How far should I go in imposing behavioral rules in my classroom? I have a new thought on that–new to me anyway, which is that the classroom is my professional environment, and I have the legitimate authority to make it professionally conducive for my own benefit.
I’ve had multiple on-line discussions about this, and it’s clear that I’m far apart from some other people on this matter. I take attendance, for example, which some people think is outrageous in college–after all, they’re adults, and if they want to waste their opportunities, too bad for them. I’m very sympathetic to that idea, except my experience teaches me that the students aren’t really adults yet, at least not for their first two years (and in my upper-level classes, attended primarily by juniors and seniors in my major, I don’t always take attendance, other than to keep an eye out for those who become conspicuous by their absence(s)).
I also have argued that requiring attendance (and that students arrive on time), banning texting, requiring students to resubmit emails that fell short of basic professional standards, etc., is a legitimate effort in preparing students for the working world. Some have asked whether that is actually what I should be focusing on, and whether that distracts from the substantive education. I think it is one of the things I should be focusing on, and that rather than distract from the substantive education, it enhances it by forcing students to take the whole process more seriously, and also by minimizing disruptions in the classroom that detract from other students’ learning environment. I’ve also said that I wouldn’t necessarily do this if I was teaching at a community college, or a large public university, but because the students at the private college where I work are paying such a premium price (or their parents are), it’s the responsibility of us faculty to give them some benefits they wouldn’t necessarily receive at those schools. (Then again, I’m sure that there are faculty at those schools who do impose such rules, and do seek to professionalize their students, and if I worked at one I might find myself acting just as I do here.)
But more recently, I have realized that there is another reason for me to make such demands on my students, which has nothing to do with their benefits, but mine. I want them to act professional because I want my work environment to be professional. I spend a large portion of my time at work, and it’s conducive to my well-being if everything runs professionally. I am happier and less stressed. This is my career–I think I’d be a fool not to try to make my work environment conducive for my own happiness. That assumes, of course, that I’m not doing it at others’ expense, but I think it’s clear enough that no harm comes to students from these requirements.
Some would argue that the students are my customers, paying my salary, so who am I to be giving orders to them. But there are enough examples of businesses that set certain standards for their customers. Fine restaurants that require a jacket and tie for men and dresses for women, for example. Or a lawyer who tells his client, “you will put on a button down shirt and tie for your court date.”
I don’t want to overdo the emphasis on professionalism. I know people who think the term means to be cold, distant, and uncaring about how your decisions affect individuals. I’ve even been on the receiving end of that kind of pseudo-professionalism. I’ve had enough friends who were/are business executives to know that’s not professional at all. I believe it means in large part to treat each person cordially and fairly while demanding the best they’re capable of doing. Oddly, I’m not at all by nature professional. I’d far rather be barefoot and wearing shorts than put on dress shoes and a tie (which always makes me feel like I’m choking if I actually snug up the knot the way you’re supposed to do). But I do because I think it works better in my classroom. Students see me acting professionally, and that makes it easier to get them to act professionally in response. And that makes my job much more pleasant.
Not everything needs to be justified by whether it provides benefits to others, so long as it doesn’t negatively impact them. And I’m satisfied that developing a beneficial work environment for myself is a legitimate goal.