It’s well known that as a Freeway Flyer, I find myself running from campus to campus to not only get to my classes but to spend more time on each college as a way to remain available to my students. While other instructors are able to spend all day on campus and, thereby, remain available for a student to pop in with a question at any time, as a Freeway Flyer, my time is divided into three campuses.
This semester I find myself moving between two campuses for four classes on Mondays. Needless to say, my availability for students lessens on that day. If I’m not traveling or in class, I’m trying to prep for the day. Also with a heavier load this semester, the only free time I can catch is during the weekend. As much as I love teaching, having a break during the week or even the day is necessary in order to stay positive and energetic. Recently, as I was trying to get my things together after a class in order to catch the train into Long Island for another class, my students were surrounding me asking questions. As a good instructor, I want to answer them all, even if I’ve already answered them in class or it ends up making me run late.
However, the question of availability, or rather, how much availability should be offered has been a question that as a Freeway Flyer I think about a lot. How do I balance being there for my students but also allowing them to learn independently? Sometimes, the urge to over coddle my students is apparent because I’m not available to them all the time. Jumping from one campus to the next, doesn’t always leave me with time to spare for questions and answers.
Of course, I have my office hours, I check my email at least twice a day, and I make a point to be the first person in the classroom and the last person to leave that classroom. However, when I can’t get to a student’s email on time or I have to give a quick answer to a question, I feel guilty.
However, I can’t always be available to my students. An email at 3:30 in the morning on a Monday ( a mere 4 hours before class), can’t always be answered. Sure, I’m a night owl, but I’m not checking my email at that time. And sometimes the questions I’m surrounded by are in the syllabus or have been discussed thoroughly in class.
As a Freeway Flyer, I’ve come to develop techniques that help me get to each class but also interact with each student, so that their questions and their concerns are always answered. These techniques vary from professor to professor but based on my own, I know that it is a way to keep my students feeling like they are truly being heard but that they can also answer their own questions. By not answering the email that comes in the middle of night right away, it forces the student to realize that professors are not robots.
Unlike Google, I’m not always around to answer the tiniest of questions. However, this isn’t a bad thing. While it is my job to guide my students and provide support for their academic needs, I also need to stand back at times in order for them to learn on their own. Not every question needs to be given an explanation but rather I should encourage my students to search for the answer on their own.
College is an academic system that allows for students to explore their intelligence and their studies with a group and on their own. Campuses provide every possible avenue for research and discovery. Technology as well as a strong staff in any department allows a student to fully explore their ideas. The more a student explores on their own, the less questions they bombard me with. I find that when they allow themselves to think independently, the tiny questions ( how long should this response be? When is this due?) are searched for. Students are willing to look at the syllabus, ask each other or simply follow their own instincts in order to answer their own questions. They know I’m available but they also know they are capable of finding the solution to their questions.
What are your thoughts? How available to students is too available? As always, I’m eager to know your thoughts.
About the Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 24 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun). When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream. If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on fictionatwork.com, Blink-ink.com, Jersey Devil Press, dogeatcrow.com, Break Water Review,Stone Highway Review, Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/jnylynn.