Thursday, June 17, 2010


While I am still officially on sabbatical, I am also back to the classroom. I decided that it would be a good idea to ease myself back into teaching after a year away, so I signed up to teach 2 summer session courses. Luckily, I chose to teach the Interpersonal course. I say 'luckily' because it is the course I ended up changing and modifying the most while on my sabbatical. I'm certain that a test run or two is a good idea before going back full bore in the Fall semester.

Going back to teaching in the summer is a mixed blessing. It's short. That's good. It's jam-packed. That's not so good. The students tend to be very good - dedicated and up for the challenge of 15 weeks in 5. That's good. The pace is exhausting - whether they are up for it or not. That's not so good.

Going back to teaching after a year away is a little like riding a bicycle after a long time away. After the initial wobbliness, you get your rhythm back and things start running smoothly. You remember why you started doing one thing, and why you stopped doing another. You remember what works and what doesn't. You remember what standing and being 'on' for four hours without a break really does to you and your back.

Some of the things you were hoping would change or simply go away have not and, of course, will not. There are still excuses and rationalizations, laziness and carelessness. There is also the thing that brought you to teaching in the first place. The excitement, the energy, the 'light bulb' moments when you see someone getting a concept - really getting it - and realize that they are getting it a good 10 years before you did. And part of why they are getting it is because you are there, introducing this idea that they haven't been exposed to before, sharing ideas with them about how this might affect their life, and taking the time to answer their questions and encourage their doubt and skepticism. It's the joy that is teaching.

I realize that technology has given us educational options that were not conceived of when I was in college. I see the benefit of the internet in making higher education available to people in remote locations. I see the lure of "not needing to commute" to get your degree and understand why it's so tempting to so many, especially after my year of a 10-step commute from my kitchen to my office - cup of coffee in hand. I see the advantage of being able to pull together disparate people from disparate places into an online 'community' in which we can learn from one another. I reject the notion that I am a Luddite.

And, I see so clearly the superior benefits of face-to-face interaction. Something happens when people are in the same room with others, discussing ideas, that doesn't happen in the same way via computers. There is the spark of an idea - someone gives an opinion -someone else disagrees - another looks like they have a counterpoint but they don't volunteer - UNLESS you call on them, call them out, ask them what they think. Some people need the push, the pull, of an outward expression of someone's interest in their thoughts. That's what happens when you can see peoples' faces - you can invite, cajole, push, challenge - in the moment that the idea is taking place. There's no time to dress it up or monitor or edit -- it's the idea, right now, in all its roughness and confusion and searching. It's learning. And it is exciting and energetic and full of life in a way that no computer can emulate.

I know the arguments - believe me, I've heard them all - and I'm not going to try to refute them. I also know what happens in the classroom. There's a magic that happens that makes the inconvenience of it all oh so worthwhile. I recognize that the day may come when administrators and legislators decide for the rest of us that education is a dish best served over fiber-optic cable. But for now, I'm relishing in the messiness, the inconvenience, the life that is the classroom.

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