Whenever professors get together, whether that’s informally in the copier room or in a more organized fashion, such as lunch, we tend to complain. Sometimes, those complaints are aimed at the administration, but, more often, they’re related to students. We complain about the students who didn’t turn in an assignment or those who did, but didn’t do it well (or right). We then complain about the amount of grading we have to do, as we’re not every satisfied, of course. If fewer students turned the assignment in, we’d have less grading. We want students to do well, so we want them to turn the assignment in, but then we have more grading. We’ll complain either way. Perhaps what we want is for all the students to turn in flawless assignments, as we once did, I’m sure.
If we’re not complaining about that aspect of students, we’re griping about how they’re not as smart as they once were or as motivated. We compare them to students from the past (or ourselves), and they almost always end up on the poor end of that comparison. We talk about all they don’t know or aren’t doing (usually the reading, at least in Humanities courses). I could go on and on here, but you get the point. You have these conversations.
Granted, we all need to decompress and vent, from time to time. While our job is great in so many ways, during the hectic times of the semester, it can be overwhelming. Also, it’s often a lonely job, as we go into our classrooms or offices, and we don’t see other professors as much as we would like. We need to know we’re not alone in the struggles we have in this job.
However, we spend a significantly lower amount of time talking about what goes well in our classes. We seldom come to lunch and talk about a discussion that was simply amazing, how we saw students making connections we didn’t think they would get on their own. We rarely talk about the solid set of papers we just took up, where most of the students did well and where several students just knocked it out of the park (I had a freshman composition class last fall, for example, where no one failed the first two papers, something that simply never happens at that level; I made a point of telling the class that, as well as my peers). We don’t discuss the great conversation we had with a student about our subject when he/she came to the office to talk about an idea that just came while he/she was walking to class that morning.
I also wonder if it wouldn’t change the climate of our classrooms. We might just carry that negativity into the classroom, and students can sense that. As they wear down as the semester goes along, our singing the success of the class might remind them of why they enjoy this subject (or at least your class that they’re required to take, but that you work hard to make engaging). It might just carry them on to December.
I’ve written before about how we don’t really talk about teaching, and I think that lack plays into this absence, as well. We need to make a conscious decision to celebrate our successes as teachers and our students’ successes as learners. As we move into the challenging time of the semester (November is the cruelest month when it comes to the fall semester), we should all intentionally talk about what is going well in our classes and with our students. It might make the coming cold weather a bit more tolerable.