I once pretended to be so exhausted I could barely speak for 16 weeks so a coworker I despised wouldn’t talk to me. They were the kind of peppy, completely oblivious person that sticks their head out of the bubble of their own self-importance only to make sure you are listening to how interesting they are. If I had licence to push only one person off a cliff, I know exactly who it would be.
Having students who dislike me is different from having insufferable coworkers. These kids actively detest me and the work I make them do, and they make it obvious. The difference between having hateful coworkers and hateful students is that I can be mean to my coworkers, I can make it known that the feeling is absolutely mutual, and I’d love it if they’d just pack up their things and move to a hole in the ground. With students, however, it’s different. I cannot say, for example, “listen here, you egotistical doofus, you’re not half as important or competent as you think you are, and I don’t want to be here either, but we’ve got to work together or I won’t get payed and you won’t pass.” I can’t say that. I would be fired. Or that’s what the ever-shrinking logic center of my brain shouts to me over the part that controls emotion which is constantly roaring “Do it! It’ll feel so good!”
I know why they don’t like me, why they don’t have even a shred of respect. For the most part, people I’ve worked with in the science and engineering fields have been fantastic people, confident in their work and its importance, and aware of other work in other important fields. These students are just joining the sciences, so they’ve just got a little bit of that STEM elitism. They don’t see me as their writing teacher. They see me as their editor, someone on call to fix anything they need fixing because that’s what English teachers are for, right? One of them told me, told me, to make any fixes I thought her paper needed, and then to submit it. It’s excellent that these kids are going into a field that will lend them a sense of importance and a respected place in the world. It’s not excellent that they are being led to believe that they are better than other people because they’re studying something different.
I’m not the kind of English major to cite literature like Shakespeare or Faulkner as writing’s great contribution to the world. Instead, when someone doesn’t think writing is important, I direct them to the internet, to every news outlet, to craigslist, to Facebook. And then I ask them how many ways there are to communicate to another person. There is verbal communication because everyone loves talking. There’s visual because pictures are neat. There’s nonverbal because body language is telling and sign language doesn’t get enough credit. There’s telepathic transmission in a brain-to-brain interface, but only me and the guy who lives in the dumpster at my old apartment have managed that. And there’s writing. There are not enough modes of communication to be awful at any of them if you want to actually get your ideas to another person. It takes articulation and effort to shove your ideas down someone else’s throat, and that’s what I want to give to these students who could not care any less.
The worst part is the smiling. I smile at these self-absorbed young people because I have to pretend like over half of them blowing off every meeting I’ve scheduled with them isn’t rude enough to warrant me commenting as cruelly on their papers as I desperately want to. But I won’t. I won’t buy a giant foam middle finger on the internet and use it to point to all the flaws in their papers. And I certainly won’t let my boss know that the students she hand-picked are some of the rudest people I’ve ever met. These are not things I will do. It may seem strange to list all the things I know I shouldn’t do, but I’m treating this as a sort of contract. Anyone reading this is a witness to the things I’ve promised I won’t do to these students who have long since stomped on my last nerve.