Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I kill them with kindness, or, my apology to the rest of the feminists

I just met with a student who's been semi-blowing off my survey this semester. I'd found out that ze's a major and will be enrolling in my upper-level seminar in the fall, so I decided that it was necessary to give hir the ol' beat down. For me, however, the "beat down" consists of lots of gentle reminders that ze can come to me if ze is having problems, that I'd much prefer to work with hir than to simply hand out zeros, that ze clearly has some great things to contribute (which ze does, more or less) and that I would love to hear from hir more.

I was so gentle--which was not my original intention, but I knew immediately that it was how this thing was going to play out. And even then, the tears welled up--several times!--and so I would start asking about what other classes ze was taking, and so forth. When really, I was within my rights to be harsh and stern. What's wrong with me? Or does this work? I hope that it works. I really do. And it seems to have worked, sometimes, in the past: the student realizes that I see hir, that I'm aware, that ze hasn't been working hard enough, and usually improves. Or doesn't, in which case ze's lost my attention.

But then, I'm worried about that damn nurturing stereotype (and I'm not a maternal-looking person, but I'm so exceedingly nice), and it makes me want to apologize to the rest of y'all.

Late for a faculty meeting that promises to be full of rage. Catch you on the flipside.


Phul Devi said...

I do the exact.same.thing. It's sort of infuriating: I want to read them the riot act, but I just don't have it in me!

Oh, and I just came from a department meeting full of rage. Seriously, a fistfight nearly broke out. There must be something in the air.

Kate said...

I sort of do the same thing. The only difference is that when the tears well up I tell them that I notice they're about to cry, that crying is useful, and that before we have a rational conversation they probably should get out their feelings.

Then they bawl. I hand them a tissue and smile. Then they get through it and we have a great conversation. That student is different for the rest of the semester, in an amazing way. And the selfish part of me is so happy, because I know, in a way, that they are MINE after that. And the generous part of me is happy, because I know I've provided them with an outlet that they aren't getting elsewhere.

And before you worry that this would lead to frequent visits or crying by said student, I have never had a second crying session with a single student.

Dr. Crazy said...

Ok, you know I'm a mean lady. I'm all about the tough love with my students. BUT. You have no reason to need to apologize or to feel like you should. I think what you were, at the end of the day, was *compassionate*. Not maternal, because women are supposed to be whatever their stripe, not an offense to feminists everywhere - just cognizant of what this student needed right now. The fact is, some students need the compassion. And the other fact is that male professors can be compassionate where needed and tough when needed and they don't need to worry over whether that makes them bad feminists (which kind of shows why feminism is important, at the end of the day - it's not about toughening everybody up but having the option to be both compassionate and tough when it's called for).

And some students really do respond awesomely when somebody actually listens to them and offers to help them. Some students really are having trouble - as opposed to being jerk-offs.

In other words, I praise the fact that you weren't hard on the student just because it was within your rights to be so. Sometimes, being hard is not the right answer. Sometimes, being nurturing is not the right answer. That's what feminism is about - about having a choice between the two, about having the authority to make that judgment.

Dr. Crazy said...

In response to Kate's comment that I didn't see before I left mine, though, I don't have tissues in my office. If they cry, they've got to deal with an errant napkin, find some tp in the bathroom down the hall, or just sniffle and deal. I'm not the lady with the tissues. This is where I'm SO not maternal. (And probably mean.)

heu mihi said...

Well, sq, I'm glad I'm not alone! And Kate, that's a great idea. I need to learn to not fear the tears, myself.

I was talking about this with the Minister tonight, and one defense (?) for this way of dealing with things is that really it's the student's responsibility to be doing the work and not my responsibility to make hir do it. So just pointing out that I notice that the work isn't getting done--that I see hir (I said this to today's student)--might be sufficient, and might even be enough to make the student realize that ze is making a decision. At least, I think that one could argue this in cases like today's, where the student isn't actively causing problems or pestering me for extensions or anything, but just not doing the reading consistently and missing more class than is healthy.

I'm very ambivalent about the following rationale, but another reason to tread lightly could be that (in cases, again, of students who are not actively troublesome) we really don't know why the student is blowing off class. Maybe ze's having serious problems at home, or something. Approaching the situation gently could be more beneficial--but I'm ambivalent because it is *still* the student's responsibility to do the work, and blah blah blah.

(I can't finish that sentence. Faculty meeting and subsequent dinner/drinks/fuming have exhausted me.)

heu mihi said...

Oh, and Crazy! You posted while I was posting. I like your response--it includes (but goes beyond) what I was trying to say above. And you know, sometimes I've been hard just because I can be, and it doesn't really feel good at the end of the day.

(Can I just point out how much I dislike the look of "ze" and "hir"? Oh well. Better than "they" all over the place.)