Retired now, with time to write, I revel in the time to follow my passion, but I miss my students. Every term for about 15 years, I taught information literacy to incoming first-year college students. Same curriculum term after term; yet, every single class was different. That’s the joy of teaching. You teach “the same thing” term after term, but it’s never the same. Each class has its own tenor, it’s own culture, it’s own collective way of looking at the world.
And each term, you refine what you present to them, how you help them to understand the concepts you want them to grasp. And the process reminds me of the biblical parable about sowing the seed, how some falls on stony ground and some gets lost by the wayside and some falls on fertile ground and rises and grows. As a teacher, all I could ever do was to engage as many students as possible (the class was required, not a choice) and help them along the learning road.
Teaching is full of joy and frustration, often at the same time. A student worked at a full-time job until 2 a.m. and fell asleep in our 8 a.m. class. Another student’s brother was murdered in Oakland and couldn’t concentrate (who could?). Another student was homeless (10% of all Cal State University students are estimated to be homeless — that’s 50,000 students). Yet, through it all, we inched together to progress, that “aha” moment when something got through in a way that I knew it would “stick”: How to search effectively, how to structure a survey with as little bias as possible, how to evaluate information, how to understand a statistical chart, the list went on.
Often, the best way to reach them was to be in my office as many hours as I could, not just the required three hours a week, so students could find me for some one-on-one time. Other ways were to answer panic emails at 10 p.m. at night when an assignment was due at midnight, to understand some of the issues they dealt with every day and make accommodations as needed, and to remember that teaching in this environment with these “newbie” college students was part teaching, part parenting, part social work, part psychology, and all caring. The trick was figuring out which role I needed from moment to moment and be there for them.