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The Incident: From Yet Another Quarter, Guest Blogger Randall Brown

Reason

Reason (Photo credit: Capture Queen ™)

Randall tells you how he found his way to this conversation, and then, in the compassionate voice that is the hallmark of good teaching, delineates his own boundaries.

It began, as so many things do in this world, with my status on Facebook:

I rarely, if ever, see FB posts from students complaining about their
instructors and their ridiculous assignments and random grading systems.
But post after post from instructors complaining about students, grading,
the horrible writing. I think it’s really, really unprofessional.

That led me, in a roundabout way, here to expound a bit on that idea.

Teaching, for me, is indeed heartbreaking, not because students fail to
rise to my expectations, but because of my failure to rise to theirs. Too
many times, I’ve discouraged instead of motivated, hurt rather than
helped, pontificated instead of listened. One reason I myself don’t
complain about students on FB is because I feel that I’ve failed them
enough throughout the semester when I wasn’t even trying to; a complaining
FB post seems like some final failure–a conscious, purposeful one.

Of course, the blame for students not rising to expectations doesn’t fall
entirely on the teacher. I get that. I also get that the expectations are
mine, artificial and subjective, arising sometimes from places within me
that aren’t necessarily full of light and love. And it is easy for me to
take it personally when students seem to ignore all that I’ve given them,
all the wisdom I’ve bestowed, the countless hours of grading and
preparation, when I seem to care more about their writing and performance
than they do. It hurts. I wonder if that hurt might send someone to FB to
share it; we all respond in different ways to such hurt. “You don’t matter,”
students’ work that appears to ignore my instruction might be saying to
me. I feel at times (sadly) that desire to fight back, to say I do matter.
I’m afraid a FB post might come from that place, that hurt and angry
place, and that’s also a reason for me not to post it.

If part of the punishment for errors, for not meeting expectations, is the
teacher-written FB post, then I’d play it safe. I wouldn’t risk a thing.
I’d follow the rules to avoid that kind of punishment. In the animal
world, when a dog is trapped and shocked, it will eventually stop looking
for escapes; but even more shocking (I think), is that, shown an escape,
the dog won’t take the “out,” but will lie on the floor, shock after
shock. Learned helplessness. Our students are trapped in our classes,
trapped with us. To me, the FB post might be that shock that teaches them
to lie there and take it. (Is there a part of me that wants that kind of
obedience?) Another reason for me to keep that FB post to myself.

In fourth grade, the teacher asked me to come up to the front of the room.
Was I going to get noticed finally? Was someone going to see something
within me that I thought only I could sense? She announced that this was
the reason we weren’t winning any handwriting awards. I still remember it
(clearly) and it still hurts. Imagine a student hearing that a teacher has
posted something about the class; imagine that expectation, that hope,
that desire to find within that post some shining, kind, sensitive vision
of himself or herself. Imagine finding out that the teacher instead views
each students’ writing as a mountain of work, as something to get through,
a sign of a generation’s idiocy, as something to post on FB, for the world
to see, comment upon, like.

What are your boundaries?

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