Q: Do you ever get tired of helping needy students? The ones that show up at your office every other day with questions?
A: I wrote a whole lot on this question, before realizing that I’m not totally clear on what you mean by “needy.” Based on the scenario above, this can mean a number of different things, including:
- students who are not emotionally self-sufficient
- students who take advantage of office hours
- students who are attention-junkies
- students who are interested and inquisitive
- students who expect you to do the work for them
- students who sincerely require more help from their teachers
Only some of these are “needy,” and only some of them are unjustifiably so. I don’t get tired of helping “needy” students, if “needy” means answering questions during office hours or helping students who need additional assistance. That kind of apathy usually requires years of administrative meddling, parental abuse, and student indifference. It must be earned. And because I’m still a rookie in the long-view, I am more likely to get frustrated instead of tired in these situations. Not frustrated at the student, mind you. Instead, I get frustrated with myself for failing to do my job.
As an egomaniac, I make everything about myself, such that when students aren’t getting things, I don’t blame them or get frustrated or tired with them; instead, I blame myself for not being a good enough teacher to sense what they need and provide it. For me, student visits only become frustrating when they come for help and I feel like I am not providing it. If someone attends class, does the readings, and also comes to office hours, and still struggles to the point of possible failure, then I think to myself: well, what more can you ask of them? And since the answer is, “not much,” I tend to put the blame on my own shoulders. I feel like an imposter, and start looking around frantically for a "real" teacher. But of course, in the end, I’m as real as it gets, something that I find equal parts comforting and disturbing.
And most of the time, things work out for the best. I remember working with one student for hours and hours on a single paper (not for my class–I was volunteer tutoring), and feeling after the fourth or fifth session that our time together was somehow getting progressively worse. She did not understand what I was trying to teach her, and I did not understand how she could not understand.
My next session turned out to be a professional evaluation, and guess who showed up? However, on this occasion, she brought along an amazing new draft of her paper, real enthusiasm for the breakthrough she had experienced, and many thanks for the tutor that had helped her to that point. Somehow, bashing our heads against a wall eventually achieved the desired effect–it was just an open question of when, and how. After experiences like that, there is no way for me to simply get tired of helping students. Strange as it may sound, I would rather be frustrated.
Mr. Jung teaches college writing in Chicago, where he lives with his wife and their growing collection of street maps.