Although I strongly believe in the value of education, I hate how unapologetically elitist the American university system is, and one of my goals as a professor is to resist and undermine this ideology.
This is one of the main reasons I put a lot of energy into a commitment to give every single student in every single one of my classes a grade in the “A” range. The way I see it, different students have different strengths and talents; and, as a professor, it’s my job to figure out what these strengths and talents are and reward them instead of punishing people for failing to meet some sort of arbitrary, idealized standard. I want my students to feel excited about reading and thinking and learning, and I want them to get a sense of accomplishment and empowerment from my classes.
This isn’t always easy, but I’ve gotten much better at it. I managed to pull off giving every student an “A” in the fall semester, and I was almost able to do it in the spring semester as well. (At the end of the spring semester, many students are dead tired and make the decision – as is their right – not to turn in their final project, as they will get a passing grade and graduate regardless.)
One of my life goals (and I understand how small and unimportant I am, so I know this is ambitious) is to make quality higher education at least a little more accessible to anyone who’s interested in pursuing it at any level and for any length of time. In order to make college-level material more accessible, I think you have to account for a range of diversity in your students, their learning styles, and their goals, and you also have to respect their limited levels of time and energy.
I think it’s important to make people feel heard, validated, and appreciated. And let’s be real, given the state of higher education at the moment, it’s also important that students feel like they’re actually getting something in return for the massive amount of money they’re borrowing. If I skew the university’s numbers and averages by accommodating and supporting my students, so be it.
Of course I can’t write any of this in the formal statement I submit along with my tenure file at the beginning of June, but this is the fundamental truth of where I’m coming from.