Friday, August 18, 2006

Finding the Good

I have been teaching at the college level since 1999. I became inspired to teach when attending graduate school and my professors were positive, accessible professionals and admirable academics to mentor. I was in my mid-forties when I attended, my only intention at the time was to become more knowledgeable about several areas of the humanities. Teaching was something I always wanted to do, but never thought would happen in this lifetime.

You see, as it happens my teachers in undergraduate school insisted there was an "overabundance" of teachers and this glut would make finding a teaching job impossible. With the exception of one professor, my teachers were uninspiring and negative, and this was in 1976! I dropped out of college and it took me many years to finish my undergraduate degree, only needing a total of 20 credit hours. There were few teachers who really loved what they were doing, even then. Most were like the Richard Dreyfuss character in the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus." These teachers wanted to either be researching, writing or composing, and not wasting time interacting with young people. Teaching was not their passion, something else was, and it showed.

I was inspired to compose this as a response to the student post on RYS of 8-15. As a part time member of several college faculties, more commonly known as a member of the "freeway faculty," I hear professors complain rather loudly about the apathy of their students and the entitlement of the generation. Look in the mirror, colleagues. If you hate teaching, don't teach. If you are a complainer, it spreads into the classroom and becomes like a cancer spreading throughout the system. Like attracts like.

Teaching is a privilege. I do not teach students who "want" to take my classes. The classes I usually teach are the "required" courses that students groan over having to take. But I always give them a reason for the necessity of the broad-based knowledge they are offered and try to relate the learning in the class to ideas they can wrap their own limited-educational minds around. If they do not know why they are learning something . . . there is no value in it, or meaning to it. It just remains aquestion. This leads to anger and the regurgitated opinions of what teachers want to hear on tests. Then there are teachers who will not allow other's opinions to even be voiced in the classroom! How does one learn the benefit of debate or inquiry? How does one feel empowered to critically analyze something? How can one move toward enlightened thinking?

I like this blog-site because it is mostly a satire on the issues we face and can relate to. BUT we also need to focus our attention on the positive aspects we observe and enjoy in our profession. What would you do even if you were not paid to do it? I am not paid enough to teach but I do it anyway. I get no health benefits, no pension, no private office. I do not even get assurances my job will be available each semester. This choice of employment is, however, what I love to do and colleges should recognize that a fancy PhD from an elite college, or published books and articles printed, does not make a good teacher. Caring about students makes a good teacher. It is a noble profession, if the cup is viewed half full, not half empty.

Perhaps we part timers should also have a blog where we can rate our full time colleagues! If you hate teaching so much, move other and give us part-timers a shot at the action. Many colleges would not be operating at all without the adjunct faculty working hard each semester, picking up the slack. At issue is the human frailty of judgment. And over the wrong issues. We really need to assess whether we belong in the classroom if all we do is find fault with the students we serve. If you want something to change, then change yourself. The only control we have over making things different where we work is to change the way we do things. Doing something, anything, the same way over and over, expecting a different result, then being surprised we get the same results, is insanity. Let's admit we are educated, but not necessarily intelligent about our reactions to life.

I highly enjoy my students. They come to class, they do their work, they ask questions, they offer their voices and they provide me with the opportunity to remain surprised. Not always pleasantly surprised, but all things in balance . . . I'm sure I do not always pleasantly surprise them either! But it is a match made no where else in any career undertaken . . . so I will stay, until I cease to love it. I believe I am enlightened enough to know it is time to leave, before I get too grumpy or cynical!