Monday, May 4, 2009

Notes for the Professor, #3: Anathema on All Snobbery and Aloofness

This is an ongoing series I began back in February, intended to aid both myself as a (hopeful) future professor and anyone currently in the field looking for pointers from the other side. I am convinced that the single greatest trait a professor can have is openness, willingness, intentionality about exploring new and better ways to teach -- including stopping bad habits. So I hope to nip bad habits in the bud before they happen, and to form good habits before I start. I intend to be more specific than teaching in general: concrete actions or focused principles that will enhance an actual university (or seminary/graduate) class of students. Feel free to get in on the conversation, to critique my ongoing notes, or to suggest new ones I have yet to think of.

Note #1: Novels/Poetry as Assigned Reading
Note #2: Never Penalize Good Decisions

Professorial Note #3: Anathema on All Snobbery and Aloofness

Snobbery is one of the most dangerous and harmful aspects of the modern university system. Everybody knows the stereotype of the snooty professor looking down his nose on the pitifully stupid student. Similarly, a professor may not act higher and mightier than students, but it is abundantly clear how removed he or she is from any concerns about grades, life, whatever. And to be sure, the combination of these traits is supremely deadly!

It should go without saying that there is no place for such characteristics in a seminary or school of theology. Fortunately, I have had little contact with such professors, but the sad fact of the history of academic theology is that too often it has been conducted by stuffy white men not only external to the church but unfamiliar with (or unfriendly toward) normal forms of non-academic life. One conjures the image of the gray-haired, bow-tied, bespectacled man -- grave and measured in his impeccable speech -- unable to have a conversation with the "hip" younger guy in everyday language.

Snobbery is obvious; we know it, we know why it's unacceptable. Aloofness, however, is more complicated. Aloofness is a message the professor speaks silently to students, a kind of teacher-pupil body language, namely: I don't care enough about you to do more than the minimum required by my job. You may think grades are important; ho hum. You may have been sick but not gotten a note; thanks for sharing. You may not learn the one way I teach; that's nice. If your concerns are not my concerns already, I have no interest in listening to you.

Any person self-identified as a teacher who exhibits this kind of attitude toward students doesn't deserve the name and disgraces the vocation. The refusal of empathy is profound in its derisiveness. Grades matter; life outside of the confines of class matters; actually learning the material matters. Not caring, or floating along unaffected by such concerns, is simply unfitting for a professor.

1 comment:

  1. A related problem that I've had with some frequency in high school is the outright dismissal of the value of questions asked by students who approach the material in a different way than the normative one. Nothing bothers me more than when a teacher says something to the effect of "Well, it doesn't matter *why* it is. It just matters *that* it is, and you should just accept it."