I am your professor. And unlike that other guy, I respect you.
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I teach you a physical science course that you need to graduate. I know it’s hard. I know that some of you will give it your best shot, and others won’t.
But I truly believe that all of you are capable of this. And as a result, you do learn. A lot. And that’s kudos to you.
Who am I? I am the chubby middle-aged white chick that teaches you your lab science. Or, as some of you told me straight up because I asked: "it’s that one last class that I’ve put off forever but gotta have to graduate."
Granted, you might not think you need this class to own your own business, to raise your kids, or to manage an office. But the quiet secret of a lot of college courses is that there’s always something you can take away from it that’s good – if you do your bit and I do mine.
My business is to teach you science, and the real point of that is to help you to learn how to think. How to write. How to ask good questions and demand straight answers. Ten years from now you may not remember the difference between a reverse fault and a normal fault, but you’ll know how to find out.
Like that other guy, I too would like to pass on some tips, and to vent a little bit too. (But in a different way.)
First rule- Let’s be respectful to each other.
Actually, this is the only rule because everything else proceeds from there. I think most of you get that. In fact, my experience is that it’s only a rare few of you that don’t understand and value that.
Who am I to know this? I grew up so far below the poverty line that education was my only ticket out. It worked -- I have a doctorate from one of the best universities in the US, and I’ve been teaching evenings while holding a full-time day job for several decades, just because I love to do it.
But that alone should not impress you -- what ought to matter to you is whether I know my stuff, and can convey it to you in ways you can “get.” And having been there, I do know how hard it is to “get” material in class when you’ve already put in a full day at work. And when your kid is sick. Or when it’s just plain gorgeous outdoors and you’d rather be there than here in my class.
I get that. And I think for the most part, you get that about me.
Second rule- Be respectful to your classmates.
This one is a truth, and you know I expect it of you. I’m not the berating type, or the insulting type, but you have all seen me stop lecturing, look to the back of the room, and ask the chatterers to take it outside please. I don’t have to rant or raise my voice; your peer pressure and my quiet request have always been enough to keep the class on track. Thank you for that.
Third rule- Be on time, but know that I understand about life.
Some of you drive 45 miles each way in heavy traffic to get to my class. I know this. I myself drive 25 miles each way. I know that traffic around here is hideous and that life contains unreasonable bosses who hit you with stuff right at quitting time, bad weather, and fender benders on I-66. I don’t want you to risk life and limb to get here! You know that I will start at 7:30 on the dot to be fair to those who do get there on time, but I’m not going to dump on you if you occasionally arrive late. All I ask is that if you truly have to be late, just come in quietly. You know I want you there.
Fourth rule- Do ask questions during class.
Some of the best class discussions in my memories came of students asking a question that seemed to be coming from left field. But when asked why they asked it, there was a link, and it took the class in a new and good direction and we explored a connection to science and ...policy, child-raising, environmentalism, history, or any other number of cool things. There’s time for that. I build it in. I love the left field questions...they keep me honest and thinking hard, and they do the same for you.
Now, all that said, you know and I know that I grade tough, and some of you aren’t sure how to handle this. You can’t wheedle a grade out of me, or nag one out of me, but you can work for one and get the one you truly deserve. And you can ask for help outside of class and get it. And when you leave my class, you will know how to do this stuff, and what’s even better, you’ll know that you know.
I’m old enough and have been teaching long enough to know that I don’t know everything, and that you don’t either and I don’t expect you to. Some of you went to cruddy underperforming secondary schools; some of you dropped out for one reason or another, worked a while and are now trying to do better for yourself; some of you wasted your opportunities; some of you have learning disabilities, and some of you for whatever reason just don’t think you can learn, and therefore, you can’t learn. A very few of you are just trying to slide by, but the great majority of you are here, day in and day out, working hard and making real progress. That’s why I’m here standing in front of this room instead of drinking a nice cognac at home. If you don’t know it, it’s my job to teach it to you.
And my advice to you when anyone – ANYONE – trots out that tired old nonsense about Americans being the worst educated -- smile politely and just walk away, permanently, because that’s been a fashionable position for some Europeans to take for decades. I’ve worked in Europe and Africa myself and I’ve heard it plenty of times. But guess what --It wasn’t true in the 1970’s, ‘80’s or ‘90’s (I was there) and it isn’t true now. And what’s more, it’s rude. Just. Plain. RUDE. And also ignorant. Broad statements like that, that bin an entire nation into one supposedly-illiterate pool, serve only one purpose: to aggrandize the person saying it.
At the beginning of the semester, as you my students know, I don’t assess you to find out what you know and don’t know. I give you a survey to ask what you are interested in, what aspects of the science intrigue you, what your expectations are, and for the opportunity to tell me anything else you think I ought to know.
The answers you give me are like gold to me. Some are flip, some profane, some naive, and some reveal that you’re scared, unconfident, tired, sick or angry. Sometimes you do tell me about a subject you’re interested in, or a question you need an answer to. Do you know how I use those? I use them to get to know you. I use them to get an idea how you think. I use them to tailor my lectures each semester so that ideas have a chance to grab you by the throat and spark your imagination. I don’t care that you don’t know stuff going in – that’s a given! That’s why you’re here with me! It’s what you know when you leave that matters. And for some reason, most of you come back to me for second semester...even if you got a “D”!
The dirty little secret about teaching, especially as an adjunct (which is what a lot of us who teach evenings are) is that it pays...dirt. When you count the hours spent preparing, lecturing, writing, grading labs and papers, I’d make way more dollars flipping burgers than I do for a semester of teaching. So obviously that’s not why I do it...and I‘ve been doing it for several decades now. I think you can figure out the answer. Yeah, I’m addicted to the “Aha” moment when we’ve been struggling together on something difficult and all of a sudden the light bulb comes on for you. And when you ask me to write you a letter of recommendation because you’re going on to a 4-year school to study...my subject? OMG, I walk on air for months.
Why does a true teacher teach? Because of the students. Not because of the pay. Not because of the prestige, such as it is. It’s because of the students. Teaching doesn’t depress me; it energizes me. You students keep me in touch with what’s real. You each are the tip of the iceberg – all that potential and a lot of life ahead. That’s the point of having a lot more growing to do. And I get to be a little part of shaping it. You are the future generation, yes, and I am psyched about that.
So thanks, all you students who’ve come through my classes. I think the world of you.
And that’s my RAVE.