Who Cares?

Dynamics & Diversity in the College Classroom
Journal #3
The readings we’ve been looking at, whether their particular emphasis is on culture, gender, motivation, or discipline, all stress the aspect of caring. In fact, upon reflection, caring is central to most of the texts we’ve read in most of the courses we‘ve taken in the Master Teacher program; after all, why are we committing ourselves to the time and effort required of this program if we don’t care about our students and our work? Personally, I chose to take this program rather than pursue a PhD in English Literature, and I have no regrets whatsoever. I love my job not because I get to talk about great works of literature (believe me, that’s the last priority!), but because I get to work with some pretty fantastic students. Each semester is a new challenge and a new joy; the material may not change much from term to term, but you never teach the same student twice. Even the ones who come back for a second or third course are different each time, because they’ve undergone new experiences and learned new skills.

I’m fortunate that the material I teach does lend itself to the affective as well as the rational. I can easily discuss matters of ethnicity, class and gender in class, and very few students feel that such discussions are out of place. Having said that, I now feel an even greater responsibility to exhibit “culturally explicit caring” in my interactions with my students, both in and out of class. Certainly, as Derek Bok advocates, my subject lends itself also to culturally diverse content. I look forward to the challenge of finding new writers for my course readings; the inclusion of writers from other perspectives not only adds new dimensions to the material, but also creates opportunities for class discussion of the social aspects themselves. Also, we’ve stressed the importance of providing clear, well-defined objectives and standards, both in terms of course work and of classroom behaviour. In the past, I’ve tried to avoid “class rules,” probably because I don’t want to strike fear into their hearts on the very first day of class. I really like the idea of creating the rules democratically, and I plan to experiment with this in the coming semester. Another idea I’ve been toying with since reading the first G. Gay article is making a statement at the beginning of the term, to the effect that a new semester is a clean slate, and that regardless of past performance, attitude, achievements, study habits, good or bad, this class marks a new beginning. After all, I have no idea who’s accomplished what in the past – so here’s their opportunity to knock my socks off. I may need to work on the wording a little Recommended!
I think that as teachers, we demonstrate our caring in many ways. Perhaps the most important of these, or at least the most obvious, is in preparing solid, well-designed courses, and sharing the objectives of these courses with our students from Day One. Beyond course planning, though, we need to become models, not just of the modes of thought essential to our disciplines, but also of the behaviours and attitudes essential to a harmonious, productive, and progressive society. Part of our responsibility, as well, is to be a resource, both as content experts, and as pedagogical experts – which in turn means that if we truly care, we’ll invest in our own development. We need also to be approachable, and to make sure that students are given every opportunity to find out how approachable we are – with all my classes, the first essay is an in-class assignment, which is returned with plenty of feedback but no mark. Students then must meet with me one-on-one, in my office, so we can review their essays. The mark is given for the rewrite that follows this comment conference. In solicited feedback following this procedure, I’ve asked students whether or not they would have sought help if the meetings weren’t mandatory, and most students answer “not.” The proof of the effectiveness of the procedure, aside from the noticeably better rewrites, is that most students come to see me for the next essay, even though there’s no mandatory meeting.
Being a teacher is my job. Yes, the relationship is ‘secondary,’ but the relationship is still the reason why I do my job. I cannot, perhaps, be a teacher and be my students’ friend, but I can – and must – be open and honest, and measure my success in their achievements.

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