Life in an online university #5: Sympathy and empathy (Part 2)

Al Librero  |  September 23, 2021  |  Academics / Blogs / Practice / Work  |  0 Comments

I was one of them.

Not that I thought it was a smooth ride overall, but I think things started out nicely. Within a few years, I had built enough confidence to start teaching with a bit more authority. But the change in dynamics was significant as I moved from handling graduate to undergraduate students. This is something that may be worth talking about in greater depth later on, but to put it succinctly, undergraduates have noticeably different motivations for being in UPOU. And as the proportion of younger students got bigger, prevailing mentalities also changed.

My desire to learn and get better at my craft was at the level of a graduate student's – something only a relatively small contingent of the undergraduates would likely share. Of course, being gung ho, I paid little mind at first. So, in time, it got frustrating whenever I felt my classes didn’t share my enthusiasm (which was almost always the case!). It got disappointing when, as opposed to graduate students being more conscious of what they’re learning, the bulk of my communication with undergraduates were about grades and deadlines. I felt that was mentally debilitating. In hindsight, it should not have surprised me. It's not like it was dramatically different back in my day. If I could go back, I'd have been more accepting of it and not have pushed so hard to force students to keep up with me. But to endure this from the other side was heart-breaking.

To this day, some of my former students are likely still intimidated by me. I think that’s strange. I admit to pushing students to be at their best, but I’m nothing like the legit terrors, a few of whom I survived in UPLB which nobody in UPOU is like. It's not my style to personally attack or belittle anybody in the forums. I just shoot straight. If students take that as hostility, then I worry for their future. In any case, the bottom-line had become evident to me. During my early years, I could totally relate to my students. Most of them were my age, or maybe even older, already employed and supporting their own families. Along with their life status, their motivations were similar to mine. So it was no surprise that these were students whom I’d have no problem relating to and having a beer with at the end of a face to face session.

While I did look forward to the change in student demographics, with the BAMS programme studentship becoming predominantly younger and less experienced, I also felt sad about it. And I suppose this was the start of my struggle to connect. For the most part, later on, I could no longer relate to the students as much as I did before. As my grasp continued to weaken, I started to wonder… was the ability to connect with students even important for me to be able to do my job? So what, if I see posts of students clamoring for free tuition fees, representation and whatnot? So what, if some students face difficulties outside the online classroom? Such things didn’t concern me or my ability to teach. On the other hand, what does detaching leave me with? Without the prospect of actively learning from my own classes, how else would I be able to put up with the repetition required in teaching?

I remember reading student evaluation comments about me and my classes. Unlike other UP campuses, we don’t get a lot of them, so those that we do get tend to stick in our memories a bit longer. There was one comment from one of my last classes before going on hiatus, which probably reflected my detachment. The student felt that I was left bitter after a bad experience from a previous class and I was taking it out on his/her class. It’s a rather dramatic way of putting it, but not completely false. I was neither bitter nor was I lashing out. I simply stopped caring too much of what my students thought, let alone learned. And it was fortunate that I was on my way to the sidelines for an extended period. I needed a break.

To be continued...


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