I sometimes find myself caught in the middle of two feuding fractions: students and teachers. There has always been some disconnect between the two sides and perhaps you can empathize with one of them. From the students’ perspective, some teachers just don’t care. They don’t answer emails, don’t offer proper guidance, and deprive students of even the most basic feedback on their assignments.
The teachers, on the other hand, lament that there is a growing sense of entitlement amongst the students, where those who don’t even do the necessary work, complain when they receive poor marks. Some add that students don’t seem to understand – or care – that teachers also have research obligations and (supposedly) a life outside of the university.
Leaving aside the veracity of these narratives for the moment, it must be noted that there are plenty of hardworking students who dig deep and get the job done (without any complaints); just as there are dedicated teachers who care wholeheartedly about the growth and well-being of their students. However, I feel that lately, the two dominant – and negative – narratives are increasingly crowding out the positive ones.
Perhaps the prolonged pandemic has something to do with it, along with our depleting capacity for caring, but this crowding out of positivity does not feel unique to the disconnect between students and faculty at our university. In various corners of the world, there are deadly riots and political gridlocks, where the dominant narratives have become increasingly tribal (e.g. conservatives v. liberals, snowflakes v. boomers).
This growing tribalism is fooling people into mistaking their beliefs as truths and making all of their disagreements personal. We are villainizing those we do not agree with and oversimplifying their complex narratives by nitpicking on their least desirable attributes, thus turning them into mere caricatures. In the end, all this accomplishes is to perpetuate the corrosive “us v. them” narrative.
The problem here is that polarization very rarely advances the group’s overall interests. Students complaining about their teachers (or vice versa) might help them vent, but it is not the most constructive solution. A better path is to restore our collective faith in one another by paying more attention to the existing – but perhaps more muted – positive narratives. In addition, we must take the time to listen to one another and to give each other the benefit of the doubt, especially when the other falls short.
I for one have instituted a Friday Happy Hour Zoom session for my course, where students and teachers come together (online) to chat, not only about the course material, but how we are doing and how we can create a better positive learning environment together. This affords us the time to connect at a more human level, which in the end, is our common denominator. While more Zoom really isn’t a panacea for anything, the willingness to invest time and care in service of others, well, that is a decent start.
Mark Kawakami, assistant professor at the Faculty of Law