I froze like a deer in the headlights, iPhone in my lap for quick access, iChat icon bouncing playfully in my dock. My notes weren’t even open yet ten minutes into class. The professor had just dropped that dreaded, tucked-away phrase, “classroom etiquette.” I was a lost cause. My right hand slowly, as if I was at gunpoint, slid my cell phone back into its pocket. I said goodbye on iChat, then snapped through all my windows, quitting each app with speed and perfection that seemed almost practiced. I opened my class notes and typed, in a sort of high-tech under my breath whisper, “Fuck you.”
Maybe in philosophy class, I would have blushed, accepted defeat, and been riddled with guilt by such a lecture. But in sociology? Hah! The subjects are irrelevant to my guilt, of course. Texting in class is texting in class, and I do know that it’s rude. It shows lack of respect for the professor and makes him or her feel as if you don’t appreciate what they’re doing. It shouldn’t be done, but there will always be the pull of a student’s social life, the opportunity cost of leaving the phone in the pocket or purse. This cost must be outweighed by the cost of taking the phone out of the purse or pocket. Costs like bad relations with the professor, a grade, respect within the classroom. A high price to pay just to hear about how my girlfriend slept or what’s for breakfast at the dining hall, for sure. A lot to lose.
If you have it.
The reason that I scoffed quietly from halfway up the theater steps in my sociology lecture is that those things don’t exist within that classroom. Relations with the professor (good or bad), a grade which can be negatively effected by classroom conduct, or respect within the classroom. Relations with the professor virtually do not exist. She mentions her office hours as if she was put on latrine duty, she throws her three TAs at us as we dutifully attend (or don’t) review sessions before tests, sitting on her high horse, or more accurately, in a comfy leather chair by some fire somewhere, sifting through research that her students won’t know about. I’ve wondered if she’s afraid of students, or why she has her job. My professor doesn’t know my name. Her TAs don’t know me, we’ve never spoken to each other, and she’s never shown any regard for us as humans.
“Formalities,” she would say. She still does her job, lecturing us on sociology. Well what is my job? Worship my professor as she speaks? No. My job is to learn sociology through reading and lecture. I do both. I do the homework and show up for the tests. Am I wrong? Are these not our job descriptions?
Yes, I am.
So what are our job descriptions? I’m sure she has an official one, which I haven’t read and can’t comment on, but I’ll tell you what I pay $20,000+ a year for. My job is to be a positively contributing member of an educational and social campus community where academics can be focused on and a supportive social environment keeps students together and growing. Her job is to be a guiding, educating, caring professional dedicated to knowing and caring about the education of her students. I agree with both of these things, and I agree that texting in class is a violation of the rights of the professor and the other students. The problem is that the students won’t protect their own rights on this front. I don’t feel disrespected when the person next to me decides to check facebook or text their hungover friend. I don’t say anything, and I know they wouldn’t to me. The vast majority of students allow for the distraction, knowing that such an allowance will benefit them eventually, or already has.
So what stops us? A grade, maybe. No one wants to tell the job interviewer that they’re really smart, but that GPA was just because of texting. I’d say though, that in a good classroom, the line is drawn before that. The mutual respect between student and professor. The accountability created by a professor who has taken the time to get to know their students by name, not by grade book entry. The personal connection created not by a lack of professionalism, but by the care and work of a professional educator. Those are the forces that work against my friends’ texts and wall posts as I sit through my philosophy class. Those are the forces that don’t work against me in sociology. To the minority of students who I have offended with my lack of attention, I apologize. To all the students who were unable to connect with their professors this semester, I’m sorry as well.
Most of all, thank you to the professors who do it right. The ones who would get paid the same to brush us off and bury themselves in other work. Ones like Don Loeb, who in my 170-person philosophy lecture that meets only twice every week, took the time to memorize every student’s name, talk to us, get to know each one, even if only a little bit.