Rant moratorium?

I see them every now and then – furious complaints or snappy comebacks about student behavior, posted or shared by college professors on social media. Sometimes they’re pretty funny. Overall, though, they bring me down.

Here’s a thought: What if we abstained from posting nastygrams about our students, just for this semester?

Students have thrown some curveballs my way, but many have left me open-mouthed in amazement. I’m talking about students who revealed they were the first person in their family to set foot on a college campus; a student who wrote a gorgeous short story out of the blue, because something in the assignment touched him; students reading ahead in the assigned book because they got so into it.

If I succumb to the seduction of a social media rant, I degrade those stories. I feel only the anger of the injustice and the momentary boost from Facebook cheerleaders.

If you’re not convinced that a rant moratorium has merit, consider this: Acting like a cad isn’t just for students.

In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay presents a beautifully humble essay on her first year of teaching college students. She writes:

Sometimes, during class, I catch students staring at their cell phones beneath their desks like they’re in a cone of invisibility. It’s as funny as it is irritating.

…Sometimes, when students are doing group work, I sneak a look at my own phone like I am in a cone of invisibility. I am part of the problem.

Yep. Occasionally, working adults look at their phones when they should be paying attention to someone else. Or they arrive to a meeting without reading the prep materials, or look up in the middle of a training workshop and say “Sorry – what are we doing right now?” Then there’s the five-paragraph email explaining, in great detail, that they can’t attend the team meeting due to a gruesome illness or complex childcare schedule.

I dare you to tell me you’ve never committed any of the above human missteps.

And while we’re at it, tell me honestly: Would you wade through a 26-page document when you had a question, instead of just asking a human? That’s what many of us expect of our students. That’s what leads to comments like “Just come to class in one of those shirts that says ‘Read the syllabus‘! That’ll show ’em.”

Instead of a student-villainizing frame, I suggest an idea from social scientist Riane Eisler:  A partnership model. In this format, “power is exercised in ways that empower rather than disempower others.”  Teachers hold power. Yet the most serene professors I know treat their students like peers. They rejoice (sometimes on Facebook) in the student’s great successes. These profs trust the student to decide if they want to skip class or take a mental health day. The partnership idea can lead to funny social media posts, too.

At a recent presentation about the divisive Israel issue, a Jewish scholar gave this advice: “Be the biggest person in the room.” I think that applies to teaching. And a great way to exercise that largess is to check those rants.

This semester, what if we posted about the breakthroughs more than the f*ck-ups? What if we shared our empowering strategies to solve problems and inspire students? What if we admitted to the Faceverse when our lesson plans fell flat?

If you need to vent about bad behavior or exult in a clever comeback, consider telling a few close friends. Describing your brilliant burn to one or two people might not satisfy the same way as rehashing it to 543 Facebook friends. But this approach could do much more.

“Partnership relations free our innate capacity to feel joy, to play,” Eisler writes. A rant can bring satisfaction, but never pure joy.

 

 

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