One week from tomorrow the Fall semester will commence. Nervous students will gather in classrooms with a jumble of thoughts - Will this class be decent? Will this professor be okay? Will I learn anything? Does that girl in the second row notice/like me? I wonder what is for lunch? What kind of job will I be able to get once I actually graduate? Why does this professor keep asking inane rhetorical questions?
Nervous professors - well, okay, at least this particular professor - will ask themselves: Will I make a difference in the lives of these students? That is the only question that makes any sense to me. Certainly the only question that floats to the surface as I go about the business of sharing ideas, methodologies, and larger questions with my students. I want them to think. I want them to contemplate. I want them to figure out what it means to think historically. I want them to realize the importance of this whole 'college' business. I want them to do well, certainly, but even more importantly I want them to grow, I want them to stretch, I want them to realize that it is just as important to know what they don't know than what they do know. I want them to learn how to ask good question even more than to provide good answers. I want them, I yearn for them, to learn to love learning. I want them to get absolutely silly about their desire to read and write and absorb and question and wonder.
I want them to learn.
I worry that they won't.
Not they can't, that they won't. Anybody can learn. Anybody. It simply takes a little curiosity and a bit of work. Not much in the grand scheme of things, I would argue. But it certainly means that you have to have the correct attitude about the entire business.
I am not sure that this is presented as clearly as one might hope in our advertisements to our prospective students. At least the commericials that play most often on the local channels - the commericials filled with images of student life outside of the classroom. Yes, they tip their hat to the classroom experience, but it is always as some sort of minor digression in the larger narrative.
Yes, I very much understand that the college experience is much more than the classroom. I get it. I was an undergraduate. I enjoyed myself thoroughly as an undergraduate. I even managed to do my share of things that were not particularly edifying as an undergraduate. That said, I can list for you the people from my undergraduate days who made the greatest difference in my life - Dr. Diane Mockridge, Dr. Steve Newman, Dr. William Wooley, Dr. 'Spud' Hannaford, and most especially Dr. Jerome Thompson. The ideas, images, values, and intellectual stimulation that these people gave to me...the importance and influence is beyond what I can describe. It happened in the classroom.
I learned a great deal about myself outside of the classroom - it was all incredibly valuable to my overall growth - but it was the lessons I learned in the classroom that stay with me, that linger, that effect who I am today as a professor.
This needs to be highlighted in the commericials. For, if the commericials don't highlight student life they tend to extol the virtues of the degree in and of itself, as some form of financial talisman that will ward off a dire economic future. Again, good, I have no problem with my students working to better themselves financially (especially in this dodgy economy). But if that is all that we aspire to be - an assembly line for degrees that hopefully lead to larger paychecks - then are we not missing the point of the entire enterprise?
Should we not be reaching for something greater? Should we not be challenging our students to do more than simply filling out the requisite forms for better employment opportunities? Should we not inspire our students to see the degree as something more than a simple transaction to a bigger paycheck - do this and you will earn 'x'. The assumption, of course, is that said higher paycheck will make them productive and happy. Do we not want our students to reach for greater heights than basic economy?
I hope so. Not simply for my classroom, but for all classrooms.
I love teaching. I cannot see myself doing anything else. There is something magical about walking into a classroom and setting to the work of talking about and sharing the topic of the day. I love it. It gets me going, it focuses my thoughts. I want to share that with my students. I want them to get how important it is to think, ponder, contemplate, ruminate. I want them to figure out how valuable it is to think critically and historically. I want them to see the importance of context and culture. I want them to get it, to see what the world has to offer, to provide for them an opportunity to see that the world is a bit bigger and more magnificent than what they might have guessed.
The kicker? They need to want to go on this journey with me. They need to decide, rather early on, that this whole messy business will be worth the effort. They need to decide that even if they cannot see the end of all of this that it is still worth setting forth.
I look forward to undertaking the quest once more. I cannot think of a better thing to do.
How do you explain that in a 30 second commercial? (For anybody at UTPA - I would be glad to give it a shot.)