by Stephanie Grossman, M.A.
Over the past few years of teaching undergraduate courses, I have learned one thing: teaching is very hard. I have found that preparing for lectures, trying to find innovative ways to make class engaging, writing exams, and grading papers is time consuming and exhausting, especially so when teaching an unfamiliar course (sometimes half the battle is teaching myself the material first!). Despite these challenges, however, I am able to cope with them and think rationally, understanding that while I’d prefer not to teach multiple courses that take time away from my research and clinical work, I do enjoy getting paychecks, and it can be rewarding to see students start to grasp and appreciate new material.
What I still grapple with however, and where I find the irrational beliefs start to creep in, is when I spend substantial time and energy working with students in a way that I conceptualize as “outside of my job description.” These issues include meeting with students after class to discuss personal concerns, constantly following up with Deans, needing to remind students of assignments, and waiting hours for students to show up for a make-up exam only to be “stood up” multiple times. This also includes going out of my way to read paper drafts and offer substantial feedback, to only receive final papers that do not take into consideration any of this feedback, and then having to field angry e-mails from students demanding an explanation for their poor grade. The list goes on. Whenever these incidences have occurred (and continue to occur), I feel angry. I think: How dare they!? I would never ask my professor to meet with me on a day she doesn’t even need to come to school, and not show up, or at the very least, I would send a timely e-mail explaining the delay and apologizing profusely. How is it okay for someone to disrespect me like this, especially when I try to go above and beyond for struggling students!?
The belief, “they should all act as I would act as a student,” unfortunately, hasn’t gotten me anywhere. It is a difficult belief to let go of, though. Even changing it to a preference (I would really like all of my students to be respectful of my time, but there’s no reason they have to be) still makes me cringe, even though I know the belief is a rational one. As I work on (slowly) changing these beliefs, I have realized that another thing I can work on is how accommodating I am to students. Perhaps what I really need to address is my own guilt around not giving extra accommodations and extensions. I need to stick to my own boundaries, and learn to stand my ground, emotionally and behaviorally, when students complain about a situation they got themselves into. By challenging my beliefs and changing my own behaviors, I can hopefully learn to temper my expectations, learn to assume that I will need to deal with these issues, and thus not be so shocked and angry each time they inevitably occur.