Sunday, March 04, 2007

At a Loss

I was grading papers today in the local Frontiers, that big bookstore chain with cafes, music, and tables for grading. The papers I was grading were the sort that allow students to respond to a text, including gut level responses. Every so often, I get a response that leaves me at a loss. Today was one of those times.

You can guess the sort of issue--spousal abuse, childhood trauma. In this case, the response said that the incident had happened in the past, and that s/he'd only told one other person. But the text was evocative, and so s/he wrote about his/her gut level response, which had to do with his/her previous experience. I read a lot of texts, and it strikes me that if my student has written about the issue now, s/he may be reaching out, recognizing or not that s/he needs some support or help. Or maybe s/he's just ready to be more open and less shamed by the issue.

At times, it stuns me to think how much trust some of our students place in us. I know professors who are total jerks. I can certainly be pretty much a jerk at times. I don't imagine, in this fairly large class, that I've done anything to earn this student's trust. And yet, s/he handed in this response.

I feel like I've been holding my breath all afternoon, since reading that paper.


  1. I've had profound student revelations as well. Once in my History of the English Language class a student wrote his/her lingo dictionary on his/her mother's multiple personality disorder. Woah.

    I thanked the student for being so open with this information and said that I was grateful the class atmosphere was open and generative enough to allow for such a revelation.

  2. What an awesome responsibility it is to be in our profession. I do hope that you are able to exhale soon. Trust that you have received this response for a reason--perhaps so that this student could stop holding their breathe.

  3. I've had similar disclosures. It took me a while to realize that while the news may be new to us, it isn't new to them. It is also a huge expression of trust in you that they would disclose this to you.

    Take care!

  4. It's one of things I love most about my job.

  5. Anonymous6:32 PM

    I'm with jo(e). I absolutely love those moments. and I take the responsibility that comes with that trust very seriously.

  6. This is one of those reasons I'm so happy to be a historian. I can build up a wall of objectivity. Students do come to me with problems, but it's in a way that I can handle, because I expect it.

  7. Wow. Just wow. This has only happened to me with grad students, and that's a little different, since it's usually something they've already dealt with -- plus they usually come right out and say it in office hours. I don't know if I'd handle it well with one of our undergrads, other than passing on info about campus resources. Do you know what you're going to do/say?

    And on a very light note, I love "Frontiers." LOL. That's a Jo(e)-level pseudonym.