I recently shared a tweet about Sociological Images’ Professors’ Pet Peeves. The tweet got an unprecedented number of favorites and retweets. I found this quite amusing as it clearly illuminated my twitter audience and offered a moment of professional “in solidarity.” As the pet peeves listed were so true and (stereo)typical. Lisa Wade did a great job with this list.
The pet peeves listed are very common and always incite commentary among my colleagues. I would even go as far to say that these pet peeves are commonly known and discussed by professors around the globe. However, upon closer consideration, I began to questions the frequency of these offenses in my semester. The one that occurs most often in my world is by far the “unprofessional correspondence” and followed closely by what I would refer to as “stuff that’s on the syllabus.” I realized in thinking about how much I interact with students and the sheer number of students, it is actually fairly rare that more than a couple of theses offenses occurs in any given semester. Meanwhile, my water cooler talk, Facebook, and Twitter do “blow-up” quite frequently with incidences every month. I guess when you have one or two instances a semester across a large group of people it does make the problem seem rampant.
In my case, these incidences may not happen very often but in most cases when they do it is memorable. I would also say that there has been a definite shift in the last few years related to student-professor interactions in which those interactions have felt more casual and students seem bolder. I say this as a mere observation and do not mean to suggest this is either good or bad. I do also have to admit I wonder quite frequently if its me—did I not explain something adequately? Is it a change in student culture, perhaps a cohort effect related to the Millennials? Or could something else be going on? At times, it feels very hard to grasp as I, as a student, would never have thought to tell a professor I wasn’t going to be in class or point out that I missed a day. I definitely would not own up to not having read the syllabus, and I rarely went to the professor directly for information outside of the substantive material covered in class.
Perhaps, we have been indoctrinated into an academic culture in such a way that these skills seem so innate to us and when someone doesn’t know them it almost seems like an issue of common sense or this at times is how it is talked about. We think students should know or find it disrespectful if it is ignored or time was not take to learn these skills. After all, most of us spend the entire first day on our expectations, the syllabus, and if you are like me our individual pet peeves, preferences, and so forth. Thus, the annoyance when offenses occur because it is as if we were not heard.
But what if we also consider that not all students get everything covered in every class. In fact, few do. While I do largely agree that many students do fully utilize their syllabi, I would also suggest that current students come from a culture of available information at the tips of the fingers and they ask questions. Not only do they ask questions, and some even operate by going directly to the source with their questions and concerns—aka the professor. All things I would appreciate/commend if it were about content or substantive coursework material. So why is it so annoying to us when it is about the logistics of the course?
We know how much work we put into our courses and classrooms. We hear how often we say these things, perhaps the annoyance. I often have to explain p-values, for example, a number of times to various students and often times I know I have explained it multiple times to the same student and will likely explain it multiple times more. I rarely get frustrated or consider that the student is being disrespectful or not listening in those cases, merely that they have not grasped the concept yet. Maybe we are creating a hierarchy of what is consider to be easier or harder concepts to grasp. Logistics we may take for granted as concepts to be taught. Also, logistics vary greatly across courses and professors and maybe inconsistently enforced from setting to setting or professor to professor. Nevertheless, we expect to explain multiple times content to our students…shouldn’t we expect to explain the logistics too?
I don’t have a solution to offer beyond patience and setting clear expectations from day one (and possibly being prepared to reiterate those expectations), but I will say that one great latent function that comes from all of this for the professor and academic culture is the water cooler talk and social bonding.