A professor professes

by Matt Doran

I have a life. I swear. I’m not home at 9 p.m. on a Friday writing this. OK, I am, but I have my reasons (practice with The San Diego Rowing Club early the next morning, and the “Get Matt Doran Drizzy Foundation” is financially strapped as of late). I have friends (until I inevitably alienate them with my implacable misanthropy). I go out. I do s—. I’m hip. I’m in with the In Crowd, and I know what the In Crowd knows. I have a life.

But who, other than those few friends I keep close, knows this? I teach two sections of RWS 100. Do any of my students know my bike was stolen recently, that I haven’t spoken to my parents in months and that all of my friends are getting married while I’m perfecting the fine art of philandering? Do they know I go home and curse their abysmal editorial skills, regale my friends with the pathetic excuses I hear for late papers and mock what (little) the girls wear to my class?

I doubt it. They probably think I leave class and immediately go home and devise new and interesting methods of torture to bestow upon them. They imagine me in a small, dark apartment, hunched over an old wooden desk, grading by candlelight, cackling maniacally as I maliciously wield my red pen, excoriating their pedestrian prose and crushing their dreams of passing the WPA and making it out of the RWS department alive.

I’m just as guilty. I forget my students have other classes, clubs and teams, have boyfriends and girlfriends, nagging parents, insomniac roommates and car trouble. I forget for some of them this is their first time away from home, living on their own, subjected to an unhealthy amount of ramen noodles and Lil’ Jon. I forget they walk into my class with problems, problems like anybody else.

I wonder if my teachers are any different. Do they think I live only to come to their 700-level seminars and leave to mull over the sage pearls they imparted? “Oh Professor, how wise you are. Your lectures drip with wit and insight. Please, let me study under you so that I might absorb more of your wise counsel.”

Please. Most of these elbow-patched cogs (and I include myself in this category) have no clue what they’re talking about, nurse mild to severe substance addictions (how could they not with what they’re paid?), rely heavily on TAs to do their grunt work and likely aren’t interested in the material they teach. They don’t want to be standing in front of 150 listless freshmen expounding on the exchange of ideas in the agora of Athens. They want to be … doing whatever the hell it was they did when they were in graduate school, before they were hoodwinked and lured into a career that promised a bounty of vacations and downtime to pursue their passions. Except that didn’t happen. What awaited them was a river of papers to grade, meetings to attend, boards to sit on, panels to advise and innumerable other obligations that thwarted their initial dream of writing the next great American novel or finding a new species of orchid.

So teachers have lives. Students have lives. People on both sides of the dais have lives outside of the classroom. But are we aware of this? Think about when the two worlds collide. What happens when Suzie and her professor bump into each other in the dairy aisle? Would the professor even recognize her? If so, maybe a nod will be exchanged, followed quickly by a feverish reading of nutrition labels or a flat-out dash for the produce department. Maybe Suzie goes back to her residence hall to share the event with her roommate.

“OhmyGod, guess who I just saw at Ralphs? Like, seriously, he was wearing jeans and some old T-shirt. Jeans! And sandals! And he was totally buying chocolate milk. I can’t believe my teacher drinks chocolate milk. Seriously, what is he, like, in kindergarten?”

Why is it so awkward for students and teachers to see each other off campus? Why do we assume we have nothing outside of our Tuesday / Thursday 2 p.m. class?

A student of mine came to me after class recently and shared a personal, painful story, so painful it brought him to tears. He wanted to justify why the quality of his work had declined. His level of honesty was refreshing and humbling. I was proud I had fostered an atmosphere where he felt comfortable coming to me, and I was reminded my students, just like me, come to class with lives, riddled with good, bad and ugly.

This campus is not a vacuum. Teachers and students have baggage. Our personal lives are crammed into our bags next to the notepads and textbooks. We cannot lose sight of this. I am by no means the best teacher or the best student, but that’s my point. I’m human. I have a life, and that life is flawed. We need to remember this. If we engage in more open, honest dialogue and interact outside of the classroom, we’ll see each other as human and be in a better position to learn.

Or the students and teachers will just get f—ed up together and the school will shut down within a few years.

—Matt Doran is an overworked, grossly underpaid creative writing graduate student. Email him at matthewtdoran@gmail.com to unionize.