Mar 092008
 
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

Some have their 15 minutes of fame; I have had several 15 seconds of fame in the last couple of weeks.

It seems that my story about my student-friend Kate from my column two weeks ago caught the attention of several people, some of whom were nice enough to tell me that they enjoyed the piece. One student, who I don’t know, stopped to tell me how much she enjoyed that installment of my column.

She remarked how nice it was to read something positive about a student for a change. This made me think about how students are respected by faculty.

Several years ago, I read several books about teaching in higher education. My favorite of all time is Parker Palmer’s “Courage to Teach.”

He, like me, believes in teaching from the heart, being student centered and viewing the art of teaching as a vocation.

My least favorite books about teaching would have to be “Generation X Goes to College,” a book written by a man who took a pseudonym and taught at an unnamed college. Both smart moves on his part.

He spends his whole book bemoaning the students. From what I read into his book, he was blaming students in his class for his shortcomings as an instructor. He ranted on and on about the students’ wanting it all for no effort, not taking responsibility and expecting to be entertained by the instructional staff.

From what I know about classroom management, and from the mistakes that I have made and learned from in the 10 years I have been teaching, this author was more to blame than his students.

In October of 2006, I gave a lecture after being awarded the “Honors Prof of the Year.” This lecture is given to the first-year students in the Honors Program, as well as to the larger university community. Perhaps that was my 15 minutes of fame.

Okay, the lecture was about 60 minutes long — 15 minutes longer than I had planned.

I created my lecture around the skills, aspirations and personalities that some of my past students have.

In this lecture about the importance of community, I recognized the fact that my students have taught me a lot of life lessons that I carry with me every day. Yes, Kate, a student and a friend I wrote about in my last column, taught one of those lessons to me.

The lesson that she taught me was that human decency can bring great rewards.

Other students taught me lessons, though, as well.

Cori taught me to really challenge my students about values that should be important to us all. Tim taught me that even a Terrasaur can ride a bicycle. Dave has taught me that hard work really pays off in the end. Drew taught me that the importance of really listening to what your classmates are saying. Chris taught me about the technology that is central to this generation.

Dan taught me that giraffes can create bonds of friendship and continuing fun. Ashley taught me that there are no barriers to success. Jane taught me that we cannot sit silent; we must act in the face of injustice. Alex taught me that it takes little effort to be one of the nicest students on campus. Sean taught me that I have a lot to learn about writing.

I have named courses to honor Lannea and Kenny O. Lannea taught me many lessons about community. Kenny O. taught me that I’m a crazy hippie.

Each of these students – and many more – have become a part of my life and I will carry them in my heart and in my mind for many years to come. What is the lesson for you? Hopefully you have learned that students are respected. You teach the human at the whiteboard with your thoughts and actions.

Chances are that those humans do not realize the positive ways in which students affect them. Chances are even better that they do not express the lessons that they learn from you.

Most people fail to understand how others affect their lives. Even fewer take the time to be authentic people and let those who influence them know how much they mean to them.

Life is too short to not find the positive qualities in those who share even 15 weeks of life with us.

Anne Marie Merline is a professor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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