Yesterday, I watched the movie The Stanford Prison Experiment at The Lyric and I was mesmerized and hence today I watched it again. The movie absorbed me not only because it was a nicely made movie which captures the essence of the experiment which was conducted 34 years ago but also because it teaches so much about human nature, how our behaviors impact others, and what kind of responsibilities we have in order to ensure that our behavior does not harm others’ well-being. Given that I myself am an educator, and teach the first year engineering classes at Virginia Tech, it made me think of my position as an authority and how my comments, remarks, and attitude toward them in and outside the class might affect my students.
Given the fact that students see the instructors as an authority figure in class, especially in the undergraduate classes, I think I carry with me an immense amount of power when I enter a classroom to teach. I have the power to not only shape their learning but also direct how they see the world and see themselves in it. I can provide a learning environment which increases their confidence in their own self by validating their capacities to learn and by situating learning in their experiences. Such a learning environment will lead to a development of intellectual power, reflective judgement, self-confidence and integrity in my students. At the same time, by portraying learning as shared among their peers, I can teach them to value others’ cultures and viewpoints.
I do not only have the responsibility to ensure that the students develop self-confidence and respect for others through my teaching but also have the duty to ensure that I do not do anything which psychologically hurts them and hinders their development as a citizen who is capable of taking ethical actions for the common good. This becomes even more important while teaching the first year college students. The first year is the initial step for the college students to understand the world. This is the first time when they are away from their parents and actually live their lives on their own. They start to interact with the world without an immediate safeguard from their parents. At the same time, it is a time when they start thinking about their majors and career paths. This is the period when they beginning their journeys to find an identity of their own. With all of this happening to them at the same time, it leaves them in a very delicate and psychologically fragile state of mind. In such a case, any insensitive or inappropriate comment from an instructor about their abilities to succeed might have a huge impact on the students. This in turn can adversely impact their development as effective citizens.
While I realize that I carry a huge responsibility on my shoulders while teaching and interacting with the first year students, I believe that the responsibility which educators carry while interacting with students at any grade level is equally huge. I just hope that we, the educators, keep on doing our work with utmost honesty and student interest in mind.