I teach a gigantic gen-ed lecture for students who will never take another lit class again, ever. If the class is a joke to them, then more so is it to me: I mean, why even bother offering a “literature” course in which papers cannot be assigned, given the sheer size and the small number of personnel assigned to the course?
Because it is our duty to the University’s mission to educate the masses. That’s why. And I am just doin’ my job, ma’am.
And I’ve been making a go of the circumstances. I require biweekly reading responses that prompt these non-majors to insights that surprise and genuinely impress me. I manage to elicit intelligent discussion in a classroom bursting with 300 restless bodies that would rather be elsewhere. I encourage students to respect each other by not distracting others who have come to learn. Yet, in quieting side discussions, in gesturing at people to lower their phones if they absolutely must text, and in suggesting to the student who eats lunch in class because he absolutely has no other time to eat that he try something other than tuna fish, I am more than reasonable with people who think their professors are the TV, which of course cannot see them. And even if it could, who cares?
But I digress. Under the circumstances, this class has been going surprisingly well. Students stop me on the street to tell me how much they enjoy the class, and, in an age of peremptory emails from snowflakes, their correspondence with me is polite and enthusiastic, regularly declaring their “enjoyment” (and don’t get me started on that assessment as a criterion for teaching) of the class. Perhaps young folks have become particularly adept sycophants since the last time I taught a gen-ed lecture three years ago, but I don’t recall receiving these sorts of spontaneous testimonials then.
Then, too, yesterday I gave an awesome lecture. It was witty and well contextualized. A dozen or so students volunteered genuinely insightful comments and questions. They laughed at all my jokes. It was a splendid achievement, especially for a Friday afternoon.
And then, for shits and giggles, this morning I checked out that professor-rating site that shall not be named, not least because I do not want this little blog to be defiled by hits for it, and guess what I found, dated yesterday?
Yes, I can guess who wrote the review—a rant, really, about my pointless, boring lectures. That will teach me for kicking students out for having side conversations, about which their peers have complained, and which they would not discontinue after two warnings for which I had to interrupt my lecture.
And maybe it will “teach” me. For all the oft-rehearsed, well-documented shortcomings of the site I will not name, the descriptions the students (if they are students) leave do resonate, in the aggregate, with my own impressions of the person being rated.
So, maybe my perceptions of this class have been all wrong. Maybe my lectures really are pointless and boring, despite following an outline and explicitly telling students what I’d recommend they mark in their texts. Maybe I should change the way I run this class entirely. Or maybe I should stop looking at that site.