I am here to shame you for shaming students on social media

thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Graduate students are paid, ahem, “funded” by a department in return for labor to the department. The grad student yes, will, pick up “valuable” “skills” but it is to provide labor to a department that full-time faculty don’t want to do. Listen, I expect to work in exchange for money, and it there’s a reason they call it a job (Samantha Jones, 2001).  

For many graduate students, this assignment is teaching. Yay! What an honor to teach college students. Shaping the best minds in America! Sharing your academic brilliance to a generation! Wait, what? These students, taking a general 100-level elective course are not STANDING ON THEIR DESKS TO APPLAUD YOU EVERYDAY? They turn in stuff late? They don’t have a perfect essay? They DARE ask if they can do any extra credit. Listen, when we love academia as much as we do, and someone else doesn’t take it seriously. It burns! It hurts! It’s agony! It’s okay to moan and groan about it! 

However, PLEASE DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR STUDENTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s tacky. It’s mean. And really, don’t you know by now that social media, however many privacy options you but on, is still PUBLIC? Screenshots exist. Students may and WILL see it. Your boss will see it. When you look for your fancy professor job, they will look at your social media and think “wow, this person hates students and likes to berate them.” 

I’m assuming you weren’t dumb enough to put actual student names, but you are still complaining about a student.  Most popular complaints are: 

  • A student is trying to convince you that they need an A despite never showing up to class or handing in quality work. 

  • They use poor grammar in assignments. 

  • They are naive about social issues. [usually found in the humanities.] 

  • This is one I see a LOT in my field (cultural studies). Complaining about students opening essays with “In today’s world,” or “Culture has affected behavior since the beginning of history” or “Webster defines [word] as...” They’re not wrong.... 

  • Ignorance about race and identity issues that are more about lack of knowledge than active hate 

You don’t say the word dumb, but you mean it. You are angry that this is happening, that students put us through the AGONY of reading bad papers. You know who would relate to this? Other TAs, so talk to them, vent with them, get all your frustrations out together. 

But for the love of everything holy, do not post this on social media. 

It’s mean and ignorant, and even if the intent is not there, the impact is that you are calling your students stupid. That’s what others not in your field will take from it, that’s what the actual students will take from it.  

Here’s a thought: if your students are making so many errors, maybe it’s YOU. You are the teacher. I know that we can’t, in one semester, turn a first year student into a great writer. If you hate the “in today’s society” opener, give them the tools to not do that. Explain to them how to start an essay. Give them a template. Offer to read a rough draft.  

I know it’s hard to read an essay with homophobic, racist...etc. Information. And I recognize my privilege in this, in that I don’t presume to imagine what it would be like to read something like that as a non-privileged person, but....maybe they are eighteen and just came from living their whole life in a small town? Maybe college is the time for these views to be challenged? If you feel okay doing so, you may be the first person to challenge this and make them understand things differently. Will you change their mind completely? No.  

There are also several reasons why that student is falling asleep in class, why their work has always been late, why they don’t have good spelling or grammar or how to critically explore an issue: 

  • They work a full-time job while going to school and are very tired 

  • They have not been adequately prepared in high school because sometimes (shocker) public schools are not good. 

  • Because of background and identity, institutional barriers have affected them in success. 

  • They have not been encouraged to improve by anyone before, and in fact may have been shamed for their work before (hmmmmm) 

  • You have not given them clear assignment guidelines (they are only clear to you because you wrote them). You want something to be done is a specific way? Tell them this. Explicitly. 

  • They generally don’t have investment in your class because it’s a 100-level elective and they are required to take it 

  • They actually don’t care about the class because their parents expected them to go to college and they are not actually ready. 

So please, stop complaining about your students on social media. Complain among your colleagues, your partner, your friends, but have some common sense. Also, if you keep having the same problems with your students, the common denominator....is you.  

Disclosure: teaching is hard. Very hard. I don’t know how people can do it every day. I was a TA for two years and was not good at it. So, like many things I am not good at, I quit, and I do something different for my assistantship. There are huge cultural forces at play that set both you and your students up for failure already: the commodification of colleges, unprepared schools, unethical measures of intelligence...so no teacher is perfect. But don’t be that asshole.  

What is this? A semi-regular newsletter about life in graduate school. Do you like it? Great. Please share it widely.

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All content reflects my individual views and is not associated with any university, department, faculty, or students. Names and situations mentioned have been changed.