TITLE: Difficult Students, Difficult Professors, Difficult Relationships AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 24, 2011 12:38 PM DESC: ----- BODY: We professors usually write glowingly of our students. Writing bad things about students in public seems like a bad idea. Besides, we mean the good things we say. By and large students are great people to be around. We get to learn with them watch them grow. Yet... Yesterday, I tweeted out of an emotion I occasionally feel when I read my student evaluations after a semester ends: even if n-1 students say positive things and offer constructive suggestions for improvement, my mind focuses on the one student who was unhappy and complained unhelpfully. It's just the ego at work; objectively, every instructor realizes that whenever a bunch of students gather in one place, it is likely that a few will be unhappy. It's unrealistic -- foolish, really -- to think that everyone should like you. Fortunately, after a few minutes (or hours, or days, if you haven't yet trained your mind in this discipline yet), the feeling passes and you move forward, learning from the assessment and improving the course. Occasionally, the negative comments are not a random event. In this case, I'm pretty sure I know who was unhappy. This student had felt similarly in previous semesters. He or she is just not a fan of mine. If we are all honest with ourselves and each other, we have to admit that the same is true for us professors. Occasionally, we encounter a student who rubs us the wrong way. It is rare, perhaps surprisingly so, but every few years I encounter a student of whom I am not a big fan. Sometimes the feeling is mutual, but not always. Occasionally, I have students who don't like me much but whom I like well enough, or students who rub me the wrong way but seem to like me fine. The good news is that, even in these circumstances, students and professors alike do a pretty good of working together professionally. For me, it's a point of professional pride not to let how I feel about any student, positive or negative, affect my courses. I almost titled this post "Difficult Students", but that struck me as wrong. From the student's perspective, this is about difficult instructors. And it's not really about students and instructors at all, at least most of the time. Other students enjoy my courses even when one does not; other faculty like and enjoy the students who aren't my favorites. It's about relationships, one-on-one. And, as I wrote in the George Costanza post linked above, this is to be expected. We are all human. ~~~~ In response to my tweet, David Humphrey shared this comic to help ease the psychological trauma of even one negative student:
Haters gonna hate
(If you prefer an analgesic with a harder edge, I offer you Gaping Void's take on the matter.) -----