I went out late today. It’s Saturday and I am allowed. I was prepared for a hard walk. For the last two weeks, I’ve been racked with a bad head cold that has kept me off the streets. Today’s depressing overcast, misty drizzle, and penetrating chill in the air that were heralding the cold hurtling towards us at breakneck speed from the north didn’t help my reluctant attitude. Nevertheless, I had to get out.
I found the wet streets spattered with psychedelic patterns of damp sand created by last night’s rain. Every grinding step reminded me of Bill Robinson or Bojangles doing one of their graceful soft shoe sand dances. It wasn’t long, however, out from the scraping, gnashing, steady 2/4 cadence of each step came whispers: “I am a professor”….”teaching”….”research”….”I am a professor”…. “teaching”….”research”….”I am a professor”….
I had thought I could go out and get away for a few minutes from an discussion that’s raging and of which I am in the middle on a list that had been triggered by reactions to the Random Thought, “Being A Teacher.” It started out centering on whether teaching centered on engaging people or transmitting subject matter. It then moved on to the issue of whether the skills needed for research and scholarship are the same skills needed for teaching, whether being a good scholar automatically translates into being a good teacher. The discussion quickly degenerated–or transformed–in one of research versus teaching, professor versus teacher. I was beginning to feel like I had taken on the world saved only by the ghost of Don Quixote comfortingly draping his arm around my shoulders.
One statement got to me. The person asked wasn’t it true that those in higher education were professors, not than teachers. I asked him to define his terms. His answer seemed so haughty, so arrogant, so denigrating of so many of those good, dedicated people struggling against so many odds in the trenches of k-12. I don’t think he meant it that way, but that’s how it came out. I just had to get some fresh air thinking I could block out this discussion. It was wrong. That statement kept popping into my mind. I saved it:
I consider a professor to be someone who goes beyond
teaching by also professing what he/she has learned to be
true in one’s scholarly endeavors, while also providing
students with the tools to be able to either accept or
reject such affirmations. Inherent in this notion is the
need for critical inquiry into one’s own field via
research endeavors. Teachers convey information about
various topics to their students so that they have
certain skills and knowledge base.
Ultimately, I feel that individuals who instill a sense
of wonder in their students to investigate and explore
and push the boundaries of our understanding as well as
provide them with the tools to do so have gone beyond
teaching and have become professors.
Coincidentally, yesterday I had a conversation with some colleagues at a TGIF coffee clutch that paralleled the internet debate I was embroiled in. The gist of some of our conversation went like this after one of the people at the table complained that the University had run out of money to fund his trip to a conference when he was scheduled to present a paper. Don’t hold to remembering word for word:
“We’re a university now and we still can’t get enough money to do good research or go to conferences,” my colleague complained.
Taking a devil’s advocate position, I asked in reply, “Why do you want to do research?”
“Why? That’s a dumb question.”
“Well, it keeps me abreast in my field.”
“Your entire field?”
“You can’t be a good professor unless you do research and publish. If you’re an accomplished scholar you’re a good teacher.”
“Can’t we just read journals and books? We can be just as informed by being consumers of research rather than producers. Besides, synthesizing that material requires the same skills of research.” ………..
“It keeps my mind alive.”
“What about your classes?”
“It the same old thing, day after day. Don’t you get bored after a while teaching the same ole class?”
“Honestly? I have never been more alive or felt meaningful since I made the transformation from a researching professor to a teacher and became more concerned teaching each student rather than transmitting information. Every class is an unknown. Every student is different. Everyone is a new adventure. Every class is a new challenge.” …..
“I don’t care what they say. Research and publication is the only thing around here they really appreciate.”
“Everyone! Us. You. Me. The administration.”
“Now, that one I can’t totally argue against. What about the students?”
“What about them?”
“You’re a teacher.”
“This isn’t public school. I am a professor!”
He uttered that statement with an emphatic tone that was almost a plea, like it was a protective incantation screamed from the top of the high and thick walled redoubt of the ivory tower hopefully and nervously trying to dissuade the enemy from launching an assault.
As all this was popping in and out of my mind, too much for one message. But, my impish spirit started doing the devil’s work, and before I knew it a clear image suddenly appeared before me. It was a cartoon. Oh, to be Herblock, Malden, or Watterman. But, I can’t draw a straight line. You’ll just have to picture this: an ivory tower stands tall in the distant background, surrounded by glistening libary archive, laboratory. In the foreground is an image of a person, clothed shabbily in dirtied and torn academic robes bedecked with tarnished medals. His mortarboard is about to fall off. A long scholarly resume drapes his neck. Huge globs of sweat jump off his bent brow as he struggles under the weight he carries on his back. His face is misshapened by physical strain. His back is bent over. His knees are buckling. He is desperately clutching over his shoulder a huge, overstuffed, heavy, burlap sack labelled “Teaching Load.” It is filled with small images of a variety of people who are desparately begging, “Teach me.” The road, which leads back to the ivory tower, he had walked is strewn with people who have fallen unnoticed out of the sack. Lining the road like a gauntlet are leering, angry, unsympathetic people labelled students, administrators, parents, legislators, businessmen, John Q. Public snapping their whips labelled “student teaching evaluations,” swinging their bats labelled “peer teaching evaluation”, “teaching portfolios”, putting on their hands brass knuckles labelled “teaching effectiveness”, holding lynching ropes labelled “accountability.” Fatigued, his eyes wide-opened, he is barely able to look up with a pathetic and confused look, and whispers in pleading disbelief words that appear at the bottom of the cartoon: “But, I’m a Professor. I belong back there.” More later.
Make it a good day.