STUDENT: Don’t kill me but I missed the test last Friday.
ME: What happened?
STUDENT: I had a family emergency.
ME: Huh. Why did you wait two days to contact me?
STUDENT: I had a lot on my mind.
ME: Let’s think about this like a symbolic interactionist. How do you think I am going to interpret the fact you waited two days to contact me.
STUDENT: Uh… How should I… Um…
I’m usually able to keep my cool no matter what my student throw at me, but this situation (which happens 10–15 times a semester) makes my blood boil. I feel so disrespected; like I am here to serve them when ever it’s convenient for them. My time doesn’t matter. I’m not doing anything else with my life. Frequently when this conversation takes place, the student has this entitled tone- this presumptuous demeanor. I’d love to tell you that I can handle any situation with grace and ease, but this one is my Achilles’ heel.
Then it dawned on me, situations like this happen precisely because students don’t have a developed sociological imagination. In Keith Roberts keynote address at the ASA Pre-Conference Workshop on Teaching and Learning, argued passionately that to learn sociology is to learn to perspective take. That is, to develop your sociological imagination you must first be cognizant of others, then be able to imagine how they experience from the world from their eyes, and finally be able to use the scientific method to tease out your bias (as much as that’s possible). If you’ve taught sociology for any amount of time, then you know that developing the skill of perspective taking can be really hard for students. Put simply, for the most part students are bad at perspective taking.
When students miss our test and then don’t think to contact me immediately are being inconsiderate. That is, they are not considering how their actions will make me feel. They have not considered how their inaction will look from my perspective. Given that they fail to employ the skill I am primarily focused on teaching, I can forgive their transgression. I can reframe it as a sign that they have much to learn instead of a sign of willful disrespect. Then I can let it go.
The above exchange with a student isn’t a real conversation I had with a student. It’s an amalgamation of all the conversations I have with my students. Also, note that I teach ~400 students a semester. ↩
I teach mostly “traditional age” students. To be fair, students who are older may have more life experiences and thus a more developed ability to perspective take. However, age and experience does not always lead to a well developed ability to perspective take. ↩
Paula Teander — September 25, 2013
Perfect timing with this post Nate (having just finished Cooley, Mead, and Goffman)! This is also an awesome example of students failing to use the "front-stage" to their advantage---and how we (instructors) are free to interpret this lack of role-taking as a "given off" gesture. Hmmm, so many possibilities in this little example. <3
Nathan — September 27, 2013
@Paula. Glad you liked it!