What Professors See and Feel


On the first day of class in a new semester, students file into the classroom with a range of emotions. Some students show their enthusiasm obviously, while others suppress their enthusiasm amidst the social dynamics of the new class. Others might feel intimidation or anxiety for the new semester. Still other students might bring personal pain and worry, masking their feelings in a new and uncertain environment. The imagination of students while sitting under their professors is a traditional storyline in literature, as old as Plato in Trial and Death of Socrates and as new as Josh Wheaton in God’s Not Dead.  


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However, less imagined is the perspective of the professor on that first day of class. For that matter, on any day of class a professor might come in a different disposition than her cross-section of students. After all, the course or choral conductor is no less human than the course or chorale that she conducts. Any professor can easily recognize student excitement and an observant professor might detect suppressed enthusiasm. Yet, it is a rare professor who can process the multitude of other subtle cues sent by students. It is a rare person who can do it well. This inability is because the professors are human, perhaps even careful not to ascribe depression, anxiety, or frustration to the students they teach. The result is a perspective gap that many people—including students—do not understand and which can even lead to a misunderstanding of the teacher.


Professors look out over a classroom and see a variety of students. The teacher sees faces that mask emotions from enthusiasm to anxiety. Additionally, the teacher’s view is naturally skewed by their own self because they are human. A prof well-prepared for class might imagine a classroom of equally prepared students, leading to disappointment when she does see commitment to match her own preparation. A confident professor will view a class of students as equally confident, emotionally disconnected from students’ feelings of depression or disappointment brought to the class. A sad professor might observe student sadness more easily, but will feel detached from eager and intellectually passionate students on that day. Mentally healthy professors will assume a general mental health of the audience, organized profs expects to see organized students, and intellectual profs will seek students to display their intellectual skills.


We all see the world through the lens of ourselves, and this inescapable reality can often lead to a misunderstanding of professors who are not exempt from the humanity that intersects relationships. In a world where students rightly deserve latitude when the life’s troubles sway them, professors are sometimes expected to be a stable as the desks in the classroom. If profs are informed on the course topic for the day, they might be expected to be equally patient or equally self-confident. But they’re human.


If skilled and capable workers in their niche show their humanity in limitations of emotion and awareness, it is a lesson to us all: universal humanity requires a universal leeway that we can offer one another.