Owing to my recent travels, I had to take a make-up exam in the language class I am taking. I teach my own class exactly during my instructor's two office hours, both of which occur in identical time blocks on Mondays and Wednesdays. Memo to instructors: If you set your office hours like that (at the same hour on M W or T Th), any student who can't go to your office hour on one day owing to a class conflict will likely be unable to attend either office hour.
The instructor kindly allowed me to come to another class she was teaching and take the exam then. She thought it would be less distracting for me if I sat in the corridor just outside the classroom, rather than in the classroom while the other class was in session. This was a good idea, but neither of us realized that the professor whose office is across the hall would talk extremely loudly for an entire hour at one of his graduate students.
The sound of this professor speaking loudly and continuously bothered me at first, but then I realized that he wasn't saying anything that I understood, and I was mostly able to tune out the sound. He was speaking in English, but he had a strong Humanities accent, and he spoke a Cultural Studies dialect containing many words that were unknown to me in the context in which he used them.
When the hour was up, it was time for my own language class to start, and some of my classmates arrived. As we waited in the hall for the classroom to disgorge students from the previous class, one of my classmates said "Oh no, did you have to listen to That Guy for the entire hour? [points at office of Loud Professor]. I hate it when I come early and have to listen to him for even a few minutes." "Yes", I replied wearily, "He's been talking like that for an hour." Another classmate said "I hate That Guy too. He thinks he's so smart, but he isn't."
Hmm. At the beginning of the conversation with my classmates, we were on the same page, marveling (in a somewhat unkind way) at a certain professor's ability to speak loudly for an extended period of time about an obscure topic, never giving his student a chance to do more than murmur in assent. But then my allegiance shifted.
Why did my classmate think this professor wasn't smart? Do my students think this about me when I am talking about my research? This professor clearly had comprehensive knowledge of something, as he was able to expound on who had written what in various texts spanning centuries of literature in his chosen cultural specialty. I suppose my classmate just didn't like the tone of his voice, which could perhaps be interpreted as oozing with I'm-smarter-than-youness and you-have-nothing-interesting-to-say-but-I-doness.
I still empathized with him, though. Do our students want us to be unsure of our expertise and say things like "I don't really know what I'm talking about even though I've spent the last 20 years thinking about this, but one possible interpretation is that .."? Would that make us seem smarter?
I suppose there is some ideal middle ground in which we can converse in an articulate and confident way about our passionate intellectual interests without making everyone hate us and doubt our intelligence. And I suppose also that, ideally, one should let students ask questions or make comments now and then -- at least once every 30-40 minutes or so, when we pause to take a breath.
2 years ago