[As seen published in River Valley Woman magazine]
I had the privilege this summer of teaching my first undergraduate theology course in Saint Paul. It’s probably the nerd in me, but in my world, combining the summer sun with academia is the best! My students didn’t think so. For most of them, (maybe all of them actually) it was a required course they were forced to get out of the way to achieve whatever degree they were pursuing. Combine the required liberal arts course with the fact that summer is meant for the beach and not the classroom and you’ve got yourself a tough crowd.
I thought my situation was unique to the fact that I was teaching in summer session. I thought the complaining about the course load was due to the fact that in the shortened summer session format, there is a lot of learning crammed into a few short weeks. I thought the critique of my final paper expectations was due to a decline in motivation directly proportionate to hours of sunshine received in a day. After talking to a few more seasoned teachers however, it turned out my “tough crowd epidemic” is pretty standard for teachers. Public schooling, private schooling, home schooling I would place a hefty bet that any teacher will say they have experienced this.
I remember the flip side of the coin as well. Growing in critical thinking made me a very argumentative undergrad. I suppose I was practicing my new found reasoning skills. Today, my profs today tell me I drove them batty, always standing outside their office door the minute that office hours started. Also I believe I may have been a used car salesman in a past life, so I tend to think I can wordsmith my way out of just about any situation. Ironically, I couldn’t do that when I was in their shoes, setting the expectations of my own students. You give them an inch, and they take a mile. Karma’s a….you know what.
This whole experience of being the bad cop made me reflect on my own teachers. The ones who really stay in my memory are the ones who, at the time, I thought were real jerks. Their assignments were lengthy, their readings were way above my head, and their expectations were ridiculous. Apparently, they thought I was capable of far more than I did. It turns out they were right. I was capable of more than I thought I was. And I would never have found out had they not pushed me to do hard things.
That was the theme of my class this summer. Every time I was met with resistance against whatever we were studying for the week, I would tell them “nothing worth doing in life is easy.” If it’s easy, it’s familiar, and if it’s familiar, you’re not learning anything new! Challenge isn’t always something to criticize, sometimes it’s a sign of growth. I think this lesson goes beyond the classroom. When you think about it, the easy, convenient, fast-lane way, is usually not very rewarding. I’m reminded of the lyrics to the Miranda Lambert song Automatic: “When everything is handed to you, it’s only worth, as much as the time put in.” Truer words never spoken. Looking back on my short life so far, the things I really value, are the things that came as a result of a heck of a lot of tears.
My senior year, we had this crazy English teacher who thought we were capable of writing a 10 page autobiography. At the time, 10 pages was the equivalent of a Masters Thesis (which, at the time, I would never have imagined I would also write someday). I think I spent more time complaining about the paper than actually writing it. Today when I pull out that project (aptly named “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” from Macbeth) I cry every time I read it. Thank you Mrs. M—– for making us do that paper. I treasure it today, and read it to my daughter as a bed time story. It puts her right to sleep. (:
So to all the teachers out there who care less about being liked and more about educating human beings, thank you for putting your students before your ego. Because even if today we don’t call you up to tell you so, we owe you one.
So does the rest of the world.