personal · Teaching

Hate mail

So I received my first piece if “hate mail” from a student. Written as a “side note” at the end of a literature exam. It was quite unsettling, but now that I’ve had the chance to think it over and compare it to the feedback from other students, I’m trying to put it in perspective.

My student lashed out against feminist “bullshit” and scolded me for picking my favorite authors to read for a literature class instead of the ones they “should have” learned about. I’m not sure what the perception of “should have” includes, because the student did not tell me what those things were and since most of the texts I selected were in our required anthology. I was honest about the fact that I chose texts I liked, or texts that went along with the theme of ethnicity. I was also honest about the fact that ethnicity studies is my research area, so I chose texts that fit within that scope.

I’ve been running back over the course in my mind, trying to figure out what I did to earn the student’s vitriolic words. I’ve decided that perhaps I should file this away as a success, since I clearly pushed this student out of their comfort zone. Many of the public figures I admire most receive hate mail every time they speak out against an unjust world, and often I feel like the writers of hate mail, underneath it all, are just frightened because they don’t understand or they feel cornered.

It’s still rather difficult to see in writing. I love teaching, find my self worth in it to a large extent, so it is rather difficult to be attacked that way. I suspect it will leave me unsettled for a bit. It leaves me wondering why it is that this single student was able to rattle me so much, and to negate the positive things other students have said. Do teachers ever become desensitized to this kind of thing? Or are we always vulnerable, hurt, when this happens?

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