Why the long face?
As I scanned higher ed news a while back in search of an interesting topic to write about, I came across several that would have worked well. President Obama’s recent statement to “shake up” higher ed, rising tuition costs, low job placement, unbelievable student loan debt amounts, declining state support of colleges and universities, the adjunct experience… Many of those got my fingers ready to fly across the keyboard. And yet, as I read I noticed a common theme – not one had a positive tone or message. So instead, I changed tracks and started looking for uplifting news items in higher education; it was a much more difficult task.
After quite a bit of digging, I came across “Each Called By Name” by Eric Hoover and Sara Lipka. This uplifting story of graduates from the 2013 class of Prince George’s Community College details not only the students themselves, but “the story of a supporting cast” ranging from family members to faculty and staff. Education and graduation are life-changing for each of the highlighted students, and one cannot help but read it and think “yes, THIS is why I work in higher ed.” Whether your role is in the classroom, an office, or in some other area of the college, interacting with students, watching them grow and change, and becoming proud of them is a type of currency and reward that cannot be quantified. The comments on the article said as much, and also revealed another common phenomenon at college graduations – many faculty and staff do not go. While this is understandable to a point, at the same time it is an invigorating and reaffirming celebration devoted to the very best part of what we do. I wonder if we are missing out if we do not take advantage of this energy, and where else we might find (or be missing) it.
The reason we’re in education
From a classroom perspective, I enjoyed Gary Gutting’s “Why Do I Teach?” He describes the goal of most courses to be mastery of knowledge, even though unless that knowledge is actually used regularly in practice it is unlikely to be retained. Instead he asserts “I’ve concluded that the goal of most college courses should not be knowledge but engaging in certain intellectual exercises.” Showing students how to learn and how to enjoy learning leads them to creative and critical thinking, which is really what they need to apply practical knowledge. Many comments on this article say they agree with Gutting, but that he ignores the pressures of legislators, politics, and accreditation, or that he is leaving out the lack of motivation and knowledge that current students bring to the beginning of their college careers. And these things are real and definitely challenging. However, I find his perspective uplifting and refreshing. If he approaches his students with this attitude about learning and teaching, how much more will they both enjoy (and likely benefit) from the experience?
It’s a little late in the year for a resolution, but I’m going to do it anyway. I resolve to acknowledge difficulties, but to match each Eeyore thought with a sunny one. To seek out experiences and opportunities that fill me with hope and excitement. Typically when I encounter individuals like this I find their optimism contagious, and I’d like to be that person. Not only will this make me (and others) feel better, but I know it will actually make me more productive and able to solve problems. Though there are obvious causes for concern – financial situations of colleges, staff and faculty, and students alike, the economy and unemployment, frustrating teaching and learning situations, etc. – finding solutions to these and other problems (opportunities!) will seem more doable with a positive outlook. What are we happy with? What is going well? What are we excited about or looking forward to? Those answers give us buoyancy to face the challenges that we are equipped to address.
Gutting, G. (May 2013). Why Do I Teach? Retrieved July 2013, from The New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/22/why-do-i-teach/?_r=0
Hoover, E. and Lipka, S. (June 2013). Each Called By Name. Retrieved July 2013, from The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/article/Each-Called-by-Name/139847?cid=megamenu