September 14, 2006

When Seeking Comfort is Selfish (Continued)

Again, although a day later than i planned on having it up, i raise the question:: Is it such a bad thing for a student to feel comfortable enough with a teacher to share their personal problems? I really don't think so. Take into consideration all of the people that commit suicide and claim they've got noone to talk to. Several companies have an open door policy...why shouldn't teachers? I mean, a student sees more of their teacher than their parents in most cases. If a student can actually confide in a teacher, although this is a bit of an extreme, it may save their life. I think if a student can reach that comfort level, a professor should maybe take advantage of that even if all they do is suggest the student see a counselor. If they trust you, the student might just listen and not get offended by your request.
Now, as far as teachers being available 24/7, i don't really think that is necessary. I think a teacher should specify both orally and on the syllabus exactly what their email standards are. That way, noone has a chance to get confused or "get confused" as an excuse. Teachers need time for themselves and with their families just like everyone else. I don't think they [teachers] necessarily expect a student to email back ASAP and a student should equally respect that a professor may actually have things to do that aren't school related. I do agree with some of the others though that if a teacher bothers to check their email at an undesignated time, then rightfully they should answer the email if they have time. They just have to strike a balance between promptness and their own lifestyles.

Posted by Lori Rupert at September 14, 2006 08:09 PM

You're bringing up some key points of "in loco parentis" -- Latin for "in place of the parents," and generally applied to academic institutions.

Your point about e-mail standards on the syllabus is a good one. But I'd like your honest opinion... how likely is it that a distraught students looking for someone in whom to confide would actually check a teacher's syllabus? I think the bond with the teacher would already be present [or not present] based on their interactions in the classroom.

Still, professors who want their students to behave a certain way are obligated to inform the students, and to gently remind them from time t time.

I've been enjoying the conversations this unit has launched. Thanks for your contribution, Lori.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 16, 2006 12:12 AM

Dr. Jerz,

I do agree with you but nobody has really answered what i initially proposed in my agenda item: Is it really a bad thing if a student feels this confident with their teacher? What if they are the only one that the student feels able to talk to?

Posted by: Lori at September 16, 2006 12:39 AM

I think if there's a trusting relationship between teacher and student, that's a good thing. We pride ourselves on that kind of thing at SHU -- that's something we're supposed to be able to provide that a big school wouldn't be able to offer.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 16, 2006 09:37 AM

Precisely, Dr. Jerz. This is supposed to be a "small school" thing. But wasn't the teacher in the article at MIT? Not a small school, by my standards... I think it happens everywhere. Schools small in size have an atmosphere more conducive to getting to know a teacher, but what prohibits the relationship at larger schools?

I think it cuts to the quick of humanity. It's like the Good Samaritan Law, I suppose. Lori raises an excellent question in consideration of the teacher's presence in a student's life. While college students are on that brink of independence, sometimes finding the closest thing to a parent seems logical--someone trustworthy, honest, and friendly. If there's a bond, I can't see a problem with confiding to that person--teacher or not.

It becomes a problem if the teacher is the ONLY person that the student is talking to, considering that the teacher cannot be responsible for the student's well-being or counsel the student through his/her problems. The teacher shouldn't back away, but push the student towards the correct line of help.

Posted by: Karissa at September 17, 2006 04:49 PM

Karissa, that's a good point.

While I flatter myself to believe that a training in English literature prepares me to have a good insight into the human heart, and prepares me to be a good listener when students tell stories, I wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do if a student were to tell me "I am taking drug X four times a day" or needed help getting a restraining order or something like that.

People who take on the job of being professional counsellors get training on how to separate their own personal troubles from the troubles their clients bring them. And they self-select into those kinds of jobs.

I've never had any such training, and feel wholly inadequate when a student unloads.

Yes, Karissa, in a case like that, if the student first came to me to discuss a grade and then it became clear that the grade is just one single ingredient in a stress smorgasbord that the student has to deal with, then I'm out of my depth.

Which is not to say I don't want to help, it's just that I still feel like it was just yesterday that I was in school, and now I've blinked, and suddenly people are looking to me as if I know far more than how to identify a split infinitive and how to scan a sonnet.

Regarding the larger schools -- I'd say that professors at big research institutions probably want to reserve their time for their graduate students -- the ones they want to mentor all the way through the dissertation defense.

But I don't want to criticize profs at larger institutions. I'm sure if I taught 1000 different undergraduates every year, and 20 grad students with whom I'd expect to work with for 5-8 years, I'm sure I'd find myself putting a lot more personal effort into the grad students, since they'd be far more likely to share my specialized intellectual interests.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 17, 2006 05:06 PM
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