In the current film Whiplash, the lead character, a hard-driving, almost vicious teacher, shouts to a student: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” Watch the trailer here and you can see how powerful his delivery is.
In higher education a good job is usually a grade of “B.” Professors encourage students to be happy with a “B.” Working for and receiving a “B” is not considered negative in any way.
But the teacher in the film is saying that an excellent job, even a close-to-perfect job, is the only thing that should be sought. Now my guess is that anyone reading this is saying the film character’s admonition is ridiculous. A’s, B’s, and even an occasional C are fine. A grade average of B is more than good. Good job is a great thing to say to a student…or, for that matter, to anyone. Movies with lines and teachers like that are just inconsequential entertainment.
But wait a minute.
Perhaps a good job really isn’t good enough. Perhaps the aspiration by students or faculty to seek the words good job is not an aspiration worth aspiring to. Perhaps a good job is not the job anyone should desire to do. Because good job is just that: a decent, respectable, satisfactory effort. But it’s not great, not excellent, not the best. It does not make anyone feel really wonderful, only adequate.
In your job as a professor, do you really like your dean or department chair telling you that you are doing a good job? On evaluations by your students, do you want them to say you have done a good job?
My guess is that your answer is kind of a yes-no response. My hope is that your answer would be no.
The words good job are not harmful words, just words that lack an adequate aspiration.