One student's excuse leads to another. Then I'm delaying due dates. Then I'm accepting essays written in high school. They look at me with such sadness and tell me such sad stories.
I'm a people pleaser. I want the students to like me.
My question is simple:
Q: If I want to get out of this trap, what assurance do you have that students respecting me and my tough but fair approach is "better" for my career than simply having them be my pals?
My tough but fair approach is absolutely better for my sanity and ability to get research done, but I nearly didn't get tenure because of it. It was only because of my ability to involve students in research and to bring in external funding that I got tenure. Once I had tenure, I could hold my students to high standards and not have to worry about what the educational menaces higher on the totem pole thought of me. Once I got tenure, and these menaces started retiring, I did get respect.ReplyDelete
Following Frod, the benefit of saving your time and mental energy by having one ironclad set of standards should make the case for you!ReplyDelete
To turn the question around, what assurances do you have that treating your students like your "pals" is doing your career any favors?
My last department head and his flunky, the ADH, frequently complained that I wasn't being palsy-walsy with the kiddies--something about not creating a "safe learning environment" or some such rubbish.Delete
The truth was that I did expect a lot from my students and a few of them didn't think that such high standards, which weren't impossible to meet, were "unfair" to them.
Your colleagues won't hate you and that usually helps during promotion review. Being a pushover makes it harder for them to enforce standards.ReplyDelete
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Not in the department where I used to teach. There was an alarming tendency among my colleagues, particularly the ones who came after I started, to be a "buddy" with the students. That made them popular and their evaluations reflected that.Delete
I, being a tough old coot, decided that my students attended our institution to learn something and actually had to earn their rewards. Since many of them would go into industry after graduation, I was preparing them for the workplace. For some reason, that didn't go over too well, particularly with the department administrators.
Of course, it didn't help that neither the department head or the ADH thought nothing of undermining my authority. The students were encouraged, if they had a beef, to go around me directly to them. My attempts to set standards, let along uphold them, were often thwarted by such means.
Make clear your expectations and policies in your course outline. Send 1 email about due date. My policy on late work is that it doesn't get marked and counts as zero. Be flexible if there are genuine reasons for lateness, but only once per course per student.ReplyDelete
You are the teacher, mentor and roll model. You are not their best buddy. Get out of that mindset. Your responsibility is to give them tough, but always constructive criticism on their work. Higher education should push students to their limits, otherwise we are failing as educators.
While I was teaching, I was in a group meeting with the president at the time. He emphasized that it was our job to ensure that our students were "successful". In his typical fashion, he never defined what that was, let along how could assess it. He mentioned nothing about learning or standards.Delete
Several years before that, I was sitting in a team-building "training" session. I brought up the issue of standards and I was promptly told by the instructor that I was required to "meet or exceed the needs and expectations" of the customers.
With such air pudding definitions, it's no wonder I had no idea what I was supposed to so.
Here is the thing, your students don't "like you" they like that they can get away with things in your class. If you always cave they certianly won't respect you and if they do not respect you then everything you teach them can be pushed aside because "what does she know" as you are not longer in a position of authority.ReplyDelete
Think of it in these terms, you have a boss. If your boss said "you can't miss a deadline" or "you have to be to work on time" but every time you missed a deadline or came into work late they said "oh that's ok, I know you have a hard time with your sick dog" would you attempt to do better at your job? Probably not.
By not requiring for your students to improve their skills you are not doing YOUR job.
I feel your pain, as we sometimes say. Being "liked" is nice, but FML is right. They only act friendly to the softies to get more of that easy goodness.ReplyDelete
I know that people without tenure or status really fight this problem, and there's nothing like an electric bill on the kitchen table to make us rethink things.
But you'll feel better about yourSELF by doing what's right. Good luck.
There are no guarantees either way, but, basically, what others have said above: you can't please all of the people all of the time, and ultimately you're going to twist yourself into extremely uncomfortable knots, and piss off some of your better, more conscientious students, trying to do so. If you're finding yourself moving deadlines for the whole class in response to student requests (probably phrased as "we all think this" when in fact at most two students have conferred), or basically canceling assignments (which is what accepting already-written papers amounts to) this early in the semester, you're in real danger of being completely steam-rollered by the end.ReplyDelete
The answer to the "is this good for my career" question depends partly on the institutional atmosphere: if it's "student-as-customer-centered," yielding to student pressure might, indeed, be the easy way to go for the moment, though I suspect you'll still be held responsible when it all turns into a mess (what grade are you going to assign to a student who hasn't given any work to you at all by the end of the semester? A for effort? Do you want to be the person who passed the popular athlete/charity-fundraiser extraordinaire/all-'round-popular student who turns out not to be able to read or write?). I'd advise trying to leave such an institution as soon as possible.
If it's a more sane institution, and especially if you're new to it/new to teaching, it sounds like it's time to seek out some help: from the teaching support center if you have one, and if it's any good (ours is, but not all of them are), from a mentor (once again, finding a good one is key), or even from an off-campus counselor or life/career coach with whom you can examine the reasons behind your people-pleasing proclivities. Taking such proactive steps, I'm pretty sure, *would* be good for your career (even if part of what you realize is that you're in a toxic, or at least toxic-for-you, environment, and you need to leave).
P.S. one thought on delaying due dates: if you decide you really didn't allow enough time for an assignment (entirely possible, if you're teaching a new class and/or at a new institution, and don't know the student population yet), then at least make *something* due that day: a draft, an outline, a paragraph that serves a particular function, a source list, whatever. Rather then being a pushover, you're breaking down a task that turns out to be unexpectedly hard for them into manageable steps (and really, it's okay to show at least a bit of surprise that they don't know how to do a level-appropriate task yet, while also reassuring them that, if they need to catch up, you'll help them do that.It may not be their fault that they're behind, but they're still behind, and need to catch up, and also need to learn that it's (a) not shameful or permanently disastrous to be behind, but (b) it's still a problem that needs to be addressed, and it's going to take work, on their part as well as yours, to address it).Delete
They won't appreciate "tough, but fair" for quite a few years. It will take decades for some others, and the rest will have your name on the list of reasons why their life stinks.ReplyDelete
Remember the College Misery Mantra: Don't care more about their education than they do.
I have a colleague who wins the student award for "best teacher" every year. Why? Because he teaches his subject, which should be reading- and writing-intensive (it was my other undergrad major) with virtually no reading or writing. His tests are open note (as are mine, because I require long form essays), and in some classes they're allowed to work in groups. On the final. His grade distribution is...about what you'd expect, and his classes always fill so the administration just dotes on him.ReplyDelete
However, his department denied him tenure. So there's that.