I spent this morning in a workshop for adult degree program faculty at WPC. It was a helpful and interesting, partially inspiring, and, to some degree, depressing morning. The usual organizational stuff was handled pretty well, directly and to the point; this was especially true of the IT folks and their presentation. It strikes me as pretty amazing how these folks help us all grapple with this increasingly essential and ubiquitous this strange, even arcane, part of the teaching infrastructure. I know that I’m old school, but I remember the mysteries of the 16 mm projector, film loops, and slide carousels. So much simpler in so many ways—and oh so less demanding because they were not really seen as crucial to the enterprise. They were fun and often exciting extras. I’m thankful for the IT folks and the manner and attitude with which they go about their usually thankless, behind the scenes, but no less important work!
The part of the day that left me a bit depressed: Two of WPC’s finest faculty took us on a journey with pedagogy, with excursions into the world of andragogy—Dennis Plies and Bill Dobrenen. These two men are master teachers—really, high priests of the mystery and art of teaching. In another age, I think, they would have been called Magi. Such passion; such craft; such art—beside them I feel pretty inadequate. (To be clear, I am not seeking for ego affirmation here; only speaking the truth. I have a pretty healthy sense of what I can and can’t do in the classroom; I’ve been trying to teach since 1966. They are my good friends; I learn a great deal from them; I am not in their league; they will probably be angry at me for writing this.)
One stage of the excursion they took us on was a free write exercise; Dennis gave us a three-word phrase—“me and teaching.” The asked us to write freely what freely connected to those three words. Here’s what I wrote:
Lost often, searching for direction, hoping for meaning, looking for, caring for learners. Frustrated with response/no response/wondering what I’m doing wrong/ leaving feeling failed yet somehow picking myself up, dusting myself off, starting all over again. where’s the north star? So cloudy/foggy lost in the universe but everyonceinawhile connect/connection/star breaks through…
Then, within minutes, we paired up to share with one other person briefly what we wrote; I said “mystery.” Because I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it at all. I am grateful when the star shows up…but it seems to show up less and less now. It seems I have to work harder than I ever worked before simply to create a space where the star might show up; so, I wonder, is it time for me leave the classroom? Have I reached the point where I need to hang up my guns and ride off into the sunset? Seriously.
Bill and Dennis led us on a good journey today. A really good journey. I’m glad I was on the road with them, but I think I may be faltering and starting to fall behind.