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02/12/2013

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Kate Blanchard

Hi Chad! Right - I was afraid that I would lose authority by being nice, but as it turns out, it ain't necessarily so. I think this does depend on one's students. The "kids" in Alma really are very nice themselves, and not prone to overt boundary-crossing. Plus, some folks seem to experience me as a little bit prickly, even at my nicest, so I don't need to accentuate it. I am as nice as I want to be in class and during office hours, and as mean as I want to be when grading. It seems to work!

Chad Bauman

Thanks Kate--awesome post! I have found being "nice," even overly nice, as an effective tool as well. Having been in the same workshop as you, I can remember responding to the discussion about teaching personas by thinking, my teaching persona is just me, but much nicer, more generous, more self-deprecating, more humble (okay, so I guess that's not really just me). But I still wonder whether I get away with this largely because I'm a dude, and students might more easily/quickly acknowledge/respect the authority of male professors. Some of my female colleagues tell me they believe that if they were as lenient and chummy as I am with students, they'd immediately be put in the "mom" role, and lose their classroom (grading, etc.) authority. You seem to suggest that might not actually be the case, or at least that it hasn't been your experience, right?

Kate Blanchard

Laura H., I totally understand this dilemma. All I can say is that it's a constant, subtle negotiation of context and audience, as well as of my own strengths and weaknesses. I think things changed for me when I took a group of students to Chicago for 2 days. We had hours together in a van, at meals, etc. and I realized I didn't have to hold myself apart from them as much as I had been (though I still had to discipline a couple of them.) They always know I'm the professor, so I don't have to knock them over the head with that fact all the time. Also, I remember fondly the few professors in my life who invited students into their homes (in groups). It meant a lot to me to see where they lived, meet their families, look at the books on their shelves, etc. I have found I can trust myself and my students, most of the time, to respect most boundaries. I hope your study abroad trip will be great!

Laura H.

I admit, sometimes I'm afraid of the opposite: being so open it's inappropriate. I'm sure that's not what you mean here, Kate, but I know of profs who share their personal problems or liberally give out "bear hugs." At what point are we TOO open?

For example, in my ethics classes I'm careful not to let the students know my personal view of an issue. (Though sometimes they probably can tell. However, I do get comments saying "she was so unbiased, I couldn't tell her position." And never the opposite. So I think I can do it.) I think this is good pedagogically... if they knew my position they might think they have to agree in order to get a good grade. (And they get plenty of modeling for how to take a position from the readings I assign.)

Still, I'll be taking some students on a study abroad trip pretty soon and I'm definitely nervous about boundaries. How open should I be? How do I negotiate spending 24/7 with students *and* my spouse and child who are coming along?

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