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I’m reading Lad Tobin’s Writing Reflections as my book to present in class, and I’m somewhat confounded by his ideas about the necessity of strong relationships with our students. Several times over the course of the semester, reading Elbow and Tobin and others, I’ve thought to myself, “I’ll never know my students as well as these guys know theirs.” I finally managed to work conferences in, which were great and gave me a much better chance to talk to my students individually, but I still know very little about them. I don’t know where they’re from, I don’t know how many of them live on-campus or off, I don’t know where they work or if they work, and so on. Moreover, they don’t know anything about me, beyond the fact that I’m a grad student and I’m married. The thing is, I’m fine with that.

I feel like I need to keep my students at a distance, because otherwise, I’d be at risk for getting too involved with them. It’s impossible to play Elbow’s “gatekeeper” role if you care too much about your students, in my opinion. If I listen to their pleas about the fact that they’ll lose their money if I drop them from the class for too many absences or whatever, then I’d never be able to do it. It’s very important to me that my students respect me, and I feel that this follows from a certain amount of structure and policy in the classroom. I refuse to let them walk all over me, so I hold them to the policies I set at the beginning of the semester: tardiness is not acceptable, too many absences mean you’re out of the class, late papers get penalized, etc. Those policies are important to the management of my classroom, but they require a certain distance from the students and their personalities and problems to enforce.

I’m not sure how to reconcile this with what Tobin argues for: a need to have personal relationships with our students in order to enhance their writing process and product. I don’t want to let them in, nor do I want to engage in a pseudo-therapeutic relationship with them, because to do so would take more energy than I have and would open myself to my students more than I’m willing to do.

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