Back in the Cold War era, when sympathy for the Soviet Union was thin on the ground, students in my high school Russian class used to begin each class period by standing and reciting in unison a formal greeting to our teacher: "Dobry ootra, Ivan Vasilevich!" While this tradition seems rather, um, Soviet in our current informal age, I find myself wishing for the days when students would acknowledge the existence of their professors.
When I walk in the classroom with a cheery "Good morning!", I'd like a student or two to look up from their smartphones and respond. I don't expect them to snap to their feet and recite a formal greeting, but a muttered "good morning" doesn't really require all that much energy.
And when I attempt to make small talk before class, asking how they enjoyed Thanksgiving break or how they feel about the impending end of the semester or whether they've read of the latest outrage in the news, it would be nice if someone--anyone--would say something. Anything!
The problem is most acute in my freshman classes, but it pops up elsewhere as well. What to do? I can banish smartphones during class time, but students insist on protecting those precious three to five minutes before class. Imagine what they would miss if they put down their phones and actually engaged in conversation! How dare I expect such a sacrifice?
I grow tired of
silences and averted eyes. I worry about how these
students will act in job interviews and networking opportunities, but
more than that, I'm annoyed when I treat them like adults while they
insist on treating me like an interruption. It makes me want to stamp my foot and make them snap to attention with a salute. (Now who's acting like a child?)
One of these days I'll get a smartphone of my own and then I'll stand in front of class texting "Good morning!" to my students. And then we'll conduct class entirely in emojis.
(How do you say "Dobry ootra" in emojis?)