I had high hopes for Fall 2022, I really did. I admit worrying for a bit that I wouldn’t remember how to teach after two and a half years in virtual hell. And I actively fretted about COVID and my ability to tolerate real shoes and hard pants all day. But I honestly expected that my first semester back would go smoothly. HA.
From almost the minute that Fall semester started, I deemed it the Season of Consequences with a side of Difficult Conversations. I encountered scenarios I’d never imagined in my previous 15 years of teaching. One of my students was stabbed by his roommate and requested a short extension, writing from his hospital bed. It was granted, of course. One student mentioned that he’d taken a life during the middle of a class discussion, apropos of nothing. Several students got caught for plagiarism and we had to have The Talk. A record number started ghosting classes. I had to call out others for sexism, racism, and not meeting their ethical obligations.
Just at the cusp of the semester’s end—with finals week in sight—a student from my online class stopped by to say he regretted submitting his last homework assignment and understood if he got a bad grade on it. I suggested that he resubmit. After reading the assignment in question, I tweeted: “I’m starting to suspect that students don’t think professors have feelings.”
I’m starting to suspect that students don’t think professors have feelings. #AcademicTwitter
— Shawna Malvini Redden (@drshawna) December 6, 2022
You see, dear reader, the student in question had spent numerous pages (nearly 9!) enumerating the ways that I am personally terrible, how my class is terrible, how my assignments and tests are terrible, and how I am responsible for several terrible things in his life. Despite being largely unfair, the criticisms were so specific and personal, I burst into tears and shot off a vague tweet into the ether before heading to my grad class.
Reading the responses later made me realize how rough this semester has been for others, too. Many tore into me for being unfair, sharing examples of how professors are terrible to students and act like students don’t have feelings. Many took the opportunity to critique the course evaluation system, assuming I was upset by anonymous student feedback. A good number described feeling validated by my comment, sharing how they’ve felt unsupported by university structures, upset by student interactions, and frustrated that our current educational system feels so transactional that students view professors as customer service providers without feelings.
While I do wish I’d qualified my comment by saying some students, because I certainly have many very kind and thoughtful people in my classes, the experience left me feeling even worse than when I was simply crying alone in my office. I’m clearly not cut out for the online provocateur lifestyle!
All of this said, as the year wraps up and I look to a new semester still feeling exhausted and burned out, I’d like to leave lots behind in 2022. COVID. Folks pretending the pandemic is past-tense. Callous attitudes. Machiavellian individualism. The unparalleled levels of emotional labor. The lack of accountability.
And because I believe in magic, I’m hoping and praying to wake up in 2023 tomorrow with all of that gone. Pretty please, maybe? Even a little?
A Very Tired Teacher