Being Nice to the Kiddos

Thinking about teaching.

When you start teaching, you're probably pretty nervous about it. You think "I am not that much older than these kids, I lack authority, I am not 100% sure about the stuff I'm teaching, I am in short unqualified." Now, rather than making you softer, it probably makes you harder on them - you overcompensate by dressing up for class,* running lots of quizzes and what-not to try to force them to do the reading, and being a harsh grader.

As the years pass, you mellow out. You joke around more with the students and learn how to deflect questions on things you don't have answers to (or just baldly admit to having no idea.) More importantly, you learn to distinguish between bad essays that are bad because the kid is trying but missed the mark and bad essays that are bad because the kid is a lazy, entitled idiot. You pull punches on the former and bring the hammer down on the latter.

My current state of mind: I like being a fourth-year TA. I find the little squirrely punks I teach (mostly) adorable. I really, sincerely hope that whatever happens to me, I get a job in which teaching is the heart of my career, not a resented imposition on my precious "research" time. That is all.

* Note on dressing up: I never really got the whole concept of white male privilege until I had some very on-point conversations with non-white and/or non-male TAs here. I can show up with tats showing in my usual weird outfits and still expect my students to take me seriously and regard my authority in the class. That has a lot to do, in turns out, with being a six-foot white guy. My friends/colleagues who are not six-foot white guys face an uphill battle in demanding the equivalent respect from their students, and part of that is having to conduct themselves more professionally than I probably do. So when I call dressing up "overcompensating," that's very context-sensitive.


noncoupable said...

I totally like that last line. I'm only a second-year TA, but I've graded a lot of good or bad work and I agree with you: it is pretty easy to figure out those who dont get it but try and those who don't understand that, in fact, getting someone else to pay for you while in school is actually the only time the phrase "no such thing as a free lunch" becomes a farce.

Sadly, for some of them, they won't really understand self-entitlement issues until they try to look for a job and can't get hired because the economy sucks. Or for those who work hard and get a job but don't "get it" or they will get a job with someone like my dad who fires them the first time he hears "but but, I worked really hard!" In the case of some, none of this will really hit home until their parents die, the retirement funds, stocks, etc are completely drained (hey, it's almost at that point...) and they have no permanent monetary source to keep them going.

clumsygirl said...

As expected, I highly endorse the idea of you as teacher. I think it would bring about nothing but good in the world.

I had an interaction today that again brought home why I'm doing this thing called teaching, wherein I scolded (in my manner) a student for not paying attention, and then later he came and talked to me about school being hard right now while his parents are divorcing (doh!). But knowing that kids can tell me stuff like that, and want to, even after I've given 'em a talking to... is really why I want to teach.

Also, to hear things like, "Dude! I totally dominated six bowls of Cocoa Puffs last night! My mom was so mad!"

It's good stuff.

kungfuramone said...

I immediately think of a kid in a gimp mask whipping six bowls of coco puffs and saying "you LIKE that, DON'T you?!"

Chrissy said...

A friend of mine earned his PHD and has a great job as an engineer of some sort at Intel. He teaches a chemistry class at PCC for fun because he just likes doing it. Obviously, he makes a very comfortable living at his "day job" but, he says, teaching keeps him happy - feeling less like a corporate cog and more like a contributing member or society. So, I say props to being into the teaching gig. I think the best teachers are the ones who really enjoy it, not the ones who are just trying to pay the bills.