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Does it Matter if You Like Your Students?

December 21, 2011

I am one of those people who enjoys teaching. I remember as a small child wanting to be a teacher and, while ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ morphed and changed through time (journalist), here I am as a teacher of sorts (higher ed was certainly not what I imagined as a child!)

I enjoy the interactions of the classroom, the challenge of stimulating engagement, the community and collaborative aspects that are possible within a class. I even don’t mind much of the ‘drudgery’ of teaching – the many questions, grading, etc… I enjoy the students and the different dynamic that every class has. This is not to say that there aren’t days that I am frustrated, exhausted and drained by teaching, but to say that, overall, I enjoy the classroom.

But does it matter?

This article links to a 1977 interview with a chap by the name of Sidney Coleman where he answers this question:

Sopka: But you do enjoy working with students or do you?

Coleman: No. I hate it. You do it as part of the job. Well, that’s of course false…or maybe more true than false when I say I hate it. Occasionally there’s a student who is a joy to work with. But I certainly would be just as happy if I had no graduate students…

Of course, for many this will be shocking. How dare he so boldly state what many faculty are thinking but won’t say! I jest… sort of.

But it gets me thinking, does it matter if you enjoy the interactions with students, as long as you are relatively adept at them and still perform your duties regardless? How many faculty would agree with Coleman but still spend their lives supervising, teaching and mentoring ? Is it possible to be a positive mentor for graduate students if you don’t like them?

I’m of the mind to answer ‘no’ because I see one of the roles of the mentor/adviser to care about the students beyond just their work, to see them as people with work, lives and joys beyond the academy, to create community a’ la bell hooks and Teaching Community.

What do you think?

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