Post 5: Being the Nice Guy

This is my fifth post for 9x9x25.

This is something I struggle with. I think a lot of other people do as well. The utopian version of what I imagine my teaching practice should be sometimes runs into the unfortunate reality of real life.

The reason I like to teach is that I like to share interesting things. I like to be a communicator. I want to come to work and tell my students things that are new, interesting, exciting, and will be building blocks of their adventures in education, their careers, and beyond. I want them to be happy and excited, I usually am.

But my students, like everyone else, are real people. They sometimes stay up too late (I often do as well), don’t hand things in on time, prioritize other things above their homework, and so on. I don’t like it, but I understand it. They are real people who sometimes have a host of real problems. I suppose if everything always ran perfectly, no one would have a dozen dying grandmothers, have voracious dogs hungry for homework, and always mysteriously have alarm clock batteries that inexplicably fail (or perhaps phones that get unplugged).

I am focusing on behaviours because these are problems I share, and completely understand. There are consequences, and this is really the essential point. That while students are able to have agency, the flexibility to thrive and fail on their own terms, I am not the final arbiter of their success. Understanding that students can fail, should be allowed, given opportunity and tools to succeed, can in itself be a learning experience that will be a valuable lesson the next week.

But much as in real life, I often say that when you arrive late to the airport, the plane tends to take off without you. When you miss deadlines, don’t come to class, read the book, etc. at some point there are consequences. Now here is the rub: it’s my job to ensure the system works. Things get handed in on time, the material is delivered, the course runs smoothly, and papers get graded on time, among a dozen others. But when students don’t deliver on their end of the deal, it’s my job to deliver the bad news. Or at least make an impression that the student needs to take some remedial steps to make this work.

On a personal level, I really don’t want to be that person. I want to be everyone’s favourite teacher, and never have a negative interaction where I point out that something has not been done as it should be. This is the key point: It’s hard work to acknowledge that the interaction is not negative, rather it’s instructive and an important pedagogical step. Sometimes your job is not to be the nice guy, but do the mature and responsible thing. Because sometimes doing what seems emotionally hard at the time, pays off in huge dividends later on when the student, now in the workforce, has a work ethic to get things done on time and under budget (we can only hope).

So my new approach is to take a step back. Think about what I should say right now about the late/lost homework, and consider the long term impact of this conversation on next week, next semester, and far beyond. Sometimes being the bad guy is actually the best thing for the student.

So here is the bottom line: sometimes doing the right thing is the hard thing. In the end hopefully is better off for it.

man in black and white polo shirt beside writing board
Photo by Pixabay on

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