I’m sure most jobs have aspects that are not part of the job description. They’re the stuff of water cooler conversations. And if the bulk of your job requires working with students, the drama can increase dramatically. How you react to an interaction can then make it the stuff of legend.
Enter an honors student. According to the consultation request form, they (third-person singular) were doing a paper on dog psychology. Right up my, um, alley. But when they entered my office, they started by saying they weren’t even sure they had to do one.
Ya’ see, honors students have to take a class that engages them in a project of some sort for which they’re expected to take leadership: They have to find a mentor, conceive of an effort, design the effort, execute it, and present a report on it.
The project this student was doing really was 3 independent efforts including a significant effort to raise money to give to an animal shelter. They reported talking to their classmates all of whom said this student was doing so much project work it was impossible they also had to write the 10-page paper.
Enter me. I’ve been a mentor for 3 honors students and didn’t seem to recall a research paper, but then each of those 3 did literature research to execute the websites that they each coincidentally were creating. As a good college student, the student in front of me had made the effort to speak to their professor but wasn’t able to meet them before they came in for our appointment.
Drama 1: “Then don’t waste my time. Schedule another appointment when you know for sure.” I could have said that, but that’s not my style. Since the paper wasn’t due anyway for several weeks, I was fine just scheduling another meeting that the student could cancel if they ended up learning the paper was not required. Everyone—classmates, student, and me—agreed there was no point doing a 10-page paper unnecessarily.
Drama 2: “Read your syllabus. What do you think it’s for?” I didn’t say it quite like that. Since I also do course teaching, I live and breathe by the syllabus; so I suggested we look at theirs. “Oh. I never thought to do that.” “Oh, yeah, you can only trust your classmates so far,” I replied. Anyone can misunderstand and if no one looked at the syllabus, you could get pretty far off base.
They pulled it up on their computer and I started reading, saying, “Sometimes a second set of eyes can make a big difference.” The requirement was for a 20-page paper with the actual length being in balance with the effort required for the presentation. I observed that could be the reason why their professor made it a 10-page paper for them; they were already doing a lot of project-related work.
Drama 3: “If you really want to kill yourself over this…” What I actually said was, “You might be working too hard on your service.” Their knowing laugh suggested they agreed.
Then the student said, “Now I’m not sure how to ask the professor to clarify.” The prof was teaching the class for the first time and it was possible they actually confused the assignment as it was presented by the Honors Program coordinator who has taught the course many times themself.
Drama 4: “That is not my problem.” I didn’t say that. “Here’s my suggestion: Bring the syllabus and say something like, ‘I’m not sure if I understand this clearly, but does this apply to my situation? Everyone seems to be confused, but it sounds like I do have to, based on my read.’” “That sounds like a good way to bring it up,” was the reply.
Being the stereotypical professor might have been much more, uh, memorable for the student. I’m much better at encouraging, sympathizing, and mentoring, something I think any good faculty member really would also be good at. (Fingers crossed.) That’s memorable. It’s not a part of the job description. It’s not very exciting water-cooler conversation. And as far as the stuff of legend? Maybe only in my own mind.
UGA CAES/Extension. Students in Class. n.d. UGA CAES/Extension. University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Science/Extension, https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/61a3223a-489c-465d-8dd3-e5b3a9b9bee9. Accessed 22 Nov. 2019. Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0