Sunday, May 08, 2011

Still Capping

As department chair, I have had the opportunity to mentor many new faculty. One of the most time-consuming and yet important parts of my position is to sit in classrooms to observe a part-time instructor’s teaching. It takes time, but the best part is the time spent with the instructor afterwards, talking about their teaching style, the things they are doing well, ideas for improving. It is the connection I can make, keeping an open-door policy, letting the part-time instructor know I am here if and when I am needed—that is what makes the task a joy.

I held the position as Interim Division Dean for a year. It was a very successful year as the faculty is extremely talented and work hard at their own crafts. They accomplished a great deal during the year and it seemed that everything they tried, they did well. It was their talents and hard work that brought these honors. My contribution was in creating a team who cared about one another, collaborating across the division together, building on our relationships.

All this remains outside the classroom. The most best delicious part of being a teacher is being inside the classroom. And it is this teaching that I love the most. When I was working with kids in special education, the best part was watching them “get it.” They worked so hard and hopefully the light bulb would come on. This thrill never went away. In college it is exciting to listen to students make the connections, start to think how they use the skills and knowledge for themselves, see the learning, the growth. It is watching the student with barriers learn how to roll with them, roll over them, learn how to deal with the bumps and slings. Each day I fall in love with teaching all over again.

Professor Ben Padrow was my mentor while in college. I was recently contacted by his daughter-in-law, asking for information about Ben as she prepared a portfolio for her Master’s degree program. Unfortunately Ben died long before she could meet him. As I prepared my answers to her questions, I came to remember what made him such a great teacher. Ben had an incredible passion for rhetoric. He brought this passion to his classes every day and assumed that his students held this passion as well. He didn’t question our feelings about speaking; he simply treated us as if we held this same passion. And we did. I compared my own teaching to his and realized that unlike him, I didn’t believe that my students had this same passion. Instead I hoped they did. Like Ben, I treat my students as if they did hold it, but not with the same conviction as Ben. Once again, he taught me something important. I may be surprised that students don’t hold the same love of speaking, but accept they may not…Ben simply took us to this passion on the wings of his own.

And teaching doesn’t stop as we walk out of the classroom for we never know where we have been a role model, a teacher. I remember once while in the Women’s Room, I heard a woman crying in the stall next to me. I quietly asked her if there was anything I could do. She was quiet for a moment and then said, “No. I’m fine.” A week later a young woman I had met while lecturing in a Sign Language Interpretation class came up to me, telling me that it was her in the stall the week before, and thanked me for my concern. She had recognized my voice when I asked if I could be of help. A year later she returned to the college and told me how much my offer to help, my sense of caring for a stranger, has helped her. It is this type of interaction with students and colleagues that help make this profession such an exhilarating. In 2002, I won an Excellence in Teaching Award. It was such an honor to be nominated and to actually win was incredible.

I returned to teaching after the year of being Interim Division Dean. The transition was not as easy as I thought it would be. The roughness I experienced wasn’t due to leaving the dean position, but rather was due to a combination of losing the connections with faculty I had created as dean and by not re-entering into a traditional classroom. When I returned to teaching it was to teach online courses. Over the past 15 years, I had worked to appropriately bring Public Speaking to the online venue. Initially I was one of two national pioneers of teaching public speaking online—I taught my first online public speaking course in 1997. I say “appropriately” because it could be and I did teach it online, but it wasn’t quite right. The technology was not yet perfected. Percentage-wise, students were as successful as in a traditional classroom, but I was not satisfied with how the students were being taught. I spent the next two years following my return to teaching in a virtual classroom. The amount of work it took to teach this class in what I hoped would be correctly was overwhelming, and it still wasn’t right. It still remained a one-on-one tutoring class. And frankly, doing this online almost broke my spirit. I hated my job as it had no rewards, or the rewards were so few and far between that there was no balance. It was true that I was working well with some students, that I received positive feedback from students. There were some positive “AhHa!” moments for them. But not enough to overcome the actual amount of work to get them there. I finally stepped away from the idea of teaching this course online and returned to a traditional classroom. After two hours on the first day of class, I stepped out of the classroom and felt my heart sing. I was once again in love with my job.

An on and on and on~~~

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