Too Close For Comfort? Navigating Student Relationships As A New Adjunct

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By Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.

As you can see by the picture that is now posted by the byline, I am somewhat young. Dare I admit my age here in the blogosphere? Well, I am thirty-one and yes, that sometimes puts me at the same age or even younger than some of my students. Most students make a small joke about this in the beginning (“You’re the same age as my daughter!”) and then it is a non-issue (as far as I know). Most of my students have been eager to learn and have enjoyed my energy and optimism; most are willing to give me a fair shot, which is all I ask.  However, I do see my situation as somewhat challenging because some people (incorrectly) equate youth with inexperience. So I am more aware and work diligently to be an uber-professional in all aspects. For example, I strive to dress professionally, and make sure all written and oral communication is polished.

I was reflecting on an earlier post that I wrote (“Do New Adjuncts Have ‘Sucker’ Written Across Our Foreheads?”) in which I talked about how students share a wide range of excuses and personal stories with their professors. Thus, I often find myself in the role of guidance counselor, mother, advocate, and life coach, on top of being an educator. This led me to think about another side to this post — how much of my personal life should I share with my students? Some of my fellow adjuncts have written about their experiences on this topic here at the Adjunct Advocate. A favorite of mine is “Don’t Poke Me: Professors’ Privacy in the Age of Facebook”, in which Professor Russell talks about the balance between mentoring previous students through ‘friending’ on Facebook yet wanting to maintain privacy (the ‘wall’) with current students. This makes sense to me (but I’m not even on Facebook so that question is easy for me to answer!).

In the context of being extra-aware of my “newness,” I want to tread very carefully in this domain. I have found students are curious to know about my personal life and like to hear personal stories and anecdotes as they may related to our curriculum. Putting on my student hat, I remember being interested in the professor’s life outside of the classroom (as if he or she had one)! But it feels different now that I am in another role in the classroom. I find myself holding back some personal things from my students because I feel once I release it, there is no going back. So perhaps it is a control issue related to being a new professor?

In my personal life, I am private with friends and family as well. I tend to be the listener, not the confider, in relationships. I am warm and caring, and I know through feedback from students that this is conveyed, but I also can’t help but wonder what the difference is between perceived professionalism and standoffishness? When is it being private and when does it become that you are disconnected? I think part of the answer is that I want to share my humanity with my students (successes, flaws) and also be connected to them. I take great interest in their lives and events.  When students have a bad day or week, or a crisis in their life, they certainly don’t feel inhibited to share it with me or the class. But why should they have to hear about my sick child or husband or the car that broke down or the computer that crashed? Am I right to assume that I should not share these same scenarios or things going on in my life with my students? Do they want the polished image of a professional or do they want to know the “real” thing – or somewhere in between where I really live?

I have not found the answer to this. In the meantime, I keep my cards close to my chest while slowly sharing pieces of myself that don’t seem too “risky.”

About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her role as a wife and mother.

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1 Comments

  1. I think it is important to share a little and to humanise yourself. As a woman from a working class background I think that it was important for me to see that some of my lecturers were more like me than I could have imagined – if it had not been for those who shared their lives (just a little) with the class I may never have felt like I could go on to do this too. It can be important for students to be able to identify and imagine themselves in your shoes and to know you as a real person.

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