Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Swan Song V--The fall of Ozymandius



Professor Schaap,
I know that the paper is due tomorrow and i probably should have sent this email a couple days ago, however i am just a little confused on what the content of this paper should entail. If you could just email me a little of what im supposed to be talking about i can compare it with where i am/change some things.thanks for your help,
Clark 
Names have been changed to protect the innocent, but this is a cut-and-pasted e-mail from yesterday, the day the paper was due.  Sweet enough, you say--and it is.  The kid's not a pain.  I like him, I think he likes me, and the class itself is off to a really good start (of course, I haven't taken a grade yet--things could change). 
 
I got eight of these yesterday, eight humble requests for more info.  Nobody's snotty or pushy.  Nobody's mad or arrogant.  Just nice requests for me, once more, to go over the assignment.
 
About a decade ago in some kind of in-service meeting, we faculty were told that students often complained about profs not being clear enough in their writing assignments.  My Calvinism speaks in such moment--I read my own sin into that kind of broadside.  I'm footloose as a pony when it comes making assignments, more often than not wandering hopelessly off the neatly printed syllabus I give them, first day of class.  I am--and I've been told as much for most of my years--more than occasionally hard to follow.
 
So I determined I needed to improve.  Once upon a time I suppose I simply expected them to determine the details, to think through the writing assignments--and if they weren't in class, to find out what the task was from some other studious classmate.  In other words, I told myself that, alright, these weren't the old days anymore, and students in the present era simply demanded more info.
 
Here's the thing.  The specific assignment the e-mailing student is referring to was the basis of the entire last class period.  I'm not making this up.  When we started that afternoon, one of them said, politely, that she'd appreciate a little more light on the nature of the essay they all had to write.  Blessedly, I was prepared to do just that, so we spent most of the class outlining what it was I wanted them to do by going through two other stories in a fashion which would, I thought, not only explain but even demonstrate clearly just what kind of surgery I wanted them to accomplish on the story in their hands, the one for the paper.
 
Eight people--of 36--asked me to explain again in an e-mail.  So I did. 
 
Maybe this Calvinist isn't so Calvinistic.  Maybe I'm simply too sweet. 
 
But my pounding out eight subsequent e-mail explanations reminds me of yet another really observable change from the days I started teaching in college, 35 years ago.  Today, the relationship between student and professor is remarkably different.  Forty-five years ago, when I was an undergraduate, somewhat known for my arrogance, I would never have thought of asking a prof for a further explanation of a writing assignment because I would have simply assumed that it was my responsibility to figure it out myself or else ask some other poor chump what he determined was going on.  The prof was a god--no upper case. 
 
Don't misunderstand.  There were profs we thought were bums, others--more than a few--lunatics.  But that doesn't mean they weren't gods.  And we were simply trivia.  What the heck did we know?  And I was, I admit, cocky.
 
Go ahead and compare.  Today, we dance to their piped tunes.  We kiss their sweet fannies to get 'em to enroll here, and once we're here we literally applaud them like conquerers before they've done one blessed thing on this campus.  We love 'em to death.  Who knows what they think of us, but I can tell you this--to them we're not gods. 
 
Now is that alteration in station good or bad? 
 
It's bad.  Good night, go ahead and count the years we each put into education, into the bejeweled crown of a Ph.D?  We deserve to be treated like royalty.  They rabble should go to their knees and genuflect when we come in the room.  And stand when we leave:  "The King rises."
 
It's good.  Ye olde days were putrifyingly elitist.  Good night, you could barely talk to profs.  Besides, professors are people who get so accustomed to students noting everything they say that they actually come to believe they know what the heck they're talking about.  Big, frickin' deal--I can make more money roofing.
 
I'll let someone else give the blessing or curse.  All I'm saying is that these e-mail notes asking me to go over the assignment one more time wouldn't have crossed my radar screen 35 years ago.  We live in a new age.  Of course, back then we didn't each have our own personal radar screens either.
 

Professor,

That helps tremendously. Thanks for your help again!

Clark
So I answered Clark's question, took five minutes to type out the same response I'd give to at least a half dozen others throughout the day and night.  Then this one came.  I'm not accusing these kids of arrogance.   It's simply the nature of the system these days.  They've been blessed with extra help for the last 12 years of their education.  Why should they expect anything less now that they're up here in the lofty heights of "higher" education? 

Our Provost suggests that wearing jeans to class is something that's not necessarily beneficial.  Perhaps what he's trying to do is rescue some of our godliness with cuff links and pleated slacks, build us up a little, bring us somewhere closer to the divinity we've obviously lost.

But then, he also wants us to be in close and loving contact with all those high schoolers out there who are even considering Dordt College, to call them personally, pamper them all the way we pamper our blessed athletes, send them cards, call their moms, dispatch candy or socks or Dordt College frisbees. 

Sure.  But we're crossing some line with bluejeans?

Maybe this is what it comes down to:  I like Clark; Clark--I believe--likes me.  I've seen his eyes, and I'm even guessing he may like my class.  He's no English major.  He's in CORE 180 for only one reason:  he'll never get a diploma if he's not.  But we start here:  the two of us like each other.  I don't know that I liked my profs.  I deeply respected the really good ones, but I don't know that I was ever really familiar enough with any of them, back then, to say I "liked" them. 

Last Friday, parts of my heart got cauterized in a treatment called an "ablation."  I came out of it quickly, sparred with the nurses all afternoon.  Finally, one of them said, "You better be careful.  You're breaking the stereotype. . .you're no stuffy professor."

I didn't know I was supposed to be stuffy.

Professors, like Humpty Dumpty, have had a great fall.  So did Ozymandius.  But unlike a cracked egg or some unceremoniously dumped potentate, we're human enough to put ourselves back together again.

And comfortable enough, perhaps, to wear jeans when we're doing it.  After all, forty years ago you can bet your finest snakeskin belt no prof here would have ever thought of wearing Levis. 

His Levis.  Back then, of course, there were no women.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now we know why it was so necessary for Jesus to teach that sermon on the mount, and why it was so important for his students to write it down so they would remember His lessons. The challenge comes when we attempt to apply those lessons. But He was no full Prof yet, as he was only in His thirties.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Wikipedia. Now I think I understand. But Ozmandias surely had nothing to do with Jesus' lessons.

Sherri Lantinga said...

Jim - I love how clearly your writing reflects how you speak - too many writers put some imaginary Author Hat on and you couldn't pick them out of a lineup.

I've only been teaching 15 years - and even in that span I've noticed the same change in students - it was unusual to have my authority or assignments questioned then, and when it did I attributed it to my being a young female prof. Now it's quite commmon - and I even find myself frustrated with students who do NOT ask questions but bumble through assignments and slink past me in the halls. And about the jeans? I'd wear them every day if I though I could get away with it here - I was told by a senior just today that she has always found me really intimidating - so maybe my comfy jeans and bunny slippers would help. :)