days, but I'm in my office trying to work and my next-door neighbor is on the phone with a former student. You would not know this, however, by the intimacy with which she is discussing the most intimate things in her life. "Oh, you and [other former student] just have to come over! I haven't seen you guys in forever!" And on and on it goes.

One of these students actually said to me "I think of [first name of this colleague!] as a friend, but I think of you as a mentor." Another told me she hated going to her classes because she plays favorites with certain students who are her friends -- and given the rest of the comment I'm quite sure she was talking about the first student, who was in the same class. Obvious much?!?!?

And no, I didn't entertain these discussions with students. Both statements were made within the context of much more general conversations about how school was going. The first was in a conversation at an honors conference where my student was being awarded for work she did under my mentorship; the other was made during one of those weepy sessions in my office, which they love and I hate, after she was no longer in my class. I made a mental note, but moved the conversations along since (as much as I would LOVE to rag on her) I would not rag on a colleague to/with a student. (Which didn't stop her from having a discussion with one of her "friend/students" about ME the other day when she obviously didn't realize I was sitting in my office.

I probably shouldn't post this. But I'm gonna.

I love many of my former students and enjoy it when they stop by to say hi or send me a note to let me know how they're doing. But they are still not my friends and are not coming to my house for dinner! Unbelievable.


  1. IB, are you sure you aren't Kalamazoo Katie's neighbor?
    Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week.

    On a more serious note, I once had an office next to a guy who spent hours on the phone with his oncologist. I was sorry for him, but I really didn't want to know about the more gruesome details.

    And another neighbor once went on a semester-long research trip and left an alarm clock in his office that went off every afternoon at 3:30 (like clockwork and shit). For some reason, the department's master key wouldn't open his door, and it was nearly a month of mid-afternoon wakeups before buildings let me in to shut it off.

  2. Ivory,

    I see this occasionally, too, and I have to say it's usually a result of the adult in the relationship simply being so insecure and needy that he/she instigates these "real" friendships.

    It's also, I'd imagine, a power trip for the proffie. "Look at what I've collected...students who admire me so much, they want to be in my life!"

    At a small college where I taught for a few years, this dynamic was more common than I've seen elsewhere.

  3. Archie, I've honestly wondered that myself a time or two.

    The thing is, this person has the wool pulled over everybody's eyes. She won every single teaching award this school hands out last year. She's a total suck-up to admin, her colleagues and her students. (I don't doubt that she has talent. But I do doubt that she has more talent than everybody else, myself included, up for those awards.)

    She has no earthly idea how I really feel about her, which I realize in some ways makes me no better than her. But since I can't get this out by venting to anybody on my campus, I had to get it out here. That's what we're here for, right? LOL

    I seriously hope nobody at my college ever starts reading this blog. Then again, I suspect there is one of her and one of me on every CC campus. And I'm sure everybody here feels the same way.

  4. The appropriateness really depends on the school. I attended a school where dinner parties with faculty were commonplace. I'm facebook friends with several (of course, FB wasn't around in college). I still talk IRL, as the kids say, several times a year with one of them. Every few years we meet up. This particular person will likely be a godparent someday. That's the culture of the school.

    You neighbor appears to be better suited for my alma mater. It's a shame there isn't some way to casually say, "Hey! You annoy the ___ out of me! There are schools that will take your kind so just leave! Good day!"

  5. This one is a tough one for me. I would die a little inside if I thought I was playing favorites in class, and I would sooner eat glass than have a student want to skip my class because I appeared to be playing favorites. However, many students still seem to regard me as a "friend." I'm affable - I'm no good at being stand-offish - but I try to be equally affable to everyone. That has limited use, though, because individual students can only see how I interact with each of them (or at least, can only see really clearly). I swear to God I'm not trying to be "buddies" with any of these kids - I mean, hell, they're twenty year olds, how interesting can they be - but some of them see me that way regardless. I don't know what to do about this.

  6. I've actually kept in touch with a few former students, and one I actually consider a friend (although I was her TA at the time and only a few years older). The key word, though, is 'former.'

  7. Gah. Creepy. For me, the lines are very clear with undergrads. We are not friends, now or ever, though I'll bust a gut helping them with mentor-appropriate sorts of things. They tell me things about their lives sometimes, if they're relevant to some deadline issue; I tell them almost nothing about mine. I don't go anywhere with individual students that might be considered a social setting, ever, though I will buy the whole class (if it's a small one) a beer at the end of term.

    The lines with grad students are a little different, because you're really hoping that one day, they'll be colleagues in the profession. They are not friends now, however. I'll take them out to lunch or for an afternoon drink to talk about their progress in the program, applications, academic plans for the future, how their teaching is going, etc. I tell them a little about what I'm working on, if they ask. They know very basic things about my life (where I grew up; what my partner does for a living, stuff like that), as I do about theirs. I might take them out for dinner in a group at a conference. This is how I was mentored in grad school, and I was very grateful both for the kindness and for the clear boundaries. After I got a job and finished up, though, my former advisor introduced me to someone at a conference as his friend. I think I turned almost purple with pride, mostly because I admire him greatly, but partly because he had been so professional when I was his student, and it felt like a kind of graduation.

    And if it makes you feel any better, my belief about teaching is that, if you're pleasing absolutely everyone, you're doing something wrong. Somebody, in that situation, is getting something they don't deserve. Teachers who are truly fair, I think, will always alienate one or two students who think that they should be above the law. And a reasonable degree of rigorous critique will always alienate the divas. People who love all their students have no standards; they just want to be liked. They kid themselves into believing that it's about the students, but it's actually about them. Teachers who really care about their students are willing to alienate a few nincompoops for the sake of the education of the majority. (But full disclosure: I've won a teaching award.)

  8. I don't know, I was friendly with many of my professors as an undergrad and we often went to local pubs - in groups, of course, with other professors and majors and even a few admins. But once I graduated and moved away, I didn't keep in touch with most of them. However there is one I've kept in touch with all these years, since he was nice enough to offer to edit my short fiction. When I was a 19-year-old sophomore and he was a 33-year-old professor, I really didn't think of him as a friend. But now that I'm 38 and he's 52, and we've been meeting for lunch or a drink regularly for the past 15 years, I do think of him as a friend. But only in the last, oh, five years or so have I come to think of him that way. I think he actually considered me a friend long before I was willing to cede the same. Prior to that I would have described him as an acquaintance or a former professor. So I think it's possible to be friends with former students, but for me, would not have been likely when I was a fresh-faced college graduate in my early 20s.

  9. I'm somewhat friendly with several of my students. It's a small school, and faculty interaction with students encouraged.
    However, it seems to be common knowledge that I have given an F to a student who was one of that group, and who deserved it.
    Likewise, it is known that I have given A's to students whom I did not particularly care for.

  10. No friendship until after graduation, whereupon, at the SLAC I taught at, that was appropriate. At Generic State U. where I am now, it really is not. There is one, though, whom I admire to bits, and if he maintains contact over the years I will consider him a friend -- I'd say colleague but he's entering a very different field.

  11. I call those types of teachers "professor Slughorns." I've had several Lockharts during my undergrad, as well.

  12. "I mean, hell, they're twenty year olds, how interesting can they be"

    How the way, how old would you say one has to be to be "interesting"? I'm asking because I'm interested to know how much longer I have to wait until I reach that magical age when I am finally interesting and can join all the other interesting grown ups in their interesting lives so interestingly full of interesting interests.


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