Friday, October 31, 2014

"I Can't Relate to This Professor"

I hear this often from students.

Does having five kids help me relate to my students?  Does it make me a better teacher?  Sometimes it helps me relate.  But should it?  Must it?

I had two priests for professors and they related well enough (Note: Catholic priests are not to have kids).  In fact, they were a couple of my better teachers even though they were very different in lots of ways than other teachers.

What does it mean when someone says "I can't relate to this professor"?  That's hard to say.  I think typically it means that this professor is very different from this student, has different interests, thinks differently, and so forth.  Perhaps it means that this professor is boring to this student or just plain weird.

Of course we're all different.  We're not identical. And difference--diversity--is supposed to be a value in an educational setting (of course there are obvious limits; sameness and unity are also values.  Finding the proper balance is key).  Moreover, relating to someone in some sense is what we all do with everyone.  You relate to your professor even if you don't relate to your professor.  Best to try to relate to that professor to which you bear the student-teacher relationship.

To get the COLLEGE EXPERIENCE we need some teachers to whom (most) students can't relate.  Or better, we need some for which it is hard to relate.  Would most people relate well to Socrates?  Newton?  Stephen Hawking?  Jesus?  Would they be our buddies?  Would we find them odd?  Could there be much to learn from the odd?

Overcoming our own provincialism is something that we have to work to achieve.  Not being able to relate to a professor is likely just as much the fault of a student's lack of moral or intellectual virtue as it is a professor's lack of a willingness to be cool.

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