Whenever I tell people my line of work, they look at me, see my age, and usually ask a variation on the next question: “So are you like the cool teacher or what?”
I invariably blush and scoff. “Of course not. I’m just like everyone else.”
The code phrase I’m actually, defensively trying to send, however, is: “I don’t sleep with my students, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
I’m not even going to put up a fake front about how “offensive” this is. Some professors have lamented the fact that the follow-up question to someone saying “I’m a public accountant” or “I sell car insurance” is not “so are you like the cool, sexy CPA every girl wants to secretly bang while you’re finding her a new deduction?” And they’re right: this belies a double standard.
So, yes, rampant public perception issues about professionalism may still exist when it comes to teachers. But, I’m not here to wave that flag. I’m here to wave this one: I think it may actually benefit a college student’s education when his or her professor may harbor secret, taboo fantasies—or at least an innocent, little crush.
Hear me out before you contact your local Fox News affiliate.
First, this is not going to be a treatise linking back to Plato’s Republic about the necessity of platonic love in a learning environment. I’m talking purely imaginative, under-the-surface , full-on-slightly-inappropriate fantasy. The kind of love you don’t tell anyone about. The kind of love you think you have with your favorite barista with whom you believe to have a long-standing, 9-month clandestine romp going on purely in your mind and purely because of the way he smiles, brushes your hand when giving back change, and signs his name in the whipped cream.
If you think I’m barking up this tree about allowing for 37-year SWFs to give blow-jobs to 13-year-old little leaguers while his friends play foursquare at recess, then stop reading.
No, I’m talking about what I believe happens in nearly every single interpersonal transaction between members of the attracted sex since the dawn of cave, kiosks, and classrooms: harmless, hard-wired-within-the-subconscious flirting.
As a college professor, I have approximately 25 students e-mail me every week. I have, within two weeks, give or take 40 student essays to read. And during a month, I’ll maybe meet with 50 students in conferences, give or take a few repeat offenders.
Again, in case you are dialing in right now: I don’t give grades based upon girls bending low, dressing in hip-hugging skirts, or waving to me from across campus.
But, during the course of those emails, paper submissions, and conferences, I do have a positive reaction (upturn of smile, brightening mood, awkward fumbling of paperwork etc…) when certain students enter my purview. Just so we’re clear, these are not my “cheerleader” students. But they are students whose discipline interests match my own (i.e. Hey you love Babette’s Feast, too? Wow, that’s great!) and whose physical appearance is maybe, sort of, kind of, what I like in women.
This uptick in energy, however, does not transform me into creepy professor. Contrary to public expectations, my reflexive response is not to lean back in my chair, talk about my ex-girlfriends, and inquire loudly whether true love really can exist. Blah. The instinct may be self-indulgent; but the output is actually great teaching. I listen more intently to the student, read her essays a little slower, and spend a minute more crafting my e-mail response to make certain I’m being clear.
Now is this so bad?
Well, possibly. What about those other students? What about those guys and girls who are not receiving the extra helping hand from the instructor?
Well, two things. 1) Notice I didn’t say “read essay carefully.” I said “a little slower.” I still give all my students adequate care and attention. But, also 2) This is life. Life is full of favorites. Some people within your office just connect. Some teammates spend more time together outside the batting cages. Some siblings just get along better. Why is this so bad? Why is this so unfair? It really is an insult to human behavior to berate a professor for “having favorites” because regardless of whether strong-link connections are allowed to exist between pupil and instructor, they will exist anyway.
This of course raises the ultimate question. So if you’re not sleeping with students, if you’re not asking her out for pizza at night, and if you’re not even doltishly telling her “you look pretty today,” but you still recognize and allow yourself to react to her on a “wondering in my head what it’d be like to stroll along a boulevard in Paris at night with her” kind of way, then do you at least give her higher grades?
Possibly. But only because I’m not attracted (as per my earlier, cerebral formula) to girls who don’t read voraciously, who don’t regularly attend class, and who don’t know their way around the English language.
So, really this post is only stating the obvious: personal relationships create incentives, and when we care about the people we work with or for, we tend to work better. Whether that “caring” is based on a mutual favorite sports team, or because you nurse a warm fuzzy whenever she enters the classroom, is sort of beside the point.
– Ross Geller