One of my favorite things about teaching, I’ve decided, is that I get to say Yes and people are so happy about it.
Now keep in mind that I’m not a happy-go-lucky type of person. I’m assertive and no-nonsense and verbose. A colleague of mine characterized me over 20 years ago as “spiny and hard to get to know”. The computer guys once called me the Cedar Fire of MiraCosta because I demand so much.
But in teaching, I get to be that way but say Yes, and the contrast throws people off and makes them happy.
Professor, I’m on maneuvers in the desert this weekend. Can I have an extension till Monday? Yes!
Can I use the 2008 financial crash in my historical essay on the final? Yes!
Can I use the same essay I posted in the forum as a basis for my essay on the midterm exam? Yes!
Can I turn this in two hours late because my internet is down? Yes!
And when I can’t say a full yes, I can give a Mostly Yes.
Can I take the quiz four days late?
Yes, for partial credit.
Can I post in the forum from the beginning of the class?
Yes, but it won’t count toward participation, just the essay.
Can I have extra credit?
Yes, if you can figure out an assignment that helps you learn history and doesn’t mean a lot of extra work for me.
And when it’s really No, I can ask questions.
Can I miss two weeks of class?
Well, that’s a quarter of a summer class. Do you think that’s fair? is it even legal?
Can I just take the essay my friend wrote and post it as mine?
Do you think that’s fair, or is that plagiarism?
Can I just say that War is Bad is a good historical theme?
Does it follow the rules for themes we’ve been talking about in the class?
How do I post in a forum?
Have you seen the FAQ for the class?
If my impulse is to say no, I have some questions to ask myself. Why do I want to say no? Is it really that much of a problem for me to do this? Am I just pushing my power over students? I see a lot of teachers saying no to students, insisting on firm deadlines, not accepting this or that work, all of which is taken personally (however wrongly) by students. Why do that? Am I really going to grade all 160 essays by tomorrow that I can’t let this student who was sick (no, please don’t give me a doctor’s note) an extra day or two? Is it worth it to have them so distractedly unhappy they can’t concentrate on writing an essay I want to read?
But, say other instructors, you must stand your ground! Aren’t you afraid students will take advantage of you? (Take advantage of me? Would you like to try?) That they’ll all want to turn stuff in late? (I’m very firm on deadlines, or at least I appear to be. Every exception is individual, and many are secret – shhhh.) That they’ll dominate class discussion? (Go for it.) That they’ll say they were sick when they weren’t? (There are different types of sick, and I abhor listening to excuses.) That they’ll be late for class all the time? (Do I think I’m so amazing they can’t miss 5 minutes of me talking?) That you’ll be known as weak? (I worried about this when I was a new teacher at 25 – not now, for goodness sake).
Luckily, enough teachers run their classes in a dictatorial way that students expect I will too. So they do what I tell them. It makes saying Yes to them even more special, since they don’t expect it.
Unfortunately, in other aspects of my job I do want to say no, but if I don’t say yes, I get into trouble. These requests usually start with “Lisa” rather than “Professor”.
Lisa, can you write the whole Program Review by yourself?
Lisa, can you come to a three-hour meeting Friday at 1:00?
Lisa, are you free to come to a party full of people who like to be referred to by their titles rather than their names?
I don’t like Yes being thrust upon me. But facilitating our open online class gives me even more chances to joyfully say yes.
Can I join the class in fall? Yes!
Even if I’m just an adjunct? Yes!
Is it really free? Yes!
Can I start late? Yes!
Can I blog about stuff I’m interested in? Yes!
I don’t think I’d want to give up every single teacher-centered aspect of my pedagogy, since it gives me some great opportunities to say Yes.