In putting together my dossier, I am forced to revisit my past teaching evaluations, and my student comments. For the most part, I receive a great deal of positive feedback, but of course, every once in a while you have that student who hates you with a ferocity that is only matched by his or her immaturity and insensitivity. I’ve blogged about that before, but now I want to do the thing you know we all want to do: answer them.
You see, I usually have a pretty good idea who the complainers are, even in the large course I teach. It’s even more apparent when it’s a student from a small group or one of my international programs. I think they know this, so their “anonymous” remarks are usually pretty thinly veiled personal attacks, the kinds of things they would be never be brave enough to say to anyone’s face. I know it’s petty to even consider them, but you know and I know how much these kinds of remarks rankle. In the alternative universe in my head, I dream about the ways in which I could respond. I’d like them to know I’m human, too.
So here goes…. (and before the usual comments rage across the blogosphere concerning feminist need for authority and how terrible I am to care what students say, okay, got it. Move on.)
The “She Hates Me Because I Disagree” Argument
“She is so obviously liberal—I know I can’t say anything in class because it will affect my grade.”
Sure, if you tell me that women’s rights are a silly thing to talk about, we’ll have words, because I know you can’t back up that argument. I’ll give you an A if you can. Really, I will, because I like a good argument. Not a passive-aggressive attempt to justify your own lack of engagement in the class.
The “Why Aren’t You My Mommy?” Complaint
“She rolls her eyes when you talk to her, which is mean” (this was on a trip abroad)
I’m TIRED. I’ve been dealing with a sick student, a student who idiotically fell into a hole, a kid who ran into a motorbike, and a lot of whining. Forgive me for rolling my eyes when you asked me if I it’s possible to get you food that is “more American.”
“She is so unapproachable.”
Did you come to see me? No you did not. Not once. I sat in office hours waiting longingly for you to stop by as the semester went on. I missed your face. Why are you so cruel?
The “I Don’t Know Why She Makes Me Read” Screed
“I really think she should tell us the night before that we’re having a quiz, so I’ll do the reading.”
The “I Want to Make you Look Bad” Attack
“She lived the life on the beach while we lived in the dorm.”
I lived in a dirty bug-ridden homestay--that yes, admittedly was on a beach in a small fishing village—because it cost less than $20 a night, which gave us more money to spend on your excursions and the nice clean dorm you lived in. And after being in the classroom with you from 9:30-5:30 every day, I had exactly 20 minutes before the sun went down and I fell exhausted into bed to “live the life.”
Oh, and I washed my underwear in a bucket.
“She lectures once in a while, has too many guest speakers and lets her TAs do all the grading.”
Huh. I thought I was enriching your education by having those three (yes, just three) experts in their field share their extensive experience. I spent hours creating that syllabus and writing my lectures. And there are 250 of you. Do you think that I am some kind of machine capable of doing all the grading myself--in the two day-turn around that you told me you expected?
The “I Lack All Awareness of My Privilege” Defense
“I pay too much money here to not be allowed to use my laptop in class.”
No, you pay too much money here to not pay attention in class because you’re watching YouTube videos. I CAN SEE YOU.
The “A Body in a Seat Counts as Attendance” Argument
“I think it’s really disrespectful that she asks people to wake up in class.”
I was trying to help—you were drooling on yourself.
The “Any Woman is a Lady” Alert
“She doesn’t like it when you call her ‘Miss Horn,’ so be careful.”
I am old enough to be your mother, and we do not live in the Old South. If we did, I’d let you call me Miss Denise and we’d rock on the porch together in the evenings drinking sweet tea while someone rubbed my corns.
“Who does she think she is?”
Your professor. Get over it.
Boston, Massachusetts in the US.
Denise Horn is an Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Northeastern University and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus . She is the author of Women, Civil Society and the Geopolitics of Democratization (Routledge 2010) and the forthcoming book Democratic Governance and Social Entrepreneurship: Civic Participation and the Future of Democracy  (Routledge 2012).