Tuesday, September 1, 2015

They're Back: Giving Students the Respect They Deserve


For me, the first few weeks of a semester are kind of like a party. Yes, I'm busy - crazily so, this year, with hiring and training two new part time library associates on top of all the other beginning of the year stuff. But still, it's a great time. Seeing all those smiling and familiar faces gives me a glow. And then there are the new students - our incoming class is exceptionally polite and eager and grateful this year. What do I mean by that? Well, I had an uncomfortable moment where a young woman was so grateful that she impulsively hugged me after I figured out what was going wrong when she tried to print using a library computer. It was uncomfortable, but seeing how relieved she was made me smile. Whatever else might frustrate me in my career, I can honestly say I love working with students. Are they perfect? Nah. They graffitti and have to be told - repeatedly sometimes - to be quiet in the quiet areas of the library. Is it fun when they lose their cool because they procrastinated and something isn't going perfectly? Nah. Was it a laugh riot when I had to fail a student for plagiarizing in my freshmen seminar? Not even. I had a stomach ache for days over that one. But taken as a whole, I truly find joy in working with our students.

That's why I find it so disheartening to look around at the so-called periodicals of record in higher education (which sometimes come across as upscale click bait lately), to see so many articles this time of year that bemoan the quality or attention span or even scent of our students. I was thinking this just the other day when I saw this tweet:

So glad to know that I'm not the only one who's lost patience with the practice. As grandiose as it might sound, we in education are involved with shaping the future, and I think we lose sight of that. Budget cuts and accreditation standards and crappy job markets in academia are deeply troubling, I'll admit. There are a lot of things I'd like to change about academia in general and academic librarianship in particular - I do tend to write shouty fist-shaking posts, in case you hadn't noticed. But I'm tired of us always blaming the students.

I'd like to suggest that we stop focusing on the problems and start working on the solutions. Maybe it's because I've predominantly worked at schools with big populations of First In Family Students, but I know a lot of the problems cited in those whinging articles mentioned above are really just cultural in nature. We all got into education for a reason, so let's educate - even if it's explaining the importance of getting the text books or showing someone how to write an email to a professor. We have a chance to make a difference in the lives of our students. Little things like making a goofy joke to help someone smile when they are stressed and big things like teaching student workers, who've never had a job before, how to be an employee... these are important teaching opportunities that the authors of those articles are missing.

In academia, we constantly get to learn and teach. We get to grow while helping our students do the same. I'm not blind to the problems in our industry, so I'd like to think I'm not being overly simplistic when I say: let's be grateful for the opportunities our careers afford us and find ways to help our students if we aren't satisfied with their performances. They give us a reason to go to work, and they are (usually) grateful for the learning. So let's get with the teaching, and respect our students along the way.


  1. What a great post! I feel the exact same way, but it can be hard to express it in certain settings (when you're the youngest, when you don't teach full time, etc.). Classes for us began today, and we got a new printer system over the summer that uses ID card swipes to release print jobs so I anticipate tons of questions as students learn it. I need to remember to have patience with each student, even if I've already answered that question multiple times a day!

    1. Submitted before I could add... even in how you answer student questions about the little things demonstrates so much about how they are respected. This has an impact on retention too!

  2. Hi Jessica and Sarah: thank you for sharing your thoughts. I too am a librarian at a small, private academic college, so can relate to everything you say here. For me, working with the students, and yes oftentimes the faculty, make me the happiest. Yes they come to us with their frustrations (much in the way you describe Jessica); however, rather than "tsk tsk" at the situation it yields a much more positive result when we can help if even just be lending a sympathetic ear. And Sarah, we too launched a Print on Demand system and suffice it to say that "things WILL get better." Keep up the great work!