Yes, it’s true, professors have lives outside of USF. And professors, rightly so, have different views about telling their students about those lives.
Some create insular classrooms in which the only topic being discussed is the course material. Others aren’t as stringent about separating the professional from the personal and enjoy sharing personal anecdotes with their class.
Should there be a separation of church and state with professor’s personal lives and the classroom?
In general, the Foghorn believes that professors sharing certain parts of their life outside of the University with their students can create a better, more welcoming classroom environment.
Professor-student rapport is particularly important at a school like USF. We have a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which means that many of our classes are based on discussions and interactions. There’s a value in making sure that classrooms support that dynamic.
Many classes require an environment that makes students feel comfortable sharing, and a professor is a major factor in setting the tone. For example, classes covering topics such as ethics, communication and politics often call for students to share personal stories they might not be comfortable sharing otherwise with a room of strangers. When professors share details of their own lives with their class, students can feel more comfortable speaking about their own experiences.
A professor sharing a story about their life experience can also help the class learn the material. A common frustration among students is how to apply lessons learned in the classroom to real-life. Professors tend to know the real-life implications behind their lessons because they’ve lived the real-life implications.
Sharing can help the professor too — those reveals can give context to the professor’s personal state that day. Most professors are understanding when a student comes to them explaining how a personal tragedy or difficulty may affect their performance in class. Just as it would be unfair to pressure a suffering student to not let their personal life impact their academic life, it would be unfair to pressure professors to do the same.
However, not all personal stories are alike, and some don’t serve the purpose of illustrating a lesson or building rapport with students. There are some topics that err on the side of TMI and should remain undiscussed. Keep those stories about bitter custody battles with an ex-wife out of the classroom, as it can be uncomfortable for all parties involved.