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Smelling the (Student) Roses

20 Apr Posted by in Academics, Faculty, Students | 1 comment
Smelling the (Student) Roses

A couple of events at the end of March, and the prospect of the usual frenzied end of semester, prompt these musings.  (I know end of March was a while back, but in this season I like to keep a backblog log.)

The events were, first, a gathering of an international honors society and then the annual dance concert. The international meeting featured a number of American and international students talking about their recent projects and plans, in a variety of fields.  The intensity of their interests and the range of achievements were both intriguing. Then the dance concert highlighted some superb student performances, by people ranging from freshman to senior. Both occasions reminded me how good many of our students are, in many areas, and how much fun it is to savor their accomplishment.

Then I thought about how the end of the semester always seems rushed, as we on the faculty hasten to finish courses and grade piles of papers.  Of course the season produces the clearest onrush of student problems, of various sorts – so some of us spend inordinate amounts of time trying to save some students from their own folly or deal with excessively aggrieved students and parents, or both.

And finally I’ve been moved recently to contemplate the recurrent faculty phenomenon of reluctance to teach, where some (happily, I believe, truly a minority) of faculty seem to be bending every effort to get out of normal classroom assignments, with a host of reasons as to why they should merit a reduced load.

All of which adds up, in my possibly naïve logic, to a simple suggestion: let’s be sure we use the season not just for frenzy or problem-encounter, but also as a means of really enjoying student achievement – achievement for which the faculty can legitimately take real credit (as the dancers readily acknowledge, along with the internationally-oriented students talking about the projects they’ve shared with faculty).

Maybe one of the reasons for teach-reluctance is the gap between the relative measurability of research work, and the more amorphous outcomes of teaching. With research there are, hopefully, some clear published products, maybe even some acclaim from colleagues.  With teaching, if we’re not careful, there are just bluebooks and student complaints.  But teaching is more than this.  It’s also the real pleasure of seeing a student who was struggling a bit at first, really seem to get it in the final project; or the sophomore or junior who after a diffident first year really seems to have found herself/himself, and begins to do engaged and interesting work.

Teaching, in other words, is reward, and we need to be open to enjoying its fruits more than we sometimes allow ourselves. The reward is also worth talking about – another aspect of teaching that warrants more attention, as the scholarship of teaching folks have long reminded us.

This is the season when we legitimately look forward to a break, when we face lots of pressures. But it must also be the season when we take pride in what so many of our students have learned to do. Smelling the roses is always a good idea.