Reflections on Listening

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:

  1. 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:
  2. 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.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on Listening”

  1. Thanks for your insightful post. I agree with your sentiment that the COVID pandemic has really shown a light on the differences in approach between professors. Over the past two semesters, I have been in classes in which the professors either recognized the precarious and stressful situation and demonstrated obvious empathy for their students, or completely ignored the situation and did not understand why some of the accommodations (i.e., pass-fail grading) were being implemented across the University. As a student, this disparity has been pretty frustrating (and stressful) to deal with. It will be very interesting to see how this experience will change the practices of professors post-COVID. I suspect that those who did exhibit empathy will continue to implement some of their more flexible teaching strategies (i.e., recording classes for those who miss them), while the professors who did not seem to care will go back exactly to what they were doing before. It’s certainly interesting to think about.

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  2. I think you are absolutely right about the lack of care for students’ well-being. To me, the issue starts at the top of the university hierarchy and has become a culture of not being intuned with students’ needs. Sometimes there are signs that a student is facing a challenge when they’re exhibiting poor performance in classes. We can be guilty in thinking that a student is inept when in fact there is an underlying issue manifesting in the student’s performance. Once, I reached out to a student who was struggling in my class and learned that their personal issues were significant, which meant there was a struggle in their other classes. I made reasonable accommodations with the student’s input for satisfactory completion. I don’t think we need to immerse ourselves in student’s problems in a way that’s overwhelming, but a little help goes a long way.

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  3. Hi Jaisohn,

    Your post really highlights the complexity of teaching, especially in the current situation we are in. I think caring about the students is always the first important step toward creating a conducive learning environment for students with various backgrounds. I am not sure how we can fully implement some of the pedagogies we read about, but I think taking small steps by showing students that we care and we are helping and supporting them to succeed and learn are important. Some steps include constant check-in, asking for their feedback and address those feedback, and be slightly more lenient on deadlines considering students may get sick with the virus raging on.

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