It is an almost universal epiphany of all preschoolers that teachers, amazingly, do not live at school. Though it is true that they have lives outside of the classroom, somehow, it is still a shock to see them out in the “real world.”
Before college, seeing a teacher in the real world is a rare occurrence. It’d be a shock if it happened even once or twice per month. Even though many professors live close to Vassar, seeing a professor off campus can still feel like seeing Bigfoot, though maybe that’s the fault of students who rarely venture off campus.
Occasionaly, however, even professors grow tired of sitting on campus in offices and classrooms all day. Some professors will arrange to hold their office hours and meetings at the Crafted Kup or other Raymond Avenue haunts, and even fewer go the extra mile by inviting students into their homes.
This practice is meant to benefit the class as much as to benefit the intructor. “It presents a different kind of environment in which to get to know the students,” said Associate Professor of English Jean Kane. At the end of last semester, Kane invited her senior composition class to her home in Kendrick House for their final session. Kendrick House is an on-campus residence for professors.
“I like to do that with yearlong classes, to have them over…At the end of the semester, they’re all tired and hungry and stressed out, and it’s sort of a nice thing to do for the students,” Kane explained.
Her students agreed that the gesture was a compassionate one. “Going over to a professor’s house is a natural expansion of that community feeling. It’s a nice way to end the semester,” said Derek Butterton ’15.
Although there are only 12 students in senior composition, that is not to say that there is never a bit of awkwardness associated with this practice. Frank Hoffman ’15, also a member of Kane’s Senior Composition class, noted that there is still a lack of ambiance despite the homey setting. “It’s always a little strange at first to be in a different environment, especially a professor’s home; but Professor Kane made it a very warm setting.”
Indeed, Professor Kane remarked that there is a delicate balance in inviting students into her home. “I think [students] remain focused because it’s an unfamiliar environment. Even though students may be in a more comfortable environment, it is also a new environment and people want to be on good behavior…You’re a guest as well as a student.”
There is a difference between holding class where desks seperate students and teacher and when everyone is sitting on couches. According to Butterton, the class held in Professor Kane’s apartment was divided into two parts: for the beginning of the class period, the class socialized and ate some snacks, and for the latter portion of class, the meeting proceeded as it normally would in the classroom setting. “We talked about our outside reading and then workshopped each other’s writings as we usually would, except we were on couches,” Butterton said with a smile.
Holding class in a professor’s home has other benefits in addition to being celebration of the end of a semester. Hoffman explained, “Something different can definitely give you a little spark in the end…by that time, people can get into sort of a rut in terms of their studies and their work, and just having a place to think for a second can set you up for at least the rest of the day, if not the rest of the week.”
Simply leaving the cramped dorms can be a good way to relieve stress around the end of the semester. “When you’re living in a dorm, it’s really nice to, even if it’s just an apartment, be in someone’s house,” Professor Kane noted. Finals are stressful; being in a warm, homey environment can help ease this stress.
Perhaps the most compelling result of professors inviting students into their homes is, in fact, the same reaction preschoolers have upon seeing their teachers at the grocery store: that recognition of a professor as more than just a teacher. “It gives you a sense of your professor as a human being outside of the classroom. That’s something you forget a lot, so it’s a very humanizing experience,” remarked Butterton.
Of course, for all its benefits, not every class is able to partake in this practice. Even if the amount of time and amount of resources were not issues, only certain types of classes can really benefit from being held at a professor’s home.
Hoffman noted, “More discussion or workshop based classes would be the ideal ones for a get-together like that.” In a similar vein, Kane explained that she tries to limit the in-home class meetings to her yearlong courses. This way, the class is small enough to fit in her apartment and, since they spend an entire year together rather than a single semester, they are able to feel more comfortable with each other in such an intimate setting.
As Butterton said, “Maybe part of its charm is that it is something exceptional.”
Kane echoed this sentiment. “I think it doesn’t just add to an academic experience, I think it adds to the relationship of the student and teacher, which is part of the academic experience but…it’s more organic. We [professors] are actually people, I don’t just live in a carrel in the library!”