This week, I read Freire’s “Teaching Is A Human Act” document and found it quite poignant. The “Caring For Students” section resonated with me because I had recently discussed the semester with other GTAs in various courses. Although we serve in different capacities in different departments, we all concluded that instructional staff (GTAs included) are emanating a lack of empathy and care for the students, intentional or not. We placed instructors into 2 camps:
- Those who truly care about the students. These instructors have made considerable structural class changes to benefit the students, routinely check on the students, are genuinely trying to adjust to Zoom (regardless of how successful their transition is), and generally exude a more positive vibe. We thought the latter was a personality trait…but Freire disagrees. He argues teaching naturally brings joy, so in theory, every instructor should be at least somewhat amiable. But there’s the second camp:
- Those who truly do not care. We concluded that due to the extremely polarized nature of online classes, anyone who doesn’t fit into Camp 1 is automatically placed here. Pre-COVID, a professor could lie halfway between the camps, but the divide seems to have segregated professors distinctly into one camp or the other.
Even those who are firmly in Camp 1 may exude apathy or a lack of empathy due to the bland nature of online teaching. Many of us are scrambling to pump out as much material as possible as quickly as possible, leaving essentially no room for anything but content, content, and more content. It makes the rare dad joke seem infinitely funnier than it should be. The students have a valid argument — from their perspective, it’s hard to continuously watch videos which are both lengthy and dry. Because communication is limited to emails, it’s easy to misinterpret the tone. Freire correctly states that not being a therapist or social worker doesn’t excuse him from ignoring one student’s suffering. The sentiment certainly holds true today, but how would one put that into practice? Many of the concessions we’ve offered may actually be doing more harm than good (flexible deadlines and lengthy grace periods seem to be sending procrastination to a record high), and yet it still doesn’t feel like enough. As a future educator (hopefully), I can’t help but wonder where the line between being accommodating and not sacrificing the integrity of the course lies.
Feire certainly has some out-of-the-box ideas. I enjoyed these readings and will probably dig up another one of his writings.