Last semester, my daughter participated in an event that took place at the university, and I ended up spending most of the day at the campus center. Parents weren't involved in the event, but we had to be nearby for an undetermined amount of time. Some parents dealt with being in all-day limbo by making tag-team arrangements with other parents. I brought work with me, so I camped out in a lounge at the campus center (for 7 hours) with my laptop.
Spending 7 hours at the campus center was kind of interesting. I wouldn't want to do it every Saturday, but it was actually a pretty good place to work. I had a comfortable chair near a power outlet and I could acquire stimulating beverages from a nearby purveyor of caffeine. I was quite content.
The strangest part of the experience was when a group of students sat near me and studied together for a test in my general subject area of Science. These students were very confused about some very basic concepts. This ignited a raging debate in my head, as I argued with myself about whether to help them.
My first thought was: I'll offer to help them. They might be freaked out that a professor overheard them being clueless, but they clearly need help.
Then I heard them talking about how much they hated the class.
So I thought: Well, I'll help them anyway. It doesn't matter if they love or hate the class, they need help.
Then I heard them talk about how they never went to class and were going to do the absolute minimum to pass. They made crude remarks about students who like the class and who ask questions in class. Then they said rude and rather cruel things about the professor.
So I thought: I will challenge them to a duel.
No, so then what I really thought was: That's still OK.. I guess. When I was a student, my friends and I sometimes had unkind thoughts about some professors, and we expressed these thoughts aloud to each other when we were alone (or thought we were). Besides, if these were my own students, I would help them no matter how reprehensible their attitude or language.
But then I thought: When I was a student, it would have destroyed me if a professor had heard me say even a much tamer version of what they just said about their professor and the class. If I reveal that I am an eavesdropping stealth professor, these students will be horrified. They will worry that I will tell their professor what they said. They will be so distraught that they will develop anxiety disorders and binge drinking habits and then they will fail their classes and their lives will be ruined and it will be my fault.
So then I had the admittedly cowardly thought: I'll just tell their professor that some students in the class are having particular trouble with concepts X and Y, and my colleague, if so inclined, can send out a mass email or deal with the issue in some other neutral and anonymous way before the exam.
Then I moved to the other side of the room, away from the unhappy and confused students.
I felt guilty about not helping them. A braver professor would have cast aside all qualms and just barged in and helped the students, or at least tried to. A braver professor would have cheerfully helped the slacker students and given them the gift of knowledge, instilling in them a love of science and respect and affection for the professoriate. I am not that braver professor. [undergrad readers: What do you think I should have done?]
If I ever have to spend a weekend day hanging out in the campus center again, I think I will wear my special Science Professor hat (and socks) so that it will be obvious who/what I am. Then I would be happy to answer questions from random students studying for an exam in my field, and students sitting near me would know that they can make rude and salacious comments about their English professor, but not about their Science professor.
7 months ago