It was the fall of 2008, and I was teaching logic for maybe, oh, the twelfth time in as many years. In one class meeting, one of my twelve students was on the verge of tears – the homework wasn’t making any sense, she wasn’t getting it, she was afraid she wasn’t ever going to get it. I was really lucky: I was able to use the moment with the whole class, saying something like, “It’s okay: everything you’re feeling right now, I’m willing to bet everyone in here is more or less feeling as well. That’s good – we’re here to learn. And I promise all of you, you’re going to learn this stuff – not right away, not all that easily, but it will happen.” That seemed to calm her, as well as the other students.
One of the joys of teaching – maybe its greatest joy – is to be able to let a student know that you will respect them and protect them. If your teachers aren’t doing that for you, they’re dicks, pure and simple. I’m amazed (and humbled) by just how much people will trust you, once you are able to convince them that you want only what’s best for them, that you won’t take them for granted, that you’ll honor their confidence, that you won’t abuse their trust. I take this part of the job very, very seriously. I think it’s one of the best things one human being can ever do for another – and all the Nietzsche, Sartre and Heidegger expertise combined is no substitute.
Oh, occasionally you’ll have a sociopath who doesn’t get that, who can’t get that, who will try to take advantage of you. You know they’re sociopaths because they see trust as a means for manipulating the love and compassion of others for their own interests. If I even get a whiff of that nonsense, that person is dead to me. I don’t really care about them, because I can’t care about them. I’ve had to learn it’s not possible for them to ever be anything other than self-centered egomaniacs, and the best thing I can hope for is for them to die soon.