A NYT fluff piece today cast a glowing light on how many professors are getting more personal with students. No, not in a get-yourself-a-lawyer kind of way. Instead, many of my academic colleagues are posting pictures of their pets, Facebooking with undergrads, sharing their bad taste in music and otherwise showing that—gasp!—professors are real people, too.
Call me old school, but being a real person is overrated.
I don’t want to be friends, share itunes, hang out, give dating advice, or go to the dance marathon with my students. I will never share photos of my kids or my cat on my web page. And I prefer that undergraduates call me “professor,” not “Amy” or — this one makes me really cringe– “Dude.”
I don’t think this kind of distance makes me high and mighty; I think it makes me a better teacher. I admit I want students to love my lectures, and I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself to prove a point and entertain along the way (I have done my share of political science raps–which didn’t work out so well– and impersonations of famous political figures, which have worked better). But most of all, I want to make students uncomfortable– challenging them to question their own ideas, take opposing views seriously, and grapple with difficult assignments and questions. I want to get them out of the echo chambers so many of us inhabit and learn that smart, good people can disagree. I want them to know that in the real world, effort is not the same thing as achievement, and that striving for excellence means that even an A paper can get better. Learning is hard. It is also endlessly rewarding.
College students don’t need professors to be their friends. They need professors to be professors.