Two days before the beginning of the conference I have co-organised I got very concerned that we were short on student volunteers and, so, I asked my second-year class for help. There are 60 students in class, all of whom knew very well how important the conference was for me, as I had repeatedly explained. In the end one helped me pack the bags (another one volunteered but got ill) and only one became a proper conference volunteer for the three days the conference lasted. My thanks to her.

Just for you to see how important this conference was for the Department we included a three-day break in our teaching programmes so that everyone could attend it. Students were welcome indeed and needed, as I say. If students in my class had told me they were on strike on 16 and 17, I would have understood their lack of collaboration. Yet, none mentioned this so I can only assume they didn’t volunteer out of disinterest (the other possibility is that they were preparing the paper proposals they need to hand in tomorrow…). Whatever the case is, I was sorely disappointed.

I asked our student volunteers why this situation had come about and they patiently explained to me that students who help teachers or contact in any way with us more than it is strictly necessary become ostracised. Teacher’s pet they’re dubbed. This, of course, is as old as the hills but sycophants (if that’s the right translation for ‘pelotas’) need not be confused with team players. Stupidly, I thought that my students would take my call as an opportunity to get a glimpse of academic life that might be inspirational for their future (careers). I know that handing our bottles of water, making photocopies and directing delegates to the right classroom is not exactly glamorous but helping me would have been more clever than staying away. Why? Well, for one thing, everyone needs sooner or later a helping hand, maybe a job reference. And two, I don’t feel now inclined to mark with generosity the pile of proposals coming today from students who chose not to help.

Is this blackmail? Um, no, I think not. It goes by the old name of backscratching, or doing mutual favours. There is something else for which there is no exact translation: ‘quedar bien.’ WordReference tells me this translates as ‘making an impression’ but that’s not quite what it means in Spanish. ‘Quedar bien’ is about wanting to please for your own sake: not necessarily because you like the person you please but because you want that person to think well of you, of your politeness, willingness and readiness to work hard in this case. How this is mixed up with the obnoxious figure of the teacher’s pet is beyond me.

Luckily, I was wrong and we had enough student volunteers. No teacher’s pet in sight, though…

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