We've rounded the corner on midterms -- and so, from now to the end of the semester, is when things start getting really tough for the students. And for the faculty, but that's a topic for another day and another attitude. Today I've been reflecting on how much I admire my students, even when they sometimes disappoint or irritate me.
What I mean is this: at Large Urban U, we teach a diverse commuting student population that mostly consists of older adults. Even the traditionally-aged 18-22 year olds usually work part- or full-time and are funding their education themselves. So instead of dealing with the still-drunk frat boys and over-achieving premeds of the previous institution where I taught, here we have students whose bosses demand they stay overtime, whose babies are vomiting, and whose lives are heartwrenchingly full with commitments. My colleagues take many different approaches towards working with this population who are inevitably rather different from the students we once were. Some maintain draconian attendance requirements (which, if applied to department meetings, would have them "dropped" awfully quickly); others serve as maternal shoulders to cry on, blurring the boundaries of professional conduct. And most of us are somewhere in between.
I set due dates for assignments, and also policies about how late I will accept written work. But I'm glad, when the situation warrants it, to offer a student special consideration or accomodation. Especially when I think about how easy I had it as a student, I am humbled to think about my students trying to write essays for my class in the midst of their life concerns. I am embarrassed to think about how pressured and overwhelmed I can feel, even though I am healthy, in a secure job with a middle-class salary, and not trying to learn new languages and modes of thinking on top of my regular life.
I don't expect my class to be the top priority in my students' lives -- when it is, or when it's near the top, I am honored by their efforts. When they can't get the work done, when they are tired and unfocused in class, it's my job to donate some energy, some ideas, some life force to them. It's easy for me to be casual about books, ideas, concepts -- the "stuff" of my discipline -- because I've been in environments that encouraged reading and learning for my entire life. My students have been working for their entire lives just to get here. Whatever small things I manage to teach my students, I am always learning from them as well.