As an educator, I’m approached by students, alumni, colleagues, administration and outside parties through email…a ton. In fact, a big part of my after hours is spent on replying to all sorts of issues. Some big. Some small. Never anything in between, interestingly enough. But, the big ones are the ones I’m really proud of because it’s usually a moment where I can address a significant issue that relates to the professional development of my students…
…emails that provide a teachable moment that happens out of class, out of the designed curriculum and with no current place in my class itinerary: teaching in real-time, as I like to say.
I put a lot of care into every thing I do and, although trying to be informative, my secondary intention with these well considered emails is to impress upon my students the power of words and the value in articulating thought through written form. EMAILS THAT KICK ASS are a collection of such correspondence…cut and pasted directly from my Outlook box, but with names changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty!
*BELATED* is an effort to console a fellow educator when a difficult student reaches out shortly after Commencement with a strange approach to an apology, an odd explanation for his turbulent presence in studio (for years), and a desperate attempt to clear the air. Not because the student saw the err of his ways, but because he suddenly realized his difficult personality might’ve put any potential career in jeopardy. [Difficult Student’s] email is not included, but below was my response to what was written. It’s what I would’ve written to him had it been directed to me...
…this guy needs to drop it, learn from it (whatever that might mean for him), and move on. The persistent need for "discussion" to clear up the err of his ways is only making matters worse. He's not the kind of person that listens to reason, anyway. I'm sure anything he needs to hear has already been said. Probably many times over.
And he's right. He should be worried. If he indeed now recognizes his student tendencies as being problematic, then what a great learning lesson to take away from his graduate experience. Perhaps worth the cost of tuition in and of itself; an examination into issues of professionalism, humility, and etiquette in the flesh and in real time...
It sounds like he's "sobering up"...that his stubbornness and immodesty are (finally) revealing themselves as obstacles to his short- and long-term goals. Who knows how much further ahead he'd be with his work, his thinking, and his sense of community if he wasn't such a moron during his MFA candidacy? And, more importantly, what unforeseen doors of professional opportunity (both near and far) have closed already due to his relationship with you, [your fellow colleagues], visiting artists who've passed through, and the members of your Program?
He fucked up in thinking that sharing age with you has any play when in the context of academia. He fucked up in thinking that becoming "friends and contemporaries" with you as his faculty is anything he has any control over...or even an appropriate objective in the first place. Not to mention even being possible. I hardly see a relationship of any kind with this guy outside of the requirements of your job as something you'd take interest in. What a dipshit.
Notions of equality between faculty and students is so stupid anyway. I, too, had to have a few conversations in the past with students who thought this was a thing. In my case, these students were undergraduates so it was easier to shut down. I enjoyed laying it all out there, that we are not equal because:
*I've been teaching in degree-earning glass programs longer than "you" have been learning in one.
*I hold 2 degrees in glass, "you" have yet to earn 1.
*Over the past year, I have shown my work in more international exhibitions than "you" have shown yours in assigned critiques.
*Over the past year, I have published more written work related to the field of glass than "you" have engaged writing at all.
*RIT pays me to take part in its community, "you" pay RIT to be part of its community.
*As faculty, it is my job to give and nourish; as a student, it is "your" job to take and grow.
*We are hardly the same.
It's fun nipping that "equality" thing in the bud. In terms of graduate students, I have a rule about students earning a level of professional fellowship with me. I gladly verbalize it on an annual basis to the group, too. It's something along the lines of, "If you're still doing your thing and maintaining a presence in the field 5 years after leaving this Program with your MFA, I will happily regard you as my colleague and peer." That respect thing is like scholarship money. It's not something you ask for or demand. It's something given when its earned and deserved. [Difficult Student] is so full of himself that he thinks he can short-cut accomplishment, a thing based entirely on time and effort. And he's also missing the other piece of the puzzle when it comes to professionalism and fellowship: character. Sometimes (if not most of the time) opportunity comes our way when the awesome shit we do as artists is measured in conjunction with the nature of who we are as people. He's going into the field behind the 8-ball on both accounts...and that certainly doesn't help anybody hoping to launch a career. Or anybody looking for "friends and contemporaries", as he puts it...
I don't envy you in this. My recent student problem was much easier to deal with and, over time, much easier to ignore. [Difficult Student] is a brute and a know-it-all. He thought he knew exactly what he "wanted", but so desperately overlooked what he needed. Perhaps the biggest mistake of all was thinking that he was an artist while in your Program. He wasn't. He was an art student. It was his job to accept the challenges set forth by his faculty in order to expand upon what he already knows, what he already could do, and who he already was. He was set on sticking with the formula he came in with. A missed opportunity, for sure…one that lasted the entirety of his time here at school.
I don't know what you plan to do, but if I got an email like this from a student like this, I'd ignore it. Maybe even file it in the trash. If any hatchets over this thing are to be buried, [Difficult Student] should realize that the nature of this sort of conflict subsides with time and, most importantly, distance. If it is to subside at all...
What a great way to begin your day! You must be so thrilled to engage and impact such a receptive, grateful, and open-minded body of students year after year!