I’m currently in the process of writing a four-part series about problems with the neo-liberal university. If you’re interested, you can check out the start of the series here.
Monday was the first day of the spring semester, my last at my current institution, and it was so overwhelmingly good that I felt it necessary to add a post to this series about the one thing you can get in academia that you can’t get anywhere else: Students.
I woke up Monday morning excited that three of my brightest students from last semester had enrolled in a class of mine this semester. I was already looking forward to another semester of working with them–pushing them and being pushed by them–to grow as scholars and people. It was a delight to see their smiling faces in my morning class.
Immediately after this class, I met with the student I’m doing a directed reading with and had a lively conversation about infrastructure and government at local, state, and national levels.
But the most unexpected joy was in my afternoon class where I saw a student who had taken my public speaking course two years ago. I had her when she was a Freshmen and hadn’t quite settled on a major. I assumed she was now a Poli-Sci major or minor and needed this course. However, after class, she told me that she had seen my name next to a list of Spring courses in the Poli-Sci department when taking a sample LSAT and signed up for my class immediately.
I thought my teacher heart could not be happier but I was wrong. Another student came up and apologized for coming in late. She had gotten her Monday and Tuesday schedule confused and thought she was coming to a completely different class that started at 3 instead of 2:30. However, after sitting through a description of the course she asked if she could be signed in. My teacher heart grew three sizes.
Then I really thought my teacher heart couldn’t get any larger and, again, I was wrong. I stopped by to have a conversation with the best department head on campus, who just happens to be my teaching mentor, and she shared a story with me. A student she advises had a class after mine last semester. Apparently, for the whole semester, this student sat outside my classroom listening in while waiting for her class in the next hour. The student liked it so much she wanted to take it but it didn’t fit into her schedule. Apparently, she was delighted to find that I am the TA for one of the classes she did sign up for.
I share this because I am so overwhelmed by gratitude and joy and I don’t believe in keeping those emotions to myself.
I share this as an installment of my Apples series because the core of my criticism in that series is a university that has forgotten its students. Sure, they have new buildings with the latest technology but those resources are being developed at the expense of the type of resources that cultivate good teachers. This week has reminded me how important good teachers can be to students and how incredibly important they have always been to me. I am deeply honored that a few students on this campus would put me in that category.
Lastly, I share this story because too often I see and hear people denigrating teachers. What I mean is, there is too much literature in academic circles that purports to be wise by making fun of academics who also love to teach; who devote substantial amounts of labor, especially emotional labor, to becoming better teachers. Of course research is important, but the way that many people learn about solid scholarly research is through good teachers. Good teachers help students care about issues and about credible sources. Without good teachers there is, quite frankly, no audience for good research. So, I share this story of a week in which my teacher heart has been repeatedly filled to bursting to let you know, if you love teaching, that you are probably making a difference in ways you are not even aware of. Keep on being awesome and teach your heart out.