A Conversation with Professor X

I’ve jokingly stated many many times, “I’m pretty sure Professor X thinks that we only have work from his class. Do you see this? (holds up pack of readings that necessarily must be stapled with the big orange and grey stapler in McCabe).” I’m guilty of perpetuating this narrative in the dark hours, lining up for a cup of coffee and hopefully, a pack of Oreos in McCabe. This go-to phrase has the merit of placing the blame of my procrastination onto the workload.  It also displaces the guilt I feel of not finishing the entirety of the work assigned via half-humor and empathetic nods. However, this narrative doesn’t quite capture the understanding that Swarthmore professors have of their students. And the fact that Swarthmore professors do appreciate the rigor and intensity that we bring to our work and to the classroom.

There are some professors that I talk to more regularly than others. A recent conversation with a professor I describe as fantastically cool and insightful went (more or less) like this:

Cathy runs up to the classroom door and gives a rapid knock. The door opens quite suddenly, as my professor was rearranging something near her door.

Professor: Come in, how are you? (Both parties settle down quite comfortably, as would old friends, or an advisor and her student would after four years of both academic and non-academic advising during hours of crisis a.k.a. weekend Skype advising)

Cathy: I’m doing okay. Though, every week, I feel like I’m falling behind.

P: Welcome to my life.

Chuckles ensue as she takes a sip from her coffee jar and I try to formulate my feeling of angst and unpreparedness in an articulate manner.

C: My lack of foundation, or the lack of confidence I have in my understanding of the foundations of my studies really bothers me. I really wish that I had a better grasp…

Professor nods but stops me.

P: Well, there’s a disjuncture in what you can achieve given the time and cognitive constraints that you have and what you’d like to do if you had no other responsibilities.

C: Yes…

A: It’s okay that you’re not reading every review, every article assigned to you, right? It’s more that you acquire the necessary skills in order to delineate from the context of everything that we’ve read so far how these sources speak to or about the issues that we’ve been discussing even if you’ve read one or skim through most.

C: (feeling rush of relief, a sense of comradeship, nods vigorously) I appreciate that. Sometimes I feel as though professors assign their work expecting every piece to be close-read and analyzed even though it’s not true.

P: (smiling) All you guys are perfectionists who don’t understand that you each hold each other and yourselves to a higher standard than possible at times. So, do you want to talk about your future or your paper?

C: Both, both are definitely in the future.

Such interactions help ground me in the chaotic flurry of papers that I perceive myself to be lost in. Despite what it may seem like when we look at our 40-page syllabus with a reading list that seems inhumane, our professors understand that we’re not superhuman. They also want us to be healthy and successful. Especially as I realize in my last year at Swarthmore that my professors here at Swarthmore probably care more about their students than will most other people who we meet in the “real world,” I do want to take a moment to recognize that sometimes, we need to take a step back and appreciate.

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