A Year of Thanks

1 post a day for 365 days showing gratitude

lifting my spirits March 1, 2011

Filed under: work — courtsbrogno @ 7:57 pm

Maybe it’s just the end of the quarter, but I have been feeling so uninspired as an instructor. I often feel like I’m doing a dog and pony show in front of the class just to keep students somewhat entertained and interested. I’m hounded by student complaints that my class is just a G.E. and shouldn’t be so demanding. They want to concentrate on their major courses and to them, my class is just a a lame hurdle to jump over.

I apologize for getting on a soap box, but dammit, I fully believe that my class, as a G.E. writing and critical thinking course, is the most important class these students will take, because, dammit, they need to know how to write clearly and think critically, as so many people in this world do neither. My class teaches skills that will transcend any major course they take and further them in their professional lives more than they can even imagine.

But they don’t see it that way, and so by this time in the quarter, I’m walking a fine line between losing my shit and lashing out at them and trying to sweeten their learning by contemplating bringing  everyone donuts. And both options are stupid and ridiculous.

Today I was feeling especially low and dreaded going into class to–once again–teach what I think is essential and important knowledge to a largely unresponsive student body. I feel like it’s a battle I’m losing and have begun to rethink all my teaching pedagogues.

But then, I got to school and opened my email to this message from a former student:

I wanted to begin by first off thanking you. Hopefully you recall having me as a student last winter quarter. Your class prompted me into becoming a more critical thinker, which has helped me mature into a more responsible and thought-provoking individual. This ability has inevitably expanded my understanding of society, thus causing me to question much of what I once believed to be important. I am currently a second year business major, still undecided upon what career avenue I wish to pursue. Lately I have developed a strong interest in reading and writing. This is why I am writing you. I have a few questions regarding the practicality of switching majors this late in my college career. I was wondering if there was a time you were available during office hours so I can discuss with you some of my questions and concerns concerning the english school. I would really appreciate your input on this matter before I make a decision. I hope this finds you well.

I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am for this email and how much it lifted my spirits. It was like all the doubts and concerns and frustrations I have are all worth it when an email like this comes my way. I must admit, it doesn’t happen very often, but to know that one former student sees the relevance in my class and the actual importance of a general education course, well, it just makes me feel like I have a purpose, and a worthy one at that.

And to get back on my soap box for just a minute, I end with a quote from Cardinal Newman from his book, Idea of a University because he says it better than I can:

Today I have confined myself to saying that that training of the intellect, which is best for the individual himself, best enables him to discharge his duties to society. The Philosopher, indeed, and the man of the world differ in their very notion, but the methods, by which they are respectively formed, are pretty much the same. The Philosopher has the same command of matters of thought, which the true citizen and gentleman has of matters of business and conduct. If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training good members of society. Its art is the art of social life, and its end is fitness for the world. It neither confines its views to particular professions on the one hand, nor creates heroes or inspires genius on the other. Works indeed of genius fall under no art; heroic minds come under no rule; a University is not a birthplace of poets or of immortal authors, of founders of schools, leaders of colonies, or conquerors of nations. It does not promise a generation of Aristotles or Newtons, of Napoleons or Washingtons, of Raphaels or Shakespeares, though such miracles of nature it has before now contained within its precincts. Nor is it content on the other hand with forming the critic or the experimentalist, the economist or the engineer, though such too it includes within its scope. But a University training is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to {178} popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life. It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility. It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them. He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect. He has the repose of a mind which lives in itself, while it lives in the world, and which has resources for its happiness at home when it cannot go abroad. He has a gift which serves him in public, and supports him in retirement, without which good fortune is but vulgar, and with which failure and disappointment have a charm. The art which tends to make a man all this, is in the object which it pursues as useful as the art of wealth or the art of health, though it is less susceptible of method, and less tangible, less certain, less complete in its result.


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