By: Dr. Benjamin Quinn
If Jesus’ words are true (and I believe they are!) that the most important thing about living in God’s world is to love God and love others, how does this apply to Student-hood—that time in life spent in the physical (or virtual) classroom amidst peers and professors?
This is the second post in a series which reflects portions of a “1st day of class” talk I give each semester on “Student-hood as Neighbor-love.” In Part 1, I discussed the relationship between students and their peers.
The Relationship between Students and Professors
What does neighbor-love look like for the relationship between professor and student? We will consider this in light of classroom etiquette, respect and expectations.
Classroom etiquette sets the tone for neighbor love towards one’s professor. By etiquette, I’m especially referring to attendance, participation and good listening. In part one, we considered the importance of professors creating an open, participatory environment where listening and learning flows both from teacher to student and from student to teacher. But, now it is important to underscore that the professor is the classroom leader. While we may hope for conversational classroom style, ultimately students should defer to the professor’s preferred style of teaching and classroom management.
For students, then, neighbor-love requires no less than showing up for class, thoughtful participation when appropriate and active listening; for “a wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance” (Prov. 1:5).
Respect and expectations are also irreducible parts of neighbor-love towards professors. Respect is straightforward and almost goes without saying. Then again, respect may be where students struggle the most.
Student emails, for example, frustrate professors more than anything I know of. It is not the amount of emails, necessarily (though we mustn’t underestimate this!), but the common lack of respect communicated in emails.
Honestly, I do not believe most students intend to be disrespectful. Instead, students fail to recognize the distinctions in modes of communication. In other words, emails are not text messages.
Almost weekly, I hear another story of a colleague or fellow professor at another school who received a “text email.” Here are a few examples:
what time is class
u in office? need to talk bout my grades
what’s room #?
These are real examples of emails. No greeting, incomplete sentences, text spelling instead of proper spelling, no salutation; this is the “text email” that plagues professors.
Much could be said here, but I want to offer a word of exhortation for students to respect themselves enough to craft an email that they can be proud of. It need not be an essay (please, not an essay!), but it should be professional, thoughtful, and respectful.
I give this stump speech at the beginning of each semester and insist to my students; “I’m not saying this because these emails offend me. Instead, I say it because you will come to me in a year or two and ask for a character reference for your next scholarship or job. I want to recommend you, but if you send emails that look like text messages, I can’t help you.”
Finally, neighbor-love toward professors carries reasonable expectations. Professors are human. We are not perfect. We misspell words in the syllabus, we forget the details of certain assignments, we struggle to remember everyone’s name, and sometimes—even often times—we do not know the answer to something.
This last point is particularly important. Despite the fact that accreditors refer to professors as “subject-matter experts,” we’re not. Education teaches nothing if not how much one does not know. I’ve often thought the greatest fear of a professor is the possibility that someone might expose how much he/she does not know.
I recall a professor in graduate school who seemed to know everything about theology. He wasn’t arrogant or trying to give the impression that he knew it all, but to me his wisdom and acumen was endless. Until one day, about two-thirds of the way through the term, he answered, “I don’t know” to a question. I was stunned!
He simply said, “I don’t know” and moved on. He didn’t fumble for a response or make up something. He just didn’t know, and he was ok with it. Eventually, so was I. And, it was good for me to recognize that he didn’t know it all, and I am most grateful that he was humble enough to illustrate that for us.
Professors should cultivate this humble discipline of answering “I don’t know” when necessary. And, students also must carry the reasonable expectation that professors do not have all the answers. They know a lot, to be sure, but not everything—especially outside of their field. Perhaps we can all grow more comfortable with, “I don’t know” now and then.
Dr. Benjamin Quinn is Assistant Professor of Theology and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Associate Dean of Institutional Effectiveness for the College at Southeastern.