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  • I dated a sociology grad student for a little while when I was in grad school. Her master’s thesis was on her fellow grad students, on how age and gender influence the pedagogical methods of teaching assistants. She found that older males had the most informal styles, had the fewest boundaries between themselves and students, followed by younger men, then older women then younger women were the most formal and maintained a distance. This sounded perfectly understandable and obvious to me, though of course there are exceptions. Male teachers have it easier in establishing their authority in the classroom than women, who have to work harder to earn that respect. It ain’t right, but that, still, is just how it is. She came under relentless attack by her fellow sociology teaching assistants who were her research subjects.


    One time I was teaching this Modern Western Civ class at this college and I was nearing the end of a long lecture describing the genocidal horrors of the Eastern Front during WWII. As I got to the Russians moving through the Germans on their way to Berlin as the war drew to an end, I said, “And when the Russians marched through Germany, well, payback is a…” And I pointed to the class, who erupted in unison... “bitch!”

    “You said it, not me!” I replied back.

    Now it just so happened that I was being evaluated that day, and some admin lady I didn’t know was sitting in the front row. I looked at her, and she was chuckling as she took notes. Oh well, hope she wasn’t insulted by that, that she has a sense of humor and recognized the total class participation and that the class was obviously listening and engaged. That she wasn’t one of those uptight profs and administrators who believe that there should be a respectful distance between teacher and student, who disapprove of my use of the cultural vernacular to make points. She wouldn’t have been the first or the last.

    I was never offered another class at that school again. Did this little one minute back and forth have anything to do with it? I never went back to the school to pick up my evals, so who knows? All I know is that was one of my favorite lessons I have ever given. I had those kids eating out of my hands. Moments like that is why I do what I do, and damn those who don’t get it.
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