Many years ago as a newly minted school librarian I had the incredibly great fortune to work with and learn from an English teacher who’d been working in schools longer than I, a sort of informal mentor. The school we were at, Professional Children’s School, is a bit of a weird place, having been established over 100 years ago to provide an academic education for children already working in the arts (founding myth). It’s frequently confused with what was once Performing Arts and is now LaGuardia (aka “the Fame school”) or Professional Performing Arts, the NYC public version of PCS. Over the years, the school had become an amazingly diverse place, with a wide range of socioeconomics, religions, ethnicities, talents, learning styles and other things.
In order to make the academics work for students with professional lives, there is a program called Guided Study. Using email and other technologies, teachers and students can work together at a distance; when I was there, that was more difficult as email wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, but I did institute after hours reference sessions using AIM. If you were out on Guided Study, you got a two-week extension, starting on your return to class, for your assignments. Sweet, right? And without going into the stereotypes of which students were more (or less) driven, we all knew than when Student A was on GS, they’d come back to school pretty much on schedule and caught up while Student B would take longer than the permitted extension.
And that’s where my friend’s sage advice came in: I can’t care more than they do. If she assigned an essay on the role of the landscape and snow in Ethan Frome, Student A would come back with a nearly perfect rough draft, while Student B would still need to purchase a copy and figure out how to open the book. Some teachers – at PCS, at every other school I’ve worked in or heard about – would expend a lot of energy working with Student B, cajoling and nudging and bending over to help them “succeed”. Not this teacher. She cared… enough. If the student was willing to do the work, make appointments or stop by to talk and get advice, ask questions, etc., she was 100% with that student and bent over backwards to help. But if that student didn’t care, didn’t put forth any effort and worked the system’s loopholes, she found other ways to occupy her mind and time.
Over the years I’ve had students who are seriously lost doing research. If they ask me for help, I’m happy to do what I can, sharing resources and shortcuts. But I’ve also had students who have – quite literally – asked “will this topic get me an easy A?” (actually, it’s the paper, the finished product that will get grade, but hey, I’m just the librarian so maybe I’m wrong!) or otherwise made it clear that they wanted me to do the research work for them because it wasn’t their priority. And remembering that I can’t care more than they do, that if this isn’t a priority for them, it can’t be a priority for me, helps.
As the school year starts (today is Day One of New Faculty Orientation), and new research projects are discussed and my department begins to work with new students and teachers, I have to remind myself not to care more than they do. It’s not just students, it’s teachers: it may be my goal to have every student graduate with great research, analysis and information/data literacy skills. But if it isn’t my teacher/colleagues goal, too, I can’t care more than they do.