in spite of itself

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Piati Unirii at sunset: one of the things I like about Romania

There are so many things to like about Romania.  Some days, though, it feels like you like Romania in spite of itself.

Today was the last class for my 2nd years – since their real last class is next Monday but, of course, there’s a holiday – and the exam day for my 3rd years. It’s the end of the semester; everyone is tired; the kids are stressed out with exams and final papers; I’m not far behind, as I begin to wrap up my life here.  So, for context, we’re all a little on edge. And so, when everything that could go wrong this afternoon did, indeed, go wrong, I had had it.

 

 

I’ve managed the hundred and one pedagogical paper cuts I’ve endured this year: no heat in the building, no class rosters, no warning of cancelled classes, no reminder of holidays, no clear guidelines on curriculum or assignments.  Those things are frustrating – and I’ve certainly complained about them to my Fulbright friends – but I’ve been teaching long enough to manage them.  These types of things are part of the experience, a mixture of the cultural and educational differences that I came here to experience in the first place.

I’ve weathered the students’ flexible attendance, lack of reading, late papers, missing assignments, repeated plagiarism, reluctance to speak in class.  I may not have liked it – and I very much did not at times – but this, too, made up the differences I wanted to experience as a professor here in Romania.  Many of the things that drove me to distraction are too deeply embedded in the educational system to change, even by a feisty American professor.  The students are schooled to receive information, not create their own knowledge.  They take too many classes each week, in a system that allows them to enroll in classes held at the same time, to manage the work in all of them.  They are allowed to repeat examinations until they pass the class, reducing the imperative to care about the class the first time around.  Despite all of that, they are interesting, intelligent, sharp, thoughtful young men and women, and I have loved working with the ones who show up.

But.

When you mess with my students, you have pissed off the wrong woman. Today’s clusterfuck  made my students lose time and focus on their final exam.  The things that happened weren’t laughable distractions; they had real consequences for my students – because most of them are, indeed, trying their best to do well.

The things that have pushed me over the edge this year are the things that have negatively impacted my students.  No roster? Fine; it’s frustrating but I keep attendance in every class anyway so I can figure out who is supposedly taking the course. No heat? Fine; it’s frustrating but we’re all dealing with it, so I’ll rewrite the syllabus and rework assignments. Plagiarism? Fine, it’s frustrating but I have no qualms at marking papers 0 when students earn it.

But something messing with my students?  No.  I don’t care if it’s a student being rude to another during discussion (which happened rarely) or a professor in the room I’d reserved (which happened a few times) or a system that sets them up for failure (which is their scheduling).  That pisses me off.  My students deserve to learn if they want to – actually, even if they don’t want to. My students deserve respect when they’re trying to learn.  My students deserve support for their learning.

My students deserve better, not in spite of, but because – because they deserve the chance to learn, because they have the potential to change things when they learn. When something gets in the way of that, hell hath no fury like a protective professor.