I take two classes on Tuesdays: dance in the morning and improvisation in the evening. Last week, both teachers expressed frustration with students' perceived disrespect.
My dance teacher had been absent the previous week and had engaged a substitute. A number of students had reported for the class, noted the sub, and left. "That was incredibly rude," he admonished us. "She [the sub] was so offended, I don't think she'll be willing to take the class again."
My improv class starts at 6:30; students tend to trickle in until around 7. Last week, the teacher announced, "Look, this is a real problem, and it's unprofessional. Six-thirty means just that -- not 7:00 or even 6:35!"
I was not a target of either of these complaints. I love my dance teacher, but I'm kind of a novelty seeker, so I enjoy the change when he's absent. Besides, I always harbor the hope that with a new approach, other students will feel as lost and incompetent as I usually do, and I won't stick out so much.
I'm always prompt for my improv class, because I love it and never want to miss a second. (And also, of course, because I have the privilege of arranging my Tuesdays around these classes.)
But I was surprised, initially, at the level of my teachers' frustration. After all, I thought, we are adults with busy lives. We pay good money for these classes; shouldn't we be allowed to decide, on learning that a favorite teacher is out, that our time would be better spent catching up on paperwork or walking in the park? And shouldn't we get the benefit of the doubt re lateness? Many of my fellow students have demanding day jobs and aren't always in control of when they can leave work. And it's not as though the teachers were earning less because of the students who come late or leave early--nobody is demanding a refund or prorating for time missed. What is the problem?
The problem, I realized, is that I have started to think of these classes as purely commercial transactions, rather than the transmission of knowledge, and even wisdom, from a dedicated expert to an enthusiastic pupil, which it is necessary to support financially.
This is exactly the sort of attitude that drives academic friends to despair. I have always been sympathetic to their stories of arrogant, entitled students who think that their tuition payments give them carte
blanche to abuse or dismiss the teacher and subject. This is no different.
How did I fall into this trap? I'm still asking myself that question. The best I've come up with so far is that the commercial model is everywhere, it is insidious, and it infiltrates the consciousness of even those of us who know better. But that seems more like an excuse than an explanation.