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I can hear the call again

With the first week of classes over, I’m reminded that working with college students is the best job in the world. Simply put, it’s my calling.



I lost that feeling last year because major projects that weren’t related to teaching distracted me. They devoured huge amounts of time and were stressful like nothing I had ever experienced in my 31 years as a newspaper reporter, newspaper editor and journalism instructor. Fortunately, I’m out from under those projects now.

This means I can concentrate on teaching and working with students outside the classroom. And I’m doing a lot of things differently. For instance, I asked the students to help shape the course by asking them questions like, What do you want to learn this semester? How do you want to go about doing so? What should be the format for assignments? What should we do in class besides discussions, working in pairs and working in small groups? What should be the course policy on attendance? On tardiness? Should there be extra-credit assignments? What should my office hours be? Students were at first surprised but then eager to contribute answers.

Something I read earlier this semester has become my mantra: "Less of me is more of them, for authentic, deeper learning." I try to remember it in every class. Here’s an example: Last week, we were talking about nouns, and I pointed out that besides people, places and things, a noun can be an idea, too.

In years before, I would have said, “For example, communism is a noun. Freedom is a noun. Happiness is a noun.” But this year, I said, “Can someone give us an example of an idea that is a noun?” The question hung in the silence of no replies. Before, I would have been uncomfortable with the silence and would have answered my own question. This time, I rephrased it and then looked around the room, making eye contact with each student, waiting for an answer.

Finally, one student answered the question perfectly. As I responded to his answer, a few students in the class starting chuckling. I asked what the joke was because I think humor reduces students’ anxiety and makes them better learners. The student said he had simply re-phrased something on a poster in the corner of the room. This turned into an unscheduled teaching moment, as I pointed out that sometimes we can compare what we’ve written to what someone else has written to see if we’ve done it right. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t changed my routine in the classroom.

Another change is instead of explaining something difficult in just one class, I begin the next class by reviewing the same topic. Or, if a student asks a question I either can’t answer or don’t have time to answer, I deal with it at the top of the next class instead of saying something like “We’re going to deal with that in a couple of weeks. I also intend to seek much more student response to how well the course is going. There are all kinds of different ways to evaluate their comments and then apply the findings to the course.

All of this keeps makes the classroom a more challenging but fun place to be. I hope if you’ve read this far, you have been as blessed as I have been in the workplace.

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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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