Kids, Cats, Teaching, and Caretaking

The blogger Clio has an interesting post on the role of caretaking in teaching. While her post focuses on the ways that her childhood problems have made it difficult for her to take on that role without resentment, it got me thinking about how I relate to that piece of teaching work. In particular, this point of hers resonated with me:

“Finally, I HATE the feeling of being pecked to death that begins about the end of the 1st week of class when people start wanting into your class that is full beyond capacity and continues through the “I can’t” and “it won’t” and “I didn’t” and “I don’t” statements that have nothing to do with understanding the subject and everything to do with technological failures and student time management issues…”

One of the reasons I chose to teach at a university instead of a high school is because I, too, have a limited capacity for dealing with the caretaking aspects of the job. While I love my students and interacting with them in the classroom, what I find difficult to deal with is the repetition — the explaining of practical things multiple times because someone didn’t read the syllabus/email/Blackboard/whatever. That’s also the main reason I don’t have children — when I’m around parents with small children, it’s the endless repetition that drives me batty. Same with cats and dogs (no need to repeat commands to cats because they ignore you).

What’s interesting about this (at least to me) is that while I have structured my personal life in a way that minimizes the amount of caretaking I need to perform, my professional life as the director of a women’s center and teacher involves a lot of caretaking (it’s also important in my role as a supervisor). Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe I avoid the need to be a caretaker personally because I spend so much of my professional time in that role. And it’s a role that I find draining. I can do it — after years of practice I can summon up the patience needed to explain something again without biting someone’s head off (well, most of the time) — but it drains me in the same way lots of interaction tires introverts. Setting things up so that the majority of my caretaking is limited to my work life allows me to keep a balance in my life that would otherwise be lacking. My other tricks are knowing when to go into my office and close the door for a bit and reminding myself that a student’s problems are not about me — they’re about them and I’m there to help. What about y’all? How do you cope with your work roles that you’re constitutionally unsuited for?

4 thoughts on “Kids, Cats, Teaching, and Caretaking

  1. Since I have two children, I have no desire to parent my students. The impulse to do “care taking” sorts of thing with my students doesn’t even arise. I tend to deflect the wish for care taking back on the student, prompting them to take action. Case in point: you want me to help you outline a paper? Zero energy for that–I have my own papers to write. However, if you come to my office and show me what you have, I’ll talk with you about it and our conversation will point you in the right direction, which puts the onus on you to do the work. Another case in point: Kontakte and the evil Quia that comes with it. Technical problems all the time–I am not the Quia technical support person. Call their number. Recent case in point: students interested in FuBIS or Fulbright–how do I go about doing this? I don’t want to hold their hands, so I go over the steps they need to go through to fill out a good application and then wait until they have something to show me before I engage in real work with them. Once they are engaged in work, then we have a conversation in which we both participate, instead of me holding their hands.

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