Hello from my little office on the acre.
Many times it seems we have a tendency to only verbalize the negativity we see and feel. I am not sure if it some makes us feel better or if we believe people will somehow feel sorry for us, but I think we are profoundly mistaken on both accounts. I am guilty of this at times also, but I think I generally try to find the positive in most everything I do and in most things I experience. I have a smart ass saying (those of you who know me have undoubtedly heard me say this at times). I believe all learning is positive; when it goes well it is positive; when is sucks, I am positive I do not want to do it again. So there you have it. When I was a seminary student, we were required to do a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and, of course, we were required to take a number of pastoral care and counseling classes. When someone had just finished their upper level pastoral care and counseling course or had finished a unit of CPE, you would hear some specific phrases (known as active listening responses) come out of their mouths (e.g. It seems I heard you say . . . or did I understand you to say . . . or when you said this, _________) and we would respond in our best pastoral voices, “Shut the F up!” There you have it: pastoral care at its finest. While that is all true, what it helped us all realize is that we are not really good listeners. Another acronym we came up with, particularly after a really difficult day in clinical or perhaps after failing a Greek or Hebrew exam was that was another AFGE . . . . which stood for Another F-ing Growing Experience, and certainly life is full of those. I smile as I think back on those times because I was fortunate to have some of the most outstanding seminary classmates: Tim Christensen, Karsten Nelson, Steven Blenkush, Kathy Vitalis Hoffman, Tim Quarberg and Sandy Van Zyl, Sue Volden Gunderson, Wilbur and Deborah Holz, and the list could go on. To this day, 30 years later, I am blessed by their presence in my life. Some certainly more than others, but I am still in touch with them. I am amazed that it was 30 years ago (plus a few months) that I found my way to Pennsylvania the first time. It was a bit of a shock for this Midwestern boy, and a much greater shock to my former wife. Being a pastor’s wife was not quite what was expected and I certainly did not always do the best job of being a husband when I was trying to balance being a clergy person to the 3rd largest Lutheran church in the NEPS and being a husband. I had a lot to learn.
It is hard to fathom that I have been back here, but this time in Northcentral Pennsylvania for almost 9 1/2 years. It is the longest I have lived in one place since I graduated from high school. When I left Pennsylvania in 1992, I was pretty sure I would never come back to the Keystone State, not I am not quite sure I will ever leave. Not that this is a bad thing, but it is certainly not where I expected my life to go. However, I am here at Bloomsburg for that long, and I must say it has been the most amazing and wonderful experience of my life – and I think I can say that both personally and professionally. That has been a pleasant surprise. It has also taken some hard work, but anything worth holding on to is worth working for. Sounds too cliché, but it is certainly true in this case. When I came to Bloomsburg the summer of 2009, I was excited and petrified. I was also feeling tremendously guilty for leaving the little tornado in Menomonie. The move was precipitated by both my inexperience as a tenure track professor and a dean who had decided I was the bane of his existence. Nonetheless, because of a wonderful previous Stout colleague, who would become a present colleague, and even more astounding friend, I was given a new lease on my academic career. While there have been moments of doubt and frustration, the overwhelming feeling I have had since coming to Bloomsburg is simply to be blessed. The department is full of incredibly talented and thoughtful people. They are both strong in the classroom, but there are some prodigious scholars in their particular fields, from Renaissance Literature to a Writing Center and from American Literature to Creative Writing. I still feel like a duck out of water sometimes with my Professional Writing and Rhetorical background, but there has been progress. On the larger scale, I have been involved in committees from the department to the college to the university level. I have learned so much and been fortunate to be exposed to so many remarkable scholars across the university. In my work with the union, I have been put in situations where I am asked to look at issues of labor and fairness and learned the complexity of people’s lives. Every day there is something new to consider and ponder . . . and yet that is not even what I do most of the time.
As with any faculty person at a comprehensive university, the great majority of my time is spent in the classroom, preparing for the classroom, or grading what comes out of the classroom. Yet still there is more . . . there is advisement, there is more counseling that one might think as a student struggles to figure out more often than not why they are in college in the first place. I am not sure we have done this generation of students much good by insisting that college is the only way to become a happy, successful person. There are some people who either are not ready for college at 18 or others who should consider other options. Many of the students, however, are merely trying to understand and do the best they know how. Most of my students are good people. Most of them feel an almost staggering level of pressure to perform well . . . and understandably so when someone somewhere is ponying up 100K for their undergraduate degree. That is a breathtaking amount of money for a possible piece of paper that might find them a job. Yes, you read that correctly. There is no guarantee. Yet, they come, much like the mantra in the movie, Field of Dreams.
This semester I have five preps and five sections. That is an overload in more ways than one, but the classes are not full, so overall, it is pretty manageable, and two of the classes are distance, which is an entirely different experience. Much more could be said about that, but there is a time and place for those classes and my Technical Writing class this semester is such a time and place as I have primarily nursing students who are in clinical two days a week for most of the day and beyond and then have a full class schedule besides. This semester, even though we are only into the third week, I have been really pleased with the level of engagement and commitment of the students across the board. It has been one of the best semesters I have experienced in that way. Many of the students are “claiming their education,” which is a foundational article I have them all read. I thought about discarding it because I have been using it for a while, but I hear again and again how it makes students rethink their educational process, which is the intent. So for now, it stays as a required reading. The nicer thing of having a few less students this semester is that I have been able to write more thoughtful and insightful response to their blogs and I hope to do the same with the work they will be turning in.
During the Winter Term, I wrote pretty copious comments on their work for my distance technical writing course and people were please with what they heard and what happened in the class. I have found it you will take the time to let students know you are really paying attention to their work, even when you raise the bar, they will generally rise to the occasion. I was able to do that well, while at the same time traveling around Poland, Italy, and Spain. It was really rather enjoyable. I would get up in the morning and have things commented on before they were up. Then when they looked at things there was usually something there on a daily basis. It worked well. Students are complex people, no different than their professors. We have lives outside the classroom also. The difference is that we are supposedly better as we grow older of balancing things. That is not always true. Furthermore, if we think about it logically, when they do not do something, they affect themselves, perhaps a group from time to time, and then there is some disappointment I imagine from the people who have sent them to college, hoping against hope, they will succeed. When we fall on our noses, which does happen at times, we affect 50, 70, 150, 250 people. Failure to answer an email or grade something in a timely manner is much more overwhelming and disconcerting for our students than we sometimes realize.
What I know from just three weeks into the semester, I have been blessed with some extraordinary students this semester, but that is not a one time thing. I have some magnificent students every semester. I have had wonderful students, whose ethnic background is Columbia and speak English as a second language. I have had a student who is has now earned a doctorate in pharmacy, and is Egyptian and Sudanese. I have been blessed with students from rural Pennsylvania with graduating classes of 50, and they come and work hard and conscientiously hoping to make a difference. I have been blessed to travel to Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, who are studying political science, nursing, biology, business or Russian and they grow up so much in the three weeks they travel. I am blessed to have had students from Spain, Greece, Sudan, Russia, and other countries and I feel sometimes they teach me more than I could ever teach them. I had no idea when I was growing up that I would become a college professor. In fact, I do not think such a thought even crossed my mind until I was in my early thirties. Then when I realized that was where I might actually go, I was probably as petrified as I noted at the beginning of this post. I was not smart enough to be a college professor. At least that is how I saw it. Now I lay awake at night and wonder about why rest is a verb most often even though we call it a noun. I wonder why we cannot do some things that would make life so much easier. I wonder what I can do to merely be better tomorrow than I was today. Why? Because my students deserve that sort of pondering. I am so extraordinarily blessed to be at Bloomsburg in a department of phenomenal colleagues and in classrooms with curious and fundamentally good students. Here is my idea about all of that. I am always trying to imagine things, so in an appropriate way, in spite of the fact I have used it before, I offer this (it is however a re-mastered video from their collection).
I hope you enjoyed pondering and thank you for reading.