By Erik Hanson
I had thought to title this entry as “Don’t Make Me Angry; You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry,” but that phrase probably has a little too much mileage on it by now. As far as I can remember, I’ve never turned green or smashed anything other than the buttons on the controller from my old Playstation. I prefer to think of myself as being rather likeable—downright friendly at times. Although I’ve already dropped the obvious advice to become a familiar face amongst your colleagues, there’s an entire other group dynamic to focus on—the new instructor’s rapport with her/his students.
Being new at this whole teaching business, I’ve been forced to face a few previously unconsidered classroom situations, and upon reflection, I’m concerned by how many more surprises may be in store for me. When I was a student, I either witnessed or attempted many of the tricks to get extensions on assignments, and to having skipped class on one of those unseasonably warm days in late autumn/early spring. In hindsight, my tricks were horribly transparent, and no, I didn’t try any of that tomfoolery with my instructors in grad school—when students are presumably serious about their education, and are looking for excuses to get ahead rather than get out.
Writing about this from the other side of the desk, I have concluded that being too friendly with the undergrads is starting to feel like I’m dealing from a never-ending stack of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.
In one of my grad seminars on teaching, we discussed the benefits of beginning a semester as a strict disciplinarian, having one of those “my way or the highway” attitudes. Why not? A prof can always loosen up once everyone realizes s/he doesn’t chew on broken glass or kick puppies. However, saying I’ll be “Mr. Tough Guy” from day one has proven to be difficult, because thus far my first few days of classes have looked more like hippie love-ins than Marine boot camp.
Where do I go from there?
The result of my teaching style thus far has been that there are inevitably some students who seem to interpret my friendliness as weakness, or ineptitude, or even worse yet, as apathy. Reading Melissa Miller’s latest blog entry here on The New Adjunct (an entry about deadlines) made me wonder if being a big softie gives students the idea they can steamroll me, but some of them have already found out the hard way that there are certain things I won’t budge on (shooting me a quick email to say you’re missing class for a haircut is one of them).
I told my students early on that the best way to deal with missed classes would be by letting me know as soon as possible—either beforehand or within twenty-four hours afterward. (This may just be me, but unless they have a doctor’s note, I typically don’t ask for an excuse, because I’d rather have none than hear a horrible excuse.) I prefer to deal with situations as they happen rather than spend the rest of the semester playing catch-up, grading and recording assignments days after everyone else in class has finished theirs and moved on to the next project, because the further behind the stragglers get, the less likely they are to complete all their work. It’s the stragglers who always seem to be the ones who disappear for a week (give or take) then who send the faux-panicked emails: “OMG I’m so sorry I missed class what did I miss can u help me?!?!” Not surprisingly, students with the foresight to make arrangements beforehand tend to make up their work.
However, people talk. One of my biggest fears is that one day an “OMG I’m so sorry” student who didn’t get a break will compare notes with one of the responsible students, and decide they didn’t get a fair shake. Then, I’ll have to go from the peace-lovin’ hippie to Mr. Tough Guy, and that is not a day I’m looking forward to.
About the Adjunct: Erik Hanson completed his MA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Northern Iowa, where he also earned his BA in German, during which time he spent one year studying abroad in Austria. Thus far, his teaching portfolio consists of developmental writing and composition courses. In those rare moments when he is not in class or tutoring English students, he can usually be found hunched over his keyboard with a cup of coffee, working on short fiction or developing his novel.