Another term ended and a new one is around the corner. A lecture that I gave over the summer stands out for me. I was speaking about the next major assignment and wanted to remind the students that I am here to help them. The lecture was a primer on how to do well on the assignments, and I spoke of critical thinking and need for a higher level of analysis. I also advised them to come see me in my office hours. Then, I did something that I do not normally do. I referred to that site that allows people to rate instructors. You know which one that I am referring to -- don't you? It is like Voldemo ... you cannot say the name!
The reason I referred to the site, as I explained to my students, was that the last time I had quickly reviewed my ratings, I noted one person say that it is important to get me to like you. I recall having a quick laugh and smiling for the next twenty minutes, as this is not true. I told the students in my class, "I like all of you. The difference is that some of you will like me back." I explained that my life is quite full and I am content. I also shared with them that my teaching philosophy statement notes that I am not in the habit of chasing the 5, which is the perfect score on our teaching evaluations. (I even included this sentence in my dossier for a teaching award, the Faculty of Social Sciences Excellence in Teaching.) I was extremely honest with this group and later left the classroom feeling satisfied with this honesty.
The fact that a person or some people would think that instructors only "give" good marks to students that they like is false. Trust me, I have run the Excel equation and said, "Oh, no." At that moment when you’re finishing the final grades you really want a student to do well, but one assignment or two assignments sealed their mark with a C or worse. You feel for the student, but there is nothing you can do. I have never had the moment when I wanted to see a student not do well. Regardless of where they are from, there is a whole host of different views, and more importantly, different abilities in writing, thinking, and success with the work of being a student. I also explained to them that they will perform better in courses that they are interested in and should try to take courses that appeal to them. Then, they need to show up. Go to class, go to office hours, and get to know their instructors or Teaching Assistants. I even referred to Wil Wheaton's comments in a high school yearbook and he said the same thing: go to class, go to office hours. I agree with him. (Hey, follow him @wilw). In my opinion, it is not a matter of my liking you. No, it is about my assessment of the work and hopefully seeing an improvement through the term.
The students who I mentor or coach I get to know better and subsequently do like them in a different way. I have had more opportunities to get to know them. And, I must say here that I have mentored more students who hold political opinions that are quite different from my own. My mentoring or teaching does not take politics into consideration. Most years, I find that I am mentoring an equal number of women and men students, even though our campus is 60% women and 40% men.
Overall, I would be hard pressed to say that I dislike a student. As a professor, have a special place in students' lives. I am part of their college experience. I can be a mentor or coach. I get to work with them and I think that is an honor.
Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.
Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is a blogger at University of Venus and her areas of interest are varied: Gender and Politics, Women and Technology, American Politics, Feminist Theories, Youth Politics, and Popular Culture. Currently she is working on a co-edited Introduction to Women’s Studies textbook and when she has time, she blogs at http://janniaragon.wordpress.com/