Congrats for showing up today. I’m serious.
I’m really glad you’re here. We’ve got a lot to do–
class roster, introductions, syllabus–
I’m not sure how all this business comes across to you,
so I wanted to take a minute to let you know
I know for some of you it took a hell of a lot
to sit at that desk. You’re far away from home.
You fought and survived a war. A sexual assault.
Your mind is a genius of self-sabotage.
Your body somehow fights you every step.
You know how hard it was, so you be the judge
of just how much applause you ought to get.
Of course this is just the very first achievement
we’re aiming for. Good work on that assignment,
good midterm grades, a full semester wrapped
up neatly like a present for whatever holiday you happen
to celebrate at the end of December. Before all that,
let’s just enjoy a good beginning. Congrats.
I’m posting this in the spirit of a post I liked a lot recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “10 Things This Instructor Loves.” It was a response to a blog post about professors’ pet peeves (and there are numerous versions of that list floating around).
People post things on my wall sometimes that have snarky comments from professors, and I usually admit that I’ve thought things like that sometimes. But I try not to say them to students. I even try not to be passive aggressive in my verbal and written comments to students–this after a good friend cracked up laughing when I said I sometimes wrote “spell check should have caught that” in student papers. He called it for what it was, a passive aggressive comment (I hadn’t even realized that).
I do try to be direct and honest. I did tell a student once she was as baffling to me as if a giant mushroom had sprouted outside the classroom while we were inside. She was coming to class and being disruptive, but not turning in enough to come anywhere close to passing. It turned out that she had A LOT going on in her life that I had no clue about, and she kept coming to class because she didn’t want her friends to know she wasn’t passing. I’m glad I was honest and told her she baffled me. I can’t make up my mind how I feel about the giant mushroom comment.
I keep trying to remember that we’re all like a bunch of icebergs crunching around together in the classroom. We can only see the top bits of each other’s lives, but there’s a lot more going on under the surface.
Think of the giant mushroom comment as communicating with your students in terms they understand, almost as a fellow Millennial, rather than a Baby Boomer (or GenXer, since we’re right on the dividing line). In my four short years as a college instructor, I’ve had students struggle with fatal accidents, deaths in the family or of close friends, suicides, alcoholism, divorce, even jail terms and stints in “tough love” boot camps, and I am perpetually amazed at their resilience. Many times it makes my problems and irritations seem light indeed.
Wish I could have had you as a college professor! My journey into the world of collegiate academia did not even begin until I was in my mid 30s. Before I was able to become a student I had to pay bills, take care of sick and dying parents, and raise a child virtually alone. Plus when my parents separated and eventually divorced, my Dad came and lived with me for 16 years. I am living proof that if you want an education badly enough, you won’t let anything totally stop you from eventually getting it. Hope you and your students have a wonderful semester.