One of the first things that I tell my students is that I am a long-term thinker. I have been thinking about writing this column for many moons.
From the moment that I stepped into the classroom 11 years ago, I realized that the classroom is a place like no other. As an instructor in the social sciences, the classroom can be a place of influence for human understanding not only as a social science, or as discourse in philosophy, but of the practical matters of the here and now.
Unlike life outside of a formal classroom setting, a classroom forces us to listen and learn from each other. The classroom can cause us to understand the building blocks of human bond, both of those sitting next to us, standing in front of us, or living a world away.
The way that I view the teaching and learning process is that I am a teacher, and not a professor.
My major advisor taught me this difference while I was a graduate student. Although she is a full professor at a top-ranked university – she is a teacher. She does not profess like a professor.
Although many think the difference is in semantics, it really is in the attitude of the human at the whiteboard and those who are in higher education to learn: to really learn.
My title here at CSU is “instructor” /- the lowest rank in the academic hierarchy, and in my opinion, that title affords me a spot closest to the students. I would have it no other way.
I am free to spend my time with students, I do not have to sit on committees, carry out research or publish papers to keep my job.
My job is to teach.
The University pays me to connect with students on an intellectual level. It is my personal belief that the students learn material when there is a personal connection between everyone in the classroom. We all become teachers through the discussion of opinion and experience, and we all become learners through the same process.
I cannot imagine another career that could be as rewarding.
I help students make sense of the world, and help them understand themselves in hope that they, in turn, can help the world make sense.
Many students and teachers alike do not realize this profession is a two-way street.
Some of the students who have walked into my classroom have also become some of my closest friends, and have taught me many lessons that have helped me understand different perspectives in the world. They have helped me understand myself in relation to those who are close to me, as well as other human beings never to be met.
Whether students realize it or not, we are both on the same side of the whiteboard. Here’s a little known secret: instructors do not have access to the other side in some sort of Alice in Wonderland kind of way.
I was honored last year with the title of “University Honors Program Prof of the Year.” The lecture was about the personal connections that I have made with my students and the things that they have taught me.
I often wonder what students think of the people who stand at the whiteboard and what these people think of the students.
I hear too many stories of professors who stand up in their classrooms and tell their students they don’t want to be there.
These “professors” give little of themselves and their students in get little, and I am sure that the professors get little back. Those of us who have been in a university setting for several years know all too well the role of teaching at a research university – it is not the top priority.
Some professors continue to disregard the students by not fining the human connection that could benefit both. Climbing the academic ladder and the acquisition of research money get in the way of the human connection seem to be the priority for many.
Through several columns this semester, I will endeavor to give students a new perspective: that of the instructional staff.
I will write about the philosophies and perspectives of teaching, the students who have influenced me, about dynamics in the classroom, and how the classroom can be a unique and powerful place.
Unless you have an instructor who is a friend who talks to you about the teaching perspective, you are privy to only one point of view. As an instructor, I have been given the opportunity to understand both sides of classroom dynamics.
In order for you to get the most out of your education, both perspectives are needed. As in life, it is important to keep an open mind about all of the possibilities, and to gather all the information that you can.
It is my personal endeavor to get students to think about the human at the whiteboard in a different way.
We are not to be put on a pedestal. We need to be seen as people whose emotions mirror those of the people further away from the front of the room. We need to be seen as people who not only teach, but who learn from the students as well.
Dr. Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears bi-weekly in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org