Cry if you want to.

So, this pussy at the Chronicle writes about how shocking and affecting it is that students cry. Let me respond:


Let me respond in more detail:

Students never just drop by a professor’s office for a friendly chat. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Normal students who aren’t slightly weird, manic, evangelical, driven to freaky over-friendliness by a burning desire to be academics themselves don’t drop by. Going to a professor’s office is a sign you have a Problem.

Students who make it to your office are already on edge, and people who are on edge are quite likely to react emotionally.

Many of the meetings I have in my office involve tears. Occasionally, there is shouting, or something more outre, like being splattered with pineapple, but tears are the regular staple. Unlike professionals whose jobs are openly about dealing with emotional distress – therapists and the like – professors aren’t trained to deal with tears. No one ever sits a junior professor down and says “look, most students who will come to see you will cry, this is how you deal with it.” The sum total of my training on the subject was a senior colleague who said “I keep the tissues in the drawer, because if they see them on the desk, it’s like permission.”

The way most professors deal with this is a callousness about crying that shocks outside observers, particularly the watering pots who have an expectation that tears are going to be their capstone argument. I’m not saying that most students who cry are trying to manipulate professors into relenting over grades (and yes, it is almost always over grades), but that there is an underlying assumption that if something is bad enough to make you cry, that it must melt the heart of even the crustiest old bastard who makes a living torturing young people by making them learn the periodic table.

Alas, no.

Crying doesn’t convince me of the seriousness of your response to the depth of the shit you are in, either. I know exactly how deep you are standing in it; I am the person with the canoe and the paddle.

Crying becomes a stage of the meeting we need to get through before we get to the substantive part; yes, yes, I am ruining your life by giving you an F for cheating, not handing in your essay, forgetting to go to the final and not mentioning this for 6 weeks, or making some incredibly dumbass statement about how Shakespeare must have been writing those sonnets to his son because there was no such thing as homoeroticism before 1970. Now let’s move on and discuss consequences and possible remedies.

If you cry, I won’t openly mock you while you are in the room, but my likely reaction is going to be something other than sympathy. I’ll wait until you leave to put that notch in my desk.

I am not here to make you feel better about yourself, as the student who failed her semester miserably by not handing any work argued, through her tears, when I told her there was no point in letting her sit the final. I don’t deal in feelings. This doesn’t make me mean (other things, admittedly, make me mean; I am not ducking the tag), it makes me your teacher, not your therapist or your mother.

If I let myself be affected by your tears, I am not doing my job. What kind of a professor gives out grades based on how many hankies are expended in his or her office? Okay, a professor of Early Childhood Education, right. But I teach in an actual academic discipline. I have standards.

I didn’t pick my profession thinking that I might one day define myself as a person whose day consists of 3 meetings with people who sobbed their hearts out, and walked away whistling, but here we are. I laugh at my students because if I didn’t… well, you know.

4 thoughts on “Cry if you want to.

    1. whatladder Post author

      6pt was advised by everyone she came in contact with not to pursue her agenda. Which, of course, means there will no doubt be some kind of hearing in September.

  1. Pavlov's Cat

    Obvs I got out of academe just in time. The crying students I remember most vividly did so because of the following:

    — pregnant girlfriend

    — cervical cancer at 23

    — triggered memory of incestuous childhood abuse (father)

    That said, there was also the one who burst into tears of humiliation and rage after the following exchange:

    ME (desperately trying to finish a lecture I have to give in half an hour): Did you read the sign on the door?


    ME: What does it say?

    HER: ‘Please do not disturb’.

    ME: So tell me, why did you knock? Which part of ‘Please do not disturb’ don’t you understand?

    HER: Oh but I just … Well I was in the Department anyway and I really needed to see you. [She didn’t; it was trivial and could have waited.]

    ME: Why didn’t you come in one of my very very generous contact hours, which cover all possibilities of student life and which are posted on that door in large letters, right under the sign that says ‘Please do not disturb’?

    HER: But I just … It was convenient for me to see you now.

    ME: So what you’re really saying is that your time is more important than mine.

    HER: No, I’m not saying that!

    ME: Well, what ARE you saying?

    HER: [Bursts into tears of humiliation and rage]

    I really love your blog, Whatladder. Not least because you are way tougher than me.

  2. Prospero

    For the other side of the coin, I once managed to make one of my instructors cry…and passed the course with a reasonably good mark, too, if memory serves.


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