It’s that time of year again, when undergrads start enrolling in their spring semester classes. I am scheduled to teach a large undergrad course, let’s call it A, one that’s required for majors and offered every semester, and it’s nearly full to capacity. I looked at the roster and there are probably a couple of dozen students whom I had last spring in another large required course, B. What’s interesting is who these folks are: some of them I could have sworn didn’t care very much for my teaching of B last year at all, and they could have easily avoided having me again by taking course A this semester, with another teacher. Yet here they are, willing to subject themselves to another semester of my teaching, seemingly on purpose.
It’s not uncommon that I have students who take 2, even 3 courses with me; usually those are the students who meet me in a lower-level class, do well, and then try to take electives when I offer them; this is a point of pride. There are definitely a few kids who I know enjoyed course B, so I am not surprised by them taking A. There are also a few students who did very poorly in B, but with whom I had good rapport nonetheless; I thought they might avoid me, because I am tough, but they are back. There are a few with whom I didn’t have a lot of interaction so I couldn’t tell one way or another if they particularly liked it or not; maybe they were indeed ambivalent, but it’s better the devil you know, and they do know me.
But there are a few who I could have sworn hated my guts with the burning passion of a thousand suns, and now they are back for a second helping? One student, who received only half a grade lower than the maximum, was quite displeased by it and sent me a lengthy email about how that’s the most unfair thing that had ever happened and how what I required in class was unreasonable and inhuman; you guessed, that student is back. My husband, always ready to mess with me, hypothesized that the student was there just to psych me out through the intervening months, and will drop out as soon as the semester starts.
The point is: I suppose we may not have a very good idea how we are perceived by students. We do on average, but not necessarily on an individual level. It’s entirely possible to be genuinely disliked by the people who act very sweet and interested in the material, but who are just kissing up; I am in fact quite sensitive to that. In contrast, it has happened more than once that the people whom I had no idea I had positively influenced, who seemed quiet or even glum in class, actually turned out quite appreciative of the experience.
Never a dull moment in academic land…